CBR Brave are on the march in the AIHL as they claim top spot in the Rurak Conference. (Photo: Paul Furness; Design: Will Cuckson)

It was an interesting week in the Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL) as teams in the lower half of conferences pushed the top-tier teams in strong away performances.

We had a thriller in Newcastle, goals galore in Melbourne, improved play from the league’s only winless team, and the reigning champions staking their claim.

The Inner Sanctum is back for another week of five things.

CBR Brave forward Félix Plouffe in action against the Sydney Bears during the 2023 AIHL season. (Photo: Paul Furness)

Champions stake their claim

CBR Brave have continued to make their charge in the Rurak Conference and with back-to-back wins against the Brisbane Lightning now sit top of the table on 24 points.

The Brave pushed the Lightning across the two games played but were able to come up with the important plays and goals when needed, led by Canadian import Félix Plouffe who has 14 points (five goals, nine assists) from eight games played.

With four wins from their past five encounters including a tight loss to the Sydney Bears, the Brave are in a good position and will welcome the Mustangs in week nine.

Shorthand sniper Thomas Flack in action for the Melbourne Mustangs during a recent Pride game. (Photo: Phil Taylor Photographic)

Oh, hey there shorty

In the Hellyer Conference the Melbourne Mustangs keep piling up the wins and sit second behind AIHL league leaders Sydney Bears.

Since their 3-1 loss to the Bears in week five a trend has emerged for the orange side of Melbourne, they seem to love a shorthanded marker.

In the Mustangs’ last three games, they’ve scored seven shorthanded goals, with Scott Timmins, Chris Lawrence, and Thomas Flack all with two each. It is an aggressive Mustangs penalty kill unit, who are constantly looking for a breakaway chance that has only been boosted with the arrival of Lawrence.

An interesting statistic that the Mustangs over the past three weeks have been able to exploit.

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Coast searching for AIHL win

The Central Coast Rhinos might still be looking for their first win of the AIHL season, however, a recent performance away to the Perth Thunder should have Rhino fans feeling optimistic that a victory is just around the corner.

Trailing 3-2 heading into the final period the Rhinos couldn’t hold out a strong finishing Thunder, eventually falling to the Perth team with a score line of 7-2.

Despite that, there are some positive signs with Andrew Masters proving to be a solid import addition between the pipes, and Swede Joakim Erdugan continuing to produce offensively with seven points (two goals, five assists) from his past four games.

An away trip to face the Adelaide Adrenaline in week nine could be the Rhinos’ best chance to finally get that first win of the season.

Daniel Berno in action for the Newcastle Northstars against the Brisbane Lightning. (Photo: Jess Fuller)

Look to the stars

Two heavy losses at the start of the AIHL season with a heavily depleted squad had everyone waiting for the Newcastle Northstars to return to form and that is exactly what happened.

With gritty wins in the past two AIHL weekends, the Northstars are finding themselves in a strong position to start surging up the Rurak Conference.

Daniel Berno has been the driving force on the offensive front with 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists) on the season, which has seen the Northstars win six of their past seven games and hit a hot streak.

The 2022 Goodall Cup finalists are still without some players which include star forward Wehebe Darge, however, they are starting to find their groove in 2023.

New Canadian import Brett Thompson in action for the Adelaide Adrenaline against the Newcastle Northstars. (Photo: Sam Miller)

New import gives excitement

The Adelaide Adrenaline’s season 2023 in the AIHL has been a hard slog, returning to the competition and import players that just haven’t worked out which included the unfortunate departure of Darcy Walsh back to Canada.

However, a tough and hard-fought 6-5 loss to the Northstars in Newcastle showed exactly what this Adrenaline team is capable of, troubling the Newcastle outfit off the back of two goals from new Canadian import Brett Thompson.

A recent arrival in the AIHL, Thompson looks like a strong offensive threat and a second-period shorthanded goal to give the Adrenaline a 2-0 lead a highlight on the night.

With only two wins this season, Thompson could be the shining light Adelaide has been looking for.

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