The Bears defeated the Melbourne Ice and Melbourne Mustangs in a home stand at Macquarie Ice Rink. As a result, Sydney has retaken the top spot in the Hellyer Conference.
A pair of Bears also hit the back of the net for the first time this season in both contests.
Sydney Bears 6-2 Melbourne Ice
The Melbourne Ice announced midweek the capture of Romanian goaltender Zoltan Toke as an import signing. With a huge crowd celebrating Canada Day and eager to participate in the teddy bear toss to support Weave Youth and Community Services, Toke frustrated the Bears in the first period, stopping all seven shots on the net.
Bears goalie Anthony Kimlin, meanwhile, was kept busy as the Bears had difficulty with turnovers. At the midway point of the period, an offensive zone turnover by the Bears led to the Ice taking the lead.
Kahu Joyce seized the puck and found a streaking Artem Klein in the neutral zone. Klein broke in on Kimlin alone and went five-hole to give the Ice a 1-0 lead.
Late in the period, the Ice doubled their lead. A neutral zone turnover and a fortunate deflection off a skate allowed Roman Kraemer to gain the zone.
Kraemer coasted from the right wing to the left circle and found space high-glove past Kimlin for the 2-0 lead.
Sydney was playing well and controlled the play for much of the period but entered the first intermission down by two.
Joshua Lammon got the Bears on the scoreboard, and the teddy bears on the ice, just over four minutes into the second period. Lammon picked up a loose puck in his defensive zone, passed to Tomas Landa at the blue line, and streaked up ice.
Landa drew the defender and placed a perfect pass into Lammon's path. Lammon eluded the last defender and found room glove side past Toke.
The jubilant crowd rained down teddy bears from the stands, which took several minutes to be collected where they will go to support Weave Youth and Community Services.
Five minutes later, Thomas Moncrieff restored parity. Hayden Dawes got the puck to Lammon, who weaved into the offensive zone. Moncrieff skated to provide a screen and Lammon's shot deflected off Moncrieff's leg and past Toke.
The goal was initially credited to Lammon but later changed to Moncrieff. Regardless of who scored, it was a 2-2 game.
Again, five minutes later, Sydney hit the scoresheet, taking its first lead of the game through Ace Cowans. The dynamic forward denied the Ice exiting the zone before skating in on Toke from the right circle.
Cowans fired a quick wrister that Toke got a piece of but trickled through his legs and into the net. Finally, the Bears had their first lead of the contest.
Sydney continued its trend of scoring at five-minute intervals in the period, and doubled its lead with just 23 seconds left on the clock.
On a three-game goalless stretch, his only goalless stretch of the season, Tommy Steven potted his fifteenth goal after some slick work from Cowans and Jake Pappalardo.
Cowans stole the puck in his defensive end, used his skating to create space and found Pappalardo with the neutral zone breakout. Pappalardo, in turn, skated around Joyce and found a wide-open Steven.
Steven gathered and sniped high-glove spot to give the Bears a 4-2 lead entering the final break.
Shots for the period were 20-7 in favour of the Bears, highlighting the dominance.
Tommy Steven grabbed another goal midway through the third. Tyerell Clare made a great play to keep the puck in the zone, fed Cowans in the right circle, and Cowans found a cross-ice lane to Steven in the left circle.
Toke, and the Ice defence, were not expecting the pass, and Steven ripped a one-time clapper into the net.
Melbourne put the puck in the net late in the period; however, the referees had an extended discussion before ruling that Klein had made a distinct kicking motion.
Melbourne, desperate to remain in the playoff race, pulled the goalie down 5-2 late in the third, and with the net empty, Dawes joined Lammon in scoring his first goal of the season to make it a 6-2 final score.
Quotes from Joshua Lammon
Joshua Lammon kindly provided some comments after the game. The forward was on a new line with Hayden Dawes and Tomas Landa to start the game, and loved the opportunity.
"It was a good change of scenery to play with those guys and to kind of shake things up a little bit," Lammon said. "It's been a long time coming to put a puck in the net here.
"But it felt good to put one in. A couple of good plays on that first one there. Landa made a really good pass to me.
"And the second one [later credited to Moncrieff] Dawesy made a really good drop pass to me, so yeah, I think we really started building some chemistry tonight."
Speaking on the teddy bear toss, Lammon said he's been a part of a few and added, "It's always a good time, it's for a good cause and usually it brings out a little more fans.
"The energy was good here tonight, so hopefully we made some new fans that will start to come more regularly, and it's always great to raise awareness or toys for a good cause."
Lammon said that he's looking forward to building some memories and friendships with the great people in the team, with the ultimate goal of bringing home the Goodall Cup at the end of the year.
Sydney Bears 8-3 Melbourne Mustangs
When the AIHL ruled to deduct three competition points from the Sydney Bears on June 26, it knocked the team out of the top spot in the Hellyer Conference. However, the Bears still retained a game in hand on the conference-leading Mustangs, who were a single point ahead.
The stakes were high, especially after the Mustangs survived a shock comeback by the last-placed Central Coast Rhinos to eke out a 9-7 win on Saturday.
Sydney has often struggled in first periods recently, but the Bears saved their best period of the season for the perfect moment.
Less than four minutes into the contest, Lammon opened the scoring again for the Bears, courtesy of a wonderful individual effort by Landa.
Landa chipped the puck off the boards in the neutral zone and showed off his wheels to break in on Mustangs' goaltender Liam Hughes. He shaped to shoot but passed to Lammon for an easy tap-in goal. 1-0 Bears.
A little over five minutes later, the Bears doubled their lead on the powerplay, courtesy of good net front work by Jeremy Brücker. Dawes fed Brücker with the puck, and Brücker jammed it past Hughes on the third attempt to make it 2-0.
A scary moment followed minutes later when Brücker collided with Thomas Flack, who remained on the ice for some time. Fortunately, Flack appeared to be okay and returned to the contest.
The Bears continued to dominate on the ice, and Tommy Steven continued his resurgent form with another goal, his third of the weekend.
The line of Kenshin Hayashi, Cowans, and Steven was reunited and spent some time on the cycle. Hayashi found Cowans behind the net who passed to Steven in the slot. Steven's initial shot was saved, but he gathered the rebound and flipped it past Hughes for the tally.
A vocal crowd loved the Bear's dominance as the team headed into the break with a commanding lead. The second period started like the first, and the Bears extended their lead to 4-0 on the powerplay.
McNulty gathered the puck on the right circle, and Brücker again made his presence felt in front of the crease. McNulty, uncontested, took the space available and made no mistake in finding the back of the net from in close.
Late in the period, Landa was rewarded for his efforts with a goal. Cowans provided the pass, and Landa's initial shot was saved, but with no Mustangs defenders in the area, Landa followed up with a second shot that Hughes couldn't stop.
In frustration, Hughes smashed his stick against the net, but the home fans celebrated the 5-0 lead going into the final frame.
The carnage continued in the third as Thomas Moncrieff found the net to make it 6-0. Moncrieff fired a shot through traffic from the blue line that found a path to the net.
Moncrieff has been effective offensively lately, quietly putting together a four-game goal-scoring streak.
The next goal by the Bears was one of the prettiest passing plays you'll likely see all season. McNulty played a perfect cross-ice pass to Dawes in the left circle.
Hughes committed to the shot, but Dawes displayed his elite vision to pass to Lammon for the backdoor tap-in. It was 7-0, and the Mustangs were reeling.
The Mustangs, missing a head coach after parting company with Pat McMahon earlier in the week, did push back.
Goals by Bradley Apps, Vadim Virjassov, and Evan Khroustalev made the scoreline more respectable at 7-3. But Hayden Dawes again scored to snuff out any hopes of a comeback.
With Ty Wishart in the box for the Mustangs, Hayden Dawes set up in the high slot and called for the redirect. Alexander Gauthier made a perfect shot-pass from the blue line that Dawes deflected top-shelf past Hughes.
The game ended 8-3, with Sydney again in top spot in the Hellyer Conference.
Also, shoutout to the fans who initiated the referee appreciation night. The referees seemed to love the cheering and good-natured banter.
Quotes from Marc McNulty
Marc McNulty is an unmissable presence on the Bears' blue line, and he chipped in with four points - a goal and three assists - to power the team to victory. He also provided some comments on the game.
"It's always nice to chip in on the offence," McNulty stated. "Obviously, when you get an assist, somebody did a good job putting the puck in the net too. It was good to see guys step up and score."
McNulty agreed that it was special to beat a conference rival. "Anytime you play one of the top teams, you want to play well, and it's a battle. First place is pretty tight too, so getting the win is nice."
Commenting on the team's reaction to the point deduction, McNulty revealed, "It is what it is; I don't think we're going to let it affect us too much. There's not much we can do about it at this point, anyway.
"If you win these games, it doesn't really matter too much, so it's nice to get the points, and we'll move on."
The Bears have a week off before finishing the season with five back-to-back contests heading into the finals. On Friday, July 14, the Bears will be the away team for the Sydney Derby, taking on the Ice Dogs at 7:30 pm.
Then, on Saturday, July 15, the Melbourne Mustangs return to Macquarie Ice Rink. Doors open at 4:30 pm, and puck drop is at 5:00 pm. Make sure you get your tickets and lift the team to victory in a crucial conference clash.
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