Hard work, determination and grit has paid off for the North Otago hockey team.

On its home turf, North Otago won the Ian Smith Tournament for the first time in six years, beating Central Otago 1-0 in the final on Sunday.

Jonty Naylor put the winning goal through, and North Otago Hockey president Jared Ovens, who also played in the team, said it was a thrilling win for the district.

“We were pretty damn excited,” Ovens said.

“It was more relief really. We knew we had a pretty good team and, going into that final game, we knew we had to get a result and we got it.”

The two-day tournament between North Canterbury, South Canterbury, Central Otago, Eastern Southland, Invercargill and North Otago was a success.

All matches were tight and hard fought. North Otago drew 2-2 with Mid Canterbury in its opener, but went on to have an impressive 4-1 win against Eastern Southland, and beat Invercargill 1-0 before the final.

“We all just played for each other, really.

“It was just the determination and the grittiness. They were all very very tough games and could have gone either way, but we just stuck to our guns and didn’t panic.”

The influence of New Zealand youth hockey representative Ethan Booth helped to get the side through the tough battles.

“We just trusted Ethan who was coaching to guide us there. We’d never played in that kind of formation ever before, so we all trusted what he was telling us and it worked.”

North Otago players Josh Dalziel, Nick Dalziel, Jonty Naylor, Josh Caldwell and Fraser Hollamby were named in the tournament team, which selectors described as one of the hardest teams to pick in the Ian Smith Tournament’s history.

Now, Ovens has his eyes set on a new challenge for North Otago – the National Hockey Championship.

“Ever since I’ve been involved in North Otago we haven’t sent a team up there.”

The association would look to send not only a men’s team to the championship this year, but also a women’s.