Sunday 12th May 2019

During the summer holidays and for three weeks during term one, I was privileged to play for the Under 18 and Under 20 New Zealand Ice Hockey teams.

Billy Sheard playing Ice Hockey for NZ U20
Billy Sheard playing Ice Hockey for NZ U20

In January the Under 20 team travelled to Reykjavik, Iceland to play in the division three world championships. We had a short four-day training camp in the city before the tournament started to get used to the time adjustment and playing with each other. This was the first the whole team had been together playing with each other. We had one warm-up game against the home team Iceland, we drew 2-2 which was an amazing result, however, the actual tournament didn’t go quite as well. We started the tournament with a tough opponent in China where we went down 10-1, and it's fair to say it could have been more. 

The rest of the pool play went in a similar fashion, and we ended up playing Iceland in the crossover to avoid relegation. The team was hopeful going into the match because we had proven we could skate with them before, however they played like a different team and beat us comfortably. We then had to play for the wooden spoon against South Africa, a team who relied on one player’s goal scoring ability to carry them through. We played our best game yet but went down 5-3. We were a young team with a lot to learn and work on if we wanted to compete with the other nations. Iceland is a beautiful country, however, we didn’t get to see it for very long because the were only 5 hours of daylight each day. We did have some chances to go sightseeing and went to the world-renowned blue lagoon, which is naturally heated by geysers, which provided an escape from the harsh Iceland winter. This was a personal highlight and great adventure. 

Halfway through term one the Under 18 national team went to Sofia, Bulgaria, for the division 3A world championships. We first stopped in a small town in Romania called Gheorgini, the home town of our assistant coach for a pre-tournament training camp. This was a very successful camp and we had high hopes going into the tournament in Sofia. Our first game was against Israel, which was an extremely close game, tied at the end but we, unfortunately, came away second best in overtime. We then played Turkey, in a tough contest the game was tied with 10 seconds remaining, unfortunately, luck still wasn’t on our side and Turkey scored with just a few seconds to go. Mexico was our last chance at a win, which was looking likely again with seconds to go we held the lead 4-3 only to concede once more with seconds remaining and go on to lose in a shootout. Bulgaria is also a fascinating country rich with history and culture and while the results didn’t go our way I can comfortably say I learnt a lot while away and would do it all over again. I encourage all boys to take any opportunities to play and travel in a team, it's an awesome experience even if you don’t win.