As usual, the tournament has been crazy busy and I haven’t had time to write a post, so this is going to be a long one to cover all the highlights of our campaign. I was assistant captain of the Inline Ferns this year and while my performance was consistent across the tournament, I never really found my groove on the rink which has left me feeling a bit frustrated with myself overall. I’m putting it down to my training being so unsettled in Washington D.C. and its definitely made me more determined to find a way to train and play hockey while I’m working overseas. Overall though, while we didn’t finish the tournament in the placing I think we had the potential to achieve, we certainly have a lot to be proud of and the Inline Ferns are definitely on the map as team that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Head to head with Canada
Our first game of the tournament had us up against Canada. As expected the Canadians were a formidable team, but showed up this year without a few of their big name players and a considerably shorter roster than usual. We came into the game knowing that the outcome would be crucial in how we advance at the end of pool play. While we definitely felt the nerves during the first few shifts, we kept pace with the Canadians and it was an incredibly even game. We conceded a goal at the start of the second period, but kept up the fight. With less than a minute to go, captain Tara Tissink stepped around two Canadian defensemen to equalise and regulation time finished with the score locked 1-1. Since pool-play games can end on a tie there wasn’t any over-time and each team took away one point each.
A tough run against Spain
After our draw with Canada we were in a good place to advance from pool play as long as we continued to perform. Our game against defending silver medalists Spain was another tough match up. Looking back, our approach to this game was not that well thought out in terms of how to put ourselves in the best position going forward. We came out blazing with an offensive approach, but struggled to keep up with the speed of the Spanish team. While we held on throughout the first period, we couldn’t continue that work rate into the second period and conceded a lot of goals. Finishing with a heavy 7-1 loss.
Dominant against Australia
Our final pool play game was against Australia. At this point of the tournament we were locked with Canada on points (having both lost to Spain) and we assumed (there’s our first problem) that the team with the greatest ‘goal difference’ would advance to the quarter-finals in the higher ranked spot. Having lost to Spain by a whopping seven goals, we came out against Australia determined to make up that deficit. Our speed, team play and offensive drive paid off and we won the game convincingly. However upon closer inspection of the tournament rules, we learned that ‘goals against’ was the metric that would be used to decide the tie on points between us and Canada. So that heavy loss to Spain put us third in our pool and sent us to the quarter finals against the defending champions USA.
Epic battle against USA
Facing USA in the knock-out quarter-finals was a real blow for our tournament hopes. USA is an absolute powerhouse of inline hockey and our previous scores against them have always been at least a five goal deficit. But we knew that our chances of a top four placing rode entirely on this game and the pressure was on us to cause an upset that would change the whole tournament. From the start of the game we adopted an entirely defensive strategy of play, holding a box configuration in the defensive zone and keeping the Americans to the outside of the rink. Our goalie Sophie played the game of her life and saved shot after shot as we put everything on the line to hold USA out. By half time it was clear that our strategy was paying off. The score still 0-0 and USA were visibly frustrated by their inability to lure us out of the defensive zone which would have given them more space to out-skate us on their offensive rushes. Not long after the break, a strong shot crept under Sophie and USA were up 1-0. We continued to jump on the puck any time USA made a mistake and eventually it paid off as Anj Mulari shot past the USA goalie to level the score 1-1. We held this out through to the end of regulation time and as the game needed a result, we went into overtime. With every ounce of desperation we held it out again to take the game to a shootout. Unfortunately we couldn’t beat the USA goalie and lost the game, but by this time we had drawn quite a crowd. Even the Canadians were cheering behind us as they waited for their game, it was clear they wanted to see their rivals upset by the underdog NZ team. While we couldn’t pull it off in the end, we created quite a stir around the rink and there were a lot of people coming to congratulate us on an incredible performance against the defending champions, citing it as a game worthy of being the semi-final rather than the quarter-final.
Pure frustration against Argentina
Having lost the quarter-final (albeit in spectacular style) we were now in the play offs for 5th to 8th place. We matched up against Argentina who we have had strong wins against in the past. Perhaps it was the aftermath of such a big game the day before, but we seemed to have lost the grit and drive that made us so successful against USA. Nothing was working for us and the Argentinians were fierce in their drive to win. After a heartbreaking and frustrating game we lost 4-1.
A solid finish against Italy
After the loss to Argentina we ended up at the 7th/8th play-off game against Italy. We have had a mixed history against Italy, having won and lost to them by one goal in the previous two years. We had regrouped after the previous game, stepped up our communication and kept pace with a very physical Italian team. We kept our cool and while we conceded one goal in the first period, we came straight back with one of our own. Regulation time ended at a 1-1 tie, so we went to overtime again. We maintained our composure while the Italians appeared frantic, and in a stunning show of teamwork our rookie Jana Kivell scored the winning goal off passes from Hannah Jensen and Anj Mulari. You can watch the video on our facebook page here.
So while we didn’t achieve the placing that we wanted, we played some amazing hockey against the best in the world and had an amazing time doing. A huge thank you to our coach Brad and our manager Courtney for all their hard work and to all our friends, family and sponsors that helped us to get here. As always it’s an honour to represent New Zealand and I hope that all the girls can continue to do it for many more years because we have a lot more to do! I’ll leave you with a link to this awesome article about inline hockey by Puck Yeah NZ who have been our biggest supporters this year and have gone above and beyond to raise the profile of women’s hockey. Can’t wait to see what we can achieve for the sport moving forward!