The opportunity to cheer on our Home and Native Land in an ice hockey game in New Zealand is a rare and golden opportunity that presented itself to us recently. It turns out that the U19 hockey team from Kelowna, British Columbia, was in town for a 3 game series against the U19 National Hockey Team of New Zealand, as part of a summer tour. The players had made their way through the Kelowna minor hockey program and were chosen to represent the Game to the world Down Under.
A crew of about 13 of us, comprised mainly of our Canadian friends and some other Canadians from Dale and Amber’s church, came out in our red and white to cheer on our Canadian counterparts on the ice.
The action went down at Auckland’s finest ice venue, Paradice Skating Arena, which can be likened to your local Kinsmen ice hockey rink in Canada. The mixed aroma of greasy fries, hot chocolate, and sweaty hockey gloves, was familiar and oddly comforting.
Being a small rink, the stands were packed. We were surprised at the turnout actually, considering that not many Kiwis know much about ice hockey. The Canadian fans were loud and a few of them even verging on rowdy. It was superb.
Canada in black and red, and NZ in blue, it was a match-up that clearly favored Canada’s experience and skill.
We figured was no way that New Zealand was going to beat Canada at their own national sport, but with the way the game started, we realized there was a slight possibility. Two goals early on by the Team NZ had Team Canada a little worried, and had our fans questioning the goalie’s ability. Breno harnessed most of his razzing of the goalie due to being the only fans that the Canadian team had in the country. In all honesty, though, the goalie was brutal, allowing 4 goals on 10 shots in the game.
We got the feeling that the Kiwi hockey players, and especially the Kiwi fans, were surprised and slightly off-put at our enthusiasm for the game. We had been so starved from the sport that this was an excellent outlet for our pent up Hockey fanaticism.
Player number 19, Naka, quickly became a Canadian fan favorite because of his quick agility, and easily-pronounceable surname.
“This is the best fan showing we’ve had on our whole tour,” said the Assistant Coach of Team Canada during break between the second and third period. “It’s great for the boys to receive such great support in New Zealand.”
We talked to a few of the players, who said they had a great time surfing in Australia and playing the occasional hockey game. A pretty cool trip for the boys for sure.
At the end of the game, the players took to centre ice for a group photo, as well as a salute to their loyal fan base.
Our friend, Brandon, was the only one out of the Canadian crew to make it out to all 3 games, which featured some more tense action including a fight or two.
It was nice to see some other Candians, and to watch a game that is so familiar to us. Most kiwis can’t seem to follow the puck, and reflecting on this, I supposed it is a learned skill to follow a game of hockey, to be able to watch the game and know where the puck is, instead of watching the ball constantly like one does in a rugby match.
It was pretty cool to have a hockey night in New Zealand, a once in a lifetime opportunity, you may say. The hockey was decent, the Canadian crowd was great, and the players were stinky. The night gave us a temporary transport home- you need that every once in a while.
We miss you, Canada.