Hockey heaven aye, I've been to hockey hell a few times standing inside the goal post when some joker was drag flicking but hockey heaven seems so much better. Heaven? Well we've got a fair amount of hockey to sink our teeth in to so yeah, anytime we can talk a whole lot about hockey, is a good time.
The ladies, it's a confusing situation here. They have finished 4th at the Champions Trophy which is in itself a fantastic result, but you have to be ruthless and when you could have achieved more there's always a funky taste left in your mouth. It could have been fairly different had the Black Sticks ladies not sat back and suffered a bit of stage fright against the Australians in the semi final. That method, whether intentional or not - post match comments from Mark Hager would suggest that it definitely wasn't intentional, rarely ends positively. This resulted in the Australians, in a state of what felt like constant attack, the type of pressure where you can just sense that the defence will crack at some stage.
An unfortunate error in their defensive circle gifted the Aussies with a chance and they took it, to level the game at 1-1. They then went to a shootout where the Aussies simply did what they had to, with two key Kiwis in Stacey Michelsen and Anita Punt both missing their chances first up which brought the end. They then lost to the Dutch in the 3rd/4th playoff, which no one really cares about as they were so close yet quite far.
The opportunity was once again there for the Black Sticks ladies to really step up and live up to their potential. Their potential sits pretty high at this point thanks to Anita Punt emerging as one of the best all round hockey players in the world, she's much more than quick feet and she has relished the opportunity to be a real leader in the side. Her drag flicks are lethal, with common sense pointing towards the power she has a runner translating to the power needed to hurl a flick, she flicks pretty damn quick.
There's a threat offered from every area of the field with this Black Sticks ladies side whether it be Punt Stacey Michelsen, Julia King and Sam Charlton controlling the middle of the field, or the likes of Sophie Cocks and Olivia Merry up front. They have a similar team ethos as the men where they play quickly but work bloody hard and the likes of Petrea Webster epitomise this. The younger team members all performed pretty well, and while that's definitely a positive that someone like Brooke Neal got to log a fair amount of high level international hockey, it's disappointing.
You have to wonder where the buck stops. The players, well it's a largely young squad who are collectively still finding their feet despite playing plenty of hockey at this level. The team has promised a lot, but for some reason they seem to fall short. Do we dare to point the finger at Mark Hager? He's done a great job but can't seem to get the team to step up a level, instead they do the opposite and seem to flinch. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for now, when the ladies who have 20-50 test caps start to get up around 100, that's when we'll see what this team is all about.
The men, yup there's more men's hockey! They take on Canada starting tomorrow night in Nelson and will play there again on Wednesday before heading to Christchurch for the weekend. I've already rambled on for far too long so I'll give you a few key things to watch for. They should win the series, probably easily so keep an eye out for how they play, who plays and if they can dominate...
- The return of Ryan Archibald. There's a very real possibility that he could play on for a few more years and this comeback will be the starting point. His skill in the middle of the field and connection with Simon Child and Arun Panchia will be interesting.
- Can Brad Shaw and Blair Tarrant tighten up the defence of the Black Sticks? They won't have as much of a threat to deal with so it's a great chance to educate the new lads and get their systems sorted.
- This is a near full strength striking line for the Black Sticks so it'll be interesting to see if they can put a few in the net. Against Japan, they dominated periods but wouldn't be able to make it count and gave up a few too many counter attacking opportunities. They'll be keen to build pressure and knock the goals in which should be a wee bit easier with Nick Wilson and Stephen Jenness coming back.