AUCKLAND – It was a success. The World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend started in New Zealand and gave newcomers a taste of the ice and brought back former players to the game.
There were 20 new girls testing themselves on the ice at the Botany Paradice Ice Rink at Auckland, one of three events held in the country.
“It went really well,” the organiser of the Auckland event, Philippa Kaisser, said. “There were helpers from the Ice Fernz [as the women’s national team is nicknamed] and the New Zealand under-18 team on the ice.”
The youngest newcomers were Lillianja and Amber who were both aged five.
“I wouldn’t say they had no fear on the ice because they were watching it carefully,” Philippa Kaisser said. “But they really enjoyed it and had big smiles on their faces. Amber’s Mum told me that her daughter had a huge grin on her face. It was just what we wanted.”
The oldest new player was former figure skater Pansy Sun, who is aged in her early forties. She was the only married woman who joined the global day in Auckland.
“She is looking for a bit more of a challenge now so she had a go at ice hockey,” Philippa Kaisser said.
The Global Girls’ Game, which will take place later during the season, was held at Auckland one year ago but this was the first time a “Give it a Go” girls day had been held in New Zealand’s largest city.
The new girls liked it.
“It was such fun,” Samara Compton (18), an inline player, said.
Some of the girls played inline hockey and were looking for a new challenge.
“A number of the girls heard about us through inline,” Philippa Kaisser said. “The captain of the Ice Fernz came to us through inline and more and more girls are either doing both sports or just playing hockey.
“Some have got as far as they can go at inline and are looking for a new challenge on the ice.”
A feature of the day at Auckland was the help given by experienced players including Ice Fernz head coach Andreas Kaisser.
“We also had two under-14 girls, under-18 girls and two Ice Fernz on the ice,” Philippa Kaisser said.
“We linked the under-14 girls with the two five-year-olds while the Ice Fernz and under-18 girls took smaller groups.”
The internationals included Ashley Cunningham, and Helen Murray (26) who has been in the Ice Fernz for five years and is studying for a PhD in neuro-science.
“The day brought an awareness of ice hockey and brought some retired players back into the game,” she said.
She was impressed by the potential of the new players.
“We did a lot of ice hockey drills to get the inline girls used to the ice,” Murray said. “There was a lot of skills among them.”
Philippa Kaisser felt that the “Girls Give It a Go’’ weekend was a good way to promote ice hockey.
“It was a chance for the ice hockey community to have a big push on one day to promote female ice hockey,” she said.
“It created a good atmosphere with only girls playing on the ice.”
Andreas Kaisser was impressed with the potential of two of the inline players.
“But they still have a lot of work to do to get ready for the ice,” he said.
Andreas explained the significance of the day to the whole group before they split into smaller groups for drills on the ice.
They were told how to stand up on skates and the correct way to fall so they did not hurt themselves.
“They practised passing in pairs and then had a short game before doing more drills,’’ Andreas said.
The other two New Zealand venues were at the other end of the country in the deep south at Gore and Queenstown.
Eight new girls tried ice hockey at the Ice Sports Southland Rink at Gore after the Southern League women’s team’s practice.
“The new girls enjoyed it,” the head coach of the Southern Ice Hockey League team, Lyndal Heineman, said. “They tried the gear on, pushed the puck around and then had a game in the evening.”
The two youngest girls, aged nine and 10, made the two-hour trip from Dunedin for the day.
“The younger girls enjoyed it and had big smiles on their faces and enjoyed themselves,” Heineman said.
Their confidence on skates grew as the session progressed.
“They hung on to the boards at first until they realised they could fall over and not get hurt. They didn’t look back after that.”
The progress of the girls was rapid.
“One girl was the goalie and the others took shots at the goal and made face offs in a little game we had at the end.”
The Gore club has its own loan equipment and the girls dressed up in hockey gear.
“We teamed them up with girls from our representative team to practice the skills,” Heineman said.
The oldest player was Tomlyn Morrissey (43) of Gore, who went on to the ice for the first time.
“Mum had a bit of fun. It was something she had never done before,” her son said. “She will be good on skates with a bit more practice.”
Helping the instructors were two members of the Ice Fernz who impressed the younger girls who were trying ice hockey for the first time.
The girls were given instruction in the morning and later had a game at night between two teams of eight girls. It was the first time that a “Have a Go Day’’ had been held at Gore.
“It was a step forward for us today,” Heineman said. “The girls are now talking among themselves about what they can do next year to build on what has been started.
“The day has generated enthusiasm and given us the incentive to be bigger and reach more people next year.”
Queenstown is less than two hours away from Gore and it also staged a women’s game on the same night.
“It is a big thing for our Southern region to have two women’s games played at the same time,” Heineman said. “It hasn’t happened before.”
The indoor ice rink at Gore was built 15 years ago and is part of a multi-sport complex that includes a swimming pool and basketball court.
“People can come along and make a day of it, and have a great time,” Heineman said.
“They skate or play ice hockey on the ice, have a swim and then a game of basketball.”
Members of the Ice Fernz and the New Zealand women’s under-18 team helped instruct the newcomers.
“They enjoyed it. I could see the girls grow from that experience,” Heineman said. “It was a great opportunity for the Ice Fernz and the Southern Storm players to grow their own understanding of the game.
“It made them realize how far they had come since starting the sport. It will help their confidence.
“One of the wonderful things about ice hockey in New Zealand is that it is a growing sport. We have opportunities in the sport that are not available in the same way for other countries.”
The girls at Gore were made aware that they were participating in a world-wide event in over 40 countries.
”They have gone on the Internet to see what is happening in other countries,” Heineman said. “They are excited to be part of it.”
Heineman sent the computer links to the girls and it made them understand that they were part of a worldwide event.
It is breast cancer awareness month in New Zealand and the event at the Queenstown Ice Arena was called “Pink in the Rink.” Funds were raised to fight breast cancer.
There was a gold coin donation to get into the arena and raffles were held to raise funds.
The main event was a game with 13 players selected in two even teams.
“It was a mix of people who had played a lot of ice hockey and others who had not played much hockey at all,” the organiser of the Queenstown event Minna Ruski-Jones said.
“We tried to bring all the social women together on this day and join them with any women who were prepared to give it a go. All the girls felt that it was great to have so many women playing hockey together.’’
The youngest player was Gabby Mills (14) who plays regularly for the Queenstown club. The oldest was Sarah Patterson (48).
At Queenstown women’s hockey players are forced to play in mixed teams with men because there are not enough female players and there are usually only two women in a team. They enjoyed the all-women game at the weekend.
“I enjoyed seeing so many girls on the ice. I loved that,” Amy Calargh said. “We normally play in mixed teams.”
Mush Horder said she “was impressed by the level of skill with everyone trying to step up.”
There was good public support with 150 spectators watching the game and this pleased Ice Fern Ella Mills.
“It was great to have so much support from the hockey community,” she said.