Hockey festival a hit as hordes lap up top action

By Victoria White

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New Zealand's Sophie Cocks surges past two Indian players. Photo / Paul Taylor
New Zealand's Sophie Cocks surges past two Indian players. Photo / Paul Taylor

Huge crowds, great weather, and "some really good hockey" marked the opening weekend of the Festival of Hockey.

The festival got under way with the first eight games of the Hawke's Bay cup played at Sports Park Hawke's Bay over the weekend, where spectators were able to watch "top-level" hockey in their own backyard.

While event director David Nancarrow had not been able to watch every game, he said it had been a great two days.

"The numbers are definitely up on the opening weekend a year ago, we've seen some really good hockey," he said.

Event creator Bruce Mactaggart said it had been a wonderful weekend, with temperatures reaching 30C.

"Over the past two years we haven't been lucky with the weather," he said. "This weekend we've been blessed."

The talent on the courts was not limited to the players - Mr Nancarrow said the tournament's officials, some of whom are appointed to officiate at the Rio Olympics, had been superb.

They officiated the weekend's games, which saw Japan and Australia draw on Saturday, and Ireland trounce India yesterday, with the Black Sticks coming out of the weekend undefeated.

A highlight for Mr Nancarrow had been the upset with Saturday's last game, when China beat Ireland 4-0. Japan had also been having some really good games, he said.

"The performance of Japan on both days ... I think they could be the dark horse of this [tournament]."

There had also been some unusual results, Mr Mactaggart said, one being Canada's 2-1 win over Korea on Saturday.

"[Canada] hasn't beaten Korea since 1989 ... it was a highlight in terms of watching the sheer joy of the Canadian team," he said.

"When you're at this level nothing is expected. Delivering unexpected results is what makes it exciting."

Unfortunately two players were injured over the weekend with a Black Sticks player breaking her thumb, and a Korean team member taken to hospital with a suspected broken arm.

Before the weekend a player from the India team and one from the Ireland team had also suffered injuries.

While the injuries were "gutting", Mr Mactaggart said: "I don't think people understand how serious this tournament is.

"They're the best players in the world at the highest level of the sport and unfortunately there are injuries. But they're not worrying about injuries, they're worrying about playing to the best of their ability."

Those who spent the weekend at the Sports Park weren't the only ones enjoying the games, with viewers tuning in through live streaming or receiving game updates through social media.

Yesterday the sports park carpark was filled for the weekend's final games, with the crowd growing for the Black Sticks' second game against China.

While the Black Sticks crowd was "great for hometown support", organisers were reminding people they could see four games on one ticket, and were encouraging spectators to come to as many as possible.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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