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The Dunedin Thunder has named a 29-strong squad for this season's New Zealand Ice Hockey League as it looks to create depth and build a squad for the future.
Coach Janos Kaszala said the team was hit by an exodus of players at the end of the 2014 season and struggled to field a competitive team last year.
The side finished fourth of five teams last season after making the top two the previous two years.
Kaszala said the team did not want to be caught short again this year, and the coaching and management staff had made an effort to assemble a large squad.
‘‘Last year we had to play everybody who walked into the changing rooms because we had no options.''
The side included four import players and there were a couple of returning stars who missed last season, Kaszala said.
Ice Blacks representative Connor Harrison, the side's leading goal-scorer in 2014, dislocated his shoulder in the first match last year and was out for the rest of the season, while former Ice Blacks representative and experienced national league player Regan Wilson was also returning.
Wilson missed 2015 after joining the police college and would commute from Oamaru to Dunedin to be with the squad this year.
The side also featured current Ice Blacks players Shaun Harrison and Lachlan Frear, who had just returned from the Ice Hockey World Championships in Mexico.
Only five players were returning from last season and most of the squad was made up of new University of Otago students from around the country.
‘‘Some of them have played together in the age-groups so they kind of know each other,'' Kaszala said.
‘‘But we're trying to find the right combinations.
‘‘We've decided to push the guys and create healthy competition within the team. We've said to them there are no guaranteed spots and we will be naming the playing team on every Thursday [before the weekend matches].''
Aside from Shaun Harrison, the other returning players were Joe Orr, Guillaume Leclancher, Dylan Devlin and Noah Leahy.
Most of the other teams in the five-team league were also rebuilding and that meant it was hard to pinpoint a team to watch, Kaszala said.
While the host of new players joining the Thunder this year posed a challenge to the coaching staff, it also provided them with an element of surprise, he said.
‘‘That's what makes my job so exciting in Dunedin. There are a lot of guys coming in and rosters are always changing.
‘‘But this year we can build something for the future here for the next four or five years.''
With a more positive outlook this season, the Thunder was hoping to improve on its fourth placing last year and again reach the top-two finals series.
The side would take 19 players to its North Island matches against the West Auckland Admirals and the Botany Swarm, and 22 players for its South Island matches against the Canterbury Red Devils and the Southern Stampede, of Queenstown.
It would play two separate double-headers against each of the other four teams during the competition.
The team had also organised six pre-season matches against the Red Devils and Stampede in May.
Its first competition game is against the Red Devils in Christchurch on June 4.
Forwards: Ryan Gruszka (Canada), Jacob Hurring, Connor Harrison, Thomas Carson-Pratt, Joe Orr, Seamus Leahy, Mathew Enright, Otto Sillanpää (Finland), Liam Kinney, Aguirre Felipe, Lachlan Frear, Shaun Harrison, Monty Brown, Joel Scott, Jaan Turia, Jaime Meeuws
Defence: George Hopkins, Matas Barakauskas, Regan Wilson, Dylan Devlin, Guillaume Leclancher, Noah Leahy, David FerrariGoalies: Daniel Lee, Kane Easterbrook, Hunter Waugh, Jon Barakauskas
NB: Two imports still to be officially named