While New Zealand has been battered with cooler temperatures, strong winds, and power cuts, the Ice Blacks have been through an intense 10-day training camp in Latvia in preparation for their campaign at the 2018 World Championship in Spain.
Since 2013, the team has been placed in Group B of the IIHF’s second division, with varying results each year – the most recent being a silver medal placing in 2017, losing out to China.
The tournament starts today with the New Zealanders facing off against rivals Mexico first, followed by Israel, Luxembourg, and DPR Korea, before closing out the week against hosts Spain. (Schedule details and how you can watch the games are listed below.)
There are a few interesting changes to the 2018 incarnation of the Ice Blacks – established goalies Rick Parry and Aston Brookes were unavailable, so selectors opted for the next generation in net with Daniel Lee and Csaba Kercso-Magos getting the call up.
There is a new boss behind the bench with Canterbury Red Devils head coach Anatoly Khorozov taking the reins after previously serving as the assistant coach. With Bert Haines retiring, there’s also been a changing of the guard in captaincy, with Nick Craig taking over from his mentor.
With the team now in Granada and raring to go, Puck Yeah reached out to Ice Blacks veteran Nick Henderson to find out more about their time in Latvia.
You’ve spent the past 10 days in Latvia for training camp ahead of the World Champs in Spain, what has been the primary focus of the camp?
The camp had a strong systems focus and was really about bringing the group of players together under that structure. It’s great to get that time away as a unit and the camp was run really well by coaches and management!
You also played a few top teams from that region, how do you think the Ice Blacks fared in those warmup games?
I feel like warmup games are always hard to gauge and all three teams varied in skill level, but it’s always awesome coming up against those European club teams. We definitely matched those teams physically and their work ethic, so it’s looking really positive going into tournament for sure. Great to grab a few wins there as well!
Did those warmup games help identify anything in the team’s game that can be improved on before the first game of the World Champs? What have you learnt about this year’s Ice Blacks from this training camp?
For sure! The first couple games were definitely eye openers in terms of what can go wrong in not playing to our systems. Having multiple days of trainings after that really got us on track. I think by the last game we were plugging a lot of holes. We’ll definitely take away that we can compete with teams that may have a higher skill level if we can come with a unified structure. Also, we know Jake Ratcliffe has the goods if we ever come down to a shootout!
As a veteran of the team, what do you think are some of the team’s strengths?
With the risk of sounding cliché, I think our tenacity and desire is right up there. You can feel it on the bench with the desperation to win 1-on-1 battles, and that’s going to be the compete level we need to bring into the tournament.
Looking ahead to the tournament, New Zealand placed second last year, what do you think are the team’s chances of improving and gaining promotion to the next division?
It’s been 5 years of coming too close in Division 2-B. It’s time for us to move up and I have no doubt we can do it this year.
Last year’s tournament was in Auckland…do you prefer having the home ice advantage or the opportunity to travel overseas and test yourself somewhere different?
I loved playing in front of friends and family! Although I wish we had the opportunity to play at home more often, it’s such a cool thing that we get to explore and play in these countries that we may not visit otherwise. To be totally honest, the ice facilities are often better as well which helps.
Heading into the World Champs, do you know much about the competition before facing them and how do you rate them from your previous experience?
We’ve come up against everyone aside from Luxembourg. All the other teams are beatable, but it’s always a mixed bag with the players that turn up. Israel especially as there are 4 or 5 Israelis playing top-level pro hockey around the world. As I said earlier though, all are beatable!
Did you get much love for your recent appearance on The Crowd Goes Wild?
It was great exposure! I got a few messages after that, though it’s made people think Nick Craig’s beard is better than mine… Our game definitely needs more pieces like that!
Lastly, what have been some of the personal highlights for you during your time in Latvia? Did you get to do much exploring of Riga and Tukums?
As usual with these camps, just being away and feeling like a pro for 10 days. Just sleeping, eating and playing hockey is pretty amazing. I’d suggest Dale Harrop is the man to talk to for exploring Riga – unfortunately I was sick and missed out. I hear he’s in demand for the next podcast anyway!
Schedule for the 2018 IIHF Division II Group B Men’s World Championship:
April 14 @ 11:00pm – NZ vs Mexico
April 15 @ 11:00pm – NZ vs Israel
April 18 @ 2:30am – NZ vs Luxembourg
April 20 @ 2:30am – NZ vs DPR Korea
April 21 @ 6:00am – NZ vs Spain
Photos supplied by the NZIHF, credit goes to Mike Froger and Ian Fraser.