Melbourne Ice (4), Sydney Sirens (3)
Regardless of the Adelaide Rush not making it to the big dance, a strong crowd at the Ice Arena came out in force to witness Melbourne and Sydney do the Grand Final tango. They were yet to know how truly lucky they were.
Those who had the honour of a ceremonial puck drop bestowed upon them this weekend included Adelaide Crows AFLW premiership winning co-captain Chelesa Randall, Adelaide Scorpion and Striker Amanda Wellington, and Sports Minister Corey Wingard who proclaimed his hope that “South Australia host more national finals in the future.” The stage was set and it was big, with a strong contingent of support in the house for both sides adding to a terrific atmosphere.
In a finals system that gives everyone a chance in this critical weekend of matches, it was fitting that the two best teams and rivals, Melbourne Ice and Sydney Sirens, found themselves contesting for the league’s ultimate prize in the Gold Medal Game. But prior to the highly anticipated Grand Final, the new girls on the AWIHL block, Perth Inferno secured the Bronze Medal, capping off their successful first season with a victory against the Brisbane Goannas.
For the National anthem, Sydney forewent their sticks and helmets and instead found their teammates in a unique, and quite possibly spontaneous, display of unity that evoked feelings of comradery and togetherness. There can be worse ways to a start Grand Final.
The opening minutes were fast and intense, in case you needed any reminding what was at stake. Within the first five minutes, Melbourne produced one of the louder roars the Adelaide Ice Arena has heard, with the early Ice goal remarkably bringing the Sydney players to their knees in disappointment. Goals meant too much today. Ice looked the better side early showing dare and confidence, as the Sirens at times were being caught out playing too safe with their short passes.
Melbourne Ice’s superstar captain Christina Julien scored the side’s second, surely causing a few sweating palms amongst the Sydney camp. But an instant, and unassisted, reply from Sharna Godfrey put the Sirens on the board for the first time in the Gold Medal Game at the dying stages of the first period.
It did not take long for the game to return to level pegging as an early Sirens second period goal via Katherine McOnie equalled the scorers, with a post-goal spotfire signifying a simple message – Game On. And so it remained, until Erin Beaver broke the deadlock from long range, and celebrated accordingly with her now fired up teammates. Suddenly, the Sirens had scored three in a row and had the lead, a lead in which they will protect until deep into the final period.
A pulsating period of ice hockey saw the crowd gripped to their seats, until they were spectacularly launched to their feet as a brilliant Melbourne Ice goal kept the regular season ladder leaders alive to the soundtrack of a roar worthy a win.
It was that unbelievable scenario when the scores were level with just minutes remaining in the Grand Final. The noise, the frantic energy – was there even enough time to feel the enormous pressure? To stretch out the drama even further and put the pressure valve up yet another agonising notch, a time out was called with just ninety seconds left. A season was to be defined not by months, or even minutes, but moments. It was all down to this.
It was already the match of the season and up there with the greatest Gold Medal Games in league history. But sometimes it needs a moment just to tip an epic encounter into the history books forever.
Enter Bettina Meyers, with glory in her mind and ice in her veins, she became the hero and scored the winner with 36.7 seconds left, lifting the roof off the Ice Arena and securing a championship for the ages for Melbourne.
But still Melbourne had to ensure half a minute of madness that saw the Sydney Sirens throw the whole kitchen sink and some at a chance to force a shootout and save their season. But the puck, and Melbourne’s inspired defence, would not allow it and the Joan McKowen Memorial Trophy belonged to the Melbourne Ice for the second consecutive year and for a record-breaking seventh year in total. Melbourne have won their seventh title in nine years – a phenomenal achievement from the club that is now the most successful in the league.
However, nothing can be taken away from the Sydney Sirens who were simply outstanding today as well. Unfortunately, there always has to be a loser but nevertheless it still feels like an undeserving title after what we have witnessed. The Sirens did receive consolidation prizes a plenty with Sharna Godfrey winning the MVP, Olivia Last claiming Rookie of the Year and Amelia Matheson achieving the First Year Player of the Year. However, it was Melbourne Ice superstar Christina Julien who won the league’s highest goal scorer at the post-game presentation, to add to her championship.
In amongst, the euphoria of the hugging, fist pumping and smiles – on one side of the divide – it was confirmed post-game that further AWIHL expansion is in the planning.
Written by Tom Basso