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Thunder survive fast-finishing Northstars in AIHL season opener

It's prime hockey season in Australia and across North America. (Photo: Andrew Kitchener)
Adam Carter new author
Roar Rookie
27th April, 2017
6

It is that time of year again: the Stanley Cup playoffs are well underway and live hockey has returned to Australia through the ever-growing domestic competition in the AIHL.

By the time I arrived at the Perth Ice Arena, 15 minutes before puck drop, to see the Perth Thunder take on the Newcastle Northstars, the car park was already overflowing and the queue to get inside the venue was building. Not a single space was available against the glass – the Perth fans were out in force at the sold-out arena and waiting in anticipation for their local heroes to hit the ice.

After a touching tribute to the Anzacs and the singing of the national anthem the action was ready to get underway. The intensity and ferocity was evident right away and never diminished throughout the 50 minutes.

It took just one minute and 37 seconds for the first penalty to be called against Matt Wetini of the Northstars for cross checking. The Thunder failed to capitalise on the man advantage and also squandered their second opportunity late in the period; however, their superior speed was well on display.

The Northstars also failed on their lone first-period powerplay courtesy of a Rob Haselhurst roughing charge. The first period was called to an early halt due to a wayward puck striking the scorekeeper prior to the end of the period, requiring medical attention.

Following the first intermission the remaining two minutes of the first period were played out, with both teams swapping ends at the horn. It took just 11 seconds for the Northstars to get on the board in the second period courtesy of their captain and USA native Robert Malloy.

The Thunder responded, however, with a shorthanded goal less than three minutes later. A scramble in front of the Northstars net resulted in Thunder veteran Andrew Cox deflecting a puck off of a Newcastle defenceman and into the back of the net. The Thunder later took the lead after a perfect long pass from Canadian import Ben Breault hit Tomek Sak on a breakaway, who produced a nice move to put the puck past the Northstars’ goaltender and WA native Charlie Smart.

Tempers were flaring late in the second period and penalties were plentiful, which set up for an exciting final 20 minutes with the Thunder leading 2-1.

The Thunder extended their lead almost immediately after star import Breault found some space on a breakaway and managed to sneak the puck through the five-hole of Charlie Smart for his third point of the evening. The Northstars later halved the deficit as Matt Marantz put one behind the Thunder’s import goalie in Peter Di Salvo on a four-on-four.

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The Thunder were on the back foot for much of the remainder of the game, which looked to be tied up in the final minute. However, after the referees convened, it was ruled that the puck was kicked into the net by the Northstars attack. It looked to be an excellent call from the referees on the ice as replays showed a distinct kicking motion, which sent the puck behind Di Salvo.

With half a minute remaining following the call, the Thunder held on to record the first win for new captain Jamie Woodman and new coach Dave Ruck.

Notable players
Ben Breault (Thunder) – three points (1G, 2A)
Matt Marrantz (Northstars) – two points (1G, 1A)
Robert Malloy (Northstars) – two points (1G, 1A)
Tomek Sak (Thunder) – one point (1G)
Peter Di Salvo (Thunder) – 33 saves (0.942 per cent), seven-game win streak

The Perth Thunder (1-0-0-0-0) pick up three points for the win and will be looking to build on their momentum with an upcoming Sydney road trip that will take them to face the Ice Dogs and the Bears. In contrast, the reigning champions in Newcastle (0-2-0-0-0) will be looking to pick up their first points of the season at home against the Bears and CBR Brave.