There was a seismic shift in the balance of power of Hamilton hockey last year. St. Paul's Collegiate were the Rankin Cup champions while Hamilton Boys' High School, winners the last two years previously, finished in 13th place.
Hamilton player Brad Coxon attempts to explain what changed.
"We lost a lot of key players and struggled to recover from that. Last year was a rebuilding year, but we didn't perform as well as we would have liked. We learned a lot though and will be better for it."
At the recent ANZAC hockey festival at St. Paul's Collegiate there was already evidence Hamilton is better for their 2016 adversity. Of the 14 teams that competed in the pre-season tourney, Hamilton was the only side to win all five games.
Three of the four Rankin Cup semi-finalists were present, including runners up Wairarapa College who Hamilton beat 4-1 in their opening game.
Coxon broke a stalemate ten minutes into the second-half and added another goal in the resounding triumph.
"They didn't seem as organised as the Auckland teams. Their attack was a lot more instinctive and when we pressured them we got on top with some good hockey." Coxon says.
Hamilton thumped King's College 5-0, but St. Kentigern College proved to be a tough Auckland opponent.
"We started real slow and fell behind a goal. It was a close game, but we came back late and won 2-1. Matt Deller and Cameron Steffot got the goals. St. Kent's were a structured team, they will be tough to beat." Coxon believes.
Wellington College is another side Coxon has earmarked for greater things.
"We beat Wellington 2-0, but they have only lost one player from last year and were quite tough. I expect they will be even better by the end of the season."
Coxon is in his second year in the First XI. He plays either inner or centre midfield.
He is been mentored by Hamilton coaches Steve Smith and Richard Petherick, who played 98 tests for the Black Sticks.
In the summer Coxon plays premier tennis.
Turf laying, marathon marshalling and after school jobs are just some of the ways members of the Westlake Boys’ High School First XI hockey team fundraised for their recent European tour.
The epic nine-game trip has climaxed with Westlake visiting the Netherlands, Belgium and France in addition to assembling a strong squad for the 2017 domestic season.
Westlake split their teams into Under-18 and 16 groups and Netesh Sukha was the captain of the former team.
“The style of hockey was very different in Europe. The Dutch teams like to hold on to possession and build patiently rather than being assertive and going forward straight away like we do in New Zealand.” Sukha reveals.
Greater caution might have helped Westlake in the WFHC tournament featuring teams from South Africa, Holland, Australia and England.
“We only won one game, but had three draws and three losses, the biggest of which was only 1-3. The English team won the tournament, but we did beat the Aussies.” Sukha recalls.
In addition to the WFHC tourney Westlake played two Dutch teams in Rotterdam and beat Hellevoetsluis 3-2.
“We learned a lot about the style of hockey we want to play. The younger guys developed a lot and it was really competitive.” Sukha acclaims.
Sukha identifies Year 11 Sam Shotter in defence, goal keeper Callum Grassick and attacker Charl Ullrich as players to watch for Westlake this season.
Sukha himself plays in the midfield and is a North Harbour A Under-18 rep. He was a member of the Westlake team that won the Rankin Cup in 2015.
Sukha is weary of Rosmini College, Auckland Grammar School and St. Kentigern College, hinting they will have strong teams in 2017.
“There are a lot of good teams, but I am really excited about this group. The culture is great and the talent is deep.” Sukha enthuses.
Learning about the sacrifice of war and foreign cultures was another benefit of the tour.
On ANZAC day an early start in France was followed by a border crossing for a Dawn Service at Buttes new British Cemetary, Zonnebeke. A short bus ride to Ypres was then taken for a wreath laying service at Menin Gate before a final service at the New Zealand memorial in Messines.
“It was a huge experience for us to see just how big the war was and understand the horrible suffering that happened. Seeing European hockey in front of huge, loud crowds was the opposite experience. It’s given all the boys something to aspire to.” Sukha concludes.
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