With Reservations


I wanted to put a couple of thoughts I’ve been mulling over for the last few months down on paper while I have a chance to do so. They’ve largely been sparked by thinking about what I would ideally want to see come out of the You Can Play partnership games when we first heard of them, although some of my latter thoughts tie more directly into the information we got today about the YCP ambassadors. This is less a direct reaction and more a “while we’re on the subject…”

While I was at our local rink a few weeks ago, I got to thinking again about what I think has been missing—or at least appears to be an untackled approach—in what YCP have been doing in North America with respect to men’s hockey in particular. Mostly a few things I think would be helpful on multiple levels, for the players themselves, for the fans, and for rest of the people involved in the league in other capacities.

Rather than a lot of statements about how the NHL (and hockey in general) is totally ready for an out male professional hockey player, I think they could do a lot of good by taking a direct approach with what they’re doing to improve the environment. Stop just telling us that using slurs isn’t appropriate and start talking about what, specifically, has been done to get people to change their language and attitudes.

We hear about how players who speak up for YCP and do PSAs for them are great role models, which is fine for a first step, but I’d like to see more explicit allyship from more than the same one or two people—and from players who are still active in the NHL, as much as I appreciate a lot of what Andrew Ference and Ben Scrivens have done. Saying “Hockey is for everyone, you can play!” is one thing; seeing a role model say “I used to use those words without thinking about it, and now I understand why that’s wrong. This is what I have been doing to be better” would demonstrate a lot more commitment and could also help a lot more people than just the ones around NHL games and locker rooms.

It would mean so much more to me to see players or team spokespersons mention the concrete steps they were taking to make their locker room welcoming for non-straight players and/or personnel. There would naturally be different ideas and different challenges in different areas, and I’m sure some of these would be applicable—and usable—to people outside the NHL, too.

Being an ally is an action and a journey, not a label, and it seems like most of the NHL is still stuck on step one with it. It’s not that I think they’re insincere—although frankly, some of them may well be—it’s that if all you’re doing is saying the words, you’re not actually giving people much of a roadmap on what they can do to get better.

Giving people specific alternate options for if they want to insult someone or say something passionate in the heat of the moment without also being offensive is one that helps a lot with very minimal effort. Suggesting “instead, tell him he’s an asshole” is much more likely to help change behaviour than just telling someone to “just stop” saying x, y and z. To echo a conversation I have seen multiple times across twitter: I do not give a shit about players using swearwords on the ice. Could. Not. Care. Less. I *do* care about them saying offensive bullshit that dehumanises and demeans LGBT people.

I’d suspect there are a lot of other changes that may seem small which can be made and that would add up to a much more welcoming and inclusive whole.

For example, I recently caught a clip of an interview with Mike Babcock in which he spoke of “choosing the right spouse” as being important to help players be successful in all areas of their lives. I saw more than one person note his choice of language which didn’t assume a male hockey player would be married to a woman, and many of us appreciated that. Similarly, I would love to see those NHL teams who have the significant others of their players do charity work as a group—eg, the Blue Jackets’s ‘Lady Jackets’—rename them to reflect that those partners may not be female. If teams wait until the hypothetical point where this situation becomes a reality then it puts more pressure and attention on that player and their partner in terms of things changing for them in particular than would be the case if teams plan ahead and start being inclusive now.

In addition to that, having specific talking points that all parties are familiar with can also make it a lot easier for people who are shy, unused to speaking up or have less power to actually raise the fact that something said or done was inappropriate. Having a template for what to say or how to explain that it’s problematic is much less stressful than trying to figure out how to navigate the situation while hurt, scared or angry.

Some of this may well be going on behind the scenes, and if so I salute that effort, but without public discussion and acknowledgment of that, it’s hard to get the change in attitude to spread much further. I’ve heard far too much casual homophobia and transphobia in the stands at NHL games to buy the idea that things have improved dramatically since YCP launched, much as I’d like that to be the case.

To specifically reference the YCP ambassadors as announced today, I’d like to add a few additional thoughts. While I appreciate the sentiment and intent behind this, I think there are some aspects that have clearly evaded the people planning this and which need to be addressed.

Some of the choices for ambassadors are questionable at best.

Specifically, I would first point to the Canadiens’ Andrew Shaw, who was clearly caught on video (and suspended/fined for) using a homophobic slur in the playoffs last year. I have not seen anything from Shaw himself, the Canadiens (or the Hawks at the time) or YCP which would give me confidence he’s learned from this in any way other than “don’t get caught.” It once again comes off as LGBT people being encouraged to make the first step and trust someone on the assertion that “they’ve changed” without being first given much evidence to believe that. As my friend J most eloquently put it, “Your first visible attempt at redemption should not be a position that requires vulnerable queer people to trust you. Work harder.”

To tie back into my point above, it would be significantly more impressive both as a statement of personal growth and as an encouragement for other people to make the same changes to have Shaw make a statement that explicitly refers to his homphobic comment(s) and talks about how and why he’s changed his vocabulary and behaviour.

I’m also not particularly impressed by the inclusion of players who have been overt in their support of a presidential administration whose second in command is an avowed believer in conversion ‘therapy’ for LGBT youths, and who has directly caused significant hardships, suffering and deaths in the LGBT community of his home state. That hardly dovetails with a position where a player is expected to help and support an LGBT person.

Lastly, if players are being asked to put themselves in a position where they are expected to be an early point of support and or contact for players or personnel who may be questioning or on the LGBT spectrum, then I would really like to see some assurances about the help, support, and most importantly training that those players have been provided.

The most well-intentioned person in the world can still say or do the most incredibly unfortunate thing possible in a stressful or intense situation, especially if they’re not all that familiar with what it can be like to be a non-straight and/or non-cis person in our society, whether closeted or out. It’s setting those players up to fail if they’re not being provided resources and assistance to get an idea of what they can or should—and cannot and should not—do or say in the hypothetical situation where someone does go to them for help.

I would love to be able to appreciate the work the You Can Play does without these reservations, and I hope as February goes on and as the YCP nights are held across the league we will see some actions to allay the concerns that I and plenty of other people speaking up this week have about the current campaign.

ETA: I see as of this morning that there is an interview with Shaw on NHL.com about this; it’s certainly a good first step, but I would like to see a lot more substance from the NHL going forward.

End of 2016 NZIHL Season Wrap Up

[This post was written 2 days ago]

I had such good intentions this season to keep this blog updated, and as per usual those fell by the wayside with a million other things on my plate. Also, I feel a little bad potentially rolling back to NHL/International hockey with the last post on here being a single early season post that was mostly critical of my team, so let’s do at least a short catchup.

Personally, I had a pretty good time this season. While I’m disappointed neither Auckland team made the playoffs for the 5th year in a row (SIGH) there were still a lot of good moments. It probably helped that my team wasn’t having Historically Worst Ever Losses and that my NHL teams, while ultimately unsuccessful on ice, didn’t do anything horrifically upsetting.

I only managed to get to 10/18 Swarm games this year, which is probably the lowest since 2011 (oops), and it was my first year without a Queenstown trip, which felt decidedly odd. That Saturday game the Swarm won down there this year was phenomenal and I couldn’t have been prouder as I watched the livestream and yelled at the TV a lot. If I could do fire emoji on this computer I would be all SPECIAL TEAMS YEAAAH–that was a nice little run for them that weekend. Those two games in Queenstown were probably the two games I most enjoyed watching all year; the pace was so good, there was a ton of action, and the Swarm didn’t seem overmatched the way they might have done considering how dominant the Stampede were all year.

In terms of the things that I personally did this year I count up 16 match reports, a stint selling merch at Skate of Origin, and two regular season games called over livestream, which despite my nerves after not doing it at all last year I think went pretty well? It was fun to work with Chase, anyway, and I continue to appreciate everyone who says complimentary things after. 😀

Skate of Origin was probably the best one I’ve seen (and I worked out once I have been at all but 2 of them and watched one of those on livestream). It was so close, and an OT score of 2-1 is actually pretty reflective of how well both sides were playing defensively as well as getting chances on offense. I’m sure all the goalies were quite happy to see a sub-10 goals overall game for a change too. That said, it was incredibly exciting to watch because there were so many chances that didn’t quite go in, and the tension in the rink out at Avondale was palpable. Awesome that such a good game got such a supportive crowd, too. I am not sure if they sold out, but it must have been close.

Looking at the picture of the league overall, the Swarm dropped in the standings to fourth after a phenomenal last half of the season push from the Admirals, but wound up with more points than they had in last year’s shitshow where they’d somehow scraped into 3rd place anyway, so even with the drop in the standings I feel a bit better about how they performed overall.

Shout out to our imports to start—it was great to get them coming in and doing so much to help out, and I think most of the nonpartisan fans of the league would like to see them all back again.

David Lindgren especially put a lot on the line for them, with a nasty jaw/teeth injury after taking a slapshot to the face in that last weekend in Christchurch. (Check out his blog if you want the gory details; he was an absolute trooper about it all and finally got to get back on solid food just this week!)

Leaving aside the last two games in Christchurch which saw the Swarm lose several players to injury and play probably their poorest two games of the year by a long shot, the latter part of the Swarm’s season saw them put some good games together, and they had bursts where everything seemed to be working well. Passing especially got a lot more consistent towards the latter part of the season, and the powerplay was definitely up there on a level with the standard-setting Stampede.

There were a couple games–both the two in Auckland against the Devils and the second game against the Thunder–which saw the Swarm give up the lead in the last few minutes (or at least twice, in the literal last minute) which seemed to be a bit of a pattern for a few weeks in a row. That’s something I’ll hope to see improved next year; those last-few-minutes defensive lapses are understandable and yet I’m sure immensely frustrating for both the team/coaches as well as their fans.

I do also have to give props to the Swarm home crowd this year–they got behind the team in a way I haven’t seen as dramatically since 2011 or so, and were a lot louder, so that was awesome to see.

Honesty compels me to admit that after that after that intensely frustrating game that prompted me to post about staying out of the damn box, the Swarm did seem to get their act together discipline-wise in a big way. After the home games against the Admirals, we found out that they’d put signs in the penalty boxes, which made me laugh hysterically. The Admirals were very good sports about that too, by the way.

Speaking of the Admirals, as much as I never want to lose to them when it’s the Swarm playing, they did have a fantastic season and I was absolutely gutted for them the way that it ended. On a purely self-interested level, it would’ve been nice to get to a Final game this year, and in general I feel they really did deserve a better fate than missing the playoffs like that. Just brutal. That was such a tough game to watch because on the one hand I felt for the Thunder and their fans and didn’t want them to finish the season without a home win, but on the other it would’ve been superb if the Admirals could have pulled off the sweep to make the Final. Seeing it come down to the very last game of the regular season like that was really exciting, and I suspect fans of all five teams were on the edges of their seats to see how it would play out. It’ll be really interesting to see how the Admirals do next year–since Csaba Kercso-Magos came in as coach and they picked up Justin Daigle as a player (and now captain) they have been improving dramatically with each succeeding year. I think they’ll be a team to keep an eye on next year, for sure. I could definitely go for a repeat of 2010 next year, I’m just saying. 😀

I probably don’t need to say a whole lot about the Thunder; they lost some of their vets to the Devils and to the Stampede before the season started, which doesn’t exactly help; they had visa issues in getting their import goalie in town and then injuries to local players which all combined to make it a hell of an uphill battle for them. I was pleased they finally won one, but damn would I have preferred it to be against anyone else, bar the Swarm. Koitmaa absolutely stole both those games they won, too, he was outstanding when he was really on his game like that.

The Red Devils had an interesting year; they looked untouchable to start and got some really good contributions from both locals and imports, especially Puntereri and Long. They looked shakier in the latter half of the year, though, and I think the scores in the Final are about what we’d expect from that bit of freefall that they went through there.

I may be being a bit too much of a homer here, but I do maintain they were lucky to get away with all six points from the two games that they played up at Botany, because the Swarm seemed to be evenly matched, if not all over them in those two, and having the Devils take both at more or less the last minute was tough to watch. Obviously their last two wins of the season against the Swarm were ones that the Swarm weren’t even in, really, but that seemed a bit more like a hiccup (and the Swarm having a truly awful weekend) than necessarily a full return to form for them.

The Stampede were obviously dominant throughout the season, building off their execellent results from the year before. I can’t really add much that hasn’t already been said, but they were basically a well-oiled machine and well coached throughout; they’re setting the standard right now and all the other teams are having to race to keep up.

Next year should be very interesting—either there’s going to be a first-time Birgel Cup winner, or one of the three teams who have four previous wins is going to pick up a league-leading 5th title.

More importantly on the New Zealand side, the NZWIHL will be starting up its third season soon—get out there and help support our women’s teams; they’re making some awesome progress and deserve a bigger audience than they’ve been getting!

Also, the more help and ice time they get, the better the pool of talent we’re picking the Ice Fernz from will get, too.

Additionally, we’ve got the IIHF Worlds Div IIb Men’s tournament in Botany over April of 2016. As the tournament hosts, NZ will have the opportunity to ice the most competitive team they can–for obvious reasons, travel costs will be significantly lower than any time they’ve played the tournament in the years since 2006, when the last IIHF Senior Men’s tournament was held in NZ.

It’s going to be a huge chance for the Ice Blacks to go for the chance to be promoted into the next group, and they’re going to need all the support we can give them. (If you’re in the Auckland area or expect to be at that time, I highly recommend volunteering to help out at the tournament if you can. They can always do with more hands, and it’s a super rewarding experience and a tangible way to support ice hockey in New Zealand.)

On a personal note, as I’ve mentioned over on twitter, I’m currently travelling to Toronto with a couple of other Kiwi fans to take in the NHL’s World Cup of Hockey. We’re all pretty fucking stoked about this, and I’m really looking forward to it. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to blog about that a bit too, but for now I’m on a plane with no wifi and thus getting the opportunity to write a ridiculously long blog post to catch things up. 😀

Catch you on the flipside, guys.

Not Exactly Your Finest Moment, Eh?

The Botany Swarm lost 5-2 tonight, to the West Auckland Admirals.

And they deserved to lose. Not, I would argue, quite so badly as they did–I’m a Swarm fan, sure, but I don’t think the box score was wholly reflective of the run of play–but even at my most homer-ish I can’t begin to believe they should have taken the win.

A caveat: if you’ve read my (infrequently updated) blog before or follow my twitter, you’ll be aware I generally prefer to focus on the positives, as there are already more than enough people who apparently are only able to express their sports fandom through constant negativity. However, tonight was so intensely frustrating–especially after last season–that I have been compelled to dust off the blog. (Don’t worry, this will be much shorter than my usual blog posts… :D)

* * *

It’s been a frustrating couple of years to be a Swarm fan. There have been bright spots — the TTCL was fantastic and closer than it could have been, both wins of the Toa Kauhanga Riri Tio trophy from the Red Devils have been everything you could ask for as a fan, and the Swarm finally managing to take a season series against the Dunedin Thunder last year with some blowout wins was some nice payback after a couple years being thumped comprehensively by them.

But what we saw in stretches tonight, and what we saw last week in the second game against the Stampede as well were some repeating patterns that are incredibly frustrating as both a fan and spectator.

  • Penalties
    The amount of time the Swarm spent in the box tonight was absolutely egregious. I don’t care if you think the reffing was terrible, I don’t care that even I thought at least one call was nonsense; that’s not the point. Be better than the call. The parts of the game that were 5-on-5, especially the first ten and last twenty minutes were played well, with good flow and tempo, and a fair number of chances. It was immensely frustrating to see all that go out the window in the middle of the game, and especially so to see who was taking the undiscplined penalties.
  • Lead by example
    The veterans in the line up are so incredibly valuable and important to the team’s past, present and future, but the parade to the penalty box so far this season is an example of exactly the opposite of what I want to see the younger players emulate. Frustration penalties and lack of discipline absolutely smothered the initial pushes of offense and momentum when the Swarm were getting chances on the powerplay. I’m pretty sure that we don’t actually want to encourage the [Name] Hospitality Suite memes that are springing up again on social media, right?
  • Passing
    I realise this may be grating coming from someone who can barely skate let alone hold a stick, but when I go two games in a row wanting to yell “fucking hell, pass like you’ve met each other!” for an entire period then I think it’s fair to call out. The Admirals were largely tape-to-tape tonight and looked incredibly polished; the Stampede are probably the best in the league at puck management and making smart passes with good stick positioning away from the puck, but almost everyone on the ice tonight in a white jersey was making some poor choices about when and where to pass to, and flubbing reception of them. I’m sure it’s way more painful for them than me, but ouch.

    It’s not all doom and gloom, though!

    I do have a few things to laud, and like I said above: the first ten minutes were actually some of the best hockey I’ve ever seen in an Auckland derby. (Of course, like five minutes after I had that thought the Admirals had scored three times. Sucks to you too, Murphy’s Law. 😦 )

  • The Kids Are Alright
    I’ve actually really enjoyed the Ball-Vortanov-Jonsson line since the preseason. They have been getting great chances every single game and honestly eventually they’re gonna start going in. I hope the Swarm stick with that one because it is fun as hell to watch (and not bad defensively, either.) 

    Ritchie Hopkinson has also been really fun to watch. In the preseason he pulled off not one but two absolutely perfect takeaways on Justin Daigle, who is not exactly an easy guy to get the puck off. That was quite the dramatic introduction for a player I hadn’t seen before at all, and he’s also been speedy and effective in the regular season. The short-handed break tonight was a nice chance.

    Matt Taylor has also been good to watch; he scored in the preseason and he’s come close to doing so again last week and tonight. He and Hopkinson both seem to slot in and out of the top six without looking out of place, and he’s had some nice chances with the imports.

    Good to see Logan Fraser back on the ice for the Swarm too. He’s another one of the kids you can tell has been getting more ice time in the Northern Hemisphere and his game has improved again too. Excited to see more of him, and he and Aaron Henderson didn’t do too badly at all tonight as a D pair.

    Olie Hay has also picked up more bulk, speed and skills after a winter playing with the Brahmas in the NA3HL in Texas and that’s been awesome to see. (However, to my dismay, the propensity to land in the penalty box has not decreased in proportion yet.)

  • Okay, Fourth Line, I gotta hand it to ya.
    It was admittedly about two shifts before the wheels fell off in the first period, but a bunch of the guys who tend to play outside the top six had some of the best chances tonight, and definitely some of the best play I’ve seen from a couple of them. (I’m not sure if they’re officially the fourth line in anything but TOI, but hey, roll with me on this.)

    Leith Thompson and Dion Guest in particular looked both faster and more confident tonight, and I did especially appreciate seeing Guest haul Thomas Clow out of a potential scrum rather than let anything else develop after the whistle.

  • Team Europe: Shoot Left, Score–Right?
    Another solid game for imports Sami Saastamoinen and David Lindgren, both of whom also kept the Swarm in the game to the point that I was hoping for a comeback pretty much right down to the wire. Unlikely, but it could’ve happened. The Swarm absolutely cannot and should not depend on their imports alone to win them games, but they also can’t complain about what they’re getting out of them so far this season. Saastamoinen’s goal was a beauty, and it was a pleasure to watch his stick-handling and skating all night. He might’ve only buried the one, but Rick Parry absolutely robbed him at least once and he had a few more good chances beside.
    Lindgren is also fun to watch–he’s so strong on his skates and he (and Attwell and Vortanov, I must add) was doing yeoman’s work in the corners and battling for the puck. He had a couple of shifts where he more or less had the puck on a string and was unlucky not to score or pick up an assist. Both of them were consistently good at finding themselves in the right position to make or receive a pass and I especially enjoy the way that Saastamoinen seems to have good chemistry with long-time assimilated Swarm player Alexandr Polozov, who also had a strong game and has looked good this season so far. Polozov’s skating has always been one of the strongest parts of his game, and he was making and finding room out there tonight like it was 2010 or 2011 again.

    It’ll be interesting to see how tomorrow’s Toa Kauhanga Riri Tio match goes, and how each team reacts to tonight’s game. Hopefully we’ll see a Swarm team that’s playing smarter hockey tomorrow, and a more even game both on and off the scoreboard. I’ll settle for them all laying off the swigs of Bad Decision Juice and a stern reminder there aren’t actually snacks in the penalty box.

Relatedly, confidential to the Swarm:

Guys. You’re actually pretty good at hockey. When you get your shit together, you are more than capable of beating any team in this league. However, when they manage to needle you into taking dumb penalties, roughing, retaliating or just generally rising to the bait of whatever chirping they’re dishing out, that’s when you seem to lose the plot and start messing up. Which, by the way, is exactly what the opposition want you to do, so maybe consider not dancing to the tune they want to play?

I realise it’s probably a case of the way society genders social responses, but I’ve always been perplexed at how few hockey players I’ve seen react to chirping/chippy play by laughing it off. Let me tell you: 1. It’s more effective 2. You stay out of the box where you can actually do your team some good and 3. NOTHING is more infuriating than being laughed at by the person you’re trying to get a rise out of.

Most of us watch the NHL, right? So here’s your specific example. I’ve seen Brandon Saad pull it off a few times, but the absolute master of this art is Marian Hossa. You know how when Marian Hossa gets guys chirping him on the ice he laughs in their face, skates right through them and then goes to score while they fume impotently?

Do that.

happy hossa
Marian Hossa is smart. Be like Hossa.

And You Love the Game [NZWIHL recap]

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.

In Praise of Summer Hockey

The NHL proper has been back for a couple weeks now, and ever since the season kicked off, I’ve been reflecting on something, and that is: how great is this?

As a fan in the Southern Hemisphere, I’m lucky enough to get virtually year-round hockey. This year, the NZIHL started** literally 15 minutes after Alec Martinez scored to win the Kings their second Cup in three years. Half the Auckland streaming team were clustered around a tablet watching as the game hit its second overtime and wondering if we were going to actually see the end before our own game started. The NZIHL finished its originally scheduled events calendar with Skate of Origin the weekend of September 13th — and the NHL preseason started a week later.

**For me, that is. The Swarm had a bye in what was technically week one. But roll with me here, okay?

So here I am, on my couch with my feet up, cider at hand, fish and chips for dinner, the ranch slider door wide open for a warm almost-summer’s evening and even though it’s not even 9pm yet, I’ve watched two hockey games today — and I have a whole three day weekend ahead of me to watch a bunch more.

Those of us down in the Antipodes can tend to be a little salty occasionally about how the time zones work out for us, and with some justification – I’m sure my co-workers at least would prefer that the majority of Blackhawks games did not, in fact, start at 1pm NZ time, making me prone to being rather short with anyone who tries to talk to me when I’m listening to the radio call. I’d also absolutely love to be able to actually watch more games live, rather than just the ones that happen to be scheduled on a Friday or Saturday in North America.

There’s a natural flipside to that, though: none of the games ever start too late for me. (Call it a West Coast Bias? :D) The odd midday-on-a-Sunday game is kind of weirdly fun to get up early to watch part of before starting work on a Monday morning. I’m generally too cheap to use my mobile phone data to stream video at work on my lunch break, but if it’s an actual-west-coast game I’ll usually get home in time to watch the third period – and then have the rest of my evening free. Honestly? It’s a pretty sweet deal.

…and let’s face it, yelling at the TV when my team is failing to clear their zone, turning the puck over, or clownshoeing it up on a powerplay is probably a whole lot less disturbing to our neighbours when that’s happening mid-afternoon and not at midnight.

And while I can’t make any pretensions of playing myself yet — trying to learn how to skate when you’re over thirty and not terribly coordinated is, uh, an experience — there’s also something really satisfying about walking into a rink in the middle of summer.

For those of you who’ve never experienced it, summer in Auckland is humid and sticky and frequently either blisteringly hot or pouring with rain. Or sometimes both at the same time. Which makes stepping out of that into a cool, dry rink just about worth the price of admission all by itself. It also makes the five minutes after you leave the rink a study in pleasant contrasts.

I’m looking forward to the Women’s League games later this year because, well, it’s hockey, and because I have a whole lot of feelings about how awesome our female players are and how much more support they deserve. I’m also looking forward to what’s essentially some free air-conditioning while I get to watch hockey. (Thanks, Paradice!)

In a lot of ways, being an NHL fan downunder means being caught between two worlds – there’s all those establishing shots of arenas surrounded by snow around New Years, and the Winter Classic happening while we’re considering heading to the beach; there’s discussion about how patio weather makes watching hockey feel weird, but for us it’s when the weather starts to turn cool that it means it’s the playoffs and then the offseason – and if you’re lucky enough to live in an NZIHL or AIHL city, your own season starting up. There’s a little cognitive dissonance there sometimes.

In the USA, I would only wear the jersey of a team (or player) I was seeing on the ice to a game, but here a lot of fans will wear NHL gear to local games, because it’s an easy way to find like-minded people. Local friends and I tend to logo-spot like it’s an amateur sport in its own right; the guy in the Whalers hat you see on the tram, the woman wearing a hand-knit Oilers jersey in line for public skating, the young guy standing outside a bar on Cuba St with drink in hand and Coyotes t-shirt visible as we walk by.

I got a 1987 copy of the NHL Rulebook for half price because the guy at the secondhand bookstore in Hamilton is a Blues fan and we wound up emoting about how tough the Central is for twenty minutes. (The illustrations in it are hilarious, btw.) The weird and wonderful connections that the two degrees of separation factor of New Zealand can generate within our ice hockey community can be hilarious and awesome and occasionally beggar all statistical odds.

There’s a lot to like about being an NHL fan half a world away, and there’s even more to enjoy about hockey in the summer, hockey all year around. I’m looking forward to another year of having fun with all of it.

2014 NZIHL Season: Downloadable Schedule!

Just a short and sweet update from me for now — I’m hoping to get back to blogging a bit more regularly again soon, but since I’m in the middle of twelve different things right now, I’m just gonna dash on through and leave this right here:

Downloadable ics file for the 2014 NZIHL Schedule

Importing this file into your google calendar or other similar device should automatically give you the match, date, game start times (well, warm up start times) and location. It should auto populate with your local time zone for the convenience of anyone overseas who’s planning on catching the livestreams, too.

Let me know if you have any problems, and please feel free to share this widely!

Enjoy the end of the NHL season, the playoffs, and remember the NZIHL will be starting up again as well in June — looking forward to catching up with you all again then!



Wasn’t it April five minutes ago?

I just want to get a tiny, fairly personal postscript for the 2013 NZIHL season posted today — and more specifically, in a longer-than-140-characters format — before it runs the risk of being buried somewhere in the middle of the To Write List That Ate Manhattan, so here goes nothing:

I just want to take this opportunity to thank a whole bunch of people for the awesome experiences I’ve had over the 2013 NZIHL season.

In addition to being able to watch a ton of really great hockey this year — frankly, a reward in and of itself — I also had the opportunity to do commentary for a few of the games that were livestreamed this year. It’s been a ton of fun, and quite the learning curve, and I’m deeply grateful to everyone who’s tuned in and been supportive.

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