In a feisty encounter, the Sydney Bears defeated the Brisbane Lightning 4-2 at Boondall on Saturday. In doing so, the Bears snapped a two-game losing skid and retained the top spot in the Hellyer Conference.
"Travelling up to Brisbane after last year's debacle [we] had some mixed feelings," Bears Head Coach Ron Kuprowsky said.
Last season in an exhibition game at Boondall, Lightning forward Josh Labrie cross-checked Bears forward Thomas Moncrieff in the mouth, leading to major dental surgery for Moncrieff and a lengthy suspension for Labrie.
The Bears abandoned the match and were assessed a fine by the league. Both teams' fans have circled this match on the calendar since the schedule was released, and the game sold out over two weeks ago.
"I had the game circled," Thomas Moncrieff noted. "I wasn't worried, but I knew it was a game where I needed to keep my head on a swivel."
Anthony Kimlin returned to the Bears crease for the first time since backstopping the team to a 3-2 victory in Canberra against the Brave, and he was sensational throughout the contest.
The Lightning struck first on a counter-attack. Kasey Kulczycki's initial attempt was saved spectacularly by Kimlin, but Arum Rapchuk buried a feed from behind the net seconds later to make it 1-0.
Rapchuk celebrated in Marc McNulty's face, and the Bears blueliner swatted him away to the ice. A post-whistle fracas ensued, a recurring theme throughout the match, with off-setting minor penalties assessed.
Both teams had powerplay opportunities to close the period, but the score remained 1-0 heading into the second period.
A third of the way through the second frame, Sydney finally equalised. McNulty created some room in his own zone and found Hayden Dawes in the neutral zone with a breakout pass.
Dawes quickly fed Tomas Landa at the blueline, who raced into the right circle and snapped one through goaltender Steve Harris to make it 1-1.
It was Landa's seventh goal of the year and Dawes' fourth point in four games.
The back-and-forth nature of the contest continued as Brisbane took a 2-1 lead a few minutes later through Arum's brother, Sacha Rapchuk.
A favourable bounce off the boards on a cycle attempt allowed Aaron Wanat to control the puck behind the net and find Rapchuk in the left circle. Rapchuk found space past Kimlin's glove with the one-time opportunity.
The Bears applied the pressure, and a quick-fire double from Ace Cowans gave them the lead.
First, Joshua Lammon gained the zone and fed Cowans with a touch pass at the top of the right circle. Cowans uncoiled a wrister that sizzled off the post and in the net to tie it at 2-2.
Next, Kenshin Hayashi, filling in on the depleted blueline, stopped the puck exiting the zone and passed to Lammon, who found Cowans on the half-wall. Cowans skated to the slot and tucked the puck past Harris blocker-side.
It was a shrewd play by Cowans to walk in on Harris; he recognised defenceman Mikko Rippon was missing his stick and couldn't challenge the shot.
Both sets of fans were looking for any signs of conflict between Labrie and Moncrieff after last season and were waiting for one of them to make an impact.
Thomas Moncrieff obliged early in the third period and gave the Bears an insurance marker on another good play from Hayashi.
Brisbane was starting the breakout, but Hayashi pinched in the neutral zone and picked off the pass. He gained the zone, dropped the puck to Moncrieff in the left circle, and Moncrieff deftly wired a wrister short-side and into the net, making it 4-2.
"I saw him [Labrie] on the ice," Moncrieff commented, "it seemed like he was trying to avoid me. So I just played my game, and it worked well; I scored a goal."
The Bears spent a significant portion of the third period on the penalty kill, and Kimlin was again sensational. However, all the Bears penalty killers laid their bodies on the line, blocking shots and boxing out the crease to snuff out secondary opportunities.
As time expired, more post-whistle shenanigans ensued as the frustrated Lightning team tried to get the Bears to engage.
Moncrieff agreed that Brisbane is a team well-versed in the art of drawing penalties.
"A hundred per cent, they're good at trying to rope you in. We got a few consecutive penalties. That's their style, they've got a good powerplay, and that's where they beat teams."
Moncrieff was ecstatic to win, saying, "It wasn't just an important game standings-wise, but also from last year. There were a lot of people making comments after we abandoned the game.
"After they took the lead, the boys stood up and showed them the team that we are. We're not just a pushover team. On a personal level, it was good too. Before the game, a lot of the boys said, 'Let's do it for Tommy'."
Coach Kuprowsky was also pleased to see Moncrieff score. He stated, "Tommy's goal in the third was great to see as it not only sealed the game but hopefully closed the chapter from the cheap shot he took last year".
We return for our next home game for our Canada Day game against the Melbourne Ice on July 1, and we have partnered with Weave Youth and Community Services as part of the event.
There will be a special Teddy Bear Toss to raise much-needed funds to continue Weave's great work helping women, children and young people through complex situations and giving them the tools to change their lives.
Teddy Bears for the Toss are available online to purchase now, with 100% of profits going to support Weave. There will also be a number of ways to donate at the game, so make sure you get your tickets and help us support a brilliant cause.
Fans can also get tickets for the top-of-the-conference clash on Sunday at Macquarie Ice Rink as we take on the Melbourne Mustangs. Both games begin at 5:00 pm, with doors open at 4:30 pm.
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