Ice hockey coming to Westpac Stadium, Spark Arena and Queenstown in 2018
18 December 2017
Wellington's Westpac Stadium will become the first outdoor stadium in the southern hemisphere to host a major outdoor ice hockey game when the Ice Hockey Classic visits New Zealand in 2018.
The June 23 game will be part of a three-game tour between teams from the United States and Canada. The other two games will take place at Spark Arena in Auckland and the Queenstown Ice Arena.
The teams will feature a collection of current ice hockey players, veterans and promising emerging talents.
The Ice Hockey Classic took games to Australia in 2015, 2016 and 2017, including at Melbourne's prestigious tennis venue, Rod Laver Arena.
But staging a game outdoors would present an even bigger challenge for the organisers. Outdoor games are played in the United States and Canada on baseball or American football fields, including the yearly Winter Classic in the National Hockey League (the US and Canadian professional league) on New Year's Day or January 2, but generally the ambient temperatures are close to, or below, freezing point.
While Wellington has notoriously bad winter weather, it was unlikely such cold weather would be in place for the game.
Westpac Stadium chief executive Shane Harmon said hosting the event would be a first on many levels.
"Building an NHL-sized ice hockey rink on the pitch presents some technical challenges.
"The team have a 72-hour turnaround period to build, freeze, unfreeze and dismantle the rink. But we believe it is worth the effort to create such an exciting and innovative event experience for fans.
"Few Kiwis will have experienced a live ice hockey game before so we think it will be very popular, particularly with the calibre of athletes who are expected to compete."
For an idea about the type of player will be taking part one can look at Mike Commodore, who captained team Canada in the 2017 Ice Hockey Classic in Australia.
He played 13 seasons in the NHL before retiring in 2014, racking up more than 480 games of professional hockey and winning an Ice Hockey World Championships gold medal with Canada in 2007.
The 38-year-old said he was looking forward to the tour heading to New Zealand.
"It was great to see so many passionate ice hockey fans come out and support us in Australia. Touring Australia with the Ice Hockey Classic has been a highlight in my career and it will be fantastic to reignite the rivalry with USA for yet another year."