The 2018 Dunedin Thunder have found themselves in a predicament that could only occur in New Zealand Ice Hockey. Dunedin is a university town, and thus, the Thunder is a representation of the NZIHL’s studying elite.
Half of the twenty-six member squad are full-time students, with the average age being just 19 years old. Although young, these thirteen players collectively now have over 500 NZIHL games under their belts, an impressive feat considering teams only play 16 games in a season. These student’s form the backbone the team, gaining new players yearly as they are drawn to the ‘Dunedin Experience’.
The predicament of the Dunedin Thunder, is that they lack continuity, players are constantly coming and leaving the University.
Players such as Remy Sandoy, the Frear brothers, Connor Harrison, and Aston Brookes, have all arrived and blossomed in Dunedin, enabling the Thunder to make multiple Birgel Cup appearances, before going back to their respective teams after their time living the Dunedin dream. This should teach one not to count the Thunder out, as each year they are a very different team, welcoming each individual that seeks to be a part of the puzzle.
Otago Polytechnic student Joe Orr, who boasts 92 NZIHL games will be entering into his 7th consecutive NZIHL season at just 21 years of age. Orr will be stepping into a new role after coming off a career high season last year – scoring 8 goals and 3 assists.
Orr’s line consists fully of students. On the left-wing is Jacob Hurring, one of the most underrated players in the league, standing tall at 6’3″ with a killer shot and some serious body power behind him. Jacob is currently studying physiotherapy at the University of Otago after surviving his first years of the health sciences while also playing for the Thunder. On the right of that line comes the new addition of Shaun Brown from the Canterbury Red Devils. Shaun also a student, fitted instantly into the squad and is a hard-hitting addition to the second line.
The additions of all these players from different NZIHL teams has enabled the Thunder to have a very unique culture, more similar to the feel of a well-run North American junior hockey team than a professional club.
As previously mentioned, the majority of the team are students and a large bulk of these students live together which has formed the creation of “hockey flats” in Dunedin. The Thunder has a lot of chemistry this year, and it could be attributed to the fact that they don’t just play together, they also eat, study, and live together. This enables a rich team culture, and makes the transition from moving away from home much easier for student athletes as it provides a good basis for support and encouragement.
What the Thunder lacks in age, they make up for in speed. The addition of Carl Bombardier, a former trainer with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, has enabled the boys to be pushed to their limits. Through vigorous off-ice programmes and dieting advice, the team has been moulded into a coherent and well-drilled unit.
While the Thunder may still be considered an underdog, the team have a vast stock of talent, old and new, that packs a heavy punch.
Story: Ben Roth, Dunedin Thunder / Main Photo: Mike Froger.