The Sydney Bears are back on top of the Hellyer Conference and the AIHL standings after a pair of come-from-behind wins over the weekend. This weekend the team plays its final home game of the month on Sunday, hosting the Central Coast Rhinos.
Kickstarting the weekend, the Bears played a familiar foe, the Sydney Ice Dogs, in the second instalment of the Battle of Sydney.
The Bears dominated early but couldn’t solve Ice Dogs’ goaltender Jakob Doornbos.
Early in the second period, the Ice Dogs scored first through Jeremy Vasquez. Grant Toulmin found Vasquez alone between the circles, and Kimlin had no chance on the shot.
Less than two minutes later, defenceman Shawn Rooke tallied his first AIHL goal with a point shot through traffic and Doornbos to tie it up 1-1.
A generous penalty call went the Ice Dogs’ way as Michael Schlamp went to the box for interference, and the Ice Dogs retook the lead. A cross-crease pass found Cameron Todd at the bottom of the left faceoff circle, and he converted from the tight angle.
Third periods have been a strength of the Bears’ play this season, and it proved the case yet again. Thomas Steven restored parity off an Ice Dog mistake less than a minute into the final frame.
Doornbos went behind the net to deal with a routine dump-in, misplayed the puck, and Ace Cowans took possession. He set up Kenshin Hayashi, who passed across the crease to Thomas Steven for the one-timer into the yawning cage.
Three minutes later, Vasquez and Cowans were assessed offsetting penalties, and the Bears took advantage of the extra ice afforded by four-on-four hockey.
Hulking import defenceman Marc McNulty gave the Bears its first lead, 3-2, after gaining the zone and sizzling a wrister from the left faceoff circle far-side past Doornbos.
Timothy Newmark made it 4-2 a minute later, still with four-on-four hockey, as he intercepted a pass in the defensive zone and broke in alone on Doornbos. He shrugged off the back checkers and found space glove-side.
A goalie change didn’t stop the bleeding for the Ice Dogs. Mackenzie Bolger went to the box for high-sticking, and Alexander Gauthier scored the powerplay marker on a seeing-eye shot from the blue line that looked to take a deflection off an Ice Dog penalty killer.
Sean Ellison again picked the puck out of his net with less than five minutes left in the period. With four-on-four hockey once again, Rooke kept the puck in the offensive zone and fired a wrister from the point that beat Ellison glove-side.
The Bears went right back at it on Saturday against another conference rival, the Melbourne Ice. When Gauthier was hauled down on a breakaway and prevented a scoring chance, the referee pointed to centre ice for a penalty shot.
Gauthier dazzled goaltender Michael James on the ensuing shot, freezing him before converting blocker side.
Sydney’s first-period lead didn’t last long. Lliam Webster scored two goals from almost the same spot in the left faceoff circle to put the Ice in front 2-1. However, Sydney tied it up through Joey Gunner in the twilight of the period. The blueliner made a heads-up play to jump up in the zone, and found space low-glove past James.
The top line for the Bears gave the hosts the lead, as Hayashi forced a turnover on the forecheck and spotted Steven, who set up Cowans for the go-ahead marker.
However, the Ice would not go away and scored two quick goals to take a 4-3 lead into the final frame.
Just over five minutes in, the Bears earned the second penalty shot of the game as Lachlan Cincotta and Nathan Cachia took turns infracting on Thomas Steven’s breakaway attempt.
Steven continued his impressive streak of scoring in every Bear’s game this season, going forehand-backhand-forehand and tucking it past a sprawling James.
Both goaltenders made key saves to keep the scores level. Bears goaltender Anthony Kimlin reacted sharply to keep out a pair of point-blank chances from Jake Riley, and James came well out of his crease to knock the puck away from a streaking Tomas Landa on a shorthanded opportunity.
The Bears broke the deadlock just when it looked like the game was destined for overtime. Seconds after returning to full strength, Jeremy Brücker tucked the puck home after Steven picked off the puck in the neutral zone and worked a nifty zone entry with Cowans, resulting in an odd-man rush.
Cowans was again involved less than a minute later; this time Landa was the recipient of the gift-wrapped cross-crease pass, converting his first of the season.
With the goalie pulled, Ellesse Carini sealed the 7-4 victory with an empty-net goal after intercepting the puck at the blue line.
This weekend the Bears play just a single game, hosting the bottom-of-the-league Central Coast Rhinos, who will be desperate for a win.
The Bears have looked strong throughout the lineup, generating offence from multiple lines and the backend. Coach Ron Kuprowsky will ensure complacency isn’t an issue while likely using the opportunity to roll all four lines.
Make sure you’re part of the action as the Bears host the Central Coast Rhinos for the only time this season on Sunday. With top-spot in the Hellyer Conference on the line, there’s plenty to play for.
Doors open at 4:30 pm on Sunday, and puck drop is scheduled for 5:00 pm. Click here to get your tickets, and we’ll see you at the rink!
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