In the same weekend that Kendall Coyne Schofield became the first woman to compete at the NHL’s All-Star skills competition, the New Zealand Women’s Ice Hockey League had its opening round of games for the 2019 season. And much like Schofield, it all began with a flying start.
The two-time defending champion Auckland Steel found out firsthand how serious the Southern Storm are about taking the title south of the Bombays for the first time since the 2015-16 season.
Southern scored the first goal of the new NZWIHL season courtesy of an unassisted powerplay goal by Beth Scott during the opening period, with Auckland equalizing via Reagyn Shattock three minutes into the second.
Both sides played clean competitive hockey throughout with just the single penalty called in the middle stanza. Kelly Cooper breaking the deadlock with a go-ahead goal assisted by Kirstin Gerken going into the second intermission.
The score remained 2-1 in Southern’s favour until Anjali Mulari did what she does best with less than three minutes remaining on the clock – tying the game and forcing overtime.
With Auckland’s Lochlyn Hyde and Southern’s Jordan Wichman standing tall in net, the Friday night showdown would be decided with a penalty shootout. Coco Lund’s clincher giving Southern the 3-2 win and setting the tone early for the season.
The Storm backed up that impressive win with another the following morning, beating the Canterbury Devilettes 6-1. Their defence was largely untested with Canterbury only registering 11 shots on goal compared to Southern’s 55 – Kellye Nelson was the standout player of the game, firing at a 100% rate to score a hat-trick off three shots.
Canterbury stayed within the line of fire for Saturday’s second game as Auckland looked to bounce back from their overtime defeat. Hyde and Tabitha Crump sharing the minutes in-goal to shutout the Devilettes, while the Steel’s offence ran rampant.
Mulari top scored with five points (3 goals & 2 assists) with Jasmine Horner-Pascoe also notching a trio of goals. Auckland captain Helen Murray was the game’s other scorer in a 7-0 rout.
Come Sunday, the Storm opted to knockout their South Island rivals with a convincing 4-0 victory. Wichman registering a 12-save shutout to continue her impressive opening weekend in net, while at the other end, New Zealand Under-18 representative Lilly Forbes faced a barrage of pucks – stopping 67 of 71 shots on goal.
Nelson once again leading the way during those crucial special team minutes with one goal on the powerplay, the other on the penalty kill.
In Sunday night’s rematch of the opening game, Auckland showed the Southern Storm that they are still this league’s team to beat.
After allowing Kellye Nelson to score her second shorthanded goal of the weekend 42 seconds in, the Steel were in control for the remainder of the game. Jamieson Jones tallied two, while Mulari, Rachael Neville-Lamb, Jemma Read and Laura Thresher also contributed towards the 6-1 scoreline.
Monday morning’s clash to round out the long weekend saw Auckland and Canterbury battle it out, the Devilettes looking to pick themselves back up from their previous defeat.
Mulari opened the goal account a minute into the contest before Canterbury’s Emma Kloss scored twice to give the Devilettes a 2-1 lead heading into the first break.
The score would remain that way until halfway through the third period when Auckland’s Neville-Lamb and Horner-Pascoe lit the lamp in quick succession. The Devilettes unable to recover from that moment on – they head home having lost all four games of the short season and wondering what they can do to beat Auckland or Southern.
So, after a jam-packed weekend that featured six great games of New Zealand’s top-tier women’s hockey, this is how the standings are shaping up:
The NZWIHL continues February 2-3 with the Auckland Steel traveling down to Dunedin Ice Stadium to face the Southern Storm. Puck drop is 5pm and 9:30am this Saturday and Sunday respectively.