Ice hockey: Penguins return in fine style (+ video)

Dunedin Penguins B player Larry Nichvolodov breaks away during yesterday’s game against the Gore...
Dunedin Penguins B player Larry Nichvolodov breaks away during yesterday’s game against the Gore Beer Masters at the Dunedin Ice Stadium. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Big hits and plenty of goals - nothing changes in masters ice hockey.

Dunedin Penguins B dished up a 7-0 thrashing to the Gore Beer Masters in the opening game of Masters Games ice hockey competition at the Dunedin Ice Stadium yesterday.

But there is much more to the Masters Games than winning, including team camaraderie.

The majority of the Penguins B team has been together for eight years, and are now competing in their fourth Masters Games in Dunedin.

Captain Bret Dougherty (49), a general practitioner at Otago Student Health, is one of the players who first suited up in 2008.

‘‘This is the best I've ever played. For masters, it's the NHL,'' Dougherty said.

‘‘We are the ones that have fun. We are serious to the extent it matters; after that it's supposed to be for fun. A lot of us have played together all those four masters, so it's a bit of a cohesive unit.''

Dougherty was born and bred in the United States, and played ice hockey as a child in Minnesota.

He and his family moved to Dunedin eight years ago, the same time he got back into the sport he calls rough, fast and exciting.

Dougherty had not ventured into the games village for a night out before yesterday, but intends doing so before it all wraps up for another two years on Sunday.

The oldest player in Penguins B is 52-year-old Walter von Ballmoos, and the team also has a couple of women players taking part in the co-ed league.

One of those is Oamaru's Sophia Leon de la Barra (38), an Ice Ferns representative.

She has been playing ice hockey for 24 years and is set to represent the national team at the World Ice Hockey Championships in Ankara, Turkey, in March.

Leon de la Barra has also coached the New Zealand women's under-18 team in the past, and brings considerable experience to the Penguins B.

Day one of the competition finished at 10pm last night and will resume at 8.15am today, when Matt Damons play Australian side the Adelaide Vintage Reds.

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