Bears Bite Back, Seize Top Spot

May 23, 2024

Bears Bite Back, Seize Top Spot

The Sydney Bears leapfrogged the Melbourne Ice to take control of top spot in the Australian Ice Hockey League standings. It took two come from behind wins from the Bears to sweep the weekend and take advantage of the Melbourne Ice's first loss of the season.

The Ice are still in the driver's seat, as the Bears have just a single-point lead over their conference rivals, and the Ice have a game in hand. However, the Bears took advantage of the Ice's loss and managed to gut out the weekend sweep despite not being at their best.

Sydney Bears 4-3 Sydney Ice Dogs

On Saturday, the Bears faced a familiar foe in the Sydney Ice Dogs. Prior to the game, Bears Head Coach Tyler Huberty told Hockey Hype Australia that he was expecting a tougher match than the first two derbies.

Winning 6-2 and 9-2 in the first two contests, a large proportion of the Bears goals came from the Ice Dogs being outnumbered and outworked down low. The Ice Dogs had improved considerably since those matchups and managed to put together a four-game winning streak earlier this season.

On last week's episode of Hockey Night in Australia, the panel did predict a closer game with a slight edge to the Bears. However, even the most optimistic Ice Dogs' fan would have been surprised by the score just eight minutes into the opening period.

Cameron Todd made a masterful tip to open the scoring 3:28 into the period, and Dmitri Kuleshov was perfectly placed to take advantage of a fortuitous deflection off Alex Macdonald's skate just 17 seconds later to double the lead.

Photo Credit: Peter Podlaha

A Cameron Todd powerplay goal at 7:43 of the period forced the Bears to take a timeout and regroup. The Bears top line is rarely kept quiet, but with final change as the home team the Ice Dogs' top line and third line did a great job keeping them in their own defensive end.

Ice Dogs Head Coach, Jason Kvisle, told Hockey Hype Australia that staying out of the penalty box would be vital for success against the Bears. The team managed that for much of the first period until Mike Dalhuisen was called for roughing as the opening frame expired.

Adam Kadlec drew a slashing penalty 1:50 into the second period, creating a brief 5-on-3 powerplay. The Bears won the ensuing faceoff, Kadlec waited for Tomas Landa to get to the front of the net to screen the goalie, and fired an absolute dart from the blueline that found its way past Jakob Doornbos and into the net.

Photo Credit: Peter Podlaha

Two Christopher Eaden goals tied the game before the end of the period. On both goals, each assisted by Lucas Herrmann, Eaden was able to walk in alone on Doornbos with no defenders in reach.

The third period was a much tighter affair than the opening two frames, and the game felt like the next goal would win the game. That proved to be the case as Kadlec put the Bears ahead for good with 7:02 left in the contest.

The top line of Kadlec-Herrmann-Eaden combined for eight points in the contest, and Kenta Matsukane chipped in three points from the blueline. James Downie made 23 saves for the win. The contest was a special one for Scott Clemie who celebrated his 100th AIHL game.

Sydney Bears 9-6 Brisbane Lightning

Sunday brought a different challenge for the Bears, facing a familiar opponent in the Brisbane Lightning. The two teams faced each other the previous weekend at Boondall, with the Bears taking away all the points with 4-1 and 8-1 victories.

When Brody Lindal put the Bears ahead just 1:11 into the game, it looked like an easy victory was in store for the hosts. However, Sacha Rapchuk restored parity on the powerplay two minutes later.

Photo Credit: Willie Krause

Goals by Eaden and Kadlec either side of the first break gave the Bears a two goal cushion. But goals from Batu Gendunov, Julian Fodor, and a second from Sacha Rapchuk had the visitors surprisingly leading 4-3 at the final break despite being outshot 35-24.

Herrmann tied the game early in the third, and Noah Moncrieff scored his first goal in four games on the powerplay taking his season goal total to 10 and giving the Bears the lead.

Kadlec scored another two goals to complete his hat-trick and a five goal weekend, and both Herrmann and Lindal scored their second goals of the game to open up a 9-4 lead.

Some late defensive lapses from the Bears made the game interesting as Batu Gendunov took advantage for his second goal of the contest, and Sacha Rapchuk completed his hat-trick to bring the score to 9-6 with 5:26 left in the game.

Photo Credit: Willie Krause

There were no further changes to the scoreboard, however birthday boy Geoff O'Hara did get a spearing call and game misconduct penalty assessed in the final minute of play.

The top line of Kadlec-Herrmann-Eaden went even better on Sunday compared to Saturday with a combined 13 points. Other players in the points included Brody Lindal with four (2G, 2A), Landa with three assists, Matsukane with two assists, Tyerell Clare with an assist, and Noah Moncrieff with a goal.

Photo Credit: Willie Krause

James Downie made 24 saves and leads all local goaltenders in wins with seven in eight opportunities. He trails only Tatsunoshin Ishida in wins across all goaltenders. Downie is also in the top five in both Goals Against Average (4th at 3.25) and Save Percentage (3rd at .911).

What's Next

Up next for the Bears is a trip to Erina on Saturday for a match against a resurgent Central Coast Rhinos team. In the last battle between the two teams the Rhinos kept pace with the Bears for two period before the Bears skated away in the third to take an 8-4 win.

The Rhinos had a mixed weekend in Melbourne, defeating the Melbourne Mustangs 5-3 on Saturday, before losing 14-1 on Sunday. They were missing Bolger through suspension on Sunday, and the wounded Mustangs inserted fresh bodies into the line-up to complete the drubbing.

After the trip up the coast, the Bears return to Macquarie to face the Newcastle Northstars. The Bears won the fixture earlier this season in Newcastle 9-1.

Photo Credit: Willie Krause

However, the Northstars last visit to Macquarie was a successful one, inflicting a 3-2 defeat on April 29 last year. With the Northstars holding top spot in the Rurak Conference, and the Bears in top spot in the Hellyer, it's sure to be a cracking contest.

Click here to get your tickets for Sunday's contest.

This article is being published on the websites of Hockey Hype Australia and the Sydney Bears with permission from both organisations and the author, Gordon Goodenough.

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