Ice hockey in Wellington has finally become reality! With a new full sized rink, a growing community and a few tournaments under their belt things are looking up for ice hockey in the windy city. Centre Ice interviewed Luke Turner, a vital member to Wellington’s growth, to get an insight into what’s been happening in the newest ice hockey community in New Zealand…
Centre Ice: Just introduce yourself, tell me a little bit about yourself and what your position is within Wellington Ice Hockey?
Luke: I’m a Geospatial & Systems Analyst for Flood Protection Department at Greater Wellington Regional Council. I create maps, apps and do data analysis to protect the region from river floods. I am the President of Wellington Ice Hockey Association, I also co-founded the Wellington Seals.
Centre Ice: What has your sporting background been and when did ice hockey come on the scene, and/or what made you get into it?
Luke: I grew up in Te Kauwhata in the North Waikato and quite seriously the only sport I could play was Rugby. When I was at High School there was other sports I could also play like Cricket and opted for that because I realised there was a lot of politics with playing Rugby at High School.
However I was looking for something else to play. This was the mid 90’s and I had tried Ice Skating a few times at the rink in Hamilton. I was inspired by Gretzky-era Hockey, the Avalanche and Detroit rivalry, and perhaps a little bit of the Mighty Ducks.
I decided to start playing but unfortunately the rink in Hamilton had just closed down. Because I lived over an hour away from the nearest rink, Rollerblading at the winery across the road and playing Inline Hockey with my dog in the net was how I had to practice.
I loved the sport so much that eventually I was playing Inline Hockey most Saturdays in Hamilton and Ice Hockey most Sundays at Avondale.
Centre Ice: How did you get involved with Wellington Ice Hockey? Or what made you want to get involved?
Luke: Like so many others around New Zealand, I wanted to see Ice Hockey start in Wellington. I had heard that there was a small rink in Seaview but I never thought they would let us play hockey on it.
I saw some scrimmage videos put up around April last year and without even thinking I was straight out there. It was playing with those orange floor hockey pucks but it was the perfect re-entry into the game for me after not playing for 20 years.
However I noticed we needed some additional changes. Seeing the opportunity I decided to put together the first Ice Hockey team from the region, the Wellington Seals, to play in the Back Yard Hockey League’s Holiday Classic tournament in Auckland.
I know that we have some very talented and competitive people in our community, it seemed like the natural progression to have a team. I’ve run a few tournaments since then, and it’s great to have the support of the community especially from Centre Ice to support what we do. It’s cool to see so many people excited about Ice Hockey here, and the sport is just growing rapidly.
Centre Ice: How have things progressed so far? What does the association do and what sort of things are in place?
Luke: We have certainly had to deal with a few challenges so far. It’s a lot of work and it does cut into my work hours a bit. But I wouldn’t change it for anything.
We put on a tournament for Canada Day which was our first real tournament. Following this we put on a tournament on our new full sized rink in October called “Puck Off” which went really well.
We have just had a clash between the Wellington “Master” Seals and the Kapiti Rangers an Inline Team and just this weekend we have our friends the MacKenzie Bull Tahr in town for a 3 game clash, which will be the first team to come play in Wellington.
The Wellington Seals, have now competed in 3 tournaments so far, the Holiday Classic, the Masters Games and the Erewhon Cup. Next year we have the Kiwi Masters lined up, followed by a Women’s tournament in Dunedin at the end of March which will be exciting. The rink will be running a summer league very shortly as well.
Maybe just describe some of the challenges (obviously not having a rink! but maybe some of the other things that have been difficult along the way?)
Centre Ice: With starting a new association, team and running tournaments there are always challenges, what are some of the obstacles you have encountered so far?
Luke: Going to play at rinks like Botany and Dunedin was very difficult after practicing on a 30m x 15m rink. Being able to practice positioning on a rink a quarter the size of a normal rink is near impossible. Even just having space to do drills wasn’t easy.
As for WIHA, there’s always pressure to do things in the way that some people want it. I’ve made some amazing friends in the community and I always want to do right by them and to help grow the sport.
We all went through so much when the Ice Hockey Classic was in town, our guys and girls poured their hearts into setting that rink up at the Westpac stadium. The plus side of that disappointing situation was that we have got a rink out of it, thanks to Kerry Goulet and Rob Blitz. Our players have had my back over the last year and I want to have their backs going forward and being able to deliver fun and competitive hockey.
Centre Ice: What’s the ice hockey community like down there – both in size and in personality!?
Luke: We are a very passionate group of people! For many of us we have dreamed of playing Ice Hockey, and finally that dream is coming true. There’s a real DIY feel to the scene here. We just make it happen.
When we put out our original enrolment we got over 120 people interested, however I suspect in the region that number would be over 150 people when members of the Inline Hockey community who come along are factored in. We are regularly getting over 30 people along to scrimmages which we have twice a week.
Beginners hockey has also been getting similar numbers. There’s a lot of camaraderie in the community here. There’s beers after every scrimmage, and even sometimes BBQs. It’s a real family sort of feel.
Centre Ice: What are your goals and aspirations? Not only this, but what is Wellington Ice Hockey’s plan for the future?
Luke: I aim to develop Ice Hockey from top to bottom. From kids right through to masters level. I know there are a lot more Canadian’s, Russian’s, American’s, Swedes, Czech’s and expats from other Ice Hockey countries in Wellington that don’t know that there is a rink here and I want to get them involved.
Long term I want to see the sixth NZIHL franchise team playing out of Wellington. I’ll be stoked to see NZIHL teams playing here in the future.
Centre Ice: Anything else you think is important to talk about?
Luke: Look out for future tournaments from WIHA. If you want to bring your team to Wellington or if you are in the area and you want to Ice Hockey please get in touch!