The name Andy Hay has become synonymous with New Zealand ice hockey, leadership and the Botany Swarm. Now on the eve of Andy’s 250th game, we caught up with him to hear about the highs, lows and everything else those 250 games and 18 years in the NZIHL have brought him.
Hockey is a family affair for the Hay Family. Andy plays in the league with his brother, Ollie Hay, and brother-in-law, Jordan Challis. But rewind a couple of years; Josh Hay was also in the Swarm, and his youngest sister, Libby-Jean was carving up the New Zealand Women’s team.
“It’s a pretty big part of our lives but we try not to let hockey chat dominate the dinner table! 6 of my 7 siblings have played hockey at some point, and I have been fortunate enough to play with my two brothers and brother-in-law for many years!” says Andy. “My oldest brother Ryan was the first of us to play the sport in the mid-1990’s. Dad (Grant) initially managed quite a few of our junior club and rep teams and eventually became president of AIHA and NZIHF for many years. Mum (Elizabeth) has always been our number 1 supporter over the years.” Now – the younger generation is making their way to the game. Andy’s son, nieces and nephews are picking up the torch.
Andy and the Botany Swarm joined the NZIHL in 2005 – the league’s birth. Then known as the South Auckland Swarm, the team was instrumental in the league’s foundation. Andy, the longest reigning captain in the league, has seen the Swarm raise the Birgel Cup 4 times. He has represented New Zealand in the national U18, U20, and Ice Black teams; he has won gold, silver, and bronze medals at World Championships, Best Defenseman, and Most Penalised Player. So, it is safe to say that Andy has done it all.
“There’s an old saying – “you have to lose a final to win a final”. I’d heard it before, but I didn’t know what it really meant. Our first trip to the finals was against an experienced Stampede team who were defending champions at that time. It was a close-fought series that we lost, but we used the experience and lessons that ultimately got us to where we wanted to be,” explains Andy. “After quite a few successful seasons, we went on a pretty extended lean patch which was tough for the group. However, we rebuilt and eventually turned a corner as a club, culminating in us reaching the playoffs in the last couple of seasons and challenging hard for a playoff spot this season. Continual development of our existing player base, recruitment, retainment and development of our junior players, and consistency in our coaching team are all significant factors in this, I believe.”
In 2021, the league introduced a feeder team, the Auckland Mako, to generate opportunity for younger players to get more ice time in the NZIHL. This steppingstone allows athletes to show their talent before making their way to the franchise teams. As a mentor player Andy joins the ranks of fellow NZIHL legends, Paris Heyd and AJ Spiller to provide support and shares his wealth of hockey experience and knowledge with fellow Mako players.
As the first person in the league to reach this incredible milestone, there are a few people that Andy would like to acknowledge – noting that his success is in part credit to the support network that helped get him to this milestone moment.
“Firstly, my wife Yana and my son Rafael – playing in the NZIHL is a big time commitment, along with all the ups and downs during the season. Thanks for putting up with me and allowing me to continue to play the sport that I love!”
“Andreas Kaißer as coach of the club for many years, was instrumental in both the initial success of the club as well as my development personally, and it’s great that we can continue to work together in his current role as General Manager of the NZIHL. We share similar views on many aspects of the game, and it has been a real pleasure working closely with you over the years.”
“I also have to mention Travis Crickard. Your work ethic behind the scenes was incredible and many of the foundations you laid with the club during your time here really helped us turn things around and are still visible today.”
“KC Ball – Swarm legend and my sounding board for all ideas (good and bad!). The Challis, Guest and Fraser families were all unbelievable team managers. Gunther Birgel for all his hard work to get the league up and running in the first place! Carole Giles for all her work behind the scenes for many years. Michael Attwell for being a fantastic lieutenant. A big thanks to Darren Blong and the team at Centre Ice for all your support over the years.”
“Thank you to the AIHA team for all the hard work over the last few years, not just with the NZIHL but also growing the game at the grass-roots level.”
“Lastly, thanks to all the fans who have supported the team and the league – you are the game’s lifeblood!”