Tonight the New Zealand Ice Fernz will get their 2019 campaign underway and they will get straight into the thick of it, facing Chinese Taipei first up at 11pm NZ time.
Speaking with RadioSport’s Nigel Yalden on the All Sports Breakfast last weekend, head coach Rachel Park highlighted the fact that they need to start strong if they are to have any success in the condensed five-game tournament.
“I’m expecting Chinese Taipei to be our most challenging contender, they placed second last year. We need to come out with a big W in that one, and if we can do that, I think we’ll continue that momentum into our Iceland game,” said Park.
New Zealand have only faced Chinese Taipei once at this level of international women’s hockey, going down 5-2 last year at the IIHF Division 2 Group B tournament in Spain. This year the Ice Fernz compete in the same division with the aim of winning gold and gaining promotion to Division 2A.
While Mexico is considered New Zealand’s closest rivals in the men’s game, for the national women’s side it is Iceland. The two sides have endured some spirited battles in the past including a 4-3 Iceland shootout win in last year’s tournament and a 4-3 NZ win in 2017.
Speaking with Helen Murray via Skype during their final days of training camp in Austria, the captain confirmed to Puck Yeah that the Iceland matchup is one the Ice Fernz look forward to.
“Some of my toughest hockey moments have been against Iceland. I know every time we come up against them it’s going to be a good game. They’re a really great team of girls as well, so we play really hard on the rink and then off the rink we’re really good mates, so I’m looking forward to that,” Murray explained.
Park identifies the Ice Fernz’s defensive coverage as a strength to their game, one that they worked on and tested throughly during training camp, including a warmup game against Austrian champions the EHV Sabres.
And while the team is well served by the likes of Jaime Jones, Rebecca Lilly, Rachel Neville-Lamb and Krystie Woodyear-Smith, it’s within their goaltender ranks where the 2019 Ice Fernz demonstrate an exciting depth of talent – as the last line of defence, it’s their sole job to steer down the opposition and thwart their attempts to score.
New Zealand features two strong options, with a third waiting in the wings if called upon.
Lochlyn Hyde returns for another season with the national team after posting solid performances in the New Zealand Women’s Ice Hockey League, including a .914 save percentage and 2.73 goals against average over nine games for the Auckland Steel.
Hyde has also previously competed at the IIHF senior level with the Fernz in 2018 (Spain) and 2017 (Iceland).
But it’s the return of Grace Harrison from her North American endeavours that might make all the difference. The netminder made her international debut for New Zealand back in 2013, at the tender age of 15, earning game MVP honours in a tightly contested 2-1 overtime loss to Poland.
Since then, Harrison has gone on to represent her country at both the 2014 and 2015 IIHF World Champs but elected to take a break from international hockey after receiving a NCAA Division I scholarship, the first female ice hockey player from New Zealand to do so.
Four years of Statistics studies later and an impressive 96-game collegiate career playing for the St. Lawrence University Saints under her belt, the stars have aligned to make it possible for Harrison to compete in the 2019 tournament.
And as if two top-class goalies wasn’t enough, the team roster includes the multi-talented Danielle Strayer from Queenstown who finished the 2019 domestic season with a 5-0 record for the Southern Storm, including a shutout, plus a .959 SV% and 1.02 GAA.
The Minnesota native recently received her New Zealand citizenship and will make the IIHF debut for her adopted homeland this week. While Strayer has been focused on acquainting herself with her new position on the blue line, she also brought along her goalie gear to Europe in case of emergency.
As the NZWIHL’s top goaltender in 2019, that’s not a bad third option to have up your sleeve if you’re the Ice Fernz.
2019 Ice Fernz Game Schedule
April 1: NZ v Chinese Taipei at 11pm
April 3: NZ v Iceland at 2:30am
April 5: NZ v Turkey at 2:30am
April 6: NZ v Romania at 6am
April 7: NZ v Croatia at 11pm
Main Photo: Elvar Freyr