|Engström hat-trick as Bears start Wilson Cup with a win
With the AIHL regular season just six weeks away, the Wilson Cup kicked off with the Sydney Bears coming from behind to defeat the Sydney Ice Dogs 5-3 in an entertaining pre-season clash.
While there were some clear early season mistakes from both sides as they prepare their new look teams for the upcoming season, ultimately the aim was to build some early season momentum for when the AIHL regular season begins in just under six weeks’ time.
The match started in an even fashion with much of the play taking place in the neutral zone, although both goaltenders - Luke Read for the Bears and Jake Burgess for the Ice Dogs - were particularly strong in the early exchanges, denying some clear goal scoring opportunities.
The Ice Dogs, donning the red jerseys of the Sydney Old Dogs in the Old-timers Ice Hockey Australia Network (OiHAN) which are reminiscent of the Arizona Coyotes, were the first ones to strike when Brian Funes drew Read out of the crease before passing to Jake Knott to tap in the backhander behind the sprawling Bears keeper.
This opened the floodgates with the Bears hitting back just over a minute later through Kevin Engström when Michael Schlamp caught the rebound off his own shot before passing to Engström, who fired the shot top shelf from point blank range.
The Ice Dogs added two more through Jackson Knott and import Strat Allen to go to the first break up 3-1.
The entertaining game continued after the break, with the Bears tying the game midway through the period with Kevin Engström’s second and Michael Schlamp hitting the back of the net.
However, despite the tide of the game beginning to favour the more experienced Bears, the young Ice Dogs side fought hard and competed strongly.
Although Engström completed a hat-trick early in the third, there were strong opportunities and positive signs for both sides as neither gave up, even after Richard Tesarik claimed the late insurance goal for the Bears.
Bears new assistant coach Ron Kuprowsky said that he was impressed by what he had seen in their first competitive hit out for the year.
“The guys are still getting used to new players and we’re still working on our systems. It was really just to see what we’ve got so it was a good game,” Kuprowsky said.
“The Bears are a good outfit. They’re a good bunch of guys. We’ve got a few of the old guys over with us to try and help stabilise the ship and once the imports start coming and the team starts to build, you’ll see a better team out there this year for sure.”
Interim Ice Dogs coach Anthony Wilson was also impressed with the game, especially the way his young side competed.
“We’ve gone from an average age of 27 to probably 20 but what I saw on the ice tonight far exceeded my expectations,” Wilson said. “Certain people were writing us off thinking we weren’t going to have a team four weeks ago. Not only have we got a team but we’ve got a bunch of kids that competed with Bears.”
It was a good chance for both sides to blood some rookies, with goalkeeper Jake Burgess particularly impressing with some clutch saves for the Ice Dogs.
“He’s got a lot of poise for a kid,” Wilson said of Burgess. “I noticed him two years ago at a midget training and I was more than impressed. I spoke with him in the off-season and he was keen to come and join us.”
“We’re hoping Jake can have a great year as a backup this year and then who knows next year maybe start the team and then we don’t need an import goalie. The goal is for a bunch of the Aussie kids to be national team players and I’ve probably got two or three that could be now.”
Kuprowsky echoed Wilson’s sentiments, saying that developing the youth was an important aim for the Bears.
“The key to building a good team is to work on your young kids and bring some youth into the team,” Kuprowsky said. “This year, I see two or three young kids here that have the potential to be future stars. We’ll nurture them through and have them learning off the imports and the veteran players. We’ll play them and you’ll see that they’ll be some of the best Aussies going around.”
The next Wilson Cup clash is between the Ice Dogs and Bears at Liverpool Catholic Club on March 28.