Sydney Derby showcased in first Friday night game of AIHL season

April 19, 2024

Sydney Derby showcased in first Friday night game of AIHL season

The Sydney Ice Dogs hosts the Sydney Bears in the first Friday game of the 2024 Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL) season tonight. AIHL fans will enjoy six Friday night games over the course of the season.

All six of the Friday games are derby games, two of which feature the Bears against the Ice Dogs, and the remaining four showcasing Melbourne rivals the Ice and Mustangs.

The Ice Dogs have had a tough time against the Bears lately, the last time Ice Dogs' fans celebrated a victory over the Bears was August 24, 2018. Star Ice Dogs' import Bryan Kolodziejczyk had five goals in that 7-2 victory almost six years ago.

Tonight will be the second meeting of the teams this season, the Bears secured a 6-2 triumph in the season opener two weeks ago. Both teams are yet to earn points since that game.

The Ice Dogs lost to the Canberra Brave and Newcastle Northstars, and the Bears lost in Adelaide to the Adrenaline. Each team will be eager to heap more misery on their Hellyer Conference rival.

Photo Credit: Jess Fuller

Jason Kvisle - 'Every Obstacle is an Opportunity in Disguise'

Ice Dogs' Head Coach Jason Kvisle sent a message to his players this week, telling them he has never started a season before with this amount of setbacks. A confluence of injuries, suspensions, and national team absences have led to a depleted line-up.

Last weekend, Kvisle brought his hockey gear to Newcastle and was prepared to dress and enter the game. After hearing him list, off the record, players who are unavailable, it wouldn't be surprising to see Kvisle dressed in a jersey.

"Every obstacle is an opportunity in disguise," Kvisle told Hockey Hype Australia. That's the message that he has passed on to the team, and, according to Kvisle, the team has bought in to the message.

"The response was really good," Kvisle confirmed. "We'll run some rookies, Billy Cliff is back, and Michael Douglas will be available."

Douglas, a short-term import from York University in Canada, will bring much needed experience and skill to the blue line. The 26-year-old has some experience playing in the Southern Professional Hockey League.

The defenseman needs to return to Canada towards the beginning of May, but should feature prominently in the line-up for the next six games.

More import help is on the way, with big blueliner Bray Crowder due to arrive early next week. When Crowder and other reinforcements arrive, and players get back from national team and recover from injury, the Ice Dogs will look very different.

One player who has thrived early in the season is Dmitri Kuleshov. The dynamic forward skated on the second line last season, but this season he has earned top-line duties.

With four goals in three games, and a three point game against the Northstars, Kuleshov gets fans off their feet.

"He's a bright spark in the dressing room both on and off the ice," Kvisle enthused when talking about Dmitri. "He's energetic, fun to be around; the guys love him. He's the future of the organisation."

Photo Credit: Peter Podlaha

Tyler Huberty - 'Team to Continue Building on the Foundation'

Sydney Bears' Head Coach Tyler Huberty is aware of the threat of Dmitri Kuleshov. "He is a very good player," Huberty observed when asked about Dmitri. "He scored against us in the first game.

"If we make a mistake, he can make us pay. We need to keep the puck away from him and be aware of when he is on the ice. And we have to do a good job containing him.

"Shutting down their top line is a big part of the game plan," Huberty concluded.

The Bears are also missing key players heading into this weekend. Jake Riley had an excellent game leading up to a shoulder injury against Adelaide last weekend,

Huberty has been impressed with his commitment to the team, and even though there is no timeline for his return as he is still awaiting results, he has been working hard.

Another absentee is defenseman Brian Funes, who is representing Australia at the IIHF Division II A World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia. "I'm happy for Brian Funes and him being on the national team, it's a big deal," Huberty declared. "I'm proud of him going out and representing his country."

The goals for this weekend are simple, according to Huberty. "I'm happy with our team so far, and I expect our team to continue building on the foundation that we put down in our first derby game.

"We're coming together as a team - it's a tight group. It will be fun to see us play our third game and see the growth of each player and the team since last game."

Photo Credit: Willie Krause

Traditionally a veteran team, two young players have earned looks in the top six early on this season - Eugene Ju and Noah Moncrieff.

"They've earned their opportunities," Huberty revealed to Hockey Hype Australia. "I've been impressed with Eugene's performance and happy with his game. He's been working very hard, I think he's a promising young player.

"Noah is a hardworking forward with some skill. He plays a hard game - goes to the net, corners, gets pucks. He's proven his skill set in his first games. I'm happy with what I've seen."

Another player who has impressed fans and coaching staff alike is Samuli Vainionpää. The Finnish star has played big minutes and is a game breaker.

"He brings a lot of experience," Huberty said, referring to Vainionpää. "He played in world juniors, played pro in Finland - as an import we are very happy with what he brings to the team. He's going to be a very important piece throughout the year.

Photo Credit: Hugh Whittle

How to Watch

The game is a Sydney Ice Dogs' home game, so you can get your tickets online by clicking here. Otherwise you can watch by subscribing to AIHL.TV. Special bonus is yours truly will be doing colour commentary on the broadcast.

Doors open at 7:00 pm, puck drop is at 7:30 pm AEST, and the Sydney Ice Dogs will have new merchandise available for fans along with fan activation activities.

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

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