There is perhaps no name more familiar than Paris Heyd when talking about New Zealand Ice Hockey.
The Ice Blacks veteran is a consummate servant of the game in this country, and perhaps one of the hottest hockey talents we have.
He’s been a part of two championship-winning NZIHL teams – the Southern Stampede and Canterbury Red Devils – as well as captaining the Dunedin Thunder. He’s played overseas in Canada and France, and has been a stalwart amongst the national team.
But now, he wants things to change.
Paris Heyd – Dunedin Thunder / Sari Renee Photography.
The game that’s brought him joy for over 20 years needs a hand, and he knows now – more than ever – that urgency is key.
Not change at the level he’s been playing, but rather a focus on junior programmes, of which Paris is an integral part of as the head coach of the national U16 team.
“We really need to get the junior levels competing,” Paris said.
“They’ve really struggled the last few years and that’s just a lack of numbers. But the regions are getting better, and there’s a lot of learn to play programmes now.”
However, the problem Paris observes is player retention.
Learn to play programmes are fantastic, if kids stay with hockey through until their adult lives. That’s the only way to truly grow and develop a player to help them be successful and help create better Ice Blacks.
“We do just have to keep them in the sport and keep them motivated so that we can give them opportunities to be successful.
“You look at all the other hockey countries around the world, and it all started with junior programmes, and getting a good system with the youth which filters through to the seniors.”
So, the 27 year old who trains, works, and coaches at the Dunedin Ice Rink, has put his money where his mouth is.
Alongside former Ice Black Darren Blong, Paris brought 45 kids together for an U16 development camp last week up in Auckland.
They shared in a weekend of drills, games, and tactical sessions, all of which will hopefully contribute to a further knowledge and passion for hockey.
Unfortunately, there are no games to play, with no official U16 tournament with the IIHF. Limited funds also make it hard for the young team to travel abroad.
But that’s not what it’s about. It’s more about the introduction into higher level hockey which will hopefully help breed the next generation of hockey players.
“These kids are so talented compared to when I was coming through,” he said.
“The junior leagues are really helping. The fact the kids get to play all through winter and play against other regions… the competition was a lot less when we were coming though, and you see it with kids now – a lot of them are super skilled and the individual talent is a lot higher.”
The purpose of the camp is also to introduce the youngsters to systems that New Zealand Ice Hockey have been using for a number of years now at higher levels.
That way, it’s easier for them to transition into the senior grades when they’re older.
“If we get them used to it at a younger level, when they move up, it takes some of the pressure off the coaches because the kids already have an understanding of what to expect and the way the teams are going to run.
“Hopefully it’ll help those teams be a little bit more successful as well.”
Paris sees a bright future for New Zealand hockey. He already thinks the Ice Blacks are on the brink of being promoting once again in the IIHF tournaments.
He’ll hopefully be a part of that when the Ice Blacks head to Mexico in April, but until then, he’s focusing on the next generation, and hoping one day they’ll be the ones leading the national side into glory.
Written by Sam Hewat