With the tournament starting in the early hours of Sunday morning (Australian time), Australia will hit the ice in their first match against the hosts Mexico in the feature game of the night (11.30am AEST).
After being relegated to Division 2 Group B following a difficult tournament in Iceland in 2015, new national team coach Brad Vigon told the AIHL from Mexico that the team is singularly focused in 2016.
“Only gold – anything else is a failure,” Vigon said of what would be deemed a success in the tournament. “That’s not only my opinion but in the opinion of the entire squad. We’re on a mission.”
Vigon is confident the squad selected is the ready to achieve this goal, praising the teams’ preparation and training despite not having a trial game in advance.
“I couldn’t be more impressed by the guys’ buy-in and work ethic and everything we’ve done in preparation,” Vigon said. “The preparation the guys have done in the lead up has arguably been better than past years and they were ready to go before they boarded the plane. These guys are one of the best groups I’ve ever worked with. I can’t say enough good things about them.”
However, playing overseas has its challenges with Mexico City located 2,250m above sea level, 22m higher than the peak of Mount Kozciuszko, meaning that managing the altitude has been a challenge for the squad.
“[The altitude] is tough; the guys really feel it,” Vigon said. “We’re trying to monitor fatigue levels very closely. We want to get to the tournament and fly out of the cage rather than limp. It’s a tough ask to come over to the tournament and get used to the altitude.
“Our strength and conditioning coach James McConnell set them up with a program and they can only do as much as they can but then when they arrive and we start two-a-days, the guys would end up exhausted and limp out of the gate. That’s not what we want. The altitude is tough but we’re starting to get used to it and acclimatise.”
Another disadvantage with the tournament is the lack of quality match fitness with Australia coming out of the AIHL off-season.
While a challenge, Vigon is confident the teams’ preparation will hold them in good stead throughout the tournament.
“Most of the players have been training with their AIHL teams and the rest are coming off their overseas seasons. It’s obviously a big advantage to the overseas guys but one of the difficulties of playing for Australia, New Zealand and even South Africa is that you’re coming out of a period where you haven’t played a game in a long time,” Vigon said.
“We’ve been doing the best we can. We developed a strength and conditioning program to simulate game conditions but there is nothing you can do to truly simulate the conditions. We have done everything possible in preparation but until you have guys try to run over you, there’s not much you can do. It’s a trial by fire.”
Vigon sees the first game against Mexico as “a big test”.
“They’ve been training for a long time for this,” Vigon said. “In a World Championships, home ice is a gigantic advantage. Australia has won twice and both times it has been at home. Mexico will be used to the altitude and they get to sleep in their own beds. I saw them train earlier in the week and they look very fast and well-drilled.
“We’ve been working a lot on our systems. I think the match will come down to who wants it more. In these international tournaments, it’s not always about the most talented team; it comes down to who wants it more.”
Alongside Mexico, Vigon is looking forward to the game against cross-Tasman rivals New Zealand as a key match-up.
“New Zealand [will be a big match] particularly because it’s such an intense rivalry, you just have to throw the stats out the window. It’s going to be a very physical game and it should be a great spectacle for those watching. It’s nerve-racking to be a coach in those types of games.”
In other squad news, the Melbourne Ice’s Lliam Webster has been named the captain of the squad with the Adelaide Adrenaline’s David Huxley and Newcastle North Stars’ Robert Malloy named as alternate captains. The Ice’s Tommy Powell, CBR Brave’s Mark Rummukainen and Sydney Bears’ Michael Schlamp have also been named in an extended leadership group.
From everyone at the AIHL, we wish the Mighty Roos all the best as they seek gold and promotion back to the Division 2 Group A World Championships.
Mighty Roos 2016 World Championship Division 2 Group B Schedule
10 Apr 11.30am AEST/11.00am ACST/9.30am AWST – Vs Mexico
11 Apr 7.30am AEST/7.00am ACST/5.30am AWST – Vs Bulgaria
13 Apr 4.00am AEST/3.30am ACST/2.00am AWST – Vs Israel
15 Apr 7.30am AEST/7.00am ACST/5.30am AWST – Vs North Korea
16 Apr 4.00am AEST/3.30am ACST/2.00am AWST – Vs New Zealand
2016 Mighty Roos Squad
C – Lliam Webster – F (Melbourne Ice)
AC – David Huxley – D (Adelaide Adrenaline)
AC – Robert Malloy – D (Newcastle North Stars)
Paul Baranzelli – D (Melbourne Ice)
James Byers – D (CBR Brave)
Wehebe Darge – F (Adelaide Adrenaline)
Mitch Humphries – F (Melbourne Ice)
Sean Jones – D (Melbourne Mustangs)
Anthony Kimlin – G (Sydney Bears)
Jordan Kyros – F (Perth Thunder)
Mathew Lindsay – D (Newcastle North Stars)
Austin McKenzie – F (Melbourne Ice)
Tommy Powell – F (Melbourne Ice)
Mark Rummukainen – D (CBR Brave)
Michael Schlamp – F (Sydney Bears)
Charlie Smart – G (Sydney Ice Dogs)
Matt Stringer – F (Melbourne Mustangs)
Richard Tesarik – F (Sydney Bears)
Cameron Todd – F (Sydney Bears)