Battling it out: Zanzee Pielak-Jones, 33, vying for the puck against the Auckland Steel. PICTURE: CHENZO

Despite Zanzee Pielak-Jones living nearly 1800 kilometres away from Queenstown, it’s not enough to stop her suiting up for the Wakatipu Wild.

Her home’s in Kerikeri, at the top of the North Island, but Pielak-Jones’ southern ties have kept her coming back to play defence for the local women’s ice hockey team.

She started skating as a kid thanks to figure-skating coach mum, Deanna, and found it pretty natural to pick up an ice hockey stick, starting out with inline hockey in her home town.

Pielak-Jones shifted south after her mum got a figure-skating job, first in Gore, then Dunedin, and started playing ice hockey when she was about 16.

Despite moving to Wellington, then Canada and finally back to Kerikeri, Pielak-Jones continued to play ice hockey for the Southern women’s team, before it was split into Dunedin and Queenstown in 2019.

If the commute wasn’t dedication enough, Pielak-Jones played her first season for Queenstown’s Wild while juggling being mum to a six-month-old.

She recalls receiving a call from good friend and Wild team leader and player Kellye Nelson soon after the team’s formation, asking if she’d like to come down and play.

‘‘I was like ‘oh my gosh, I’m a new mum, it’s pretty crazy’ but I wanted to give it a go.

‘‘It was a really hard, I was still breastfeeding so I was not getting a lot of sleep but it was good for me to get back into something for myself and be like, ‘I can do this’.’’

At the end of the season, she received the Sportswoman Award for her efforts — ‘‘I think they were thinking, ‘well you’re a mum and you’re coming to play’ … I cried a little bit.’’

Her now three-year old son’s become something of a team mascot thanks to coach Colin McIntosh kitting him out in a tiny Wild shirt and gifting him a ‘‘broken stick’’ with which he’s learning how to play.

With the 2022 season in full swing, Pielak-Jones says the Wild’s going ‘‘so good’’ — beating Christchurch 5-nil, before clobbering Auckland Steel twice a fortnight ago.

‘‘There’s nothing more rewarding than being the underdog team and then beating the team that’s been top of the league,’’ she says.

In their last home games of the season, Wild play Dunedin at the Queenstown Ice Arena tonight and tomorrow. Puck drop’s 6.45pm both nights, tickets from Eventfinda or at the door.

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