Speed Kills

The West Auckland Admirals downed the Dunedin Thunder 7-3 in New Zealand Ice Hockey League action. The Thunder took a 2-1 lead in the first period, but the Admirals speed and defensive miscues by the Thunder resulted in the loss.

The Dunedin Thunder made their season debut against the West Auckland Admirals on Saturday evening. Before the game, Head Coach Matt Hladun said “It’s important to start the season on a positive note. We’ve worked hard to get ready for tonight and just need to keep composed and focused on what everyone needs to do individually and how that translates to working as a team to get the job done.” The team had an intense training camp and split their four pre-season games.

The Thunder unveiled their team this week, with Paris Heyd being named team captain and Benji Gavoille and Dylan Devlin being named assistant captains. The Thunder have brought in four imports: Pierre-Luc Coulombe and Greg Wilson from Canada, Easton Oliver from the US and Juris Berzins from Latvia and hope to improve on 2016’s last place finish.

The Admirals were looking to build on a pair of opening season wins against cross-town rivals the Botany Swarm. Danny Lee got the start between the pipes for the Thunder and Csaba Kercso-Magos got the start in goal for the Admirals.

The Admirals got on the board first following a sustained period of pressure against the Thunder’s fourth line. A quick wrist shot from the low slot by Justin Daigle at 2:54 gave the visitors a 1-0 lead.

The Thunder tied it at 1 apiece on a goaltending miscue. Without any better options, Defenseman Dylan Devlin lobbed a shot towards goal from about half-way that fooled Kercso-Magos at 4:37. This was an early break for the Thunder from the normally solid Admirals goalie.

The Admirals got an early powerplay opportunity from a penalty to Easton Oliver for roughing at 5:02, but the Thunder killed it off without incident.

A penalty to Dale Harrop for unsportsmanlike conduct gave the Thunder their first powerplay opportunity at 13:37. They quickly capitalized on a goal by Benji Gavoille, with assists to Heyd and Easton at 13:49 giving the Thunder a 2-1 lead.

The last few minutes of the period saw some excellent end to end action, with an uptick in physical play and good saves from both netminders. Shots were 12 for the Admirals and 9 for the Thunder in an evenly-matched period.

The second period started with an early powerplay opportunity for the Admirials following a delay of game penalty on Tristan Darling at 1:27. The Admirals had several shots and hit crossbar, but they could not beat Lee.

However, the Admirals did tie the score at two following a sustained stretch of pressure, on a goal from Andrew Hart, assisted by Sandoy and Rooney at 4:38.

An enormous glove save by Lee on a 2-on-1 kept the score tied at 2. The Thunder looked sloppy in their own zone and the Admirals took the lead on a defensive breakdown by the Thunder with Nicholas Henderson notching the go ahead goal at 6:11.

A poor change by the Thunder lead to an Admirals breakaway, but again Lee was up to the challenge and kept the Admirals from extending their lead.

A powerplay to The Admirals on an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to Berzins lead to another goal for the visitors from Dale Harrop at 10:25, giving the Admirals a two goal cushion.

The Thunder took a second delay of game penalty at 13:39 when Gavoille sent a puck over the glass in his own zone. The game was threatening to get away from the Thunder at this point, but a good penalty kill seemed to settle things down for the home town team. And for the next several minutes the play was back and forth.

The Admirals stretched the lead to 5-2 on defensive breakdown with Steven Huish streaking towards the goal unmarked and picking up a nice pass from Spiller at 19:08.

The second period ended with a late powerplay opportunity for the Thunder following a hooking penalty on Andrew Hart. However, the Thunder were unable to convert.

The Admirals were too quick and the Thunder were not sharp with a number of missed defensive assignments and some panicked play in their own zone. The Admirals looked quicker and more composed in the period in which they outshot the Thunder 25 to 8, dominating play.

The Thunder capitalized on the man advantage early in the third period with a goal from Joe Orr on a tipped shot from the point by Easton Oliver at 1:07.

This gave the home team a lift and they forced a couple of saves from Kercso-Magos.

However, the visitors were able to restore the three goal lead on a goal from Dickson at 5:45 on a defensive zone turnover leading to a point blank shot that Lee couldn’t handle.

The Thunder had a chance to narrow the lead on a powerplay following an interference penalty on Frazer, but they could not convert, despite good puck movement and some good shots.

The Admirals extended their lead to four at 15:20 on a wrist-shot from the point by Gareth McLeish that seemed to deflect off a Thunder player and over the shoulder of Lee who had dropped.

Shots in the third period were 11 all, with the Admirals outshooting the Thunder 48-28 in the contest.

The two teams square off again Sunday afternoon.

Dunedin Thunder vs West Auckland Admirals – 10 June 2017, Dunedin Ice Stadium
By Richard Audas