The New Zealand Women’s Under 18 ice hockey team claimed their first ever IIHF World Championships game win overnight New Zealand time.
This history making team has shown tremendous growth over the course of their time at the IIHF Division 2, Group B event in Sofia, Bulgaria, with the culmination of hard work and dedication to their common goals finally coming to fruition.
Within the first two and half minutes New Zealand’s #19, Katya Blong, scored the first goal. Due to their relentless fore-checking and constant pressure, a second goal was produced from a pass by #13, Inge Kemp, to #6, Indie Lewis, at the point. Bulgaria fought back and secured a late goal at the end of the first period with the period ending 2-1.
The second period saw Bulgaria come out strong, managing to equalize, finishing the period 2-2. Despite the equalizing goal, NZ remained confident.
At the beginning of the third period, the Kiwi players dug deep and kept battling, which allowed #13 Kemp to connect with #19 Blong, who scored her second goal of the night, taking back the lead for NZ. Bulgaria pulled their goalie with one minute remaining. Polly Bennetts, #23, took all her learnings from her time away to gain the red line before taking the empty net shot, sealing the historic victory for NZ. The final score was 4-2 in favour of NZ in front of a boisterous home Bulgarian crowd.
Breane Byck, #1, the starting goalie in net, produced another solid game for NZ, having 20 saves on the night. Camryn Linton, #9, was awarded best player for team NZ for her tireless work ethic all over the ice.
NZWU18 team captain, Caitlin Hollyer, said “it was a very stressful game, but that the girls came together and dominated the end of the game to take out the win“. Head Coach, Michelle Cox, added that the future of NZ women’s ice hockey is looking extremely bright, “the players have worked incredibly hard for this result and I couldn’t be prouder of them for coming together in such a short period of time”.
The 2023 IIHF World Championships mark just the second time the NZWU18 team have represented New Zealand at an official IIHF World Championship, having previously played regional tournaments such as the Challenge Cup of Asia, prior to 2020.
View the official game statistics on the IIHF website here: https://www.iihf.com/en/events/2023/ww18iib/gamecenter/playbyplay/40407/9-nzl-vs-bul