Fans applaud the Mustangs' semi-final victory. Photo: Will Brodie
Melbourne Mustangs grow up to seize ice hockey final
| Will Brodie, The Age Online, August 31, 2014
"There's only one team in Melbourne!" It's a Melbourne Ice barracking chant calculated to offend arch-rival the Melbourne Mustangs. For many fans, it is a throwaway dig at their underdog brethren, a "clean hit" in barracking terms. Ice, 12 years old and a triple champion, is a well-established presence in Melbourne; the four-year old Mustangs had not made the play-offs before 2014. But it is a line that cuts to the quick for many Mustangs pioneers, who feel their very existence was opposed by some in the other camp.
Melbourne Ice gather with their fans pre-game. Photo: Will Brodie
After this weekend's pulsating finals series, it is clear that the jibe is an outdated relic. For the Mustangs are champions of the Australian Ice Hockey League, and to claim the title, they defeated their nemesis Melbourne Ice 6-1 in a raucous grand final at the Docklands Icehouse, outplaying the more experienced team from the outset. The Mustangs endured a hard-fought 6-4 semi-final against the Sydney Ice Dogs to get to the decider, and Ice cruised in with a 6-1 win over CBR Brave.
AIHL defenceman of the year Mustang Jack Wolgemuth tangles with Ice captain Lliam Webster. Photo: Tania Chalmers
But Sunday's decider was dominated by the fledgling club from the first face-off. Their up-tempo aggression on offence and defence punished the flat Ice skaters. Import forward and finals MVP Viktor Gibbs-Sjodin set the tone, and his entire squad of teammates kept up the pressure, leaving Ice unable to stick its passes, or produce any meaningful scoring chances.
Ice coach Brent Laver refused to take credit away from the Mustangs, saying he was "genuinely happy" for his rivals. But he said "12 hours is a long time in sport", as he mused on his team's inability to settle and find any rhythm.
Mustangs coach Brad Vigon said he never dreamed his team could win the championship at the start of the season, and he was "baffled" when they claimed the minor premiership. Then they had to face a team that had beaten them 5-1 two weeks ago, and won three out of four derby encounters throughout the season.
Ice goalie coach Johan Steenberg, head coach Brent Laver and Mustangs team manager Mick Burslem. Photo: Will Brodie
He felt some sort of "curse" was in operation when the teams met.
But in this grand final, nothing supernatural was at work. One team played up to its best, the other did not. And in the sudden death world of Australian hockey, that meant little brother had grown up and claimed the highest prize. The win marks a changing of the guard in the local game.
Mustangs and Ice led the standings for the longest during the season, and finished first and second. They possessed wonderful import talent, but were not entirely reliant upon it. Off the ice, they were also league leaders in preparing their players, organising volunteers and mobilising their fans and sponsors. They are now the league's pacesetters.
There are two teams in Melbourne.