Newcastle punched its ticket to the 2019 AIHL Finals after a tense 5-4 shootout win over the Sydney Ice Dogs on Sunday.
Northstars captain Bert Malloy’s successful shootout goal saw the visitors become the second team to clinch a finals spot behind runaway leaders Canberra Brave.
The Ice Dogs, playing in front of a home crowd at Macquarie Ice Rink, opened the scoring and, despite a Richie Tesarik goal, took a 2-1 lead at the end of period one.
Newcastle started the second stanza strongly and hit the front through goals to Luke Simpson and Sammy Banga.
However, two more goals from Sydney, one each from Dylan Qualie and Grant Toulmin, put the Ice Dogs ahead 4-3.
Malloy then drew the Northstars level in the final period and both teams could not find a winner, sending the match into five minutes of extra time.
Newcastle goaltender Charlie Smart kept his side in the contest with some big saves to push it to a shootout.
The Ice Dogs four attempts to find the back of the net were not successful and the Northstars failed on their three efforts, leaving Malloy to finally seal the win.
Newcastle head coach John Kennedy Jr praised the squad’s resilience but added there was plenty of room for improvement as the finals approach.
“The boys never gave up and were able to find a way to win,” he said.
“These last final games, it’s already playoff hockey.
“Even though we’re in second place there’s always been a question of whether you will make it, with all these other teams nipping at your heels.
“Now that that’s out of the way, it’s refocusing on habits.
“I think we could have come out a lot better in the first period.
“As soon as we get that sense of urgency and realising the way we need to play all three periods, that’s going to be the key thing for us over the next few weeks.”
Newcastle will face the Brave in Canberra on Saturday 17 August.
The finals are set to take place at Hunter Ice Skating Stadium from 31 August to 1 September.