This coming Sunday sees the IIHL clash between Flyers I.H.C. and Latvian Hawks. Face-off is at 4:30 p.m. and as always the game takes place in the Dundalk Ice Dome.
This game is a very important game for both teams for similar reasons. Both teams need the points in order to contend for playoff places. The Flyers are already in the playoffs but having lost out on 2nd place to their Dublin counterparts last week, they will want to make sure that they finish in 3rd ahead of both the Bruins and Hawks. 3rd place would be nicer than 4th going into the playoffs. A win in their last two games would all but guarantee them of that. While the Hawks technically could qualify for the playoffs ahead of the Bruins it is most unlikely as they would need to win all of their remaining games. However, if you saw them play last Sunday against the Bruins, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they might be up to that task.
The first game of the season between the Flyers and Hawks finished 13-3 to the Flyers and nobody was surprised because at that time the Hawks were poor, very poor. They had their stars in captain Aigars Brencis and Viktors Serdjukovs but overall they were very poor, especially in defence and one could only feel sorry for their goalkeeper. However, they got better and better every week with the next 2 games against the Flyers finishing closer with score lines of 6-4 and 5-3. Both teams on those occasions being short benched. Now though, things are different and the Hawks are better. They’ve added Mark Bowes and he compliments both Brencis and Serdjukovs very nicely on the 1st line. He can also fill in on Defence whenever needed. They’ve also strengthened up in the nets as well. During the transfer window, former Belfast Giants’ and Belfast City Bruins’ goalkeeper Hugh Smyth moved to the Hawks and they’ve needed him.
Last week, against Smyth’s old team, the Hawks played their best game of the season. The Hawks blitzed the Bruins in the 1st period of that game with it finishing 5-0. Keep in mind that the Bruins didn’t play bad either. After all, Smyth stopped 17 shots in that period, he kept the Bruins scoreless. He gave his team confidence and they went on to score 5 unanswered goals. Two of them came from Mark Bowes in the space of 30 seconds of each other. First 5-on-3, then 5-on-4. Smyth left midway through the second period having suffered a strain on his thigh. By that stage his team were up 6-0 and on their way onto victory. That game finished 11-6, after the Hawks went 7-0 up the Bruins then made a remarkable comeback in the 3rd period to make the score more respectable. Of the Hawks’ players, Smyth finished the game having stopped all 23 shots he faced in only half the game while Janis Klavins stopped 25 out of the 31 shots he faced. Mark Bowes had 2 goals and 1 assist, Viktors Serdjukovs had 2 goals and 5 assists while captain Aigars Brencis had 6 goals and 2 assists.
Their new players are combining with the old players very nicely while the weaker players early on in the season are starting to look like they know how to play the game now. Defensively, despite conceding 6 3rd period goals last week, they are much improved. They cover their points well and in the corners they play physical and finish their checks. Offensively, they never had a problem in this area as Brencis and Serdjukovs always found a way to link up together and excite their fans. If anything they’ve improved in this area with Mark Bowes adding nicely while other players have stepped up and chipped in when they can. Overall, they are a much better team and the Flyers have their work cut out.
I think it’s safe to say that all of the teams in the league have improved since the start of the season with the Hawks proving to be the best example of this. The Flyers are no exception to this as they went from losing their first 2 games by scores of 11-4 and 26-2 and only winning 1 game out of their first 5 to surprising everyone who took them for granted. Their only win was that 13-3 game against the Hawks. They then went and played the Rams, who at the time sat in 2nd place and were the only challenge to the Bulls. The Flyers were the underdogs but they showed incredible fight in that game and pushed the Rams all the way. The Flyers went on to claim that game in a shootout. They were simply a better team as a result of gaining some players as well as improved play from certain players. Sandor Szabi, their Hungarian sniper, is without a doubt one of their key players and he steps up and scores their most important goals when needed most. Szabi along with Dave Donaldson and Emil Kacir, these 3 players are the Flyers most offensively gifted.
However, the one thing above all that shows that the Flyers are a better team is that they managed to overcome the Bruins. In the first 2 meetings between these 2 teams, the Bruins swept the Flyers by scores of 11-4 followed by 7-2. At that time the Bruins were the team to beat. However the 3rd time that these 2 teams met they produced a fantastic game that was end to end right to the finish. The Flyers took the spoils by a score of 10-7. They had worked hard and had combined excellently in the Bruins zone to score some magnificent goals. They were better. They met again after the holiday break and again the Flyers won. This time by a score of 7-4 and they were without a shadow of a doubt the better team. The Flyers were 5-1 up going into the 3rd period of that game but they kept hold of the game despite an impressive comeback by the Bruins led by Gareth Martin.
So it’s fair to say that the Flyers are a better team too. However, will they be better than the Hawks on Sunday? The Hawks are coming off an impressive win over the Bruins and will be full of confidence while the Flyers may be slightly dejected having lost out to the Rams last week. In order to win this one, the Hawks need to play like they did last Sunday while hoping Smyth gives them some solid goaltending. If he worries about keeping the Flyers out, that offensively gifted 1st line of Brencis, Serdjukovs and Bowes will look after the rest.
The Flyers on the other hand, need to be up for this game and play like they’ve done in past games. They need to utilise their speed in this game as the Hawks defence aren’t particularly quick on their feet. More importantly though, certain players need to step up and start producing. Players like O’Connor Lyne and Patrick McCabe are important players for their team and need to stay out of the penalty box while still remaining physical. While young Team Ireland hopefuls like Barry Higgins and Dean Kelly need to start chipping in offensively and start being more responsible defensively. They should be scoring more between the 2 of them and this is the time for it as selection for Team Ireland looms ever closer. Expect a fantastic game, one which will be extremely close, this Sunday at 4:30 p.m.
Face-off is at 4:30 p.m. at Dundalk Ice Dome. Entry is E8 for adults and E5 for children under the age of 16.