Our Time Is Now: 2019 New Zealand Ice Hockey Preview

2019 is potentially a breakout year (in terms of performance) for ice hockey in this country.

The New Zealand Ice Hockey Federation (NZIHF) sees their national teams competing at a higher level than they currently do internationally.

Recent results would suggest that they’re not far removed from the truth either – the Ice Blacks took a convincing 2-1 test series win over Australia this past September .

However, this year’s IIHF tournaments will be their proving grounds.

New Zealand Under-20s

As is tradition, the Under-20s will be the first national side to show the world what New Zealand ice hockey is all about in 2019. But this year they also get to do so in style, debuting a refreshed look for the national jersey as revealed by Puck Yeah yesterday.

Competing at the Division III U20 World Championship in Iceland, the junior side is set to face China, Bulgaria and South Africa in pool play. Their opening game of the tournament takes place January 15 at 2:30am (NZST) versus China.

If they advance passed that stage and through to the semifinals, they could be up against Australia, Turkey, Chinese Taipei or hosts Iceland for a shot at a medal placing.

Coached by Justin Daigle, they will be looking to prove that 2018 was an off-year for the Junior Ice Blacks after a disappointing last placed finish in Bulgaria.

Helmed by newly appointed captain Luke Hill and his alternates Ethan du Plooy and Ryan Fraser, they will be leading the way for New Zealand’s charge towards a higher level of competition.

Depending on the quality of the available live stream, Puck Yeah will provide game highlights via our YouTube channel – subscribe today so you don’t miss out.

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Ice Fernz

The national women’s team finished in fourth place at the IIHF Women’s World Championship in Spain last year with the hosts claiming the gold medal honours.

In recent months there has been a change in coaching staff with Andrea Kaisser stepping down and replaced by Rachel Park. It is too early to tell what that change could bring, but when speaking with the new coach about her recent appointment, she was excited about what the future holds for the Fernz.

“I think these girls are talented athletes and have strong leadership within their squad. I’m really hoping for a favourable outcome at Worlds and can’t wait to get started,” Park said.

2019 sees our top female players heading to Brasov, Romania to face-off against Chinese Taipei, Iceland, Turkey, Romania and Croatia for the 2019 IIHF Division II – Group B World Championship.

Currently ranked 32nd in the world by the IIHF, New Zealand’s highest-ranked opponent will be Turkey (27th). The last time the two nations met, the Ice Fernz put on a goal-scoring clinic to win 11-4. Alternate captain Anjali Mulari led the way with 2 goals and 4 assists, while Caitlin Heale contributed a further 2 goals and 3 assists.

Their opening game of the tournament takes place April 1 at 11pm (NZST) against last year’s silver medallists, Chinese Taipei.

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Ice Blacks

This is a ‘do or die’ year under the guidance of head coach Anatoly Khorozov. In previous interviews with Puck Yeah, Khorozov mentioned that his plan was to achieve promotion to the next tier of IIHF competition within two years.

After going home from last year’s IIHF Worlds in Spain with the silver medal, losing out to the hosts in a thrilling 6-4 closing game, we’re well into year two of that plan.

The recent test series win over the Australia Mighty Roos during last September’s Winter Games could serve as a catalyst, with several new players coming in and having an immediate effect on the roster, including the Skycity Stampede’s Ryan Strayer and the Dunedin Thunder’s Benjamin Gavoille.

Both were named in a 35-strong wider training squad for 2019 shortly after their debut, with the 22-man traveling side expected to be announced early-mid February.

The trouble with these international tournaments is that it can be difficult for New Zealand national teams to field a full-strength squad considering it’s a self-funded trip. Some unfortunately have to pull out due to the travel costs associated with representing your country in a minority sport, further testing the depths of the talent pool.

However, the NZIHF has been going to great lengths under the guidance of Treasurer Paul de Vere to be fiscally responsible – decreasing the high-cost barrier that has previously posed a threat, making it more affordable for players across senior and age-group levels.

Glancing at the wider training squad suggests that the 2019 Ice Blacks will be able to handle any such setbacks with equally skilled players waiting in the wings – any of the current 35 will be considered unlucky to miss out.

After a brief training camp in the Colorado Rockies, the Ice Blacks will travel to Mexico City looking to earn their way out of the IIHF’s Division II – Group B. Standing in their way of accomplishing that mission will be hosts Mexico, Israel, Georgia, DPR Korea and Iceland.

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Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia

New Zealand’s Under-18 women’s team is back for another shot at the IIHF’s Challenge Cup of Asia. The annual tournament that highlights the governing body’s upcoming Asian nations will be held in Abu Dhabi, April 14th-19th.

Chinese Taipei’s U18 side were dominant in 2018, coming away with the gold medal while New Zealand settled for silver. The two nations will meet again this year, with Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore also looking to take down the defending champions.

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New Zealand Under-18s

The men’s equivalent had a great 2018 winning the only IIHF tournament hosted in New Zealand last year, finishing undefeated against Hong Kong and South Africa to gain promotion to Division 3 – Group A.

But it’s a new year and now their sights are set on taking their game to Sofia where they will play Israel, Turkey, Mexico, Iceland and hosts Bulgaria starting March 26 (NZ time).

Their biggest challenge will likely be Mexico whom missed out on taking gold last year by one point to Belgium.

Back in November, the NZIHF announced a squad that sees Canterbury’s exciting goalie prospect Finley Forbes returning to the crease, along with a few other NZIHL stars of the future including Noah Gregory and Jackson Flight, plus Alexander and Christian Regan.

Along with representing NZ at the U20 level, Ryan Martinoli was also selected for the Under-18s.

Inline Ferns

They don’t play on ice but considering a good portion of this side have also suited up for the Ice Fernz or the Under-18 women’s team in the past, the Inline Ferns are well worth keeping an eye on.

This year the Ferns will travel to Barcelona, Spain for the 2019 World Roller Games where they will look to improve upon a promising, yet ultimately disappointing 2018 campaign in Asiago, Italy.

Had their puck luck gone a different way in their shootout lose to inline powerhouse USA during the quarterfinal stage, New Zealand had the potential to finish much higher in the competition than their seventh-placed finish would suggest.

Initial trials for the senior and junior national sides were held in Hamilton last month, with further trials continuing this weekend. Expect those squads to be announced shortly after.

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Main photo: James Allan

NZIHF unveils refreshed jersey design for 2019

2019 sees a new era for New Zealand ice hockey – the country’s national representatives will be wearing a redesigned jersey that features a few subtle changes to the beloved sweater.

As you will see from the video above, a new shoulder yoke design has been introduced to the white ‘home’ kit – similar in shape to what the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks brought in for their third jersey this season.

A touch of silver has been added to the sleeves as well, matching the traditional fern that currently dons the crest, while the trio of stripes also match with the player’s socks.

Numbering on the sleeve remains in a similar position to previous years, but the simple black look of the numbering has been replaced by white with a silver outline to make it pop from the black shoulders.

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Inside the collar features the words ‘Ake Ake Kia Kaha’ – in English it translates to ‘Forever and ever, be strong.’

The phrase is part of a marching song made famous during World War Two by the highly regarded 28th Maori Battalion, along with being the haka performed by the New Zealand ‘Natives’ rugby team that toured across Australia, Egypt and the British Isles back in 1888.

It seems rather fitting then that the country’s ice hockey teams would choose to adopt ‘Ake Ake Kia Kaha’ as their motto.

Ice Blacks veteran Andrew Hay was able to provide Puck Yeah a sneak peek of the home jersey prototype, noting that he’s a big fan of the new look, despite having what he calls ‘a complete lack of modelling pedigree.’

“Overall, (it’s) a much more modern and sleek design, and what would have to be considered the most radical and exciting design change to the New Zealand Ice Hockey jersey – period,” Hay said.

“The material is very light yet tough, and the jersey is a much better overall fit when compared to previous versions, particularly around the elbows and wrists. (Jordan) Challis will be stoked as he’ll no longer need to tape his cuffs to his elbow pads every game.”

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Left: The original 1987 New Zealand jersey. Right: The refreshed 2019 jersey. Photo: Joe Durie

The New Zealand emblem is now larger too, the change is stark when compared to the original 1987 jersey. But it feels like they got the size of the emblem right on this occasion – it stands out well while being portioned appropriately in relation with the overall design.

The Under-20 men’s team will be the first team set to wear the new uniform as they compete at the 2019 IIHF Division III World Championships later this month in Iceland.

Changes to the black ‘away’ jersey will also be revealed during that tournament.

At this stage, the New Zealand Ice Hockey Federation has stated that this design will stay for the next four years as part of the IIHF’s program to replace a federation’s jerseys free of charge. Beyond that period it is possible that a more drastic design change could happen, including refinements to the current crest.

If the NZIHF does a consider a stronger change in direction, then perhaps this design by Reddit user SenorPantsBulge from 2017 could be a hit.

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Last year NZIHF President Andy Mills was in Copenhagen signing off on the new design with jersey manufacturer Tackla.

“It’s more than a shirt, it’s every player’s dream to play for their country. It represents achievement and the dedication from all our hard-working ice hockey communities of coaches, administrators, volunteers and families to get our kids on the pathway to one day be wearing the fern with pride. It’s a true acknowledgement of the player’s success and the journey that they can hold dear to them forever,” Mills stated.

While New Zealand’s jersey design hasn’t changed much in the past decade, perhaps this striking new look will be the beginning of further aesthetic changes to the uniform in the not-too distant future.

What do you think of the new jersey? Let us know in the comment section below or on the Puck Yeah NZ Facebook page.

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The New Zealand Ice Blacks circa 2006. Andy Hay features back row, third inside.

Main photo: Logan Swinkels

Puck Yeah’s Memorable Moments of 2018

2019 is on its way to New Zealand, so it’s time to look back on our most memorable moments of the year.

Obviously this is subjective so don’t @ me if you disagree with any of the choices here.

Spark Arena Showdown

Starting in no particular order with the NZIHL hitting the big time in June.

The West Auckland Admirals and Botany Swarm were the curtain raiser for the 2018 Ice Hockey Classic ahead of USA v Canada. As the number one and two teams in the league respectively at that time, the rivals kept things close.

But it was the Admirals that came away with the 4-2 victory. Having hockey at Spark Arena was an awe-inspiring sight, so how about we make this a regular thing somehow?

Ice Blacks Down Straya

The New Zealand season ended on a high for our guys, with the Ice Blacks taking a historic series win over the Australian Mighty Roos.

Winning game 1 4-2, they weren’t wasting any time the following night, piling on the goals in the series decider.

The boys did us proud and you could tell post-game that the victory meant everything to them.

Queenstown Brawl Out

By round 7 of the NZIHL, the Skycity Stampede were making a run for it in the standings in search of a fourpeat. While the top-of-the-table Admirals came into Queenstown looking to spoil that party, all to no avail.

The next game, and tempers boiled over at the end of the second period with multiple players from both sides getting involved.

That incident saw four players per team suspended, but an appeal from the Admirals saw two of their suspensions lifted.

The Crowd Goes Wild

Ok let’s lighten the mood a little here… in 2018 we encouraged other NZ sports media to cover the NZIHL and they responded.

None better than this story by The Crowd Goes Wild where we found out how well the new coach and imports were adjusting to captain Andy Hay.

Irish-Canadian forward Declan Weir described the captain as ‘a great communicator’ while American goalie Colin Langham called him a ‘teddy bear.’ Hopefully Andy forgave him for that one, thanks CGW!

A special mention must go to Nigel Yalden and RadioSport for their regularly weekend coverage – during the NZIHL season Yalden interviewed all five captains live on-air. Puck Yeah sincerely appreciates the dedication that he and his producer Mark Kelly have shown towards promoting the sport.

Toa Kohaunga Riri Tio

Now while the Dunedin Thunder came agonizingly close to making the Finals for the first time since 2014, one of their biggest moments of the season came in round 4 against the Stampede.

With the game tied late and overtime looming, the Thunder shocked the defenders of the Toa Kohaunga Riri Tio challenge trophy – Brandon Egli scoring the game-winning goal with five seconds remaining on the clock.

While their tenure would be short-lived, hopefully that win is a sign of greater things to come for Dunedin.

Stampede reclaimed the TKRT in round 9 and there it remains in Queenstown until next season.

Birgel Cup Goes North

After 14 long years it finally happened, the Admirals won the Birgel Cup to become NZIHL champions.

It wasn’t easy however with game 1 going to overtime with a 4-4 deadlock. After long battle in the corners between the Stampede’s Kory Helowka and the Admirals’ Andy Hart, the puck eventually found its way to the back of the net via Kevin Phillips.

West Auckland needed a comeback hero again for game 2 – with Hart delivering the title-winning goal. It’s no wonder he was awarded the Finals MVP honours as well.

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Photo: Kate Harrison

Main photo: James Allan

Puck Yeah’s Top Saves of 2018

It’s been a memorable year for New Zealand ice hockey and Puck Yeah has loved covering every moment of it. Earlier this week we highlighted our top ten goals of the year, but now we shine a spotlight on the NZIHL’s goalies with our top saves of 2018!

Obviously this is subjective so don’t @ me if you disagree with any of the choices here.

8: Rick Parry (Ice Blacks) v Australia
Parry’s calm demeanour in net was a key factor as the Ice Blacks veteran managed to stop all but one of Australia’s 32 shots. The Ice Blacks would end up winning the second of the three-game test series 6-1 to claim a historic series victory on home ice.

Parry enjoyed a solid NZIHL season with the West Auckland Admirals as well , sharing  goaltending duties with Csaba Kercso-Magos – he ended 2018 with a 6-2 record, 3.25 goals against average, .913 save percentage and his first Birgel Cup title.

7: Finley Forbes (Red Devils) v Dunedin Thunder
While it was a trying season for the Canterbury Red Devils, finishing with a 2-14 record to scrap together five competition points, it was a promising year for one of their top young talents.

The stats themselves might not be worth writing home about, but that only highlights a largely problem at hand for the Canterbury side. The teenager, who also played for the New Zealand under-18 team that won their IIHF Division 3B World Championship in Queenstown, pulled off some miraculous saves that showed his true potential.

At age 16, Finley was the youngest player to play in the NZIHL this season. It’s worth noting that while the Admirals’ defence prospect Flynn Jones is 51 days younger, he did not dress for West Auckland in 2018.

6: Csaba Kercso-Magos (Admirals) v Dunedin Thunder
Csaba Junior has gone from strength to strength in recent years, culminating with a championship-winning performance in game two of the 2018 Birgel Cup Finals against the Stampede – he only allowed one goal off an astonishing 41 shots that day.

All that pressure is something the Hungarian-Kiwi netminder has gotten used to, as he too was under fire in the inaugural 2v3 playoff game. The West Auckland Admirals held a 3-1 lead in the third period with the Thunder throwing everything they could on goal to keep their finals hopes alive. However, Kercso-Magos held strong and the rest was history.

He finished the 2018 season with a 9-1 record, 2.77 GAA, .931 SV% plus one shutout.

5: Toby Schuck (Thunder) v Canterbury Red Devils
With Kane Easterbrook getting the majority of the starts for the Dunedin Thunder, the 38-year-old goalie served as a viable backup option for coach Jeff Avery. In five games this season, Schuck held a 3.50 GAA and .899 SV% with a 2-2 record.

Standing at 6-foot-9, we felt it was appropriate to dub the goalie as ‘The Great Wall of Toby’ – you’ll see why with our top 5 best save of 2018.

4: Daniel Lee (Stampede) v Botany Swarm
Lee was named the league’s Best Goaltender in the 2018 NZIHL Awards and with good reason. The Skycity Stampede goalie was nearly impossible to beat some nights with three shutouts to his name over 18 games.

In the final weekend of the regular season Lee was frustrating the Swarm, stopping everything that came his way for a combined 63-save shutout weekend. Still only 21, it’s good to know that the future of the Ice Blacks’ crease is in good hands with Lee – his final stats for 2018 including a 13-5 record, 2.65 GAA and .926 SV%.

Perhaps the league could have an actual awards night to properly celebrate the achievements of its teams and players one day?

3: Joel Rindelaub (Swarm) v Skycity Stampede
Of late it’s felt hard to escape Joel’s face, and while we’re probably partially to blame for that, you can’t deny his star quality. His recent appearances on ‘Jono & Ben’ plus ‘The Crowd Goes Wild’ all help to raise the profile of the sport in New Zealand.

The NZIHL needs great personalities like his to bring in new fans, thankfully the Botany Swarm are smart enough to let the man be who he is. I mean, he even has his own cheer section at Botany home games.

Screen time aside, Rindelaub also had a solid season in-goal for the Swarm finishing fourth amongst the league’s leaders. His desperation glove save to stop the Stampede’s Ryan Strayer from scoring a likely goal in round 5 was one of our favourites.

2: Colin Langham (Swarm) v West Auckland Admirals
Swarm import Colin Langham is another great personality on and off the ice. If you don’t believe me, just watch this video of the goalie mic’d up during practice with Elon University.

With both Langham and Rindelaub being import goalies, under NZIHL rules their minutes had to managed, so their starts were split with Michael Hopkinson. Colin’s most impressive outing coming in round four against West Auckland, the Swarm’s cross-town rivals, with a diving save denying Nick Henderson in the dying seconds.

1: Finley Forbes (Red Devils) v Skycity Stampede
We couldn’t have just one save from Forbes in our countdown. Watch how quick his glove hand is at snatching a juicy rebound opportunity out of the air. That’s number one material right there!

Main photo: Josh Fraser

Puck Yeah’s Top 10 Goals of 2018

2018 has been a fun year with a lot going on in the New Zealand hockey world. Next week we will look at some of the best moments that stick in our memory, but first let’s take a look at some of the best goals!

Obviously this is subjective so don’t @ me if you disagree with any of the choices here.

10: Taylor Rooney & Andy Hart (Admirals) v Botany Swarm
Andy Hart had a great season, capped off by helping the West Auckland Admirals win their first Birgel Cup in the team’s history.

As they swept the defending champion Skycity Stampede (5-4 & 2-1) in a closely contested series, Hart scored the title-winning goal in the third period of game two – ending the historic night with a new trophy plus ‘Finals MVP’ to his name.

9: Jordan Challis & Lucas Bombardier (Swarm) v West Auckland Admirals
The 2018 Ice Hockey Classic was circled on the calendar of many hockey fans around the country with the Admiral and the Botany Swarm playing the curtain-raiser ahead of the big USA v Canada matchup.

Normally the site of Breakers basketball, Spark Arena looked like it was destined to have a hockey rink inside, as if it were Auckland’s answer to the Staples Center.

We can only dream at this stage, but the Swarm and Admirals put on an entertaining display for the large crowd on-hand to witness the occasion. While it wasn’t the only highlight-reel goal of the night, this combination of Challis and Bombardier sticks out for their use of short, sharp passes to get past West Auckland’s goalie Rick Parry.

8: Matt Schneider (Ice Blacks) v DPR Korea
The New Zealand Ice Blacks fell just short of the prize at the IIHF World Championship, losing their final game to hosts Spain. But earlier in the tournament the Kiwis were dominate, winning 5-2 over Israel, 7-1 against Luxembourg and 5-1 versus rivals Mexico.

But the Ice Blacks biggest scoreline of the tournament came against DPR Korea. The North Koreans will be hoping they don’t see the 6-foot-7 Matt Schneider again anytime soon – the Stampede captain scored 3 goals and 2 assists as part of a 12-4 whitewash, with Frazer Ellis also tallying a hat-trick.

7: Callum Burns (Stampede) v Dunedin Thunder
While Callum is tasked with defending the Stampede blue line, he’s not afraid to show off his burst of speed to create scoring chances up the ice. Burns finished the season with 2 goals and 10 assists, his breakaway goal against the Thunder in round 9 was a memorable highlight from the 22-year-old.

6: Benjamin Gavoille (Thunder) v Botany Swarm
Gavoille recently debuted for New Zealand during September’s three-game test series against Australia as part of the 2018 Winter Games. Originally from Chamonix, France, the forward was also named into the Ice Blacks wider training squad ahead of their 2019 campaign.

During the sixth round of the NZIHL season, Gavoille and Paris Heyd combined for a spectacular goal to give Dunedin a 3-2 lead over the Swarm, eventually winning 8-2. But it was Benjamin’s impressive strength in front of Botany’s net that stunned the home crowd, wowed the Thunder bench, and earned him the number six slot in Puck Yeah’s Goals of the Year countdown.

5: Jamieson Jones (Ice Fernz) v Spain
The Ice Fernz were well and truly tested at the 2018 IIHF Women’s World Championship, finishing fourth. With 11-4 and 6-3 wins over Turkey and Romania respectively, New Zealand’s top ladies showed they meant business.

And while they came agonizing close with a 4-3 shootout lose to Iceland, I will remember the 2018 Fernz for their determined effort against gold-medal winners, and hosts, Spain.

Up 5-1, it looked like the Spaniards had fallen asleep on the penalty kill. Initially Jamieson Jones was unable to keep the puck in the zone, meaning the rest of the side had to skate back on-side but once they had, Jones deked her way down the left side, completely uncontested and free to rifle the puck past the goalie for a thrilling powerplay goal.

4: Patrick McLean & Matt Schneider (Stampede) v Canterbury Red Devils
With 22 goals in a short season, do you really think Schneider would only feature once? But all credit has to go to Patrick McLean (Volpe) for his near-perfect stretch pass from our of the Stampede zone towards a streaking Schneider as he stalked Canterbury’s blue line.

Red Devils netminder Finley Forbes did his best to attempt a desperate poke check, but before he knew it the puck was behind him and the Queenstown faithful was going nuts for the captain.

3: Paris Heyd (Thunder) v Canterbury Red Devils
‘Captain Fantastic’ is what Dunedin’s play-by-play announcer Matt Wiffen dubs Paris Heyd during his spectacular call of the Thunder captain’s individual effort against Canterbury during round six.

While it wasn’t on the breakaway, Heyd may as well have been with the amount of room afforded to him by the Red Devils defence. Following on from the feed by Tristan Darling, the captain found himself with only one defender in his way while three black sweaters trail on the backcheck. With a quick cut towards the goal, the puck was through the five-hole and the 2018 MVP had one more tally to his name.

Heyd finished the 2018 season with 36 points in 17 games – that’s 15 goals and 21 assists.

2: Tara Tissink (Inline Ferns) v Canada
I tossed around the idea of this being the number one goal of 2018 because I love it so much.

The Inline Ferns were faced with a 1-0 defeat to Canada as part of the Inline World Champs in Asiago, Italy. But with 27.5 seconds remaining, captain Tara Tissink gained possession of the puck and went around the Canadian defence to secure a 1-1 draw.

The icing on the cake? Well, that would be the taunting celly in front of Canada’s bench.

As I wrote earlier this year, this team opened my eyes to how exciting inline hockey can be. I look forward to seeing what they can produce in 2019 with so much young talent looking to push through the ranks.

1: Ross Venus (Red Devils) v Skycity Stampede
While Tara’s goal is great, this Ross Venus wraparound goal is an all-star effort worthy of being number one. The way the British import cuts through the Stampede is a joy to watch. Come back next year, Ross!

The energetic Ice Blacks debut of Ryan Strayer

Originally hailing from Tennessee, hockey has found Ryan Strayer a new home much further away from the rinks of Murfreesboro: Queenstown, New Zealand. And on September 6, the forward made his international debut for the New Zealand Ice Blacks playing against Australia in a three-test series.

As part of the 2018 Winter Games, the scene for Strayer’s debut was the now annual Trans-Tasman Challenge. The two nations share an impassioned rivalry that regularly sparks up in the more well-known sporting codes, including the Bledisloe Cup and ANZAC Test, but now hockey is getting a piece of the action too.

By the end of the three-test series, the Kiwis would find themselves achieving their first series win against the Mighty Roos. It’s a stark contrast from the early beginnings when Australia won 58-0 in New Zealand’s first foray into international competition. But we don’t need to dwell on that, at all.

Side note: New Zealand did beat Australia in a two-game series in 2009, but that was drawn and decided by a shootout, so does that really count?

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Photo: James Allan Photography

Despite being a new Kiwi, the importance of New Zealand being able to compete with their neighbours on the global sporting stage is not lost on Ryan Strayer. “I feel like I jumped right into that, it was a physical game right off the bat and we were working hard, we wanted to win for everybody here,” he said.

Strayer’s style of play is one I am a big fan of, and one that can often shine in a physical matchup. While he might not always be the flashiest or most-skilled player out there, his skillset greatly compliments his linemates that are more adept at finishing and putting the puck into the net. He is what I would consider a gritty playmaker.

During the New Zealand Ice Hockey League’s 2018 season, Strayer finished with 19 points in 18 games (5 goals, 14 assists) while only giving up 12 penalty minutes. That’s important to remember when you factor in that he isn’t afraid to get involved in the net-front battles and chase the puck into the dirty areas.

For the past five NZIHL seasons, the 5-foot-11 forward has been suiting up for the Skycity Stampede – but after his debut Strayer mentioned that he was more nervous for this occasion than any other, remarking how special it was.

“It was great to play here (on debut), especially in front of Queenstown. Great first game to be a part of,” Strayer said post-game.

The debutant made an immediate impact on the New Zealand roster, scoring two assists.

The first coming from a face-off in Australia’s zone. Strayer picks up the loose puck before it reaches the far corner and sends a cross-crease pass to Dale Harrop who ties the game 1-1 midway through the opening period.

The second assist was a thing of beauty. With five minutes remaining in the second period, the Ice Blacks were now up 2-1 (courtesy of Connor Harrison) and on the powerplay.

A poor clearing attempt within Australia’s zone saw a bobbling puck picked up by Strayer after he returned onside to resume attack. Using his strength to get past the scrambling defence, Strayer was able to connect with Alex Polozov as he streaked towards the Mighty Roos’ net – putting the puck behind Charlie Smart for a two-goal New Zealand lead.

While he created the opportunity, Strayer is humble in giving all the credit to the goalscorer. “The puck was bouncing my way, it stayed on my stick and I heard him screaming for it so I fed it over there and he did the rest of the work. He finished it beautifully, it was nice,” Strayer explained.

That margin is all the Ice Blacks would need in the opener, winning 4-2, before going on to win emphatically 6-1 in the second game to earn the Trans-Tasman Challenge series win.

The next day, Strayer was back working at the Queenstown Ice Arena, sharpening up skates for the team and keeping things light while I stressed about getting game highlights uploaded. Everything is done with a big smile on his face.

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Photo: James Allan Photography

When you listen to interviews with NHL players and coaches, you will often hear them talking about someone on the team being a ‘great locker room guy’ – Strayer is exactly that for the Ice Blacks and Stampede, you don’t even need to be in the locker room to notice the calibre of player he is.

Over the course of the NZIHL Finals and the Winter Games, Puck Yeah has spoken with Ryan for post-game interviews. And each time we do, one thing remains constant: Ryan Strayer has this energy about him that is contagious – it’s always positive, motivating, and it’s fuelled by an undeniable love of the game.

His passion hasn’t gone unnoticed by the more veteran members of the current New Zealand squad.

On a recent Puck Yeah podcast, Ice Blacks goaltender Rick Parry noted how quickly Strayer gelled with the team and made the most of his opportunity.

“The competition is really high. When guys like Ryan show up, they know what it means to everyone else so they really give it their all, which is all you can really expect from anybody. He’s the kind of the guy that only works like that on the ice but off it as well. He’s always got a smile on his face. He’s a real team guy but when it comes to playing, he gets down to it and does his job.”

Captain Nick Craig also spoke highly of the newest Ice Blacks – the Dunedin Thunder’s Benjamin Gavoille also made his debut during game 1. Craig was injured at the time and unavailable to play, but with a moon boot and crutches in hand, he had a front-row seat for the historic effort while standing in a mentor role.

“They (Ryan and Ben) had a hell of a weekend, they were bloody good. I talked to Strayer afterwards, and he said that he had a bunch of fun but he was quite nervous going into it. He played his skin off though! If they were trying to make the Ice Blacks by making a statement, they certainly did. I was really impressed with those guys.”

Strayer and Gavoille were both rewarded by being named in the 35-strong wider training squad as the Ice Blacks prepare for the 2019 IIHF World Championships in Mexico. Hopefully they will be available to play as their inclusion will strengthen the team’s offensive depth.

Watch highlights of Ryan Strayer’s debut for the New Zealand Ice Blacks below:

Main photo: James Allan Photography

Ice Blacks wider training squad named ahead of 2019 IIHF campaign

The New Zealand Ice Blacks have been riding a wave of optimism these past few weeks following an impressive 2-1 series win over their Trans-Tasman rivals, the Australia Mighty Roos – but now it’s time for the team to shift their focus towards 2019.

With the announcement of the wider training squad, the national men’s ice hockey team have firmly set their sights on the next goal: winning gold and earning a long-awaited promotion back to the next tier of international competition.

The 35-man squad is as follows:

Goalies: Rick Parry, Csaba Kercso-Magos, Daniel Lee.

Defence: Stefan Amston, Callum Burns, Nick Craig, Blake Jackson, Oliver Hay, Kahu Joyce, Gareth McLeish, Andrew Hay, Logan Fraser, Jaxson Lane, Mason Kennedy.

Forwards: Paris Heyd, Matthew Schneider, Jordan Challis, Alex Polozov, Dale Harrop, Chris Eaden, Jake Ratcliffe, Benjamin Gavoille, Joshua Hay, Frazer Ellis, Ryan Strayer, Connor Harrison, Tristan Darling, Joseph Orr, Nick Henderson, Shaun Harrison, Andrew Cox, Jason McMahon, Bradley Apps, Martin Lee, Taylor Rooney.

Eventually those names will be whittled down to the 22-strong squad that travels to Mexico City for the 2019 IIHF Division 2B World Championship this coming April, providing a few selection headaches for second-year head coach Anatoly Khorozov and assistant coach Adam Blanchette.

“We’re hoping most of these guys will be available,” said Khorozov. “We’ll be looking at their personal qualities, their fitness and experience.”

The hard work starts now with Khorozov looking to put players through their paces with strength and fitness tests to come, along with certain goals that must be met to be considered for the traveling side. Those that do make the 22-man squad will find themselves on a plane to Vail, Colorado for training camp – a small town that at a glance has a charming Queenstown-esque vibe, but the reason behind the location has more to do with altitude.

Mexico City is 2.25 kilometres above sea level, making the quality of oxygen lower and therefore harder for players during game situations as each breath delivers less oxygen to their bodies. Vail’s altitude is a further 220 metres higher still, making it an ideal location for the New Zealanders to acclimatise to the conditions.

This time around their competition includes Iceland, Israel, North Korea, Georgia and hosts Mexico. Having been relegated from Division 2A, Iceland are the number one ranked opponent and likely pose the greatest threat towards New Zealand’s chances of achieving their ultimate goal.

The dominant 6-1 victory over the Mighty Roos on September 7 was arguably the best hockey ever seen from the black jersey, but with the Ice Blacks’ confidence appearing to be at an all-time high, the head coach is not taking any opposition for granted.

“If we select the players who are the best at the time then we have a pretty good chance against Iceland, but Mexico will be strong too because they’ll be playing at home with all their best players, so they’re a team to watch as well,” stated Khorozov, before mentioning that while Georgia are the unknown (they were promoted from the third division this year), they could also provide a challenge if not taken seriously.

From this wider training squad, four have recently played over in the Australian Ice Hockey League, with the bulk coming from the NZIHL, plus Martin Lee – who lives and works in Montreal running his own hockey academy called ML Hockey Development.

The current depth of New Zealand’s goaltending is a highlight of this squad: Csaba Kercso-Magos, Daniel Lee and Rick Parry were the top-three netminders respectively in the recent NZIHL season. Kercso-Magos shone with a .935 save percentage for the West Auckland Admirals, while Lee’s consistent performances for the Skycity Stampede are also notable, playing all sixteen games for the Queenstown club on the way to racking up 3 shutouts along with a .926 SV% and 2.65 goals against average.

Making his Ice Blacks debut back in 2008, Parry provides a veteran presence in the crease and coach Khorozov believes his absence was definitely felt during the last IIHF campaign in Spain. “He’s got a lot of experience and that’s what we lacked, although Csaba and Daniel are great goalies, neither had played at that level before. If Rick was there he would’ve been a real asset to the team, especially as a mentor for the goalies.”

One player who wasn’t available for the recent test series against Australia was captain Nick Craig, who has been recovering steadily from an ankle injury that saw him miss the majority of the Admirals’ NZIHL championship-winning season. He recently began skating again and the sheer joy of being back on the ice is evident.

“I missed it the whole time but I didn’t realise how much I missed it until getting back (on the ice), it’s been a long time coming. It was so hard to watch the NZIHL Finals and the Ice Blacks,” Craig explained.

The Ice Blacks captain has also signed up for the Backyard Hockey League, Auckland’s premier rec league, partially for conditioning purposes but also because of the quality of ice time and competition the league provides during New Zealand’s summer months, something that can be hard to come by for some of the country’s best players.

Craig believes that 2019 will be the year for this New Zealand side. While he couldn’t play in the Australia series due to his injury, as a mentor watching from the bench, he had a clear view of what this team is capable of when all the best players are present and putting everything on the line for the black jersey.

“That Winter Games series was incredible – the style of hockey and the speed it was played at, it was actually pretty intimidating watching it on the sidelines, these guys were playing out of their skin,” Craig said before adding, “It’s really exciting to see the way the Ice Blacks are moving onwards and upwards, we’ve got to get out of this division.”

The hunger for success is there. Backed up with the increasing quality of players and the belief that they’re now good enough to come home with the gold medal, the 2019 edition of the New Zealand Ice Blacks is going to be fun to watch.

Main photo: James Allan

PUCK YEAH 46: Ice Blacks goalie Rick Parry

PUCK YEAH! New Zealand’s hockey podcast is back.

We’re sorry it’s taken this long but it’s been a busy NZIHL season and we’re just two guys, so the podcast had to take a short hiatus while we focused on providing all the visual and written coverage for what was an exciting season.

The past month has seen the West Auckland Admirals crowned NZIHL champions for the first time in the team’s history and the New Zealand Ice Blacks claimed a historic series win over the Australia Mighty Roos at the 2018 Winter Games.

One player who’s been a key part of both sides for many seasons now is goalie Rick Parry. The masked man recently joined us at the Puck Yeah studios to chat about his career highlights, including doing the Kurt Baker Challenge twice, playing under the bright lights of Spark Arena, and the 2011 IIHF tournament in Melbourne.

Quick note: Puck Yeah will no longer be a weekly podcast. You can still expect features and interviews to run on our website and Facebook page regularly, but podcasts will be typically saved for discussing the big topics and longer-form interviews.

Main photo: James Allan

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 Game Day: September 7

The New Zealand Ice Blacks took the opening game of the Trans-Tasman Challenge last night with a 4-2 victory over the Australia Mighty Roos.

Watch the highlights package below to catch up on what happened in game 1 as the Queenstown Ice Arena gets set to host the second match tonight where the Kiwis will have an opportunity to seal a series victory over their rivals.

The Ice Blacks debuted several new players to start the three-test series, with the Skycity Stampede’s Ryan Strayer impressing the home crowd with two assists, while the Thunder’s Benjamin Gavoille also scored on debut, and the Swarm’s Logan Fraser was working the Australian’s hard along the boards with one hit worthy of a…SMASHED ‘EM BRO!

Tonight’s game will be live streaming for free on the NZIHL YouTube channel from 7pm NZ time, or watch it below.

Tickets are still available from EventFinda with individual game and series passes on sale, plus door sales are also available at Queenstown Ice Arena from 6pm on game day.

Main photo: 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

Ice Blacks Game Day: September 6

After months of anticipation the now annual Trans-Tasman Challenge has finally arrived as the New Zealand Ice Blacks look set to take on Australia’s Mighty Roos in a 3-game test series as part of the 2018 Winter Games.

The teams landed in Queenstown last night with the Ice Blacks getting in their first training as they aim to go one better in the second year of the series and beat Australia on home ice. Watch the video below for interviews from head coach Anatoly Khorozov, veteran goaltender Rick Parry, plus debutant Benjamin Gavoille.

Puck Yeah editor Logan Swinkels is down south for the series covering the action alongside the Botany Swarm’s Joel Rindelaub, and his impeccable moustache. He will providing the play-by-play commentary alongside Queenstown’s Casey Lucas-Quaid with all three games streaming live and free on the NZIHL’s YouTube channel.

Tickets are still available from EventFinda with individual game and series passes on sale, plus door sales are also available at Queenstown Ice Arena from 6pm on game day.

Main photo provided by Winter Games NZ.