On Saturday, September 14 the 2019 Ford National Hockey League (NHL) will kick off for the 21st time. This year the Tauranga Hockey Association and Tauranga City Council will play host to the event between the 14th and 22nd of September at Blake Park.
The Ford NHL has provided quality competition and has played a role in helping develop talented hockey players from around the country. The talent that has emerged from the Ford NHL has enabled the Vantage Black Sticks Men and Women to be firmly cemented among the top-10 hockey teams in the world in recent years.
Hockey New Zealand Chief Executive Ian Francis said as part of Hockey New Zealand’s strive for continuous improvement the Ford NHL would be changing in 2020 to become a multi-tiered Association-based tournament.
“This shift is part of a wider group of changes to our competition structure which are being developed following a sport-wide strategic review in consultation with our hockey associations. They are designed to enhance the quality of competition experiences, to promote player, coaching and umpire development, and at the highest level to increase the standard of players contending for our Black Sticks teams.”
“This is an exciting change. We are expecting the shift from NHL to an association-based tournament to continue provincial pride and long standing rivalries as well as offering competitive opportunities to more players, coaches and umpires.”
In the first year of the NHL in 1999, the men’s side from Wellington and the Auckland women took home the Championship titles. Since that year, both of those teams have been the most successful with Wellington/Capital men capturing seven championships in the 21year history, while the Auckland women have been victorious in a record six championships.
Mr Francis said “We are excited about the new format and the opportunities that this will provide our sport going forward. We want the final year of the Ford NHL to be a celebration of the competition and what it has provided to hockey in New Zealand. The new competition strategy plays an important role in the evolution of hockey and will help further enhance and develop our players, coaches and umpires at all levels”.
A broad outline of the provisional 2020 competition structure is provided below. Mr Francis said details would become available within the next couple of months when the consultation process was complete and the structure was finalised.
National Hockey Championship
In 2020, the Ford NHL will become the National Hockey Championship which will be open to the 32 associations throughout the country. The Championship will be tiered according to association ranking, and like NHL, will take place in September each year. The purpose of the National Hockey Championship will be to find the top Association in each tier for that year, and to provide an opportunity for players to put their hands up for selection in a new High-Performance Series.
Under 18’s National Tournament
The Under 18 tournament will also shift back to an association-based tournament from its existing regional format. This will enable all players to continue representing their local associations through to school-leaving age, and train locally. As well as strengthening association connections it will put renewed emphasis on local development for players, coaches, umpires and officials.
Under 21 National Tournament
The Under 21 tournament will cease to exist in its present regional format, with a new competition still under development. The focus remains on ensuring continued performance pathways for players leaving the U18 age group and transitioning to senior level. Details of this competition, which will be held in July each year, are still being developed in consultation with associations.
High Performance series
This proposed new 4-team (per gender) event will be led by Hockey New Zealand, and aims to achieve the highest possible level of domestic competition. It will comprise nationally identified and invited players, and will provide an opportunity for participants to test themselves at a level that steps towards international hockey.