A touch of Liam Stewart magic secured an Ice Blacks win in the first match of a three-game ice hockey series against Australia’s Mighty Roos, in Queenstown.
With only 90 seconds to go and the kiwis ahead by one goal deep in the Australian zone, the Roos called time and replaced their goalie with a sixth player in the hope of securing a draw.
But every minute is a long minute in ice hockey and as the battle around the goal intensified, the Ice Blacks pulled the puck far enough out for Stewart to wrangle possession and flick it to Jordan Challis to take the easy goal
The 6-4 win brought the crowd to their feet and provided a bonus for Stewart, the son of kiwi supermodel Rachel Hunter and rocker Rod Stewart, who was wearing the black jersey for the first time – and on his 25th birthday
Ice Blacks captain Nick Craig said Stewart had had a cracking debut, despite unlucky misses on several goal attempts, including a couple of occasions when the puck hit the posts.
“You could see he had wheels on out there.
“He was driving hard down the boards and I think he picked up a couple of points on the assist as well…he had a huge game on his debut.”
Stewart has previously represented Great Britain in the international arena and has been in prolific form for New Zealand Ice Hockey League frontrunners Queenstown Stampede, scoring a competition-best 18 goals during the regular season.
Thursday night’s game was the first in a three-match series dubbed Ice Hockey’s “Bledisloe Cup”.
It is the third year the competition has run as part of the Winter Games NZ, with the Australians and New Zealanders each having won a series previously.
Ice Blacks team manager Ross Burns said the Australians, who are one division higher than the kiwis in the world rankings, had brought a competitive team with them.
“They lost last year and they didn’t like that,” he said.
It was a unique opportunity for the New Zealanders to play some stronger competition as they aimed to climb a division at next year’s World Champs in Iceland.
“We’ve been in the same division for the last six years. It’s time.”
Craig said Thursday night’s match was a great start.
“It felt really good. We’ve only come together last night as a team with one training but we’ve got a few veterans back in the squad and a few newbies and we just put it all together tonight.”
The defencemen worked hard under unrelenting Australian pressure and the forwards played some fantastic offence with great passing and goals, he said.
Another highlight for the team was having Sky broadcast the series live for the first time, he said.
“The more exposure we get, the more opportunity for people to see us play and in turn more sponsorship on board.
“It is a tough sport to play in New Zealand – a minority sport and we pay a lot of money for the ice fees and our gear is quite expensive.”
Burns said it cost players between $4000 and $5000 each to represent New Zealand at a World Cup.
The series continues on Friday and Saturday nights at Queenstown Ice Arena.
They will be broadcast live on Sky Sport 9 from 6.50pm.