Story: Ice sports

Page 3. Ice hockey

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The game

Ice hockey is played by two opposing teams, each fielding six players (five skaters and a goaltender). Each team’s skaters include three forwards and two defence players. The skaters, using hockey sticks, attempt to gain possession of a rubber puck. The aim is to shoot it into the opposition’s net to score a goal. The goaltender tries to stop the puck from going into the goal.

Teams usually have 20 players in total, though only six are allowed on the ice at any one time. The game is now played on an ice hockey rink, and top-level games are divided into three periods of 20 minutes each.


Modern ice hockey originated in Canada in the 19th century, spreading to other countries. In 1908 delegates from France, England, Belgium and Switzerland established the International Ice Hockey Federation to govern international competition. Ice hockey became an Olympic sport in 1920.

The Erewhon Cup

The Erewhon Cup is named after a mid-Canterbury sheep station whose owner, Wyndham Barker, gave the trophy to the Mt Harper Ice Skating Club. The club presented it to the newly formed New Zealand Ice Skating Association in 1937 as a challenge cup. In 1992 the New Zealand Ice Hockey Federation returned the cup to the Southern League, whose teams compete for the prized trophy every year.

In New Zealand ice hockey was played on frozen ponds and lakes from the 1900s, or possibly even earlier, by South Island high-country farmers and farm workers. In 1937 at a tournament at Ōpawa, South Canterbury, teams competed for the Erewhon Cup. On the same occasion the New Zealand Ice Skating Association (NZISA) was formed. After previous attempts to break away from the NZISA, supporters of ice hockey formed the New Zealand Ice Hockey Federation in 1986.

International competition

In 1963 New Zealand had its first taste of international competition when a visiting Australian team played a New Zealand side. Senior men’s and women’s teams (the Ice Blacks and the Ice Ferns) have participated in world championships since 1995, and junior teams (under 20 and under 18) since 1998, with some success. However, by 2013 New Zealand had not yet sent an ice hockey team to the Winter Olympics.

National competitions

Ice hockey is played in the Auckland, Canterbury, and Southern (Otago and Southland) regions. Men’s teams from these regions make up the New Zealand Ice Hockey League. There is also a junior elite league.

In 2012 the inaugural Trans-Tasman Challenge League was held.

In addition, there are annual club and national championships, and a ‘Skate of Origin’ competition featuring star players in two teams – one from the North Island and one from the South Island.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Ice sports - Ice hockey', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 April 2024)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 5 Sep 2013, updated 1 Jan 2016