As the rest of the world pulls on their bobble hats and wraps themselves in scarves, things are heating up in the Australian summer as the women's ice hockey season rolls into town.
A Look Back at Last Season
Last season saw a massive shakeup in the AWIHL. The Sydney Sirens, who embodied “always a bridesmaid and never a bride,” went undefeated and raised the Joan McKowen Memorial Trophy on home ice in March. In the lead-up to the championships, a shock came when the Melbourne Ice missed the grand final for the first time in six years. Instead, the Brisbane Goannas had their first ever chance to lift the historic trophy, but fell short in the shootout against Sydney.
While Sydney dominated the regular season standings with a massive +58 goal differential, a young Adelaide Rush team were on the flip side of the coin, struggling to stop the onslaught of pucks. In fact, they failed to scrape out a win, finishing last place in a season they want to forget.
1 - Sydney Sirens
2 - Melbourne Ice
3 - Brisbane Goannas
4 - Adelaide Rush
While it's difficult to see a universe in which Sydney is anything less than dominant after the past year, roster changes are inevitable, and the Melbourne Ice are looking to bounce back. Still, Sydney could slay the dragon two years in a row and take the cup again. For Brisbane, it will be hard to top the offensive onslaught that Sydney and Melbourne will bring. As for Adelaide, they’ve made some good coaching decisions and some smart import choices to become relevant once more. While the team is still young, this year hopefully feels less like a national team beating a local town’s peewee contingent and more like a glimpse at what the future may hold for the South Australian side.
A Closer Look
No one is denying that Adelaide had a tough season last year, nor can anyone blame them as the team was saved from the brink of extinction just in the nick of time. Plus, their shockingly young line-up played better than many expected, regardless of going winless.
With only nine players returning, the squad on the ice and behind the bench look new. Club President and AIHL All-Star Josef Rezek steps up to try on the hat of Head Coach. The addition of imports Ashley Pelkey and Hannah Wright from Castleton University should prove to help boost their offensive numbers as well as provide the team with some additional veteran presence amongst the young offensive core.
Eighteen year-old Natalie Ayris is also back after a banner season in which she was nthe Rush’s highest scoring player as well as captain of the Australian U-18 girl's team which won gold at the World Championships.
Player to watch: Natalie Ayris
Biggest storyline: Band of Thieves in Ripped Up Jeans
What to look forward to: The only way to go is up & their coach’s twitter game is out of this world
The 2016-17 season was a bit of a Cinderella story for the Brisbane-based team after they came in last place the previous year (2015-2016). The Goannas ended up losing the championship in round six of a shootout. It was a confidence-building year for all players involved, and the current group will need to carry all of that with them into the new season after several veteran players retired.
Notably missing are forward Emma Grey and goaltender Ashleigh Brown — both of whom were critical to the Goannas’ success last year. However, the addition of players such as Tina Girdler, who backstopped the Adelaide Rush last season, will be able to fill some holes. Girdler will share the crease with 17-year-old Imogen Perry. Alex Macdonald and Kelly Costa are also back with the team for another season, with MacDonald looking for another career season after she became the second-highest scoring player for the Goannas last year.
While it's looking to be something of a rebuilding season for the Goannas, the addition of import Danielle Roberts to the blue line is sure to provide a boost. The ex-Castleton University captain joins the blue line fresh off a season as the Assistant Coach at the College of the Holy Cross and will be sure to provide some mentorship and stability to the young defense.
Player to Watch: Imogen Perry
Biggest Storyline: The Rise of the Kid Goaltender
What to look forward to: The Goannas are never not fun to watch, and with a younger line up they should be more energetic than ever
Last season was a disappointing one for the Melbourne Ice after they missed the final for the first time in six years AND failed to defend their championship crown. However, the team they have put together this year looks to rebound as they set out to reclaim the glory for Melbourne.
With the highest number of returning players at fifteen, as well as the addition of two ex-Australian National Team players and a fantastic crop of imports, the Melbourne Ice are looking to make a splash after their lackluster 2016-17 season. Last year;s league-leading point scorer Christina Julien is back for another year and is joined by Jessica Pinkerton from the University of Guelph and Sarah Dash.
Captain Shona Powell is also back after putting up 22 points in just seven games last season. Local powerhouse Kristelle Vanderwolf scored on average a goal a game also returns. The Melbourne Ice were never bad, so a bounce-back season is in order, and if the last decade has proved anything, it’s that the Melbourne Ice are never truly out of it.
Player to watch: Christina Julien
Biggest storyline: McKowen and Goodall in the same trophy case once again?
What to look forward to: Vengeance
With fourteen members of the team returning, the Sydney Sirens are back and they are may be better than ever.
While the team will be without their cup winning goaltender Sera Doğramacı, they have added some serious firepower to an already offensively gifted team in the form of Kristen Embrey. Embrey is fresh off her senior year at the University of Mass, and in her Junior year helped lead the team to their first New England Hockey Conference tournament title before being selected by the Boston Blades in the most recent CWHL draft.
Captain Amelia Matheson will yet again be excepted to anchor the team's blue line after a fantastic 2016-17 season, while returning forwards Sharna Godfrey and Stephenie Cochrane look to continue their onslaught after they combined for 26 goals in 12 regular season games.
Last season, it felt like the Sirens were in a league of their own — wracking up goals and wins faster than anyone could keep track. While improvements to other teams, as well as changes to their own, might make going undefeated less plausible, the Sirens biggest threat remains themselves, as the grand final game against the Goannas last season proved they were not quite the infallible monster that the regular season box score had made them out to be.
Players to watch: Sharna Godfrey and Stephenie Conchrane
Biggest storyline: Can anyone stop the Sirens?
What to look forward to: Goals and lots of them
Three Series you're not going to want to miss
1. Melbourne Ice vs Brisbane Goannas - Opening Weekend
The 3-0 loss that sent Brisbane to the finals and knocked Melbourne out of contention was a tough one. For an offensive team like Melbourne, the opening weekend rematch is sure to be a fiery one as Melbourne looks to prove that the semi-final was a fluke occurrence. Meanwhile, the Goannas need to prove to themselves and the rest of the league that their stellar finals weekend performance was only the tip of the iceberg.
2. Sydney Sirens vs Brisbane Goannas - December
The final clash before the league breaks for Christmas and the all-important national team tryouts, this game is the end of the first part of the round robin and the Grand-Final rematch should not the be missed. Maybe we’ll witness a six-round shootout again.
3. Sydney Sirens Vs Melbourne Ice - February
It’s Sydney, and it’s Melbourne. It’s never going to be anything but a Clash of the Titans, and this year should be no different. With both teams high on firepower and backed up with impeccable defense, it’s bound to be a show. With both teams having one more series until Finals, it will be the last chance to grab points and the final chance to earn the upper mental hand before the two teams almost inevitably meet during finals.
Where to watch:
The first games of the season kick off this weekend with series in both Sydney and Melbourne, so if you're local, get down to your local rink. However, in fantastic news, there are rumors that the AWIHL is moving online this season, so stay tuned for streaming details as they are released.