Thinking back to the Rio Olympics only brings up painful memories, well initially. Diving further into my memory reminds me that the Black Sticks Men rolled out a pretty solid Olympic campaign and had it not been for those last 5 minutes against Germany, we might be thinking of the Rio Olympics slightly differently.
I admired how with a sprinkling of veterans, the Black Sticks Men's side for the Olympics was made up of a group of lads in their mid-20's. Given the sheer talent in that Olympics team and the fact that they still had their best years ahead of them - assuming Hockey NZ can keep them playing international hockey and not working full-time jobs - only filled me with optimism about the prospects of kiwi men's hockey.
Reinforcing that optimism is a squad named by Colin Batch to take on Australia in November, in which Batch has placed a clear focus on bringing younger/inexperienced players into the Black Sticks set-up. This needs to be put in some context though as Batch hasn't kicked established Black Sticks to the curb, he's kinda been forced to roll out the second-tier of kiwi hockey lads as a bunch of players are currently playing in Europe or have settled back into their jobs/studies post-Rio.
Blair Tarrant for example, is doing his thing for HC Rotterdam in Holland.
Blair Hilton and Jared Panchia are in Belgium playing for Waterloo Ducks.
Kane Russell and Shay Neal are in Belgium as well, playing for Antwerp ... oh look! Kane-o got a spot in the Team of the Week a few weeks ago...
Along with a couple of retirements and some well-deserved rest, this opens the door for kiwi hockey to flex its depth. Remember that this cheeky little flex comes after the NZ Futures teams competed in the Australian Hockey League and while they didn't do so well, a group of younger lads got to play in Australia against typically powerful Aussie states.
Batch's squad to face Australia only has one lad over 26-years-old and Nick Haig (29) will co-skipper this team with Stephen Jenness (26). They are joined by established/fringe Black Sticks James Coughlin (26), Devon Manchester (26), Hayden Phillips (18), Nick Ross (26), Cory Bennett (25), Alex Shaw (26) and Jacob Smith (25). From that group of 'older' players in this squad, only Jenness, Coughlin, Manchester and Phillips were in Rio.
Including Phillips, this squad has 12 lads under the age of 25 and that's nothing less than exciting. Goalie Richard Joyce (24), Leo Mitai-Wells (21) and Matt Rees-Gibbs (24) have all tasted international hockey while Martin Atkinson (23), David Brydon (20), Rob Creffier (24), Kim Kingstone (24), Sam Lane (19), Harry Miskimmin (21), Dominic Newman (19) and Brad Read (21) are set to make their international debuts. These lads won't be coming in cold though, with blokes like Kim Kingstone and Rob Creffier training with the Black Sticks up until they left for Rio along with others who have featured heavily in development squads etc.
There'll be a series preview on the way, for now though just saviour the fact that kiwi hockey is a healthy spot. Batch has juggled the fact that this Australian series comes only a couple months after finishing a hectic Olympic campaign by unleashing a new wave of young kiwi hockey players. This can only be positive for the Black Sticks as this young group will have an opportunity to gain invaluable experience against Australia - extended our pool of players to around 30 - while also looking to impress and put pressure on the established Black Sticks.