DUNEDIN, New Zealand – Big hockey families can be found in many countries. Even in regions people wouldn’t think about in first stance. The Hay family from New Zealand with six members playing or working in hockey was recently honoured by the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
It was special. It made the Hay family famous and will never be forgotten. The four siblings –Andrew (29), Joshua (25), Oliver (17) from the men’s national team and Libby-Jean (19) from the women’s national team – all represented New Zealand in the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program.
A New Zealand jersey has been displayed for years in the international section but they were the first New Zealanders put at display in the International Zone of the Hockey Hall of Fame and Museum in Toronto.
A photo of the four players with their parents Grant and Elizabeth and the four New Zealand jerseys they wore will have a permanent place in Canada.
“I’m going to put a big framed copy of the photo in my lounge at home at Auckland,” Elizabeth said. “It will be the most important photo we have in our house.”
It was a passionate and emotional mother who spoke about her children’s deeds.
“I can’t describe how proud I am. It’s such an honour. I just can’t wait to take all the family to the Hall of Fame to see the jerseys and photo on display,” Elizabeth said.
“A lot of my friends want to see the four jerseys and the family photo when they go through Toronto.
“I still can’t believe it. Are we really there? I’ve just got to go and check. It’s the highlight of my life.
“I love seeing the children in the black jersey representing New Zealand. It always brings tears to my eyes.”
She is also proud of her husband Grant who has been President of the New Zealand Ice Hockey Federation for the last five years.
“He’s turned New Zealand ice hockey around so much. He’s Mr Ice Hockey here,” she said.
New Zealand is a small country in the South Pacific with a population of 4.5 million. It has been a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation since 1977 and only has 1277 active players.
The Hay siblings join a rare group of New Zealanders who are displayed in international sports halls of fame. They include double Olympic champion Danyon Loader (swimming), All Black legend Colin Meads (rugby union) and triple Olympic champion Peter Snell (athletics).
These three were inducted because of their deeds. The four Hay siblings are there because of their uniqueness as a family in competing at a world championships at the same time.
Why is the Hay family so talented at ice hockey?
“They are passionate about it and are highly competitive,” Elizabeth said. “They are very conscientious and have seen the places in the world where it can get them.
“Being in the Hall of Fame is the pinnacle and is a reward for all the hard work and effort the family has put into it. It’s a family achievement.
“I’m so proud of them because they take their sport so seriously.”
The New Zealand men’s team won the bronze medal at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group B in Jaca, Spain, and the women’s team avoided relegation when they beat Poland 4-3 in their final game at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group A in Asiago, Italy.
The parents spent some time at both events.
“We did three days in Spain and then went to Italy,” Elizabeth said. “You might think it is close but it was three plane rides away.
“When we found out that the men had won the bronze medal we had to go back to Spain to watch and stay up all night celebrating.”
Elizabeth then had three plane rides back to Italy to see the final women’s game when New Zealand beat Poland by one goal to avoid relegation.
Elizabeth gives timely advice to her international ice hockey children.
“Live your dreams and go as far as you want,” she said. “Do the best you can and reach your goal. I say it to all of them.
“And play as long as you can. It’s great for your fitness and good for everything.”
Eldest daughter Alannah is the only sibling in the Hay family who has not played ice hockey.
Elizabeth hopes her four-year-old grandson Otis Moby will carry the ice hockey flag into the next generation.
Four years ago Libby-Jean went on a school exchange to Toronto and visited the Hockey Hall of Fame. Now she’s displayed there.
“It was unreal,” she said. “I found it an amazing place. It is a great privilege to be part of it now. It is really cool and I feel so lucky.”
Grant and Elizabeth Hay are parents to seven children; six played ice hockey and five represented New Zealand.
In total the Hay children have played ice hockey in 24 IIHF member countries and played over 170 games for New Zealand teams.
The family elevation to the Hall has been a huge boost for the profile of New Zealand ice hockey.
“New Zealand isn’t known as an ice hockey country internationally and the game isn’t that well known here,” Grant said. “Any opportunity for exposure is fantastic.
“We are very proud that our family is the first into the international part of the Hall of Fame. I think that internationally we punch above our weight.
“Elizabeth and me are very proud of our family. Our philosophy has always been ‘do what you want to do and we will support you.’
“We are not going to force you to go to training if you don’t want to. But they have all been keen to go so it’s been a pleasure.”
Ryan (33) was the first member of the family to play ice hockey for New Zealand. He was in the U18 team that played in Pyongyang, DPR Korea, in 1999.
Andrew, a banker, has played 63 games for New Zealand at all levels since 2002. But nothing matches being displayed in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“It’s quite unique to have my two brothers and sister playing for the national team in the same week.
“It’s good that the family gets recognition, especially for the amount of work Dad’s done for ice hockey in the last 10 years in New Zealand. That’s why it’s special for me.”
Reaching the Hall as a family did not enter Andrew’s head when he first played for the Ice Blacks, as the men’s national team is called, in 2005.
“I thought it was special to play with Josh in the national team for nine years,” Andrew said.
“But this is better. The family was all playing at different venues overseas at the time and it was special to be together at a training camp in the Czech Republic.
“It was a special time and a special recognition and it won’t be something I’ll forget. It’s a privilege to be part of the Hall of Fame.
Grant became involved in ice hockey administration when his eldest son Ryan started playing the sport in 1995.
“Our boys were involved with inline skating on the street and had natural ability at skating and took quite quickly to the ice,” he said.
“We went to the games as a family and slowly they all wanted to give it a go.”
Grant, a building contractor, has been President of the New Zealand Ice Hockey Federation since 2009 and always follows New Zealand teams to international events.
He represents New Zealand at the IIHF level twice a year.
“I find it difficult fitting my job around hockey,” he quipped. “I spend between 30 and 40 hours a week on ice hockey.
“We travel a lot and combine overseas travel with hockey business.
“We are lucky because our kids play in some interesting countries like Iceland, Romania, Mexico where other New Zealand sports teams seldom play.‘’
Grant played the traditional English speaking team sports of rugby and cricket in his youth.
“I’ve only been on skates three or four times and that has been a disaster,” he said. “The family skills at ice hockey is certainly not hereditary.”
Elizabeth was keen on ballet and gymnastics in her youth so the boys have probably received their sense of balance on ice from her.
“I loved the game from the start,” she said. “I had never played ice hockey but it just seemed to be a very exciting fast game.
“My boys latched on to it and loved the game from the start.
“I’m so passionate about it and get quite emotional. I also get a bit scared of injuries – we have had our share – with some concussions and cuts to the face.
“The standard of play is getting better in New Zealand and the impact of the hits causes more injuries.
“But it’s a great life and ice hockey has kept our family together.
“I’m not actively involved in the running of the ice hockey. I’m just in the background supporting the children and trying to promote the game.
“I love getting people who don’t know the game to come and watch.”
Hockey is talked about around the family meal table at the Hay home.
“It’s hard to avoid it,” Elizabeth admitted. “Grant’s running the sport as New Zealand President and has to keep neutral and impartial.
“I’m just a mother supporting my children so sometimes we cross horns. I’m the protective mother and he’s looking at it in a different way.”
The siblings analyse each other’s play.
“They are quite critical and hard on each other but in a brotherly and sisterly way,” Elizabeth said.
Andrew, a defender, first represented New Zealand at the under-18 level in 2001/02 and has played 63 games for New Zealand at all levels. He has played 47 games for the Ice Blacks and is second on the all-time list.
He has been alternate captain for the Ice Blacks for the last six years. He was named the best defenceman at the 2007 IIHF World Championship Division III.
“I’m a stay-at-home defenceman,” Andrew said. “My job is to make sure the other team does not score. I like the physical stuff but try to play smart. I wouldn’t call it a North American style. It’s just a typical defenceman’s mentality.”
He coached the New Zealand under-16 team – three years as assistant and two years as head coach – but gave it away last year because of time pressures.
Ice hockey is an amateur game in New Zealand and Andrew has to fit hockey training and games around his 40-hour week job at the bank.
“I don’t see it as a chore. It’s good fun,” he said. “My wife Yana is treasurer of our Botany Swarm national league team and enjoys hanging out with the wives and girlfriends of other players in the club.”
Oliver is a forward and was first selected for the New Zealand under-18 team in 2012. For the last two seasons he has attended the Canadian International Hockey Academy in Ottawa and plays in the Major Midget AA grade.
He has played 14 games for the Ice Blacks and at 16 was the youngest to play for the senior men’s team.
Oliver went to Canada to improve his ice hockey and “take it as far as I can.” He is a pupil at the Canadian International Hockey Academy in Ottawa.
“My skating has improved,” he said. “We have tuition from skating coaches every couple of weeks and my skills have improved.
“My knowledge of the game is better and I have a better understanding of what to do on the ice.”
His big dream is to play in the National Hockey League in North America.
Libby-Jean, a defender, was first selected for New Zealand in 2011 and the following year was in the women’s team that finished eighth at the Youth Winter Olympics’ skills competition in Innsbruck, Austria.
She has played 20 games for New Zealand.
As a freshman she played NCAA Division III hockey for the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota, last season. She will study management, advertising and marketing at the University of Auckland next year.
“The level of hockey was amazing,” Libby-Jean said. “The Waidacher sisters from the Swiss national team played for us and Nina went to the Winter Olympics this year and won a bronze medal.”
Libby-Jean learnt a lot from the experience in the United States.
“Each Monday we had a skating coach and did pure skating for an hour,” she said. “My skating technique improved.”
Libby-Jean started skating at the age of three – normal for Europeans but unusual for New Zealanders. She concentrated on figure skating for a start and did not start hockey until the age of 14.
“For the next three years I was playing ice hockey and doing figure skating at the same time,” she said.
Time restraints meant that she decided to concentrate on the family game of ice hockey.
Joshua (25), a forward, played under-16 hockey for Linkoping in Sweden for two years from 2003 and the same year was selected for the U18 World Championship.
“Josh developed the lovely European style of skating which was smooth, fast and low,” Elizabeth said.
He is now back in Sweden and played Division 3 in Linkoping last season and will play for Glasgow in Scotland next season and hopefully represent the Ice Blacks in South Africa.
Josh has played 73 games for New Zealand and is ranked third on the Ice Blacks all-time list with 42 games.
Josh and Andrew were both in the Botany Swarm team that won the New Zealand Ice Hockey League in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011.
NOTE: The New Zealand Ice Hockey League’s best-of-three final between the Canterbury Red Devils and the Dunedin Thunder will be played this and next weekend and will be streamed live
and for free. The first game in Dunedin starts on Sunday at 17:30 local time (7:30am CET, 1:30am ET).