Having spun many yarns over the past 18 months about the depth of kiwi hockey on the men's and women's side, thus whipping me into a frenzy of hype about the direction of kiwi hockey, news out of Hockey NZ recently is only amplifying those my vibes. Black Sticks Men's coach Darren Smith added a few fresh faces to the Oceania Cup squad for two games against Australia and the International Festival of Hockey, then Smith named a hefty squad for a camp after the IFOH.
Following that, HNZ announced that Simon Brill was given the nod for a National Performance Coaching Manager. More on that and how it ties into this overall positive vibe of kiwi hockey below - there's not much on the Black Sticks Women as they are simmering away before the boiling point of World Hockey League Finals in Auckland.
The best way to describe what's going down with the lads is that there is a group of Aotearoa's best players who are either injured, or playing in Europe, then you've got the current squad (Oceania Cup/IFOH) and this training squad. Of course there is an overlap of players between the current squad and the training squad of 34, but when you consider that with the established Black Sticks thrown in there is over 40 players who make up a pool of Aotearoa's best hockey talent; that's a deep pool.
There are obviously levels to this talent pool with Simon Child, Blair Tarrant etc at the top and lads like Malachi Buschl, Kalyan Jeram, Sam Hiha etc being brought in for development reasons. This isn't to say that Aotearoa has over 40 players who can step into the Black Sticks right now, what we've got is a clear system in place where the gap between international hockey and NHL is being decreased by giving fringe players more opportunities to train with in the national set up.
It's one thing to say there's plenty of depth in kiwi hockey, but what are you doing with that depth? Smith's getting them all up in the mix; Reuben Andrews, Malachi Buschl, George Connell, Rob Creffier, Dom Dixon, Connor Greentree, Cam Hayde, Sam Hiha, Kalyan Jeram, Jonty Keaney, Mick Lammers, Harry Lawson, Dylan Thomas, Benedict van Woerkom, Mac Wilcox and Dominic Newman will join the IFOH squad. Creffier, Newman and Smith have the most Black Sticks experience of that group, while the rest have either a Test or two to their name, or are yet to debut.
The appointment of Brill means that there's going to be consistency in coaching principles throughout Aotearoa. Well, that's my perception anyway and I imagine this ensure that the style of play - how Aotearoa plays hockey or how the two Black Sticks teams play hockey (which may be different) - is implemented at the required levels below the national teams. Coaches need to be given the resources to do so and the best coaches need to be given those opportunities, which will be Brill's job.
Take a moment to ponder where kiwi hockey is at right now and slight tweaks that have been made after the Olympics.
Then hit an ad to show your support to the Free Man and the Niche Cache, you'll be donating without having to pay anything. This helps us deliver Aotearoa's best hockey content.
And then sit back to enjoy some international hockey funk...