Right hockey fans, just when you thought you could take a break, the Black Sticks ladies have kicked off their Champions Trophy campaign in Argentina off pretty nicely. Kick off/hit off, who really cares because the ladies have dispatched of Japan 2-1 and then held the typically awesome and excessively attractive Dutch side to a 1-1 draw.
Olivia Merry has had a barnstorming start to the tournament, scoring in both games with her deflection against the Dutch not only an important goal but it was pretty awesome as well. Ella Gunson also got on the score sheet for the Kiwi girls with a messy goal against Japan, but the Black Sticks ladies are showing that they are not only able to compete at a high level but also put their chances away.
Against the Dutch especially, the Black Sticks showed the sort of grit and determination that we all love to see from sporting teams who wear the silver fern. They were assisted greatly by their goalie Georgia Barnett who was awesome between the pipes, but throughout the team they were able to take the game to the Dutch. We've known for a long time that this ladies side has plenty of pace, but they look to be combining that pace with some physical play which is pretty impressive. They weren't able to dominate the Dutch and create a heap of goal scoring chances, but they did enough to earn themselves a solid draw which puts them in a great position to kick on.
Such is the nature of this tournament that both pools of 4 cross over for quarter finals, so in theory the Black Sticks could have finished last in their pool and still qualified. However, they've put in two decent performances, not near-perfect performances but decent efforts. That will give the ladies plenty of confidence, especially with a pretty young group who will benefit from a intense game against the Dutch. They'll be looking to take it up a notch against China, who haven't been too flash but will provide stiff opposition. The Black Sticks will be keen to keep a clean sheet as well as put a few in the goal, they won't be presented many goal scoring opportunities in the QF's so they need to be able to pounce.
It's been a good start though, hopefully they can kick on and put together a fine performance against China to put them in a good position come the knock out hockey.
On the men's side of things, we welcome back Nick Wilson and Ryan Archibald who will slot back in to the squad for the series against Canada. As per Hockey NZ, Brad Shaw and Stephen Jenness are also back in the mix which will be a huge boost as well as Blair Tarrant who didn't feature much against Japan.
I'm pretty excited about seeing Wilson lead the striking line, especially with the form that Simon Child is in. S Child retains the captain's armband as well which is awesome for him, but with Wilson back in the side the Black Sticks lads side has two world class attacking options ... oh and Archibald goes alright as well, so does Jenness.
So it's haere mai to some reinforcements. While those attacking players will make for some great hockey to watch (especially against Canada who are decent, but not amongst the world's elite), having Shaw and Tarrant playing at the back will give them plenty of grunt in defence. Against the Japanese, there was plenty of attacking intent from our defenders but having classic halves like Tarrant and Shaw will enshaw (aaaah, I mean ensure) that there is some grit at the back.
Pity that Nick Haig won't lace up as he's out injured, he was impressive against Japan.
Anyway, the Champions Trophy is free to watch on Youtube courtesy of the FIH so make sure you tune in and support the ladies. We'll be back in a few days to check in with the ladies as well as look forward to the men's series against Canada.