Ice Blacks claim historic series win over Australia in Queenstown

Queenstown Ice Arena was the scene of a decisive victory for the New Zealand national ice hockey team on Friday night. The Ice Blacks triumphed 6-1 over the Australian Mighty Roos, earning New Zealand both their largest-ever margin of victory over Australia as well as their first-ever series win against their Trans-Tasman rivals.

NZ set the pace of play for the entirety of the game, coming out strong in the first period with an early goal from Matt Schneider – Australia had done well defending Schneider and linemate Alex Polozov in the previous day’s game, but their line had something to say about that in game two. Polozov, who assisted on the first goal, continued his dominant play, scoring at the halfway mark of the period.

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Rather than coming out swinging during the second period, Australia frequently looked flat-footed and caught off guard. They could not seem to find an answer defensively for the duo of Polozov and Schneider, who combined for a third goal five minutes in. The goal went to Polozov, but Schneider had several more excellent opportunities as the game progressed.

It was only the hard work of goaltender Alexandre Tetreault that kept the Roos in it – However as the minutes ticked by, New Zealand worked Australia over hard in the corners, seeming to have a counterpunch for every strategy the struggling Roos employed.

Veteran Ice Blacks Dale Harrop and Jordan Challis, who normally play for intense NZIHL rivals West Auckland Admirals and Botany Swarm, both scored before the buzzer sounded, signalling the end of the second. Australia remained scoreless after a would-be goal was waved off immediately due to the officials’ decision that it was kicked in by a skate.

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The Roos finally found their footing in the third period, but it was too little too late, and every time they generated momentum, the Ice Blacks pushed back.

Australia got on the board within the first minute of play courtesy of a rocket shot from Lliam Webster that beat kiwi goaltender Rick Parry up high. Webster was a presence on the ice all night for the Roos, but New Zealand never sat back or buttoned off, and his goal ended up the lone tally for Australia.

As minutes raced off the clock, the Ice Blacks put one more on the board courtesy of a well-positioned shot from Chris Eaden that popped up and over Tetreault’s shoulder much to the delight of the hometown crowd.

MVP of the match for Australia was awarded to Kieran Webster and MVP of the match for New Zealand went to, very unsurprisingly, Alex Polozov.

Limited late-release tickets are available from EventFinda for Game 3 of the series at Queenstown Ice Arena, puck drop 7:00pm NZ Time

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Photos by James Allan

Ice Blacks take first game over Australia

The dust has settled in Queenstown and after one game, the New Zealand Ice Blacks hold a 1-0 series lead over the Australian Mighty Roos. This first game of the 2018 Trans-Tasman challenge was a tightly-contested affair, though those who witnessed last year’s series where the Ice Blacks won Game 1 only to narrowly lose the following two games know that celebrating now would be premature.

Australia took the ice with purpose, putting a goal past kiwi netminder Daniel Lee early on in Period 1 and controlling much of the period’s pace. The goal came courtesy of Tommy Powell, a veteran for the Roos squad who has played fifteen seasons for the Melbourne Ice. However New Zealand rebounded well and before the period had ended they struck twice. Long-time Ice Black Dale Harrop scored goal number one and had a hand in goal number two, which was scored by Connor Harrison, who tucked the puck past Australian goaltender Charlie Smart.

In the second period of play, New Zealand broadened their lead courtesy of a goal from Alex Polozov courtesy of a clever feed from long-time Skycity Stampede player and debut Ice Black Ryan Strayer. Late in Period 2 a sloppy defensive scramble on New Zealand’s part led to a late goal for the Mighty Roos, a beautiful tic-tac-toe effort finished off by Tomas Sak, who put the puck past Lee to bring the Australian side within one. To make matters worse for the host team, Oliver Hay committed a late penalty that gave Australia almost a full two-minute power play to begin Period 3.

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Ryan Strayer proved to be a key contributor in his first game for New Zealand.

In the final period of play, Australia put forth sustained pressure and looked dangerous for long stretches. However, the Ice Blacks were determined to broaden their lead and refused to turtle up as the period wound down. One more goal cemented the score at 4-2 when Ben Gavoille deflected a shot by Chris Eaden that ping-ponged off the inside posts and in. Much as New Zealand had committed the late penalty in Period 2, Australia found themselves short-handed, taking a two-minute penalty with only two minutes and fifteen seconds remaining on the clock. This made it difficult for the Roos to develop much momentum toward a comeback attempt and the 4-2 score held at the final buzzer.

Australia awarded MVP of the match to Vadim Virjassov while New Zealand’s honours went to Ryan Strayer.

The series still belongs to anyone with games on the slate for Friday and Saturday nights at Queenstown Ice Arena, where limited tickets are still available via EventFinda.

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Photos by James Allan

Penalties Cost Stampede in Round 2

Anyone could have expected that the changes to the Skycity Stampede’s lineup in 2018 would have an effect on their play, but a pair of losses to the West Auckland Admirals likely wasn’t what most predicted.

While the Admirals’ own offensive firepower is certainly one reason they’re sitting pretty at the top of the NZIHL table, the Stampede could stand to tighten up a few aspects of their game before heading into the next round.

Special Teams:
Despite multiple opportunities on the power play as well as several stretches of 4-on-4, the Stampede managed only one power play goal per game. What’s worse, giving up a short-handed goal in the third period of game one was a definitive momentum changer. Ryan Ruddle’s short-handed goal gave the Admirals a major boost and they played with confidence for the remainder of the game.

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Young goaltender Daniel Lee worked hard to keep the Stampede in it during round 2. Photo: Debbie Barker.

Undisciplined Play & Penalties:
While the Stampede didn’t give up many powerplay goals, the sheer amount of extra time on the penalty kill visibly wore their top skaters down, resulting in sluggish third periods during both games.

In game two especially, the trio of misconducts given to Cameron Trew, Mike McRae, and Kory Helowka didn’t help a team whose top line had already been forced to kill numerous minor penalties – Helowka was also ejected from the game.

There is often a learning curve where North American skaters find themselves having to dial down certain aspects of their game to fit within the NZIHL and IIHF rulebook, and I imagine that is a priority for the Stampede’s coaching staff.

This early in the season every team is going to be going through the same: the growing pains associated with lineup changes and fresh imports as well as patching gaps in the roster left by Kiwi players who have gone on to play overseas or retired. The Stampede have plenty of time to address these issues.

In the moments when things clicked together, the Stampede’s passing game especially by the top line and the defensive pair of Stefan Amston (nee Helmersson) and Cameron Trew was excellent. The loss of Trew for a 10-minute misconduct in game two is what really seemed to disrupt the flow of their puck movement.

Once they tweak a few things and get things cycling like the well-oiled machine we know they can be, I’d be surprised to see another zero-point weekend out of them. This weekend the Stampede take on the Canterbury Red Devils in Christchurch looking to regain some footing in the standings.

Main photo: Debbie Barker

Stampede Still Team to Beat – Blanchette

Reigning NZIHL champs Skycity Stampede started out their preseason just as they wanted to, with a pair of wins (7-5 and 8-2) over the visiting Dunedin Thunder. Sporting slick new uniforms and some updates to the roster, the Stampede showed that they’re still the team to beat in the hunt for the Birgel Cup.

The Stampede suffered a couple of blows this offseason, losing longtime and much-beloved goaltender Aston Brookes to Australia for the year as well as roster stalwarts Mitchell and Lachlan Frear to suspension. Replacing a reliable Kiwi goaltender can be tricky, as NZIHL import rules make relying solely on import talent in net impossible. So the Stampede couldn’t just source one from overseas.

Their solution? Former Canterbury Red Devils (and current New Zealand Ice Blacks) goalie Daniel Lee.

“Obviously losing Aston was a big hit to us this offseason,” said Stampede Head Coach Adam Blanchette. “Luckily enough we were made aware of the situation early enough to find the right fit for the job. Danny has always played well against us and I was lucky enough to coach him with the Ice Blacks this year.”

Lee spent the offseason training with goalie coach and former Stampede player Adrian Volpe. However, Blanchette says it isn’t Lee’s record playing for New Zealand or his training regime that scored him a spot on the roster.

“As good as a player can be, the most important thing is personality. That’s the biggest reason Daniel Lee is joining the Skycity Stampede this season.”

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Callum Burns is ready to step up his defensive efforts for the Stampede. Photo: Kate Harrison

Another loss was losing defenseman Hayden Argyle to retirement. Argyle played thirteen seasons in the NZIHL, but he hung up the skates for good after one last championship with the team last year. But Blanchette is quick to put any worries about the Stampede’s defense to rest.

“Obviously losing Mitchy [Frear] and Args [Argyle] was a huge loss to our defense,” said Blanchette. “No doubt about that. However I believe we have what could be our best d-corps since I’ve been involved in the team. Stefan Amston and Callum Burns are both coming off great performances at the IIHF Worlds in which both players took home awards for their defensive play. Cam Trew and Cameron Frear have always been solid players and really the foundation of our defense. And coming from overseas will be former Memorial Cup winner Patrick Volpe and Kory Helowka. Both players bring experience and play a style of game that will complement our locals very nicely.”

You can read more about the Stampede’s new imports over on the Puck Yeah Import Report.

The Stampede open up their NZIHL season in Auckland, playing the West Auckland Admirals, last year’s runners-up for the Birgel Cup, on June 2nd and 3rd at Paradice Avondale.

Main photo: Kate Harrison