Oh man, this is going back about 14 years now but the highest level that I played in my 7 years of pro hockey was in the Swiss A league or NLA which is where a lot of the European guys play in before they head to the NHL (Auston Matthews and Patrick Kane would be notable inclusions).
The NLA is one of the best leagues outside of the NHL and I was able to play there as a non-import due to the fact that we lived there for a bit when we were younger because our dad was a full time coach in Switzerland.
Aside from that, I played in London UK for a while and then finished up in the CHL in Texas for a team that was a 2nd affiliate to the Edmonton Oilers. Just to be clear I was not a candidate for the Oilers haha!
That’s a great question, in all honesty I don’t think that I initially planned on becoming a hockey coach. Both our parents were teachers growing up and then Dad became a hockey coach after that so there was a strong influence on education and coaching in our household, so I guess it just came naturally through that.
After I finished pro hockey I really had no idea of what I wanted to do. I mean I had an education but no real plan. On that note, in the last month here in Canada Ive just launched a program for pro players transitioning into life after hockey because most guys have no idea what they are going to do. Largely this is because they really don’t have any idea of how the world works because you live in a bubble as a pro player. I know this because I’ve been there and it’s tough to know what your options outside of hockey might be.
I think we have been coming to Queenstown for about 7 years now. Oddly enough, I had run a rec women’s camp in Whistler and one of the participants then moved to Queenstown and called me and said that they could really use a camp like ours down there. We then got put in touch with I think Ross Burns at the time and we came down and started with about 30 people in the first year and now this year we have about 100 registered in Queenstown and we are really looking forward to coming to Auckland for the first time!
Oh man, it changes by the day, the week and the season. I used to run about 3 ice times a day when we started about 6 days a week. As the business has been able to grow, we now have a small team of great coaches, I’m only on the ice about 3 times a week. My main focus is preparing for our summer camps which is a year long process and overseeing the other coaches we have on board. Aside from that, as I mentioned earlier, this program for pro players transitioning into regular life is a lot of my time also.
We also have a large amount of online coaching resources and services that we have built up over the years that I know people in New Zealand such as Darren Blong have been using which is awesome that we can help areas like NZ and around the world. Even Mongolia where we went a few years ago to run coaching clinics.
I think it’s really both our parents, not just our father. Me and my brother Bo really see ourselves as a and educator and a good role model for kids therefore we focus mainly on individual players rather than teams.
Our parents have had a huge influence on our demeanour on the ice with kids and our desire to teach the game but also the life skills that come through hockey. Aside from that, our father has been our coach growing up and I even got to play for him when I was older as a professional player. He did say that I probably got less ice time as his son in those leagues because he was aware how the father son dynamic could have played out. But it was really great playing with our father around and we really like his coaching style. He is demanding but fair. A cool side note of Dad being a pro coach is that some of his best mates are some of the most respected coaches in the world. We would be hanging out in the summer time and one of his pals would drop around who has been coaching in the NHL for 20 years. This has allowed us to be around some pretty neat people and learn a lot about the game through them.
Because of our parents, myself and my brother try to bring a rational approach to hockey and we enjoy the game and enjoy hanging out with the kids adopting dads firm but fair approach. I mean, if they were lahttps://aiha.org.nz/news/register-now-leslie-brothers-hockey-training-camp/wyers, I’m sure we would have ended up as good lawyers. They were teachers and coaches and so that’s the world we grew up in and that’s all we have really known so that’s kind of how we ended up here.
The New Zealand under 20 mens national ice hockey team have just returned from their IIHF Div 3 tournament in Bulgaria where they ultimately got relegated from the tournament down into the qualifiers. We talked with A.J Spiller, assistant coach about the tournament and what it’s going to take to get the team back into division 3.
Centre Ice: Is this your first experience coaching a hockey team?
A.J: No it’s not, Ive coached about 3 times properly before, once in Bantam and once in Midget, so U17 and U15 back home in Canada. Following that I was a video coach in Junior A. all back in my hometown in Manitoba.
Centre Ice: How did you end up as the assistant coach for the New Zealand under 20 national team?
A.J: Well I kind of just applied and it all sort of worked out, I think maybe one of the other assistant coaches fell through and I was the next guy on the list.
Centre Ice: What was it like working with Justin Daigle?
A.J: Yeah it was really fun, I think we are pretty similar in a lot of ways and the style of hockey that we come from is very similar, both being from Western Canada.
Centre Ice: Being around the same age and from the same (Ish) area, the skill development stuff and systems that we are used to are very similar which makes working together really easy.
A.J: Aside from the coaching, he’s a really passionate guy which rubs off on you. It helps the coaches but also the players and management staff and everything so it was a really good experience working with Justin.
Centre Ice: Your father is a successful hockey coach in Canada, have you learnt coaching skills through him? Has he ever coached you?
A.J: Yeah he has, all the way through from when I was 5 until maybe 20 so I’ve really been around coaching my whole life up until then. I mean every night at home had some coaching chat involved.
Centre Ice: You mentioned that you had experience with video coaching, did that come in handy during this tour?
A.J: Yeah for sure, we did video sessions throughout the tournament. I mean in the training camp in Latvia, we did a video session nearly every day to cover the systems work. It’s great to cover the off ice training times we had.
We would integrate, video work and chalkboard work into our sessions so the players could go from the video, to the board and then onto the ice to practice it because players all learn different ways. This way, they can see it and then do it and hopefully it means they can understand it a little bit better.
Centre Ice: The team went away for a training camp in Latvia before the tournament in Bulgaria, how important is the training camp?
A.J: I think the training camps are invaluable on a lot of levels. Where we were staying in Latvia was pretty much a hotel attached to the rink. We train there, we eat there, sleep there, we are there all day. It’s great because you get to know people off the ice because you are in such close proximity all the time.
This way it’s a lot easier for a team to gel when you are in an environment like that. I understand that the cost is an issue for players but we do really need to go away to be able to get the competition needed to make the training camp worthwhile because we can’t really play teams, here right?
I mean we couldn’t just show up to the tournament and jump into a tournament situation without having played together before. The teams we played were from Riga which is about an hour away. We played an under 20 team and an under 18 team and they were both really good. Actually, it was just good to watch them and see a different style of hockey. We learned a lot from them by just watching and hopefully that rubbed off onto our players too.
Centre Ice: When you were in Bulgaria and Latvia, what did you guys do in your time off? Do you get to see much of the city while you’re there?
A.J: Yeah, we went into Riga for one day when we were there, it was really cool to have a day away from the rink with the boys. We walked around the city for a while and checked out the old town. It’s pretty cool to go into places like that that are so different from New Zealand and Canada because they have so much history there.
Centre Ice: Without beating around the bush, the team got relegated this year, as a new coach this year, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing the U20 age group in New Zealand?
A.J: It’s tough for me to answer that myself as it’s my first year coming into this squad. I mean the only guys that I really know are the guys from the team this year so I don’t know too many people coming through the system but from my perspective, there’s key skills that you need to develop when you’re younger and they eventually become second nature to you.
Like for example when you receive a pass, the first thing you need to do is get your feet moving right? A lot of guys I see in NZ receive a pass and they stand still and look up for someone else to move the puck. It’s little things like that that can give you an advantage over other teams that need to be developed at an earlier age because it’s not really something that is easily taught at 18 or 19.
Centre Ice: In the junior program you probably have about 40-50 games together, with the U20’s you only have a few weeks, how does the time restrict what you can do as a coach?
A.J: Yeah, I mean it’s tough, we only have a week in training camp and then the week for the tournament so those little things I mentioned before get put on the back burner because we need to focus on what kind of systems we are running and who plays with who etc.
Ideally throughout 2018 we can get some camps throughout the year so we have time to focus on the smaller things that need to be taught and even some systems stuff so we can get it all in motion before we get to training camp. That way we can use the training camp to work on things like specialty teams and more focused areas of our game.
Centre Ice: So when you do get to the training camp, how do you choose what to focus on?
A.J: Yeah I mean, Justin was pretty organised, we had a plan in motion from the get go where we were gonna work on say one day was the d-zone and then onto the fore-check then onto the powerplay and would progress through our plan each day.
The problem is time again, you never have enough to get stuff like this perfect because it’s all repetition stuff, so if you don’t get the reps then it’s hard to retain. And then the following day you go into something different so whatever you remember from the day before you have to work with that. The problem is that everyone is learning new things every day so you might forget some stuff but there’s no time to go back over it.
Centre Ice: Also, how do you build the team culture with such a high turnover of players due to the age limitations?
A.J: I think that having to whole team stay in the hotel at the rink really helps with this. Because the players are living so close to each other you have no choice but to build and grow as a team. Then we do things like spend the day in the city to get all the boys to socialize with each other outside of hockey.
Centre Ice: How does the future look for the New Zealand U20 team?
A.J: Well we assume that the younger players that were in the team this year will end up being the core leadership group in the next year or so. It looks promising, over the few weeks it looked like everybody was eager to learn and eager to do better. As a coach that’s really all you can ask for. Guys were listening, guys were engaged and they all want to get better so I think that with the younger guys, if they retain that eagerness to learn and we can also get some camps together throughout the year then we should be on the right path to get out of the qualifiers.
Centre Ice: Scores aside, do you think the tournament and trip was successful? What were some positives to come out of it?
A.J: I think we got better as a team as the tournament went on because of what I mentioned earlier, all the guys were happy to be there and proud to play for their country so the experience apart from not winning was all positive for me and working with Justin and the management crew, Dave and Josh and our trainer Valerie, it was all really smooth.
Centre Ice: For the team members who are likely to remain in the team next year or who are looking to make the team, what would your best piece of advice be for them over the next year?
A.J: Hopefully they use this year as a building block and they can retain some of the things we have taught them and they work on them for their local teams. On top of that, we are going to get some drill packages together for guys to work on. Defence and forward specific and also Goalie specific ones. This way, when we do hopefully meet throughout the year, we can work on the same things as a group.
Ultimately this means that when we hit training camp next year, we can be more prepared from day 1. From what I saw, the guys are ready to work hard and move forward from this tournament and keep developing as players. Looking forward to next year.
If you want more information on the Div 3 tournament in Bulgaria, all the stats and info can be found on the IIHF website here http://www.iihf.com/competition/648/
Matt Schneider is a player that needs no introduction in the New Zealand ice hockey scene, captain of the Skycity Stampede in Queenstown and one of the newest faces in the Ice Blacks. But where did the 6 foot 7 Canadian come from? And how did he end up as Captain of the most successful team in the NZIHL? We managed to get on the phone to Schneider to talk about his road that lead him to New Zealand and making the national team.
What kind of hockey did you play growing up?
So, I grew up playing in Canada and was fortunate enough to play in the WHL for 3 years for the Tri-City Americans out of WA and ended up getting drafted to the Calgary flames in 2004. (Matt got drafted at #200 ahead of players like Pekka Rinne and Mark Streit) I went to a few training camps and that kind of thing but never really cracked the line-up.
After my Junior hockey was over at about 21 I went to university in Vancouver (UBC) to study cell biology and played hockey there until I was about 25. After I got my degree I kind of retired from competitive hockey and just played in a rec men’s league at home in Vernon and then decided to do some travelling and ended up in New Zealand.
So how did you end up playing hockey for the Stampede?
Well I was just travelling the world kind of thing and to be honest, hockey was the last thing on my mind, I didn’t even know there was a hockey league in New Zealand, I had no intentions of playing really. I had a job at a winery up in Blenheim and was planning on leaving in a few months after travelling the country.
When I came through Queenstown I saw the rink here and went inside and actually ended up talking to Simon Glass at the time, we got chatting and he told me about the league and I decided to stay and play. That first year was a bit odd because I didn’t have any of my own gear so I was using gear they managed to pull together and then the following year I got my gear sent over and it’s been all go since then.
What was your first impression of hockey in New Zealand?
Man, it really surprised me, as I said before I had no idea it was even going on. When you think of New Zealand, hockey’s not the thing that comes to mind so I was really impressed at the level that is played here. With the limited exposure to the game, and ice time isn’t available as freely as it is in Canada, it’s pretty impressive the level that some of these guys and girls are playing at.
It really opened my eyes to the fact that hockey is everywhere, it’s definitely a global sport and its pretty cool that there’s so much passion for it here in New Zealand and that players like me can come from other countries and play here and try to help grow the sport here.
After ‘retiring’ from competitive hockey, are you intending to keep playing in the NZIHL for the future?
Well yeah, as long as I’m here, I mean I’ve got no plans to leave right now. Obviously when you’re living away from home you get the urge to go home back to Canada every now and again or to keep travelling to other countries. However as long as I’m based in NZ, I’ll try to play.
So, you played with the Ice Blacks against Australia back in September, are you a New Zealand citizen now?
Well I have residency here and all my papers are In for citizenship and we are trying to fast track that. Once the internal affairs guys review my case, as long as they are satisfied, I’ll get granted my citizenship and should be on track to play with the Ice Blacks this April in Spain.
Is playing for the Ice Blacks something you had your eye on once you realised you would be here for a while?
It was always something that hung out in the back of my mind, the thing is that it takes so long to get your citizenship so it didn’t seem like a reality early on. Each year I was really just trying to be able to stay in New Zealand with visas etc so I wasn’t thinking too long term. Once I got my residency, then it kind of kicked in and I’d been in contact with the coaches at the time so it was always on the cards.
What’s it like representing a country that’s not your home country?
Well New Zealand is so similar to Canada that the minute I stepped into New Zealand it felt like home to me. I really take pride in living in New Zealand and being a New Zealand resident. So, if I got the opportunity to play for New Zealand in a IIHF tournament, it would be a great honour because it’s like New Zealand is my adopted country so it’s the same as if I was playing for Canada or New Zealand.
Back to the Stampede, what do you think makes you such a successful team?
Well the finals this year was such a good series against West Auckland and they really made us work for it. I think that within the stampede, we have a really great core group that have been around for like the last 3-4 years the definitely boosts us as a team. It’s been pretty close to the same group of guys for that time and we have had a few of the imports stick around or come back which is really good.
Not only the older guys but we have some kiwi kids coming through that are playing awesome and getting better each year like Callum Burns has really stepped up which is awesome because these guys add that depth that you need in a league where people are always getting injuries etc. On top of that, our junior teams, the u14 and u17 Stampede teams are doing really well so I think we will be in good hands for the future.
You guys have some pretty passionate fans too right?
Our fans are awesome man. There’s a buzz here in the winter when the season starts and for all of our home games the arena is packed. Even around the town, we see people with Stampede flags in their car and kids are out snowboarding in Stampede hoodies. It’s an awesome feeling. The fans here in Queenstown are some of the most passionate fans Ive ever played in front of which you really can’t take for granted especially somewhere like New Zealand.
Also, I think that we have a really good community vibe in Queenstown. We are a small town and everybody is close by and knows somebody who knows somebody. Even outside the Stampede, we have the men’s league here and the kids league, it seems like everybody is involved in something and that really helps us through the year.
If you had one piece of advice for the New Zealand hockey community, what would it be?
Just immerse yourself in the sport. Hockey is quite a niche sport in New Zealand so ice time doesn’t come around so easy, so you need to expose yourself to the sport as much as you can. You really need to seek it out here, practice at home, watch NHL games, anything you can that has hockey involved will help develop that kind of ‘hockey sense’ that we talk about in Canada.
Every year, new faces enter the NZIHL from all corners of the globe. Whether or not people like it, it seems imports are here to stay. Imports boost the level of skill int the NZIHL and this year it seems the West Auckland Admirals of the NZIHL have recruited 3 of the best players in the League for their 2017 season.
Adrian Toth, Henric Andersen and TJ Battani are the top 3 point scorers in the NZIHL at the moment with a combined total of 78 points in 8 games! In fact, the Admirals make up 4 of the top 5 scoring leaders with Captain Justin Daigle slotting in at #5.
We sat down with Henric Andersen this week to chat about how he is liking New Zealand and the season so far.
Centre Ice: So, how long have you been in New Zealand?
Henric: I got here around the 10th of May so nearly 2 months now.
Centre Ice: How are you enjoying the season so far?
Henric: Its going really well, we just came off some tough games against the Stampede and are still sitting at the top of the table so yeah, going pretty good.
Centre Ice: Where were you playing before this season?
Henric: I was playing in Sweden before I came here for Östersunds IK in division one and before that ive been playing in France for 2 years for Chamonix. That’s actually how I ended up playing here.
Centre Ice: How did you end up in New Zealand?
Henric: One of the guys I played with in France (Arthur Cocar) had played for the Thunder and through a few connections, Csaba sent me a message on Facebook and we sorted it out.
Centre Ice: How do you find the level of Hockey in New Zealand compared with the other countries you have played in?
Henric: Well ive only played in Sweden and France before I came here and it’s always hard to compare but it’s a little bit lower than I’m used to but it’s better than I initially thought it would be for a country without a strong hockey history.
Also I usually play as a winger but for the Admirals I’ve been playing centre. That also changes the way I play compared to the northern hemisphere countries I’ve been in.
Centre Ice: Who’s your favourite professional hockey player?
Henric: Ohh, theres so many good ones. I want to pick one from Sweden but when I was growing up it was always Lemieux. Now days I don’t have a special player but as a kid, Mario was the guy.
Centre Ice: What is your favourite hockey memory?
Henric: Probably when we won the U20 SuperElit League in Sweden with Leksand, in 2009/10.
Centre Ice: Looking to the future, what are your plans after New Zealand?
After the fairly lopsided opening round of games, we took a second to see how the teams are looking and what may lie ahead for the 5 NZIHL teams for 2017
The Skycity Stampede head into the 2017 season looking for the 3-peat. Coming off a strong campaign last year and dispatching the Red Devils in 2-games in the finals, they hungry to retain the Birgel cup!
2017 round one saw the Stampede and the Red Devils re-live last year’s finals and again the Stampede came away with 2 decisive wins. On top of their imports, the Stampede have a solid bunch of Kiwis ready to take on the league, boosted by the likes of Ice Black, Adam Soffer who is a new addition to the team this year. However, losing a key player like Jade Portwood may hurt the teams chances of taking the silverware for a 3rd year in a row. Keep an eye on the Skycity Stampede, they are the team to beat!
One to watch: Canadian import, Colin McIntosh scored 5 goals and 2 assists in the opening weekend of the season. At 6 foot and 93kgs, he’s not one to be pushed around.
Canterbury Red Devils,
The Red Devils snuck into the finals last year when the Admirals lost their final game of the season to make their 5th consecutive finals appearance. Last year the Red devils lost a number of senior players and had to look to their youth to step up and keep the team competitive, which they obviously did. Can they make a 6th final?
After the 1st round this year they faced 2 tough defeats to the reigning champions in which head coach Matthew Sanford called the game “Borderline dirty” The 2nd game of the weekend they netted 4 goals against the Stampede which shows they can still compete against the top teams this year. They will be looking to get 2 wins against the Botany Swarm next weekend.
One to watch: Goaltender Damien King from Great Britain was a standout over the weekend stopping 88 percent of shots during an offensive onslaught from the Stampede. If the Devils can find a way to get the goals up, they will be a solid team with Damien between the pipes.
West Auckland Admirals,
Last season ended in heart break for the Admirals who were 1 win away from their first finals appearance since 2010. However, the teams is looking stronger every season. The last 2 years since head coach Csaba Kersco-Magos took over, the team has been stacking more and more wins. This season is looking to be a step in the right direction as the opening weekend saw the Admirals defeat the Botany Swarm 7-3 and a whopping 14-0.
The West Auckland Admirals have gained a great bunch of imports this year including Sweden native Henric Andersen, perhaps most famous for this blooper. Henric played for the Sweden National team in Under 18’s so will be a huge asset for the Admirals in their hunt for the cup! On top of the Imports, they managed to get Ice Blacks Ryan Ruddle and Dale Harrop on top of their 8 existing Ice blacks squad members to build a solid base of kiwi players.
One to watch: American T.J Battani has had an impressive Junior career playing alongside players like Nazem Kadri and Jake Muzzin in the OHL for the Kitchener Rangers. He tore the Botany Swarm apart in the opening weekend scoring 7 goals in 2 games.
The Botany Swarm head into this season with some existing challenges including the departure of long term coach Andrea Kaisser. In saying that, the Swarm always find a way to be competitive. Last season they took the 4 game series against cross town rivals, the Admirals. This year however that may not be the case after watching the first 2 games.
The Swarm have some serious fire power up front in their forwards with the likes of Ice Blacks Jordan Challis and the Hay Brothers. If they can sort out the apparent defensive issue then they should return to their winning ways.
One to watch: Alex Polosov, a long standing Swarm player. However this year he doesn’t count towards the Swarms import tally after getting residency in New Zealand. Having a player of Alex’s calibre in the team that doesn’t count towards your import spots is a significant boost for the Swarm.
The Dunedin Thunder sat out the opening weekend with a bye so little is currently known about the 2017 Thunder, even the full roster is under wraps. Looking at their pre season efforts, they are not the same team as 2016 in which they only saw 2 wins. They probably had the toughest pre season challenge of all the teams but they took 2 wins against last years finalists the Canterbury Red Devils and dropped both games against the Stampede.
Taking a 50% win record against the top 2 teams from the previous season is quite a feat for the Thunder as they finished in last place in 2016. A new coach and a few good looking imports may bring the Thunder back to their winning ways. Keep an eye out on the 10th of June against the West Auckland Admirals.
One to watch: After a team MVP award in this years Ice Blacks campaign in Auckland, Paris Heyd is back with the Dunedin Thunder. Paris has been with the Thunder since 2009 and last year the team definitely missed his offensive ability. If he can continue to produce at his 2015 rate (38 points in 16 games) then The Dunedin Thunder will be a strong contender for the cup!