The New Zealand Under-20s have saved their best performance for last at the 2019 IIHF World Championships, but it was South Africa that proved to be victors of a closely contested battle to decide the tournament’s bottom two placings.
With one last game to salvage a result, the challenge was set from the get-go as the Junior Ice Blacks performed the ‘Ka Mate’ haka to their opponents. A sight more commonly seen during an international rugby test between the two nations.
This time it was the South Africans that were caught off guard early – Haydn Boul opened the scoring two minutes in after a defensive blunder gave the Christchurch forward a clear path towards goal, popping the puck over the shoulder of South Africa starting goalie Ryan Boyd.
South Africa answered back 37 seconds with Dion Phakathi scoring the equalizer. From that point on they took control of the first period. Delano Schuurman tallied two goals, one coming on the powerplay after Tazmin Hall was called for tripping, and New Zealand found themselves heading into the first intermission down 3-1.
All four of NZ’s penalty minutes came in the opening period. Whatever was said by head coach Justin Daigle during the break must have worked as they tightened up their play and produced their best twenty minutes of hockey for the tournament in the second.
Luke Hill led his team by example to start the comeback, cutting through South Africa’s defence and shooting the puck past Boyd on a seemingly impossible angle.
The game-tying goal wasn’t pretty but it showed a glimpse of the strength around the puck this New Zealand side is capable of. Charlie Lilly was taken down by South Africa’s scrambling backcheck, only to recover quickly and make the puck available for Boul to score his second of the game.
Evan Froger had arguably his best game in the black jersey yet – the 6-foot-1 netminder stood tall to make 33 saves and keep New Zealand within the game.
With a deadlock in place, South Africa took charge with ten minutes left in the decider – Luca Meyer carrying the puck behind the net and finding Brandon Delport open during a NZ line change for the go-ahead goal. Meyer then scored an insurance marker five minutes later to put the game out of reach for the Junior Ice Blacks.
South Africa claim seventh place with the 5-3 win.
The eighth-placed finish sees New Zealand finish last in back-to-back Under-20 tournaments, however at this stage there appears to be no risk of relegation with the Division III qualification group merging with Division III this year. Regardless, it is a tough result to swallow for the New Zealand Ice Hockey Federation.
Meanwhile in this morning’s gold medal match, China have taken top honours after defeating Australia 5-1. The win sees them promoted back to the IIHF’s Division II – Group B for 2020.
Watch the video highlights above for our recap of the action – subscribe to the Puck Yeah NZ YouTube channel for more NZ hockey videos.
Photos supplied by Ice Hockey Iceland