The Newcastle Northstars came away from a pair of games over the weekend with three points, as they split the games at Perth Ice Arena with a big win on Sunday after the Thunder took first contest on Saturday afternoon.
Saturday’s game saw a dominate performance from a Thunder squad eager to make up ground in the standings, as they battle for the two remaining finals spots with the CBR Brave and the Northstars.
Louick Marcotte was a standout for the Thunder, recording his first AIHL hat-trick during Saturday’s game which saw the Thunder take a 5-3 win against one of the league’s top contenders.
Kieren Webster’s standout season continued to roll on, as a goal Saturday landed him tied for the top spot in scoring among local players, and 8th on the league ladder for goals scored.
Captain Jamie Woodman commented both on Webster’s successful year to date, and on what Saturday’s win meant to the team.
“These last few games are always about getting a chance to try get your game going so you can feel confident heading into finals. This win tonight gives us a chance to feel like we can beat one of the teams in our way during finals if we play the right game,” Woodman said.
“We’re hitting our stride here at the right time, and with guys like Webster having big seasons, and the imports getting hot I think everyone feels like we can get on a roll here to end the year.”
Sunday’s game, however, saw Newcastle put on a much more dominant performance. With the team putting up three goals in the opening period on route to a 7-3 victory, the Northstars were able to find offence up and down with line with the likes of Banga, Drolet, Phillips, and Stranger all adding to the scoreboard among others.
Veilleux also netted his second of the weekend for the Thunder, but the team looked a little flat at times, and areas where they had success in the first game were not able to be replicated during Sunday’s contest according to Northstars’ coach John Kennedy.
“On Saturday the Thunder did a great job back-checking and clogging up the middle of the ice but today we were able to take advantage of the extra opportunities we were given. We’ve talked about carrying speed into the zone and sometimes in games when guys start looking for the long stretch pass or looking for the easy goals, it gives the other team the chance to shut us down easier,” Kennedy said.
Special teams also shifted much of the momentum in favour of the Northstars, who were able to capitalise on some of the chances they were awarded, including multiple two-man advantages thanks to some undisciplined play from the Thunder squad.
“We got plenty of opportunities today on the powerplay just based on the way the referees called the game, and it helped that part of our game was clicking and we were able to execute that,” Kennedy said.
With finals now looming on the horizon, both teams are in preparation mode as the Thunder look to continue their winning record in the hopes of taking third spot from the Sydney Bears. It would also eliminate any chance of them having to face off against a virtually undefeated CBR Brave in the semi-final.
But with a tough loss on Sunday, the Thunder are reminded that they will need to continue to bring their best performance from here on out if they are to remain in finals contention. The Mustangs now sit only one win behind the Thunder, with a game still in hand.
“We’ve been off and on this year, but the talent we have in the room gives us a really high ceiling. Everyone knows there have been games this year where we feel like we can be better,” Woodman said.
“It’s just been a challenge at times to have the whole team show up together and play the right way as a squad. But Saturday’s game was an example of what we can do if we come out to play and we just need to work on bringing that consistency heading into finals.”
Coach Kennedy had a similar approach to these last few games before the season’s deciders which will be held at home this year for the Northstars.
“A key thing that we talk about is our habits, and we want to make sure we have good habits going into that finals weekend. Everyone knows that anything can happen in that one game elimination style of play. So you want to make sure you’re not giving teams an inch and we want to go down the stretch here, feeling like we have all our systems in the right place and we are playing the way that has brought us success this year.”
The Thunder will take on the Melbourne Ice at home on Sunday after the Ice split the weekend’s games with the Adrenaline. The Northstars will play the Ice Dogs on Sunday after getting Saturday off to prepare for the final stretch heading into the Goodall Cup Finals for 2019.