This week’s Camorra Hockey House Holiday Classic is exciting for a few reasons. Not only is Auckland getting an ice hockey tournament in November/December right when the temperatures are heating up, but it signals the competitive debut of the Wellington Seals – the city’s first hockey team.
The story of how the Seals came to be is a fine example of the Kiwi do-it-yourself attitude in action; and with over a hundred players now coming through their makeshift rink, this beer league hockey club is onto something special.
With no proper ice rink in Wellington, the team have had to make do with what’s available to them.
Their current home is Frosty Spot, an indoor ice skating rink in Lower Hutt. The setup for hockey practice is an interesting one that looks more like a game of pond hockey somehow popped up inside an industrial warehouse – but for a temporary solution, it works.
A year ago Rob Blitz, the owner of Frosty Spot, put forward the idea of having ice hockey in his rink and from there, numbers have steadily increased. It began with nine players, although none of them played goalie so the goals were flipped to create a smaller net and discourage players from shooting the puck high.
Combining word of mouth and social media, the club grew to around twenty, including a goalie, with Blitz padding up and learning how to play in-goal to fill the other net. For scrimmages the club splits up into different squads to play non-contact 3-on-3 hockey with substitutions.
Their biggest hockey night to date saw 46 players, including five goalies, show up to play.
From the photo above you might notice the boards are much lower than your typical hockey rink. To make it work, there is a special rule the Seals have in place to punish anyone that flips the puck out of the playing surface. It’s not two minutes for delay of game – instead the infringing player is required to do ten push-ups on the spot while play continues. Also, a new skater isn’t allowed to come off the bench and replace that player until they finish said push-ups.
Another quirk of this club, there is no Zamboni. The players groom the ice themselves by dry scraping and dumping the resulting snow into wheel barrows, this is followed up by applying a thin layer of water that must freeze before they continue. That snow then helps cool down the post-game beers that have become a tradition like many other beer league teams around the world.
Since a Zamboni is too large for the ice surface itself, Frosty Spot are currently exploring different ways to groom the ice more effectively. One such way is with a mower…that’s right, a modified lawn mower.
To help strengthen the team’s roster, assistant coach Zark Zeung recruited a few players from the Wellington Penguins inline hockey team.
Seals forward Cam Belworthy is one such recruit, who only took up the sport in May last year and has shown incredible dedication towards improving his game in such a short amount of time. Much like the Seals team itself, this tournament is a first for Belworthy and he’s excited to see what the future holds for the game in Wellington.
“Playing in this tournament means a lot to me, because it’s a sport I’ve been wanting to play since I was a kid watching the Mighty Ducks movies, so you could say it’s fulfilling a dream.
I’m super lucky to be a part of something that is practically unheard of in Wellington. I hope that this team is a catalyst of ice hockey being an established sport down here.” – Cam Belworthy.
After establishing a roster of players, the team needed to create an identity to set them apart for the Holiday Classic tournament.
Zeung spent many hours going over design concepts for uniforms and logos with the team. He provided Puck Yeah with some insight into the whole process and shared a few of those original concepts – click on each image for a closer look.
“Ideas were thrown around for a few weeks, designs were submitted by players. I had put forward a few that got a lot of feedback and from there on I progressed further with my concepts. Next was seeing what colour was available and changing the design. It went from removing the existing Beehive and Seal logo to adding something else that represents Windy Wellington.
The Vegas Golden Knights had a nice simple design and all I had to do was add our logo to it but switch up the colours so it’s slightly off. Being a Wellington team the gold helps and fits in with the logo. No one in the beer league choose grey so it made things easier. ” – Zark Zeung.
The logo itself is sharp and feels very much like a Wellington team even without the symbolic Beehive (the home to New Zealand’s government). The simple yet striking look works well for this particular hockey team. The tornado characterises the windy nature of Wellington – if you haven’t experienced a windy landing at Wellington airport, well you don’t want to – and the aggressive seal doesn’t fall into the trap that some hockey team logos do by being too cartoonish.
It’s fitting that the team’s uniform is modelled after the Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL’s latest expansion franchise. Who knows what the Wellington Seals could mean for the sport’s growth in the capital? With the extensive process of building the Wellington Ice Arena well under way – the latest public update stated they’re awaiting an estimate on construction costs – perhaps this is the beginning of the NZIHL’s sixth team for when the national league inevitably expands to include a third team in the North Island.
The Seals are writing a unique history for themselves and if the hockey club continues to attract more players, it’s highly likely that Wellington will send two teams to the 2018 Holiday Classic. If so, they might just prove to us all that New Zealand’s capital is the newest Hockeytown on the block.
Qualifying rounds for the inaugural Holiday Classic begin this week, with the puck dropping on the Seals’ first game at 7am Friday from the Botany Forum (Paradice Botany Downs). The main event takes place Saturday and Sunday with games spread across the Avondale Square Gardens (Paradice Avondale) and Botany. The full tournament schedule is available at the BHL website.
All photos supplied by Zark Zeung/Wellington Seals