New academy will keep Canterbury hockey on rise
A new hockey academy is expected to help maintain Canterbury's rags-to-riches resurgence on the national scene.
Canterbury Hockey officials are proud the province outperformed arch rivals Auckland at national senior and age-group levels this year despite the challenges faced since the earthquakes.
The icing on the cake was the Cats' first national women's league title in a decade. Eight Cats players - seven Cantabrians and South Canterbury secondary school student Cass Reid - were selected in the Black Sticks national squad for next week's three-test series with India.
Canterbury has won six national titles this year, including the male and female teams' double in the under-18 and primary schools grades.
"Given the lack of [pitch] space and training time, the results have been superb really," Christchurch-based Hockey Academy South high performance manager Chris Leslie said.
Leslie, a former New Zealand international, who now helps Australian ace Mark Hager coach the Black Sticks women's team, says Canterbury can be particularly proud of the number of Cats players in the Black Sticks.
"The was no Canterbury player in the team that went to the [London] Olympics. We had three players in the national squad but none made Olympic selection.
"Look at the team now. We've got four new caps from Canterbury in the Black Sticks. That's a reflection of their results in the under-21s [where Canterbury finished second] and the national league. It's mind-boggling to think where we were to where we are now."
Ironically, Leslie credits the quakes as a catalyst for the red-and-blacks' revival.
"When you have a catastrophe it makes you stronger as a person and as a group. I think there's a little bit of that in Canterbury hockey.
"They've pulled together and said, ‘stuff it, we may not have had ideal training opportunities but we are probably tougher as a group'."
Leslie says the province's coaches, who are all volunteers, had also had "a tremendous input". "It's hard to single out people, but there's coaches like Aaron Ford, the head coach of the Canterbury Cats, who's also been involved in coaching the under-21 team. He's just an example of someone who's put so much time in," he said.
"The Cats have also got a couple of old stalwarts, John Christensen and Murray Connor, who've been involved as assistants and have probably also had a mentoring role. People like Murray and John are extremely passionate and have been involved in Canterbury Hockey a long time.
"They are trying to instil values they had then into teams they are coaching now."
Hockey Academy South is a regional talent programme servicing the Canterbury, Malvern, Mid Canterbury, South Canterbury and West Coast districts.
Leslie is set to announce soon the first intake for the academy, which has three tiers. The elite level, which will have 25 inductees, caters for Black Sticks and Junior Black Sticks players. Sixteen are funded "carded" athletes in the High Performance Sport New Zealand scheme.
Forty players have been invited to be part of the development-level academy.
Leslie says 33 invitations will be issued to players in the "futures" category for players emerging from the under-18 grades.
His main priority will be to raise performances in the men's game. "Our women's representative programme is pretty strong now but the challenge for Canterbury and Hockey Academy South is to ensure that our men are also doing well. A lot of hard work will go into ensuring that their results improve."