This weekend, the Bears face a pair of Rurak rivals - the Newcastle Northstars and the Brisbane Lightning - and the results will shape the Bears' chances of wresting back control of top spot in the Hellyer Conference. The Bears control their own destiny, and can seize top spot with three wins in their last four games.
Almost two thousand years ago, Roman statesman and philosopher Seneca said, 'it is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness'. Last weekend, Bears' Captain Ryan Annesley similarly commented on the opportunity the tough stretch run presents, ensuring the Bears are battle-hardened come playoff time.
The tough matches continue next weekend also, with a double-header in Perth against the Thunder. The road is tough, but the reward will be escaping a tricky play-in game against either the Brave, Northstars, or Lightning on the road in a fortnight.
Saturday vs Newcastle Northstars at Hunter Ice Skating Stadium 5 pm
On Saturday, the team travels to Newcastle to take on the Northstars, and will be keen to avoid a season sweep at the hands of last years' runners up. In the last contest between the two teams at Macquarie in April the Northstars frustrated the Bears and had the bounces go their way in a narrow 3-2 victory.
Northstars' goaltender Charles Smart earned Skater's Network AIHL Player of the Week honours for his performance, stopping 31 of 33 shots fired his way. Daniel Berno, Zane Jones, and Andrew Smardon scored for the visitors, while Tommy Steven and Timothy Newmark scored for the hosts.
Since that game, both teams have experienced some roster movement. A big loss announced earlier this week for the Bears is import Ace Cowans, who has returned to North America.
The play-driving forward will be sorely missed, but it provides an opportunity for others to step up and contribute.
Sydney is one of the form teams of the competition, winning eight of its last nine games. Newcastle has sputtered recently, winning two of its last four games, putting its aspirations to top the Rurak conference on a knife's edge.
Sunday vs Brisbane Lightning at Macquarie Ice Rink 5 pm (click here for tickets)
On Sunday, the Bears play at home for the final time this season in a clash with the Brisbane Lightning. Although the Lightning are in their first AIHL season, all the ingredients for a rivalry have been laid.
Most fans will be familiar with the ugly scenes from last year, when the Bears abandoned an exhibition game in Brisbane after Bears forward Thomas Moncrieff was crosschecked in the face and required extensive dental work.
At the rematch in Boondall earlier this season, Moncrieff had the last laugh, recording a goal in a 4-2 Bears victory. The match, an early sell-out, featured a healthy amount of post-whistle shenanigans, including a scrum following the final whistle, as the Lightning looked to draw the Bears into taking penalties.
For the Lightning, circumstances meant captain Damian Bright and star import Jordan McTaggart were unavailable midseason, and the team struggled, losing nine of ten games in one stretch.
The Lightning has played three games over the past two weekends, all against the Northstars, and managed to secure a regulation win, a shootout loss, and a regulation loss, proving that on their day, they can match it with title contenders.
The return of captain Ryan Annesley, along with his updated PR status, means the Bears will roll with Jake Pappalardo and Joshua Lammon as import forwards, and Marc McNulty with Alexander Gauthier as import defencemen.
The improved defensive situation allows Timothy Newmark to move back up to forward, adding another offensive threat into the mix. His return to the forward ranks will be most welcome for Head Coach Ron Kuprowsky as he looks to juggle lines following Cowans' departure.
Tomas Landa has had another successful regular season - the evergreen 39-year-old has collected a point in all 18 games played. Import forward Joshua Lammon has also been sizzling lately, tallying 23 points in a nine-game point streak.
Meanwhile, goaltender Anthony Kimlin continues to flex his credentials as the league leader in save percentage, .930, and goals against average, 2.25.
Make sure that you're there to support the team for their final game at home and give the team the lift it needs for victory.
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