Ice hockey is a winter sport–and unfortunately for those us on the wrong (right) side of the equator international tournaments are held when the Southern Hemisphere is coming off our off season. Given the nature of IIHF tournaments you have to hit the ground running if you want to be in contention for the medals, so in lieu of shifting your national league’s dates of operation, a strong pre-tournament is vital.Paris Heyd is a key player for the Ice Blacks in 2015

A traditional Ice Blacks campaign begins with a European camp where there are plenty of teams for pre-tournament games. However this year the NZers are off to South Africa for the divison IIB mens world champs and need to find strong opposition a little closer to home. It was with this in mind that Ice Blacks Manager Graham Tappin approached Robert Cox (co-owner of the Perth Thunder) to see if the Thunder would be interested in hosting the New Zealand Ice Blacks for their pre-IIHF Tournament camp in April 2015. The Ice Blacks’ association with Robert has extended over a number of years. His son, Perth Thunder’s Andrew Cox, is a senior player and alternate captain for the NZ Ice Blacks, as well as one of their all-time leading goal scorers (Currently 3rd equal with Braden Lee.) Graham Tappin said that apart from this connection there were three key reasons to go to Perth.

“One, Perth offers an excellent environment to allow the NZ team to practice on and off the ice with first class facilities available to ensure our players can achieve and meet all expectations as outlined by the coaching staff. Two, the team have the opportunity to play three games against the AIHL Team Perth Thunder. Three, travel from NZ to Cape Town is accessible via Perth with good airline connections to reduce length of travel and jet lag.”

So now we know why they are coming–but who is coming? The last time the Ice Blacks were in Australia was the Div IIB world champs in 2011. There are 8 players who played on the 2011 squad who are in the current lineup.This includes the Ice Blacks captain Bert Haines , and assistant captains, Dale Harrop and Andrew Cox. Bert and Dale are leaders in their teams in the NZIHL, and both players lead by example as well as being strong voices on the bench.

This team also contains the second and third most capped Ice Blacks of all time—brothers Andrew and Josh Hay (who have 47 and 42 World Championship tournament games respectively.) Andrew is captain of the Botany Swarm, and Josh spent the previous season playing for the Solway Sharks in the NIHL.As is the case with most small hockey nations, hockey families play a large part in the development of the sport. Last year the Hays set a record for the most siblings playing at one time with little brother Ollie also playing in the Ice Blacks, and sister Libby-Jean playing on the Ice Fernz (just for good measure their father is the president on the NZIHF).

The Hays are joined by three Botany Swarm team mates: Ian Wannamaker, Jordan Challis and Michael Atwell. Ian Wannamaker is a versatile centre who has a lot of Ice Black experience. Jordan Challis is coming back from a one year hiatus from the Ice Blacks and has had a NZIHL season where he was averaging a point a game. Michael Atwell is a great puck-carrying forward who tends to play on a checking line in the NZIHL.

The other two players from the North Island are Nicholas Henderson, who is a consistent standout for the Admirals. He’s a high-scoring forward who’s also strong on the defensive side. The other North Islander is Jeremy Chai, who as one of the quicker skaters is talented at finding gaps in the opposing defense.

One of the great anomalies of the NZ ice hockey in the last few years has been the absence of Dunedin Thunder’s Paris Heyd and Connor Harrison in Ice Blacks away games. Despite both debuting over 4 years ago, they have less than 10 games for the Ice Blacks between them; Connor missed the 2014 tournament through injury, but the other absences for both players were brought about by a desire to concentrate on their University studies. In the NZIHL both are great two-way players, and are strong, fast and aggressive. Opposition players will do well to stay out of their way as they are tenacious, and can really lay on big hits.

Mitchell Frear and Jamie Lawrence are both defensive powers for their respective NZIHL teams. They use their size to effectively shut down the opposition and both are also efficient offensive weapons. Mitchell is the highest scorer of the two—last season he posted 17 pts (7 G and 10 Assists) for the Dunedin Thunder in the NZIHL sixteen game season.

Callum Burns one of the rising stars of the NZIHL. Playing for the Southern Stampede, his season was curtailed through injury. He has come back strong from this injury competing in the IIHF U20 Div III tournament in Dunedin in January this year. Callum is an exciting player who always has some fancy shots up his sleeve for the trick shot competition in NZ’s Skate of Origin weekend. Three years ago Callum placed 4th in the Youth Olympics Ice Hockey skills competition.

The two netminders have both spent time in the AIHL, Jaden Pine-Murphy for the Melbourne Ice and Rick Parry for the Adrenaline in the 2013 season. The statistics show that they had mixed fortunes with Pine-Murphy having stronger stats at the moment. However, Rick Parry is a strong goaltender, having played professionally in France, and posting three career shutouts in World Champs. Expect them to be rotated against Perth as they battle for the top position.
The rookies this year are also strong. Bradley Apps and Max Macharg provided great speed and skill for the Canterbury Red Devils last year, giving the Devils strong depth all the way to the third line. Remy Sandoy is a huge player who in the recent years has been a strong net-front presence at both ends of the ice. George Coslett had a strong season in defense for the Dunedin Thunder this season. The fifth rookie Tomas Tappin has been working his way up the ranks, having captained both the NZ U18 and U20 sides in recent years and now making the step up to the big leagues.
The head coach is Janos Kaszala, assisted by Stacey Rout. Kaszala and Rout have seen a lot of each other in the last two years from opposing benches, as they coach the Dunedin Thunder and Canterbury Red Devils respectively. The Devils and the Thunder have been the two most dominant teams in the NZIHL for the last 2 years. Kaszala is a former national representative for Hungary, who came to NZ as a player for the Canterbury Red Devils. He won a Championship with the Devils, and has gone on to forge a good record as head coach in the NZIHL, making two finals with the Dunedin Thunder out of his three campaigns. Kaszala is strong on systems, and brings extraordinary passion to the bench. He is also a strong advocate for hockey in NZ, running regular camps, and coaching a lot of youth hockey.
Stacey Rout is a mainstay of the NZIHL, having been involved in every season and collecting four championships in ten years (two as a player with the Southern Stampede, and two in the coaching staff with the Canterbury Red Devils). Rout also represented his country thirty times for the Ice Blacks, and is the9th most capped Ice Black. He has also been in the coaching staff with the NZ U18 team for 3 years and so has international experience working the clipboard. This mix of native knowledge combined with European experience is a potent combination.

Hopefully this tour ignites the embers of the Trans-Tasman relationship that have cooled in recent years after showing some promise with the bi-annual Winter Games and the Trans-Tasman Champions League. While there no doubt the Australians still hold the upper hand in IIHF tournaments the gulf has certainly closed from the 58 & 29 point margins set in 1987, to two goals in their last two meetings at IIHF events (Newcastle in 2009 & Melbourne in 2011). It is hard to find good opposition being on the opposite side of the world from the majority of teams, and closer ties between the neighbors can surely help.

Full Squad list :
Canterbury Red Devils (5) – APPS Bradley, TAPPIN Tomas, LAWRENCE Jamie, HARROP DALE, MACHARG Maxwell
Dunedin Thunder (5) – COSLETT George, FREAR Mitchell, HARRISON Connor, HEYD Paris, SANDOY Remy
Botany Swarm (5) – ATTWELL Michael, CHALLIS Jordan, WANNAMAKER Ian, HAY Andrew, HAY Joshua
Southern Stampede (2) – HAINES Bert, BURNS Callum,
West Auckland Admirals (3) – CHAI Jeremy, PARRY Rick, HENDERSON Nicholas
Melbourne Ice (1) – PINE-MURPHY Jaden
Perth Thunder (1) – COX Andrew