Black Sticks team stacked with experience
New Zealand will take its most experienced Black Sticks men's hockey team ever to the London Olympic Games starting next month.
The 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 the Games.
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.
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," he said.
"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."
New Zealand Olympic Committee secretary general and selector Kereyn Smith said: "It's an experienced team and an exciting one too. The recent win at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup just adds to the excitement surrounding this team."
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 June 22, 23 and 26 will be the team's last before they depart for Europe on July 6 for Olympic warm-up matches.
Today's selection announcement brings the New Zealand Olympic team to 115 with approximately 70 athletes expected to join the team before the Games open on July 27.
While New Zealand has fielded a men's hockey team at most Olympic Games since Melbourne 1956, they have 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 turf for London 2012 brings another first to the sport. The artificial turf will be coloured blue with a yellow ball providing high visibility. The pink surround adds to a vivid colour scheme.
The New Zealand men take on South Korea on July 30 to open their Olympic campaign.
The Black Sticks women's Olympic team will be announced on Friday.
BLACK STICKS TEAM
Goalkeeper: Kyle Pontifex; Defenders: Nick Haig, Andy Hayward, Blair Hopping, Dean Couzins, Brad Shaw, Richard Petherick; Strikers: Simon Child, Stephen Jenness, Hugo Inglis, Nick Wilson; Midfielders: Blair Hilton, Ryan Archibald, Phil Burrows, Shea McAleese, Steven Edwards.
Stand-by players: Hamish McGregor (goalkeeper), Arun Panchia (midfielder)