Hockey: Returning players give coaches plenty to ponder

By Terry Maddaford

Black Sticks coach Colin Batch.  Photo / Natalie Slade
Black Sticks coach Colin Batch. Photo / Natalie Slade

Suggestions New Zealand hockey would have to wrestle with a host of post-Olympic retirements have not eventuated, leaving Black Sticks coaches Mark Hager and Colin Batch with different scenarios to ponder.

"No one from the Olympic squad has retired," said women's coach Hager.

"Some have taken a break, but none have told me they no longer want to be part of this team.

"There is plenty of hockey coming up and one thing that has been made clear is if they want to be considered for the 2014 Commonwealth Games they will have to play in next year's National Hockey League."

Compatriot Batch has gone one step further with his men's national squad insisting they all must attend February's training camp and also play in August's NHL.

The scheduled February 5-12 camp clashes with the Hockey India League (January 16-February 10) with both Batch and Hockey NZ chief executive Hilary Poole reiterating attendance at the camp is compulsory.

What stance the players contracted to the HIL, strikers Nick Wilson and Simon Child, who were snapped up in this week's auction, will take is not known, but Batch confirmed the team to defend the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia (March 6-17) will be named after the camp.

Both coaches have had the chance to cast their eyes over a number of new players - Batch at the recent Champions Trophy tournament in Melbourne and Hager in the six-test home series with India.

Of the Indian matches, Hager said there were some good signs, especially in the number of goals scored in a tiring series.

None of the new players in the squad had really shown out and the matches had highlighted the gap between the newcomers and the more established players, he said.

"For the younger players who will now be looking at the Oceania qualifiers for the Junior World Cup on the Gold Coast in February, it was good to have some international hockey," said Hager, who at the same time will also have the senior side in Argentina.

Hager was pleased with some aspects of the series especially Katie Glynn's three or four goals scored from drag flicks at penalty corners.

"She and Anita Punt stepped up in Clarissa Eshuis' absence and that was encouraging. We want to develop three or four drag-flickers in the group."

Beyond the series in Argentina, Hager is already contemplating a four-nations home series in April. Argentina and Korea are already confirmed and the US is also likely to be involved.

Both Hager and Batch have their sights firmly set on the mid-year World League. The eight top teams, men and women, will play in the new-look competition and the top four will progress automatically to the next World Cup. Teams missing out will have a second chance at Continental qualifiers. After that and the NHL, both coaches are expected to name wider squads to prepare for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

Of his Champions Trophy experience, Batch said it was a tough tournament with a lot of personnel changes in all teams.

"Initially there was a lack of cohesion within our group but by the end we had settled nicely," said Batch.

"It was clear we could have been fitter and the players will now be set targets to work on individually and show us at the February camp where they are at."

Like the women's squad, none of the male Olympians have said they have retired but by February that picture will become clearer.

- NZ Herald

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