Bright lights and the big city
It belongs to us tonight
Round 4 of the NZIHL season was local derby round and also split across two weekends as the league stepped onto the ice under the bright lights of Spark Arena to play the curtain raiser for the Ice Hockey Classic ahead of USA v Canada.
The defending champs played their first game at home in the comfy confines of the Queenstown Ice Arena and it was looking good early on – jumping out to a 2-0 lead that included a very Matt Schneider-esque goal by none other than the captain himself, Matt Schneider.
The Dunedin Thunder stayed close with the Stampede throughout the game but just couldn’t stick with them in the 3rd period as the Queenstown crew pulled away to win 5-2.
For the first time this season NZIHL leading scorer Paris Heyd was held pointless, which was one of the keys to victory for the Skycity Stampede.
The first taste of Auckland’s cross-town rivalry didn’t disappoint and proved to be one of the best games of the season so far.
It was a true game of throw a punch, take a punch, and then counter punch for both teams. The Botany Swarm held a 2-0 lead but before the first period was over, the West Auckland Admirals had tied things up. Teams traded goals in the second and then the Admirals scored early in the third period with the hope of holding on to take the first victory between the 09 rivals for 2018.
However, the Swarm would not be denied as Jamie Lawrence scored late to force matters to overtime, giving the fans in attendance (and those watching on the live stream) something that’s hard to complain about, bonus hockey!
The 3-on-3 OT didn’t last long before AJ Spiller stripped Jordan Challis deep within his own zone, feeding the puck to Mike Verschuren for the game-winner.
Although the most memorable moment of the game came from an unbelievable desperation save by Swarm import goalie Colin Langham, who will likely feature in the ‘Saves of the Year’ after a last-second effort to deny Nick Henderson.
Back down in Queenstown, the mercurial Dunedin Thunder once again continued to surprise fans and opposition as they came back in the last seconds of the third period to beat the Skycity Stampede in their own barn.
Clearly a focus of the Stampede’s defensive effort, Thunder captain Paris Heyd was held scoreless for the second straight game, but on this night the rest of the team chipped in to provide depth scoring while goalie Kane Easterbrook made 32 saves. The result? Dunedin ended the weekend by claiming the Toa Kauhanga Riri Tio challenge trophy for the first time in the team’s history.
What an occasion for New Zealand hockey! The fourth round ended with a matinée match between the Swarm and Admirals as the curtain raiser for Auckland’s round of the 2018 Ice Hockey Classic.
At Spark Arena the local teams came out of the gates firing, scoring 5 goals between them and thrilling the 800-plus fans who took the afternoon off work for the opportunity to witness NZ hockey on the big stage.
Admirals leading scorer Verschuren gave West Auckland a two-goal lead midway through the second before clamping things down in the third to finish off the round with a series sweep of the Swarm.
The Admirals have jumped out to a handy five-point lead at the top of the NZIHL standings while a tight three-way battle continues for second and third place, meaning the next couple of rounds will prove pivotal for the Swarm, Stampede and Thunder. As for the Canterbury Red Devils – they’re not mathematically eliminated when there’s still a lot of hockey to be played, but it’s not looking that great either.
New Zealand Ice Hockey League
Main photo: Mike Froger