Head coach Sophia Leon de la Barra of Oamaru has returned from Dunedin, where the New Zealand National Junior Women’s Ice Hockey Team hosted a five-game series against Australia’s Under-18 side.
As part of an initiative to develop women’s ice hockey in New Zealand, the National Junior Women’s Squad, the Junior Ice Fernz, was conceived and developed by de la Barra. Following an initial training camp in Dunedin in July, players were selected to represent New Zealand in the exhibition series.
The New Zealand roster included players from Dunedin, Gore, Christchurch, Auckland and one Kiwi-Canadian, while the Australian team included players from Perth, Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.
The first game of the series ended 2-2, with the Junior Ice Fernz showing grit and determination, coming from behind to tally the draw. The home side then made a clean sweep with three consecutive victories, producing fine performances for the impressive wins and demonstrating exceptional skill in passing and puck-movement.
de la Barra praised the players’ efforts and the strong team spirit shown throughout the series.
“The emphasis on teamwork and national pride to represent New Zealand was clear to any spectator watching the next three games in the series,” she said.
“If adversity reveals character, this exhibition series showed me that the Junior Ice Fernz are a remarkable group of young women capable of anything.”
Australian Head Coach Tamra Jones said the quality of New Zealand players had improved rapidly over the last decade.
“I wasn’t expecting this level of intensity and calibre of players from New Zealand. Ten years ago, our senior women’s team was beating the Kiwis by 25 goals,” she said.
The intense and physical nature of the series eventually took its toll on the tourists as the roster dwindled each game due to fatigue and injury. The visitors were forced to withdraw from game five due to a lack of personnel.
By JAMES FORD