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New Zealand under-20 representatives arrived back in Otago this week with mixed feelings over the side's bronze medal at the division three world championships.
Ending the two-week tournament with a 6-0 loss to host Bulgaria in the semifinal left the Junior Ice Blacks wondering what might have been.
After beating Mexico and Turkey, the New Zealanders had confidence going into the semifinal and had already exceeded expectations, goaltender Aston Brookes said.
''We're a really, really young team. We didn't know what to expect. We weren't too sure going into it and you never know what the other teams are going to bring.
''After the first game we knew we could definitely compete and that helped with confidence.''
After saving 30 shots on goal against Mexico, and maintaining his good form through the tournament, Brookes (19) was named most valuable goaltender.
Brookes was joined in the squad by fellow Stampede players Mitchell Frear (19), Connor Harrison (19) and Callum Burns (16), and Dunedin Thunder's Tristan Darling (18) and Ben Roth (17).
Under-20 and Stampede coach Steve Reid was pleased with his side's effort and delighted with the contribution of the Otago players.
''Mitchell stepped in as captain. He played his consistent self, really. He did a really good job. He carried the back end of this side,'' Reid said.
''Obviously, Aston winning goalie of the tournament was huge. We needed him to play amazing and he really produced for pretty much the whole tournament.''
Assistant coach and Stampede player Michael Sommer said the squad dramatically improved along the way.
''Right from day one, when we got to camp, we had such a varying array of skill level on the team,'' Sommer said.
''One of the big things we noticed is that the boys worked so hard. They just didn't stop working for the two weeks they were there. Whether it was on ice, off ice, they worked their butts off.''
China, which beat New Zealand 4-1 in the round robin, won the tournament.