The Perth Thunder rounded out the 2016 regular season with a double header against league leaders the Melbourne Ice at O’Brien Group Arena in Melbourne over the weekend. With finals berths already clinched for both sides, the weekend was a chance for the Thunder to find their rhythm in Melbourne leading into this weekend’s do or die Semi-Final against the third placed Newcastle North Stars. The teams split the weekend with the Thunder taking a 4-2 win on Saturday and the Ice responding with a 5-2 victory on Sunday.
The Thunder went into Saturday’s game full of energy and looking forward to a crack at the league’s top side (against whom they scored two shootout victories on home ice earlier this season). Things were relatively even early on with both sides looking to assert their dominance on the contest early. The home side broke through first, putting the Ice up by one midway through the first period. Their lead was short lived however, with Thunder import Jessyko Bernard slotting one for the visitors to square things away at one apiece heading into the first break.
A scoreless second period put both goaltenders to work between the pipes and the scoring drought was broken early in the third by the Thunder’s Ben Breault, followed soon after by Michael Dorr to put the Thunder up 3-1 midway through the third. Not content with the two goal deficit, the Ice pulled one back to bring the score back to 3-2 with only minutes remaining in the game. In a last itch effort to force a shootout, the Ice pulled their goalie and brought forward the extra attacker.
However, the Thunder would not lie down with Ben Breault sealing the 4-2 victory with an empty netter and in the process, breaking the Thunder record for the most points scored in a season with 51. The victory also locked in second place in the AIHL standings for Perth, with one game remaining.
Sunday’s game gave both sides the chance to play with some systems and the Thunder took the opportunity to rest import goaltender Thomas Heemskerk, opting to start local goalie Mark McCann for the first time. The home side controlled the play early on with the Ice taking a 2-0 lead into the first period break. The Thunder responded in the second period with Breault continuing to tally the points, cutting the Ice lead to one. The Ice hit back with a power play goal before a footrace to the puck between Michael Dorr and the Ice goaltender resulted in a unassisted, empty net goal to Dorr pulled the Thunder back to 3-2.
The third period was fast and furious with big opportunities coming at both ends. However, it was the Ice who took their advantages, scoring twice more to take a 5-2 victory.
The Thunder finish the regular season in second place, the highest ever finish for the Perth based side. They now turn their attention to what is set to be a tightly contested AIHL finals series. The Thunder will take on the Newcastle North Stars in the Semi Finals on Saturday, August 27, with the winner to advance to the Goodall Cup Final the following day which will be against the winner of the Semi Final between the Melbourne Ice and the CBR Brave.