“Collective Strength” – Gracie Hellmrich, Captian U18 Womens

“Collective Strength” – Gracie Hellmrich, Captian U18 Womens

They’d never stepped onto the ice together before Bulgaria. Yet, the young women of the New Zealand U18 Women’s Hockey Team defied expectations, returning home with a Gold Medal. Captain Gracie Hellmrich reflects on the team’s incredible journey, the challenges they faced, and the unwavering spirit that led them to victory.

“We were all familiar faces from the NZWIHL,” explains Gracie, “but playing against each other is different from playing together.” The pre-tournament training camp became their crucible, where individual talents were forged into a cohesive unit. “We went through team development phases,” she recalls, “everyone pushing themselves to improve, on and off the ice.” This dedication laid the foundation for the remarkable camaraderie that would define their experience.

Lifting the coveted trophy still feels surreal for Gracie. “Looking back, it’s hard to believe,” she admits. Yet, the victory stands as a testament to the power of collective belief. “It shows what a team can achieve when everyone supports each other,” she emphasizes. “I’m so proud of every girl. Gold wasn’t on our radar, but achieving it together makes it even more special.”

The road to gold wasn’t without its bumps. Illness swept through the team, impacting training and games. “Some girls had colds, others stomach bugs,” shares Gracie. Yet, they persevered. “We rested when needed, but never stopped playing hard,” she says, highlighting their unwavering spirit. This resilience proved invaluable in overcoming obstacles and emerging stronger.

Individual brilliance can be dazzling, but for the New Zealand team, it was collective strength that proved decisive. “Other teams relied heavily on star players,” observes Gracie. “But we functioned as a unit, every player contributing to every game.” This emphasis on teamwork fostered a sense of shared responsibility and accountability, propelling them towards victory.

The Belgium game stands out as a defining moment. “We were nervous, unprepared”. But amidst the initial stumbles, a valuable lesson emerged. “It showed us our potential, how much we truly wanted that gold,” Gracie reflects. This newfound resolve fuelled their preparation for the Bulgaria game, where they entered with laser focus and a positive mindset.

The young guns of the team were far from mere passengers on this journey. “[The rookies] were incredible,” declares Gracie. They seamlessly integrated into the team, their talent and determination shining through in every game. Navigating the pressure of a world championship event, especially for such a young group, could have been daunting. But they handled it with maturity, their positive attitude and unwavering effort contributing significantly to the team’s success.

As she ages out of the U18 team, Gracie leaves behind a legacy of inspiration. “I’m incredibly proud of these girls,” she reiterates. Their dedication, talent, and unwavering spirit leave an indelible mark. “They couldn’t be a better team to be promoted with,” she says. Looking towards the future, she shares her excitement: “I can’t wait to see them face new challenges in 2025.” While celebrating this remarkable achievement, Gracie already has her sights set on the future. “As I age out, my goals are to hone my skills in the NZWIHL,” she reveals. Her ambition doesn’t stop there. “I hope to be selected for the Ice Ferns someday,” she adds. This young leader’s journey is far from over!