Hockey men right in the mix

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT -

It’s worth only a whis­per just now, but the New Zealand men’s hockey team looks good enough to be among the medals at next year’s Lon­don Olympics.

Dean Couzins and his team aren’t bet­ter than other lead­ing com­bi­na­tions, but they’re right in the mix. Their fourth-place fin­ish at the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy tour­na­ment in Auck­land at the week­end should not be dis­missed lightly.

Not only did New Zealand thrash Korea 6- 1, but they did well to snatch a 3-all draw with The Nether­lands early in the tour­na­ment. The Nether­lands led 3-0, but New Zealand doggedly clawed their way back.

In the other pool match, New Zealand were pipped 2- 1 by Ger­many. They lost 3-2 to Spain in post- sec­tion play and went down 2- 1 to world cham­pi­ons Aus­tralia in a semi­fi­nal that could have gone ei­ther way.

In the bronze medal play­off New Zealand fought The Nether­lands goal for goal be­fore go­ing down 5-3.

The New Zealan­ders were never out­classed, and they scored 16 goals in six matches.

The Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy is for the elite of world men’s hockey and New Zealand, on the oc­ca­sions when they have been in­vited to play, have strug­gled. They did fin­ish fourth in 1978, but that was in a five-team com­pe­ti­tion. This time they looked as good as any team, which bodes well for the Olympics.

There have been two New Zealand men’s hockey teams of par­tic­u­lar note. In 1956, New Zeal and, cap­tained by Jack Ty­nan, one of the game’s greats, ac­quit­ted them­selves well on their Olympic de­but. Show­ing no first- game nerves, they led the highly-rated Ger­man team 3-0 be­fore go­ing down 5-4.

In other pool matches, New Zealand lost 5-1 to even­tual sil­ver medal­lists Pak­istan, and beat Bel­gium 3-0.

In post-sec­tion play New Zealand set an Olympic record in smash­ing Sin­ga­pore 13-0, with cen­tre for­ward Guy Mc­gre­gor slot­ting six goals. There fol­lowed an­other 1-0 loss to Aus­tralia and an­other win over Bel­gium, which se­cured sixth place over­all, a com­mend­able first-up per­for­mance.

The high point in New Zealand hockey his­tory was the Olympic gold medal per­for­mance in Montreal in 1976, the first time the tour­na­ment was played on an ar­ti­fi­cial sur­face.

New Zealand fielded a vastly ex­pe­ri­enced team that year, many of the play­ers coached by Can­ter­bury hockey wiz­ard Cyril Wal­ter.

The New Zealan­ders sur­vived a tough draw and two ex­tra-time matches to reach the fi­nal, where they beat Aus­tralia 1-0, cour­tesy of a goal by cap­tain Tony Ine­son.

The fi­nal is of­ten re­called be­cause Welling­ton goalie Trevor Man­ning stopped a siz­zling shot with his knee 13 min­utes from time. His kneecap was bro­ken, but he bravely helped the New Zealan­ders to their tri­umph.

Ex­pect­ing the cur­rent team to reach those dizzy heights might be a bit much. But there’s no deny­ing how ex­pe­ri­enced they are. Couzins ( 237), Ryan Archibald (251), Blair Hopping (240) and Phil Bur­rows (262) have more than 200 test caps and an­other seven play­ers have topped the cen­tury mark. No won­der they looked com­posed un­der pres­sure.

The New Zealan­ders, coached by Shane Mcleod, won a bronze medal at the 2010 Delhi Com­mon­wealth Games, beat­ing Eng­land in a penalty shootout in the de­cid­ing match. They looked bet­ter still in Auck­land. If they can go up an­other notch by Lon­don, any­thing’s pos­si­ble.

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