Talking Hockey With Black Stick Arun Panchia: Rio Olympic Hype

 See what happens when you talk shit about Kobe Bryant?

See what happens when you talk shit about Kobe Bryant?

Diggity Doc: You've just come back from a cheeky European tour, but I want to start before that, at the training camps which resulted in an Olympic squad being named. Congrats on making the cut, first of all! 

How enjoyable was that training camp given that places were on the line and that every session would have been pretty intense?

Arun Panchia: Cheers! Yeah seems like a while ago now but our campaign really kicked off at the start of the year. The structure was different this year, we had two training blocks which has basically run from January to Rio. It has been really intense, everyone had their focus on being at their best and trainings have been competitive with everyone putting their best foot forward for selection. We have a great group of guys who have put a lot into preparing for Rio, taking time of work/study and family time to prepare as best they can. Even after the elation and disappointment of selections we had some competitive squad games which has prepared us well for Rio and this European tour.

DD: With the Olympics in mind, what aspects of the team's performance were identified ahead of the European tour as key areas of improvement/development?

AP: Probably the biggest area would be around penalty corners. We've put a lot of time into fine-tuning our set piece on attack and defense. Both areas we've identified as areas we can improve on. The other key area would be in both circles. Ultimately that's where games are won and lost and we want to improve in both the attacking circle and defending our own circle.

DD: Was the Six Nations tournament a case of specific results not quite being as important as how the team plays, or ticking those boxes ahead of the Olympics?

AP: Kind of. The big picture is Rio and making sure we are improving along the way but we always play to win and the results always matter. Winning games brings a lot of confidence and momentum into a side which can be beneficial leading into a major event.

DD: It was a bit up and down in that regard - loosing to the better teams and beating teams you should. What did you and the team take away from the losses?

AP: Yeah, it would have been nice to have a few more wins at the start of the tour. We took a bit away from each loss but the underlying thing would be our execution in both circles. Every game had periods where we created good chances but were unable to capitalize and with momentum changing frequently in hockey we want to get outcomes out of the periods we control. On the other end its about limiting the good opportunities for the opposition. We want to concede less PC's and tighten our deep circle defense. 

The thing I have taken away from the losses were that we actually controlled a good part of each of the games, even in the German one. We are not far off the top 4 teams in my opinion and the areas we need to improve in are only small details that we are more than capable of.

DD: As PC's will be crucial with all of the top-8 teams being pretty close, what are some of the best ways to limit PC's conceded against you? Every team will be gunning to get an easy PC, so it will be interesting to see how teams counter that.

AP: That's right PC's are very tight among all teams and I expect every team at Rio to have a world class drag flicker so limiting PC's has become very important. The top flickers are scoring around 40% so you really don't want to give up too many chances. It really depends on each strikers individual skill-set along with having the patience and awareness to make tackles in the circle. Making sure your light on your feet and keeping pressure on the ball are two things I like to focus on as well as having an idea of what the person on the ball is good at.

DD: One of the best phrases that successful teams always highlight is 'do your job'. What are the basics of your job in both attack and defence, in this current team?

AP: In the midfield, on attack it is to assist with creating scoring chances through connecting with players around me. On defense, get into position quickly, find and mark my man and help others in front of me with their roles as I have a good view.  Basically that's what what my role encompasses and of course that's constantly changing as the ball moves around the park.

DD: We'll finish with some Olympic hype. Did you ever think playing international hockey would involve playing in Brazil? The turf looks cool and as a player with many Test caps, there aren't too many hockey stadiums around the world that you wouldn't have played in while Brazil will be a new experience...

AP: Yeah playing international hockey in Brazil will certainly be a unique experience. The stadium looks pretty cool and hopefully the pitch allows for a fast game for the people to enjoy. It's a great opportunity for hockey to expand to a new country and with Brazil qualifying hopefully they will become a regular fixture in future events.

DD: There'll be no Kobe Bryant at these Olympics, so which athletes would you stop ya lunch to go get a snap with?

AP: Being a big basketball fan probably most of the USA basketball team. Other than that probably Roger Federer if he is there

DD: Any thoughts on Kevin Durant? And your beloved LA Lakers as well?

AP: Very intrigued by KD with the Warriors. I've enjoyed watching the Warriors for a while now and can't wait to see what KD will bring to their offense and what effect it will have on their team chemistry. It really is a unique situation with the salaries involved so it could be a once in a lifetime opportunity. My Lakers have finally got some young talent and I'm looking forward to seeing D'Angelo, Ingram and Randle take over the reins!

DD: What can kiwi hockey fans expect from the Black Sticks at the Olympics in terms of style of play and what the team is eyeing up as a positive result overall?

AP: We are aiming for gold, no doubt about that. We know we can beat anyone it's just about playing to our ability and outworking our opponents. In terms of style, expect to see a hard working physical team who are gritty on defense and attack with speed and a lot of flair.