After the fairly lopsided opening round of games, we took a second to see how the teams are looking and what may lie ahead for the 5 NZIHL teams for 2017
The Skycity Stampede head into the 2017 season looking for the 3-peat. Coming off a strong campaign last year and dispatching the Red Devils in 2-games in the finals, they hungry to retain the Birgel cup!
2017 round one saw the Stampede and the Red Devils re-live last year’s finals and again the Stampede came away with 2 decisive wins. On top of their imports, the Stampede have a solid bunch of Kiwis ready to take on the league, boosted by the likes of Ice Black, Adam Soffer who is a new addition to the team this year. However, losing a key player like Jade Portwood may hurt the teams chances of taking the silverware for a 3rd year in a row. Keep an eye on the Skycity Stampede, they are the team to beat!
One to watch: Canadian import, Colin McIntosh scored 5 goals and 2 assists in the opening weekend of the season. At 6 foot and 93kgs, he’s not one to be pushed around.
Canterbury Red Devils,
The Red Devils snuck into the finals last year when the Admirals lost their final game of the season to make their 5th consecutive finals appearance. Last year the Red devils lost a number of senior players and had to look to their youth to step up and keep the team competitive, which they obviously did. Can they make a 6th final?
After the 1st round this year they faced 2 tough defeats to the reigning champions in which head coach Matthew Sanford called the game “Borderline dirty” The 2nd game of the weekend they netted 4 goals against the Stampede which shows they can still compete against the top teams this year. They will be looking to get 2 wins against the Botany Swarm next weekend.
One to watch: Goaltender Damien King from Great Britain was a standout over the weekend stopping 88 percent of shots during an offensive onslaught from the Stampede. If the Devils can find a way to get the goals up, they will be a solid team with Damien between the pipes.
West Auckland Admirals,
Last season ended in heart break for the Admirals who were 1 win away from their first finals appearance since 2010. However, the teams is looking stronger every season. The last 2 years since head coach Csaba Kersco-Magos took over, the team has been stacking more and more wins. This season is looking to be a step in the right direction as the opening weekend saw the Admirals defeat the Botany Swarm 7-3 and a whopping 14-0.
The West Auckland Admirals have gained a great bunch of imports this year including Sweden native Henric Andersen, perhaps most famous for this blooper. Henric played for the Sweden National team in Under 18’s so will be a huge asset for the Admirals in their hunt for the cup! On top of the Imports, they managed to get Ice Blacks Ryan Ruddle and Dale Harrop on top of their 8 existing Ice blacks squad members to build a solid base of kiwi players.
One to watch: American T.J Battani has had an impressive Junior career playing alongside players like Nazem Kadri and Jake Muzzin in the OHL for the Kitchener Rangers. He tore the Botany Swarm apart in the opening weekend scoring 7 goals in 2 games.
The Botany Swarm head into this season with some existing challenges including the departure of long term coach Andrea Kaisser. In saying that, the Swarm always find a way to be competitive. Last season they took the 4 game series against cross town rivals, the Admirals. This year however that may not be the case after watching the first 2 games.
The Swarm have some serious fire power up front in their forwards with the likes of Ice Blacks Jordan Challis and the Hay Brothers. If they can sort out the apparent defensive issue then they should return to their winning ways.
One to watch: Alex Polosov, a long standing Swarm player. However this year he doesn’t count towards the Swarms import tally after getting residency in New Zealand. Having a player of Alex’s calibre in the team that doesn’t count towards your import spots is a significant boost for the Swarm.
The Dunedin Thunder sat out the opening weekend with a bye so little is currently known about the 2017 Thunder, even the full roster is under wraps. Looking at their pre season efforts, they are not the same team as 2016 in which they only saw 2 wins. They probably had the toughest pre season challenge of all the teams but they took 2 wins against last years finalists the Canterbury Red Devils and dropped both games against the Stampede.
Taking a 50% win record against the top 2 teams from the previous season is quite a feat for the Thunder as they finished in last place in 2016. A new coach and a few good looking imports may bring the Thunder back to their winning ways. Keep an eye out on the 10th of June against the West Auckland Admirals.
One to watch: After a team MVP award in this years Ice Blacks campaign in Auckland, Paris Heyd is back with the Dunedin Thunder. Paris has been with the Thunder since 2009 and last year the team definitely missed his offensive ability. If he can continue to produce at his 2015 rate (38 points in 16 games) then The Dunedin Thunder will be a strong contender for the cup!