New Zealand’s national men’s ice hockey team, the Ice Blacks, have named their new captain – defenceman Nick Craig.
Craig will be the one to lead New Zealand on the ice when they travel to Spain for the 2018 IIHF Division 2B World Championship this April.
With the Ice Blacks coaching staff aiming to win and gain promotion to the next tier in international ice hockey within the next two years, the captain is a key part of making that happen. Head coach Anatoly Khorozov believes that Craig has the necessary maturity required to wear the ‘C’ and has shown an ability to lead by example both on and off the ice.
At last year’s IIHF tournament held in Auckland, Craig wore the ‘A’ as one of the alternate captains for the Ice Blacks. In that tournament New Zealand finished second with a 4-1 record on their home ice, just one game behind winners China. With previous captain Bert Haines retiring, he’s a natural fit to take over the role and continue the promising effort the team has shown in recent outings.
At the 2017 Winter Games in Queenstown, New Zealand played a three-game test series against Trans-Tasman rivals Australia. NZ took out the first game 4-1 which some labelled as a ‘shock’ being only their second victory in their previous 16 encounters. They lost the second, and then narrowly missed out on taking the decider thanks to everyone’s favourite way of deciding a contest, the shootout.
While a 2-1 test series loss isn’t the outcome many Kiwi sports fans would want when facing an Australian team, it does show that the gap between the two nations is closing and perhaps the Ice Blacks could be competitive in the IIHF’s Division 2 – Group A.
Nick Craig is no stranger to leading a team however, he’s also part of the West Auckland Admirals leadership group during the NZIHL season.
When captain Justin Daigle went down with an unfortunate eye injury last season that required surgery, the team appointed Craig to take over the captaincy for the remaining games of the 2017 season. He took on that responsibility by guiding the Admirals through to the NZIHL Finals, where the team ultimately lost to three-time defending champions, the Skycity Stampede. The second place finish was the team’s best result since 2010.
The saying goes ‘never trust a man with two first names’ but in this instance, Nick Craig has proven that he’s up to the task of handling the Ice Blacks captaincy. We reached out to Craig with a few questions to find out a bit more about the new captain.
What does it mean to you to wear the ‘C’ for New Zealand?
It means a tremendous amount to me. (There’s) a huge amount of honour and pride to be captain of this team. I remember how it felt putting the black jersey on for the Ice Blacks the first time and it’s that feeling again – just with that additional spark of motivation keeping my grin ear-to-ear.
When you look at other captains in the hockey world, who inspires you to be a better leader?
I can’t go past my predecessor with this question – Bert Haines is an absolute legend in the hockey community and has done so much for New Zealand hockey and the Ice Blacks. When I was made aware of my captaincy, you can bet who I called first for some advice. The way Bert portrays himself and how hard he worked on and off the ice is a testament to his leadership abilities. It won’t be the only time I seek advise from him throughout this 2018 journey.
Throughout your years of playing hockey, who do you think has helped shape you into the player you are today and influenced your ability to be a leader?
Csaba Kersco-Magos Snr must have an honourable mention for pulling myself and Nick Henderson out of the SNC league in our first year and into the Admirals family to begin our journeys. There were many nights of basic skating lessons over the summer before we were ready to graduate though – not to mention a number of other Ice Blacks Csaba has developed also.
A special mention goes out to the Ravens in-line hockey club in New Plymouth. Coaches and members who helped me in my younger days when I had no ice to jump on in my hometown.
In terms of leadership, the Admirals and Ice Blacks teams as a whole – all the coaches, managers, players, fans etc. have contributed and helped me get to where I am today. And, similarly to a previous question above, after a 2017 Ice Blacks season being Bert Haines’ assistant captain and room-mate, I learnt an incredible amount from him.
How do you rate New Zealand’s chances at the World Championship in April?
There can be no room for second guessing or allow any doubt to creep in when competing on the world stage. I believe we have a great team heading into this year’s World Champs and strongly believe we will take gold.
There is a lot of work to get done in the lead up to Latvia and even more work to be done whilst in Latvia at training camp. Hell, I wouldn’t be much of a captain writing to you now if I thought our chances were “slim”. Now the team has been announced, we are all in full swing on the road to gold this year in Spain.
As the new Ice Blacks captain going into the training camp in Latvia, what is one thing you want to establish that will help the team be better?
I don’t want to change anything heading into camp. We have a leadership group established within the team. The coaching staff have a vision and our role is to support them.
Most of the guys know how I operate, if anything I would only want to establish the team’s goals and expectations as set out by the coaches and ensure everyone is on board to go to work. I am fairly straight up and open to anyone’s opinions or ideas so things could change. I don’t believe leadership means you have to make all the decisions – it’s a team after all.
(Main photo: Mike Froger)