When Hockey meets the All Blacks…

When Hockey meets the All Blacks…

Some call it fate, others call it chance. Whatever the analogy, the odds of Travis Crickard coming to New Zealand were pretty low five years ago.

But thanks to a book, and a good ol’ Kiwi friend, Travis made the trip out at the beginning of the year for a special purpose – to spend time with the All Blacks.


Back home in Canada, he coaches in the WHL – one of the country’s biggest minor hockey leagues, which sees a number of players drafted into the NHL.

He wanted a shake-up to his coaching intellect and philosophy and thought, ‘What better way to do that, then by mingling with the All Blacks?’

And while his wish came true, he inadvertently stumbled upon New Zealand ice hockey.

In between time spent with the national rugby team, he also spent time helping coaches and administrators throughout New Zealand, as well as the Botany Swarm during the 2018 NZIHL season.

Given his background, it’s hard to think of a better person to offer up a snapshot picture of how New Zealand ice hockey looks from the outside, and though he thoroughly enjoyed the hockey community here, we’ve still got a long way to go.

Indeed, for Travis, the biggest concern was a relative obsession with winning at the top level – sometimes at the expense of local development.

He saw the use of imports in the NZIHL as somewhat problematic and didn’t think see the long-term benefits of coaches simply focusing on winning the league.


“For me, being in that environment for a full season, I would have to disagree with that,” he said.

“I feel like the mission of the league should be to develop the Kiwi players as best as possible, so that they’re prepared to represent the rest of the country as Ice Blacks the best they can.”

Travis gives an example of two NZIHL teams playing each other, with one team going on the powerplay.

Team A throws out four or five imports on the powerplay, while Team B throws out four imports to kill it off.

“What ends up happening is that the Kiwi players, when they do represent the Ice Blacks, and they play at a World Championship, they don’t have enough experience playing on powerplays or penalty kills or playing on first lines because the players who are playing big minutes for their domestic teams are imports,” he said.

The value of the imports should not be understated of course, and Travis agreed that they definitely increase and improve the quality of the league as a whole. However, is there a way of getting the best of both worlds?

The answer might lie in the UK, where their domestic league rules stipulate that import players cannot play together on the same line.


“In that league, the local players get more of an opportunity to play with better players from foreign countries so they learn, ‘Hey I need to be faster in this situation, I need to be ready for these passes, I need to pass the puck harder here etc’.

“I feel like if the NZIHL is able to adopt something like that, some kind of model similar to the UK, I really feel like that’s going to help the Kiwi players improve and, in turn, the Ice Blacks will do better, and I think it’s just better for everyone.”


In this scenario, imports would be seen as supplementary players in the league, rather than being players who drive the league.

But more importantly for Travis, is the need to focus on our youth, with a particular need to enhance the level of coaching.

He doesn’t understate the power of the NZIHL and how important it is, but the priorities of the NZIHF might need a shift.


“For Kiwi kids growing up, the NZIHL should be what they aspire to play in, so I think it plays a huge role in the overarching scheme of New Zealand Ice Hockey.

“Having said that, the most important part of any country’s hockey programme is their youth hockey.

“That’s where the biggest impression is made on the kids, that’s where they learn the most. At the youth level, you have a really good opportunity to teach and teach them well.

“So for me, it’s youth number one, and the NZIHL number two.”

One of Travis’ first experiences on New Zealand shores was a youth hockey programme down south, where there were five coaches on the ice, only one of which had ever played ice hockey before – the rest came from a cricket, rugby, or football background.

“Obviously playing hockey is a lot different to playing cricket,” he said.

“And clearly there is interest in hockey in New Zealand, I would just like to see more assistance to the actual coaches to help the players get better.”


That might include bringing in a specialist from overseas to help mentor or oversee a nationwide coaching programme.

An outside perspective, free of bias and influence from the inner workings of various organisations around the country, boards, and parents.

Travis says ‘he would come in with one purpose – to improve our kids.’


Hockey is still in its infancy in New Zealand – when compared to country’s like Canada.

While we have an amazing community, and passionate parents, coaches, and players, we still have a lot to improve, and that requires an open mind.

If anything, Travis wants the conversations to start so that hockey can keep moving forward.

Who knows in the future… it might be the Canadian rugby coach, coming to New Zealand to get tips from the Ice Blacks.



Written By Sam Hewat.