Hockey In­dia League re­view

Mid­fielder Ben­jamin Stanzl is putting Aus­trian hockey on the map, writes San­deep Singh

The Hockey Paper - - FRONT PAGE -

EV­ERY move ini­ti­ated by Aus­trian mid­fielder Ben­jamin Stanzl on the pitch dur­ing the Hockey In­dian League be­comes an en­try in the note­book of his Delhi Waverid­ers coach Cedric D’Souza, who is also in charge of Stanzl’s na­tional team in Vienna.

Hail­ing from a hockey fam­ily, Stanzl is the first Aus­trian – and un­til now the only one – to fea­ture in the Hockey In­dia League, get­ting the chance to play along­side sev­eral in­ter­na­tional stars.

Al­though he comes from a coun­try not con­sid­ered a hot spot for in­ter­na­tional hockey, match­ing his skills against the best and play­ing in the com­pany of top play­ers is not a new ex­pe­ri­ence for Stanzl, who played for seven years with Har­veste­huder in Ham­burg be­fore mov­ing to Dutch club Oranje Zwart.

In the auc­tion for the 2016 HIL sea­son, Delhi Waverid­ers paid US$35,000 to se­cure Stanzl for their squad. Among those be­hind the Delhi Waverid­ers was D’Souza, who coached a club side in Vienna three years ear­lier.

“It’s been a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence af­ter Cedric picked me in his team,” says Stanzl, de­lighted to have made his de­but in HIL’s fourth edi­tion.

For some­one who was handed his first hockey stick at age two, it is un­sur­pris­ing Stanzl be­came a pro­fes­sional hockey player, de­spite lim­ited op­por­tu­ni­ties in Aus­tria.

D’Souza would have been aware of the prodi­gious tal­ent of the cen­tral mid­fielder, but not the pho­to­graph at his par­ents’ house show­ing Stanzl play­ing hockey wear­ing di­a­pers.

Soon af­ter Stanzl, 29, made his de­but in the HIL last year, D’Souza was back in Vienna, this time as coach of the Aus­trian na­tional squad.

From a cor­ner of his eye, D’Souza watches ev­ery move Stanzl makes on the field and elab­o­rate notes about his per­for­mance ares sent back to the coach of his club side and the Aus­trian na­tional fed­er­a­tion.

“Back in Aus­tria, I write to ev­ery coach about ev­ery game, a re­port to ev­ery club about their play­ers. Clubs also send back re­ports about how their play­ers are per­form­ing,” says D’Souza.

“A lot of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with play­ers is through e-mails as we don’t get too much time to­gether.”

But with Stanzl, he has a sixweek win­dow for coach­ing. The HIL also pro­vides the player with the chance to adapt to a new team’s ethos.

Stanzl was a highly rated in­door hockey player be­fore he switched his skills to the out­door ver­sion.

Af­ter sec­ondary school, he headed to Ger­many and seven sea­sons later shifted to play in the Dutch league. He has added an­other feather to his cap by play­ing in the HIL.

“Stanzl’s an out­stand­ing player, very skil­ful and adept. He has played for top clubs in Europe, which raises the game of all play­ers,” says D’Souza. D’Souza says the com­pe­ti­tion for for­eign play­ers in the HIL has be­come tougher as the size of the squads has been re­stricted to 20, only eight of who can be for­eign. Out of those eight, only four can be on the pitch at any time.

“Be­side the cul­tural ex­peri- ence, it is a gru­elling tour­na­ment that re­quires you to be at the top of your game phys­i­cally and men­tally. There is a lot of pres­sure,” as­serts D’Souza, who had two stints as a coach of the In­dian na­tional squad be­fore shift­ing to Europe.

“The more the com­pe­ti­tion, the bet­ter qual­ity of game will be on view. Noth­ing comes easy. The cream of in­ter­na­tional hockey is play­ing in the Hockey In­dia League.

“At the start, per­haps there was some skep­ti­cism about the tour­na­ment’s suc­cess. Ev­ery­body has now re­alised that it’s a league of top qual­ity.”

In Europe, D’Souza coached in Greece for six years and was at the helm of a club team in Vienna for two years un­til 2012. He was back in In­dia for four years, but re­turned to coach Aus­tria last sum­mer.

De­spite all that is on of­fer, a few of the top play­ers still stay away from the HIL, which D’Souza thinks is due to per­sonal rea­sons and com­mit­ments they have with clubs back home.

“Some play­ers have en­gage­ments with the na­tional and club teams, while oth­ers have to ded­i­cate time to study, fam­ily or work. And some may pre­fer to take a break from hockey,” he says. “Whether to play in the HIL or not is al­ways go­ing to be a player’s choice. It is the right of a fran­chise to se­lect and of a player to refuse.”

He be­lieves the HIL has been ben­e­fi­cial for the game. “The HIL is a boon for the play­ers. Sign­ing up, the play­ers are aware of the big chal­lenge. And the fees paid for the ser­vices of top play­ers is quite good,” he says.

Dou­ble whammy: Glenn Turner scored one of the first two-point field goals when play­ing for Kalinga Lancers in the Hockey In­dia League

Men­tor: Aus­tria coach Cedric D’Souza has been im­pressed with Stanzl

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