|Ben Smith and Anton Hood, NZ v Switzerland. Photo © WCF / Richard Gray|
24 Feb 2019 – New Zealand's Junior Men's Curling side achieved their major goal at their first-ever World Championship, which has just concluded in Liverpool, Nova Scotia.
Their four wins saw them finish in sixth place overall, allowing them to automatically re-qualify for next year's event and avoid the World Junior "B" qualifier.
This is by far the best result for any New Zealand Junior side and could herald a step change for New Zealand curling.
Although their sixth-place finish was guaranteed before their last game against Canada, the team were still keen for a good performance.
However, an on-fire Canadian side had other ideas and took an emphatic 12-1 win.
NZ skip Matt Neilson was disappointed with the result, but buoyant about their prospects for the 2020 World Championship. "We wanted to play well," he said, "but we made a few mistakes from the start and were put on the back foot".
"We’re definitely going to be stronger next year. We will have a full year of training and we’re really looking forward to it. This tournament has given us a lot to learn from."
National coach Peter de Boer was full of praise for the all-Otago team of Neilson, Anton Hood, Ben Smith, Hunter Walker, and Jayden Apuwai-Bishop.
Stealing three of their wins in an extra end showed their character, he said. "They fight like tigers and due to their humble, unflappable Kiwi style, when the going gets tough they roll their sleeves up."
He commented that the Kiwi side was playing just their 16th competition game of the season when they played the USA, whereas the USA has played in 14 full tournaments.
"This young Kiwi side has real potential," he continued. "But we will need to find the resources to send them overseas to play more high-level competitive games."
Canada went on to win the Men's gold medal from Switzerland (silver) and Scotland (bronze). Norway, USA, and New Zealand rounded out the top six sides to automatically re-qualify for next year's World Junior Championship. The Women's event was won by Russia, with Canada second and Switzerland third.
The venue for the 2020 World Junior Curling Championship is to be confirmed.
Nerves of Steal
|Team NZ celebrate after their win over China. Photo © WCF / Richard Gray|
22 Feb 2019 – The New Zealand Men's team competing at the World Junior Curling Championships in Liverpool, Nova Scotia had a vital 6-4 win over China this morning.
The result guarantees the side a top six place in the event with one game still to play, and direct entry into next year's World Championship.
The win was earned the hard way, by a steal in an extra end after the scores were tied after the regulation ten ends.
Three of the side's four wins to date have been scored in identical fashion, testament to the cool heads and mental toughness required at this level of play.
"That was pretty huge for us," said Kiwi skip Matt Neilson, "especially after a few losses."
The side had lost both games on the previous day, to Switzerland and USA.
"The mentality is important, we know we can go down three into the last two ends and come out on top," he continued. "We’re going to play as far as we can, we’re still going to play the next game as if we’re not qualified and try to go out on a high."
New Zealand play Canada overnight Friday (NZ time) in their last round robin game.
The top four sides will then continue to the medal rounds. Scotland and Canada have already qualified for playoffs, and the other two places will be fought out in the last round between Norway, Switzerland and the USA.
These five teams, plus New Zealand, qualify directly for the 2020 World Junior Championships. The venue for this is yet to be confirmed.
Next year's hosts will also qualify, with the final three teams determined by next year's World Junior "B" Championship - the path NZ followed for this event.
NZ Junior Men in contention at World Champs
|NZ skip Matt Neilson. Photo © WCF / Rachel MacRae|
20 Feb 2019 – The New Zealand Men's team competing at the World Junior Curling Championships in Liverpool, Nova Scotia are well placed after five of their nine round robin games. Their 3-2 win-loss record has them sitting in a logjam of five teams tied for second place on the leaderboard, behind the unbeaten Scots.
The Kiwis got off to the perfect start at their maiden World Championship by winning their first two games, 5-4 over Italy and 7-5 against Sweden.
NZ skip Matt Neilson wasn't getting too carried away after his side's stunning fightback to steal the win in an extra end against Sweden.
"It gives us a lot of confidence going into the rest of the tournament," he said. "We set our goals pretty achievable. That’s to stay in the A-Division after this year."
They dropped their first game (6-7 to Norway) early on the third day but bounced back late in the day to steal another extra end win, this time over Germany 6-5.
Neilson was pleased with his side's progress. "I felt our performance was better than the last few games," he commented, "and that was hard-fought by Germany. It could have gone either way."
The Kiwis were well beaten 6-2 by runaway leaders Scotland in their most recent game earlier today, and Neilson was quick to praise his opponents.
"They are definitely a well-played team, the Scots boys" he said. "We didn’t feel we were playing too bad, but they were just executing. It’s a loss but we’re onto the next one already. We’re onwards and upwards from here, we’re going to keep our heads high."
There are no easy games at this event, with New Zealand still to face Switzerland, USA, China and Canada.
The round robin will finish on Friday, and the top four sides will continue to the medal rounds. The top six teams, plus next year's hosts, will qualify directly for the 2020 event. The remaining three places will be determined at a World Junior "B" qualifier, the path NZ followed for this event.
NZ Junior Men set for World stage
|Matthew Neilson at the 2019 World Junior B Championship. Photo © WCF / Alina Pavlyuchik|
12 Feb 2019 – The New Zealand Junior Men's curling team are acclimatising and practising in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada ahead of the World Junior Championships which start in nearby Liverpool this Saturday, 16 February.
They will make history when they play Italy in their first game, being the first Kiwi side to play at a full World Junior Championship.
Matthew Neilson, Anton Hood, Ben Smith, Hunter Walker, and Jayden Apuwai-Bishop earned their entry by winning the gold medal at last month's World Junior B Championship, beating China in the semi-final and then Italy in the final.
These three teams will meet hosts Canada and six other pre-qualified sides in Liverpool.
"We are definitely going into the tournament with a lot of excitement but also a lot of belief in ourselves," said skip Matthew Neilson before they headed to Canada. "The team all have put in the hard yards and just making it to the World Juniors has already been a huge achievement for us. However, our hunger hasn't stopped there."
"Our goal is to stay at the Worlds for next few years to come and prove to ourselves that we are capable of things we thought were impossible."
"We are humbled by all the support we have had over the last few months from other teams around the world and locally, and we are very, very grateful to World Curling Federation for helping us travel to the World Juniors."
"We can't wait to get out there and enjoy ourselves."
Their coach Peter de Boer added, "I'm excited for both of what these guys have achieved and what they could achieve! I'm looking forward to watching them represent NZ with pride, passion and no small amount of skill."
The teams will play a full round robin through until Friday 22nd, with New Zealand's game against Sweden to be live streamed on World Curling TV's YouTube channel at 8:00am this Monday 18th (NZ time).
After the round robin the top four sides will qualify for playoffs, and the medal games will take place on Saturday 23rd.