DUNEDIN, New Zealand – New Zealand’s national team scored a historic 5-4 win against Australia at the New Zealand Winter Games on Sunday.
While most events at the Winter Games feature just New Zealand squads, ice hockey is a two-game series between New Zealand and neighbour Australia. The teams have faced each other several times in their 30-year history, but the outcome was always an Australian win.
Australia played at the Division I level last spring, New Zealand in Division III, but both will play at the Division II level next year – albeit in two different groups.
The first game of the weekend in Dunedin ended with a lopsided 8-2 win for the Aussies in front of a record crowd of 2,500 spectators, despite a 2-1 lead by New Zealand in the first period.
The second game was a different story. New Zealand came back from a 2-1 deficit with two goals, taking a 3-2 lead. Both teams fought goal-by-goal in the last period but at the end, New Zealand celebrated a historic 5-4, which was even broadcast live nationwide.
Braden Lee, Stacey Rout, Adam Soffer, Chris Eaden and Paris Heyd scored for the hosts while the Australian scorers were Eric LaFreniere, Rob Starke, Casey Minson and Ray Sheffield.
A shoot-out had to decide the series winner. Chris Eaden and Brett Speirs scored for New Zealand and Kiwi goalie Zac Nothling came up with a few big saves allowing New Zealand earn the series win.
“I'm ecstatic. It's fantastic for New Zealand hockey to show that we can play at Division II level,” said captain Cory Down, who played his last international game. “Tonight some of the young guys stepped up and showed their maturity. We played to our game plan and we pulled it off.”
Australia’s team was combined with players from the Newcastle Northstars and Sydney Bears, who moved their last game of the regular season to form the joint team.
Now the big challenge for New Zealand is to beat the full Australian national team, but for now the nationwide buzz at the Games could be an important step to develop the sport and be more competitive against their archrivals.