The 2018 New Zealand Ice Hockey League (NZHIL) season is now three rounds down, and despite having the bye in the last round, the West Auckland Admirals maintain their position at the top of the League.
The boys in blue opened their season away to the Dunedin Thunder, with a win and an overtime loss from the two games to secure four out of the available six points. Returning back to Auckland for the season home opener the following week, they matched up against the Southern Stampede from Queenstown, in a repeat of last year’s Birgel Cup Final. The Southerners won the Birgel in 2017, so this was always going to be a marquee date in the NZIHL calendar.
The Admirals settled into their work early, and took a 2-1 lead into the first period break on the back of goals to import Craig Peacock, and outstanding New Zealand forward Frazer Ellis. After the teams exchanged goals in the second, the Stampede looked dangerous trailing by a goal, and took a man advantage power-play. But in fact it was the home team who scored short-handed, as Ryan Ruddle pushed the lead to 4-2, from which the Stampede never recovered.
After the hard-fought clash on Saturday, it was clear that the defending champions, and class team of the NZIHL for the previous three seasons, would come out strong on the Sunday, and so it proved.
Csaba Kercso-Magos Jr got the start in between the pipes for the Admirals, whilst Ice Black Callum Burns was ruled out for the Stampede after sustaining a shoulder injury on Saturday. Colin McIntosh also made way for the Stampede, giving Kory Helowka the import spot for what would turn out to be an eventful debut!
It was again Ryan Ruddle who scored a big goal, taking a Phillips feed during four on four play and sneaking one past Daniel Lee in the Stampede net. Just two minutes later Justin Daigle walked the blue line with the puck and sent an exocet missile into the top corner for 2-0.
The Stampede pulled two goals back to level the contest, before the longest serving crew member of the pirate ship, Gareth McLeish, did good work to keep the puck in the zone, and then threw his best change-up pitch on goal, with the dangerous floater sinking just at the right moment to settle in the net. Strike 3!
The Stampede got into severe penalty trouble, with Helowka eventually being tossed from the game for penalties, and then abuse of the officials. Peacock once again took advantage and opened up the defence before a juicy rebound fell to Mike Verschuren, who gratefully accepted the open net in front of him. 4-3 Admirals.
Shaun Harrison and Dylan Dickson added further markers, as the Admirals swept the home series to take all six points.
The Admirals also took the first derby game away at Botany against the Swarm on June 16th, winning 5-4 in overtime, with Dutch import Mike Verschuren taking a five point haul with 2 goals and 3 assists.
The big matinee game between the Admirals and the Botany Swarm, which doubled as the second game in that NZIHL round, was played on Friday 22 June at Spark Arena.