Denym Clarke has found his way back to top-level hockey and is pumped about representing Midlands on his home turf.
The 22-year-old is part of the Midlands men's team who will compete in the Ford National Hockey League, starting September 14, at the Tauranga Hockey Centre. It is the concrete walls at that venue that have taken a beating during Clarke's practice sessions.
After treading the typical pathway to top representative hockey, including age group Midlands teams, Clarke was not in the Midlands set up last year.
"I was out of shape the last year, but then I trained all though the summer. I spent a lot of time focusing on my basics – trapping every ball that comes to you and passing it as soon as you get it. I was hitting those walls at the Tauranga turf," Clarke says.
Both the men's and women's Midlands teams will play against Bay of Plenty-Tauranga combined sides tomorrow, as the latter prepare for the Ford National Association Tournaments the same week as the NHL tournaments. The Midlands women's team includes a host of current Black Sticks along with former national rep Gemma McCaw.
Clarke says the regime of Midlands coach Mark Borgers has been influential in helping him.
"It is about proving to myself that I can play at that higher level and one thing that has helped is the coach Mark Borgers. He has brought a new dynamic and we have created a pretty good culture. We have a good mix of those older heads and some young fresh faces."
Clarke is a defender for the Midlands team and says he enjoys coming forward from the back.
"It is naturally where I have played during the years and my biggest strength is my distribution. I enjoy it, when you are young you never want to play defence, but as you get older you realise it is pretty important."
Clarke also expects international guest players, Dutchmen Gaetan van Vloten and Frithjof de Jong to add some X-factor to the squad.
"We have been working on different concepts and trying new things. Playing the Bay is a good opportunity for us to try new stuff and it is more or less whether we are doing the right things. We can trust each other to know if I go forward someone will cover me. We are confident going forward, and we are feeling pretty good within ourselves.
"It is pretty cool playing in Tauranga. We were talking about whether [being at home] it is more pressure or more comfortable. For me it is more comfortable, I have played most of my hockey there so it is pretty awesome."
This weekend will also include a northern under-13 tri series as part of the Midlands-run Orange event.
Tauranga Hockey Association general manager Clinton Butler is excited about a busy time ahead at the centre, which also includes next month's Aims Games fixtures.
"Midlands have been running these Orange events and it is a good hit out for the teams ahead of the NHL and association tournaments. It is also a good taster for the community to what is to come."
Midlands men: Reuben Andrews, Craig Armstrong, Calum Grassick, Chad Whitehead, Denym Clarke, Garrick Du Toit, Zac Woods, Matt Rees-Gibbs, Tim Neild, Gaetan van Vloten, Ben Tanner, Glenn Eyers, Ricky Hayward, Soo Choon, Zach Litchfield, Daniel Scanlon, Frithjof de Jong, Maks Wyndham-Smith.
Midlands women: Natasha Brill, Melissa Caird, Samantha Charlton, Tarryn Davey, Frances Davies, Julia Ebert, Shiloh Gloyn, Alia Jaques, Rose Keddell, Alexandra Lukin, Gemma McCaw, Agui Moroni, Georgia Morton, Imogen Neil, Kendra Peart-Anderson, Amy Robinson, Sally Rutherford, Kim Tanner, Sharnae Taylor.