ICE BLACKS IIHF REVIEW – with Cam Frear & Michael Domigan

ICE BLACKS IIHF REVIEW – with Cam Frear & Michael Domigan

The Ice Blacks may not have returned home draped in gold, but their silver medal at the IIHF Division 2B Championship in Sofia gleams brightly. This young team, forged from a new era of players and coaches, proved their mettle against tough competition, all while injecting a dose of optimism for the future of Kiwi hockey.

Building a Cohesive Unit in Record Time

“It was a long time away for all involved,” admits Ice Blacks manager Michael Domigan. “By the end, the boys were definitely ready for home comforts. But right from our arrival in Sofia, the team felt focused and determined – they were there to play hockey and play it well.”

2024 IIHF ICE HOCKEY MEN World Championship BULGARIA-Sofia Division II, Group B: Team Photos New Zealand

Co-Head Coach Cam Frear echoes this sentiment. “In general, our team is pleased with how we’ve performed on the ice and inspired by the strong team culture and camaraderie we’ve developed in a relatively brief period. Our aim was to earn promotion and secure the gold, but we were bested by the exceptionally skilled Belgium team.” This team spirit is a testament to the quick chemistry established despite a relatively new roster.

Facing the Challenge, Flexing the Strategy

A gauntlet of opponents, including a recently relegated Georgia squad, demanded tactical flexibility. “The team underwent thorough strategic preparation for each game, involving video analysis and classroom sessions to customize our systems according to the strengths and tactics of our opponents,” Frear explains. “Each team we encountered presented unique challenges owing to their personnel and playing style.”

Shining Stars and Never-Say-Die Spirit

While Coach Frear highlights the team-first mentality, hat-trick heroes Stefan Amston and Jackson Fontaine deserve a shoutout. These are just two examples of the dedication and skill that shone throughout the tournament.

2024 IIHF ICE HOCKEY MEN World Championship BULGARIA-Sofia Division II, Group B: Day 5 – New Zealand – Turkey

Manager Domigan adds another layer to the story: “(Laughs) – We created a bit of a “meme” video [Note: it’s on our IG page if you want to find it] prior to the tournament where players guessed who the top points scorer would be, and as a joke, we edited everyone’s answer to be Jackson Fontaine instead of their real answer. Funnily enough, Jackson ended up scoring the most number of goals and being the second ranked points scorer (7G, 1A) for the team, behind tournament best defenceman, Stefan Amston (5G, 4A). Both Fontaine and Amston scored a hat-trick each, so it’s hard to look past their performances.”

Resilience is another hallmark of a successful team, and the Ice Blacks proved theirs. “The comeback against Bulgaria in the final period stands out,” Frear says. “Down 5-2, we clawed our way back to force overtime and secure an important point through an OT loss.” Domigan agrees: “The game against Bulgaria didn’t start the way we wanted/needed it to… But the players dug deep, and the locker room after each intermission was full of guys that maintained their composure and weren’t willing to give up.”

Eyes on the Prize: Climbing the Next Mountain

The silver medal is a badge of honor, but the Ice Blacks have their sights set on gold. “Division 2A is the next challenge,” Frear declares. The focus will be on player development, individual skill refinement, and tactical knowledge. But fostering that strong team culture will be just as crucial, as Domigan emphasizes: “A gold medal and moving up a division is the obvious answer, and I think in the short term, continuing to build on the success from 2024 and further developing our rookie players will be key to our success.”

A Bright Future for Kiwi Hockey

This success story is a boon for hockey in New Zealand. “The positive results from all our national teams this year show we’re on the right track,” beams Frear. “Hopefully, media coverage and public interest will translate to more players, sponsors, and improved training programs.” The future of Kiwi hockey is definitely looking bright. Domigan agrees: “If you look at all our national team’s performances this year, there is a lot to be proud of, especially in the younger age group categories. A gold for our U18 Women’s, silver for U20 Men’s and the U18 Men’s staying in their division for the first time after being promoted all hint towards the sport developing well in New Zealand, particularly in our younger age groups where the future of the sport exists.”

United We Stand, Divided We Fall… Apart in an Elevator?

Team spirit is more than just a cliche for these guys. Senior players led by example, while the team actively dismantled any regional divides, as Domigan explains: “Simply getting the team and all the equipment there is one of the hardest parts! When you’re dealing with 40 hours of international travel each way, a lot can go wrong very quickly. Thankfully, our hosts were good to deal with and in the end, any schedule or logistical problems were resolved relatively easily.”

This unity is a recipe for success, both on and off the ice. The age diversity also proved to be a strength. “The younger guys definitely bring a lot of energy and swagger to the team,” says Domigan. “Seeing the younger guys ask questions from the older players, and the older players taking the time to explain things and give advice was great to see. It was just a real sense of camaraderie and coming together from all involved to work towards a common goal.”

Domigan shares a moment that exemplifies the team’s relaxed focus: “That, or the time Schneider and Strayer were stuck in a broken elevator for about 40 minutes before a game, causing them to be late to the rink and them shrugging it off as a bit of a laugh and moving on.”

Looking Ahead: Building on Success

While both Frear and Domigan acknowledge the challenges – limited time together compared to other teams – they are optimistic. Frear highlights areas for growth: “Fitness, purpose, and on-ice performance were all on point. The biggest room for improvement will always be in time spent together as a team.” Domigan agrees: “We had 9 rookies in the team this year, and naturally, it’s a big step up for them to play against larger and more experienced international players, as well as finding their own place in the team and working well with players they normally play against in the NZIHL.”

2024 IIHF ICE HOCKEY MEN World Championship BULGARIA-Sofia Division II, Group B: Day 1 – Chinese Taipei – New Zealand

The Last Word: A Team Effort

The Ice Blacks’ journey to Sofia wasn’t without logistical hurdles. Domigan laughs: “Simply getting the team and all the equipment there is one of the hardest parts!” Thankfully, the team spirit prevailed: “If I had to put it down in one word, I would say professional. The players maintained a positive, embracing environment throughout the tournament.” This sense of unity, forged despite regional divides and language barriers, is a powerful testament to the team’s character.

The Ice Blacks may have settled for silver this time, but their performance in Sofia is a springboard for future success. With a talented young core, a strong coaching staff, and a growing national hockey movement behind them, the future of Kiwi hockey is heading in the right direction.