New Zealand Under-18s drop crucial game to Iceland

The New Zealand under-18 men’s ice hockey team’s status in the IIHF Division 3A World Championship is hanging by a thread after a fourth loss in Bulgaria.

Steve Reid’s squad allowed five goals in the second period, including three in an unfortunate 38-second stretch, to fall to 6-3 to Iceland at the Winter Sports Palace in Sofia on Friday (Saturday NZ Time).

Noah Gregory scored two goals for New Zealand, his third and fourth of the tournament, while Josh Hurley lit the lamp for the first time with a powerplay marker assisted by Gregory and Jack Robbie, who finished with two assists on the day.

After four losses – the previous three coming in overtime (4-3 vs Israel), via a last-minute goal (3-2 vs Turkey) and in a shootout (5-4 vs Mexico) – New Zealand has two points, tied with Mexico but in last place on head-to-head tiebreaker.

Their chances of escaping relegation to Division 3B in 2020 largely rest on defeating currently unbeaten hosts Bulgaria in their final game on Sunday (Monday 2.30am NZT). New Zealand could also avoid the drop with an overtime loss if Mexico lose their final game against Iceland in regulation.

Gregory opened the scoring against Iceland at 4:27, linking up with fellow Queenstown teammate Jack Robbie, as New Zealand took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.

Iceland tied and then took a 2-1 lead on back-to-back power play goals, the first coming just 12 seconds into the man-advantage. Their second goal, at 26:22, was followed by goals at 26:39 and 27:00 on a couple of lucky bounces. Iceland, who have the tournament’s top-two players in points, added another to lead 5-1 after the second period.

Hurley’s goal early in the third period made it 5-2 but hopes of an unlikely comeback were snuffed out a minute later by Iceland’s sixth tally. Gregory added a consolation goal in the final minute.

New Zealand’s under-18 men have not avoided relegation in Division 3A since 2013, when they finished second. They suffered the drop in 2014 and 2017.

Main Photo: James Allan