Quality vs quantity; that will be one of the major talking points to come out of the national hockey league and its new format when it starts in Wellington today.

The system where all eight teams play each other in a round-robin format has been trimmed to mirror major international tournaments.

There will be two pools of four teams, based on final placings a year ago. From there the teams drop into quarter-finals, then semifinals and finals next Saturday.

It means fewer matches, but might produce an improved standard of play. Then again, if you're a player for whom the NHL is the summit of their hockey aspirations, might they feel slightly short-changed, whereas international players would likely appreciate a less physically tiring week.

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"I suppose it is hard to get the balance," classy Black Sticks defender Sam Charlton said this week.

"For those people for whom the NHL is the biggest tournament of the year it would perhaps be a little disappointing not to have as many games. But if you look at it from the international players' perspective it reflects the type of tournament we play in. So it's a good opportunity to practice that."

Charlton, one of the country's leading players with 199 caps, remembers the tiring nature of the week's hockey under the old format.

"I hadn't really thought about that," she said of the quality versus quantity argument. "But it definitely sounds like something totally viable. I know from my perspective I often end up playing big minutes throughout the tournament.

"You get totally tired by the end. [By the time of the final] it can be a matter who has got the legs, but now will come down to who has the better hockey skills. That's a good thing, you want the quality to be really high."

Charlton's Midlands will be boosted by the return of international attacker Gemma McCaw, nee Flynn, who is one of several leading players to have taken time out from the sport this year.

"That's really cool," said Charlton. "She really enjoys the national league environment and it's definitely an asset for us to have a striker of that experience."

The women's K Cup this season offers players a strong incentive to show their best form, with Auckland to host the World League final from November 18-26. The Oceania Cup in Sydney from October 11-15 is the only other women's event between the NHL and the World League final for players to state their case for selection.

"A lot of people are looking to play their best in this tournament. You never know; anyone could have a good tournament and put their hand up. We want to make it harder for coaches to select, which would be cool," Charlton said.

The opening men's games today have Midlands playing Southern and North Harbour facing Capital in pool A; Canterbury playing Northland and Auckland meeting Central in pool B. The pool A women's matches are Auckland against Capital, Southern against Canterbury, while North Harbour meet Central, and Northland face Midlands.

Change of format
•The national hockey league format has changed this year, switching from a full round robin of seven games, to two pools of four teams each for both the men's and women's competitions.
•The idea is to mimic International Hockey Federation tournaments and hopefully produce higher quality hockey, while reducing the volume of matches in the week-long tournament. Pools are based on last year's final placings.
•Wellington are hosting the Challenge Shield (men) and K Cup (women) with games starting today and the finals on next Saturday. Midlands (men) and Canterbury (women) are defending champions.