This Sunday afternoon’s game at the Dome at 4:30 p.m. brings us the second match of the weekend and the clash between Latvian Hawks and Flyers I.H.C. in a game which features two teams who have endured similar fortune early on in the newly formed IIHL. With both teams having suffered defeats in their opening games, both teams will be hoping to earn their first victories of the season and put their first points on the board.
The Flyers have shown that they can score goals and provide their goaltender with protection but have failed to do this for a full 60 minutes so far. On the other hand, the Latvian Hawks have no problem scoring goals, however, their problem lies in defence and they will need to provide their goaltender with more protection than provided in their first two games. In what should be a highly competitive and close contest, both sets of players will be out to use this game as a stepping stone and show that they have learned from their mistakes.
Having shown in pre-season that the Latvian Hawks are the best supported team in the league and the presence of their fans makes for an uneasy atmosphere for any opponent, the Hawks wanted to live up to their fans expectations and put on a real show. Things didn’t go as planned but rather as expected as Dundalk won easily 13-6. Most of their mistakes appeared to be mainly defensive, in which they allowed 13 goals to be scored by the Bulls. Despite the heavy score line, the Hawks’ goaltending didn’t seem to be an issue as their goaltender pulled off some impressive stops and was all but abandoned by his team. In the third period it looked as though the Bulls took their foot off the pedal having already got the points in the bag, leaving their young netminder Adam Pepper exposed. The Hawks top line took full advantage as they did in their pre-season games by showing that if giving the opportunity they can and will score goals. They rallied to put 5 goals past Dundalk’s Adam Pepper. So it appears that they have a penchant for scoring goals, many of which are highlight reel goals so depending on how you look at it, they entertain their fans and it appears the fans love them for it as they remain vocal to the end.
Following their heavy defeat, the Hawks had a two week break from action and were allowed to re-group and learn from their mistakes. Most of their mistakes were defensive and the two week break gave them time to work on giving their goaltender more support. The Dublin Rams were next and it appeared that the Hawks had done some major work over the previous two weeks as they traded goals within the first five minutes of the period. The Rams added a second before the end of the period and a third midway through the second. The game remained an even affair throughout until the Rams put it out of reach with four goals in the last 15 minutes of the game. The Hawks did make a game of it but they will rue missed opportunities, having edged the Rams in Shots 44:43 and with the Rams receiving 30 more penalty minutes the Hawks really should have taken advantage on the power play and put the puck in the back of the net as they did in the third period against the Bulls. Although it could be argued that they came up against a tough opponent in former OHL goaltender Eric Tobia, who was in fine form, and a team who could possibly have the best defensive corps in the IIHL.
The Hawks are a team that have two extremely talented forward lines who can find the back of the net. Their team is led by their captain Aigars Brencis who is their best and most experienced player having played for various teams in Latvia including HK Riga 2000. They also posses a strong goaltender who can pull off the big saves when needed. However it’s the lack of protection in front of him that is worrying and they will need to improve as a team in their own end if they want to prove that their early defeats were just a small blip on the long road to becoming a better team.
Having opened the IIHL with the very first game against the Belfast City Bruins in what was considered by many as a great spirited and highly competitive fixture, things didn’t seem to go to plan for the Flyers either. They lost 11-4 but many positives could be taking from the game. Such as the outstanding performance shown by their highly skilled Hungarian sniper. Sandor Szabi completed a hat trick and showed that the Flyers too posses the players who if given the opportunity can score goals. It should also be noted that this wasn’t as much of a one sided affair as the score line suggests. The Flyers matched the Bruins goal for goal in the first and third period with a combined score of 4-4. It was the second period that proved to be too much for the Flyers as the Bruins came out in full flow and put seven unanswered goals past Dermot Carney who was in net for the Flyers. Although, he could have been provided with more support. They could be accused of being caught surprised by their own performance as the Flyers were the underdogs going into this affair so may have been caught flat footed in the second period after a successful first 20 minutes. This may have been what allowed for the Bruins’ seven goal tally. But despite this bombardment, they came out re-focused in the third period and matched them in both skating and goals.
If things didn’t go to plan in the opening game of the IIHL for the Flyers, then they certainly didn’t pan out as hoped in their second outing against the Bulls. The Bulls posted the biggest victory margin of the season against the Flyers in what was an extremely one sided affair. The Bulls quite simply out skated a Flyers team that was missing some key players and under strength and it is fair to say that the Flyers strongest players became tired very quickly in a game that involved a huge amount of ice time for their top lines. And as seen when the Bulls defeated the Hawks, if you allow them to skate they will dominate and due to their strength in depth it will be unrelenting pressure. However the Flyers can take positives from that game in that they did manage to rally for two late third period goals. Again, although for only a brief period, showing that if they skate hard, they can compete and score goals but they will need to skate for three periods if they wish to overcome the Latvian Hawks on Sunday.
The Flyers posses many players who have represented the Irish National Team at the recent IIHF Div III Championships in April and throughout the years since 1999. These include captain Philip Darcy and Stephen Cooper, the only two players who have been involved in every squad that has represented Ireland throughout the years since the U-18’s first went to battle in Bulgaria in 1999. Other members of the Flyers squad who have represented the national team include goaltender Dermot Carney, Patrick McCabe, O’Connor Lyne, Johnathan Dunne, Ross Cronin and Barry Higgins among others. All of whom will be looking to build on their past experiences and performances in order to improve their play in the hope of being involved next year in Romania. Coach Keith Daly is also a former player of the national team, competing in Mexico in 2005, and defenseman Robbie Byrne is a former coach of the Junior National teams so this is a team that is familiar with each other and it will be their unity and good team spirit that will help them rebound from their heavy defeat of 26-2 at the hands of the Bulls. Many of these players have experienced heavy defeats in the past but have persevered, rebounded and become better players because of it. They will be hoping to do the same this Sunday against the Hawks and they will be very much aware that if they skate hard early on they will have every chance to leave Dundalk on Sunday with a win under their belt. Hard work from everyone will be needed to allow players like Szabi, young Barry Higgins and hard hitting defenseman Stephen Perkovic, who hails from Canada, to show off all their skill.
This should prove to be a great game, and quite possibly the noisiest affair of the weekend as the Hawks fans pack the Dome and support their team. Both teams will be looking to end the weekend on a high and will play hard until the final whistle.
It will certainly be an entertaining game and a great day out for all of the family on a Sunday afternoon. Face-off is at 4:30 p.m. and tickets are 8 Euro per adult and 5 Euro per person under 16 so come along and enjoy the great atmosphere of the Ice Dome and the IIHL.