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

West Auckland Admirals win first NZIHL title

It’s taken them 14 seasons but the West Auckland Admirals can now call themselves NZIHL champions for the first time in team history.

Prior to sweeping the Skycity Stampede in the 2018 Finals, the Admirals made three previous unsuccessful trips to the post-season: losing to the Stampede in the league’s inaugural season back in 2005, followed by a 2010 loss to the cross-town rival Botany Swarm, and most recently last year when West Auckland was swept by the Stampede to complete their threepeat.

But a fourth consecutive title wasn’t to be for the Queenstown club.

The Admirals came into game 2 (of the best-of-three series) with a 1-0 lead, facing the seemingly improbable task of beating the Stampede at a sold out Queenstown Ice Arena. West Auckland alternate captain A.J. Spiller recalled to Puck Yeah last week that in his three years with the side they had never come back with a W before.

Having that lead going into this second game provided an important boost to the club – there was an air of confidence that they’ve done it once, and if they stuck with their strengths, they could do it again and bring home the Birgel Cup.

With the two sides testing each other in a scoreless first period, it was the Stampede who took the lead halfway through the second when Adam Soffer put in the rebound off Thomas Carson-Pratt’s initial shot, much to the delight of their passionate fans.

As the second period wound down, Andy Hart found himself in the penalty box for hooking, giving the Stampede’s formidable powerplay its first chance at taking control of the game.

However, it was an unfortunate turnover at centre ice by the Stampede’s Callum Burns that gave Nick Henderson a breakaway opportunity to tie the game – taking full advantage, the Admirals veteran scored shorthanded to swing any sense of momentum back towards the challengers.

Game 1’s overtime hero Andy Hart proved in the series decider why he deserved to be named the Admirals’ playoffs MVP, slotting the championship-winning goal early in the third period past Daniel Lee from a well-placed centring pass by Ryan Ruddle.

For the remainder of the game the Stampede were chasing and while they amounted sixteen shots on goal in the final stanza alone, Admirals netminder Csaba Kercso-Magos stood tall as he has done all season for his side, final score 2-1 in West Auckland’s favour. In a year with plenty of high-scoring games, this series was ultimately decided by goaltending – fitting when you consider Lee and Kercso-Magos are two of the best young goalies New Zealand has to offer right now.

Watch the game recap video below for highlights plus post-game interviews and celebrations:

Now if you can’t win a championship at home, the next best place would likely be Queenstown with its great bars and picturesque beauty. The Admirals’ players made the most of it, posting their best moments across social media.

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Gunna look better in Avondale

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And with that, this largely wraps up Puck Yeah’s coverage of the 2018 NZIHL season. We want to thank everyone who has read, watched and shared our hard work these past four months. A special thank you goes out to our contributors Geoff Bland and Casey Lucas-Quaid, along with the photographers and live stream crews across the country who provide most of the visual material seen on this website and across our social media.

There is still plenty of Kiwi hockey goodness to come in the coming months, but for now our attention turns to the upcoming Trans-Tasman Challenge series between the New Zealand Ice Blacks and Australia Mighty Roos as part of the NZ Winter Games.

See you in Queenstown!

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Main photo: Kate Harrison

Stampede face must-win situation in game two of the NZIHL Finals

For two periods of the opening game in the 2018 NZIHL Finals, the defending champion Skycity Stampede looked like the dominant force they have been for most of the season – playing with the lead and looking to be in control.

But playing in front of the largest and most vocal home crowd the West Auckland Admirals have enjoyed this year, the challengers continued to chip away at the Stampede’s lead until finally reaching that crucial turning point in the third period when Andy Hart slotted the game-tying goal halfway through the final spell.

Hart proved to be the key factor in helping the Admirals take the first game in overtime according to captain Justin Daigle as he recounted what happened on the game-winning goal, “He wore his heart on his sleeve on that one, took a tonne of abuse down low, just stayed with it, held onto the puck and made an unbelievable pass out front to Kevin (Phillips), and Kev put it up top just like he should.”

While the Admirals managed to take game one in dramatic fashion, their biggest mission still remains at large: winning a game in Queenstown.

The last time the Stampede hosted the Admirals was back in round 7, winning 7-0 and 3-1. A losing record there weighs on the mind of West Auckland defender A.J. Spiller coming into game two, “I’ve been here three years and we haven’t won in Queenstown yet, so we’ll try to tick that one off too while we’re at it.”

It’s been said all year, the Queenstown Ice Arena is a fortress for the Stampede – some may get sick of hearing that, but it’s true. The only side to beat them at home this season has been the Dunedin Thunder, and that too took some late-game heroics to knock over the giants. Not only does the visiting side have to contend with a skilled side that is comfortable playing the physical game, but they also need to find a way to shut out their passionate fanbase – whom will no doubt be in full voice this Friday after selling out game 2 in quick fashion.

Speaking with Puck Yeah after game one, it was clear that this loss hurt Stampede captain Matt Schneider when the goal of securing a special place in NZIHL history with four consecutive titles means a lot to his side.

“We worked real hard all season to get that home ice advantage, to get that top spot, because we know we’re going to need it. It’s going to be a huge push from us with the crowd and everything, I know they’re going to be excited. I think we sold out in about twelve minutes down there, so they’re going to be amped up and we’re going to be amped up – this series is not over,” Schneider stated emphatically.

Stampede forward, and newly selected Ice Black, Ryan Strayer shared the sentiments of his captain about the importance of playing at home. “Best fans in the league, we love the intensity in our barn, we just gotta get the boys going this time,” said Strayer.

On top of riding the high of the home crowd’s energy, Strayer believes turning in a full sixty minute performance of ‘Stampede hockey’ will be crucial to securing the much-needed wins in the best-of-three series for what is now ‘do-or-die’ for the current champions.

Schneider wants to see more from his team and maintains his belief that the Stampede remain within grasp of reaching new historic heights. “I think we’re a little disappointed in our play in the third – if we could just clean that up a bit, we don’t need to make any big sweeping changes but just stick to our game and I think we’ll be all right,” Schneider said reassuringly.

But meeting the West Auckland Admirals for the second year running at the business end of the season see the two sides building a competitive rivalry. Schneider was complimentary of the way the Admirals played to claw back the Stampede’s lead, which by the game’s halfway point was 3-1. Those thoughts were echoed by his West Auckland counterpart as he reflected on how his team has dealt with injuries to get to this point.

“I think it’s just a belief and confidence in what we’ve done all year as far as our preparation and the effort we put into practice. We did a good job scouting I think, so we knew what type of systems we were going to match up against their highly skilled offence. The game plan was shut down their top line and just try to get some secondary scoring – I’m just really proud of the boys for never losing faith and just continuing to work hard, and eventually it came right,” said Daigle.

Prior to this victory, the Admirals have never won a NZIHL Finals game in the team’s history. Previously they have been swept by the Stampede 2-1 and 6-3 in the inaugural 2005 season, along with 5-2 and 5-2 loses last year. They also went down to the Botany Swarm 3-1 in the 2010 Final.

They can tick one thing off the bucket list, but the most important win still remains.

Watch the recap video for highlights from game 1 of the 2018 Birgel Cup Finals:

If the Skycity Stampede win game 2, tickets for game 3 will go on sale following Friday’s conclusion – stay tuned to the team’s Facebook page for details.

Photos: Wayne Curtis

All Sports Breakfast interviews Admirals goalie Rick Parry

The Birgel Cup Finals are upon us with a rematch of last year’s finals on the cards – the Skycity Stampede are searching for an unprecedented fourth straight title, while the West Auckland Admirals are looking for their first.

RadioSport’s Nigel Yalden has been interviewing players from all the NZIHL teams throughout the season on his Saturday morning show ‘The All Sports Breakfast,’ but with Yalden away on All Blacks duty, Malcolm Jordan stepped in this weekend and was joined by Admirals goalie Rick Parry ahead of what was an intense game 1.

Listen to the full 6-minute interview below.

Catch the All Sports Breakfast (typically hosted by Nigel Yalden every Saturday 6-9am on Radio Sport.

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Photos by Mike Froger

Birgel Cup Finals Preview: You Again

Words by Joe Durie, with stats contributions by Logan Swinkels.

And then, there were two…

For the second straight year, the West Auckland Admirals and Skycity Stampede will meet in the NZIHL Finals to compete for the Birgel Cup. Both teams have proven over the course of this winter that they are the two best teams in the league, enjoying long winning streaks during the year with stacked lineups from the goal out.

There’s also the fact that these two teams don’t seem to like each other much. The rivalry has ramped up significantly since last year when the Admirals overtook the Canterbury Red Devils’ as the Stampede’s greatest threat for the championship – culminating in some great hockey whenever they meet.

Hate is a strong word, but it’s fair to say these sides bring out both the best, and the worst, in each other.

This year the Admirals swept the round 2 series in West Auckland before things got nasty when the rivalry was renewed for round 7 in Queenstown. Following a blowout 7-0 win by the Stampede in the Friday night game, an incident occurred as the clock wound down for the second period of Saturday’s rematch that began with an altercation between Admirals goaltender Csaba Kercso-Magos and the Stampede’s Colin McIntosh, culminating in an all-out brawl with each side handed four suspensions – an appeal later saw two one-game suspensions lifted for the Admirals.

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Former Stampede captain Bert Haines looks on, unimpressed. Photo: James Allan

Both teams since went their separate ways but have seem destined to meet again in the Finals for a rematch of 2017 as the Stampede are in pursuit of an unprecedented fourth straight title, while the Admirals are chasing down the dream of their first ever.

What do the stats say?

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This year the Stampede’s special teams have put up numbers that a few NHL teams would be jealous of. They will be a real challenge for the Admirals if they find themselves filling up the penalty box – although looking at those numbers, the Queenstown club has struggled at times with discipline, leading the NZIHL in penalty minutes. However, their league-best penalty killing units have done the business when needed – allowing the fewest powerplay goals in 2018 with 13 (Admirals allowed 14 on twenty fewer PKs).

There isn’t much separating the sides when it comes to scoring efficiency – but the Stampede do fire the puck far more than their West Auckland opponents this season, registering 728 shots on goal to the Admirals’ 665. The Dunedin Thunder are leading the league with 732, although that total will be easily overtaken sometime during game 1.

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Photo: James Allan

The Queenstown Ice Arena has been an absolute fortress for the Stampede again this year and it will be a tough ask for the Westies to win two games there if that’s what this series boils down to.

What will make it even tougher for the Admirals is the departure of their two import forwards Mike Verschuren & Craig Peacock. It will be pivotal for them to win game 1 of the series this weekend in Auckland – their key Kiwi forwards like Dale Harrop, Shaun Harrison, Ryan Ruddle and Nick Henderson will be relied on heavily for capitalising on any scoring opportunities they get.

The experienced Stampede group will have captain and man-giant Matt Schneider, the league’s top goal and point scorer, leading from the front with a determined core of veterans desperate to do something that has never been done in NZIHL history. Even if Schneider doesn’t fire, there is still a few other potent weapons in their arsenal that also need to be contained, including his left-hand man Mike McRae (36 points in 12 games).

While there is plenty of fire power on both sides, it’s the masked men who make a living in the blue paint that could be the deciding factor. If the Stampede’s starting goalie Daniel Lee continues his recent hot streak, the Admirals will have a hard time getting anything going –  Lee’s current shutout streak stands at 124 minutes and 19 seconds.

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Photo: Josh Fraser

Meanwhile the Admirals’ tandem of Kercso-Magos and Rick Parry has been solid too, but statistically it’s a close call between Kercso-Magos and his Queenstown counterpart. The Admirals tender has the better save percentage at .933 to Lee’s .931, while Lee has the better the goals against average at 2.55 to Kercso-Magos’ 2.64. On top of that, Lee has 3 shutouts to his name versus CKM’s singular donut game coming in West Auckland’s round 9 matchup with the Botany Swarm.

The netminders are out to prove they’re New Zealand’s number one and there’s plenty of scoring threats across the board, this should be one helluva Finals series!

Tickets are still available for game 1 in Auckland, but game 2 in Queenstown on the 24th has SOLD OUT. If there is a third and final deciding game in the series, tickets will go on sale following the conclusion of game 2.

So get yours now and of course don’t forget, if you can’t make it out to the games, they will be live streamed on the NZIHL YouTube channel.

NZIHL Finals Schedule:

Skycity Stampede v West Auckland Admirals – Paradice Avondale, Auckland
Aug 18th at 4:40pm

West Auckland Admirals v Skycity Stampede – Queenstown Ice Arena, Queenstown
Aug 24th at 7pm
Aug 25th at 7pm (If necessary)

Main photo: James Allan

Thunder and Admirals clash in an intense NZIHL semifinal

When it was announced that the West Auckland Admirals would be hosting a Friday night playoff game with puck drop set for 5pm, followers of the NZIHL could be forgiven for being apprehensive of the possible attendance.

Peak hour traffic in Auckland is not great most days, but it’s particularly worse on a Friday afternoon. Your likely options were to either: a) get out of work early somehow, or b) battle the NorthWestern and make it in time for the second period, or perhaps later still.

And yet, the Admirals faithful came in numbers to support their boys in blue as they faced the Dunedin Thunder in the league’s inaugural 2v3 playoff game. The winner of this game would advance through to the Birgel Cup Finals to face the daunting Skycity Stampede who are in the hunt for a fourth consecutive title.

The Thunder came out swinging, looking to silence the home crowd as captain Paris Heyd scored within the first minute of play – his centring pass into the crease taking a fortuitous bounce off goaltender Csaba Kercso-Magos’ pads and in. It definitely looked like the Dunedin side had come to play in this do-or-die matchup.

Speaking with Puck Yeah afterwards, Heyd mentioned that a fast, physical style was all part of their game plan. “You’ve got to get in there and try intimidate them a little bit, the easiest way to do that is finish the hits and make them a bit nervous of what’s happening and hope that creates some turnovers,” the Thunder captain elaborated.

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Andy Hart tied things up for West Auckland later in the first before the intensity ramped up in the second period. It’s a shame the NZIHL doesn’t officially track hits as a stat because there were several board-rattling checks in the second tilt alone, with Heyd practicing what he preached, tallying several hits himself.

The only penalties of the game all came in that second twenty – all three giving Dunedin the man advantage. In a season that saw a fair share of games threatening to reach triple digits, a total of only six PIMs was refreshing. The action was free-flowing, resulting in clean, fast-paced exciting hockey that was a joy to watch for all those in the stands.

Unfortunately the Thunder’s specialty teams couldn’t capitalise on their chances, the disappointment clear on the face of alternate captain Brandon Egli post-match, “We just couldn’t really get our break out together and in a game like this it’s really a game of inches…I think we made a couple of mistakes that cost us there.”

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As the puck dropped for the third period, the score remained tied and Paradice Avondale was rocking with announcer Cam Green in full voice. The fans were right there with him, chanting and cheering every key save made by Kercso-Magos, and with sustained pressure, the goals started to come for the Admirals – Shaun Harrison tallying two in quick succession to put the home side ahead by two, causing the Thunder head coach Jeff Avery to take a timeout to regroup.

Dunedin’s Joe Orr clawed one back as the away team threw everything they had at the Admirals net, but in the end the Admirals held on for the 4-2 victory, much to the delight and relief of the home crowd. There were plenty of times throughout the game where the Thunder looked threatening, a different bounce of the puck could have seen what one of this season’s greatest games go a different way.

As the clock hit zero, Kercso-Magos jumped for joy with his teammates mobbing him in the crease, celebrating their big victory. His 40-save performance proving to be a key factor as he was awarded the first star of the match. “He’s one of those guys that just plays big in pressure games like this, so it’s really good to see him step up and take that role. He played amazing tonight, so he definitely deserved the first star…there will be a few beers for him tonight I think,” said Admirals forward Dale Harrop.

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Defenseman Gareth McLeish recalled matter-of-factly what was said in the locker room by head coach Kercso-Magos Sr. during the second intermission that helped spur on the Admirals after such an intense forty minutes of hockey. “He told us to keep our heads and just keep doing what we were doing…it gets a bit chippy at times but we’ve just got to keep playing so that we don’t end up in the (penalty) box and give ourselves a disadvantage. We finished off pretty well there, we didn’t have any penalties in the third period, barring the one that carried over from the second, so we did what he asked and pulled it off.”

After such a strong showing, the Thunder were understandably dejected by the loss but both Paris Heyd and Brandon Egli remained optimistic about what this Dunedin side is capable of.

“This year was a step forward, I think we might’ve overachieved a little bit but we just gotta take this (loss) for what it is, it’s a lesson learned and just come back next year as a stronger core,” said Egli.

Heyd explained his teammate’s point further by saying, “It’s just a real fun place to play and I think when you’re having fun you get people making the most of their opportunities, everyone loves it, it’s fun to come to the rink, it’s just that sort of atmosphere so as long as we can build on that, everyone’s experienced now with our first playoffs in a few years…I think we’re gonna build on that and come back stronger next year.”

As for the Admirals, their sights are now firmly set on the Stampede and winning the Birgel Cup for the first time in franchise history. They will host game one this Saturday, looking to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series before traveling down to Queenstown the following week.

Watch the game recap video below for highlights and more interviews:

Photos by Mike Froger

Thunder and Admirals poised for Friday night stand-off

Tomorrow night will see the first 2v3 game take place in a reformed NZIHL playoff format that has successfully seen the season maintain a sense of importance throughout, post-season positions were not finalised until the regular season had concluded.

And so we have the Dunedin Thunder versus the West Auckland Admirals, battling it out in a one-off game to decide who will progress through to the Birgel Cup Finals to face the defending champion Skycity Stampede.

Head-to-head between the two sides, the Admirals hold the advantage having won three of their four games this season.

In the opening round the Thunder likely gave last year’s runner-up a scare by putting up six goals in a high-scoring 8-6 loss, followed by a 4-3 win in a tightly contested second game to split the series in Dunedin.

From that point onwards, the West Aucklanders went on a eight-game winning streak, including a series sweep of the Stampede at home. That streak set them up for the position they are currently in, securing one of three playoff spots, while the aforementioned defending champions went on their own hot streak to claim top spot. By seasons end, the Stampede’s streak stands at ten games.

As for Dunedin, they have been relatively consistent throughout the year, never losing too many games in a row (their worst was three), while putting up some memorable wins – including a 4-3 road victory over the Stampede with five seconds to claim the Toa Kauhanga Riri Tio trophy for the first time.

The two sides met again in round six, this time at Paradice Avondale with the Admirals sweeping that series 6-4 and 2-1.

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The implementation of the 2v3 playoff game was a solid idea by the league – having the Thunder in the playoffs makes things a little more interesting. While some may argue that the Admirals peaked too early, when in reality they have been tested by both injuries and suspensions to key players, the Thunder could be reaching their full potential at the right end of the season.

Coming into the business end of 2018, the Admirals import ranks have been somewhat depleted – namely their two star forwards. Mike Verschuren has been suspended three games for slashing, but having also sustained a concussion in round 9, he was ruled out indefinitely for the remainder of the season and has since returned to the Netherlands. Craig Peacock’s lower-body injury also saw him returning home to the UK.

In nine games Peacock tallied 17 points, while in ten games Verschuren scored 19 – both provided significant offensive production, but in their absence other players have stepped up. Frazer Ellis and AJ Spiller both cracked the 20-point mark this season, while Dale Harrop (18) and Shaun Harrison (16) showed why they are two of New Zealand’s most exciting players to watch.

Last week Harrop was named in the Ice Blacks squad for the Winter Games, with Harrison narrowly missing out on selection according to a recent interview with NZ head coach Anatoly Khorozov. In total, West Auckland boasts seven current internationals in their squad to the Thunder’s four: Paris Heyd, Joe Orr, Tristan Darling, and Benjamin Gavoille.

Heyd has been terrorising goalies all year, putting up MVP worthy numbers with 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) in a full 16-game season to finish third in the scoring race. The Thunder captain hasn’t had to do it all by himself however, with Brandon Egli (26 points), Gavoille (20), Orr (16), and Charles Plaisir (14) all contributing to Dunedin’s offense.

Speaking of goalies, the masked men could be a key factor in this matchup with West Auckland edging out Dunedin in that department. The Admirals tandem of Csaba Kercso-Magos and Rick Parry has been rock solid as the second and third best goalies in the league respectively, seeing them both selected into the national side.

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But in a single playoff game like this, anything could happen, and it’s guaranteed to be a must-watch match – don’t forget to bribe your boss to get out of work early, puck drop is scheduled for 5pm.

Photos by Sari Robins-Laughton

 

Ross Venus reflects on a season in New Zealand

By the time this interview is published Ross Venus will be back in England enjoying a couple of weeks rest before his British elite league team, the Coventry Blaze, begin pre-season training in earnest. He will also be gunning for a spot in Team Great Britain which will play in the top IIHF division for the first time since the early 1990s.

Venus came to the Canterbury Red Devils as a late replacement for the injured Ukrainian star Viktor Zakharov and besides being the top goal scorer for the Devils, his leadership and experience were a valuable asset to a youthful team rebuilding through a tough year in the NZIHL.

I spoke with Ross before the final weekend of hockey in Christchurch and he was only too happy to share a few thoughts on his hockey experiences and the short season he has had here in New Zealand.

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So Ross, you must be pretty excited about Team Great Britain’s promotion?
Yeah, I was watching it all on TV, the final game against Hungary was amazing. I know pretty much everyone in the team, I played with them previously, grew up with a lot of them. It was very exciting, such a huge accomplishment and great for British hockey. We’ll see how it goes from here!

Of course you were a member of the team in 2016…
Yes, I made the England team two years ago, we played in Croatia and we just fell short of gold gaining the silver medal. The following year they won the gold medal and got promoted to 1A and this year they got promoted again to the elite division playing against the likes of Canada and the USA. I certainly hope I make the British team this year! I just fell short the last couple of years – having a taste of it makes me want to get there again.

What brought you down to the other end of the world?
Well, the season back there finished at the end of April, then I was in the 28-man squad for the British team camp for a week, playing a couple of exhibition games. I got cut after that – 5 people got cut to make the team that goes away.

So then I had about a month and I went to my summer job, and then Dean Tonks contacted James Archer and Ciaran Long who played here two years ago, then James Archer contacted a guy on my team and he knew I had been looking at playing in Australia. So when the opportunity came up to play here I thought ‘why not?’

Dean Tonks seems to have connections everywhere!
Yeah, he knows a lot of people back home where he used to play and the hockey world there is small, so you can imagine, like in NZ, people in hockey kind of know everyone, or know someone who knows someone. Of course hockey in the UK is bigger than in New Zealand, but especially at the higher levels, the professional level, people know who everyone is so it’s easy to link up.

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So when did you actually arrive?
Well I think I arrived on a Monday and we had our first game on the following Saturday – I was over the Jet lag by then!

Yeah, it was good. I met the boys on Tuesday, they welcomed me with open arms and I fitted in right away really. I knew Jaxson Lane previously – I played in an International Ice Hockey Federation camp with him when I was like 15. But I didn’t even know he was in the Devils before I came – he messaged me when I signed.

How do the New Zealand rinks compare with rinks back home?
Well, it’s a bit like here. All the rinks are different, some are Olympic size, but none of them are as small as this (Alpine Ice). My home rink in Coventry is quite small, Manchester is quite small, and the rest are Olympic, or near Olympic size.

The Coventry rink holds about 3,000 spectators but other rinks hold more, like the Sheffield rink holds about 9,000 and Nottingham about 2,000 – so there are some big stadiums.

So I guess you had to get used to pretty small crowds here too.
Yeah, that’s been a bit of a change! But you have to get used to pretty small dressing rooms too – they’re very small. I’ve never seen anything like the ones here in Christchurch and you have to go upstairs to change. There is one rink I remember as a kid in England where you had to do the same so I guess people will believe me when I get back home.

What were your impressions of the standard of play here?
Well I didn’t really know what to expect. Obviously you have some idea of what you think it will be like – and it was better than I thought it would be to be honest. I think all the players are quite good – individual skills wise, but I think – in terms of a team game – I think it could be a bit better.

The players have the ability, they’re good players, but it’s just like having hockey sense, a level of understanding – I think that’s the big difference.  Maybe from a young age that team understanding is not taught as much as in the UK or bigger hockey nations.

How would you imagine that could change?
I think coaching, and from a young age. In England I guess I got lucky, I started playing professionally when I was 16 and that’s when I really learnt that side of the game. I had developed individually but it wasn’t until I played for a professional team that I developed that side of the game.

Like, it’s the same really in England, the coaches for younger players are usually parents, they’re not really experienced hockey people, whereas obviously in North America they have that professional coaching from a young age. But over here, and in England as well they don’t have that level of coaching.

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From what you say, it’s easy to understand the importance of having Dean Tonks on board here.
Yeah he’s doing a really good job. I’ve got to know him pretty well, and I’ve actually been down for sessions with him a few times, for the high school ones and he does a really good job. I think he brings that level of understanding, that level of coaching – because of his experience – that maybe the younger players have never had before and you’ll start to see in the future the results of that and that’s pretty exciting.

A lot of the players have gone offshore for experience too.
Yeah I think that’s brilliant. It’s the same in the UK, they go and play in Canada or Sweden because it’s a better level of hockey, there is better coaching, so if more players do that it can only be good for them.

It comes down to getting the opportunity, getting the chance to do that, because the  reputation of hockey in NZ, and England too, is not great so it’s more difficult to get into better leagues.

What sort of structure does the Coventry Blaze have?
Obviously we have the Elite team which I play for, there’s a team in the third division and then there are several junior teams like the under-20s. But one of the problems in the UK is the top league is great, but there is such a big gap to the level below it – so it’s hard for players to move up.

There was a league that was in between that was a semi-professional league and it wasn’t too different from the top league and players could move up and down. But that league went bust leaving a big gap.

Is there many import players in Britain?
You have to realise that I’m coming from a league where in my team there are 14 imports and that’s another reason it makes it harder for British players to make the jump to the Elite league.

Last year, in the Blaze, I was one of three British players plus a backup goalie, the rest were North American and it’s the same on every top team – there aren’t many spots for local players. So even viewing from the English league perspective, the imports are important because raising the level makes the local players better, and give the supporters something better to watch.

Opinion is divided in England because a lot of people want that level of hockey, but a lot of people want the number of imports lowered because British players aren’t getting a chance. I think the import rules are pretty good here in the NZIHL and four imports for a game is a good number.

How does that high number of imports affect selection for the British team?
Well, there are 12 teams in the Elite league, so the national team is drawn from the small number of British players in that league. Obviously some teams have more local players, six or seven which gives quite a pool of players to choose from, but I would say the level of imports is too high.

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So getting back to your experience with the Devils, what would you say about the team?
As I said it’s just a great group of guys, but it’s never fun when you are losing and obviously we’ve lost a lot this year, but it’s fun to come to the rink regardless.

I played with a lot of different guys. We changed up a lot because the season hasn’t really gone as expected, so we had to try different things and injuries come into consideration as well. I’ve played most with Chris Eaden and Tonks and we’ve had pretty good chemistry.

I think they’ve got the building blocks to take the team forward. Obviously this year, from my point of view, I can see the team is maybe in this rebuilding phase but as a whole the club looks like it’s in a strong position – moving forward I think it’ll be good.

Do you feel there is enough competition for spots in the team?
Well from my experience I think that competition is really healthy for a team, and individually I know from my own experience I would not have become the player I am without strong competition – someone gunning for my spot – that’s what you need to make you work harder, push harder.

Obviously that might be an issue here but there isn’t much you can do about that unless more people are coming through the junior program.

What advice would you give those younger NZ players?
Well if I were to say one thing to the younger players on the team I would say ‘be coachable.’ Whatever the coach decides, go along with it, and work hard and make the most of every opportunity you are given – I think that’s the most important thing.

All NZIHL photos by Josh Fraser.

NZIHL Round 10 Recap: Playoff Bound

The NZIHL season came down to the final weekend to decide the playoff fate of four out of the five teams – I would consider that a success for the new post-season format.

While the Dunedin Thunder sat and watched the live streams on the NZIHL YouTube channel, the West Auckland Admirals headed to Canterbury needing to leave town with more points than the Skycity Stampede, who were up north invading the Hive in Botany. The Swarm needed six points to leapfrog the Thunder into that third spot to get into the one-off battle against the second place team.

The Admirals ended up sweeping the weekend against the Red Devils despite a minor scare late in the first game when Canterbury staged a late comeback, leaving their hopes and dreams of home ice in the hands of their cross-town brothers.

Unfortunately for the West Auckland lads, the Stampede dominated the Swarm leaving Auckland outscoring the home team 15-0. Stampede captain and giant human, Matt Schneider ended up winning the scoring race with 44 points, including 20 goals, beating his teammate Mike McRae by a single point.

After ten rounds of hockey, this is what the final season standings look like.

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Along with finishing at the top of the league once again, the Stampede also hold the best power play and penalty kill in the NZIHL.

So then, the Dunedin Thunder will now hit the road to face the West Auckland Admirals for a special edition of Friday Night Puck at Paradice Avondale. Puck drop is set for 5pm, so get off work earlier and head along for some playoff hockey!

The winner will face the Skycity Stampede, who will be waiting and resting back home in preparation for the Birgel Cup Finals.

Here at Puck Yeah we’re trying something new this week in preparation for next season: replacing individual game recap videos with a series recap that covers both games from each matchup. It will likely include interviews next year, and perhaps a few other additions, but for now this is simply a quick test.

Let us know what you think! We’re keen to hear your feedback as we look to grow and improve our services. Email us: puckyeahpodcast@gmail.com

Admirals v Red Devils @ Alpine Ice, Christchurch

Stampede v Swarm @ Paradice Botany Downs, Auckland

Main photo: Josh Fraser

All Sports Breakfast interviews Red Devils captain Chris Eaden

Ten weeks of Kiwi ice hockey has flown by and now we find ourselves at the business end of the NZIHL regular season with four of the five teams still vying for a playoff spot, they just don’t know which one is theirs yet.

And on this weekend’s edition of RadioSport’s All Sports Breakfast, host Nigel Yalden was joined by Canterbury Red Devils captain Chris Eaden. While they aren’t in the hunt this year, the Red Devils are gearing up for one more matchup.

Canterbury host the West Auckland Admirals, who will be doing everything they can to secure two wins and potentially home-ice advantage in the finals, while Red Devils will look to play hard and spoil those plans.

Aside from the NZIHL chat, Eaden also talks about his recent selection to the New Zealand Ice Blacks and the exciting youth development currently happening with ice hockey in Canterbury. Listen to the full 5-minute interview below.

Catch the All Sports Breakfast with host Nigel Yalden every Saturday 6-9am on Radio Sport.

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Photos by Josh Fraser

Ice Blacks name squad ahead of Trans-Tasman Challenge

The New Zealand Ice Blacks have named a 28-man strong squad for their upcoming three-game test series against the Australia Mighty Roos as part of the 2018 Winter Games.

Queenstown Ice Arena will play host across three nights, September 6-8, promising a great matchup of international ice hockey as the two rivals clash for what will now be an annual event.

The Trans-Tasman Challenge could be a fitting way for the town dubbed ‘Hockeytown, NZ’ to wrap up the season for its national league players, especially if they manage to retain the Birgel Cup for a fourth straight year in the upcoming NZIHL Finals.

The Ice Blacks squad is as follows:

Forwards:
Jordan Challis, Alex Polozov, Dale Harrop, Josh Hay, Taylor Rooney, Paris Heyd, Joseph Orr, Tristan Darling, Chris Eaden, Dean Tonks, Ryan Strayer, Connor Harrison, Harrison Macharg, Matt Schneider, Andrew Cox, Benjamin Gavoille.

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

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

With the retirement of Bert Haines last season, Nick Craig was announced as the new Ice Blacks captain ahead of their 2018 IIHF World Championship campaign in Spain. While he has been named in the squad today, he was unfortunately sidelined with an ankle injury earlier this season that has ruled him out – however, he joins the Ice Blacks in a mentoring role.

When asked who might wear the ‘C’ for the series, Ice Blacks head coach Anatoly Khorozov said, “We will chat with the team and see who’s going to the lead in these games, we have enough senior players in the squad so I’m not worrying about it at all.” Indeed there are several good options available with all NZIHL captains, minus the Admirals, present on the roster.

There is also some newer talent making their way into the Ice Blacks fold including the Dunedin Thunder’s Joseph Orr and the Skycity Stampede’s Harrison Macharg, whom will be the second youngest member of this side at age 20, with the Botany Swarm’s Logan Fraser two months his junior.

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Joe Orr celebrating his 100th NZIHL game. Photo: Sari Robins-Laughton

Orr has previously represented New Zealand at the under-18 and under-20 levels and with a solid season scoring at a point per game pace, Khorozov believes the Dunedin forward deserves a spot and that if he continues to play smart hockey he has ‘all the chances’ to make the Ice Blacks in the near future.

Orr is just as excited about his selection, “Of course it’s pretty special. Growing up watching them win gold in Dunedin (2009) when I just started playing hockey really stuck with me so I’ve been wanting to be a part of that ever since!”

Joshua Hay makes his return to the Ice Blacks side for the first time since 2015, joining his brothers Andrew and Oliver and he couldn’t be happier. “I’m real stoked to have this opportunity to jump on the ice with the brothers again. Although I play alongside them most weeks with the Botany Swarm, it’s always a special moment throwing on black jersey with them,” he explained.

Adding Jordan Challis, Alex Polozov and Fraser, the Swarm feature a strong contingent in this Ice Blacks side with six, while the West Auckland Admirals and the Stampede can boast seven a piece. Also from the NZIHL, the 29-strong squad includes four from the Dunedin Thunder, plus three from the Canterbury Red Devils.

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There are however a few omissions from the series including Jamie Lawrence, Frazer Ellis, Nick Henderson, Ryan Ruddle and Shaun Harrison. Khorozov mentioned that there were seven players he wanted to see play in Queenstown who were unavailable for a variety of reasons.

Along with developing promising young talent, it seems the country of New Zealand itself is also attracting some exciting hockey talent to stay long enough to become naturalized and boost the Ice Blacks ranks – American Ryan Strayer (Stampede), Brit Dean Tonks (Red Devils) and Frenchman Benjamin Gavoille (Thunder) are now eligible to play.

The return of Kahu Joyce and Andrew Cox to New Zealand ice will be welcome after playing across the ditch in the AIHL this year. Playing for the Perth Thunder, Cox has tallied 19 points in 20 games, while Joyce has been suiting up for the Melbourne Mustangs and Melbourne Sharks (IHV Premier).

Speaking of Australia, the Ice Blacks head coach maintains that he and his staff keep a close eye on the competition across the ditch with six Kiwis currently playing in the AIHL. “I also follow their IIHF division so we will have a pretty good idea of their team once we know the names,” said Khorozov.

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Photo: Josh Fraser

The true strength of this New Zealand side could lie with their masked men as Kercso-Magos, Lee and Parry are respectively the top-three goalies in the NZIHL this season. Kercso-Magos has been a highlight in net for the West Auckland Admirals with a .934 save percentage and 2.80 goals against average, while splitting starts with Parry, whom has a .913 SV% and 3.25 GAA.

Lee has seen the most ice time out of any goalie in the league this year, consistently performing for the Skycity Stampede with a 11-3 record, .922 SV%, 2.93 GAA and one shutout. Kercso-Magos is the only other NZIHL netminder to achieve a shutout this season thus far.

With that, Lee is now looking to extend his hot streak into the Ice Blacks crease. “It would mean a lot to have the chance to make up for the tough series loss last year. As well as giving me an opportunity to prove myself for selection next year,” said Lee.

The battle for the Ice Blacks starting role could be an interesting one with Khorozov acknowledging the potential selection headache facing him in the near future, “We do have very strong goaltending crew. We also have Jaden Pine-Murphy (Melbourne Ice) and Aston Brookes (Sydney Bears), so I’m really confident we have enough depth there. At the moment the plan is that they will have one game each.”

After losing to Australia by the narrowest of margins in last year’s inaugural test series, the Ice Blacks will be extra motivated to beat the Mighty Roos and prove that they belong in the next tier of international ice hockey. With both sides coming straight off their national league seasons, expect players to be coming into this series in top form.

Tickets for the Trans-Tasman Challenge are now on sale via EventFinda with both series passes and single-game tickets available.

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NZIHL Round 10 Preview: The End

This is the end
My only friend
The end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end

We’ve come to the end of the regular season, and thanks to the new playoff format, four out of the five teams are still in contention to make the postseason. According to that I’m giving the new playoff format a big old tick and hope that it stays for 2019.

Now let’s break down the scenarios for what could happen and who could be still alive in the chase for the Birgel Cup at the end of the weekend.

If… the West Auckland Admirals grab maximum points in Christchurch and the Skycity Stampede take maximum points in Auckland, or the Admirals get fewer points than the Stampede, the Dunedin Thunder will head to West Auckland for the 2 v 3 playoff while the Stampede gain home ice for the Birgel Cup Finals.

Note: on equal points the Stampede hold the advantage over the Admirals due to a greater goal differential.

If… the Admirals take out maximum points against the Red Devils but the Stampede either let a game against the Swarm go to overtime or lose a game, the Thunder will travel to Queenstown to play the Stampede for the 2 v 3 playoff and the Admirals get home-ice advantage.

If… the Stampede drop both games against the Swarm in regulation and the Admirals gain just one more point than the Stampede, the Swarm will travel to Queenstown to face the Stampede while the Admirals get home-ice. If however the Admirals also gain no points, the Stampede get the advantage of home ice for the Finals and the Admirals will host the Swarm in a crosstown battle for the second finalist spot.

Understand? Did we cover all the bases? Yes. No. Maybe?

Good, it’s going to be an exciting weekend of hockey that could leave you on the edge of your seat or leave you with shorter fingernails…if that’s what you do.

Stampede v Swarm @ Paradice Botany Downs

As mentioned above there’s a lot on the line for both teams so if you’re a hockey fan in Auckland this weekend get your butts out to Botany.

The Stampede are rolling having won eight games in a row, they bring with them two top point scorers in the league in captain Matt Schneider and Mike McRae, and they will be desperate to hold onto that home-ice advantage for the Finals – the Queenstown rink is their fortress and an intimidating place for visiting teams.

Whereas the Swarm’s playoff hopes are on the line, but it won’t be an easy task as they need a weekend sweep over the defending champs to move past the Thunder. If you told Ian Wannamaker and Travis Crickard at the start of the campaign that their team would come into the final weekend with their fate in their own hands needing to win to make the postseason, I’m betting the Swarm coaching staff would be very happy with that prospect.

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Photo: Kate Harrison

Admirals v Red Devils @ Alpine Ice

Meanwhile, in the great land of the Canterbury plains, the Admirals will be not only be focused on their own goal of taking both games against the Red Devils, but they’ll also be hoping their Auckland brothers can do them a favour in taking down the Stampede and giving them home ice.

For the Red Devils, the weekend ends a disappointing season and they’d love nothing better than to play spoiler to the Admirals dreams in any way they can, which should serve as enough motivation to give their loyal fans something to really cheer about – not that they need a reason, they love their team unconditionally down there.

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Photo: Mike Froger

Tickets are still available in both Auckland & Christchurch so get yours now and of course don’t forget if you can’t make it out to the games, they will be live streamed on the NZIHL YouTube channel.

NZIHL Round 10 Game Schedule:

Skycity Stampede v Botany Swarm – Paradice Botany Downs, Auckland
Aug 4th at 4:55pm & Aug 5th at 4:40pm

West Auckland Admirals v Canterbury Red Devils – Alpine Ice, Christchurch
Aug 4th & Aug 5th at 4:40pm