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Northstars’ play-off preparations remain on track

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A mixed weekend of results on the road hasn’t hampered the Newcastle Northstars’ play-off preparations in the Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL).

Even though the local outfit dropped Saturday’s fixture 8-5 to the hosts Brisbane Lightning, the Kevin Noble-coached side bounced back to win 6-5 in a shootout against the same opponent 24 hours later.

The first showdown was a tough affair for the visitors, with several penalties affecting the flow of the game.

Locked 4-all after two periods, Newcastle took a gamble to pull Charles Smart from the net for the extra player advantage.

However, Brisbane capitalised to claim the spoils.

Andrew Smardon in action for the Newcastle Northstars at the weekend. Photo: Jasin Boland

A highlight for the Northstars was the appearance of Andrew Smardon, who stepped into the line-up and secured three points.

It was a different story on Sunday.

Both teams came out strong and went goal-for-goal.

Newcastle eventually led 3-2 but the Lightning drew level, 5-all, at the end of regulation.

Following a scoreless overtime, with the Northstars on a penalty kill, the combatants faced off in a shootout.

Riley Klugerman and Wehebe Darge then scored, and with Smart blocking both shots for Brisbane, Newcastle prevailed, much to the delight of Noble.

“With our short team, I thought they – as a whole – battled hard across the whole weekend,” he said.

“It was not ideal, in regards to our expectations internally for game management and the responsibilities of our guys, but we were happy to come home with two points.

“The overtime speaks volumes about our team and their commitment to fight for each other to the end.

Photo: Jasin Boland

“Plus, it was nice to insert him (Smardon) back into the line-up and reward that dedication and hard work he’s put in for the year.

“It was good to have him go out and support the team that way.

“Now we need to get healthy, get our players back and focus on finals.

“From my perspective, the important job was clinching a play-off spot.

“That was our main goal from the start of the year… and its done.

“Now, we’ll work on making sure we’re being smart with attention to detail and our systems, and that we’re taking care of our health ready for play-offs.”

The Northstars host a double-header at the Hunter Ice Skating Stadium, with matches against the CBR Brave on Saturday 29 July, from 5pm, and the Lightning again on Sunday 30 July at 3pm.

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