Hockey: Blacks Sticks loaded with experience

By APNZ


New Zealand will take its most experienced hockey team ever to the London Olympics.

The Black Sticks men's team of 16 players selected by the New Zealand Olympic Committee today includes four three-time Olympians and nine players who will make their second appearance.

Three of the team - striker Phil Burrows, midfielder Ryan Archibald, and defender and captain Dean Couzins - have also amassed more than 250 caps for their country and defender Blair Hopping has 249.

Couzins, Burrows, Hopping and goalkeeper Kyle Pontifex will all attend their third Olympics and Archibald would also be in that group had he not missed Athens in 2004 with injury.

Another two team members - Simon Child and Shea McAleese - have more than 150 caps in the black strip and five others, including Pontifex, have more than 100 matches under their belt.

Black Sticks men's coach Shane McLeod said deciding on the final 16 with fellow selectors Grant Edwards and Peter Miskimmin, was made tougher by their victory in this month's Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia.

"It became a luxury problem with so many players performing at the top of their game in Malaysia.

"In the end it came down to getting the balance right in the midfield and the flexibility of players to slot into a number of positions. It's incredibly hard for those who missed out."

Canterbury midfielder Nick Haig and Midlands defender Richard Petherick both made the team despite not being selected for last year's Champions Trophy in Auckland.

"Richard is playing with confidence and confirmed his selection with his performance in Malaysia while Nick provides the flexibility to cover both left and right half," said McLeod.

Midfielder Arun Panchia and goalkeeper Hamish McGregor will both head to London with the team but will be based outside the Olympic village.

If one of the 16 Olympic team members is injured, Panchia or McGregor will be called on as a permanent replacement.

The Black Sticks men, ranked seventh in the world, head to Cairns on Sunday for a three-test series against world No 1 Australia.

The three matches on June 22, 23 and 26 will be the team's last before they depart for Europe on July 6 for Olympic warm-up matches.

Today's selection announcement brings the New Zealand Olympic Team to 115 with approximately 70 more expected to join the team before the games open on July 27.

Although New Zealand has fielded a men's hockey team at the majority of Olympiads since Melbourne in 1956, New Zealand has just one Olympic medal - gold against Australia at Montreal in 1976 when the sport was played for the first time on artificial turf.

The artificial turf for London 2012 brings another first to the sport of Olympic hockey.

It will be blue rather than the traditional green, with a yellow ball providing high colour contrast and visibility.

The pink surrounds will add to the vivid colour scheme.

The New Zealand teams both open their respective tournaments in London with the men taking on South Korea on July 30.

The women's Olympic team will be announced on Friday.

Team: Goalkeeper: Kyle Pontifex; Defenders: Nick Haig, Andy Hayward, Blair Hopping, Dean Couzins, Brad Shaw, Richard Petherick; Strikers: Simon Child, Stephen Jenness, Hugo Inglis, Nick Wilson; Midfielders: Blair Hilton, Ryan Archibald, Phil Burrows, Shea McAleese, Steven Edwards.

Stand-by players: Hamish McGregor (goalkeeper), Arun Panchia (midfielder)

- Hamilton News

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