The Sydney Bears enjoyed a successful Melbourne weekend, sweeping aside the Ice and Mustangs and establishing its credentials as the team to beat. Tommy Steven and Ace Cowans led the lines with three goals apiece, Tomas Landa added two, and Anthony Kimlin backstopped the team to victory.
Last weekend the Bears ground out a 5-2 win in a penalty-filled affair. The whistles continued on Saturday against the Ice, with 113 PIMs assessed by the officials.
Sydney struck first with Darcy Flanagan in the box for the game’s first penalty, and the second powerplay unit got the Bears on the board.
A clean faceoff win by Kenshin Hayashi went to Alexander Gauthier, who walked the blue line before firing through a screen. Melbourne Ice’s goaltender, Austin Lefkowicz, tried looking around bodies, but Gauthier’s quick wrister snuck between his arm and body and into the net.
A penalty box parade by the Bears ensued for the rest of the period, as the team spent large portions of the period shorthanded. However, the penalty killers did an excellent job locking the Ice out of the high-danger areas and not allowing the Ice to set up.
Late in the period, with Tomas Landa already in the box for high-sticking, Timothy Newmark was penalised for delay of game with 30 seconds left in the period, leading to a 5-on-3 powerplay for the Ice.
The Ice finally broke through, scoring with just one second remaining in the period to tie the game 1-1.
After the Bears cleared the puck up ice, the Ice gained the zone and crashed the net. Kimlin came out of position to make the initial save, and the puck skittered to the right faceoff circle. Ice import forward Patrick Klöpper faked a shot and passed to Mackenzie Caruana in the crease for the tap-in goal.
Just a minute into the second period, with Timothy Newmark still in the box, Landa returned to the familiar confines of the penalty box for boarding. Melbourne scored five seconds later for its second 5-on-3 powerplay goal of the game to take a 2-1 lead.
The faceoff from the right circle went back to Austin McKenzie, and the forward blasted a slapshot high-blocker past Kimlin. Melbourne had its first lead of the game.
The lead could easily have been extended if not for some excellent penalty killing from the Bears and some key saves from Kimlin. Kimlin saved a dangerous shot by Klöpper from between the circles and shut the door on Jamie Bourke and Mackenzie Caruana on the rebound opportunity.
With the penalty killed, the Bears turned the focus to offence and quickly found a reply through Tommy Steven to make it 2-2. The Bears’ forward had time and space along the half-wall and fired far side, past Lefkowicz, who was tight to his post.
Melbourne’s lead lasted 152 seconds, and (spoiler alert) it was the only 152 seconds the Bears trailed opponents all weekend.
Steven’s goal was the first of five unanswered for the Bears, and he was involved in the go-ahead goal five minutes later.
Steven won possession behind the goal line with an aggressive forecheck, cycled to linemate Joshua Lammon, who deftly found Ace Cowans alone in the slot. Cowans coolly put it five-hole through a scrambling Lefkowicz to make it 3-2.
Steven doubled his tally and the lead 62 seconds later.
Joshua Lammon found Cowans in the circle for the initial shot, which hit Lefkowicz’s left pad. Steven was first to the rebound in the crease and backhanded it in for his 11th goal of the season.
The Ice were reeling, and Head Coach Kerry Goulet used a timeout to settle the group. Sydney finally got a 5-on-3 powerplay of its own, but Lefkowicz made some key saves to keep his team within reach.
With time winding down in the period, it was the Bears’ turn to score late. Newmark found Jeremy Brücker with the breakout pass to initiate a 3-on-1 opportunity. Brücker shaped to pass, taking the lone defender out of the play, and found space through Lefkowicz with his wrister.
The 5-2 lead became 6-2 five minutes into the third period. The Ice looked to have killed off a Caruana penalty, but Ace Cowans scored to put the game out of reach with just six seconds left in the powerplay.
Landa did well to keep the puck in the zone and passed to Cowans along the half-wall. The speedy forward found a lane to the slot and launched a shot between Lefkowicz’s pad and blocker that trickled over the goal line.
Melbourne got one back through Caruana, who tapped the puck over the goal line after a Josh Walt shot trickled through Kimlin, and the game quickly deteriorated.
The Ice took exception to a Joey Gunner bump on Flanagan as he joined post-goal celebrations, and a line brawl ensued.
Ellesse Carini went in to support his teammate, and Klöpper dropped the gloves and started punching Carini while he was lying on the Ice.
Some posturing between Flanagan and Thomas Moncrieff led to another scrap; fists and Moncrieff’s majestic mullet flew before Moncrieff secured the takedown.
Moncrieff and Flanagan earned one-game suspensions, while Klöpper will serve a two-game suspension.
With just under two minutes left, Tommy Steven set up Tomas Landa for the one-timer, which snuck under the flailing pad to seal the 7-3 victory.
The teams played barely half the game 5-on-5, as more than 29 minutes were spent on either special teams or 4-on-4.
A sterner test awaited Sunday less than 19 hours after the final buzzer on Saturday, as the rested Mustangs sought to gain ground on the conference-leading Bears.
If the Bears were fatigued, it didn’t show, as the top line of Lammon, Cowans, and Steven was buzzing.
Cowans ripped a shot on net that Hughes had to be sharp to save just 17 seconds in. Seven seconds later, Hughes denied Lammon between the hash marks.
Chris Lawrence had a debut to remember last weekend for the Mustangs, collecting four goals and two assists against the Lightning. Kimlin went post-to-post to deny his chance on a two-on-one opportunity early in the period.
Lawrence was at it again midway through the first, using a spin move to create a scoring chance, but Kimlin stood tall, and the Bears’ defence snuffed out the rebound opportunity.
With Steven in the box for tripping, Cowans used his speed to generate a partial breakaway, deking through Michael McMahon, but his backhand on net was thwarted.
Kimlin continued the one-upmanship between the goalies, swallowing up a Ty Wishart bomb from the blue line and Scott Timmins’ slapper on the powerplay. Between the two teams, the Bears had the edge in chances and play; however, the period ended 0-0.
The Bears finally hit the scoresheet on a delayed penalty call. Lawrence caught Lammon with a high stick in the Bears’ defensive zone.
Newmark initiated the breakout with a pass to Steven, and he found Cowans cutting through the middle of the ice. His shot went across Lawrence’s body and in the net for his seventh goal of the season and third of the weekend.
McNulty almost doubled the lead, turning Jaxson Lane inside out and drawing a tripping penalty before shooting from his knees into Hughes.
Cowans was causing fits for the Mustangs' defence and almost set up Gauthier for a tap-in, but the puck cruelly bounced over Gauthier’s stick.
Late in the period, the Mustangs restored parity courtesy of a 5-on-3 powerplay. McNulty went to the box for cross-checking, Gauthier joined him half a minute later for holding, and Ty Wishart scored a minute afterwards.
The six-foot-five defenseman has a booming shot, and some good puck movement from Timmins and Lawrence gave him a clear shooting lane. Wishart made no mistake in ripping it past Kimlin from just inside the blue line.
The third period started similar to the first, as Cowans had a glorious chance to score 17 seconds in, but was foiled by the bouncing puck.
Later, Brücker found himself all alone in front of Hughes, but lost control of the puck. The Bears were knocking, but the Mustangs were desperately holding them back.
Overtime was the most likely scenario, but a tripping penalty to Scott Timmins changed the landscape of the game.
Cowans shot the puck from the point, and Tomas Landa, providing the net-front presence, swept the rebound home underneath Hughes to retake the lead.
The goal increased Landa’s goal-scoring streak to four games.
Tommy Steven’s goal-scoring streak looked to be in jeopardy until Lammon flipped the puck cross-crease. Steven was driving hard to the net, and the puck hit his skate and snuck past Hughes.
The referees had a quick discussion before awarding the goal, and the replay showed it was a good goal. Steven’s skate did deflect the puck in; however, there was no kicking motion, nor did Steven change the angle of his skate.
The 3-1 lead looked shaky a few minutes later when Landa went to the box for tripping with two and a half minutes remaining. Despite gaining possession, Hughes stayed in his net.
Hughes eventually exited the net as the penalty expired, but the Mustangs couldn’t gain the zone. Cowans had a golden opportunity with seven seconds left to add an empty-net goal, but the puck deflected off McMahon’s stick and over the glass.
Cowans could only look up in disbelief and laugh on his way to the bench. It didn’t matter, as the clock wound down, and the Bears locked up top-spot in both the AIHL and the Hellyer Conference.
Notes and Quotes
Head Coach Ron Kuprowsky stressed that the key to success over the weekend “was teamwork and everyone sticking to our game plan. Defence is the key to playing any team in this league.”
The Bears were stout defensively, allowing just four goals all weekend. Three of those goals were scored on 5-on-3 powerplays, and the Bears allowed just one even-strength goal.
The Bears were able to generate offence while maintaining good defensive structure, as the team scored ten goals, seven of which were even-strength tallies.
A big part of the team’s offence was the newly formed top line of Joshua Lammon, Ace Cowans, and Tommy Steven. Together they combined for six goals and seven assists.
Tommy Steven’s game has come along in leaps and bounds since he last appeared in the AIHL. The dynamic forward scored 19 points (11G-8A) in 19 games in 2019.
Steven has since spent time in the United States and Sweden. The New Zealand-born forward has already eclipsed his 2019 AIHL points total, scoring 21 points (12G-9A) in nine games.
Speaking on behalf of the coaching staff, Coach Kuprowsky said, “We have always been very impressed with Tommy’s play, and this season he continues to improve and show the league his goal-scoring ability.”
Kuprowsky highlighted Steven’s improvements to his skating and defensive play and added, “His time in Sweden over the past couple of seasons has helped his game both physically and mentally.”
You can see Steven and the rest of the Bears face Saint John’s University from Minnesota. The squad is touring Australia and narrowly lost to the Northstars on Sunday 5-3 in a fast-paced contest.
The scrimmage will be played Tuesday at 8:45 pm, entry is free, and the Bears Bar will be open during the game. After the game, fans are invited to join the teams for some pizza and drinks at The Ranch Hotel.
Following the midweek scrimmage, the Bears head to the nation’s capital to take on the Brave this Saturday at 5:30 pm.
The Bears' next home game will be Saturday, June 3, at 5 pm against the Adelaide Adrenaline. The team needs you, our seventh player, at the rink to lift the team. Click here to get your tickets, check out our membership packages, and see you at the rink!
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