Three Queenstowners have been selected for the Ice Blacks ahead of the world championships in Auckland in April.
Bert Haines retains his captaincy of New Zealand’s national ice hockey team, while forward Callum Burns and goalie Aston Brookes also make the squad.
All three were instrumental in Queenstown’s SkyCity Stampede retaining the Birgel Cup last season.
Burns, 20, says: “It’s pretty awesome to be selected – there was lots of competition this year and it’s a good group of guys.”
Having NZ as host nation for the championships has upped the excitement levels.
“It’d be nice to have it in Queenstown of course, right at home, but hopefully we’ll get a good following up in Auckland. There’s a good hockey base up there.”
NZ face off against China, South Korea, Turkey, Israel, and Mexico in the IIHF Division II Group B world championships in Auckland in April.
They’ll be looking to improve on last year’s fourth in Mexico and 2015’s second in Spain. The winners move up to Group A.
“You can’t really tell how you’re going to go,” Burns says. “We’ll just go about our business and turn up to the tournament ready.”
The squad heads to Australia next month for a pre-tournament camp, including four friendly matches against Melbourne Ice and Melbourne Mustangs.
“Going in I guess the coach will have an idea of what he wants, but it’s a case of you earn your ice time, work hard for it during the camp, and show you want to be on a top line.”
Burns says Haines is a “great leader” and he’s also being put through his paces by Stampede’s hotshot Canadian import Jade Portwood.
“Jade’s been helping us out on a weekly basis, lots of knowledge, really good workouts and that definitely helped during [selection] camp.
“He’s working us real hard, pushing us.”