Free Man Hockey: Brooke Neal's Festival Update + Black Sticks Men Squad For Azlan Shah

 Just another Northland Black Stick

Just another Northland Black Stick

The Black Sticks Women have bounced back strongly down in Hawke's Bay after a slow start to the Festival of Hockey. They managed a 3-2 win over the USA on Monday night, followed by a 1-0 win over Japan on Tuesday and they are now set to take on Australia tonight (Thursday). Remember that today's game will be streamed on Facebook, so check that out and rejoice as we get to watch some hockey!

Black Sticks defender Brooke Neal was kind enough to drop a few words about how the team has been going so far...

This is our fourth year down at the Festival of Hockey in Hawke's Bay, and it's fair to say it's one of our favourite tournaments! We are very well looked after by the locals. 

So far, we have had one loss, one draw and two wins. The competition is tight this year with Japan, USA and Australia competing, so we are now focusing on winning just one game at a time. Our first two games vs Japan and Australia were very shaky, as we struggled to connect as a team and didn't know how to deal with the pressure in some situations, especially playing with 10 players for almost 15 minutes of the game vs Australia. 

This is a rebuilding phase for us, with a lot of fresh players being given opportunities to step up while some of our key players are either taking a break or have retired. It's an exciting bunch of girls, a great team culture, and we are looking forward to the next three games where we will be looking to reclaim the trophy on Sunday.

Also dropping this week was a Black Sticks Men's squad for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia, with the first game played on April 29. I always get excited when it's time for some Azlan Shah mainly thanks to these awesome Malaysian hockey fans:

It's also a tournament that the kiwi lads have done well in previously, however this year they will take a younger squad as new coach Darren Smith continues to expand his squad. Much of this is forced though with injuries to Simon Child and Nick Haig, while a cluster of Black Sticks are currently running around in Europe so it's convenient for Smith that he can now level-up from a series in Aotearoa, to a strong international tournament with his young squad.

Just as we're seeing Aotearoa's strong hockey depth in action on the Women's side against quality opposition, this Men's squad is super young, yet also rather strong with George Muir and Hayden Phillips returning. Phillips swiftly rose through the ranks to earn an Olympic spot while Muir has been in the Black Sticks squad for a few years now despite just being 22-years-old. 

Their low key experience will form a strong core with Arun Panchia again named as captain along with Stephen Jenness, Devon Manchester and Nick Ross. Closer to the start of this tournament I'll do a preview, but this is a fantastic opportunity to take a young squad to a tournament that will feature Malaysia, Australia, India, Japan and Great Brittain.

Cory Bennett, David Brydon, Rob Creffier, Stephen Jenness, Richard Joyce, Jonty Keaney, Kim Kingstone, Sam Lane, Devon Manchester, Leo Mitai-Wells, Harry Miskimmin, George Muir, Dominic Newman, Arun Panchia, Hayden Phillips, Nick Ross, Alex Shaw, Mac Wilcox.

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