Thunder plans for tighter play

Jeff Avery. Photo: Supplied
Jeff Avery. Photo: Supplied
New is the buzz word at the Dunedin Thunder this year.

New uniforms, new sponsors, some new young players and — most significantly — a new style of play.

That will all be unveiled as the team begins its National Ice Hockey League season against the Auckland Mako at the Dunedin Ice Stadium tonight and tomorrow.

The open and fast-paced game the Thunder has been known for in recent years may still be seen on home ice.

But there will be an increased emphasis on the tight, physical exchanges this season.

Coach Jeff Avery said the side often struggled to adapt to the smaller rinks of the other teams in the league.

So this year he and Paris Heyd, who is assistant coaching alongside playing, the side will look to adjust its style to fit the smaller spaces.

"We’ve changed things up," Avery said.

"Because our ice surface is so big, we have the biggest rink but it’s actually a disadvantage to us.

"When we get into smaller rinks we’re not used to it.

"We’ve changed our whole style of practising into small area games and battles.

"Changing our systems into breaking them down into smaller things so they can get used to that tight area stuff, which is the actual game.

"It’s very rare you get to skate from end to end.

"It’s all tight battles, and corner work and grinding."

The side returns plenty of experience in the likes of Heyd, Matt Enright, Joe Orr and Regan Wilson.

Meanwhile, it also has plenty of young talent that Avery was excited to get on the ice.

In particular, Adam Stitely and Connor Rolfe were two players he was looking forward to getting in action.

Avery said he would make sure everyone got on the ice this weekend.

The games against the Mako do not count towards the competition standings.

The side is new to the league and comprised of some of the country’s top under-23 players.

Alongside them a handful of "mentor" players from other teams will join them each game.

This week, that will include a group of Stampede players — Taz Hall, Jack Robbie, Jackson Flight, Josh Hurley, Matt Schneider, Callum Burns and CJ Kemp.

After a Covid-19 adapted league last year, Avery said the team was "champing at the bit" to get going again.

The Thunder was reduced to playing the other two South Island teams — the Stampede and Canterbury Red Devils — a year ago.

He said the side was looking forward to getting back to a full season with the Auckland teams.

Tonight’s game begins at 7pm, while tomorrow’s starts at 6pm.

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