By Martin

The New Zealand U18 women’s national team, which competed internationally for the first time, won the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia that also included senior national teams from six Asian countries that are not involved in the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship program.

The Kiwi girls had an average age of 16 compared to 28 years for the team of host country Thailand, which finished in second place, but it dominated the tournament in five games and edged Thailand 4-3 midway the tournament in a game that eventually decided about first place.

It was a close game with a 28-25 shot on goal advantage for the young New Zealanders. And the outcome must have annoyed the Thai women since they were leading 2-0 midway the game after two goals from Nuchanat Ponglerkdee, who eventually scored a hat trick and was the undisputed scoring leader of the tournament with 27 goals and 18 assists in… six games!

The New Zealanders didn’t have the same firepower and were second in goal difference throughout the tournament but they scored the important goals in the second half of the game against the Thai. In front of 237 fans at The Rink Ice Arena, which is located on the seventh floor of the CentralPlaza Grand Rama 9 shopping mall in the Ratchadapisek area of Bangkok, power-play goals from Beth Scott and Jana Kivell before the end of the second period tied the game at two.

The teams continued to exchange goals in the first five minutes of the third period. Ponglerkdee tied the game at three just 12 seconds after a goal from New Zealand’s Kirstin Gerken but two minutes later Scott scored her second power-play marker of the game and this 4-3 goal stayed as the game-winner. The New Zealand girls defended the lead while the Thai made their comeback attempt difficult with four minor penalties during the last ten minutes of play.

Scott was second in goal scoring at the tournament and fifth in points behind four Thai players with 17 goals and 19 points.

For the rest of the tournament both the New Zealanders and Thai dominated their opponents. Singapore was the best of the rest by not losing double digits while beating the other four opponents including fourth-ranked India (9-1), newcomer Philippines (6-2), the United Arab Emirates (16-2) and Malaysia (4-1).

India earned its fourth place after its first-ever win in an international game, 4-3 against the Philippines in their second match of the tournament, and by following up with a 5-4 victory against Malaysia on the last day. The Philippines also had six points. After starting with three losses they earned their first win against Malaysia (3-1) and later beat the United Arab Emirates 3-2.

The bottom half of the standings saw fierce competition as no team finished without a win. The Emirati women finished in sixth place with their only win coming on the second day, 6-4 against India, while Malaysia started the tournament with a 5-4 overtime victory against the Emirates but didn’t collect further points throughout the tournament.

The Tournament Directorate named the Philippines Ma Jessica Cabili as best goaltender, Mei Wah Wan from Malaysia was the best defender and Wen Lin Lim from Singapore best forward. Indian forward Tsewang Chuskit was voted MVP after scoring six goals for India.