21/04/2024

AIHL points leader Harley Anderson in action for the Brisbane Lightning. (Photo: Fullerton Photography/Brisbane Lightning Facebook; Design: Will Cuckson)

The month of May in the Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL) is here in what was another terrific weekend of ice hockey action.

Nine games across a jammed packed three days which started with a local derby under the Friday night lights, a brick wall express from Canada, young stars shining bright and powerhouse clubs starting to find a rhythm.

Here are The Inner Sanctum’s five thoughts.

Friday night lights

There is just something about sport on a Friday night that gives you the soap and warm water feel, the vibe of having your weekend kick started with ice hockey in the spotlight of what is prime time viewing is perfect for hockey craving fans.

The Melbourne derby during week three of the AIHL was held on a Friday night to great success, week four we had the second instalment of the Battle of Sydney between the Bears and Ice Dogs, with a great crowd and terrific hockey on display.

Juggling the schedule to give us these Friday night matchups is a challenge for a league that is semi-professional with clubs across the country, however, if the AIHL could somehow make it work it would be one of the key showpieces for the league each season.

Canadian import goaltender Liam Hughes in net for the Melbourne Mustangs (Photo: Phil Taylor Photographic/Melbourne Mustangs Facebook)

Canadian brick wall

Melbourne Mustangs have had a dream start to the AIHL season, going undefeated after their first five games, setting a new club record. This early season run of form is off the back of their newest Canadian import, Kelowna, BC native and goaltender Liam Hughes.

Hughes has started every game for the Mustangs this season, giving up only 13 goals, stopping 161 shots on goal from 174 faced. In this stretch Hughes has one shutout, a save percentage of .925 and a goals against average of 2.14 to be the inform goaltender in the AIHL.

Teams have been able to ride the back of strong goaltending to cup success in the past, Hughes looks every bit the part for the Mustangs this season.

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Gears are starting to turn in Newcastle

It was always going to be a case of wait and see when it came to the Newcastle Northstars as they started the season missing key Australian players and import signings.

However, with a healthier squad of players the Newcastle outfit look primed to go on a heater and take the league apart.

A 4-3 loss to the CBR Brave is not cause for alarm, the Northstars had 54 shots on goal, including 28 in the final period, on the road in the Brave cave where it is a notoriously hard place to win.

On Sunday, Newcastle put 13 goals past the Central Coast Rhinos with a whopping 88 shots on goal for the match, winning 13-3 in the Northstars first home game of the season.

With star players back the boys from the Hunter Valley are starting to get the engine revving.

Young Australian goaltender Matus Trnka in action for the Adelaide Adrenaline. (Photo: Jess Fuller/Adelaide Adrenaline Facebook)

Trnka, Trnka, big, big, star

One of the best things about the AIHL this season is the influx of young talent that has come into the league and is getting opportunities at the top level.

19-year-old Adelaide Adrenaline goaltender Matus Trnka is an example of someone who performed well in the Pacific Hockey League (PHL) in 2022, picked up a gold medal for the U20 Australia team, and with the demise of the PHL has found a place in the AIHL at the Adrenaline.

Trnka might have been on the receiving end of a 5-2 loss against the Brisbane Lightning on Sunday, but showed terrific signs in between the pipes, coming up with some big saves to keep the Adrenaline in the contest. Trnka is one of many young Australian players who are looking comfortable at the AIHL level off the back of strong World Championships performances.

Goaltending stocks in Australia are at healthy levels and Trnka is an example of that.

Getting it done on both sides of the puck

Brisbane Lightning is leading the way when it comes to scoring in the AIHL this season, with a weekend sweep against the Adelaide Adrenaline the Lightning put up another 13 goals across the two games.

With Harley Anderson 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists), Jordan McTaggart 21 points (15 goals, six assists) and Julian Fodor 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) the Lightning round out the top three points leaders in the AIHL across the first four weekends of the competition.

Brisbane have scored 58 goals across seven games played at an average of 8.29 per game, while on the defensive end only giving up 18 goals at 2.57 per game highlighting a well-rounded game.

Who can stop this attacking force?

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