Talking Hockey With Black Stick Arun Panchia

Mate, before we get any further, do you want to explain this Olympic qualifying situation as it stands now?

Sweet.. So there are two WL3 tournaments where the top 3 of each qualify directly. From there there are continental cups (I.e oceania/European/panam/African/asian) each cup has an allocated qualification quota. Oceania has 1, Europe has 3 I think etc. So after the continental and WL3 spots are allocated there will be double ups i.e Netherlands and Germany. So as they have 2 spots it goes to the highest ranked 4th placing in WL3 and so on until they have 12 teams. Theoretically there is a chance 6th will be good enough but we would need a lot of teams to double qualify.

So now, you've got to bank on beating the Kookaburras? When and where will that go down?

Yeah that's the task now. We play for the Oceania Cup which is in Stratford in October.

Never an easy task against the Aussies, but there were some pretty impressive signs from the team. Most notably the performance against the Dutch where you snuck in a late goal, despite the stink vibe from the Canada game, do you think there's a bit more belief in the team that ya'll can compete with the likes of the Dutch, Germany and hopefully Australia?

Yeah there is definitely the belief there, we have no doubt we can beat the top sides. The challenge for us is doing it consistently and in key games which is what we're facing at Oceania Cup. Our backs are up against the wall and this is where we will need to prove we are a top side.

The shootout loss to Canada was the biggie; what would be your go to move in a shootout? Do you have it pre-planned or how much relies on the goalie's movement?

I have a few different shootout routines. Preferred one is to draw the keeper to his his left and then a drag left and reverse shot. If the keeper doesn't bite I'll play it out with space on my right to use. Most guys have a few ideas based on their own strengths and scouting of opposition keepers but generally you go with what your good at and hope it's good enough to score. It's a tough situation especially to lose the way we did

I loved seeing a bunch of different styles with the Dutch and Germans playing a European style, Argentina playing their unique brand of gritty hockey, the Koreans playing with blinding speed while the Black Sticks also have their own little style. Was there anything specific that caught your eye or that the team noticed was a bit different?

One of the things with hockey nowadays are the ever-changing rules. The long corner rule and 5 yard rules have changed recently and it has been interesting too see how teams have adapted to it. With the game being so quick I think the teams that are doing well are the ones that are dangerous on counter attack, which is an area I think we'll need to improve on before Oceania

How do the Black Sticks approach the new long corners on attack and defence? I think I remember a few times on attack seeing a lot of short, quick passes to try get into the circle and then on defence do you just try to make sure that it's the opposite; force them to make a pass backwards?

On attack generally we want to play quick, if not try and threaten one side and then transfer quickly to the other. It depends on a few things like what's in front of you and if there is an ideal match up. On defence it's about protecting the circle and trying to force the ball back which can be difficult to do. It does lead to teams getting a lot of numbers behind the ball but also creates a lot of space to attack into once you turn the ball over.

You've had a bit of a rotating cast in the midfield and it was slightly different again for the Semi Finals, do you have to change much with what you do in the midfield to accomodate different players? Or did your specific role stay the same?

Not intentionally but it does take a little time to figure out each other's tendencies to make sure we're well connected in the midfield. It was a similar midfield group to Azlan Shah (which the Black Sticks won) and we've had a big training block in between so we've had some time to figure it out, but each player has different strengths and sometimes that means changing your role slightly. For me I've been focused mainly on the CM role, which is a change from last year. It's a position that's a little different but I've played a lot of hockey in the center of the park so I've been enjoying it.

Alongside Ryan Archibald/Andrea Pirlo who is ageing like fine wine. What little things have you learned from Archibald recently?

Haha that's a good comparison. His ability to create is something I've picked up on a little of late. He's always carrying the ball with the purpose of creating whether it be space to play into or to pass into. That's something I'd like to add more of into my game.

What are some key areas that you think need to be worked on over the next few months? And what's the schedule for this year?

There are a lot of area we need to improve on after WL3. I think the key area is our attack. We didn't score goals when we were controlling the game. We need to get more outcomes whether that be PCs or field goals. Our PC attack is another area we will need to improve on as our conversion rate wasn't great. Our schedule now focuses towards Oceania cup in October. Before then we have NHL and a possible home series before Oceania to prepare ourselves. Between now and then however we need to continue training on a weekly basis to make progress.

Argentina looked like a awesome place to play hockey, what were the hightlights for you off the turf?

Buenos Aires was a nice city to be in and we were staying central which was quite cool. Their culture is a little different so it was good to be apart of in the city and made for an enjoyable trip up until we got knocked out. The highlights off the turf was probably the food. We often ate a nice local restaurant that specialised in barbecued meats. The other good thing about playing countries is realising how good we have it back home and after a long unsuccessful trip we were looking forward to getting home