Bright new era dawns for resilient code

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 01/12/2012

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Canterbury Hockey chief executive Rod Templeton gazes across the new $2 million turf and its backdrop of trees at Nunweek Park and knows his sport is luckier than most of its Christchurch counterparts.

Not only has hockey locked away six national titles this year and produced nine Black Sticks men's and women's internationals, it has facilities many other Canterbury code chiefs would surely surrender a right arm for.

From the rubble of Porritt Park, a new headquarters has emerged in Harewood.

Hockey lost its traditional home at Porritt Park when the September 2010 earthquake wreaked havoc in the Avonside sporting precinct.

The new turf is the third artificial pitch at Nunweek Park. Canterbury Hockey didn't let grass grow under its feet as it contemplated its post-Porritt future. It installed a $1.5m turf at Nunweek last year.

The Christchurch City Council has stumped up $1.5m for the two latest Nunweek pitches and the Canterbury Community Trust and New Zealand Community Trust also made significant contributions.

The old Porritt Park administration offices were loaded on to a massive truck and delivered in the dead of night to Harewood.

Templeton and his staff - crammed into a tiny upstairs unit in a Wairakei Rd business park for the last two years - should be sitting in their new digs overlooking Nunweek's oldest-established turf a week before Christmas.

"We are incredibly fortunate to have what we've got here," said Templeton, a former financial services industry executive who took over the hockey helm in mid-August. He's acutely aware "a lot of sports in Canterbury don't have the ability to have a physical presence [since the earthquakes]".

Hockey, however, has four artificial turfs in the city now - the three at Nunweek and another, international-quality water-based turf at St Bede's College. A joint venture between the school and the Marist club, it was opened in May 2010 just six months before the first major seismic upheaval rendered Porritt Park a relic.

The two artificial turfs on the western edge of the Nunweek development are "wet dress turfs" - a surface somewhere between the sand turf like the one originally installed at Nunweek Park in the late 1980s and the water turf required to stage international and national league matches.

The newest addition required 110 tonnes of sand as a base. Lighting towers have been installed along with team dugouts and catch-nets to stop hard-hit hockey balls whizzing out of bounds. Plans are also afoot for a video tower to enable camera operators to film matches for training analysis purposes.

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Canterbury Hockey's facilities are owned by a separate trust chaired by 1976 Montreal Olympic Games hockey gold medallist Selwyn Maister. The provincial body leases the facilities from the trust. Artificial turfs have a lifespan of 10 years. Players pay a fee for each match played on a turf with proceeds going to the turf replacement fund.

Templeton says hockey is aiming for a ratio of "800 players to one turf". Currently, it's 1500. "That's why people drive past Nunweek and see the lights on at 9.30 at night and kids playing at 8am on Saturdays."

Premier grade hockey alternates between Marist Park and Nunweek but the Canterbury Cats women and Canterbury Cavaliers men have had to play their national league games on the road since the quakes.

"We were keen to play a national league game at Marist Park," Hockey Academy South high performance manager Chris Leslie says. "But Hockey New Zealand scheduled it in South Canterbury; they want to share it around the provinces. But we feel it would be nice to have one here given what has happened in the city."

Leslie, a former Canterbury and New Zealand international who is now assistant coach of the Black Sticks women's squad, hopes the champion Cats and the rebuilding Cavaliers might get a home game in 2013 after a format change by New Zealand Hockey.

"It used to be you'd have one weekend playing in your own region then have a week-long national tournament. But in 2013, they are doing two weekends in the region and then going into the week-long tournament."

Templeton says Canterbury Hockey proved it can host big events after successfully staging the Hatch Cup primary schoolboys' tournament. Hosts Canterbury won the tournament, attended by 24 teams.

Hockey is a medium-sized sport in Canterbury with about 4100 members, excluding summer hockey league participants and students playing on school teams.

But it's one of the city's most progressive codes blessed with good governance structures. Hockey has always had high-calibre coaches and administrators. The Canterbury Hockey board - chaired by Sandra Pooch - includes former Black Sticks drag flick goalscoring specialist Hayden Shaw and long-time former Canterbury coach Murray Connor. Mayor Bob Parker and his wife Jo Nicholls-Parker are the sport's patrons and the facilities trust board includes Ballantynes chairman Peter Cox.

Leslie says the sport is fortunate that former elite players tend to stay involved and put something back into the game.

Templeton says it's not unusual to see "three generations of the same family" pitch-side watching games.

Templeton says Canterbury Hockey - with an annual turnover of about $1.7m - did not suffer the post-quake participation "dip" experienced by other codes. "Our numbers have continued to increase, though not significantly."

The sport has big goals for the future. Templeton says New Zealand Hockey has set a target of "an extra 100,000 kids playing primary hockey in the next five years". A case, perhaps of, we've built it - now you come.

- The Press

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