New Zealand celebrates its first Azlan Shah title
New Zealand celebrates its first Azlan Shah title
(Photo: Vino John)

New Zealand will take its most experienced hockey team ever to the London Olympic Games starting next month.

The Black Sticks men’s team of 16 players selected by the New Zealand Olympic Committee today includes four three-time Olympians and nine players who will make their second appearance at an Olympics.

Three of the team – striker Phil Burrows, midfielder Ryan Archibald, and defender and captain Dean Couzins – have also amassed more 250 caps for their country while defender Blair Hopping is just one off that mark with 249 caps.

Couzins, Burrows, Hopping and goalkeeper Kyle Pontifex will all be attending their third Olympics while Archibald would also be in that group had he not missed Athens with injury.

Another two team members – Simon Child and Shea McAleese – have more than 150 caps in the black strip, while five others including Pontifex have more than 100 matches under their belt.

New Zealand Olympic Committee secretary general and selector Kereyn Smith says she is proud to have announced the 16 players today. “It’s an experienced team and an exciting one too,” she said. “Put the team together and you’ve got significant Olympic Games experience, not to mention international caps. The recent win at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup just adds to the excitement surrounding this team.”

Black Sticks Men’s coach Shane McLeod said deciding on the final 16, with fellow selectors Grant Edwards and Peter Miskimmin, was made even tougher after winning the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia earlier this month. “It became a luxury problem with so many players performing at the top of their game in Malaysia. In the end it came down to getting the balance right in the midfield and the flexibility of players to slot into a number of positions. It’s incredibly hard for those who missed out.”

Canterbury midfielder Nick Haig and Midlands defender Richard Petherick have both made the Olympic team after not being selected for last year’s Champions Trophy in Auckland. “Richard is playing with confidence and confirmed his selection with his performance in Malaysia while Nick provides the flexibility to cover both left and right half,” said McLeod.

He added that despite the Azlan Shah success and the wealth of experience in the side, the players had their feet on the ground in terms of their medal chances in London. “We’re doing things really well but we know that the Olympics are another two steps up and this is just the beginning. The players now have to put their lives on hold, with the Olympics their only priority.”

Midfielder Arun Panchia and goalkeeper Hamish McGregor will both head to London with the team but will be based outside the Olympic village. If one of the 16 Olympic team members is injured, either Panchia or McGregor will be called on as a permanent replacement for the injured player.

The Black Sticks men, ranked seventh in the world, head to Cairns on Sunday for a three test series against world No. 1 Australia. The three matches on 22, 23 and 26 June will be the team’s last before they depart for Europe on 6 July for Olympic warm-up matches.

High Performance Sport New Zealand chief executive Alex Baumann added his congratulations to the team today. He says his organisation has been delighted to help the Black Sticks Men’s team prepare for the London Olympics.  “We’ve put in more than $1.1 million in funding this year into the team’s high performance programme, as well as providing specialists to work with the team on strength and conditioning, nutrition and other aspects of their training and preparation.” While New Zealand has fielded a men’s hockey team at the majority of Olympic Games since Melbourne 1956, New Zealand has won just one Olympic hockey medal – gold against Australia in 1976 at Montreal where the sport was played for the first time on artificial turf.

The Black Sticks women’s Olympic team will be announced on Friday.

Source: New Zealand Hockey Release