Hockey rivals meet ‘future all stars’

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Young ice hockey players were given a rare chance to train with their sporting heroes ahead of tonight’s sell-out showdown between USA and Canada.

North American players landed in Queenstown just before noon on Tuesday.

That afternoon, they held a one-off training session at Queenstown Ice Arena for Queenstown Ice Hockey Club players, aged 5-17.

Team Canada player Eric Neilson says: “New hockey players – I love it. Enthusiasm and work ethic, it is so much fun.

“You can see the passion. These kids want to learn. They are hungry.”

Brothers Shane and TJ Brennan, Michael Budd and Ed Gale from Team USA, and Peter Holland representing Canada, also trained the youngsters.

“We’ve just got off the ice with some future all-stars,” Shane Brennan says.

“We’ve been working on some game situation stuff. You know, where to move without the puck, calling to get open, bringing the intensity … and obviously finishing for some goals.”

Queenstowner Jack Walters, 10, enjoyed the session.

“We have been doing a lot of drills, passing and races.

“The players were really good and I think Canada will win.”

Flynn Cutler, eight, enjoyed learning “how to score goals, skating fast and jumping over sticks”.

The teams – current and past players, and emerging stars – meet tonight in the highly-anticipated Ice Hockey Classic.

It’s the final game in a three-stop tour of New Zealand to raise awareness of concussion and neurotrauma and fundraise for the charity Stop Concussions Foundation.

Canada took the lead last Friday, winning 8-5 at the Spark Arena in Auckland, but the second game in Wellington was cancelled.