NZIHL Ones To Watch

NZIHL Ones To Watch

This season in the NZIHL, we have seen hockey regain some hype and excitement from imports returning to young, upcoming players emerging and showcasing the talent that resides in Aotearoa. Here, we will look at a selected group of young players who are under the age of 20, who have stood out and are showcasing their skills home in the NZIHL and abroad.

Axel Ruski Jones from the Skycity Stampede has been an imposing presence among the forwards in the Southern Hemisphere’s very own “Hockey Town”. Standing at 6ft 4 and just 18 years old, Axel has seamlessly adapted to his first full year in the NZIHL.  With the past couple of years split between growing in height and in skill with the OHA Academy in Canada, Axel has effectively contributed to an already dominant Stampede team.

Photo Credit: James Alan Photograpy | West Auckland Admirals vs Skycity Stampede

In 14 games this year, he tallied 2 goals and 3 assists, accumulating 5 points while maintaining a commendable plus-minus rating of +3 for a junior player. He also maintained a healthy shot count of 13 for the season, resulting in a shooting percentage of 15.38%. Following this NZIHL season, Axel is set to return to North America to continue his Junior Hockey journey in the USPHL Premier Division with The Florida Jr Blades.

Heading further South to Dunedin, two players who truly stood out and secured their place on the list of top scorers in the 2023 league are Jack Lewis and Ian Audas.

Both players entered the league during the 2020-2021 season and have progressively improved year by year. Now, at 18 years old, they’ve become a formidable force. Beyond the Dunedin Thunder’s imports, Ian and Jack have led their team with 12 and 11 points respectively. Ian showcased his versatility at both ends of the ice, concluding the season with 6 goals and 6 assists. Meanwhile, Jack demonstrated his scoring prowess by netting 8 goals and contributing 3 assists.

For a Dunedin Thunder team facing adversity, this duo emerged as a bright spot on the team and we all look forward to watching them in the coming NZIHL seasons.

As one of the oldest amongst this group at 20 years old, Flynn Hayward-Jones has just finished his 5th season with the Admirals, amounting to 57 games in that time (not including the Mako games he has featured in). His maturity on the ice is evident and has translated into effective leadership at the U20 National level.

Photo Credit: Chenzo | West Auckland Admirals vs Phoenix Thunder

This season, as a defenseman, he made substantial contributions with 5 goals and 5 assists, amassing 10 points across 16 games. He maintained a positive plus-minus rating of +1 despite the challenges faced by the Admirals. Notably, Flynn secured 1 game-winning goal and 2 powerplay goals. He managed 14 shots on goal, boasting an impressive shooting percentage of 35.71% from the point.

Following the Semi-Final exit from the NZIHL Playoffs, Flynn will embark on a new challenge by moving to the Netherlands to join the GIJS Groningen in the renowned Eredivisie league.

Jacob Carey is a name well known in the NZIHL already, and it’s hard to believe he is only 17. 

Jacob’s first year in the NZIHL came in the 2020-2021 season and made his mark with a Rookie of the Year Award and 9 Goals, 9 Assists in 16 Games for 18 Points with the Red Devils. Just to remind you he was 15…

Since then, Jacob’s journey included playing for the A21 Academy in Canada, where he accumulated 137 points in 102 games. After concluding his school year in Canada, Jacob rejoined the Red Devils, promptly making an impact scoring in his first game back. He ended the NZIHL season with 12 points in 6 games.

Jacob is set to continue his promising hockey career in North America, with details of that transfer yet to be announced.

The 2023 season for the Botany Swarm has been a surprise, captivating both NZIHL fans and competitors alike. The Swarm has made a remarkable turnaround from the previous year, dominating the league and narrowly missing first place to the Skycity Stampede. Amid this success, a core trio of young players has emerged: Jackson Fontaine, Luke Simons, and Ivan Dalmatau.

Photo Credit: Chenzo | Botany Swarm vs Skycity Stampede

These three players have performed with the poise of seasoned veterans, combining speed, physicality, and occasional highlight-reel goals.

The three have produced like well-aged veterans, with fast pace, a physical presence, and a highlight goal or two to top it off. The Swarm faithful have been rewarded for the past several years of rebuilding with Luke Simon’s cool, calm, and collected presence, Fontaine’s speed and tenacity, and Ivan Dalmatau’s fearlessness, high level of skill, and ability to pull a highlight goal out of the bag. 

Photo Credit: Chenzo | Botany Swarm vs Skycity Stampede

All three have brought a winning attitude to the 2023 season, reflected in their impressive numbers. Luke Simon contributed 4 goals and 4 assists, amassing 8 points while maintaining a +21 rating on the offense-heavy Swarm side. Jackson Fontaine, in his second full NZIHL season, managed 6 goals and 6 assists in 12 games despite battling injuries. Ivan Dalmatau, the newest fan favorite of the league (dubbed ‘Mad Guy’ for his quirky neck guard), secured a spot in the top ten points list. Over 16 games, Ivan achieved 12 goals and 7 assists, totaling 19 points and narrowly missing out to Petr Stepanek for the most game-winning goals on the Swarm with 4.

With some players yet to complete their NZIHL season, as the Birgel Cup Finals are set to begin, the emergence of young talent has been enthralling. These players continue to break molds, demonstrating that age is merely a number. As more players like those mentioned make their debut in the NZIHL, the future holds exciting prospects for the league.