Canterbury's Black Sticks to face biggest challenge to date
After moving through the ranks at Canterbury Hockey, three of the provinces young superstars will be tested in their first overseas tournament for the Black Sticks in Malaysia starting next week.
Former Canterbury representatives Sam Lane, David Brydon and Dom Newman were selected for New Zealand last November and have contributed to a young side selected by coach Darren Smith.
The team leave for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup on Friday night and will compete against top sides Malaysia, Australia, Great Britain, India and Japan.
The three Cantabrians have grown up playing hockey against and with one another in the Christchurch competitions and will play side-by-side against the world number one, Australia.
Lane, 19, said he was looking forward to his biggest challenge as a Black Stick and playing alongside his fellow Canterbury teammates.
"It will be a pretty gruesome tournament, it'll be high quality and with some of the best teams bringing their best players and in a hockey-mad country, it's pretty exciting."
The former St Andrews College student and Southern United player moved to Auckland to be closer to the Black Sticks environment in January and said he is already reaping the benefits.
"It's been pretty interesting having all the players around you that you've grown up admiring. Darren [Smith] has been really good to us and it's such a good learning environment."
The strike forward has scored four goals in his first eight test matches and is hoping to continue some form in the tournament which runs from April 27 to May 6.
Lane said playing with the Canterbury boys had given him confidence as they read each other's game well after years of going through the age grades together.
"These last five years we've played all our hockey together so we are pretty comfortable with each other."
The three have been adapting to the Auckland lifestyle and the rigid hockey regime that goes with it.
"It's pretty chaotic, the early morning sessions, the gym. I love Christchurch, it's an awesome place and Auckland is a lot busier so it's nice to come home for a few weekends to relax and recharge. I am happy I've made the change."
Brydon, 20, agreed that moving from his Carlton club in Canterbury to the North Shore hockey competition had helped his hockey as he is more exposed to other Black Sticks players, but has found the city life a big adjustment.
"[Auckland's] all right, it's a bit of a rat race, not my pick of places and fairly different to Christchurch."
Brydon, who plays left half, is originally from South Canterbury, but moved to Christchurch to attend St Bede's College and play hockey in the Christchurch competition for High School Old Boys.
Newman, 20, was excited to be playing in a tournament that featured so many big players of world hockey.
"I'm pretty excited about it, to play multiple games against different teams is something new for me."
The midfielder was the first of the three Cantabrians to make the break away to Auckland when he moved at the beginning of last season and said the new environment has been a positive for his game.
"You pick up a lot from the older guys."
His aim was to cement his spot in the Black Sticks ahead of next year's Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar, India.
Several seasoned Black Sticks have been ruled out with injury, including Simon Child, Nick Haig and Brad Read while James Coughlan is unavailable because of work commitments.
Smith said while the team was light on experience, it was a great opportunity for the group that played against Pakistan to step up and signal their intentions.