It’s taken them 14 seasons but the West Auckland Admirals can now call themselves NZIHL champions for the first time in team history.
Prior to sweeping the Skycity Stampede in the 2018 Finals, the Admirals made three previous unsuccessful trips to the post-season: losing to the Stampede in the league’s inaugural season back in 2005, followed by a 2010 loss to the cross-town rival Botany Swarm, and most recently last year when West Auckland was swept by the Stampede to complete their threepeat.
But a fourth consecutive title wasn’t to be for the Queenstown club.
The Admirals came into game 2 (of the best-of-three series) with a 1-0 lead, facing the seemingly improbable task of beating the Stampede at a sold out Queenstown Ice Arena. West Auckland alternate captain A.J. Spiller recalled to Puck Yeah last week that in his three years with the side they had never come back with a W before.
Having that lead going into this second game provided an important boost to the club – there was an air of confidence that they’ve done it once, and if they stuck with their strengths, they could do it again and bring home the Birgel Cup.
With the two sides testing each other in a scoreless first period, it was the Stampede who took the lead halfway through the second when Adam Soffer put in the rebound off Thomas Carson-Pratt’s initial shot, much to the delight of their passionate fans.
As the second period wound down, Andy Hart found himself in the penalty box for hooking, giving the Stampede’s formidable powerplay its first chance at taking control of the game.
However, it was an unfortunate turnover at centre ice by the Stampede’s Callum Burns that gave Nick Henderson a breakaway opportunity to tie the game – taking full advantage, the Admirals veteran scored shorthanded to swing any sense of momentum back towards the challengers.
Game 1’s overtime hero Andy Hart proved in the series decider why he deserved to be named the Admirals’ playoffs MVP, slotting the championship-winning goal early in the third period past Daniel Lee from a well-placed centring pass by Ryan Ruddle.
For the remainder of the game the Stampede were chasing and while they amounted sixteen shots on goal in the final stanza alone, Admirals netminder Csaba Kercso-Magos stood tall as he has done all season for his side, final score 2-1 in West Auckland’s favour. In a year with plenty of high-scoring games, this series was ultimately decided by goaltending – fitting when you consider Lee and Kercso-Magos are two of the best young goalies New Zealand has to offer right now.
Watch the game recap video below for highlights plus post-game interviews and celebrations:
Now if you can’t win a championship at home, the next best place would likely be Queenstown with its great bars and picturesque beauty. The Admirals’ players made the most of it, posting their best moments across social media.
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It had to be done, @daleharrop and the @westaucklandadmirals pull off the blurry #KurtBakerChallenge with their new hardware 🏆 . . . . . #NZIHL #BirgelCup #becauseitsthecup #auckland #queenstown #newzealand #hockey #icehockey #anythingforhockey #iceblacks #admirals #PuckYeahNZ #crowdgoeswildnz #CGW
And with that, this largely wraps up Puck Yeah’s coverage of the 2018 NZIHL season. We want to thank everyone who has read, watched and shared our hard work these past four months. A special thank you goes out to our contributors Geoff Bland and Casey Lucas-Quaid, along with the photographers and live stream crews across the country who provide most of the visual material seen on this website and across our social media.
There is still plenty of Kiwi hockey goodness to come in the coming months, but for now our attention turns to the upcoming Trans-Tasman Challenge series between the New Zealand Ice Blacks and Australia Mighty Roos as part of the NZ Winter Games.
See you in Queenstown!
Main photo: Kate Harrison