The New Zealand Ice Blacks have named a 28-man strong squad for their upcoming three-game test series against the Australia Mighty Roos as part of the 2018 Winter Games.
Queenstown Ice Arena will play host across three nights, September 6-8, promising a great matchup of international ice hockey as the two rivals clash for what will now be an annual event.
The Trans-Tasman Challenge could be a fitting way for the town dubbed ‘Hockeytown, NZ’ to wrap up the season for its national league players, especially if they manage to retain the Birgel Cup for a fourth straight year in the upcoming NZIHL Finals.
The Ice Blacks squad is as follows:
Jordan Challis, Alex Polozov, Dale Harrop, Josh Hay, Taylor Rooney, Paris Heyd, Joseph Orr, Tristan Darling, Chris Eaden, Dean Tonks, Ryan Strayer, Connor Harrison, Harrison Macharg, Matt Schneider, Andrew Cox, Benjamin Gavoille.
Jaxson Lane, Stefan Amston, Callum Burns, Kahu Joyce, Oliver Hay, Logan Fraser, Blake Jackson, Gareth McLeish, Andrew Hay, Nick Craig.
Rick Parry, Csaba Kercso-Magos, Daniel Lee.
With the retirement of Bert Haines last season, Nick Craig was announced as the new Ice Blacks captain ahead of their 2018 IIHF World Championship campaign in Spain. While he has been named in the squad today, he was unfortunately sidelined with an ankle injury earlier this season that has ruled him out – however, he joins the Ice Blacks in a mentoring role.
When asked who might wear the ‘C’ for the series, Ice Blacks head coach Anatoly Khorozov said, “We will chat with the team and see who’s going to the lead in these games, we have enough senior players in the squad so I’m not worrying about it at all.” Indeed there are several good options available with all NZIHL captains, minus the Admirals, present on the roster.
There is also some newer talent making their way into the Ice Blacks fold including the Dunedin Thunder’s Joseph Orr and the Skycity Stampede’s Harrison Macharg, whom will be the second youngest member of this side at age 20, with the Botany Swarm’s Logan Fraser two months his junior.
Orr has previously represented New Zealand at the under-18 and under-20 levels and with a solid season scoring at a point per game pace, Khorozov believes the Dunedin forward deserves a spot and that if he continues to play smart hockey he has ‘all the chances’ to make the Ice Blacks in the near future.
Orr is just as excited about his selection, “Of course it’s pretty special. Growing up watching them win gold in Dunedin (2009) when I just started playing hockey really stuck with me so I’ve been wanting to be a part of that ever since!”
Joshua Hay makes his return to the Ice Blacks side for the first time since 2015, joining his brothers Andrew and Oliver and he couldn’t be happier. “I’m real stoked to have this opportunity to jump on the ice with the brothers again. Although I play alongside them most weeks with the Botany Swarm, it’s always a special moment throwing on black jersey with them,” he explained.
Adding Jordan Challis, Alex Polozov and Fraser, the Swarm feature a strong contingent in this Ice Blacks side with six, while the West Auckland Admirals and the Stampede can boast seven a piece. Also from the NZIHL, the 29-strong squad includes four from the Dunedin Thunder, plus three from the Canterbury Red Devils.
There are however a few omissions from the series including Jamie Lawrence, Frazer Ellis, Nick Henderson, Ryan Ruddle and Shaun Harrison. Khorozov mentioned that there were seven players he wanted to see play in Queenstown who were unavailable for a variety of reasons.
Along with developing promising young talent, it seems the country of New Zealand itself is also attracting some exciting hockey talent to stay long enough to become naturalized and boost the Ice Blacks ranks – American Ryan Strayer (Stampede), Brit Dean Tonks (Red Devils) and Frenchman Benjamin Gavoille (Thunder) are now eligible to play.
The return of Kahu Joyce and Andrew Cox to New Zealand ice will be welcome after playing across the ditch in the AIHL this year. Playing for the Perth Thunder, Cox has tallied 19 points in 20 games, while Joyce has been suiting up for the Melbourne Mustangs and Melbourne Sharks (IHV Premier).
Speaking of Australia, the Ice Blacks head coach maintains that he and his staff keep a close eye on the competition across the ditch with six Kiwis currently playing in the AIHL. “I also follow their IIHF division so we will have a pretty good idea of their team once we know the names,” said Khorozov.
The true strength of this New Zealand side could lie with their masked men as Kercso-Magos, Lee and Parry are respectively the top-three goalies in the NZIHL this season. Kercso-Magos has been a highlight in net for the West Auckland Admirals with a .934 save percentage and 2.80 goals against average, while splitting starts with Parry, whom has a .913 SV% and 3.25 GAA.
Lee has seen the most ice time out of any goalie in the league this year, consistently performing for the Skycity Stampede with a 11-3 record, .922 SV%, 2.93 GAA and one shutout. Kercso-Magos is the only other NZIHL netminder to achieve a shutout this season thus far.
With that, Lee is now looking to extend his hot streak into the Ice Blacks crease. “It would mean a lot to have the chance to make up for the tough series loss last year. As well as giving me an opportunity to prove myself for selection next year,” said Lee.
The battle for the Ice Blacks starting role could be an interesting one with Khorozov acknowledging the potential selection headache facing him in the near future, “We do have very strong goaltending crew. We also have Jaden Pine-Murphy (Melbourne Ice) and Aston Brookes (Sydney Bears), so I’m really confident we have enough depth there. At the moment the plan is that they will have one game each.”
After losing to Australia by the narrowest of margins in last year’s inaugural test series, the Ice Blacks will be extra motivated to beat the Mighty Roos and prove that they belong in the next tier of international ice hockey. With both sides coming straight off their national league seasons, expect players to be coming into this series in top form.
Tickets for the Trans-Tasman Challenge are now on sale via EventFinda with both series passes and single-game tickets available.