As part of Die By The Blade's Sydney Bears coverage, we asked a few questions about the team to the club's Marketing Manager Bianca Musico and the team's gameday commentator Julian Daw.
DBTB - With the Wilson Cup already under their belts, are the Bears looking like contenders for the championship this season?
BM - Absolutely! The Bears have a really strong core group of Australian talent. With Cameron Todd, Richard Tesarik and Michael Schlamp all representing Australia in the IIHF Division 2 Group B World Championships. Not only that, but we have some great young guys as well, that under the guidance of not only our veterans, but our imports will only get stronger and develop a superior skill set.
The Bears have also signed Australia's best goaltender in Anthony Kimlin. Kimlin was named Best Goaltender in the World Championships (D2B) with a .90 SVS% and also has experience playing overseas. So he's definitely a weapon that will make us contenders this year. Plus, our head coach Ron Kuprowsky has recruited some incredible imports this year. Our fans have already witnessed Geoff Irwin and Tomas Landa in action during the preseason with both netting some really impressive goals.
We have Ryan Annesley adding depth to our defence this year and Brent Vandenberg filling out our forwards. Geoff, Ryan and Brent all have NCAA hockey experience, with Ryan and Geoff also playing multiple seasons in the ECHL. Under the guidance of Ron, who has already led a team to a Goodall Cup championship, we're going to be pretty hard to beat this season.
JD - The guys to watch for on the scoring end this year will be imports Geoff Irwin & Tomas Landa as well as locals Richard Tesarik and captain Michael Schlamp. Landa, Tesarik and Schlamp each had strong seasons last year and have not missed a beat, while Irwin has been highly impressive since he arrived in the country.
In defense Brian Funes is a guy we are very excited about. We rescued him from the Ice Dogs over the summer and he is a hard working tenacious defensemen. Working in tandem with "Stone Cold" Spencer Austin they are more than capable of getting it down in attack also.
And I can't forget about goaltender Anthony Kimlin, He's been plying his trade all over the world for the last few years and is the current national team goalie. He's a strong a goalie we have ever produced in the same vein as your former shot stopper Ryan Miller. On the weekend we started backup Anthony Downie against the best offence in the league the CBR Brave, making 14 saves from 19 shots may not seem all that flash initially but here's the incredible thing....HE'S 15 YEARS OLD!! Well 16 now at the time of writing this as his birthday was Monday but imagine a 15 year old taking shots against the best players in your country? That's what he did Sunday. He is being touted as the next big thing in Australian hockey and getting to learn from Kimlin and playing against the best who knows where he could end up?
As far as the coaching staff Ron Kuprowsky has taken the reins this season. A former bears player and coach of the Ice Dogs in their 2013 Goodall Cup run he has the pedigree to get the Bears back to the promised land.
This season is shaping as one of the closest on record. The Bears should make the four from what I have seen, anything less is a failure. Once your into the four anything can happen with our Finals weekend (Frozen Four) so winning the cup from 4th isn't as daunting as it sounds, especially playing the finals at a neutral.
DBTB - From what we've seen, the Bears fans are a passionate lot. Tell us a bit more about the demographic, who goes to hockey games?
BM - Our fans are great, arguably some of the best in the league. We have fans from all groups coming to watch the Bears. Mostly though we're a family orientated club, so we love seeing parents bringing their kids along and being able to see the love of the game in such youngsters develop. Plus there is nothing louder than when all the kids start yelling and cheering for their team, so they make the atmosphere a great one to be a part of.
At the same time though, we have long time NHL fans that have just realised they can watch hockey in an ice rink in Sydney, so we do see a lot of new faces and quite a few ex-pats as well that miss being able to watch the sport live. Being quite close to a university, often we'll get large groups of uni students coming to watch a game as well. We have such a diverse crowd, which makes for a unique atmosphere and we are such a tight knit community, so it's a great environment to make new friends and just enjoy a common interest. We love all our fans, and their passion both at the games and through our social media, like I said, they're the best in the league!
JD - We have all sorts of people come to our games, families to the elder generation. But it's more people in the age bracket of 26-42 that come along, many play hockey themselves or know somebody who does. It's a niche community but it's growing all the time. Unless we have a major climate change shift and Australia's major cites start getting snowy winters and our lakes get frozen over for a number of decades hockey will always be a niche sport here.
But the NHL has a huge following, we have one of the largest number of NHL GameCenter subscribers by country outside of the US and Canada and most people would be able to rattle off at least one or two of the NHL clubs. Getting that interest over to the local product is and always will be the challenge. The more live content we can produce as a league will help get the word out more that you can watch hockey locally of a pretty high standard.
DBTB - Are there any songs fans sing? How about a rallying chant, or battle cry? (Ours is "Let's Go Buffalo!")
BM - You'll often hear "Let's Go Bears, Let's Go" chanted from the stands!
JD -Thats one thing we really don't have. Maybe "lets go Bears" but nothing really substantial. Bear puns can only go so far as evidenced by the B's lame attempts over the years, (Fear the Bear? Get stuffed Boston)
Maybe thats something that your community can help us out with. We have changed our goal horn to the one that blasts at the First Niagara Centre in solidarity.
Our thanks to Bianca and Julian for speaking with us, we'll be rooting for the Bears again this weekend in the #BattleOfSydney!