Australian men’s coach Barry Dancer has given a strong indication that the 2008 Beijing Olympics team could include several fresh faces following the team announcement for the upcoming Five Nation Tournament in South Africa early next year.
The team to compete in the Five Nation Tournament from 20 until 27 January 2008 is noticeably different to the side which recently finished second at the Champions Trophy, with an average of 40 games played per player (the game average for the Champions Trophy squad was 114 games).
Dancer said the young team was selected to serve a dual purpose. Firstly, to create an opportunity for many of the squads young players to step up and press for Olympic selection. Secondly, to allow some of the more experienced players to prepare physically up the upcoming Australian Hockey League in February prior to the Olympic squad selection process.
"Certainly the focus of this team's selection was to allow a broader group of players the opportunity to put their hand up for Olympic selection by performing at this tournament," said Dancer.
"At this stage we are not ruling out anyone for our Olympic squad regardless of age and experience. Everyone in this team is a chance to be selected for the Olympic squad so it will be exciting to see who steps up and really goes above and beyond to earn their spot."
Dancer also highlighted the importance of a consistent performance at next years AHL which will be the final chance for players to impress the coaching staff prior to the Olympic squad selection.
"This tournament could be a stepping stone for some of the younger players before they tackle the AHL in a bid to be selected in the Olympic squad. So fans can expect to see the players really taking it to another level over the next few months which will result in some excellent hockey being played."
Dancer said the omission of some senior players from the team, including Jamie Dwyer, Brent Livermore, Bevan George and Matthew Wells will leave them to focus on their physical development leading into the AHL.
"Obviously there is a bit of experience missing from the team. This will allow some of the more experienced players to have the best preparation possible for the AHL and ultimately the Olympic Games. At the same time, some of the players who have been in the side for three or so years who are in the team to play in South Africa will be given the opportunity to step up and take more leadership, ultimately benefiting the team in the long run."
Overall three debutants have been included in the team in Chris Ciriello, Daniel Hotchkis and Simon Orchard, with Dancer claiming all three are chances to be selected in the Olympic squad.
"Each of our three debutants have emerged through various AIS tours and through the AHL over the last few years and they all thoroughly deserve this opportunity. They are all long term prospects but a good performance at this tournament followed by better hockey at the AHL will make them just as likely to be selected in the Olympic squad as anyone else."
Desmond Abbott, Kiel Brown, Nathan Burgers, Chris Ciriello, Luke Doerner, Russell Ford, David Guest, Rob Hammond, Josh Hawes, Daniel Hotchkis, Fergus Kavanagh, Mark Knowles, Daniel McPherson, Eli Matheson, Eddie Ockenden, Simon Orchard, Grant Schubert, Andrew Smith.
Source: Hockey Australia
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