A Queenstowner raised in Canada can thank the Minister of Internal Affairs for making it into the Ice Blacks.
Bert Haines joins the New Zealand ice hockey team at this month’s division two, grade B world champs in Estonia, near Russia, after only gaining Kiwi citizenship in February.
The 29-year-old says Internal Affairs Minister Nathan Guy granted him citizenship – needed to represent NZ – as an “exceptional circumstance” because of his sporting talent.
“I went for citizenship because I want to live here, but hockey’s the biggest benefit out of it,” says Haines, who gained his residency two years ago.
He arrived in Queenstown from Vancouver Island eight years ago on a snowboarding holiday and never left.
“I didn’t know Queenstown even had hockey when I came.”
Getting into the Ice Blacks has been his goal since he played exhibition games for them against the Canadian Moose in 2003.
Meantime, he’s played five seasons for the Queenstown-based national league team the Southern Stampede.
Haines, who manages bar/restaurant Winnies, says the Ice Blacks will be at some disadvantage in Estonia in terms of ice time.
Players in the other teams – Estonia, China, Romania, Israel and Iceland – have had four months of competitive ice hockey, while the Ice Blacks will have had just four training camps and three warm-up games in Finland before the champs start on April 10.
The side’s determined to win at least one game to ensure it stays in division two after winning promo-tion at the division three worlds in Dunedin last year.In the past the Ice Blacks have always been relegated again after playing in the division two world champs.
The only other local in the 21-man national squad is Brett Speirs, 27, though the team’s again managed by Queenstowner Charlie Reid.Two years ago there were eight locals in the Ice Blacks but a number have retired and others like Braden Lee and Hayden Argyle are unavailable.
Haines says playing for his adopted country doesn’t come cheap – each player is forking out $2700 for this month’s trip on top of $1250 for the summer training camps.