Baptism of fire for speedy striker

JONATHAN MILLMOW
Last updated 05:00 16/11/2012

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He works at a place called Picnic Cafe but Jake Smith will find his Black Sticks hockey debut anything but.

The 21-year-old Wellington striker is one of three new caps in the New Zealand men's hockey team to play in next month's Champions Trophy in Melbourne.

With six Olympians unavailable and a new coach on deck in Australian Colin Batch, changes were always likely to happen.

Smith was delighted to be one of those, even if it has come earlier than expected and in the toughest tournament outside the Olympics.

"I had an inkling there might be a spot or two available," Smith said. "I was thinking Azlan Shah [in Malaysia] in March next year but I've been given a chance and it's going to be awesome."

Smith's qualities are his acceleration and speed up front as well as his ability to link with fellow strikers.

Born in Hawke's Bay, Smith took up the game when he was 4; swapping the sun of the Bay for the wind of Wellington in year 9 (2005) had no adverse effect on his game.

He regularly made Wellington age-grade representative sides and is one of a handful of players to play a century of games for the Wellington College first XI.

The only blip on his career was in 2010 when he failed to make the Wellington under-21 side. But what one coach didn't rate, another did and Smith was selected for Wellington's title-winning national league team.

Smith played professionally in Hamburg, Germany, earlier this year for Alster but is happy to be home and working in his cafe job in the Botanical Gardens.

The other new caps are the Auckland pair of defender Alex Shaw and goalkeeper Devon Manchester. Olympians missing from the Champions Trophy campaign are first-choice goalkeeper Kyle Pontifex, Ryan Archibald, Brad Shaw, Andy Hayward and Richard Petherick.

This year's Champions Trophy has a slightly revised format. Two pools of four teams will see all sides qualify for quarterfinals, with pool placement dictating the knockout draw.

The Black Sticks, ranked sixth, play Germany (1) on December 1, India (11) on December 2 and England (4) on December 4.

The tournament ends on December 9 and also features Australia (2), Netherlands (3), Belgium (8) and Pakistan (9).

Contact Jonathan Millmow
Sports editor
Email: jonathan.millmow@dompost.co.nz

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