Like many sports in New Zealand, hockey players struggle to earn a living playing the sport that they love. Many will represent their nation at the highest level and then return to the office to pay the bills and ensure that they can live a life outside of the game. This is improving, not only on our shores with both the lads and ladies Black Sticks able to get a bit of funding but there are also plenty of opportunities to play hockey overseas.
Playing hockey overseas means not only pretty damn high level of hockey which can only positively impact the players, but it's also a great opportunity to make a few bucks or at least live rent free ... and play hockey while you're doing so. We caught up with a few kiwi hockey lads who have and are currently doing the hockey thing in a foreign land.
Marcus Child - Southern Hotshots - Australian Hockey League
We lost 8 nil yesterday for last, oops. Anyway the overall experience was great, I enjoyed fitting into a different style of hockey, it is a much faster competition than at home. It's almost as if they go quickly before they think, there is an expectation that teammates will go with them and will get into the right spots to receive a no look pass.
The game seemed more open which I thoroughly enjoyed, being given some time and space to play in due to the speed of the game. The defences are often playing catch up to slow down the attacks and allow numbers to get behind the ball.
The overall difference between playing in Aussie to back home is the greater speed they play with and the ability to play off each other by just knowing someone will be wanting the ball next to them. It is no wonder they are the #1 team in the world.
Hugo Inglis - HC Rotterdam - Dutch Hockey League (Hoofdklasse)
This year I have joined HC Rotterdam, extending the Kiwi connection with the club. With some of New Zealand’s best players having previously played at the club it is a tough act to follow. The luxury of being able to play hockey professionally is one that cannot be achieved in New Zealand so it has been hugely beneficial to be able to play in the Dutch league this season. There are currently three of us playing in the league; with Phil Burrows and Shea McAleese plying their trade just down the road for HGC.
We are currently seven games into the league and it has been a challenging start for us with four of our matches being against the other top teams who are hoping to gain a place in the playoffs. These matches are generally on national television and the standard of hockey is very high. We are sitting in a couple of spots behind HGC in fifth place and with some important matches coming up it is important we make some gains before we go into the winter break.
I am the only foreign player in our team so I have had to quickly pick up on some of the Dutch lingo that is screamed on the pitch. Everyone in Holland learns English so it isn’t too much of a problem…team meetings are the most difficult with me needing one of the younger boys to give me a quick run down every time.
Holland is a small country so driving to our matches on Sundays doesn’t normally take longer than an hour. The other bonus of this is the ease of exploring the country. With a fair bit of down time I have covered a bit of the country and had some great experiences.
The club has put me in a nice apartment that is not too far from town, the gym or the club. We train 3 days a week so the other days are filled in with gym and conditioning sessions to ensure that I can play my best hockey each Sunday. I am really enjoying playing a new style of hockey with an extremely talented group that has the expectation to win every match that we play.
Alex Shaw - Herakles HC - Belgian Hockey League
Playing club hockey in Belgium has had its ups and downs. From the highs in the opening weekend of beating the reigning champions of the last three years, followed up with a convincing win in the biggest derby match of the year at home, to the lows of losing three straight matches with a woeful goals against record, including against the team that was yet to gain any points. At Herakles HC we have a very young talented team, with this comes plenty of frustrating moments as inexperience leads to poor decisions at times, but, on the other hand, the excitement of the free flowing instinctive nature of these players can be summed up by the oohs and ahhhs from the crowd. It has been a bit of a rollercoaster on the field, however, on the back of the disappointment we have all felt from the last three games, we feel there's only one way to go from here, up.
In terms of hockey level, I would say it's similar to the National Hockey League in NZ, the big difference is the chance to recover and practice game plans throughout the week leading into each match. There is a reason Belgium are able to compete this way, week in, week out, every season, with a land area of only 30,528 square kilometers - Belgium is a little over one tenth the size of NZ. Travel an hour and a half and you're almost guaranteed to be in another country, granted you'd be travelling faster than the average speed in NZ because they actually know what lane to be in when travelling slower than everyone else here. Culture shock is almost non-existent, almost everyone speaks English and other than eating what looks like raw mince, they seem pretty normal here.
Herakles is the definition of a family club, not just the fact that everyone seems to be a brother, sister, cousin, step something of, but they’re genuinely nice, friendly and extremely passionate hockey supporters at the club. I give training to the third side every Thursday and it's always a good chance for them to breakdown the result as well. As far as lifestyle goes, it's not a hard one, it's like being a student without the 2-minute noodles and guilt of sleeping through lectures. We train four times a week including a double session Thursday with a small meal in between, the quality of this meal seems to be determined by whether or not we win in the weekend.
Rob Creffier - Bowdon Hockey Club
I love it over here in England! The hockey is much different I think and the culture around playing club hockey is much different. Was a bit of a challenge getting settled when I first arrived as I didn't know anyone, new country, new accents, different climate etc. Once you get through that first stage it's awesome. The club team i'm playing for is Bowdon which are based in south Manchester. I think New Zealanders are genuinely loved all over the place as well as Bowdon being a great club that really looks after it's international players. It does help when i'm staying in a big flash house with a hot tub for those cold Manchester evenings...
For me the style of hockey is quite different to back home. I found it almost boring at first. The focus seems to be ball possession and not turning the ball over and it felt very passive. Bit of a contrast to back home where we are much more used to being aggressive and not worrying so much about all the turnovers. All part of the experience though and learning a different style of hockey. A lot of flat stick tackling and keeping the ball on the ground! Probably also because the pitches here are very flat while New Zealand pitches tend to be a bit more bouncy and we play the ball in the air a bit more.
The biggest difference for me though is the culture of hockey. Not just in England but European hockey in general. There is a massive social side to it. Game day feels like a really big deal. There is always a decent crowd watching whether you play at home or away and the crowds really get into it it's wicked!! Then after the game everyone showers. Whatever venue you are at the home team puts on a meal for both teams. It's almost a sin if you don't stay behind after the game and have a drink and socialise with team mates and members of the club and things like that. Big difference to back home where I think a lot of players don't even shower after their club games and a lot also leave straight after the game is finished. I do think it's also because every single club team here has a home venue and clubhouse. We don't have that in New Zealand so I guess it's difficult to have social post match do's.
Other then all of that it's a pretty sweet lifestyle being able to travel and just play hockey. Lots of spare time during the day but a bit of coaching here and there keeps me occupied. Travel in Europe is so easy too. Public transport is great. So nice to be able to just get on a train and go anywhere so easily. Can't go past the weather here though. Good lord it gets cold!!! Like seriously cold. 7 cups of tea a day gets me through though. Highlight of my time in England so far was probably going to see United vs Olympiakos at Old Trafford in a champions league tie earlier in the year when I was here last season. Full stadium, United being 2-0 down after the first leg won 3-0 to progress. Best live sporting experience ever! And i'm not even a United fan I support Arsenal.