Newcastle Northstars take bumpy ride in pursuit of AIHL finals

The Northstars will continue their tightrope walk towards the Australian Ice Hockey League play-offs after practising in challenging conditions on Thursday night.

The Zamboni ice-grooming machine broke down at Hunter Ice Skating Stadium, meaning the Newcastle players had to practise on a rink covered in a layer of snow.

“We had Thursday night practice on a sheet of ice that hadn’t been cut all day,” coach Andrew Petrie said.

“It collects snow, over two, two-and-a-half centimetres of snow. It makes stick handling virtually impossible.”

But Petrie knows the two-time defending champions have no excuses as they try to salvage their season over the final 10 rounds, starting with Adelaide Adrenaline at home on Saturday night.

Newcastle are sixth on 21 points after 18 games. The Melbourne Mustangs, whom they face the following week, are fourth on 27 points.

Based on past seasons, the Northstars would need to win at least nine more games to scrape into the top four, but Petrie said this year’s league was much closer.

“That’s not as accurate as it might otherwise be,” he said.

“In those tables you’re discussing, there’s always been a couple of weak teams. This year we’ve got teams stealing points off everybody.

“The cut-off to get into the final play-off spot won’t be as high as normal.”

Nevertheless, Petrie said his side would “control their own destiny” only if they won every game.

The coach said big-hitting forward Zane Jones would play “a couple of shifts” on Saturday in his return from a long-term injury.

The game starts at 5pm.

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