The Sydney Bears have skated out of Melbourne with a full 6 points, after accounting for the Melbourne Mustangs 8-4 at the O’Brien Icehouse on Sunday afternoon.
It was back-to-back wins for Sydney, after defeating the Melbourne Ice the previous evening with the hopes of consolidating third spot on the AIHL ladder.
No-one could’ve predicted how the first period turned out.
Tom Flack continued his good form from Friday night and opened the scoring less than 30 seconds into the period, catching Anthony Kimlin and the Bears’ defence by surprise to make it 1-0 in favour of the Mustangs.
The Bears responded instantly, tallying less than a minute later through Adam Dauda and it was 1-1 with barely two minutes played.
High intensity hockey ensued for the rest of the period, however both Kimlin and Kevin Nastiuk steadied themselves in their respective nets despite the early concessions.
That was until Matt Stringer grabbed another one for the Mustangs to give them a 2-1 lead with 5:57 remaining. Danick Gauthier equalised for Sydney 45 seconds later, only for Flack to score his second of the game on the very next shift. Jamie Bourke then conceded a penalty to give the Bears a power play a minute later, which Dauda took full advantage of to make it a 3-3 score line.
That two-minute stretch saw 4 goals scored with 6 goals total for a wild first period, and it finished 3-3 heading into the first intermission. Shots finished 13-7 in favour of Melbourne.
Mustangs’ coach Max Parent went for a change between the pipes and Jaden Pine-Murphy stepped into the net.
Pine-Murphy held firm for most of the period, making several key stops to keep it a tied hockey game. Christian Isackson and Jordan Owens had great chances for the Mustangs during the period but couldn’t find a way past Kimlin.
That was until Jake Ratcliffe scored against the run of play to put the Bears in front for the first time in the game, making it 4-3 Sydney with 4:44 to go.
Alex Wardlaw then added another for the Bears two minutes later, to give Sydney a two-goal lead and one could sense they were starting to ever so slightly pull away from Melbourne.
However, Flack completed his first career hat-trick with one second remaining in the period on the power play, after Thomas Steven was ruled off for hooking, to reduce the deficit to 5-4 heading into the second intermission.
The final period began as an arm wrestle, with neither team having a clear advantage despite some heavy pressure from the Bears on part of Gauthier and Dauda.
Dauda finally broke through for Sydney on the power play after a tripping penalty to Mitch Humphries, and the Bears again had a two-goal buffer at 6-4 with 9:53 left on the clock.
The Mustangs failed to threaten the Bears for the remainder of the regulation, with Max Parent rolling the dice and pulling Pine-Murphy with two minutes remaining.
The Bears held on and added two more goals, one on the power play and one empty netter from Gauthier and Wardlaw respectively, to seal the game 8-4 and walk out of Melbourne with 6 points on the road trip.
Kimlin turned aside 24 of 29 shots in the win, while Pine-Murphy stopped 14 from 18 shots faced.
Ryan Annesley recorded a career high 6 assists, while Gauthier had 4 points (2G, 2A) in the win. Flack’s hat-trick led the point tally for the Mustangs.
Bears’ coach Ron Kuprowsky was pleased to grab the full 6 points on the road trip at a critical stage of the season.
“It was a good game, it was close right up until halfway through the third period. I think our penalty kill made the difference, allowing us to seize the momentum and finish the game off,” Kuprowsky said.
“Annesley and Gauthier both had a great game. Those guys are always solid and play hard day in, day out and they really stepped it up tonight.”
The Bears will host the Newcastle Northstars at Macquarie on Friday night, while the Mustangs will travel to Adelaide for a double header against the Adrenaline.