From their days skating together in a Waikato school yard, Hannah Jensen and Jana Kivell are now double internationals for New Zealand – in ice hockey and inline hockey. 

They were two young girls at a small primary school in the Waikato who loved to skate. 

Although they weren’t allowed to slip on their rollerblades at lunchtimes, Hannah Jensen and Jana Kivell would wait until after school, and on weekends, to hone their skating skills on the asphalt netball courts at Te Kowhai School.

A decade on, the pair are still skating together, but now on the world stage. Both are double internationals for New Zealand – in inline hockey and in ice hockey (even though there’s not a hint of ice in their hometown of Hamilton).

Jensen, who’s just turned 21, and Kivell, 18, have built an innate understanding – whether they’re on the smooth floor of an inline rink, or on the ice – stemming back to their school days. 

It proved to be a game clincher at last year’s inline hockey world championships in Asiago, Italy. With the game in overtime, Jensen deftly passed the puck to Kivell, who whacked it into the net, to score for the Inline Ferns and beat the host nation in the play-off for seventh (watch the World Skate video of that goal below). 

The two University of Waikato students continue to travel around the globe together. Earlier this year, they spent two months living in Spain, playing inline hockey for European league champions, the CPLV Panthers, in the competitive Spanish women’s elite league.

Next month, they’re off to the World Roller Games in Barcelona, which double as inline hockey’s world champs – where they hope to step onto the medal dais.

This will be Kivell’s third inline world champs, and Jensen’s sixth. Between them, they’ve been to a handful of ice hockey world tournaments, too.

There are times when Kivell and Jensen get dizzy switching between blades and wheels.  

“We have weeks where we play ice hockey one day, and inline the next. So you have to figure out how to quickly go back and forth between the two, which is challenging,” Jensen says.

“In ice hockey the blade is quite thin compared to the wider wheels in inline, and I find transferring to the ice pretty hard. I get thrown off my balance sometimes.”

Although the sport of inline hockey was born out of ice hockey, there are still key differences between the two sports, beyond the obvious surface and style of skate.

The puck is heavier in ice hockey; inline has five players – including the goalie – on the rink at a time, compared to six on the ice; the offside rules are different; and body checking in inline is a no-no.

“You also have a lot more freedom in inline, to go wherever you want and be more creative,” Jensen says. “I find it easier, probably because it’s the sport I started in.”

Jensen was at first a field hockey player, who loved roller skating. “So I put the two together,” she says.

“There’s quite a big school league for inline hockey in Hamilton. A lot of people don’t know the sport exists, let alone that there’s a school league.”

Since Kivell pulled on her first pair of inline skates at the age of four, she’s rarely been out of them. There’s a joke among her coaches that she sleeps in her skates. “I’d play every day if I could,” Kivell says.

“My friend’s siblings played inline hockey, and she asked me if I wanted to play too. I started with the school team at Hukanui, and then Te Kowhai [where she first played with Jensen].”

They both moved into club hockey with the Hamilton Devils. Most inline hockey clubs are in the North Island, while ice hockey is dominated by clubs in the south.

Both Jensen and Kivell played inline hockey for New Zealand at the 2016 AAU Junior Olympics – the largest national multi-sport event for young athletes in the United States – and won, with Jensen as their captain. 

In 2017, they were part of both the junior and senior Inline Ferns teams at the very first World Roller Games, in China. The juniors won bronze, and the senior side were sixth.

A renowned goal scorer, Kivell topped the points scored in the junior worlds – 14 goals and 14 assists across nine games.

Both women started playing ice hockey when they were 16, but without an ice rink in Hamilton, it’s meant travelling up to Auckland to play. Jensen has been in the Ice Fernz, the national women’s ice hockey side, since 2015, and finished third at the women’s division 2B world championships in Iceland two years ago.

Kivell, who’s played international ice hockey with the NZ U18 side, also went on a six-week exchange to Toronto, to play and train with the Leaside Wildcats girls’ team.

Inline Fern Jana Kivell is happy playing both inline hockey or ice hockey – as long as she’s skating. Photo: World Inline Hockey. 

Jensen and Kivell are both proud of New Zealand’s ability to skate alongside the world’s best. “In Spain, inline hockey is like rugby here. We have just four club teams in New Zealand, while there were eight clubs in the Spanish elite league alone,” Kivell says. “It’s much more professional.”

Over here, the Inline Ferns pay their own way to tournaments around the world. Jensen and Kivell are constantly holding sausage sizzles, movie nights, raffles and home baking sales.

“It’s a real struggle,” Jensen says. “I’m 21 and I’ve been fundraising since I was 13. Each trip is about $5000 a pop. But we do what we have to do because we love it.”

Both women get some help through scholarships, allowing them to continue to play at the top of two sports – through the Adastra Foundation, which awards grants to outstanding young people in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty, and the Sir Edmund Hillary scholarship programme, for “future leaders” at the University of Waikato.

The Hillary scholarship covers the cost of their degrees and goes towards hockey trips. The scholars also receive workshops for self-development, and free training sessions and personal trainers at the university gym.

Kivell is studying for a bachelor’s degree in business, with her eye on a career in the banking industry. “But I want to play hockey for a few years first,” she says. “I want to see where it will take me.”

Jensen is working towards a bachelor’s in management, with honours. And does she know what she would like to do with it?

“I’d love to start up an ice rink in Hamilton,” she says. “It’s a dream Jana and I have had for a while.”

Suzanne McFadden, the 2021 Voyager Media Awards Sports Journalist of the Year, founded LockerRoom, dedicated to women's sport.

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