Hockey: Moment of brilliance may be tournament changer

By David Leggat

Kayla Whitelock. Photo / Paul Taylor
Kayla Whitelock. Photo / Paul Taylor

A moment of individual brilliance could prove to be a tournament changer for the Black Sticks at the Champions Trophy in London.

The Black Sticks, ranked fourth in the women's game, had started the six-team trophy poorly, beaten 6-2 by world No1 the Netherlands, then 3-1 by Australia. Things were going badly awry in the final pre-Olympic shakedown among six of the world's top seven teams.

However, Stacey Michelsen changed that with a stunning goal inside the first minute to prove the difference against Britain in yesterday's 1-0 victory.

Northland midfielder Michelsen is among the world's leading players and she showed why yesterday. Picking the ball up about 30m out from Britain's goal, she slalomed her way past five tacklers before rounding classy British goalkeeper Maddie Hinch to score with a reverse stick shot, and all seemingly done with relative ease.

Her captain, Kayla Whitelock, has been around a long time but reckoned this was the best goal she'd seen Michelsen score.

"Rose [Keddell] and I looked at each other and couldn't believe it," Whitelock said yesterday. "It was an awesome goal. She's a very skilful player and it got us on a roll."

New Zealand should have won more comfortably against a plucky, but clearly second-best British outfit. The key numbers - shots on goal, circle penetrations - were all in New Zealand's favour.

But at least they're on the board, going into their final two round robin games, against world No2 Argentina tomorrow morning, then the United States on Sunday morning (NZT).

New Zealand are an entertaining team to watch, blessed by speedy players through the park.

"Pace is what our game is based on, having speed through the midfield and attackers and whenever possible once we win the ball we want to counter-attack with speed," assistant coach Sean Dancer said last night. "We're an attacking-style team, so when we get the ball we want to go, go, go."

Whitelock got through her first game back from a quad strain, suffered in a warmup game against Belgium a week ago, in good shape. Her influence on the team is significant.

"We had a scan and there wasn't too much damage but we wanted to make sure it was 100 per cent," she said. "The goal had been to try and play on Thursday [against Argentina] but obviously I ticked all the boxes and I'm pretty happy."

The defensive unit, shorn of injured pair Sam Charlton and Emily Gaddum, had a good day, after leaking 10 goals in the first two games.

"The girls were under a lot of pressure but most of the time they were scrambling well," Dancer said.

The Dutch are clear of the field on nine points, but a win over Argentina, who are second on seven, would have New Zealand well-positioned to challenge for the gold on the final day of the tournament early on Monday.

- NZ Herald

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