With the incorporation of Wellington Ice Hockey Association, October 9 has become a date worth etching into the history books of New Zealand ice hockey.
That date has come after many long days and nights of hard work by those involved, driven solely by their passion for the game and their want to see it succeed.
Starting in 2016 with a square patch of ice in Lower Hutt, they have now transformed the ‘Frosty Spot’ into a fully functional rink with zamboni included. With these recent developments it is now more realistic than ever to envision competitive ice hockey as a reality for the capital, rather than a pipe dream.
The hunger for having ice hockey in Wellington is there – we regularly field questions from fans about when the NZIHL could expand to include a sixth team.
August’s announcement that the trust behind the ‘Wellington Ice Arena’ movement would be calling it a day came as a shock to those who were hopeful of a fully-fledged international arena, but that despair was quickly replaced with quiet optimism when word got out that a smaller grassroots level movement was already happening.
I caught up with Luke Turner, the president of the newly founded WIHA, to find out more about this new venture in preparation for Puck Yeah’s upcoming documentary on hockey in the capital.
With the formation of the Wellington Ice Hockey Association, what’s in the pipeline for the region? Do you have any significant tournaments or events coming up?
Well we just finished up the Puck Off tournament which was our first tournament on the new rink. It went really well with 40 people turning up, and at least 20 spectators – with that under our belt we are aiming to start a Spring beer league in November.
It will be run in a draft format as to make teams even with either 4 or 6 teams depending on how many people sign up. We also have a little bit of Seal on Seal action on Saturday the 17th of November with the ‘Clash of the Seals.’
Since the creation of the new rink in Seaview, have you seen an increase in attendance for public skates or scrimmages?
From what I hear the public sessions have grown around 25%, which is not bad given that there has been no promotion around the rink upgrade. Generally we have been getting over 30 people for scrimmages, which I’m impressed with but it’s time to take it to the next level. People are craving something more competitive where they are playing for something, where there is something on the line.
What started the spark for you wanting to establish the WIHA?
Well with the BHL Chohoho Holiday Classic last year, I saw it as an opportunity where we could take what we had – scrimmages with a lightweight puck – and grow as a team. Since then I think we’ve now made a name for ourselves as the Wellington Seals.
There has been talk about starting a club, as long as I have been playing for the last year, but I think it needs to be much bigger than just a club, it’s about establishing a relationship with the New Zealand Ice Hockey Federation (NZIHF) and setting a very clear direction for the club. We need to get kids involved, and we need to support and develop them. We have the unusual situation where some players have already played for New Zealand in their age grade but we didn’t even have an affiliated region.
It’s also about consolidating ideas. Given that we have had no formal structure, everyone goes off and does their thing and sometimes there is conflicting ideas. So it’s about creating a structured committee where people can approach them to get stuff done.
What has the initial response been like when people discover that yes there is ice hockey in Wellington now?
The word is slowly getting out now. The conversations that go “You play ice hockey? Where do you play that?” still continue daily.
I think we now have the attention of the New Zealand Ice Hockey community that the sport exists here and we have tapped into that local expat market. Now it’s just getting the word out across the region to people who don’t really have an exisiting connection with the ice hockey scene. However, the new rink has really piqued the interest of some players who weren’t so keen to play on the little rink.
There’s a lot of hours and hard work that go into making any of this possible, who are some key contributors that have helped you along the way?
Well first thing’s first, Puck Yeah has been a huge supporter of us. Without your podcast I wouldn’t have found out about Cam Green’s BHL Holiday Classic last year. Attending that tournament ignited a huge passion amongst the team and really gave us a lot of exposure. Walter and Drew in Dunedin have really looked after us with the Masters and Erewhon Cup, plus Sandra from the McKenzie Bull Tahrs has been a huge supporter of what we are doing.
Obviously we couldn’t forget Rob Blitz who runs the rink, and Zark Zeung who helped set up those scrimmages – without video posts on some inline pages I wouldn’t have thought “Hey, I think I can do that.” So without them we wouldn’t have had this opportunity. And finally I have to mention the Gooch, Kerry Goulet. Without him we wouldn’t have this awesome rink with proper boards and glass – we really can’t thank him enough.
Along with several members of the Seals hockey team, you volunteered your time towards the Ice Hockey Classic at Westpac Stadium that was unfortunately cancelled…what did you learn from that experience? What were some of the take aways for you?
That was a really devastating time for everyone involved. Some of our crew took time off from their jobs and put in more than 40 hours to get the rink up. So to see it blow over in a very spectacular way was soul-destroying. Despite this, I felt we all grew way closer with each other in this time. I knew I could count on every one of those guys with my life. Our crew worked through the nights – even when the rink had collapsed they worked through. I feel so lucky that I can call them my friends. They did all this for the love of ice hockey and making it a success in the region.
If a kid out there in the Wellington region wants to learn how to skate or learn how to play hockey, what options do you hope to make available that can boost the growth of ice sports in New Zealand?
Yeah, this is the key area that we need to focus our attention on. We do ‘beer league’ style scrimmages well, but we need the beginners and youth coming through. Once November rolls around we will be able to put more of a focus on youth. However, we really need equipment to help make it safe for them. If any sponsors want to be part of that or if anyone has gear they want to donate get in touch please!
Now that the WIHA is here, hockey fans are going to start wondering when they will see a Wellington team in the NZIHL…do you see that happening in the foreseeable future?
That’s my dream. With the other plans for an Ice Arena I figured it was a 5-10 year plan. That was based on building the rink, establishing a solid youth hockey programme and fan base. Now, after talking to NZIHF president Andy Mills, I’m thinking it’s going to be more like a 2-5 year plan.
We have some amazing talent out here, both with respect to adults and youth. In part this is due to the Inline Hockey scene as well as imports. But in saying this, we will need a bigger rink and a more purpose fit facility. Currently we can only really do 4-on-4 hockey with the constraints of the building.
What words of advice or wisdom have you received from the New Zealand Ice Hockey Federation during the start of this new venture?
It might be just be my impression but it seemed like there was apprehension at first. What we are doing wasn’t part of the game plan – I guess no one expected it. But I think that sums up Wellington Ice Hockey in general.
The Seals started on a rink that was 25 metres by 15 metres, but we started a team anyway. I think it’s just part of a DIY ethic that exists here. While others were talking about starting hockey in Wellington, we had already started it and were growing it.
Once they realised we were here to stay there has been a lot more support.
Who created the logo for the WIHA?
That was created by Dana Williams, the partner of our Vice President Paul Edlin. I stole a bunch of logos using Google image search to put into pictures with some awful scribbles of the themes I was hoping to convey.
Being a mapmaker I wanted a map of the region on there as an option, but in the end the Beehive is probably the most iconic thing about Wellington (other than the bucket fountain) so it’s the most fitting.
I’m really happy with the way the logo turned out. We have a whole heap of talented designers in the community and we hope to utilise their expertise when it comes to logo designs, jersey designs and event posters.
Anything further information or thoughts you would like to add at this stage?
Look out for us. Hockey is growing here. Get in touch if you want to bring your team to Wellington!
To contact the WIHA, email Luke Turner at email@example.com