This could be the year, Thunder coach says

Dunedin Thunder coach Jeff Avery reflects on the season ahead in locker rooms at the Dunedin Ice Stadium yesterday. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Dunedin Thunder coach Jeff Avery reflects on the season ahead in locker rooms at the Dunedin Ice Stadium yesterday. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Dunedin Thunder coach Jeff Avery could see the bright side during a solar eclipse.

But maybe there is more than just a coach's faith to his optimism.

The Thunder gets its season under way at the Dunedin Ice Stadium on Friday night.

It has drawn defending champions the West Auckland Admirals.

The back-to-back games will be an excellent gauge of where the Thunder sits in relation to the other teams in the New Zealand Ice Hockey League.

Last year the Thunder finished in a creditable third place. But it was some distance behind arch rivals the Stampede and the Admirals.

But the Dunedin-based team has drafted in some very tidy imports and the team showed some tremendous touches during the pre-season.

It recorded back-to-back wins against the Canterbury Red Devils.

Avery is very excited about what his charges can achieve and believes they have bridged the gap to the top two sides.

''Definitely,'' Avery said.

''Basically our secret weapon last year was Brandon Egli. He was the MVP last year and he has sent his mates down here.

''He knew the level they were at and has sent us three guys who are solid.''

Canadian trio Connor McCallum, Parker Evans-Campbell and Colton McCarthy have not only bolstered the Thunder's top lines, but also embraced the opportunity to take a leadership role in the team.

Australian Sean McLean will strengthen the defensive end with his 2m frame, while Finnish goalie Henri Tikkanen has really helped lift the professionalism.

''He's teaching the younger goalies how to train, how to focus, how to take it seriously. It is great. It ups everyone's commitment to it.''

Top local players Paris Heyd, Joe Orr, Regan Wilson, Matt Enright and Dylan Devlin return for another campaign. However, the side will be missing Tristan Darling and Ben Gavoille, who are playing in Australia this season.

''I think we have the pieces. This could be the year.

''There are a few rule changes this year, so as long as we stay out of the penalty box and play aggressive and clean ... then we will do well.''

Avery said the strength of the teams changed from year to year, depending on the imports who were brought into play.

''So we are not paying attention to last year; we are just focusing on what we are doing as a team, our philosophy and style of play.

''From what I've seen from our imports, we are going to be very competitive and very fast.''

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