Busy times at the Free Man Hockey desk as we've got the Black Sticks Women gearing up to face India, starting on Sunday. We've also just had a Black Sticks Men's squad announced for a training camp on the Gold Coast and all the big dawgs are back, except those who are injured and the injured list is headed by Simon Child who has a hip injury that will likely keep him out of hockey for much of this year.
The ladies will host India, playing three Tests in Pukekohe (Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday) before sliding down the highway to play two more Tests in Hamilton on Friday and Saturday. We've got to be honest with what we expect from India and although there's the standard dose of young, inexperienced players that we have come to expect after the Olympics, Mark Hager has named a hefty ol' squad so there is room for more established players as well.
It's difficult to consider this series much more than another development opportunity and it'll be interesting to see how much game time the likes of Sam Charlton, Ella Gunson, Rose Keddell, Olivia Merry, Stacey Michelsen and Brooke Neal get. Hager is steadily building a pool of players to form a wider squad and this series presents a nice opportunity for Hager to see fringe squad members play alongside those who played in Rio.
There are 25 players in this squad, so you'd be gutted if you didn't make the cut. Any time there's international hockey in Aotearoa, it's fabulous and especially as we're seeing international hockey shipped around smaller towns. With players looking to push their way into the top-17 group, there will be plenty to play for but we've got to expect that the kiwis will be too good and I'm eager to see the best possible Black Sticks Women's team available play against the world's best.
The situation for the Black Sticks Men's training camp in Australia is fairly similar as the younger group that went alright in Malaysia at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup (given the circumstance) will integrate with those players who were playing in Europe. Common sense suggests that those players who were playing in Europe will push most of the youngsters out of the squad for the World League Semi Final, although the opportunity to bring together 28 kiwi hockey players shows how strong men's and women's hockey is in Aotearoa.
Simon Child is the major omission, while Marcus Child, James Coughlan, Nick Haig, Blair Hilton, Hugo Inglis, Kim Kingstone, Shea McAleese, Jared Panchia, Hayden Phillips, Jacob Smith, Blair Tarrant and Nic Woods are back. That's 12 players - excluding Simon Child - being chucked back in the proverbial mixer and they will all be keen to show the young bucks what's up.
Two Free Man Hockey blogs in a week, means double the hockey funk...