A sunny Sunday evening saw Ireland take on South Africa in the 2011 IIHF World U18 Championship Division III Group B at the Lomas Verdes Rink in Mexico City, Mexico.
In the opening game of the tournament, Ireland lost out to South Africa by a score of 13 – 1. Ireland was unable to capitalise on an early powerplay when Uthman Samaai of South Africa received a two minute penalty for tripping. The Irish players were still finding their feet in the high altitude when South Africa took the lead after six minutes through their Captain Chad Williams. They had doubled their lead through Luke Carelse eleven seconds later before adding a short handed goal a further two minutes later.
From there, the teams traded penalties with Ireland’s Patrick Anderson and Rian Larkin going to the penalty box one after the other for kneeing and delaying the game respectively. This put Ireland on the back foot and allowed South Africa the opportunity to score on the powerplay. Larkin took another penalty before the end of the period for elbowing. Ireland needed to keep the penalties to a minimum if they were to have any chance of getting back into the game. Christopher (James) Devine was looking very strong in net making some solid stops. His defence needed to clear the loose pucks from the front of the net. The score after 20 minutes was 4 – 0.
South Africa bagged another goal early in the second period to make it 5 – 0. However, some indiscipline saw them go down a man and both teams went back and forth with one another for the next eight minutes before Ireland pulled one back. Eoghan Lafferty battled in the corner for the puck and it became loose in front the Mexican net. Jonathan Stewardson pounced on the loose puck and slotted home for Ireland’s first goal of the tournament. The Irish team were buzzing and they had a chance to finally get going.
However, the excitement was short lived as South Africa scored three unanswered goals within the next two minutes. One of those goals was on the powerplay after Matthew Meehan went to the penalty box for tripping. Ireland took a few more penalties before the end of the second period with Meehan, Larkin and Anderson all going to the penalty box. The penalties were tiring the team and giving South Africa too much room. South Africa added one more goal before the end of the period to make the score 9 – 1 after 40 minutes. Again, Devine had stopped fourteen shots while Conor Redmond was putting in a very mature performance for Ireland. He along with Larkin and Stewardson came close to doubling Ireland’s tally. A bit of luck is all that was needed.
The third period was another tough one for the Irish team with South Africa being patient and not getting discouraged when they were denied their chanes. Devine stopped a number of breakaways and chances from point blank range. He was looking solid and stopped a further fifteen shots but needed some support in stopping the South Africans from gaining easy access to the Irish net. Ireland conceded a further four goals in the third period to make it a final score of 13 – 1.
A tough game for the team no doubt, however, it’s important that they learn from their mistakes and take some positives from the game. First, the team needs to do what it can to avoid the penalty box. Penalties have been the downfall of many an Irish team in recent years but this team is young enough to get out of that habit sooner rather than later. However, there are some positives and they need to continue to support one another and their goalkeepers. There were several chances for the Irish in this game and if they keep plugging away then the goals will come. As they say, they have to KEEP THE FAITH!
Special congratulations go to Conor Redmond who was selected as Ireland’ best player. He carried the second line throughout the entire game and put in an extremely mature performance for one of the youngest players on the team. He won several face offs throughout the game and came close to scoring on more than one occasion. He’s definitely a player to watch for the rest of this tournament and a player that will play a huge part in the future of Irish ice hockey.
Final Score: Ireland 1 – 13 South Africa (0 – 4, 1 – 5, 0 – 4)
SOG: 10 – 56 (0 – 18, 6 – 19, 4 – 19)
PIM: 26 – 30 (6 – 16, 18 – 8, 2 – 6)
Goals: (28:12 – J. Stewardson, E. Lafferty)
Saves: C. Devine (43/56) – J. Nebe (9/10)