New Zealand ice hockey suffered a three year drought of competing on the world stage due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This drought came to an end this year, when all of New Zealand’s national teams were able to compete in their respective world championships. The New Zealand U18 Women’s competed in Bulgaria in January, the U20 Men competed in Turkey in January, the Ice Fernz competed in South Africa in February, the U18 Men competed in South Africa in March and the Ice Blacks are competing in Turkey in April. Prior to the teams departing to their world championships, we sat down with team members from each of the teams.
Jaime Jones, captain of the Ice Fernz, was looking forward to seeing South Africa, “I have heard that it is beautiful and everyone says great things about the landscape, so I am very excited to see that when we fly in.” In terms of the tournament itself, Jaime was excited for the Ice Fernz return to international competition “It will be good to be back on the world stage and see where we are, because playing internationally opens a new level of competitiveness which I love.” Jaime sees the biggest challenge that the Ice Fernz face “Is not only the other teams, but also things out of our control like COVID-19.” Jaime, as captain, aimed to “Be the very best we can. We always want to win, but if everyone focuses individually on being the best player they can be, then we will look like a gold-medal team and eventually success will come.” Jaime’s pre-game ritual is to try and be as least serious as possible, “I get out of my head and take each game as a scrimmage or beer league game. I try to have fun with every game regardless of what it is.”
Ben Taylor, forward of the U20 Men’s team, was looking forward to Turkey’s culture, “Turkey and more specifically Istanbul is quite a unique city in its location and atmosphere, so I am excited to explore and see what it has to offer.” Regarding the tournament itself, Ben was looking forward to being able to wear the jersey and “Finally being able to represent my country and see how we stack up against other countries.” Ben believes that the biggest challenges for the men would be “Ensuring that everyone remains fit and healthy, especially since there seems to be another COVID wave lurking around the corner. In terms of hockey, it’s hard to say as very few of us have any experience competing overseas so that’s a challenge itself I suppose.” Ben’s aim for the tournament was simple, “Take home gold.” For Ben, music is an essential part of his pre-game ritual “Rap, Drill and DnB are the go-tos.”
Nash Hayward-Jones, defence of the U18 Men’s team, was most looking forward to “Representing New Zealand for the first time and being able to play my first game with a national team, to have a chance to play for New Zealand.” Nash sees that the biggest challenge for the men is the disconnect, “There are players in the team that I have yet to play with so we aren’t very connected, and fitness are the challenges.” Nash aimed to “Give my all for the team and to also help push my teammates to be better.” Nash’s pre-game ritual consists of “Having a good breakfast and listening to hype music the whole day to help get me in the zone.”
Caitlin Hollyer, captain of the U18 Women’s team, was most looking forward to “Playing some good teams, playing hockey and being able to bond with more hockey girls because I don’t know most of the team.” Caitlin is excited for the social aspect, “I’m looking forward to seeing my friends from New Zealand as I’ve been in Canada.” Caitlin identifies the main challenge as “We are a very young team and are inexperienced so it might be a bit rough.” As captain, Caitlin aimed to “Get better as a team, to develop and for everyone to enjoy the experience.” Caitlin doesn’t really have a pre-game ritual, but “I do wear a specific hair band and I always do a hard full loop of skating everytime I go onto the ice.”
Flynn Hayward-Jones, defence of the Ice Black’s Men’s team, is most looking forward to “Seeing how well we compare to the other teams in our division, and experiencing Turkey’s culture.” Regarding the tournament itself, Flynn is looking forward to “Playing against other countries because it’s always fun to compete with other athletes from around the world and to try to out-perform one another.” Flynn believes that the main challenge for the Ice Blacks would be “The limited ice time leading up to the tournament because it makes it difficult to maintain our on ice fitness and skills, as well as how well we gel together as a team, but this just means we’ll have to be disciplined in our individual training prior to the tournament.” Flynn’s aim for the tournament is “To perform at a high enough level that I am consistently picked to represent NZ for the years to come and I also want to make my family and friends proud.” As far as his pre-game ritual goes, “ I always gotta have a nap before I head to the rink. Once I’m there I usually don’t talk much and listen to music so I can focus.”
It is fantastic that all national teams were able to return to the international stage after a three year hiatus, and for many were able to take their first steps towards a brighter future in hockey. The U18 boys finished first in their group, bringing home a gold medal, while the Ice Fernz finished third in their group. Though not all teams came out on top, they did New Zealand proud.