New Zealand Under-18s suffer heartbreaking shootout loss to rivals Mexico

The New Zealand men’s under-18 ice hockey team may have earned a new nickname in Bulgaria: ‘The Hard Luck Kids’.

Stephen Reid’s young squad battled valiantly again, coming within 41 seconds of their first win at the IIHF Under-18 Division 3A World Championship before falling 5-4 to Mexico in a shootout on Thursday (Friday NZ Time).

That followed on from a 4-3 overtime loss to Israel and a 3-2 loss to Turkey on a goal with 15 seconds remaining in regulation in their opening two games in Sofia.

Similar to their tournament opener against Israel, New Zealand played from ahead for much of the game against Mexico, holding 2-1, 3-2 and 4-3 leads.

However, Mexico found an answer to every go-ahead goal from New Zealand, the final game-tying goal coming at the 59:19 mark with an extra attacker on the ice for the last 90 seconds.

After a scoreless overtime period, New Zealand were stonewalled by Mexico’s goaltender Marcello de Antunano on their four shootout attempts, losing 2-0.

Earlier, Noah Gregory, plus Alex Regan on the powerplay, scored to give New Zealand a 2-1 lead after the first period before Mexico tied the scores early in the second period. Will Sheard put New Zealand ahead again late in the second but Mexico drew level before the second intermission, just 23 seconds into a power play.

Lochlan Butler scored at 42:43 to give New Zealand the lead again, but despite defending desperately and killing off two power plays in the third period, they could not close the win out.

Kiwi netminder Finley Forbes, who stopped two of Mexico’s four shootout attempts, finished the game with 24 saves.

New Zealand now sit in sixth place with two points and are in danger of relegation after Iceland beat Turkey 5-2 in the second game of the day. Mexico move up to fifth, also on two points, after their first win of the tournament. Meanwhile hosts Bulgaria remain undefeated after completely the 3-2 overtime comeback against Israel, they were trailing 2-0 after the first.

The Kiwis won’t have much time to contemplate their recent close calls however, they face Iceland tonight (12am NZT) in a game that could decide whether or not New Zealand is relegated to the Division 3B World Championship in 2020. They close out the tournament against Bulgaria on Sunday (Monday 2:20am NZT).

Main Photo: James Allan