Report by Travis Crickard, Botany Swarm Assistant Coach
Home sweet home! After a lengthy road swing through Queenstown and Christchurch followed by a bye week, the Swarm were back in action on home ice against the Dunedin Thunder. Heading into the weekend, the Swarm led the Thunder by one point in the race for third place and the final playoff position in the NZIHL standings.
Game 1 – Saturday 21 July
The Swarm hit the ice on a mission to jump out to an early lead. Within the first four minutes of the game, the Swarm scored three goals (Kozak, Challis, Fraser) to chase Thunder goaltender Toby Schuck from the game. The Thunder’s Jacob Hurring replied for the Thunder in the four-minute flurry of goals. Brandon Egli finished the first period scoring to make the game 3-2 heading into the second.
In the second, the Swarm traded a pair of goals (Lawrence, R. Hopkinson) with the Thunder (Gavoille, Plaisir) to make the game 5-4. The third period saw the Thunder score a pair of goals from Benjamin Gavoille and Charles Plaisir to take their first lead of the game. The Thunder would not surrender the lead and took the game 6-5.
Joel Rindelaub stopped 31 of 37 for the Swarm while Kane Easterbrook stopped 33 shots on 35 attempts for the visiting Thunder. This game was a loss on many fronts for the Swarm as not only were the Swarm without the services of Lucas Bombardier, Declan Weir and Stephen Mawson, but they also lost Jordan Challis to injury resulting from an awkward collision that occurred late in the third period.
Watch Game 1 highlights here
Game 2 – Sunday 22 July
A very short-staffed Swarm sought to rebound from a one-goal loss the night before. The first stanza featured Liam Kinney of the Thunder and Ritchie Hopkinson of the Swarm trading goals to make it 1-1 after the first period.
In the second, Harry Ferguson opened the scoring for the Swarm to make it 2-1 but from there it was all Thunder. They scored seven unanswered goals courtesy of Benjamin Gavoille (2), Paris Heyd (2), Joseph Orr, Liam Kinney, and Jacob Hurring. Already without Bombardier, Weir, Challis, and Mawson for this game the Swarm lost Ritchie Hopkinson to injury. As a result the coaching staff was forced to juggle the line-up throughout the game. This included Matas Barakauskas and Oliver Hay acting as swingmen by playing forward and defense at certain portions of the game.
Michael Hopkinson started the game for the Swarm and stopped 18 of 24 shots while Colin Langham stopped 15 of 17 shots in relief. Kane Easterbrook was solid for the Thunder stopping 31 of 33 shots.
After the weekend, Assistant Captain KC Ball felt that the loss of so many impact players caused the team to have less puck in each game. This forced the group to defend more and conversion rate on offensive opportunities to drop. Ball felt that the team must not use this as a crutch after a defeat.
Captain Andrew Hay feels that although the team is probably leaving this past weekend with a bad taste in it’s mouth, the players understand that if they play how they know they can there is still a fighting chance at the third playoff spot. Despite the losses of so many key players, Hay feels that the team can focus on the process and still have a solid week of training leading up to the next round against the West Auckland Admirals.
Watch Game 2 highlights here
Despite the losses, the weekend did feature many causes for celebration. A special congratulations goes out to Scott Armstrong who made his NZIHL debut for the Swarm this weekend. Scott appeared in both games this weekend. Great work Scott!
Milestone Alert: Logan Fraser appeared in his 50th career NZIHL game on Saturday. Congratulations Logan!
Swarm’s Three Stars for Round 6 are: 1) Ritchie Hopkinson 2) Logan Fraser 3) Andrew Hay
The Swarm will now head to Avondale for a two game set against the West Auckland Admirals on Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 July.