Black Sticks coy on their Olympic chances
The Black Sticks men are refusing to talk up their Olympic Games medal prospects despite victory in the Sultan Azlan Shah hockey tournament.
The victorious team arrived home from Malaysia yesterday and one of their stars, defender and captain Dean Couzins, described the tournament win as a "wee confidence builder" looking ahead to London.
"We can't be celebrating like we have won a medal yet," Couzins said.
"Our goal is to medal at the Olympics without a doubt but I know it will be very difficult to do that, but this gives us a wee confidence builder winning a tournament like this."
The Sultan Azlan Shah experience is tricky to put in context.
It is in its 21st year, New Zealand have been to half of them and never before made the final.
The Black Sticks were essentially tournament third seeds this year behind Great Britain and South Korea and though they lost to both those countries in pool play, the boys in black still qualified for the final where they pipped Argentina 1-0.
"Too many times we have been playing off for third or even lower at this tournament, so it is satisfying to make the final and grind out a result," Couzins said.
"I've been there about seven times myself. It wasn't pretty in the final but we got there in the end.
"It shows we are on track but there is still a long way to go. We are certainly more consistent than we have been. We are not far off the pace in every game we play."
Couzins highlighted defence as the obvious positive from the exercise. The Black Sticks conceded only six goals in seven games with goalkeeper Kyle Pontifex to the fore.
Pontifex, Couzins and Ryan Archibald all made the tournament team named after the final.
"There are still parts of our game we need to improve," Couzins said.
"Retaining possession in the front third has to be a focus for us."
Couzins can relax now because his selection in the New Zealand team for the Olympics is a given.
But four of the party in Malaysia are destined to miss the cut next week when coach Shane McLeod settles on his 16-man squad for London.
Eighteen players were taken to Malaysia but room has to be found for Blair Hopping and Steve Edwards who were unavailable.
Couzins, who will be attending his third Olympics, described next week's team announcement as "tough for some".
"I don't envy Shane and the selectors.
"Ryan and Simon (Child) were carrying injuries in the Sultan Azlan which saw us spread the minutes evenly across the 18 players. Everyone had a very good chance to press their claims, now we just have to wait."