The Melbourne Ice are probably the most divisive clubs in the AIHL – either you love them or you love to hate them. I fall into the former camp, so this article is difficult for me to write. But the change of fortunes for the Ice have been so dramatic and intense it’s worth some scrutiny – at least from a statistical perspective. While there is plenty to keep people talking about rumours, innuendo and hearsay, let’s analyse what happened to the Melbourne Ice across the years.
Pre-2010: Before the Beginning
The Melbourne Ice were formed as a club in 2000, and played their first AIHL season in 2002 – the same season the Newcastle Northstars and the Sydney Ice Dogs joined the competition. The rivalry with the Northstars would become legendary, resulting in some of the most intense games this country has seen. Originally, the Ice played out of the Olympic Skating Centre in Oakleigh and the Bendigo Ice Rink. Over time, the games at Bendigo were dropped, and, with the opening of the Icehouse in Docklands, so too Oakleigh. During this time, the best season for the Ice was 2006, finishing in first place with 21 wins and 65 points – a then-record for the AIHL. This also started a run of Finals appearances that lasted well into their move to Docklands.
2010: The Beginning
The Icehouse (and attached Australian Winter Olympics Institute) opened in February 2010, as a key component of the newly developed Docklands precinct of Melbourne. For the Ice, it marked a significant shift in attitude, as they had not won a Final yet, and took to their new home looking to correct this. With the arrival of imports Jason Baclig and Matt Armstrong, the Ice had found themselves two superstars of the League, and the club finally broke through to win not only their first Final, but their first Goodall Cup.
The Ice finished the season with a 15-3-1-5 record (W-OTW-OTL-L) to earn second place in the standings (behind the Newcastle North Stars). After coming from behind to beat the Sydney Bears 2-1 in the Semi Final, they defeated the Adelaide Adrenaline 6-4 in the Grand Final. Jason Baclig would win the Finals MVP award.
2012: Peak 1
The 2012 season would be a season for the ages, with the competition being broken into the Bauer and Easton Conferences. The Ice created formal ties with the San Jose Sharks of the NHL, with the signing of Doug Wilson Jr. (son of NHL Hall Of Famer, Doug Wilson) to the Ice roster. The 2012 Finals allowed the Ice to put to rest the last doubts of sustained success – winning Finals away from the Icehouse – by completing the three-peat and defeating the home town Newcastle North Stars in the Goodall Cup Final.
The Ice finished the season with a 15-3-0-6 record to top the Easton Conference and rank second overall – to the North Stars. The Ice defeated the Sydney Ice Dogs 6-2 in the Semi Final, and held off a fast-finishing Northstars team 4-3 to win the Cup.
With the 2012 season, the depth of statistics improves, and I can introduce a statistic called PDO. It is the sum of a team’s shooting percentage and its save percentage, and is based off an “average” of 100 – every shot is either saved or scores, so that makes sense given enough time. For the 2012 season, the Ice had a PDO of 102.7 – above average for the League, and about right for Goodall Cup finalists.
2016: Off-ice changes
By the end of the 2016 season, the Ice had not won another Cup, despite impressive regular season performances and making the Finals every season. Imports such as Jeff Smith, Paul Kurceba and John Gordon had pulled on the Big M jersey, but the last step of success had eluded the Ice. With the signing of Lasse Lassen, the time was right – this was the year. However, after a record-breaking 66 point season (breaking the old record from 2006), the Ice fell in a heart-breaker to the CBR Brave in overtime in the Semi Final.
The Ice finished 2016 with a record of 19-3-3-3, and a PDO of 103.3 – again, above the League average. During the off-season, ownership of the club transferred away from a pure membership-owned model to a privately owned club proposed by Iconic Sports and voted on by members.
2017: Peak 2
With Iconic Sports directing the club, formal ties were made with Swedish clubs, specifically Tranås AIF, with the signing of Sebastian Ottoson and Niklas Dahlberg amongst several Swedish players. This was further emphasised with the signing of Swede Charles Franzén as Head Coach. Not only did this provide a huge lift for the Ice, it also set a new record for wins and points in a single season. The Ice defeated the cross-town rival Mustangs in the Semi Final, and beat the CBR Brave 4-1 to win their fourth Goodall Cup.
The Ice finished the 2017 season with a record of 22-2-1-3 for 71 points, and a PDO of 102.2.
Summary: 2010 – 2017
For the period between 2010 and 2017, there was no more powerful club in the League than the Ice – 4 championships, 101 wins, and an unbroken streak of Finals appearances.
|2013||16||1||3||8||53||101.6||Semi Final Loss|
|2016||19||3||3||3||66||103.3||Semi Final Loss|
No-one knew it, but things were about to change for the Ice. Very quickly.
The Ice started the 2018 season with the announcement that Peter Ekroth would take over as Head Coach, continuing the Swedish ties from the 2017 season. However, Ekroth would soon leave with a 4 wins-3 losses record. Ekroth would be followed by imports Dylan Anderson and Dillon Lawrence, who both left the team in July. Lawrence still managed to be the team’s top scorer, despite not playing the last month of the season. And for the first time since 2006, the Ice failed to make the Finals, finishing 7th – the biggest single-season drop the League had seen from any of the previous years’ champion.
The Ice finished 2018 with a 7-2-4-15 record for 29 points, and a PDO of 97.2. This was second last, only to the last placed Adelaide Adrenaline (94.6). And with the Northstars finishing in 5th place, it was the first time since 2002 (when the teams joined the League) that both the Ice and Northstars missed the Finals in the same year.
2019: Under the Rubble
Things did not improve for the Ice in the 2019 season – in fact, an argument could be made they got worse. With fewer wins and less points than 2018, the Ice finished 7th on the standings due to an Adrenaline team that was smaller, lighter and about 1,300 cumulative games less experienced in the AIHL (the least experience in the League by at least 500 cumulative games). The season was not helped when import Kasey Kulczycki did not complete the season.
The Ice finished the 2019 season with a record of 6-3-0-19, for 24 points and a PDO of 96.8, setting a new low for PDO for the Ice.
Summary: 2018 – 2019
Not much more needs to be said about this stretch in the Ice’s on-ice performance. But if you want a crazy / weird / sad statistic from this, consider this statement: The Ice won 22 games in regulation in 2017, and have not yet won another 22 games at all since then … including games won in the current 2022 season.
There is a thought process I run through when people talk about which teams will make the AIHL Finals. I work off the idea that it will generally be the same teams as the previous season, unless a team from outside the Finals has a brilliant season, or a team that was in the Finals has a bad season. Generally, this holds true, but I don’t think anyone expected the Ice to go from AIHL champions to second last, seemingly overnight.
There is also another, more general, idea I have that suggests the strength of a competition is shown in the difference between its strongest and weakest teams. For the strength of the League, and for the sake of the Ice, hopefully they rebound sooner rather than later to competitiveness. Yes, the Ice are bad now, but they have been great and eventually will return to greatness. Be patient, Ice fans (mainly talking to myself here), things will get better. I just don’t know when.