@ O’Brien Group Arena
Head to Head
Bears 2-0-1-1 – Thunder 0-2-1-1
The Thunder are looking to advance further than they have ever gone before, after losing in three consecutive semi-finals. This year will offer up a new opportunity, but also a new set of challenges as the team goes in without one of their best players in Landon Oslanksi who was suspended for two games in the last game of the regular season.
Both coach and captain for the Thunder seem to understand the task ahead as the team look to advance to their first Grand Final.
“We don’t have the best record against the Bears this season. But finding some late form has helped us to feel good about ourselves going in and you just have to know that on any given day, the way the Finals work, any team can come out and put on one good performance to find themselves in the Final and we just have to believe that this year this team has what it takes” Coach Dave Ruck said.
“This team’s experience in losing I think is part of what motivates us to do what it takes this year,” captain James Woodman said. “We’ve found our own way to lose that game each year, and as hard as that is we’ve taken each of those games as an important lesson and this year we all feel like we have what it takes and this year we have all come together as a team. Without Landon it’s going to be important for us all to come together and step up and take on the load of not having him out there on the ice with us.”
Keys To Success
The Thunder will rely heavily on their high octane style of play to wear down the Bears, and hope a high scoring game will give them enough on the scoreboard to push them in the right direction. Both the league MVP in Grandmasion and Thunder veteran Breault will be key players that a tight defensive Bears squad will be eager to shut down. If they can find the back of the net, and the rest of the team can rally behind them, the Thunder will have a good chance of putting up enough goals to find the win they are looking for.
Discipline will also be a key factor, as the Bears powerplay has been lethal at times (29%), and the Thunder have had penalty kill troubles throughout the season.
The Bears are a team that was questioned somewhat coming into this season, but as it rolled on, so too did the momentum the team carried. They found themselves locked in early at second place with the rest of the league still fighting over Finals spots, and this has given them peace of mind as they head into their first semi-final match up since 2010. The team is no stranger to the Goodall Cup however, winning the title twice before, although their last was over a decade ago in 2007.
This year’s Bears squad has shown more than the shut down defensive nature of old, and has evolved into a team that can both shut down a team defensively and put enough goals on the board to make them a hard team to come up against in a game where anything can happen. Their style of play is perfectly complimented by the stellar goaltending they receive from 2018 AIHL Goaltender of the Year Anthony Kimlin (2.39GAA/9.20SV%), and he will be especially key to this year’s run for the champsionship coming up against an offensively minded Thunder squad in the semi-final.
Keys To Success
As mentioned, Kimlin will be a big part of this team’s chances of beating the Thunder. Another point to consider is special teams; this year’s Bears squad have the best operating powerplay in the league, running at a healthy (29%). This could be an important factor if the game is called tight, especially considering the Thunder have struggled at times on the penalty kill this season (71%).
Another aspect that will be crucial to a Bears win is a team effort. Led by captain Michael Schlamp, the team will rely on both local leadership and important talent to come together as they have done this year. Charles Adams and Ryan Lough will be key players for the Bears, and if they can make an impact the Bears will be a tough squad to beat.
With the Mustangs and Brave battling out in the first semi-final game, the winner of this one will still have a huge task ahead of them if they are to lift the Goodall Cup Sunday.