NZIHL July 9, 2024  25

Embracing The Ice Down Under

While New Zealand paints a picture of stunning scenery, rugby, and hobbits, ice hockey isn’t always the star of the show. Enter the NZIHL, shaking things up by drawing talent from every corner of the globe to bolster hockey in NZ. Meet Pim Van Der Meulen and Guy Kunst, the dynamic Dutch duo adding their love and talent for the game into the land of the long white cloud, creating ripples both on and off the ice.

The Journey to New Zealand

Moving to New Zealand for ice hockey is an adventure for European players Pim Van Der Meulen and Guy Kunst. It’s a shift from traditional hockey countries to a place where the sport is gaining traction.

Hailing from the Netherlands, Pim Van Der Meulen decided to shake things up by joining the West Auckland Admirals. Embracing the unexpected, he wanted to help grow the sport in an unconventional location. Bouncing around clubs in the Netherlands to frosty adventures in Sweden’s northernmost city of Kiruna, Pim’s hockey journey has been a whirlwind. Representing the Netherlands at U18 & U20 World Championships, Pim has grasped every opportunity to add depth to his hockey career. While Pim completed his bachelor’s degree, he played for the Leeuwarden Capitals alongside his brother.

Guy Kunst, also from the Netherlands, shared a similar sentiment, eager to bring his experience and skillset to a growing hockey community.  At a tender age of 9, Guy plunged into the hockey scene, starting off as a goalie for the sheer love of the uniform. However, after a whirlwind 2 years, he realised position of goalie wasn’t for him and jumped to playing forward. Time flew by, and he found himself donning the jersey for the Dutch Under-18 team, with doors opening to elite leagues. With a gentle nudge from the national coach, Guy made his mark playing at the top level in the Netherlands/Belgium for three years. Post studies, he joined the UNIS Flyers Heerenveen team. Now, back at GIJS Groningen, he leads the pack as the team captain.

Image courtesy of @TakingTheMike and & Jazzmie08

Life in West Auckland

West Auckland offers a unique blend of natural beauty and urban convenience. Nestled between the Waitākere Ranges and the sparkling waters of the Tasman Sea, it’s a place where players can find inspiration both on and off the ice. For Van Der Meulen and Kunst, the transition to life in New Zealand has been an enriching experience.

The West Auckland Admirals are renowned for their positive culture, fostering a supportive and inclusive environment that encourages teamwork, personal growth, and a deep sense of community.

“What surprised me the most is probably the team I play in. I have never played with such a closeknit team, they are almost like a family with each other on and off the ice” explains Pim.  

The local community has warmly welcomed these international players, with fans and teammates appreciating their dedication and passion for the game.

“I had done some research on where I would end up, and for me, I always like it when you are around a city. Auckland is a nice, big city with everything you need – the surroundings are fantastic compared to the Netherlands.” Says Guy, “I had watched some games of the West Auckland Admirals and saw that they always had a lot of fans in the stands who make a lot of noise and on top of that, the livestream was super (which my parents also like.)”.

Image courtesy of @TakingTheMike and & @Jazzmie08

On ice impact

Pim and Guy have brought a wealth of experience, skill, and European flair to the NZIHL. They’ve added depth to the West Auckland Admirals and created opportunities for a new style of play.

Pim, known for his offensive prowess and leadership, has anchored the Admirals’ forwards. He provides stability and contributes defensively when needed. His ability to read the game and make crucial plays has been invaluable to the team’s success.

Guy, with his offensive skills and playmaking abilities, has added a dynamic edge to the Admirals’ forward lines as well. His vision on the ice and ability to create scoring opportunities have made him a key player in the Admirals’ winning strategy.

2024 3×3 Series Champions

Both Pim and Guy were significant contributors towards the success the Admirals had in the inaugural 3×3 Series, walking away with the Championship title. “It was an amazing weekend to be part of and of course winning it at the end. we gave away our first game with a 4-0 lead, but we won all the following games. For upcoming years, it’ll be great to see a skill competition like they do in the NHL All-star games.” says Pim. “I thought the format of the tournament was really well organised, because it was a 3v3 tournament you had a bit more time and space to make certain plays. The atmosphere in the rink was great and not just for the home team, Stampede, but with all the teams. I think it’s beautiful that the fans support the game as much as they do their favourite teams. I am glad I got to participate in this tournament, and it was a super experience.” Adds Guy.   

Playing in New Zealand

The presence of import players in the league is not just about immediate success; it’s about building a sustainable future for ice hockey in New Zealand. International players bring experience and professionalism that serve as a benchmark for local players, inspiring the next generation to aspire to higher performance levels.

As they continue to lace up their skates and hit the ice, Van Der Meulen and Kunst embody the spirit of adventure and passion that defines both hockey and the Kiwi way of life. Their stories serve as a testament to the global nature of the sport and the unique opportunities when you embrace the unknown.

“I would recommend anyone who gets the chance to play hockey in New Zealand to grab this opportunity with both hands because it is an experience for life, and you end up in a hockey league that is incredibly well run. Besides the fact that it is fantastic to play for the West Auckland Admirals, it is even better to get to play in this country that has so much to offer.” Guy Kunst. 

2024 NZIHL International Players

West Auckland Admirals – Pim Van Der Meulen, Guy Kunst, Aiden Chaney
Botany Swarm – Nathan Hufnagel, Wilson Kushniruk, David Ruzicka, Michael Houlihan
Canterbury Red Devils – Christopher Hunt, Ryan Ritchie, Ethan Esposito
Phoenix Thunder – Cole Beckstead and Ryan Wonfor
Skycity Stampede – Jett McCullum, Taylor Clarke, Nolan Ross