Talkin' Hockey (And NBA/Superbowl) With Black Stick Arun Panchia

 New feisty picture, same Arun Panchia.

New feisty picture, same Arun Panchia.

Every so often we have a chat to Black Sticks mens player Arun Panchia...

Arun Panchia, here we are again. Before we get into any hockey stuff, I imagine that the NBA has offered plenty of entertainment over the summer break for yourself. Do you see anyone catching the Warriors? And is Steph Curry your favourite player right now? (if not, who is?)

Absolutely I've been following the NBA and NFL closely and have watched a number of games during our break which has been great. I think the Warriors will end up with the best record overall but I see the Spurs and possibly OKC not far behind. I'd love to see them beat 72-10 but I think a few things will need to go their way plus another ring will certainly be better than an NBA record for wins. (although both would be nice) Steph Curry would be my favourite player right now. The Warriors play an exciting game of basketball and the things he is doing consistently are special.

And who ya got in the Super Bowl?

Tough one but I think the Panthers will do it. That Broncos defense is formidable and would be nice to see Peyton win another, but the way Cam Newton and the Panthers are playing they will be tough to beat.

Cam Newton #MVP. Take us back, before Christmas when everything is winding down and you find out that the Black Sticks had been invited to the Olympics ... after not qualifying only for South Africa to pull out, opening a spot for y'all. A nice way to finish of 2015 with the cards falling your way?

It was a strange feeling at the time. There was a sense of relief and joy that we were going but at the same time felt for the SA mens team who had earned their spot. We are very fortunate to get the opportunity and now we are focused on making the most of it in Rio.

Has the last month/month and a half been spent resting, or was there a conscious effort to hit the pavement and come back to camp firing? 2016 is now an 'Olympic year' after all.

A bit of both really. We had a rest period of about five weeks where we didn't have any team sessions however everyone was doing individual work mainly around strength and conditioning. We didn't have much of a break after Oceania cup as we knew there was the chance of still qualifying so we knuckled down to finish the year before even knowing we were going to Rio. Like you said it's an Olympic year so everyone is focused on preparing as best as we can between now and Rio.

Is there already a general plan/schedule in preparation for the Olympics? If so, how does it look?

Yeah we have a few tours coming up that will prepare us well for Rio. The two key ones are Azlan Shah and a tour to Europe where we are hoping to play a range of the top teams. In between times we are essentially training full-time which will hopefully give us the preparation we need. Unfortunately we lost some funding recently which will have some effect but it is what it is and we are all looking to making the most of what we have.

Resourceful kiwis at their best. What are some signature elements (style of play/team culture etc) of Black Sticks mens hockey that kiwi hockey fans should watch out for ahead of the Olympics?

I think you can expect too see an evolved Black Sticks Men's team. We've haven't made many changes to our style or culture but we're looking to make improvements in a few areas which we believe will lead to success on the field. The likes of the All Blacks and Black Caps have inspired us to look critically at our environment and see where we can improve most. It's a process however and we're hopeful that come Rio we'll be a complete team both on and off the field. Personally I'd like to see us as a ruthless defensive team with a lethal counter attack but as the team takes shape throughout this year it's hard to say what direction we'll go in as we have a lot of diverse talent with good depth to choose from.

What ideas have y'all taken from the All Blacks? Many would say the have the best culture, leadership and tactical nous of any international sports team.

Yeah that's right they are a model of success for team sports all around the world. Nothing specific more the concepts around the importance of team culture, pride in the group and performance.

The Hockey India League is going down right now, with your Black Sticks homies Simon Child, Steve Edwards and Devon Manchester all playing for Delhi. What goes into your decision to make yourself available or not?

Yeah the lads are over there now playing for the Delhi team who are doing very well at the moment.  A number of things go into the decision depending on your situation. Not being full-time athletes means we have to consider our career outside of hockey which for most consists of work or study. The league runs for about a month so time away from that plus your national commitments can add up. From a hockey perspective the international season has a bit of a break to accommodate the HIL so there are few if any series during this time which means it's a great opportunity to play in one of the top leagues around the world and not miss out on any international hockey. With a number of top level internationals the quality appears to be high and a nice little paycheck certainly helps the cause.

Yeah, from the outside the opportunity to earn a helpful amount of cash for a month's work sounds like a great idea. Is that where you have to weight up the long term (setting up a career) and the short-term gain of playing in a good league and the cash? I'm guessing it's something you'll be keen to try at some stage though?

That does factor in but seeing it is also playing high level hockey and helping the game grow its a very attractive choice! I would like to play in it at some stage I was actually in the auction this year but didn't get picked up unfortunately. For me now it'll be a decision more based around whether it fits in with my career and if my body is up to it. Would be great to play on that stage and I'm hopeful that more of our national team get picked up in the next couple of years.

The only way for the various HIL teams to see you is through international hockey and with the Black Sticks not having the best 2015, they wouldn't have been too keen on kiwis huh? 

That's right the better you do as a team on international stage the more likely guys will get picked up. A good example are the Aussie's, most of them are playing in the HIL. 

We'll finish with this - who are some of your favourite players in world hockey right now? They might be guys who you view as the best or guys who you often mark up against and relish the challenge...

I wouldn't have a favorite player as such but there are a few guys I enjoy going up against as I see them as the best. Robert Van Der Horst (Netherlands), Mark Knowles (Aus), Tobias Hauke and Moritz Furste (Germany) would be the ones for me. All play similar roles but manage the game well and have big influences in their respective teams.