Hockey 1, hockey 2, hockey 3 ... yup hockey folk, we're back at it with another National Hockey League creeping closer. This year's NHL is shaping up to be another cracking celebration of hockey with a fair amount of talent of display, not only the local lads reppin' their provinces (and someone else's province) but also some of the world's best players making the trip down to little old New Zealand. Tu meke.
Both the ladies and lads competitions will be pretty competitive with the usual heavy hitters likely to feature in the finals, but to predict anything would be pretty daft. It's the type of competition where a hot run of form from a team or individual can be lethal while an injury or a bit of drama could be equally as lethal. Team's will have to adjust to the new rules as well with the NHL adopting the FIH's new mandate thingy that games be split in to four 15 minute quarters which will definitely add to the intrigue - who will make the most of it? Who will adjust the quickest? Who will pull some tricks out from under their sleeves? Your guess is as good as mine, but she'll be interesting that's for sure.
Here's a few views from some of the players
"It has ruined all the hard fitness work I have put in. It makes the game less 10 minutes and this is detrimental to gaining momentum, dominating the ruck and cleaning the boards ...nah it is frustrating though. Should have given everyone more time to adjust to it, because it is a big change.Changes up all the rotations/tactics etc"
"We've had a few warm up games with the four quarters and not many people are fans of it. You get to that 15-20 minute mark and that's where you start to pick up momentum in a normal two half game. It also means some players can get away with not being as fit as usual. It'll be interesting to see if it actually sticks around"
"The new rules for NHL shouldn't have to much of an effect, obviously the game will be slightly shorter with more breaks so you might see teams play their better players more. However, teams will have to be careful as playing 7 games in just over a week will add up and when they come to the important games at the end of the week if their top players are not well rested they may be in trouble. The game may be played at a faster pace with players on shorter rotations, giving everything for a few minutes and then having a couple off, but I think this may take a while to get use to and adapt to. On the other side to this defences will get more rest, instead of the back players playing nearly 35 minutes straight each half with a number of strikers running them a round they will get more breaks. This could limit their mistakes at the back and make it harder for teams to score. At this stage it is hard to tell the impact it will have, it will be interesting to see what it is like and what happens. Losing 10 minutes of playing time will never go down with the players though."
The Low Down...
The folk from the naughty North will again provide a tricky opposition to the top dogs of this year's competition. Not graced with the depth of talent like some of the other teams, Northland will be keen to at the very least be a banana skin. The ladies have the best chance of going deep in to the finals with Stacey Michelson likely to feature heavily in their midfield and her ability to cut through a pile of defenders with nice stick work could provide many teams with a few troubles.
Brooke Neal returns to her region of origin while Ella Gunson and Laura Douglas will provide some experience and polish. They've roped in two Aussies - Esther Hotham and Madisson Rosser and Northland's banana skin hopes will fall upon their ladies.
It's hard to see their men's side doing too much with Mathew Argent making the journey across the Tasman to bolster the squad.
Harbour will be hoping to be very competitive in both sides of the competition, with a bunch of Black Sticks and experienced campaigners making them two sides to keep an eye on. The ladies will have Bianca Russell between pipes which will make them pretty hard to score on as she's one of the premier goalies in NZ. With Rhiannon Dennison also returning from the Commonwealth Games, Harbour should have a pretty solid defence and with former Midlands coach Hymie Gill taking charge, they'll have a fresh perspective leading the charge.
Well where do you begin with the Harbour men? Steve Edwards, James Coughlin, Cory Bennet and Joe Bartholomew is probably a decent place to start, they'll have a lethal penalty corner threat as well as plenty skill going forward. The more Edwards and Coughlin get the ball the better for Harbour and they'll need to guide a squad with plenty of young talent led by young Black Stick George Muir.
As always, the Jaffas boast two very impressive squads on paper. The ladies will have lethal strikers Krystal Forgesson and Katie Glynn (hopefully she's fit) leading the line which will strike fair in to many defenders. Clarissa Eshuis will provide some classy defence in her first outing in the blue and white while Liz Thompson is a young defender who will one to watch. There's also the Harrison sisters who will be keen to prove a point and be a rampant force.
Much like the men, the ladies side has plenty of experience with a plethora of talented players to call upon. It'll be interesting to see if they can all click and play free flowing, potent hockey that will be tough to stop.
The men, well they've got Ryan Archibald and Jamie Dwyer. Any hockey fan will be eagerly anticipating the opportunity to see these two legends play alongside each other and enjoy plenty of nifty highlights. Auckland have a squad of players who have been together for a few years now with a nice mix of talented youngsters and experienced battlers, keep an eye on the three Panchia brothers who could take the competition by storm.
The Midlands ladies will be out to defend their title despite not having Gemma Flynn for this campaign. They do however have Sam Charlton and Rose Keddell, two young Black Sticks who will look to control proceedings. Having Aussie Renee Ashton return after putting a fair few in the back of the net last season is a big boost and Midlands will be tough to break down while also offering plenty in attack.
The men probably lack a bit of fire power compared to the other teams but with Kookaburra Tim Deavin suiting up in the orange, anything could be possible. Having Richard Petherick in the squad will give them a consistent penalty corner threat, but they'll have to be able to at the very least get in to a grind with teams, let alone stop them for that threat to eventuate.
Michaela Curtis holds the key for the Central ladies and she'll be well supported by Rebecca Herbert who has over 100 caps for England. Who knows how well they'll be able to do without Kayla Sharland and Emily Naylor, but we doubt they'll be easy beats.
It's a similar story with the lads, as promising Aussie Cameron Joyce is their only guest player and Ben Collier their only big name. Similar story all round as it's hard to see either Central side getting smashed consistently but it's also hard to see them challenging for a spot in the final ... anything's possible though.
Somehow, the Capital ladies who picked up the silver medal last year have lost 10 players from 2013. Wowza, bit of a turn over there but this season they have three foreign players to call upon with Irish defender Niamh Atcheler playing in the local competition all season meaning that she doesn't feature as a guest player. Kudos. Frederique de Klijn (Holland) and Georgie Morgan from Australia will add the overseas quality while Anita Punt and Aniwaka Roberts key players in the midfield.
The Capital lads will be led by Blair Hilton who could feature as a striker or in the midfield while Jacob Smith will provide some fair power up front. Benedict van Woerkom is a young striker to keep an eye on while Scott Barnett will take up veteran duties. Lucas Sevestre will add some French flair to the Wellingtonians, but it's hard to see the men from the Capital doing too much damage this year.
Well the Cantab ladies boast eight national squad players and two in the development squad, which is a fair amount. They'll be keen to make the most of that fact with Sophie Cocks, Olivia Merry and Jordan Grant all returning from the Com Games while the likes of Sian Fremaux, Cass Reid, Bridget Blackwood and Pippa Hayward will be out to make an impression on national selectors. Plenty of ability in this squad, but do they have they ability to break a game open with a bit of individual pizzazz, or will they look to out work and out play with classy team performances?
Nick Haig and Brad Shaw will lead the lads from Canterbury, they'll be suitably assisted by Kookaburra Simon Orchard and fellow Aussie Nick Budgeon. The three Hayde brothers will provide an interesting watch, in fact seeing how the Cantabs perform will be interesting in itself. Any kiwi knows not to under estimate a Cantabrian and this squad looks like they could provide a few troubles by playing a hard working, team orientated style of hockey.
There isn't much to write home about with the Southern ladies. They've called in Aussies Rachel Miller and Cara Simpson to add some class to the squad, but it's pretty difficult to see them making a dent on the tournament.
The Southern men have a bit more fire power and will once again be a team to keep an eye on. With veteran James Nation going around again and with Kane Russell again featuring for Southern, they'll be a decent defensive side. They've also got Hamish McGregor between the pipes so they could definitely ruffle a few feathers. Nick Ross will be a dynamo in the midfield while Aucklanders Kim Kingstone and Joe Crooks will be out to make their mark as well.