Tough tests against Chinese Taipei and Iceland await Ice Fernz

Tonight the New Zealand Ice Fernz will get their 2019 campaign underway and they will get straight into the thick of it, facing Chinese Taipei first up at 11pm NZ time.

Speaking with RadioSport’s Nigel Yalden on the All Sports Breakfast last weekend, head coach Rachel Park highlighted the fact that they need to start strong if they are to have any success in the condensed five-game tournament.

“I’m expecting Chinese Taipei to be our most challenging contender, they placed second last year. We need to come out with a big W in that one, and if we can do that, I think we’ll continue that momentum into our Iceland game,” said Park.

New Zealand have only faced Chinese Taipei once at this level of international women’s hockey, going down 5-2 last year at the IIHF Division 2 Group B tournament in Spain. This year the Ice Fernz compete in the same division with the aim of winning gold and gaining promotion to Division 2A.

While Mexico is considered New Zealand’s closest rivals in the men’s game, for the national women’s side it is Iceland. The two sides have endured some spirited battles in the past including a 4-3 Iceland shootout win in last year’s tournament and a 4-3 NZ win in 2017.

Speaking with Helen Murray via Skype during their final days of training camp in Austria, the captain confirmed to Puck Yeah that the Iceland matchup is one the Ice Fernz look forward to.

“Some of my toughest hockey moments have been against Iceland. I know every time we come up against them it’s going to be a good game. They’re a really great team of girls as well, so we play really hard on the rink and then off the rink we’re really good mates, so I’m looking forward to that,” Murray explained.

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Hannah Shields keeping the Iceland attack at bay. Photo: Elvar Freyr

Park identifies the Ice Fernz’s defensive coverage as a strength to their game, one that they worked on and tested throughly during training camp, including a warmup game against Austrian champions the EHV Sabres.

And while the team is well served by the likes of Jaime Jones, Rebecca Lilly, Rachel Neville-Lamb and Krystie Woodyear-Smith, it’s within their goaltender ranks where the 2019 Ice Fernz demonstrate an exciting depth of talent – as the last line of defence, it’s their sole job to steer down the opposition and thwart their attempts to score.

New Zealand features two strong options, with a third waiting in the wings if called upon.

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Lochlyn Hyde sets to deny Mexico in 2017. Photo: Elvar Freyr

Lochlyn Hyde returns for another season with the national team after posting solid performances in the New Zealand Women’s Ice Hockey League, including a .914 save percentage and 2.73 goals against average over nine games for the Auckland Steel.

Hyde has also previously competed at the IIHF senior level with the Fernz in 2018 (Spain) and 2017 (Iceland).

But it’s the return of Grace Harrison from her North American endeavours that might make all the difference. The netminder made her international debut for New Zealand back in 2013, at the tender age of 15, earning game MVP honours in a tightly contested 2-1 overtime loss to Poland.

Since then, Harrison has gone on to represent her country at both the 2014 and 2015 IIHF World Champs but elected to take a break from international hockey after receiving a NCAA Division I scholarship, the first female ice hockey player from New Zealand to do so.

Four years of Statistics studies later and an impressive 96-game collegiate career playing for the St. Lawrence University Saints under her belt, the stars have aligned to make it possible for Harrison to compete in the 2019 tournament.

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Grace Harrison in between the pipes for SLU. Photo: Carol Hill

And as if two top-class goalies wasn’t enough, the team roster includes the multi-talented Danielle Strayer from Queenstown who finished the 2019 domestic season with a 5-0 record for the Southern Storm, including a shutout, plus a .959 SV% and 1.02 GAA.

The Minnesota native recently received her New Zealand citizenship and will make the IIHF debut for her adopted homeland this week. While Strayer has been focused on acquainting herself with her new position on the blue line, she also brought along her goalie gear to Europe in case of emergency.

As the NZWIHL’s top goaltender in 2019, that’s not a bad third option to have up your sleeve if you’re the Ice Fernz.

2019 Ice Fernz Game Schedule

April 1: NZ v Chinese Taipei at 11pm
April 3: NZ v Iceland at 2:30am
April 5: NZ v Turkey at 2:30am
April 6: NZ v Romania at 6am
April 7: NZ v Croatia at 11pm

Main Photo: Elvar Freyr

New Zealand Under-18s relegated after loss to Bulgaria

The New Zealand under-18 men’s ice hockey team have ended their 2019 IIHF World Championship campaign with a 5-1 loss to tournament hosts Bulgaria. The result sees the Kiwi side relegated back down to Division 3 Group B after failing to secure a win in their five games.

The end result doesn’t tell the full picture however, as the Under-18s showed a significant amount of promise for the future with close games against Israel, Turkey and Mexico.

Considering how bunched this competition was, if those three outcomes – decided by overtime, a last-minute goal, and the shootout respectively – went the other way in New Zealand’s favour, then Steve Reid’s squad could have been looking at a potential medal placing.

Silver medalists Iceland, bronze medal winners Israel, plus Turkey all finished with 9 points. If New Zealand capitalised on their opportunities they could have finished with 7 points rather than 2. Unfortunately, that’s a scenario that just wasn’t mean to be this time around.

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In their final game they were up against a much stronger Bulgarian side who ended the week undefeated. The hosts were dominant throughout, only allowing 11 goals while scoring 21, resulting in a gold medal-worthy performance and promotion to the IIHF’s U18 Division 2 Group B.

Bulgaria jumped out to a two-goal lead over New Zealand after the first period with goals coming from Alexandar Nikolov and Kaloyan Vachkov.

NZ starting goalie Rhett Wilson doing all he could to keep his team in the game, only allowing a powerplay goal to Konstantin Dikov in the second period.

Moussa Abdi made it 4-0 to Bulgaria five minutes into the third, before Auckland’s Max Vesper scored on the man-advantage to try spark a comeback with less than ten minutes remaining, only for Bulgaria’s Simeon Tsitselkov to answer back 36 seconds later – securing the 5-1 victory in front of an emphatic home crowd at the Winter Sports Palace in Sofia.

Queenstown’s Noah Gregory finished the tournament as New Zealand’s top scorer, tallying four goals and two assists in their five games. Alternate captain Jack Robbie was awarded team MVP honours.

For a young side that displayed a willingness to compete with plenty of fight, these were hard lessons to learn, but the results will come eventually. As they say in professional sport, trust the process.

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Photos: Kostadin Andonov

New Zealand Under-18s drop crucial game to Iceland

The New Zealand under-18 men’s ice hockey team’s status in the IIHF Division 3A World Championship is hanging by a thread after a fourth loss in Bulgaria.

Steve Reid’s squad allowed five goals in the second period, including three in an unfortunate 38-second stretch, to fall to 6-3 to Iceland at the Winter Sports Palace in Sofia on Friday (Saturday NZ Time).

Noah Gregory scored two goals for New Zealand, his third and fourth of the tournament, while Josh Hurley lit the lamp for the first time with a powerplay marker assisted by Gregory and Jack Robbie, who finished with two assists on the day.

After four losses – the previous three coming in overtime (4-3 vs Israel), via a last-minute goal (3-2 vs Turkey) and in a shootout (5-4 vs Mexico) – New Zealand has two points, tied with Mexico but in last place on head-to-head tiebreaker.

Their chances of escaping relegation to Division 3B in 2020 largely rest on defeating currently unbeaten hosts Bulgaria in their final game on Sunday (Monday 2.30am NZT). New Zealand could also avoid the drop with an overtime loss if Mexico lose their final game against Iceland in regulation.

Gregory opened the scoring against Iceland at 4:27, linking up with fellow Queenstown teammate Jack Robbie, as New Zealand took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.

Iceland tied and then took a 2-1 lead on back-to-back power play goals, the first coming just 12 seconds into the man-advantage. Their second goal, at 26:22, was followed by goals at 26:39 and 27:00 on a couple of lucky bounces. Iceland, who have the tournament’s top-two players in points, added another to lead 5-1 after the second period.

Hurley’s goal early in the third period made it 5-2 but hopes of an unlikely comeback were snuffed out a minute later by Iceland’s sixth tally. Gregory added a consolation goal in the final minute.

New Zealand’s under-18 men have not avoided relegation in Division 3A since 2013, when they finished second. They suffered the drop in 2014 and 2017.

Main Photo: James Allan

Helen Murray calls in from Ice Fernz training camp

With the IIHF Worlds fast approaching, New Zealand Ice Fernz captain Helen Murray calls in from Austria. So, how’s the mood in training camp?

Head coach Rachel Park echoes Murray’s positive sentiments as the Ice Fernz’s training camp at the Sports Zentrum facility in St Pölten winds down.

“Yeah, I’m really encouraged by the team’s performance, and commitment to training” said Park.

As well as twice-daily ice time practices, the team has spent a lot of time discussing tactics and engaging in exercises to help build team cohesion.

“I’m thrilled with how the team is starting to gel. Despite the intensity of the training, there’s a positive vibe amongst the players. There have been some really good insightful and honest discussions.”

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During a rest day the Ice Fernz check out the sights of Vienna, including this good dog. Photo: Helen Murray

The first three days of training culminated in a practice game against local Austrian team, the EHV Sabres, which allowed Park to assess player development and try out a number of different line combinations.

“It was good for us. They were a great team; they were very fast, they were agile and they skated the puck down the ice, and they could shoot. Their shooting was hard and accurate, which disrupted our defence zone.”

The Ice Fernz lost that warmup game 6-3, but came away with some valuable lessons moving forward.

“Our powerplay was solid, but our penalty kill could do with a bit more improvement, especially our forechecking. I think we need to do some more work on shooting from inside the blue line, and more emphasis on our defence zone structure.”

“From an offensive perspective, I want to focus more on triangulation in our attack and certainly putting more pucks in front of the net will help.”

The Ice Fernz’s World Championship campaign gets underway in Brasov, Romania with Chinese Taipei providing the first test on Monday (11pm NZ time).

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The 2019 rookies. Back row (L-R): Danielle Strayer, Harriet Fuller, Terryn Bruce. Front row (L-R): Hannah Cross, Rikki-Lee McLean, Reagyn Shattock.

Main Photo: Kathy Gaze

New Zealand Under-18s suffer heartbreaking shootout loss to rivals Mexico

The New Zealand men’s under-18 ice hockey team may have earned a new nickname in Bulgaria: ‘The Hard Luck Kids’.

Stephen Reid’s young squad battled valiantly again, coming within 41 seconds of their first win at the IIHF Under-18 Division 3A World Championship before falling 5-4 to Mexico in a shootout on Thursday (Friday NZ Time).

That followed on from a 4-3 overtime loss to Israel and a 3-2 loss to Turkey on a goal with 15 seconds remaining in regulation in their opening two games in Sofia.

Similar to their tournament opener against Israel, New Zealand played from ahead for much of the game against Mexico, holding 2-1, 3-2 and 4-3 leads.

However, Mexico found an answer to every go-ahead goal from New Zealand, the final game-tying goal coming at the 59:19 mark with an extra attacker on the ice for the last 90 seconds.

After a scoreless overtime period, New Zealand were stonewalled by Mexico’s goaltender Marcello de Antunano on their four shootout attempts, losing 2-0.

Earlier, Noah Gregory, plus Alex Regan on the powerplay, scored to give New Zealand a 2-1 lead after the first period before Mexico tied the scores early in the second period. Will Sheard put New Zealand ahead again late in the second but Mexico drew level before the second intermission, just 23 seconds into a power play.

Lochlan Butler scored at 42:43 to give New Zealand the lead again, but despite defending desperately and killing off two power plays in the third period, they could not close the win out.

Kiwi netminder Finley Forbes, who stopped two of Mexico’s four shootout attempts, finished the game with 24 saves.

New Zealand now sit in sixth place with two points and are in danger of relegation after Iceland beat Turkey 5-2 in the second game of the day. Mexico move up to fifth, also on two points, after their first win of the tournament. Meanwhile hosts Bulgaria remain undefeated after completely the 3-2 overtime comeback against Israel, they were trailing 2-0 after the first.

The Kiwis won’t have much time to contemplate their recent close calls however, they face Iceland tonight (12am NZT) in a game that could decide whether or not New Zealand is relegated to the Division 3B World Championship in 2020. They close out the tournament against Bulgaria on Sunday (Monday 2:20am NZT).

Main Photo: James Allan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Main photo: James Allan

PUCK YEAH 53: Ice Fernz head coach Rachel Park

The international ice hockey window is hitting its busy period with four New Zealand national teams in play over the next month.

One such team is the New Zealand Ice Fernz, who are currently in the finals days of their brief training camp at the Sports Zentrum in St. Pölten, Austria.

Under the guidance of new head coach Rachel Park, the national women’s team are looking to push themselves to the next level of international competition when they take part in the 2019 IIHF Division 2-B Women’s World Championship in Brasov, Romania from April 1st.

The Ontario native joins the podcast this week to talk about her new role, the current state of the team and the women’s game in general, plus we discuss some of the adjustments she’s made to strengthen the squad within her first few months at the helm.

Puck Yeah Podcast is available to stream on iTunes, Spotify and SoundCloud with new episodes released every Wednesday.

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Main Photo: Elvar Freyr

HIGHLIGHTS: New Zealand U18s and Turkey go down to the wire

Looking to bounce back quickly from their OT loss to Israel in game 1, the New Zealand Under-18s were up against Turkey in their second game of the 2019 IIHF Under-18 Div3A World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria.

With both sides exchanging scoring chances in a close contest, it would take some last-minute heroics to decide a winner.

New Zealand now have a day to recover before facing Mexico next at midnight NZ time Friday. Watch the highlights above for a wrap of the action.

Main photo: James Allan

HIGHLIGHTS: New Zealand U18s and Israel close in tournament opener

The New Zealand Under-18s got their mission for gold underway overnight with a closely fought battle against Israel at the 2019 IIHF Under-18 Div3A World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Israel opened the scoring before the New Zealand powerplay was able to grab a lead with their opponents racking up the penalties. A surge of offence in the second period would lead to overtime for the decider.

Watch the highlights above for a wrap of the action. New Zealand face Turkey next at 3:30am NZ time tonight.

Main photo: James Allan

Ice Fernz rookie Terryn Bruce’s position swap already a success

While the 2019 Ice Fernz squad features an experienced and battle-tested leadership group hungry to win a gold medal, there’s also a strong rookie presence this year with six.

For Terryn Bruce, who was initially named as part of the non-travelling squad before receiving the late call up, the feeling of representing New Zealand at the senior level for the first time is surreal.

“This is my first year playing with the Ice Fernz, very excited. It’s my first time going to Austria and Romania, so I can’t wait to play with the team and see the sights, all that kind of stuff,” said Bruce.

While Terryn has previously played for the NZ Under-18s, the Bruce family name will be familiar amongst inline hockey circles as well. Her father Bruce represented the country as recently as last year, playing in-goal during the Vets World Championship in the Czech Republic.

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Terryn’s father Gary Bruce (pictured front row, 4th in) and the NZ Vets inline hockey team.

In the NZWIHL, Terryn plays for the Auckland Steel and this year her coach Rachel Park, who also happens to be the new national head coach, issued Bruce a challenge – to shift from the blue line and play forward instead.

“Yeah, it’s been a bit of a change,” Terryn joked. “I think I played pretty well. I enjoyed it, definitely a different challenge. Playing forward was really exciting being in the thick of it.”

When comparing her stats during this transition phase, the numbers would suggest that the experiment has indeed worked as intended.

Playing 12 games on the backend during the 2018 season, Terryn scored two assists, registered two shots and was a -2. Then as a forward in 2019, playing the same amount of games she scored 4 goals, 1 assist, while taking 23 shots and finishing up as a +6.

In a campaign where the Steel’s dominance of the league was being challenged by the inevitable 2019 champion Southern Storm, that level of progress should be encouraging for the young Aucklander and Coach Park stands behind the decision.

“She’s an absolute force in front of the net. She draws in players, draws in the penalties and you just can’t get her out of there so it’s great,” said Park.

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Winner winner, chicken dinner!

Bruce isn’t the only Ice Fernz rookie that has changed positions to fit within Park’s system for the upcoming IIHF Division 2B Women’s World Championship in Brasov, Romania.

Danielle Strayer has come off a strong NZWIHL season with the Storm, finishing as the top-ranked goaltender with an undefeated 5-0 record, .959 SV%, 1.02 GAA plus a shutout against Auckland. However with Grace Harrison and Lochlyn Hyde already taking up the two goalie spots, Strayer has been challenged by the head coach to play defence instead.

That sort of decision-making has the potential to turn into a stroke of genius for Park if either Harrison or Hyde fall to injury or illness and need to be rested – Strayer can serve as an emergency backup without missing a step.

It’s a vision that the players are getting behind and they’re not afraid to test themselves if that means the Ice Fernz become a stronger side for it.

“It’s really different learning the systems all over again as a forward instead of a D, but it’s good because you have a lot of support on the ice as opposed to when you’re (playing) defence or goalie – you’re the last port of call. As long as you backcheck and rectify the mistake, you’ll be sweet,” said Bruce.

There is a definite air of excitement amongst the team, one that will serve them well if the Ice Fernz manage to gel together during their six-day training camp in St Polten, Austria. If everything clicks there, then the possibility of coming home with a gold medal around their neck is an obtainable goal for this 22-strong squad.

2019 Ice Fernz Game Schedule

April 1: NZ v Chinese Taipei at 11pm
April 3: NZ v Iceland at 2:30am
April 5: NZ v Turkey at 2:30am
April 6: NZ v Romania at 6am
April 7: NZ v Croatia at 11pm

Depending on the availability of live streams, Puck Yeah will have game highlights available on our YouTube channel.

Main photo: Paul Harrison

NZIHF appoint Director of Women’s Hockey ahead of Ice Fernz campaign

The future of women’s hockey is currently at the forefront of discussion in North America – the growing success of the CWHL and NWHL sees the topic of an inevitable merger for a singular national women’s hockey league coming up more and more.

Here in New Zealand, it’s no different – except for the scale of operations of course. A recent Puck Yeah poll suggests that the majority of local hockey fans would support an expanded NZWIHL when the time is right.

The key factor there is developing a deep enough talent pool. One that can eventually become sustainable with the next generation coming through and challenging the current guard for roster spots on the national women’s team, the Ice Fernz.

That is going to require some serious recruiting and promotional efforts by the New Zealand Ice Hockey Federation when the sport remains on the outside looking in compared to other female codes in this country.

While the NZWIHL is beneficial in preparing our nation’s best, the season passed by between late January and early March this year with little fanfare – if you blinked, you missed it. The mainstream media coverage was severely lacking, but don’t blame the big four of TVNZ, Mediaworks, Stuff and NZME for that. If the NZIHF isn’t proactive in promoting their product, then what chance does the women’s game have of enjoying a higher profile?

For the women’s league to achieve the level of success seen by their Australian counterparts at the AWIHL, let alone the CWHL or NWHL, there needs to be an all-in attitude from those involved to make the NZWIHL more visible.

Well, proactivity is here. The NZIHF have recently appointed Victoria Buckley as their new Director of Women’s Hockey.

Buckley’s credentials include Canterbury Minor Ice Hockey President and Secretary. During her time as CMIH President, Buckley was instrumental in implementing the NZIHF’s ‘First Shift’ initiative in the region, along with establishing a Mites league (Under-8s) to address the need for those new age-group players to have their own competition.

That ‘can do’ attitude and ability to get things done could be hugely beneficial for New Zealand women’s ice hockey going forward. But for now, the attention turns to the Ice Fernz.

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Photo: Elvar Freyr

Come April 1 the Fernz begin their World Championship campaign against last year’s silver medalists Chinese Taipei. NZ will also face Iceland, Turkey, Romania and Croatia in their bid to win gold and gain promotion to the IIHF’s Division 2 – Group A.

Today the team departs for a training camp in Austria before proceeding onto Brasov, Romania for the real deal.

Puck Yeah recently interviewed new Ice Fernz head coach Rachel Park for a podcast that will be released next Wednesday. The Ontario native also runs the bench for the Auckland Steel team that features a strong contingent of national representatives for both ice and inline.

One player of note that Park is excited to have on her roster is Jasmine Horner-Pascoe – the Auckland forward finished second in NZWIHL scoring this year with 28 points (15 goals, 13 assists) in 12 games.

The new head coach praised Horner-Pascoe’s puck-handling abilities, “Her hands are just magical. She’s full of surprising dangles and I’d even say she’s probably the best I’ve seen on the ice in terms of a female player (in New Zealand) with those kinds of hands.”

The return of Helen Murray is another highlight of what Park considers to be a very solid roster despite a 25% attrition rate, describing the captain as someone who is ‘consistent on the ice and a great leader.’

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Photo: Elvar Freyr

New Zealand’s offence is further bolstered by the return of Caitlin Heale.

Heale came out with top scoring honours in last year’s tournament with 15 points (7 goals, 8 assists). Across just five games, those numbers highlight what this side is capable of and can be the difference between a medal placing and relegation. But after a disappointing fourth-place finish in 2018, the Ice Fernz will be out to prove they deserve that elusive IIHF promotion.

The turning point could come from the goal crease. The addition of Grace Harrison to the goalie ranks, alongside Lochlyn Hyde, sees a strong tandem in play with the number one starting role up for grabs at training camp.

Hyde finished the 2019 NZWIHL season with a .914 save percentage and 2.73 goals against average over nine games with the Steel – good enough to finish third in goaltending ranks behind the Southern Storm’s dynamic duo of Jordan Wichman and Danielle Strayer, who is making the switch to defence for the Fernz.

Grace Harrison recently wrapped up her senior season at St. Lawrence University with a 9-7-5 record while enjoying a .922 SV%, 2.18 GAA and two shutouts. That stat line remained relatively consistent throughout her 96-game NCAA Division I career with a GAA reaching as low as 1.62 and a top SV% of .923 – both coming from her sophomore year.

Harrison was exceptionally dominant in net this past January. Amounting a staggering .970 SV% and 0.76 GAA while going undefeated with a 3-0-1 record, her performance was recognised by the Women’s Hockey Commissioners’ Association with the ‘National Goalie of the Month’ award.

Coach Park sees Harrison’s collegiate experience as being invaluable to the team. “As a goaltender you see the entire ice. She’s going to be able to identify what’s breaking down, what’s working and also (bringing) that leadership perspective. The girls really appreciate what she’s been able to accomplish over there,” Park stated.

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Photo: Carol Hill

To be successful in this tournament Park believes the team needs to ‘mesh as a squad and get on the same system’ while also working on being more aggressive on the puck to match the increased intensity of international hockey, plus learning to counter their opponent’s tactics more effectively to create stronger scoring chances.

After my interview with Rachel Park wrapped up I felt like I came away from it having learnt more about the current state of the women’s game and hopefully you will too.

The Ice Fernz are an important part of growing the game in New Zealand, and as a country that loves to back a winner, a gold medal in Romania would go a long way to raising the team’s profile on the nation’s busy sporting landscape.

2019 Ice Fernz Traveling Squad

Forwards:
Harriet Fuller, Kirstin Gerken, Hope Gregory, Abbey Heale, Caitlin Heale, Jasmine Horner-Pascoe, Helen Murray, Caitlin Orr, Jemma Read, Reagyn Shattock, Hannah Shields.

Defence:
Terryn Bruce, Hannah Cross, Jaime Jones, Rebecca Lilly, Rikki-Lee McLean, Rachael Neville-Lamb, Ashley Richmond, Danielle Strayer, Krystie Woodyear-Smith.

Goalies:
Grace Harrison, Lochlyn Hyde

2019 Ice Fernz Game Schedule

April 1: NZ v Chinese Taipei at 11pm
April 3: NZ v Iceland at 2:30am
April 5: NZ v Turkey at 2:30am
April 6: NZ v Romania at 6am
April 7: NZ v Croatia at 11pm

Depending on the availability of live streams, Puck Yeah will have game highlights available on our YouTube channel.

Main Photo: Elvar Freyr

New Zealand Under-18s set sights on Bulgaria

Today the New Zealand Under-18s will be living the hockey dream for the next two weeks as they fly out to Romania for training camp ahead of the 2019 IIHF Under-18 World Championship in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Competing in the ‘Division 3 – Group A’ tier, New Zealand will be up against Israel, Turkey, Mexico, Iceland and hosts Bulgaria with their first game taking place on March 26 at 3:30am (NZ time). Full team schedule is listed below.

Earlier this week I interviewed Head Coach Steve Reid via Messenger to find out how things are shaping up for the Under-18s.

Last year the Under-18s played in a 3-team tournament which New Zealand won to gain promotion to Div 3A, how much of an adjustment is it for the team to go from a small competition like that to a standard IIHF format? Does that change how the team prepares?

Yeah absolutely, the longer tournament is a first for some of these boys. They will need to look after themselves while we are away, eat well, drink lots of water and keep their vitamins up. They will need to recover and look after their bodies, which we will help them with along the way.

From a coaching point of view it means we rely on every player to play their part and for every line to fulfil their role. In a short two-game tournament you can ride your top two lines if you want, this year we can’t. 

During the tournament you’ll face Israel, Turkey, Mexico, Iceland and Bulgaria. At the under-20 and senior levels, these are the countries that NZ will often face. In your experience has their style of play changed much through the years?

Turkey have really evolved over the last 3-4 years as they have had a consistent federation head coach. The other teams have for the most part continued their same styles.

Aside from winning the gold medal and advancing NZ to the next IIHF division, what is the ultimate goal for an age-group team like the Under-18s?

Our core goal is to win gold you’re right, but bigger than that is we are preparing these guys for higher honours. Nothing beats seeing players climb the age groups and then ultimately playing for the Ice Blacks. 

Before heading overseas has the team been able to get together for training camps over the summer months? And what takeaways or learnings did you come away with afterwards?

We had a mini camp in Dunedin late February – this gave us a good chance to bring the guys together, start work on combinations and also our systems. The uptake was great and I know everyone is looking forward to flying out.

How would you describe the current talent pool available in this age group for New Zealand?

Second to none. I’ve been coaching NZ teams for eight years now and collectively this is the most talented age group I’ve ever worked with. Don’t get me wrong, we have had great youth players in the past, but this team is exciting and I’m really looking forward to taking them to the world stage. 

Traveling and playing in these tournaments isn’t cheap, did your final team selection have to change much due to those factors?

Every other year I say yes to this question, but this year we have been able to secure great flights and a great training venue in Romania.

Nick Flight (Team Manager) and Csaba Kercso-Magos Snr (Assistant Coach) have been great – Nick locked our flights in and we are actually travelling to a hometown of Csaba’s so he has been able to twist a few arms for great deals. 

Finley Forbes returns for another year in the crease, would you consider him your number one starter for the tournament and how would you rate his development over the past twelve months?

Finley is a great goalie and a kid who has heaps of potential. He has lots of hockey ahead of him, we are really lucky to have two quality goalies in Finley and Rhett Wilson.

Rhett has a lot to prove with a year out of the game, so I’m looking forward to these two friends battling for the top spot. It’s great to have confidence in both guys though. 

Outside of the goal crease, who are some standout players in the 2019 squad?

From our few days in Dunedin, Alex Regan, who is captaining the team this year, is looking solid on the back-end and also scary good on the rush. Josh Hurley is looking sharp along with the Auckland line of Christian Regan, Lachlan Butler and Max Vesper who definitely know how to find the net. 

Where will the U18s training camp be held prior to the tournament and what do you think are the key things that need to be worked on to achieve a podium result?

We are training in Gheorgheni, Romania for 7-8 days, it’s about a 3-4 hour bus trip from Bucharest.

To succeed it’s a case of coming together as a team, buying into our systems, repeating as many times as possible and talking about all the variables. Last but not least, FUN. If we keep it fun and enjoyable everyone will work harder.

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New Zealand U18 Game Schedule

March 26: NZ v Israel at 3:30am
March 27: NZ v Turkey at 3:30am
March 29: NZ v Mexico at 12am
March 30: NZ v Iceland at 12am
April 1: NZ v Bulgaria at 2:30am

Depending on the availability of live streams, Puck Yeah will have game highlights available on our YouTube channel.

Photos: Matt Bennell