NZ Under-18s face steep path ahead after two late losses

The New Zealand Under-18 men’s ice hockey team have suffered two agonising losses to open their world championship bid in Sofia, Bulgaria.

The Young Ice Blacks fell 4-3 in overtime to Israel in their IIHF Division III Group A tournament opener on Monday (Tuesday NZ Time), before losing to Turkey 3-2 after allowing a late goal on Tuesday (Wednesday NZT).

New Zealand had 2-1 and 3-2 leads against Israel in the second period as Noah Gregory and Jack Robbie combined for their second while Christian Regan added the other. After Israel tied the game with just a second remaining on a powerplay late in the second, a scoreless third period sent the game into overtime, where Israel found the game-winner 40 seconds in.

The Kiwi side outshot Israel 30-23 as NZ netminder Rhett Wilson had 19 saves.

Finley Forbes made 29 saves in the second game but couldn’t deny Turkey the game-winner in a frenetic final minute.

Forbes was pulled from net for an extra attacker with three minutes remaining and New Zealand trailing 2-1. Carlin Baumgartner looked to have sent the game into overtime scoring a goal with 59 seconds to play but Turkey’s Timur Turut lit the lamp for his hat-trick with 15 seconds on the clock.

Levi March scored earlier for New Zealand and provided the assist on Baumgartner’s goal, while Jackson Flight had his third assist in two games on March’s second period tally.

The path to stay up in Division III Group A became a steep one after the losses, with games against Iceland, relegated from Division II Group B, and last year’s second and third-placed finishers Mexico and Bulgaria remaining.

A last-placed finish at the six-team tournament would see New Zealand relegated to Division III Group B, where they have yo-yo’d up and down from since their 2012 second division relegation.

However, Iceland and Mexico both find themselves in a similar situation to the Kiwis with two losses in two games. The saving grace is New Zealand salvaged a point in their overtime loss to Israel, but they currently sit four points behind the Israelis for the bronze medal.

Following a day of recovery, Steve Reid’s squad face Mexico on Thursday (Friday 12am NZT), Iceland on Friday (Saturday 12am NZT) and Bulgaria on Sunday (Monday 2.30am NZT).

The under-18s start a busy stretch for New Zealand ice hockey, with the Ice Fernz in action at the IIHF Div 2B Women’s World Championship in Brasov, Romania from April 1-7, the women’s under-16 team at the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia in Abu Dhabi, UAE from April 14-19, and the Ice Blacks at the IIHF Div2B World Championship in Mexico City, Mexico from April 21-27.

Main photo: James Allan