Strength, depth key for Black Sticks men's side

BRENDON EGAN
Last updated 05:00 20/05/2014

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Coach Colin Batch believes the depth in New Zealand men's hockey is the strongest it has been since taking over the job after the 2012 London Olympics.

The Black Sticks yesterday named their squad for the World Cup tournament in The Hague, which begins on June 1.

New Zealand have opted to go with the same group of 18 players, who competed in the Champions Challenge tournament in Malaysia earlier this month.

They won five of their six games there, but finished fifth after losing on a penalty shootout to Malaysia at the quarterfinal stage.

Batch said there were some difficult selection calls and believed they had named the strongest possible team, with the exception of striker Nick Wilson, who is not back until later in the year due to a serious knee injury.

"This was probably the hardest one [to pick ]," Batch said.

"We did have a lot of injuries last year. We do want to create more depth in our squad and make it really difficult for the selectors to end up with the best players."

New Zealand have named an experienced squad, headed by veterans Dean Couzins and Phil Burrows, who have both played more than 300 tests.

Midfielder Shea McAleese is just two games shy of the 200 game milestone. Twelve of the squad have played more than 100 tests.

There are eight new players to the team since the 2012 London Olympics, including Southern defender Kane Russell and Auckland striker Jared Panchia, who both played at the Junior World Cup last December.

Batch said it was nice to have some stability in the squad.

"There's a lot of things we learned in Malaysia that we want to carry forward to the World Cup. From that point of view, it's good to have the same group."

The Black Sticks begin the World Cup against South Korea and South Africa who are ranked below them. Batch said it was pivotal they started strongly and built early confidence.

Hockey powerhouses, the Netherlands and Germany, and 11th ranked Argentina are also in their group.

The best finish by a New Zealand's men's side at a World Cup is seventh, which was achieved in 1973, 1975 and 1982.

Batch said his side had made major improvement with their attacking game over the past 12 months. They were creating far more goal scoring opportunities and capitalising from their penalty corners and attacking work in the goal circle.

He was frustrated with some of the soft goals they conceded at the Champions Challenge and acknowledged they needed to tidy up their defensive game.

New Zealand will play Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany in warmup games.

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