Free Man Hockey: 2017 NHL Diary (Tahi)

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Y'all would be expecting the Free Man to be covering Aotearoa's premier domestic hockey event, but forming opinions on games based on results and who scored goals is a bit silly. So in typical Free Man fashion, we've got a few National Hockey League players sharing their thoughts on games played and general NHL shenanigans.

The first disclaimer here is that two of the players are in the Auckland team, deal with it. The other is reppin' Capital. Second disclaimer; they are on the men's side of the draw, but they might share some views on what's happening on the women's side. Given that we've got three lads involved, this isn't a comprehensive debrief on what has happened, this is merely an insight into the minds of a few players. Third disclaimer; the players will be kept anonymous for fairly obvious reasons ... well sort of as the fact that the players will remain anonymous allows them to keep it real, without worrying about repercussions.

Before getting on to the players diaries, here's some social media stuff from the opening stage of NHL 2017:

@canterbury_cavs head to the break 3-0 up against Northland #FordNHL #proudsponsors #hockey

A post shared by Just Hockey NZ (@justhockeynz) on

Canterbury Cavaliers stretching the legs out against Northland on the opening day of #FordNHL Up 4-0 early in the second half

A post shared by Vantage Black Sticks (@nzblacksticks) on

Auckland Geezer #1

Day one of a tournament is always strange, even more so this year with no opening weekend. Teams have been pulled together from all over the country and with limited time together and a few practice games here and there, the opening games can be a little unstructured and frenetic. 

For us, we opened with Central who played well in the first half and had a few good scoring opportunities but our keeper Devon Manchester was in top form and managed to keep us in the game early. From there we got more comfortable holding the ball and eventually scored from a PC. In the second half, the game was fairly even, Central started pressing more trying to create something but we managed to score through a slick PC variation and a field goal late in the game to win 3-0. Central will be a team to watch, we expect them to get stronger and stronger through the tournament so for us it was an important win first up. 

I didn’t watch many other games but Harbour beating Capital would have a been a good one. A late goal for Harbour to get the win after being down 3-1 in the 4th quarter. A competitive game first up and I think both teams will take a lot away from that one as both teams will be fairly confident with Capital being up early and Harbour closing out the game well. 

The upset of the day in the men’s side would certainly be Southern beating Midlands.

Defending champs Midlands have had a comprehensive preseason and will be disappointed with an opening day loss. Southern are a team thats a bit of an unknown for us, but as always we expect they’ll be tough defensively and disciplined. An important result looking ahead to the QF’s which while still two pool games away, every match is important. 

The last men’s game was Canterbury beating Northland 10-1. 

I didn’t watch much of the women’s games but the Northland-Midlands game would have been a good one. I had Midlands being the pre-season favourites so seeing Northland get up against them was a bit of a surprise. Northland are always a strong side and I would expect both teams to be in contention. 

Auckland were up 1-0 while I was watching their game vs Capital and was very close. Auckland ended up winning 2-0 which they’ll be happy with as Capital at home are always a tough team to beat. 

As I said all the teams who came away with a win on day one will be pleased. The first day of tournament is always tough and most teams won’t have played near their potential so while each match is important it is still hard to get a gauge on who is looking good. Each team will be looking to place themselves high in their pool and keeping an eye on the other pool to see who they’ll likely come up against in the quarter-finals.

Wellington Geezer

In front of a reasonable crowd in the Wellington rain Pool A started with a hiss and a roar seeing the home side the Capital Cobras take on the old foe the North Harbour Wolves. 

Capital pushed the pace in the first quarter, controlling much of the possession and combining for some good attacking movements down the flanks. With 5 minutes left in the first stanza the Cobras took first blood when Sam Miskimmin deflected a bobbly shot through the legs of the Harbour goalie Joyce to make in 1 – 0.

Harbour lifted their game going into the second quarter. Playing to their strengths they combined for some good attack through their midfield. Capital continued to play down the flanks and had some good chances of their own, but they died with the ball in the attacking third too often. Just before the end of the half Harbour evened the game up with a scramble in front of the goal. 

Capital dominated the third period by controlling more of the possession. They added two more goals to their tally. A second to Sam Miskimmin and the third a cracking solo effort from Sebastian Buddle who celebrated by riding his stick broom like styles back to half way. Capital lead 3 -1 going into the final 15.

Chasing the game Harbour upped their play, pressing on defence and playing with speed on attack. Capital looked shakey and turned over too much ball. With the pressure now on Capital they gave away too many PCs and Cory Bennett doesn’t need many chances to make you pay. With two quick goals the game's tied at 3 all. 

It looked like we would be seeing our first shoot -out of the tournament until former Capital player Matt Symonds pounced on a ball in font of the cage to put home the winner. Capital had a chance to tie the game with two PCs on the stroke of full-time, but Harbour's defence was up to the task.

Capital will feel gutted with the loss, as they played a lot of good hockey and dominated for large patches of the game. The Wolves now with the momentum moving into the next pool play game. Capital takes on Midlands, who went down to Southern 2 – 1. Harbour will play Southern.

Auckland Geezer #2

Opening thoughts on NHL 2017

Change of format:

This year’s NHL comprises of two pools of four, with each team going through to the quarterfinals midweek before eventually finding a top four and final two. This is in line with the international game but isn’t to everyone’s liking. Speaking to players across the regions, with the current layout, there appears to be a couple of sticking points. One of those sticking points appears to be the fact that a team can win the tournament without winning a pool game.

As all teams go through to the quarterfinals, what emphasis is given to the initial pool games?

Do players get complacent knowing they are going to get a playoff game regardless?

Obviously a better pool seeding should give you an “easier” crossover match, however with how closely matched the teams are, you’re bound to get a tough match anyways. The other disadvantage I find to this system is that you don’t play all teams. I personally find going to NHL is great fun to play teams from all over the country, against guys you haven’t played before or guys you have, but now for a different team – going up against club-mates is always a hell of a battle! You may also have local rivals or a region you always enjoy playing against, however unfortunately in this format, this won’t be the case. 

There will be people who enjoy this format, as there are quite a few rest days for the old fellas and it does open the theory to the games being “quality over quantity”, but you’ll have to do a little bit more to make this guy a believer.

Southern Dogs tip over the defending champs on Day 1:

Defending champions Midlands went down to a new look Southern Dogs side 2-1 on the opening day of NHL. Southern have come back in after a year in the wilderness and came to the party early after a limited build up down in the South. With new coach Mark Kake on board, new systems in place and a host of local talent, they managed to put Midlands under pressure early using the hard-nosed approach they’re renowned for. With a few Blacksticks unavailable, the team is still well led by Nick Ross and Nick Elder in the middle of the field and has the added strike power of the new triple threat - the O’Connor brothers. Nick Ross getting the winner against the Midlands lads he helped to the title last year, may have led to a sour taste for the Midlands brigade as well. A great start to the tournament for the Dogs.

Johnny Kinder

Johnny Kinder is Auckland’s International Guest Player from England where he currently plays for the Wimbledon club in the Premier League. He has kindly sat down with the team to answer a few questions for TNC:

First thoughts on NZ Hockey?

The pitches are bloody slippery, but the standard of hockey from the one game I’ve seen was pretty good. Everyone has been very welcoming from the Auckland side of things and it’ll be interesting to see how the tournament develops over the week.

What was your highlight of day one?

To be fair just getting on the pitch and playing with the lads was great! Always a few nerves playing with a new group, but so far so good. A cheeky little assist for the brother Ritchie too.

Any big differences from Hockey in England?

The hockey is probably more expansive and there is definitely more room to attack which suits my game. The formation we play in England, especially at my club is a lot different and we are more suited to defending strongly rather than an open game. 

Which sports team do you support?

Portsmouth

Marital status?

Taken – sorry ladies.

Peace and love 27.

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