NZWIHL Game #1//Auckland v Southern/29-11-14
The NZWIHL had its inaugural match this evening in Auckland, with the Southern team travelling to take on Auckland at Paradice Botany. The home side made a strong start to the competition, posting an 11-4 win.
As with the men’s league, the results and game sheet are available on the IIHF site – which is especially great because while Southern had nameplates on their jerseys, Auckland as yet does not. It was great to see a reasonable-sized crowd out to support the teams, too. Props to whoever made the Auckland banner hanging up in the stands!
Auckland looked dominant from the get-go, especially by scoring just 10s into the game, as Hannah Shields scored the first goal of the 2014-2015 season, sliding it past Southern goalie Carmen Claassen. Southern tied the score on a great end-to-end individual effort from the Ice Fernz’ Anna Goulding, who had a really strong game overall. Auckland pulled ahead on a goal from Hannah Jensen five minutes into the period, and didn’t look back after that, not surrendering the lead again despite Southern’s best efforts.
Helen Murray scored for Auckland about a minute later, followed by Libby-Jean Hay (who appeared to be playing forward, despite being listed at her usual defensive position), and the first period wrapped up 4-1 in favour of Auckland.
Both teams looked a lot more settled in the second period, and we had perhaps the longest stretch between goals to start that, before Southern put the puck in the back of the net on a nice shot from Ella Mills. Auckland made up for the goalless stretch in spades then, picking up three goals in the space of 66 seconds from Murray, Shields and Alex Hyde respectively. Goulding scored again for Southern near the end of the period, bringing the score to 7-3 after the first two 15 minute periods.
The third period was a 20 minute one, and it started well for Southern as Goulding picked up her third for the hat-trick. However, that would be Southern’s last goal for the evening as Auckland began to apply more pressure, dominating zone time even more noticeably and forechecking aggressively. Hyde scored her second a few minutes later, redirecting a shot from Hay right in front of the crease. Jessica Scott scored the 9th goal for the home side, followed quickly by Murray completing her hat-trick and a final goal from Gina Davis to round things out. Murray honestly could have had 4 or 5 on the night; she went hard to the net every time and got rewarded for it.
MVPs for both sides were Anna Goulding (Southern) and Alex Hyde (Auckland).
It was interesting (and awesome!) to see so many new-to-me players — going over the rosters it looks as if Canterbury has a few more of the Ice Fernz from the last few years rosters than either Auckland or Southern does, so I’ll be particularly interested to see how they stack up against the other two teams. For the most part, the players on all three teams trend quite young – Auckland has an average age of 19 (!), while Southern only hits an average of 24. It’ll be good to see how all three teams perform at home too, as I’d imagine they may well have trouble getting a full roster available to travel.
Going by the eye test and without being terribly familiar with the players yet, I’d say that Auckland had a clear edge today in terms of the average skating ability and confidence of their players, with a couple of standout players – Hyde, Murray, Hay and Shields in particular. Alyssa Suzuki was noticeable on defence for Auckland as well, with a couple of well-judged stick checks, and her tenacious backcheck helped break up what looked like a dangerous scoring chance from (I think) Heather Carlson in the second period. Auckland had a fairly overwhelming shot advantage as well, putting 46 on Claassen, while Southern only mustered 8 shots on the score sheet. It felt like they had a couple more than that, though Auckland’s goaltender Lochlyn Hyde really didn’t see many shots due largely to Auckland’s ability to keep play in the other end. She did make a couple of good stops on partial breakaways for Southern, and was solid on their short-handed chance.
Both sides were a little shaky in transition from time to time, though like everything I’d expect that to improve when they’ve got a few more practices and games under their belts. On a personal level, I’m mostly just stoked that all our female players in the league are getting a chance grow their skills and develop a bit more than they may have been able to in the past – I think this can only help our future international rosters.
Anna Goulding was obviously the standout player for Southern, and she did a lot to keep the score looking more respectable than it could have (as did Claassen). Her third goal really was a joy to watch (even if I was technically cheering for Auckland), and the extra experience and leadership she brought to the team was noticeable. Nicola Henare brought a more physical dimension to Southern’s defence, and she and Ali Marcharg both stood out on their blueline as well. Ella Mills and Heather Carlson both stood out for Southern’s forwards, with Carlson getting a good chance and Mills picking up a nice goal to start the second period.
I’ll also give Southern a lot of props for a good penalty kill in the third period especially. All the goals scored tonight were at even strength, with Southern picking up the only four penalties in the game and managing to survive all of them. They were assisted in their first PK by Auckland’s PP unit getting wildly disorganised, and Southern picked up a couple of good short-handed chances before Auckland was able to regain possession. Nadia du Plessis picked up two for roughing after four or five players came together in Southern’s crease, and those two minutes of PK time were among Southern’s best for the night.
Auckland cut off a lot of Southern’s chances in the neutral zone, and I noticed a few times they were having one of their D stay right on the blue line, if not well back from it, while the rest of their skaters were deep in the offensive zone. That paid off for them in terms of having a few steps on the opposition to retrieve many of the pucks that Southern cleared out, especially as they tended to be a little faster overall. Neither team had much of a cycle going when in the offensive zone, although some of the passes were going haywire for both sides. Again, I’d expect that to improve a bit even by tomorrow; especially as the teams get more used to playing with each other.
The game was a bit more physical than I was expecting, which it seemed like both sides were largely fine with. Admittedly, I’ve been really slack recently in catching up on women’s hockey, so most of what I’ve been watching is full contact men’s leagues (NZIHL, NHL, AIHL etc.) Both Auckland and Southern did a decent job in board battles, and we didn’t get many whistles at all, mostly just a few icings and a couple of offsides. Although it must be said Auckland absolutely got away with a blatant hook or two at points; I would’ve expected a couple more calls, but then I’m sure the officials are also not exactly in mid-season form yet either… :)
I’m definitely looking forward to Sunday morning’s game — if you’re in Auckland, the rematch is 8.15am at Paradise Botany Downs, and entry is free! (I recommend bringing a couple bucks to donate for chuck-a-puck as well. If I can win it once, LITERALLY anyone can. But mostly it’s a totally worthy cause to donate to!)
**And yes, the post title is a Taylor Swift lyric. Because I can.