With Hockey Day in Canada today and Hockey Day in America coming up, Hockey World Blog had the opportunity to interview Riaan of South Africa about life in South Africa as a hockey player.
Please tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved in ice hockey?
I am born on the 2nd February 1990 in Vanderbijlpark based in Gauteng. I was named after my dad Marinus Adriaan Willemstijn, to spare confusion in the household my parents decided to call me Riaan, known as Ryan in English. I speak mainly Afrikaans but can also fluently speak English.
The first time I saw an Ice Rink was in 1994 when we moved to Pretoria, it was the Kolonnade Ice Rink which is still there today. My dad used to skate a lot as kid for fun so he took us one day to the public session, I didn’t really struggle to skate as me and my sister used to rollerblade in the streets a lot. My dad didn’t really like hiring skates for himself, so he decided to buy his own skates, CCM Fusion 32.
So after a while we didn’t go that much anymore but I was able to wear my dad’s skates when I was 12, I then started to skate public session every Saturday from 10:00 to 17:00. In 2004 I went to High school and a friend I know from the public sessions, asked me if I don’t want to try Ice Hockey.
I went home, talked to my parents and I was off to my first hockey practice. It was the best first experience I had in my life. I was hooked on ice hockey from the first practice session.
How are leagues/levels determined in South Africa?
We have 2 separate leagues in South Africa. The one is based in Gauteng and the other one is in Western Province. There might be leagues running in Durban too, be we not so familiar with what is happening there.
How the levels are determined in Gauteng is mainly by age group as we only have Under 14, Under 16, Under 18, 2nd Division (Which includes older players and people who don’t want to play contact) and the 1st Division. 1st Division is our top league at the moment. This is where all our Senior National Team Members get selected from.
The league is going to change this year, where the Premier Hockey League will be introduced as the top league. Everybody that played in the 1st Division will move up to the Premier Hockey League. Those teams in 2nd Division who wants to play contact will be moving to 1st Division and 2nd Division will remain a non Contact league.
The Western Province League works different from Gauteng. They consist of 3 Leagues which are the Junior Division, Intermediate Division and then the Senior Division. I am not too sure how age works in those divisions.
Once a year we have an Inter Provincial tournament for Under 18 and Senior’s. Here we get to play against Western Province for the first time the whole year. In the Inter Provincials they select the best players from each province to make up a provincial team. These provincial teams will then compete in the tournament.
During this tournament they also select our National Squad Member for both Under 18 and Senior’s.
Equipment, how do you obtain it? Online, pro shops, etc…?
We do have hockey shops at the rink but the equipment kept in stock is not really for advanced players. The equipment is more focused on beginners. We also do have a Bauer Retailer in South Africa but they sell low end kit for double the price it really is.
Most of us have to make use of online shops but we are also restricted to only choosing certain brands, we can’t import Bauer at all, which is a frustration for most of us as we prefer Bauer.
We used to import any Brand of equipment we want but the Bauer Retailer complained to Bauer Head Office so the importing of Bauer was stopped.
Some online sites even go as far as saying that they are not allowed to ship CCM, Reebok, Bauer, Warrior, basically all the big names, as the Manufacturer Policies doesn’t allow it.
So basically it is very frustrating to get proper equipment. Normally people will joining forces to find some innovative way of importing equipment together. This also reduces shipping cost.
Is roller/inline hockey bigger in South Africa compared to ice hockey?
Although roller hockey is a lot cheaper, ice hockey remains way more popular!
Where do you see hockey as a whole progressing to in the next 5 years in South Africa?
I personally see hockey in the next 5 years exactly where it is now. We do not get any support whatsoever from our government or governing bodies. Development of new players is not organized by the Ice Hockey Association but is initiated and mostly funded by clubs only. It is hard get funds/sponsorships for ice hockey as it is not one of the major sports in South Africa like Rugby, Soccer and cricket.
What are a few of your favorite moments in your playing career so far?
One will be the time when it was my last year in Under 18 League, we had Inter Provincials down in Western Province they were undefeated until then. We played our 1st game against them, 1st period went by ending with a score of 0-0, 2nd period 10 minutes in I scored a goal against Western Province, 3rd period Western Province makes a quick comeback making the score even at 1-1, few minutes after that I gave my team mate also best friend a back door pass making the score 2-1. We won the game and also Western Province for the first time. I was named MVP of the game. Unfortunately the tournament came down to a tie between us and Western Province, they went to goal differences and Western Province won by one goal more than us.
My other most favourite moment will be making the U18 National Team and being able to participate in the Worlds Championship in Beijing China in 2007.
Who is your favorite NHL team and why?
The Pittsburgh Penguins. I love their style of play. They have a lot of good talented players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal.
I don’t have a specific reason why the Penguins is my favourite team. I just really like them more than the other teams.
How often is hockey/NHL on television there?
During 2007-2009 there was no hockey on our local TV. At the end of 2010 ESPN started to show NHL Games but only once a week every Wednesday afternoon.
Any other ideas, words, etc… that you would like to share with the readers?
All Hockey Players are fortunate if they can:
- Walk into an ice hockey shop and test all the gear!
- Practice for more than 2 hours on ice a week!
- Is able to get a sponsor for ice hockey!
- Can ATTEND a game in a great league like the NHL!
- Attend a proper Hockey Camp in their country!
Count your blessings next time you get on the ice as I am sure there are countries where the situation is even worse!