Shea McAleese has been in Stratford for the past couple of days coaching hockey and checking out the TET hockey turf and facilities for the Oceania Cup tournament being held in the town later this year.
And the Black Sticks men's vice-captain liked what he saw.
"Last time I was here, I was 13 [years old] playing on the Stratford sand turf and where there was no pavilion," recalled the double Olympian. "So it's an amazing contrast to what they have here now. It's an awesome setup.
"I'm looking forward to sending a text out to the [Black Sticks] later today saying it's going to be a great setup for the tournament."
The Black Sticks men's and women's teams will face Australia, Samoa and Papua New Guinea in the Oceania Cup, from October 30 to November 3.
McAleese, 28, agreed that some people might think "Why are you going there?" when Stratford won the hosting rights for the tournament earlier this year.
"I think it's brilliant, because sometimes when you're playing in the big regions the sport can lack spectator numbers because those areas are more inclined to getting multiple high-profile events.
"And they probably see a lot of high-level hockey being played.
"When you come to the regions like Stratford, Invercargill, Napier and places like that we find that the community really gets in behind it. That's why I enjoy playing the game in regions like this because the people turn out and you get a sellout crowd."
The Black Sticks have already qualified for the 2014 World Cup in the Netherlands.
McAleese stressed that the Oceania Cup was hugely important to the New Zealand teams because the winner of the tournament picked up 500 international ranking points, which helped when it came to the draw.
"If we came second we would get only the same amount of ranking points as the fifth from Asian and fifth from Europe, which means we only get 200. So that's tough for us. It means we're ranked fifth in the world and we would go down straight away if we finish second to, say, Australia.
"So it's important for us to win because then we could go up to, say, third. So that's what we will be striving for in the Oceania Cup tournament."
The Black Sticks men's team finished a disappointing ninth at the London Olympics last year, while the women fared a lot better finishing a creditable fourth.
"It was disappointing and our results set us up for a topsy-turvy tournament. We ended up drawing 5-5 with the Olympic champion, which was called the best game of the Olympics in men's hockey."
McAleese said the Black Sticks squad was progressing "nicely" post-London Olympics under new coach Colin Batch.
"So hopefully we will be going well come the Oceania Cup here."
The midfielder said the broken toe that ruled him out of the World League last June was a work in progress.
"It was a hefty break and I almost broke half my toe off," he said. "It's still on the mend. I had it X-rayed a couple of days ago and my doctor will be getting that footage soon so I'm hoping it's OK."
McAleese said hopefully he will be back in time to play for Central in the national hockey league, which kicks off on August 10.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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