Andrew Cox on RadioSport’s All Sports Breakfast

Earlier today, Andrew Cox surpassed Brett Speirs as the New Zealand Ice Blacks all-time leading scorer with a three-point performance against North Korea at the IIHF Division 2B World Championship in Mexico City.

New Zealand suffered another slow start, allowing their opposition to score three quick goals in the first period. It’s an issue that Cox identifies as something that needs to be rectified going into their final game of the tournament tomorrow.

The Ice Blacks’ high-powered offence managed to click as the game went on, erasing the previous deficit, before going on to win 8-5. Following the game, Andrew Cox called into RadioSport’s All Sports Breakfast with Nigel Yalden for the post-game reaction.

Listen to the full interview with RadioSport above.

Main photo: Mike Froger

Schneider, Cox spark comeback victory over North Korea

The New Zealand Ice Blacks overcame an early three-goal deficit to beat North Korea 8-5 in the penultimate round of games at the IIHF Division 2B World Championship in Mexico City.

Opting to rest number one goalie Rick Parry ahead of their game against Iceland, Ice Blacks head coach Anatoly Khorozov elected to give Vince Mitalas his first career IIHF start in net.

The decision initially appeared to backfire. Within the first seven minutes of the game, North Korea had slotted three shots past Mitalas, including a shorthanded goal, to give the New Zealand side an early scare with their opponents’ speed catching them by surprise.

But if there’s one thing the Ice Blacks don’t have trouble doing, it’s scoring goals, and the Queenstown combination of Matt Schneider and Ryan Strayer looked to erase New Zealand’s earlier mistakes by teaming up for a pair of goals later in the first period.

New Zealand continued to look threatening on the man-advantage with both goals coming on the powerplay after North Korea’s Ryu was penalised for hooking, followed by a two-minute bench penalty for having too many men on the ice.

Ahead by one goal heading into first intermission, North Korea opted to swap goalies with Kwang Su Jo coming in to replace starting netminder Il Pak.

New Zealand started the second period on the powerplay and it only took 31 seconds for Schneider to convert and tie the game, claiming his second goal of the night, assisted by Strayer and captain Nick Craig.

Following a string of penalties, the Ice Blacks found themselves on the backfoot again. While they managed to kill off the first two, Kwang Ho Kim breached their defences on the third opportunity to reclaim a one goal lead for North Korea.

Nick Henderson set up Benjamin Gavoille with a well-placed stretch pass to allow the Ice Blacks winger to best Kwang Su Jo in a one-on-one battle and lock the teams up 4-a-piece after two periods of play.

Facing a total of 36 shots on net, Mitalas allowed one more before the tides started to turn in New Zealand’s favour for the remainder of the game.

North Korea struggled to handle New Zealand’s combination of skill and physical play as the game worn on. By applying relentless forecheck pressure on the North Koreans, the Ice Blacks were able to take advantage of their opponent’s mistakes deep in their own end.

Four unanswered goals by Alex Polozov, Andrew Cox, Stefan Amston and Chris Eaden secured the 8-5 victory.

Schneider was awarded team MVP for his five-point effort, scoring two powerplay goals and three assists. While with a goal and two assists, Andrew Cox surpassed Brett Speirs’ previous record of 49 points to become the Ice Blacks leading all-time scorer with 51.

Mitalas also claims his first win for New Zealand, a significant achievement for the 40-year-old netminder from London, ON who was called into the side as an emergency backup and has filled that role admirably in support of Parry.

New Zealand’s final game of the tournament will be against Iceland, Sunday 9:30am (NZ time). Depending on the result in the preceding Israel v Georgia game, the Ice Blacks could be playing for either a gold or silver medal. If the Georgians are able to continue their current hot streak after beating Iceland 6-3 today, then gold (and IIHF promotion) is potentially up for grabs.

Scoring Summary

New Zealand: 8
Matt Schneider (Strayer & Polozov), Ryan Strayer (Schneider & Cox), Matt Schneider (Strayer & Craig), Benjamin Gavoille (Henderson & Challis), Alex Polozov (Cox & Schneider), Andrew Cox (Henderson & Schneider), Stefan Amston (Gavoille & Strayer), Chris Eaden (Heyd & Mawson).

North Korea: 5
IH Kang (KC Kim), CR Hong (SG Ri), HJ Kim (CM Ri & KH Kim), KH Kim (HJ Kim)

Main photo: Mike Froger

Ice Blacks powerplay stays hot against Georgia

In response to a disappointing 5-3 loss to Israel, the New Zealand Ice Blacks have bounced back in day three action of the IIHF Division 2B World Championship in Mexico City, beating newcomers Georgia 6-2.

The Georgians surprised the Ice Blacks early on by opening the scoring thirty-seconds into the contest. For the next ten minutes the New Zealand side were battling to gain any meaningful possession, frustrated by the neutral zone trap set by their opponents.

The breakthrough came halfway through the first period when captain Nick Craig led by example to send the puck past Georgia starting goalie Andrey Ilyenko for the game-tying goal. French-Kiwi Benjamin Gavoille gave New Zealand their first lead of the game 93 seconds later.

Alex Polosov was whistled for slashing by the referees while battling for the puck in the corners, putting Georgia on the powerplay for the first time in the game. Artem Kurbatov wasted no time in converting the opportunity to tie the game 2-2 heading into first intermission.

From that point on, momentum slowly swung in New Zealand’s favour. With the referees looking to penalise both sides for any lazy stick infractions, the Ice Blacks’ potent powerplay found their chance to grab hold of the lead.

Chris Eaden scored his first of the game on the man-advantage, assisted by Jordan Challis after Georgia’s Mikhail Shalunov was sent to the penalty box for slashing. Martin Lee followed suit five minutes later, with Challis picking up another assist along with Craig.

Heading into the third period, the shaky start was well behind by the Ice Blacks now as they looked to finish off strong.

Back on the powerplay six minutes in with Georgia’s Kharizov called for tripping, Paris Heyd continued New Zealand’s impressive run of form on the special teams by scoring the third powerplay goal of the game, putting the game well out of reach for their opponents.

Eaden scored his second with 7:25 remaining in the game to seal the 6-2 victory and keep their chances of higher medal honours looking healthy with two more games to play. The win also marks Auckland-based defenceman Andrew Hay’s 70th IIHF appearance for the Ice Blacks.

NZ goalie Rick Parry was strong in net for the remainder of the game after allowing two in the first period, making 32 saves off 34 shots on goal. Team MVP went to captain Nick Craig for his efforts however, with a goal and an assist.

The Ice Blacks have a rest day off tomorrow before they take on North Korea this Saturday at 6am (NZ time).

Main photo: Mike Froger

Ice Blacks suffer tough loss to Israel

In day two action from the IIHF Division 2B World Championship in Mexico City, the New Zealand Ice Blacks have hit a bump on the road to gold after losing 5-3 to Israel in what was a closely fought battle throughout.

Israel controlled the flow of the game early on and showed that perhaps their 6-3 win over Iceland yesterday wasn’t an upset as initially thought. Evgeni Kozhevnikov opened the scoring eight minutes into the game to put New Zealand behind 1-0.

Following on from that goal, the Ice Blacks struggled to get through the neutral zone to mount their own attacks with several icing penalties called against them, hemming the New Zealand side in their own zone.

Six minutes later New Zealand forward Frazer Ellis drew an interference penalty against Israel’s Itay Ben Tov, with a second infraction by Israel moments later giving the Ice Blacks a two-man advantage for 21 seconds.

While time expired on the first penalty, the NZ attack enjoyed sustained pressure and kept the momentum of their powerplay going from yesterday’s game – Matt Schneider using his quick wrist shot to beat Israel’s starting goalie Nir Tichon.

With the score 1-1 after the first period, this could have been anyone’s game. New Zealand head coach Anatoly Khorozov and former NHL centre come Israel head coach Bobby Holik were locked into their own battle to see who could take the advantage.

The powerplay chances continued to come New Zealand’s way but were unable to convert despite enjoying a wealth of possession. Against the run of play Israel scored the go-ahead goal with eleven minutes remaining in the second period.

The Israelis doubled their lead late in the second, Evgeni Kozhevnikov scoring his second of the night by beating Ice Blacks goalie Rick Parry on an unassisted breakaway.

Eager to ignite a third period comeback for New Zealand, Paris Heyd closed the gap down to one after cutting through the offensive zone to send the puck over the shoulder of goalie Tichon.

The momentum gained from that play was quickly quashed however when Ellis was penalised for a late hit, a new rule put in place by the IIHF as of this season. Kozhevnikov scored his hat-trick goal on the ensuing powerplay.

The back and forward continued midway through the final period. Stefan Amston’s recent run of form saw the Queenstown-based defender bag his second goal in consecutive games, sending home his own rebound to claw the Ice Blacks back within one.

It was all to no avail however, with Parry pulled from New Zealand’s crease to provide an extra attacker, Israel scored an empty-net goal to seal the deal and bury the Ice Blacks’ hopes of going five-for-five in 2019.

Such is the harsh reality of these short five-game tournaments, New Zealand will now need to win their remaining three game in regulation and hope other results go in their favour to keep their aspirations for gold alive.

The Ice Blacks have a day off tomorrow to recover from back-to-back games before facing their next opponent, Georgia, on Thursday (NZ time). Puck drop is scheduled for 6am.

Ice Blacks assert dominance with convincing win over Mexico

The New Zealand Ice Blacks began their campaign at the IIHF Division 2B World Championship in convincing fashion with a 7-2 win over hosts Mexico tonight, making it New Zealand’s first win against their rivals on Mexican ice.

55 seconds into the game Mexico’s Santiago Sierra was called for slashing, starting the first of seven stick infractions they would be called for.

And while the Ice Blacks were unsuccessful on their first powerplay, shortly after time expired on Sierra’s penalty, the high-powered line of Chris Eaden, Martin Lee and Paris Heyd connected to open the scoring, with Eaden grabbing the tally.

The Mexicans answered back shortly after to tie the game 1-1 before ill discipline got the better of them, with back-to-back penalties for hooking and tripping. New Zealand scored their first of five powerplay goals on the night halfway through the first period, Ryan Strayer celebrating his recent NZ citizenship status with his first IIHF goal.

Tensions began to rise between the two nations as the first period wound with Mexico’s Gomez and Perez called for cross-checking and high sticking respectively, while New Zealand’s Heyd was penalised for charging in retaliation as the Mexicans look to take their frustrations out on the Ice Blacks.

Jordan Challis and Andrew Cox scored 33 seconds apart to end their first period with New Zealand leading 4-1.

The scoreline not coming without casualties however, defenceman Callum Burns was stretchered off the ice after taking an unfortunate fall into the boards. Also in the first, Strayer coped a stray stick to draw a bloody nose, but no penalty.

Mexico looked to right their ship by scoring within the first minute of the following period of play, however from there on out, New Zealand were clinical in their execution of the powerplay. The Ice Blacks scored three more on the man-advantage during the second, including a breakaway goal by Stefan Amston that could be worthy of a few highlight reels.

Also amongst the powerplay markers, Cox scored his second of the game while towering centre Matt Schneider notched up his first of the tournament. With three assists on the night, Estonian-born forward Alex Polozov was a quiet contributor for the Ice Blacks.

Mexico’s starting goalie de la Garma was replaced by de la Vega after allowing seven goals through forty minutes.

While the final score would be decided after two periods, the two sides exchanged penalties in the third, but the Ice Blacks remained resilient to hold onto their sizeable lead with starting goalie Rick Parry standing tall when required and their penalty kill denying any scoring opportunities for their opposition.

“It was pretty scrappy, we weren’t really expecting that, but we didn’t sink down to their level which is really good. We kept our heads (held) high, played our game and came away with the win, so it was a fantastic way to start the tournament,” said Ice Blacks captain Nick Craig.

In today’s other games, Israel upset Iceland 6-3, while DPR Korea put on a dominant display to beat division newcomers Georgia 9-4.

The Ice Blacks next opponent will be a strong-looking Israel team coached by former NHL defenceman Bobby Holik, with puck drop scheduled for 9:30am tomorrow (NZ time).

Main photo: Mike Froger

The former NHL netminder working with the Ice Blacks

Unless you are a hardcore New York Rangers fan, then the name Terry Kleisinger may not ring a bell. But the Regina native played four games for the Blue Shirts in the 1985-86 NHL season after four years of NCAA with the University of Wisconsin.

Whether you play one, four, or a thousand-plus games in The Show, it’s considered a great achievement for any hockey player’s career, and Terry’s NHL story is noteworthy to say the least.

Fresh off their worst season in franchise history with 44 losses and 345 goals allowed in the 84-85 campaign, newly appointed Rangers head coach Ted Sator made sweeping changes two days prior to the new season – starting goalie Glen Hanlon was sent to the minors, replaced by a young John Vanbiesbrouck, with Kleisinger serving as backup.

Kleisinger signed his NHL contracts just days after being involved in one of the largest team brawls in the league’s history. During a pre-season game against the Philadelphia Flyers, a full-scale fight broke out that took half an hour to resolve and resulted in 506 penalty minutes and 22 players ejected, Kleisinger included.

As you’ll see in the video below, the Rangers netminder skates the length of the ice to engage with Flyers goalie Bob Froese.

These days he lives in Vail, Colorado working as a goalie coach for the junior Huskies team. While the Ice Blacks were in town for two weeks with their training camp, the local Vail Yeti hockey club connected Kleisinger with the New Zealand national team to help prepare their goaltenders, Rick Parry and Vince Mitalas, for the IIHF Worlds.

Mitalas is a name Kiwi hockey fans will be more familiar with having won three titles in New Zealand’s national league. The 6-foot-2 goalie last played for the Canterbury Red Devils during the 2013 NZIHL season, but now resides in London, Ontario.

Originally named as a non-traveling reserve for the 2019 Ice Blacks squad, Mitalas received the emergency call up when Csaba Kercso-Magos became unavailable.

With the opportunity to represent New Zealand again, Mitalas sprung into action, enlisting the help of two goalie coaches (including Perry Wilson) prior to meeting up with the Ice Blacks in Vail.

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A Red Devils blast from the past.

Rick Parry on the other hand is coming off a NZIHL championship-winning season with the West Auckland Admirals where he split starts with Kercso-Magos.

Based on first impressions, their temporary coach was impressed with both Kiwi goalies as he began to look for ways to improve their game within a short space of time.

“They’re very good, it’s just a matter of getting used to the altitude. It’s tough here and first of all, the first few days you got to get them used to it so they’re not just sucking wind,” said Kleisinger.

With the first few trainings behind them, the rapport with Kleisinger grew, particularly for Parry whom also aspires to be a goalie coach with his recently launched Rick Parry Goalie Academy.

The coach highlighted Parry’s puck sense and ability to move side to side as his strengths, and while Mitalas has been away from competitive hockey for an extended period, Kleisinger believes that coming into the training camp with a great attitude and being mentally prepared will serve the 40-year-old goalie well.

Both Parry and Mitalas are also singing Terry’s praises after spending ten days together, breaking down their current techniques and refining what they’re doing so they can become more efficient in their movements.

“It’s been awesome. So many times with New Zealand camps the goalies just don’t have a trained set of eyes to see what we’re doing. We go so many weeks and months without a goalie coach that habits creep in and Terry’s able to jump on them pretty quickly and set us back in the right direction.

He doesn’t make any wholesale changes because he just doesn’t have the time – just tweak for the World Championship and refine things, he’s been fabulous for that,” said Mitalas.

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Parry keeping an eye on the Aussies. Photo: Jay French

While Parry feels like he has come away with a wealth of knowledge from his time with Kleisinger, something that could become beneficial not only to himself, but to youth goalies around New Zealand that enrol into future RPGA camps.

One such lesson has been a set of warmup drills that Parry mentions can be used in any practice situation, along with ways to tackle certain in-game situations that can be challenging for a goalie – those big moments when they’re called upon to either steal or save the game for their team.

“One in particular has been the cross-ice one-time situation like a 2-on-1. Instead of pushing out to a player, you push back to the post which buys you a bit more time. Just little things like that, that you kind of know but need somebody to pick up on and then tell you so you can refine it,” Parry explained.

Having come through the second week of training camp with an improved effort on the backend for all concerned, reducing the amount of goals allowed from 14 in week one to 7, it appears the time spent with Kleisinger has been invaluable.

But the true test lies within New Zealand’s opening games of the 2019 IIHF Division 2B World Championship, starting with hosts/rivals Mexico tomorrow, followed by a potentially lethal Israel team the next day.

While Parry will see the majority, if not all, of the starts this week, Mitalas is more than prepared to fulfill his important role as backup goalie.

“I’ll have a great seat on the bench watching Rick do his thing, and then again if I’m needed I’ll be ready.”

Ice Blacks Game Times

NZ v Mexico – April 22, 1:15pm
NZ v Israel – April 23, 9:30am
NZ v Georgia – April 25, 6am
NZ v North Korea – April 27, 6am
NZ v Iceland – April 28, 9:30am

Game times are listed in NZ time.

Nick Craig on RadioSport: “Iceland will be our toughest opponent”

Earlier today New Zealand Ice Blacks captain Nick Craig joined RadioSport’s ‘Power Hour’ with Matt Buck from Mexico City to chat about the IIHF Division 2B World Championship that gets underway tomorrow.

After an intense ten-day training camp, the Ice Blacks were excited to be amongst their opponents and check out what will be the team’s base for the next week.

The team had their first skate on the ice here in Mexico City this morning, in what is a very unique setup – the tournament is being played within a large-scale shopping mall with the food court residing next door. It’s something that not many within the NZ squad are used to, or have even seen before, but they appear to be taking it all in their stride.

And while Craig is expecting that the tournament will be tightly contested between the six competing nations, the NZ skipper is predicting that Iceland will be their biggest challenge as the team that has returned from the tier above.

Listen to the full interview with RadioSport above.

Main photo: Mike Froger

Ice Blacks look to improve defence after high-scoring games against Vail Yeti

The New Zealand Ice Blacks ten-day training camp in Vail, Colorado is coming to an end with their last full day of practices behind them. All that remains is two warmup games, one on the road against the Aspen Leafs today, followed by the third and final matchup with the Vail Yeti on Thursday (local time).

Last weekend’s games against the local Yeti side has left the Ice Blacks with plenty to think about heading into the IIHF World Championship starting on April 22 (NZ time) in Mexico.

Game one on Friday was a closely contested affair, with the Ice Blacks winning 6-5 in the dying seconds courtesy of Paris Heyd. While in game two, the New Zealand side allowed the physical Yeti side to get the better of them in the third period to run away with a 9-7 victory.

Goal scoring is not an issue for the Ice Blacks. Several forwards featured prominently on the score sheet, including Jordan Challis, Paris Heyd, the returning Martin Lee, and the rookie Benjamin Gavoille.

As head coach Anatoly Khorozov pointed out to the team following the loss, scoring six or seven goals a game will win you many hockey games – which is true, and this team probably could score its way out of trouble if they had to.

However, New Zealand did allow 15 goals in two games, so tightening up on the defensive end has been the focus for the second week of training camp.

“We definitely need to work on our forecheck more aggressively because we did allow them more space and time, our forwards didn’t do a good job of putting pressure on the puck carrier. Also our defence lost a bit of gap control in the neutral zone, so that’s what we’ve been working on over the past couple of days and it’s getting better now,” said Khorozov.

The coaching combination of Khorozov and Andreas Kaisser has been putting the team through their paces, with some days featuring on-ice sessions in both the morning and late afternoon as they look to perfect their playing systems. And while they haven’t been afraid to say if they weren’t satisfied with the team’s performance during a session, ultimately the head coach is pleased with the way the Ice Blacks have responded to the challenge.

“I talk to them after each practice and ask ‘How are you feeling? How’s the legs? How’s the breathing?’ Everybody I talked to said it’s much easier and much better now (compared to day one), so that’s the main thing. In terms of playing our systems, practice was much better Tuesday than it was Monday,” stated Khorozov.

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One of my biggest takeaways I have found from observing the Ice Blacks during their training camp is how strong their team culture appears to be.

While they make sure to eat lunch and dinner together as a group, they also hold each other accountable with a ‘fine’ system in place – any lapses in conduct or etiquette can potentially result in paying a dollar, doubling for repeat infractions. There is the option to dispute, if the offender feels wrongly accused, but for the most part hey take it as an opportunity to learn and happily pays the fine.

That emphasis on having a positive team environment is something veteran defenceman Andy Hay is proud to be a part of.

“You’ve got a wide range of guys from different backgrounds, different ages, different experiences, all coming together and having a laugh (while) working hard for each other and the team. I think the culture is one of our strongest assets for sure,” said Hay.

Hay is looking to hit the 70 cap mark this year, having played 67 IIHF games for New Zealand. With two rookie defencemen (Jaxson Lane and Stephen Mawson) joining the squad this year, the most-capped Ice Black of all-time is happy to pass on any piece of advice to help the newcomers.

“Keep it simple – don’t try to overcomplicate things, don’t be afraid to ask questions and just play how you play, that’s what got you to this level. You don’t need to do anything different or special, just stick to your guns. But the most important thing is to have fun – we’re here to win, we’re here to have fun and winning’s fun,” said Hay.

Vail has been an ideal setup for the team. With the Dobson Ice Arena just a stone’s throw away from their hotel, and healthy meals provided at the rink, it’s allowed the team to focus on the task at hand – New Zealand are serious about winning the gold medal this year.

Undertaking such a lengthy training camp, and ultimately being away from their families and their lives back home for three weeks, showcases each player’s determination.

“Its been bit of a bugbear for the last few years that we haven’t quite managed to string five wins in a row together. That’s the real challenge – playing consistently night after night, backing it up, having a day off and doing it all again.

I think we’ve got the right mix of youth and experience this year and talent to fight and provide some consistent performances during the week, which will hopefully give us a chance to play for the gold medal in the final game against Iceland,” Hay explained.

Into his second season as Ice Blacks captain, Nick Craig echoes Hay’s sentiments.

“I can’t even describe how much we want that gold, there’s no other option really. Everyone wants it, everyone’s training really hard to become a cohesive unit and I think we’re looking really good, so here come the Ice Blacks for 2019,” Craig exclaimed.

While the Ice Blacks have shown an ability to achieve at a higher level in recent times, claiming a test series win over Australia at the 2018 Winter Games, they continue to chase their Trans-Tasman neighbours.

Buoyed by the Mighty Roos’ bronze medal placing at the IIHF’s Division 2A tournament this past week, narrowly missing out on promotion to the first division, the Kiwis will use that as further motivation for their own progression.

The Ice Blacks have finished second in back-to-back tournaments and the overall consensus amongst the group suggests that enough is enough. They have been competing in Division 2B for seven years now and as the team has developed their skills, their playing style and their professionalism as a unit further, the frustration is starting to show.

“It’s time to take that step and New Zealand hockey needs to go there as well. We’re trying to develop a strong hockey culture in NZ and develop these teams, and we need to lead the charge as the Ice Blacks,” stated Craig.

Or as Hay eloquently puts it, “We’ve been bridesmaid for the past couple of years, it would be nice to be the bride and get a ticket up to (division) 2A.”

Main Photo: Mike Froger

In camp with the Ice Blacks: The First Days

Traveling with the New Zealand Ice Blacks will be a completely new experience for yours truly.

Most of the coverage that Puck Yeah produces is done from being at rinks around the country, or via our online sources. So, being on the road for three weeks with the national men’s team will hopefully open both my eyes, and yours, to just how much preparation goes into a IIHF campaign.

Departing Sydney on Monday morning to link up with the team in San Fransisco provided a tight transfer window. Landing at SFO at 6:55am local time, I had just over 90 minutes to complete my transfer, however lengthy delays at passport control made this more of a mission.

With just under half an hour to go before boarding, I had to quickly recheck in my luggage before proceeding to security. By the time I made it through all the usual checks, the flight had begun boarding, commencing an awkward running sequence that was probably much less glamorous than any Hollywood rom-com.

Five minutes later I’m sweating bullets and I’ve boarded my flight in the nick of time, with a few friendly jeers from the Ice Blacks in the back of the plane to welcome me.

The drama didn’t end there however.

Upon landing at Denver International Airport, both Ice Blacks captain Nick Craig and I were told that United had to place our bags on the next flight which would arrive two hours later. Luckily for us, we had to wait for team general manager Graham Tappin and physiotherapist Sunny Murugan to arrive from their recent tour of duty with the New Zealand Ice Fernz in Romania, plus assistant coach Andreas Kaisser.

The bags arrived as advertised, mine a little worse for wear but everything still in tact.

After a three-hour bus trip, we finally arrived into Vail to begin what will prove to be an intensive 10-day training camp. The sole focus: prepare the team for a potential gold medal run at the IIHF Division 2B World Championship later this month.

Once settled into the hotel, the team ran around the complex at 7:30pm for a warmup before splitting into three groups for a circuit of press-ups and leaps, while the second group did squats and the third enjoyed a brief rest period.

Ten minutes later, the squad was stretching before enjoying a dinner being put on by the local Garfinkel’s sports bar. Garfinkel’s also sponsor the Vail Yeti hockey team that play out of the Dobson Ice Arena where the Ice Blacks are conducting their camp.

With a strict daily schedule in place, set by head coach Anatoly Khorozov, the Ice Blacks have been hard at work on perfecting their systems. As Vail sits 8,000 feet above sea level, each player’s lung capacity is also being tested during the intense on-ice training sessions, allowing their bodies to acclimatise for a similar elevation that awaits them in Mexico City (7,382′).

Here’s an example of what the training schedule has been like over the first couple of days:

9:15 to 9:35am: Warmup and stretches
10 to 11:15am: On-ice training
11:30am: Stretching and cool down, followed by team lunch
12:30 to 2:30pm: Rest period
2:45pm: Team meeting to discuss tactics
4:15 to 4:35pm: Warmup and stretches
5 to 6:30pm: On-ice training
6:45 to 7:15pm: Stretching, cool down and ice baths
7:30pm: Team dinner with lights out by 11

Day three saw one training in the morning, with the afternoon free for the team to relax at the hotel, catch up on what’s been happening in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, or explore Vail.

The perk of staying in a picturesque ski village like Vail means the team doesn’t have to travel far to see the sights when they need a break away from the rink. Just a few minutes walk from the team hotel is a gondola ride to the top of Vail Mountain, providing stunning views of the surrounding Colorado Rockies.

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Stefan Amston, Sunny Murugan, myself, Nick Craig & Paris Heyd atop Vail Mountain.

As I observe through the lens of my camera, so far I have noticed that between the coaching staff and the senior leadership group, they have everything running like a well-oiled machine and the 2019 Ice Blacks appear to be clicking well both off and on the ice with a solid team culture in place.

Tomorrow they will play their first of three warmup games against the Vail Yeti. With the New Zealand team’s presence being the talk of the town, it’s expected that the Dobson Ice Arena will be packed out to witness the men in black take on the local lads.

The Yeti also features two players who have played in the NZIHL for the Skycity Stampede. Will Compton played during the 2014 season, scoring 10 points in 14 games, while Kirk Golden suited up for the Queenstown-based club in 2013 and led the league in scoring for defensemen with 30 points in 16 games.

Vail are coming off a successful season in the Mountain West Hockey League, winning the Rocky Mountain Division Championship with a 5-4 OT loss and 4-2 regulation win over the Texas Titans. The Yeti will provide a good test for the Ice Blacks after a successful first few days of training camp.

PUCK YEAH 50: Strength and Conditioning with Chris Eaden

It’s our 50th episode! And to celebrate we’re talking fitness with the man behind the successful Eaden Project gym, Chris Eaden.

Chris is a big impact player in New Zealand ice hockey. Whether it be his strength and conditioning role with the NZIHF to prepare national teams for competition, being the Canterbury Red Devils captain, or the fact that he’s the all-time leading scorer in the New Zealand Ice Hockey League with 203 goals in 168 games.

Away from the rink he’s making a difference in Christchurch by introducing Cantabrians to a healthy lifestyle.

This week he joins the podcast to chat about how training for hockey has evolved as the game gets faster, getting the Ice Blacks fit for IIHF Worlds, and the struggles of being on a rebuilding team after years of success.

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Main photo: Josh Fraser

22 Thoughts on the 2019 Ice Blacks

April will see the New Zealand Ice Blacks traveling to Mexico City for their annual IIHF campaign with a singular objective: to finish first and earn promotion.

With two months to go, it’s down to the business end of preparations, culminating in an extensive ten-day training camp held in Vail, Colorado.

Puck Yeah will be right there with them, filming their progress for a documentary to be released later this year while also reporting back regularly so fans can stay connected with the Ice Blacks on the other side of the world. Such coverage is costly for us so please consider donating to our Givealittle page.

On Sunday night New Zealand’s 22-strong traveling squad for the 2019 IIHF Division II-Group B World Championship was announced as follows:

Forwards:
Paris Heyd, Matt Schneider, Jordan Challis, Alex Polosov, Dale Harrop, Benjamin Gavoille, Frazer Ellis, Ryan Strayer, Joseph Orr, Nick Henderson, Andrew Cox, Martin Lee, Chris Eaden, Robin Vortanov (non-traveling reserve).

Defence:
Stefan Amston, Callum Burns, Nick Craig, Blake Jackson, Andrew Hay, Jaxson Lane, Stephen Mawson, Logan Fraser (non-traveling reserve).

Goalies:
Rick Parry, Csaba Kercso-Magos, Vince Mitalas (non-traveling reserve).

Andy Mills, the President of the New Zealand Ice Hockey Federation, has previously mentioned to me that he believes New Zealand sides should be playing in higher divisions than they currently do and I would for the most part agree with him on that statement – the Ice Blacks certainly should be.

After back-to-back silver medal placings at the IIHF Worlds, this year they must capitalise on their recent success against Australia and get back to the IIHF’s Division II-Group A tournament.

Out of the five New Zealand Ice Hockey League clubs, the current Birgel Cup champion West Auckland Admirals boast the most Ice Blacks with seven this year, the Botany Swarm and Skycity Stampede both provide four, while the Dunedin Thunder and Canterbury Red Devils feature three and two respectively.

If all those that were named today remain healthy, this 2019 squad will be one of the strongest sides to wear the black jersey in recent history. And that’s despite some notable omissions like goaltender Daniel Lee who was unavailable due to study commitments.

Anatoly Khorozov returns as head coach to see through his ‘two-year mission’ to make IIHF promotion a reality. However, Adam Blanchette won’t be returning to the bench beside him for this year’s campaign. Instead he will be joined by Andreas Kaisser, last seen coaching the Ice Fernz in 2018 and now the current General Manager of the NZIHL.

Here are my 22 thoughts (shout out to Elliotte Friedman) on the 2019 New Zealand Ice Blacks, starting with…

FORWARDS

Paris Heyd (Dunedin Thunder)
NZIHL commentator Matt Wiffen said it best, dubbing Paris Heyd “Captain Fantastic” after the skilled centre scored one of many highlight reels goals last season. And while he’s not the captain of this side, the Dunedin Thunder’s main man often leads by example with his on-ice performance.

Awarded the title of the NZIHL’s 2018 MVP after almost taking the Thunder to the Birgel Cup Finals, his addition to the Ice Blacks is a no-brainer. My favourite element of Paris’ game is how strong he is on his edges – when he’s controlling possession, defenders have a tough time forcing a turnover. More often than not he’s creating a high percentage scoring chance instead.

2018 Stats: 17 games, 15 goals, 21 assists, +6, 10 PIMs, 18.75 S%

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Photo: James Allan

Matt Schneider (Skycity Stampede)
Backing up the selection of Heyd with more offensive power is Stampede captain Matt Schneider. Hailing from Vernon, BC and once drafted by the Calgary Flames in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, this 6-foot-7 (but feels more like 7 foot on skates) behemoth can dominant a game early with equal parts size and skill.

We have seen Schneider do exactly that countless times since his NZIHL debut in 2012. Last season he was the top scorer with 46 points in 18 games and was crowned league MVP the season before that.

Possessing a wicked shot that goes in more often than not, Schneider is a fierce competitor that hates to lose. He will be a key part of the Ice Blacks’ offence – good luck to any goalie trying to see past his screen.

2018: 18 games, 22 goals, 24 assists, +29, 22 PIMs, 55.00 S%

Jordan Challis (Botany Swarm)
With 157 games over 12 years, Jordan Challis’ game is on roll after coming off his best season offensively. With 24 points in 15 games he led the up-and-down Swarm in scoring, followed up by an impressive outing for New Zealand against Trans-Tasman rivals Australia at the 2018 Winter Games.

Turning 27 shortly before training camp, Challis still has a lot to offer the Ice Blacks.

When interviewing the 43-cap veteran after their test series win over the Mighty Roos back in September, it was clear just how much achieving IIHF promotion would mean to him – Challis embodies the belief that New Zealand should be at a higher level and competing against Australia more.

Challis also has dad strength now, so there’s that.

2018: 15 games, 9 goals, 15 assists, even +/-, 20 PIMs, 34.62 S%

Alex Polosov (Swarm)
Once an age-grade representative for Estonia in 2004-05, Alex Polosov now calls New Zealand home and returns to the Ice Blacks fray for a third consecutive international season after a strong performance in the black jersey last year – scoring 9 points in 5 games.

The 5-foot-9 forward provides solid offensive depth for this 2019 lineup. If one of the main cannons fails to fire, Polosov still remains a threat with his ability to finish plays effectively during 2-on-1 breakouts. Here’s hoping he can continue the excellent chemistry with Ryan Strayer as seen at the 2018 Winter Games.

2018: 16 games, 6 goals, 6 assists, -3, 14 PIMs, 31.58 S%

Dale Harrop (West Auckland Admirals)
The Christchurch native had one hell of a 2018 season – NZIHL champion, Trans-Tasman Challenge winner, and two-time participant of the ‘Kurt Baker Challenge.’

The Admirals enjoyed plenty of goal-scoring up and down the lineup on their way to their first Birgel Cup victory, with Harrop being one of those consistent performers – tallying 20 points in 16 games.

Harrop is the type of character that every locker room needs. He knows how to keep things light, but also when to switch into beast mode and score crucial goals while staying out of the penalty box.

2018: 16 games, 5 goals, 15 assists, +9, 10 PIMs, 45.45 S%

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Photo: James Allan

Benjamin Gavoille (Thunder)
After making his New Zealand debut during the Winter Games series, Mexico City will be Benjamin Gavoille’s first IIHF experience for the Ice Blacks.

The French-born forward was instrumental in seeing the Dunedin Thunder come so close to securing a Birgel Cup Finals berth for the first time since 2014, finishing third in team scoring behind Heyd and Brandon Egli (27) with 20 points.

Gavoille’s attitude coming into the team really impressed me. While NZ might be his second home, he appreciates how meaningful the black jersey is for the country’s elite athletes – he has well and truly earned his spot with his initial performance in that same jersey.

2018: 17 games, 13 goals, 7 assists, +8, 10 PIMs, 27.66 S%

Frazer Ellis (Admirals)
Named 2018 MVP of a championship-winning team, at only age 22 Frazer Ellis’ two-way game is growing from strength to strength – he contributes regularly on the score sheet and denies opportunities for his opponents at the other end.

During last year’s IIHF Worlds in Spain, Ellis was burying the puck at a goal per game pace for New Zealand. The 2019 campaign has the potential to be a breakout year for the young forward with plenty of support from his fellow Admirals on hand.

2018: 18 games, 11 goals, 14 assists, +16, 37 PIMs, 52.38 S%

Ryan Strayer (Stampede)
The introduction of Ryan Strayer to the Ice Blacks lineup for the Winter Games felt like a breath of fresh air – and his style of play is one we’re fond of here at Puck Yeah.

His infectious energy both on and off the ice is not to be underestimated – if the debutant wasn’t contributing offensively, which he was, he can find other ways to have an impact on the outcome. Going to the corners, disrupting rushes and creating turnovers, it’s all part of Strayer’s game and he too, along with Gavoille, rightfully deserves a place in the 2019 roster.

2018: 18 games, 5 goals, 14 assists, +8, 12 PIMs, 22.73 S%

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Photo: James Allan

Joseph Orr (Thunder)
Currently playing US collegiate hockey for Williston State College, Joe Orr is backing up his seventh and best season for the Dunedin Thunder with two goals and eight assists in 13 games of ACHA competition.

While the flying winger was part of New Zealand’s Winter Games roster last year, the Mexico City tournament will be Orr’s first IIHF senior competition. Previous he represented the country at under-20 and under-18 competitions.

He is the second youngest member of the team, behind Callum Burns, but his play on the ice will likely suggest otherwise with his strong puck-handling skills – I won’t be surprised if Orr produces at least one highlight reel worthy goal during April’s tournament.

2018: 17 games, 9 goals, 8 assists, -3, 12 PIMs, 20.00 S%

Nick Henderson (Admirals)
Admirals fan favourite and the man affectionately known as ‘Hendo’ is going into his seventh consecutive year with the Ice Blacks, making up part of the side’s veteran group.

Once considered more of a defenceman, Henderson has transitioned well to the wing, his now preferred position. He can score goals but I would consider him more of a playmaker that will help anchor New Zealand’s second or third line.

2018: 18 games, 7 goals, 14 assists, +11, 22 PIMs, 35 S%

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Andrew Cox (Perth Thunder, AIHL)
I will admit that Cox is a player that I don’t get the chance to see play very often aside from when he’s with the Ice Blacks.

For the past seven years the Auckland-born winger has been applying his trade across the ditch in the AIHL for the Perth Thunder. While Cox enjoyed high-scoring years in 2014 and 2015, last season was his best yet with 31 points in 28 games. I look forward to seeing what he will bring to the table this year.

2018: 28 games, 12 goals, 19 assists, 18 PIMs

Martin Lee (Montreal)
Lee is another player I don’t get to see play much – the last time he stepped out on the ice for a NZIHL game was back in 2013 for the Canterbury Red Devils. Since then he has played at an elite level in Poland and Sweden, but Lee now resides in Montreal where he runs the ‘ML Hockey Development’ school.

Seven years removed from his last IIHF appearance for the Ice Blacks, the journeyman’s vast experience from playing around the world will help keep this team grounded.

Chris Eaden (Canterbury Red Devils)
The Ice Blacks are immediately stronger with this man in the lineup – Eaden is the NZIHL’s all-time leader in goals (203) and points (372). That’s a two points per game pace. But after a disappointing 2018 season that saw Canterbury finish last, the Red Devils captain will be looking to start the 2019 season on a more positive note.

Eaden takes his strength and conditioning more seriously than most, establishing ‘The Eaden Project’ where he helps his clients achieve their own fitness goals with the motto ‘Making normal people abnormally fit.’ With extensive knowledge in this area, Eaden brings more to the table than just his scoring prowess – and superior fitness will be important to edging out the competition if games go into overtime.

If you don’t believe me just check out @eadenproject on Instagram.

2018: 14 games, 8 goals, 12 assists, -18, 33 PIMs, 14.55 S%

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Photo: James Allan

DEFENCE

Stefan Amston (Stampede)
Originally from Sweden, the home of offensively gifted defencemen, I would consider Amston the biggest offensive weapon the Ice Blacks currently have on the blue line.

Last year’s tournament in Spain was Amston’s debut as a New Zealand citizen/representative, racking up 5 assists across his first 5 games. More points on the board this time around could result in seeing gold around his neck come April 27 – that just happens to be the day after my birthday, and all I want this year is to see this team finally achieve what they are capable of doing.

2018: 18 games, 6 goals, 7 assists, +21, 8 PIMs, 50.00 S%

Callum Burns (Stampede)
The youngest member of this year’s squad knows how to fly! Once a winger, Burns has quickly grown into his new defensive role for the Stampede and the Ice Blacks as well. But that doesn’t stop him from displaying his explosive speed – he’s a talented puck-carrying defender that loves to create scoring chances off the rush and it’s a pleasure to watch it happen from the stands.

A pairing of Amston and Burns could be lethal for the Ice Blacks’ special teams.

2018: 15 games, 2 goals, 10 assists, +9, 12 PIMs, 50.00 S%

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Photo: James Allan

Nick Craig (Admirals)
After suffering an injury early last season that saw the Ice Blacks captain sitting on the bench and chomping at the bit for the Winter Games plus the Admirals’ Birgel Cup run, Nick Craig is back and ready to lead the Ice Blacks to a first-place finish – he won’t be satisfied with another silver medal.

He will feel at home with so many of his Admirals teammates joining him for this journey. I know I’m not the only one who can’t wait to see what results a hungry Craig is capable of producing.

2018: 5 games, +5, 2 PIMs

Blake Jackson (Admirals)
Considering Jackson only registered 3 shots on goal for the entire 2018 NZIHL season, one of which went in, his focus is more on keeping the opposition at bay and clearing any rebound opportunities away from his netminder. But perhaps he should shoot more? There must be some lucky powers behind that moustache.

The Admirals defender was part of the 2012 Ice Blacks team that last played at the Division 2A level…I think you know where I’m going with this. Division 2B silver medals just don’t cut it anymore.

2018: 18 games, 1 goal, 2 assists, +3, 31 PIMs, 33.33 S%

Andrew Hay (Swarm)
As one of three Hay brothers to represent New Zealand in the past 12 months, Andrew knows what it means to wear the black jersey with pride, and he does so by providing a solid stay-at-home presence on the blue line.

As with Blake Jackson, Andrew was on the last Ice Blacks team to compete in the IIHF division above where they are currently placed. No doubt he would like to help guide New Zealand back there before he ever considers the notion of hanging up the skates – which is crazy. Surely it must be NZ law by now that at least one member of the Hay family is an Ice Black at all times.

2018: 15 games, 1 goal, -3, 29 PIMs, 12.50 SG%

Jaxson Lane (Red Devils)
While the Canterbury Red Devils were well represented in this year’s New Zealand Under-20s team, Lane is one of only two in the Ice Blacks – the other being stalwart Chris Eaden. This will be his first IIHF experience at the senior level, but the defender has previously worn the black jersey for the Under-18s and Under-20s back in 2011-12.

With Lane’s Red Devils coach Khorozov also running the bench at Mexico City and the experience of fellow d-men Craig, Jackson and Hay behind him, there is plenty of support, making this tournament a great opportunity for Lane to establish himself.

2018: 16 games, 2 goals, 6 assists, -20, 16 PIMS, 15.38 SG%

Stephen Mawson (Swarm)
Mawson’s inclusion to the squad is a testament to how hard he works to be successful. Having only picked up ice hockey a few years ago, he was more accustomed to the hard floors of inline hockey, but has since quickly become a key member of the Botany Swarm’s defensive core in just three seasons.

Playing forward during the latest summer edition of the Backyard Hockey League in Auckland, Mawson finished third in league scoring behind Botany Swarm/Iceholes teammate Ritchie Hopkinson and Kyle Kaliniak with 28 points in 15 games.

The Ice Blacks rookie has seen plenty of ice time and on a good team he can definitely produce. Bring the flow, bring the noise.

2018: 14 games, 2 goals, 3 assists, -11, 20 PIMs, 16.67 SG%

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Photo: Mike Froger

GOALIES

Rick Parry (Admirals)
As far as hockey careers go for New Zealand-born goalies, Parry is the gold standard to follow for the country’s younger goaltenders that are starting to come through the ranks. To help facilitate their growth he recently created the ‘Rick Parry Goalie Academy’ with his first camp coming up next month.

Sharing starts with Csaba Kercso-Magos, the veteran of 129 NZIHL games finished third amongst the league-leading goalies for 2018.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Parry both as a person and a hockey player, his interview on the Puck Yeah podcast remains one of my favourites to date. I have full confidence that this Admirals goalie tandem can also deliver the goods just as they did in the NZIHL last year.

2018: 6-2 record, .913 SV%, 3.25 GAA

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Photo: Jay French

Csaba Kercso-Magos (Admirals)
After a highly successful year that saw the Hungarian-born goalie put up his best numbers since making his NZIHL debut in 2011, now’s the time for Kercso-Magos to make a run at the starting job for the Ice Blacks.

Last season proved that he is capable of stepping up for those big game moments as seen with three strong starts for the Admirals during the NZIHL playoffs – allowing 2.33 goals per game in a fierce battle with the Dunedin Thunder and the Skycity Stampede for top honours. Considering the high goal totals often seen in the league, those numbers were more than enough to keep his team in contention.

I’ve been impressed with Kercso-Magos’ ability to calm down and simply focus on making the next save. At 25 he’s hitting his prime and will provide a few good years in the crease for the Ice Blacks, especially with the Stampede’s Daniel Lee also pushing for starts when he’s available.

2018: 9-1 record, .931 SV%, 2.77 GAA

Puck Yeah Givealittle Banner v2

 

Puck Yeah is heading to Mexico with the Ice Blacks, but we need your help!

It’s well-known amongst the New Zealand ice hockey community that players, both in international and domestic competition, must pay to play. These costs are often offset by generous volunteers and businesses who are as equally passionate about the sport.

And while Puck Yeah has never asked for donations before, we feel that we must put ourselves in the same shoes as the athletes we cover.

We have been given the incredible opportunity to travel with the Ice Blacks to Colorado for their training camp before then heading to Mexico City for the 2019 IIHF Division II – Group B World Championship. With their sights firmly set on winning gold and gaining promotion to the next tier of international competition, both the journey and the result are well worth documenting.

As the team’s embedded video journalist, Puck Yeah’s Logan Swinkels will provide regular reports from the training camp, interviews with the players and coaching staff, the tournament itself, plus any team excursions as they explore Colorado and Mexico City during their down time.

We will also be sharing interviews/footage with other NZ news media outlets to help boost national interest in the team’s progress.

Our coverage during the 2018 Winter Games was only a glimpse of what we’re capable of – but we have always operated out of our own pockets, not wanting to burden players with any additional costs when they already sacrifice so much to represent New Zealand.

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However, we must ask you to help us with our own fundraising efforts to make the above possible. So today we have launched a Givealittle campaign to offset the costs that will incur during our mission to provide such extensive coverage of the Ice Blacks’ international campaign.

These costs include flights and travel insurance for camera gear, plus cover for any potential lost income from taking 3 weeks off work as a freelance video journalist (there are still bills and rent to be paid).

Every little bit counts and we are forever grateful for any donations and support we receive – ultimately we are doing this because we believe in our boys.

Please share our Givealittle page on social media and help spread the word!

Sponsorship opportunities are also available for larger companies that are willing to invest in this cause, including having particular videos (ie. game recaps or daily reports) feature their logo/branding. For more information, please contact Logan Swinkels directly: swinkfilms@gmail.com

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Logan interviewing Ice Blacks goalie Rick Parry.