While the NZIHL doesn’t return for another season until mid-May, there is another way to get your fix of competitive national league hockey and it might be one that many Kiwi hockey fans aren’t quite familiar with yet.
The New Zealand Women’s Ice Hockey League start their 2019 season tomorrow with an exciting round of games taking place all weekend long at Auckland’s Paradice rink in Botany Downs.
The NZWIHL runs until the beginning of March with 18 games on the schedule featuring the Auckland Steel, Canterbury Devilettes, and the Southern Storm.
First up, the Southern Storm will take on the defending champion Auckland Steel, who will once again be the team to beat with a lineup headlined by a vast selection of current Ice Fernz, including: NZ captain Helen Murray, Anjali Mulari, Rachael Neville-Lamb, Jemma Read, Jasmine Horner-Pascoe, Terryn Bruce, Jaimeson Jones, Ashley Richmond, Reagyn Shattock and goaltender Lochlyn Hyde.
That’s not to say the other two sides won’t also be dressing their fair share of players to watch out for.
Canterbury will feature a few notable NZ representatives with Krystie Woodyear-Smith, Lilly Forbes and Emma Kloss on the roster. Meanwhile the Storm boast seven Ice Fernz named in the traveling squad for April’s IIHF World Championships in Romania: goalie Danielle Strayer, Kelly Cooper, Gina Davis, Hope Gregory, Abbey Heale, Rina Watt and Kirstin Gerken.
Southern netminder Jordan Wichman is excited about the prospect of facing off against some of the country’s best. “I find it to be a privilege to be able to play with and against some amazing senior players, and I was lucky enough to have grown up playing with some of them back during my competitive inline days,” said Wichman.
“For me, the preparation for playing these girls is completely mental. As a goalie, it’s super easy to get psyched out in moments of pressure, as it feels like your whole team is relying on you. My pre-game routine of having good banter with my teammates helps me build my confidence for the game ahead, and sets me in the right mindset to take on anyone.”
Following on from the extended Auckland round, Southern will host the Steel at the recently renovated Dunedin Ice Stadium.
Similar to IIHF tournaments that have a smaller pool of teams, the champion will be decided by who has the most points in the league’s standings at the conclusion of play. Following the same points structure as the NZIHL, three points are allocated to a regulation win, two for an overtime victory, and a single point for an OT loss.
The NZWIHL began in 2014 to provide more competitive game time to further develop New Zealand women’s ice hockey and strengthen both the senior and age-grade national teams ahead of their respective IIHF tournaments. Along with the Ice Fernz, the majority of the New Zealand Under-18 women’s team lace up for the three regional clubs.
In the league’s four-season history, Auckland have won each year bar the 2015-16 season when Canterbury claimed top honours.
Auckland have only suffered one defeat in the previous two years, but with the Canterbury and Southern teams making some significant roster changes in a bid to challenge the Steel’s reign, don’t expect a repeat of last season’s one-sided results.
After finishing in third place the previous three seasons, Wichman believes the Storm have what it takes to change their fortunes. “I have full confidence in my team – they are a fantastic bunch of ladies and we have all been working really hard this past year to improve our game. We plan on giving our games everything that we have.”
Puck Yeah will be following the NZWIHL and provide coverage of games where possible – keep an eye out for further updates on our website, Facebook and Instagram.
Full NZWIHL 2019 Schedule:
Jan 25: Auckland v Southern (4:45pm) at Paradice Botany Downs
Jan 26: Canterbury v Southern (9:45am) & Auckland v Canterbury (5:45pm) at Paradice Botany Downs
Jan 27: Canterbury v Southern (9:45am) & Auckland v Southern (5:45pm) at Paradice Botany Downs
Jan 28: Auckland v Canterbury (9:15am) at Paradice Botany Downs
Feb 2: Southern v Auckland (5pm) at Dunedin Ice Stadium
Feb 3: Southern v Auckland (9:30am) at Dunedin Ice Stadium
Feb 9: Canterbury v Auckland (4:30pm) at Alpine Ice, Christchurch
Feb 10: Canterbury v Auckland (4:30pm) at Alpine Ice, Christchurch
Feb 16: Southern v Canterbury (5pm) at Dunedin Ice Stadium
Feb 17: Southern v Canterbury (9:30am) at Dunedin Ice Stadium
Feb 23: Auckland v Southern (7am) & Southern v Canterbury (4:30pm) at Alpine Ice, Christchurch
Feb 24: Canterbury v Auckland (4:30pm) at Alpine Ice, Christchurch
Mar 2: Auckland v Southern (8am) & Canterbury v Auckland (5pm) at Dunedin Ice Stadium
Mar 3: Southern v Canterbury (9:30am) at Dunedin Ice Stadium