New Zealand U18s won gold in 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division III Group B, topping a three-team tournament on home ice in Queenstown.
The junior Ice Blacks faced off against South Africa and Hong Kong during the event, winning both games to secure a return to Division IIIA next season. A 4-1 victory over South Africa got things started then, after a night off watching Hong Kong’s 4-2 win over South Africa, New Zealand finished the job with a lively 8-5 success against the Asian team.
That bore out the pre-tournament confidence of Kiwi head coach Steve Reid. Prior to the action, he told New Zealand hockey website ‘Puck Yeah’: “All the guys have come in and physically they’re ready, but also mentally, like picking up the systems we’re putting in place. They’ve done a really good job picking those up quickly.”
Home ice advantage also helped. Queenstown’s rink is relatively small, forcing visiting teams to adapt their game. With Reid keen to emphasise skill and creativity, boasting that he had three lines that could score, the stage was set.
Game one ended in a convincing home win. Goalie Finley Forbes, who was part of New Zealand’s U20 roster in Bulgaria earlier in the season, impressed with 12 saves. In front of him the defence did a fine job in limiting South African chances – the visitor’s only goal came from an early power play, converted by Delano Schuurman to give his team a seventh-minute lead. Then the NZ PP came out to play. South Africa struggled to stay out of the box all night, and the Ice Blacks took advantage with three goals. Defenceman Harrison Mills got the first, then captain Matheson Graham made it 2-1 early in the second period. Jackson Flight extended the lead with another PP tally, then Lochlan Butler wrapped up early in the third with the only equal-strength goal of the game. Three of NZ’s four goals came from D-men, and that pattern would repeat in the decider against Hong Kong.
Coach Reid admitted to knowing little about Hong Kong before the tournament but he had a chance to see them in action with a win over South Africa. That set up a win-or-bust match-up for both teams and New Zealand took the verdict after a high-scoring game.
The pattern was similar to the opener as New Zealand came from behind and built a decisive advantage in the second period. Hong Kong struck early, with Cheuk Long Ngan scoring after 79 seconds. New Zealand replied through a short-handed goal from Christian Regan and a power play marker from blue-liner Ben Miller to lead at the intermission. The middle frame saw the host take the game away from Hong Kong, scoring four times. There was a penalty shot from Mason Rees and a second short-handed goal of the night, this time from Jack Robbie. In between, Josh Hurley scored and Regan got his second of the game. Hong Kong reduced the deficit in the third, and Ngan joined Michael Lee Heng Shum on three goals for the tournament. Regan completed his hat-trick, moving on to five points to lead the tournament scoring; Butler potted his second of the campaign to seal an 8-5 win. Click here for scores and stats.