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Whanganui Inline Hockey Club looking to bring sport back to popularity by hosting national championships

Whanganui Inline Hockey Club looking to bring sport back to popularity by hosting national championships

Posted September 12, 2023

Source: Whanganui Chronicle, 11 September 2023

Photo: Whanganui Lightning inline hockey player James O’Donnell. Photo / Bevan Conley

The Whanganui Inline Hockey Club is hoping to inspire a local resurgence in the sport as it hosts the 2023 Inline Hockey New Zealand National Championships.

Event organiser and club member James O’Donnell said it was the first time Whanganui has hosted the tournament since the early 2010s, with plans in place for the last two years.

Other than playing well in the championships, he said the club’s goal was to get more people into the sport, which has had a downturn in popularity over recent years.

The club started in 1995 and, at its peak, had hundreds of members due to rollerblading having a wave of popularity in the ‘90s.

“Back in the day, we had two or three teams in every grade and we were a huge club - [Jubilee Stadium] was basically a fulltime hockey rink,” he said.

However, in the 2000s, the popularity of blades waned as skateboards and scooters took over, and now there were only around six players left in the club, reducing it down to one team, the Whanganui Lightning.

“Ideally, we’ll be getting more people to come down and start playing and seeing the sport in Whanganui growing again,” O’Donnell said.

He described the sport as ice hockey but on wheels, as it started out as a way for ice hockey players to practice in summer, with players using ice hockey sticks and a puck rather than a ball.

Each team has four players and a goalie on the rink at any given time, with players subbing in and out every minute or so.

“So it’s just go on, sprint, go as hard as you can, get off - and just constantly subbing on and off like that.”

Between September 23 and October 1, two separate tournaments will take place inside Jubilee Stadium.

First is the Junior Festival of Hockey for young players, which will run from September 23-27, with other activities also taking place.

“We have fun events going on like a disco night; we’re going over to the Splash Centre for a pool party; we’re getting the Sport Whanganui trailer with all the lawn games and having a shared lunch.”

From September 27 on, the senior national championships will take place, with around 40 teams coming across the many different age groups and games being held each day from around 8am to 9pm.

O’Donnel and the Lightning will be taking part in the premier division with five other teams, the final for which is scheduled to start at 7.30pm on Saturday, September 31.

“We’re on at the prime time so everybody can come see the best of the best, which will be really cool,” O’Donnell said.

At last year’s tournament, they placed second in the division and have been putting in extra training for the home tournament, but he admitted it would be difficult to defeat Wellington’s Capital Penguins, who have won the last 10 championships in a row.

“They are literally undisputed favourites in New Zealand and there’s a good reason for it. They’ve been together for a long time and have got some amazing players.

“I’d like to say we’ll give them a run for their money, but they’re going to be a tough one to knock over,” he said.

The event was free to enter for spectators, and he encouraged people to come along to watch the games.

“Just rock on in and see some hockey, and hopefully [people] enjoy it and want to come down and give it a go [themselves].”

If people were interested in taking up the sport, he said the best way to do it was to contact the club either by email or on Facebook.

Author: Finn Williams is a multimedia journalist for the Whanganui Chronicle.