The Newcastle Northstars have not one, not two, but three meetings with the Sydney Bears on their run home to the Australian Ice Hockey League finals and each game will help determine both team’s top-four chances.
Only two points separate the two sides on the competition ladder ahead of the fourth-placed Northstars hosting the fifth-placed Bears at Hunter Ice Skating Stadium on Sunday (4pm).
They cross paths again next month, home and away respectively on August 12 and 17.
It comes as Newcastle (30) slipped from second on the overall standings after Saturday’s 3-1 loss to leaders the Brave in Canberra while Sydney (28), who have played two less matches than the Northstars, are close behind.
The Bears catch up one of those fixtures against the Brave in Canberra on Saturday before travelling north to Warners Bay the following day.
Newcastle co-coach Joey Theriault said “this series” with the Bears was “big time” important for the Northstars’ play-off aspirations.
“If we want to keep hold of fourth spot, or even move up, this series is big time for us,” Theriault said. “And whatever sort of gap we can put on the Bears, rather than trying to catch them, will be important as well.”
The mentor has “shuffled” the Northstars squad around with Sam Lawson moving to centre of the third line following the return of Zane Jones from concussion.
Theriault said Jones, who hasn’t played since Newcastle’s 2-0 loss to the Bears in Sydney on June 16, is “keen as a bean” to get back on the ice.
Jones will be centre on the Northstars’ second line playing with the likes of Richard Tesarik and Patrick Nadin.
Czech import Tomas Landa remains sidelined with concussion but Theriault said he was a step closer to coming back after skating again at training this week.
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