Hindsight Diary - Quebec 2018

Quebec 2018 #23 - Last-but-one

It seems like a long time since the last post I made, and it is...  it's now cold in the workshop!  Time flies.

Apologies to those who were following for pulling up short before the competition was finished...  I may go back and try to do some analysis at a later stage of the last few games and the grades I didn't have much of a look at, but I tried to look at a game just now and it's no good, life has crammed itself in around the euphoria surrounding the competition and there's not enough space left in my brain to try to see whats going on...  it just looks like a bunch of fish now.

I can still blog a bit on the general happenings though, and try to do a bit of a wrap-up.

The Semi between GB and Col women was a great game, GB winning 3-0 in the end.  If you do look closely at the goals scored, the first two were due to a simple error in who covered where on the defensive bin, twice exactly the same, I remember that much...  so in a different universe there was really not much between the teams, with the Colombian team having a bunch of very young players, and the GB team also stacked with young players, both with lots of potential to develop and get even stronger in the years ahead.

GB women then went into the final against NZ women, who also were stacked full of young players, with 8 players on debut at senior worlds, I think I have that right.  Eight!!!  What a great grade, and how epic is it going to get as all these young teams get better with experience and they already put on a 584minute sudden death final?  Or however long it was.

Congratulations to the NZ women for getting the win in the end, and condolences for GB, those games suck extra much to lose after everyone has destroyed themselves like that in golden goal.

While all the action was going on, ourselves and the French were warming up across in the lanes....   and warming up....   and warming up.....  by the end, despite all that warming up I didn't feel any warmer than usual.

We have had that experience before actually, in 2006 in Sheffield the Canadians and Aussies battled through sudden death and we had to re-calc our warm-up in the same way a few times as well.  That time we were in a separate pool though, whereas in Quebec we were in the same pool and could see the game, and it was our Women playing!  Pretty much all of us were watching as we swam, at least in little patches.  How can you not.

To the game, our game....  well, first, although we would have been excited in different ways and for different reasons to play anyone in that final, it was great to have the French as the opponents.  They are a great nemesis for us...  they pounded us when I first made the team in 2000, then we knocked them out in 02 to everyone's surprise including perhaps our own, then we had the wood on them for a couple of comps, then they pipped us in two tight finals in 08 and 2013...   as Rob said afterwards, that was his third final against them, and they had won the first two.

Definitely opponents to get excited about.  Hilariously, I felt we experienced some historical karma balancing itself out slightly before the game started.  When teams line up and teamlists are read out, it's often an english-speaking commentator who does it, and though everyone does their best, I hate to think how many french names have been mangled by english mis-pronunciation over the years.  This is a mono-lingual kiwi speaking here. 

On this occasion, the commentator was (I assume) french-canadian, and despite my understanding that many french-canadians are bilingual and actually speak english, the announcer made what I suspect to be the most hilarious and off-course team-list announcement in history...   I didn't even register that he was reading out our names until he had got to number 5, I thought he was speaking in french and we would hear the translation shortly!  I'm not sure if he was taking the piss, but whether or not he was it was great, broke the ice in a way.  I hope it didn't come across as making light of the occasion but I for one was laughing, couldn't help it.  I think, and I hope, that he then did a great job of announcing the french lads, and as I said, balanced the scales a little for pronunciation wrongs done to them in the past in this respect.

The game itself was epic.  I've played in six finals and they all felt different, but it's a special thing to play as part of a team that has all the boxes ticked in terms of knowing their plans and players.  The only downside to it is knowing how rare those moments are to come together, and knowing that for our young fellas this, their first experience of the biggest pressure on the biggest stage, is going to be a hard bar to reach again....  but that's what the younger generation do right?  Push that bar higher.  

It was definitely a game of huge pressure.  The french had basically clawed their way through the tournament with a mixture of great play, very good desperation defense, and sometimes just winning purely through determination.  A team like that is very very dangerous and despite many of them being young and a new generation, we knew they were going to find another level in the final.

I'll share the clips of the goals.  It's hard to write about this without doing a bit of cheerleading for my team-mates.

We scored an epic goal here after 4 minutes, great backtackle by Andrew turning a french attack into a counter for us, and linking with almost everyone in the water in this play.  Except the goalie, who on occasions like this plays the important role of watching everyone else do something epic and trying to be ready in case something goes wrong.

We put on a bit of pressure for a while but the second half of the first half the French had us on our bin and in our half the whole time.  It took until 6 mins remaining in the game for us to get enough pressure on them to force an advantage, basically pressured Raphael to try a defensive switch to relieve, but when their open half got it our support players managed to shut down the outside.  When they couldn't get a forward onto his pass Rob jumped on it and fed Ben to put us 2-0 up.

This really put the pressure on for us.  A few minutes later Ben got a break and Rob got a chance to run at goal and he made the most of it

And...  all of a sudden the game was over.  I felt for the French guys, but I've had my share of final losses...  I was over the moon to be in a team that got a win. 

As well as the game, the tournament was over too.  No time to feel sad, had to get in there and congratulate the girls for winning their amazing final, some chats with the french in the showers, a lot of backslapping, thank-yous to all the awesome kiwi supporters and an exhausted kind of haze drinking sports drinks and snacking purely out of habit before throwing the snacks in the bin and refusing to re-fuel out of weird principle because I never had to again... and getting to the ceremony, which was great.  

One thing the organisers did seem to forget at the ceremony was to thank the big group of refs we had, I didn't see them getting any bottles of wine which would have been nice, but I hope they were gifted many drinks later on in the night.  They did a great job as a collective and as individuals.

Then...  function time.  I do have photos of this stuff.  And some highlights, which I will pull out for one more post I reckon, it's late tonight.  

Read more →

Quebec 2018 #22 - GB Semi-finals

Wow things have been busy here lately, and with a heat-wave coming across the ditch from our mates in Australia where it gets proper hot.

Temperature has hit 36 degrees C in our workshop, that's the current record.  Needless to say I have been appropriating a large quantity of the kids ice-blocks.

Next up in the blog is the last couple of semi-finals, both involving GB, with the men playing France who beat them 1-0 in the RR (first game of the comp or very close) and the women playing Colombia.

This one is a bit of a wordsy one with stats.  Ooh statistics, exciting!

We will look at the men first, and today I've abandoned nick-names.  Too mentally draining.  But I will just say "Ross the powerful back" once, for form.  Instead we can have a different look at it and check out the shape of the game through the reffing calls.  I've done some limited underwater nerdery and come up with firstly this, here are the calls as they happened...    TLDR, fast forward to summary at bottom.

FR free
FR goal
GB free
GB free
FR free
FR free
FR free on GB bin- FR goal
GB free
GB free on FR bin- GB timeout
GB free
GB free in FR zone
GB free on FR bin
FR free- FR timeout
GB free on FR bin
GB 7 1min (flick)
FR free
GB 3 2min (flick)
FR free
FR free
GB 5 2min (freearm?)
FR 13 2min (flick)
GB free
GB pen shot - GB goal
GB free in FR zone
GB 6 2min (freearm)
FR free
GB free
GB free
FR free
GB 5 2min (freearm)
FR free on GB bin
FR 8 2min (obs)
GB free in FR zone
FR 5 2min
GB free- GB timeout
GB goal
FR timeout
FR free
GB free
FR free in GB zone
FR free on GB bin
FR free on GB bin
GB free
FR free
GB free
GB free
GB 10 2min (obs)
FR free
FR free in GB zone
FR goal

18 FR free
18 GB free
GB 11 mins sinbin
FR 6 mins sinbin

Amazingly after an overtime game there were exactly the same calls for and against each team, and actually the same number of adv pucks in each defensive zone as well.  Of course the obvious difference here is that of their fouls, GB had calls severe enough or repeating enough to get 11 sinbin minutes (6 kickouts) while France only had 6 minutes (3 kickouts).

Here's a bit more of a visual look, please note the court isnt to scale, just approximate.

Above are the 4 quarters of the game from the French point of view, playing up the page.  Black dot is French Adv puck, Big black dot is a french powerplay(GB kickout)

And here it is for GB, white dots playing up the page.

I think I have that right, apologies if I've muffed something up.l

Why not lay them all over each other?  Because each quarter the subs benches swap sides, and it can be interesting to see if there is a bias to the subs bench side in play. Maybe? Also so we can see any changing momentum in the game as it goes on.

All this really shows is where the fouls are called and not where the puck actually goes, but it does give a good indication of flash points and where momentum is.  You'd have to say looking at the 2 halves of normal time, GB are pretty dominant in territory, almost all the play is happening in the french half and a lot in the french 5m.  Hardly any action in the GB 5m until the 3rd quarter, really, when the french get a series of calls in the GB zone which pins the play up that end.

But, the 2 French goals in the first half were from Adv pucks that went straight through the GB defense against the run of play, they didnt need any territory to convert those chances.  Bit like a team in football defending in their third and scoring counterattacking goals when the chance comes.

Is it like a ropeadope?  Well, not really because Ali did it on purpose.  I'm betting the french would have preferred to have been on attack all game.

Imagine how awesome if Uwh tactics evolve to that level!  Crazy.

On the diagrams, interesting to see the play go from all over in the first half to almost strictly walls in the second too.

Quite similar for the French to their Quarter-final against Colombia, where the Colombians forced most of the territory and lots of chances, but France just hung in there keeping them out and finished their own chances really clinically.  Really really good defence from the French team seems to be the most powerful characteristic for them, but you can't underestimate how important it is to actually finish those chances too.  One goal from GB was scored with Raphael G in the bin for the French, and you would have to say he was a very important figure for their backline...  I don't think he subs, he just sits in most of the game and they operate around him.

For GB, probably more of a case of not managing to get those finishing touches on all the opportunities they managed to create.

Here's a few things that stood out.  One is a bit of a sherlock holmes, what did Ben S from GB get kicked out for?

Camera doesn't get a clear view but we can see french #7 Quentin go "Ooof!" as the puck hits his belly...

And here the classic "what'd you do?"  "flicked 'im."

If you watch from the start of the second half, Ben is allowed back in as the puck is touched (ref lets him in a couple seconds late), he drops on it as it gets to the wall.  He then stays down pretty much on the puck for 25 seconds until the next break in play...

 He's not cruising along behind the play either conserving energy like backs, he's involved on the puck pretty much the whole time.  Great effort from the young fella.

Here's the penalty shot to make it 2-1 to france

Not long after, great dummy from ...  can't see his number!  The frenchman with the magnificent beard.

Unfortunately, it's not that easy to dummy a left hander, those guys come back like zombies.  GB have 3 big lefties in their team, which is a lot!

Pretty decent body-check on the barrier wall here from the french back, helped a bit by the GB guy he's trying to beat...

Bomf!  I do recall seeing a french player in 2004 when the puck was right on the corner of our bin, come screaming up so fast and furious from the back he swam headfirst into the wall.  I was amazed  that this could happen, until years later I did it myself while playing forward and feeling overly optimistic about a scoring chance.

Here's the GB goal that equalizes.  This was clutch, only 2 minutes to go they had to get it.  Boils down to, can they turn the puck back into the middle once the french had started to shift it sideways, Ali Monteath manages to sweep it back in and someone does a great pickup in there and scores it.

What a photo-finish at the end, you can see in the gif the clock tick down and Scott's time in the bin is up, but literally a couple seconds before he can reach the play the momentum breaks and GB run out of defenders and France forwards flood the goal.

What a tight game, a great one really.  Some dominating moments from GB and great come from behind to equalize, but you have to hand it to the French hanging in there with defence all the way to the end and getting the result.

 I'll try to figure out an interesting way to approach the womens semi, and it's nearly all she wrote for this blog, only a couple to go!


Read more →

Quebec 2018 #21 - Meanwhile behind the scenes

It's a very odd thing about the Uwh worlds competitions, the way the comp plays out at the end.

My first comp I think we placed 7th in Hobart in 2000, and I have vague recollections of a poolside frenzy of gear-swapping and semi-stripping of which I actually avoided, wanting to hold onto my own gear because...  it was my first gear with a fern on it at a worlds.  So I think I probably wandered through the crowd with a spare T-Shirt held out in front of me until I ended up swapping it with some other sweaty (possibly slightly tipsy) person.

Anyone want to swap a shirt?


It can be drastically different the experience of the last few days depending on what's going on with your team.  If you end up in a playoff for 7-8th, then most likely you have a couple social nights before the end of the comp and have a chance to meet other countries before the function...   gear swapping, picking a favourite to cheer for, watching the drama unfold and shouting yourself hoarse.  Eating all kinds of rubbish and leaving your drink bottle at home (or in a rubbish bin).

Meanwhile on a given day, the teams that are still in it are in an adapting world where instead of juggling stretching areas to find a spot no-one else is using for a warmup, there is now space galore but there is a party in the causeway on the way through to be navigated.  Coaches and managers become grumpy bouncers roaming late-night hallways re-directing and scowling at boisterous partygoers on their way back to their rooms or just local students drunk in the wrong corridors, given the finals tends to be on a friday or saturday.

You could argue there's far less fun going on in the finalists camps on the last days...  but of course when you're not involved and the pressure is off, you would still give anything to be in that buildup still, in that interminable waiting process that is being alive in the end of the competition, in the space between one all-or-nothing pressure game and the next, where there is no training to be done and nothing to do but try to eat, stretch, sleep and occupy your mind with anything at all until finally the countdown starts.  I'm sure some people love it, but most I know aren't overly fond of the waiting.

To kill some of that time, here are some things I missed earlier...

Ben getting the most thorough bodily search we ever saw on the way through the states.  Took 15 minutes of groping, honestly.  Was probably quite useful as a massage!

Rob utilising a very new product, the edible glove, for when you just need that extra energy in the subs bench.

Possibly reposting this but I just love it so much. Jeremy the team hairdresser showcasing his skills at a previous tournament, but amazingly no haircuts were given in Quebec!

Aww just look at this youthful enthusiasm, it's beautiful!  Leah and Ben were both presented with their player numbers on a wee patch they could take home, along with a few others who hadn't been presented them in front of the team families, but I can't find a photo of all of them sadly

BBQ with the parentals and supporters!  This happened a few days in, nice and relaxing social occasion with the army of supporters that came with us from NZ and did such a great job shouting for us and helping out with all sorts of things.  Much appreciated!

As those with kids at home will know, use of various skypeish technologies is an absolutely essential daily routine.

The womens team in one of those sensible, capture the moment type here-we-are-at-the-comp photos that they always take and that never ever even occurs to the mens team to take until you see that the women did it months later

Womens team with their player numbers on patches!

Parentals!  Look at all that helping, awesome huh?

Us reaffirming to ourselves why we are Uwh players and not professional footballers

Leah and Paige demonstrating their amazing artwork of their spirit animals, with which they decorated their doors.

I can't remember if I've already mentioned this.  I was walking down the corridor and past this very door (Leah and Paiges room) while the girls were all in a meeting, and saw a secret santa prezzy by the door.

What's that?  The women have a tradition of being anonymously linked to a buddy in the team, and showering that person with anonymous gifts over the course of the comp, according to the level of their particular buy-in...  it seems that like an office party secret santa box, some people go the $20 gift equivalent and some give an office stapler...   although they are all pretty good by the sound of it.

On an impulse, I grabbed this package and snuck it into my room, opened it and sure enough there was a cute stuffed toy inside. It was addressed to Leah.  What a sweet little gift for a team-mate, to give her a warm fuzzy out of the blue!  I took it out, replaced it with a small piece of paper with my best drawing of a poo on it, and wrapped it up again.  I wasn't thinking too far ahead.

I was now stuck with a soft-toy and a prank present and I suddenly panicked that I would be wrecking the womens team harmony by doing this, and so then tried to fix it.  I got a paper cup, stuck the toy inside, stuck it in a bag, wrote "please give this to Leah" on it, then stuck that in another bag and addressed it to Paige.

Now they both had a present, all fixed.  Right?  Well, maybe.  Annoyingly, they immediately knew it was me!  How you identify someone purely by their artistic impression of a small pile of poo I have no idea, but it doesn't seem fair.

Jesse and his Pinata which met a violent end

One of our few trips to local restaurants, this one in Old Town

We had a court session here, where we developed a genius idea from Ben which amounts to this....   guilt not by proof, but guilt determined by an old-fashioned vote.  Brutal.

And this was our last night out together during the comp.  Sniff!

Next post, finals



Read more →

Quebec 2018 #20 - Semi-final EM NZL vs TUR second half

In last post, we left off at halftime.   NZL 1, TUR 1.

It's just occurred to me that I will see most of my team-mates at Interzones in a few weeks, and I've been steadily taking the piss out of many of them for months now.  There may be residual payback building up, so I will attempt to take the piss out of myself a bit to make up for it in this post.

Should be easy, I'm a slow moving target these days. As the second half started, puck went camera-side off the strike and dropped back to Coskun the Turkish left half, who proceeded to barrel lanes down the wall with me hanging off him like a rag trying to slow him down in awkward position, before finally getting thrown off him like a cowboy off a bull.

Here's the clip...

Turkey back up our end pressuring hard.  Rob saves us some blushes and then Andrew in great defensive position battles away with it until it's called Adv for the Turks.

As play starts, Ismail the turkish center/fullback has a bit of a dilemma.  He only has one forward, the other 2 subbing in so no curtain of bodies, he ends up playing for time until the others get there.  Bit of a toss-up sometimes when you're in attacking territory...  Keep all your guys in but winded so you can have 6 on the play, or sub some but risk them not making it back when the buzzer sounds.  Especially in todays game where refs are very often trying to speed the game up to remove time-killing and an advantage for the defending team, it can actually affect both.

We then  have a slightly bum-puckering moment right in front of goal as someone (er, me) accidentally whacks the puck with his free-arm as he's trying to whip his stick around to knockdown.  Ends up just an advantage and luckily for us not a kick-out but the refs have a wee chat to be happy about it and it gives both teams a few extra seconds to breathe.

Refs de-bunking the latest Trump fake news

In all seriousness, there is often a bit of frustration from spectators and even commentators about why the refs conference so much.  People say "why don't they just have the balls to make a call!"

It's not often (ever) explained by the commentators why they conference, but it's actually really important that they do and one of the best improvements they have made in recent years (I think).  There are a lot of things happening and the refs see a lot from 3 different viewpoints, sometimes they see the same foul but often they see different ones from their different angles.  Often the reason for the quick conference is to check the timeline of the play...  what happened first, what affected what came after, what then becomes play under advantage...  it's really important they get that right so most players who want them to decipher the calls correctly are quite happy for them to conference.

Off the Adv, we get a great shot of the Turkish hanging curtain of bodies.  There was a bit of discussion about what was legal etc.

It's a solid block of bodies to swim through, you can't really.  But hey, it's their 3m advantage, they can go where they like.  As I understood it, if Ismail passed to the forwards, no issue with blocking/sheperding.  If he swims straight under them, ditto no problem.  But sometimes he was swimming around the side, using them as a shield to block the forwards trying to get to the puck...   that's sheperding/obstruction as soon as he does that.

The second issue is that the Turkish forwards often (almost always) when play started kicked forwards a meter or 2, or tried to, swimming into any defender setup behind them and pushing them back.  This is the obstruction the refs were really looking closely for I think, and on this occasion I think (but I'm not sure) that's what seems to have been called.  They just shunt all the defence into the goal like a snow plough.

#9 Bilal goes to the bin for 2mins in I think the first binning of the game.  Turkey contain until he's back in very well and keep it in our half.  Then they get an adv and push right up on the goal just by going straight, but Nick gets a fantastic body position and saves, before Yusuf #12 tunnels under him into the goal and is called for barging.

 Pretty tense!  Great pressure here from Turkey.

From the Adv, as Yusuf (who is very very involved this game, and tournament) turns with the puck Jeremy gets a great hit on the puck from a nice position...

Play is pretty grindy for a few minutes, we have a bit of territory, they then have more and an Adv on our bin that Nick comes away from patiently, before Jeremy makes a nice pass to Andrew breaking onto it strongly, and this catches the Turkish backline a bit out of shape, Andrew getting a nose ahead of the cover defender who is up a bit high and we get a break up the right which spreads into the middle when Andrew holds onto it and lays it back.

 Some nice skill from Andrew to keep hold and Nick to keep it alive as he's caught with the puck before managing to force it out to Andre who goes on a run on the goal geez you gotta watch him he's quick that boy.  Coskun gets back to drop on him just feet from the goal with a nice tackle, but the next phase of kiwis pile in and we manage to hold pressure on the goal corner for a good few seconds and Turkey unable to clear, big opportunity for us.

When Coskun made that initial tackle, 2 Turkish forwards subbed out, and they are the reason we are able to turn and keep pushing in for a few seconds...  the fresh guys finally get on the goal but we snake a pass in and Jeremy has a bang on the goal wall in strong position and that I'm guessing is where a ref spots the Turkish glove on the puck, and they call it penalty shot.  Jesse and Rob strode out to take it, and Coskun took defenders position.

If you look closely you can see the puck totally bounce off Jesse's stick just after he takes possession.  We had a clear view from the subs box and everyone's heart skipped a beat, mine skipped 2 due to old age.

Jesse has a pretty fantastic dummy, and he pulled one out of the box there for us.

Score was now 2-1 to us.  Benny called a timeout and had some wise words of which I remember none at all.

The chat worked pretty well on Ben though, who shot out on the strike and got us some great momentum to the left side.  Play then rolled back down our left wall and after that big strike Ben subbed, and brought in a fresh Andrew Harris to spark what was probably the play of the game.

Actually a bunch of our guys subbed as the puck got to our subs bench, and I guess this shows just how dangerous it can be attacking on your opponents sub box.  We dropped a goal to Argentina in precisely this area from a fresh sub early in the comp.

Andrew grabs the puck and looks for a little space wide, but as Coskun shoots up  aggressively Andrew pulls the puck inside him with that lanky left arm, and it gets a bit tangled as Coskun turns and hooks, but Rob has subbed in at the same time and he bunts the puck free on the other side and slides it up to Hamish who has also just subbed in, and who buggers off down the pool and scores a dramatic runaway.

The Turks really had to attack hard and make something happen, and it's risky, that's the game.  Funny, most of the time those tend to go against teams I've been in, to get a break like that in our favour in a big game is a welcome change, but the best thing about the goal I thought was the actions of everyone who wasn't Hamish, who was busy scoring the goal.  The rest of the guys were sprinting up behind him to follow up, and then to give him a pat on the head and they were all so fast and fit, that within 3 seconds of the goal going in this was the picture at the surface

...I'm 2 screens to the left, treading water and wheezing.  Man these young guys are fit.  Anyway what a goal!  Fantastic play, really.

Games not over yet!  Turkey call a timeout and re-focus, it's about 2:30 left, easily enough time to get 2 goals to equalize, especially with the stop-clock about to come into play... the game is still totally live.

The next strike is a beaut.  2 crazy fast guys going balls-out at each other, Ben pulls a miracle managing to get a dummy through despite only winning it by a bees-dick...  if you are a forward, surely watching this one makes you feel a bit romantic

It's all on 6 vs 6, we manage to pressure a bit after the strike and the Turks for the first time in the tournament look to go backwards and sideways to relieve pressure, but can't get around Andrews lanky left arm who catches and traps the puck and we almost get a goal but it's disallowed for gloving.  Suddenly it's all action in the last minutes!

 Turkey pressure into our half and we slow the play down a bit for a minute, it's a long passage of play and everyone is now starting to feel pretty wrecked, it's been a long game, bodies on the bottom are very noticeably thinning on both sides.

Turkey get one last crack, Volkan throwing a big pass but Ed manages to hit it down before the forward can get on it and time slowly dribbles away. 

Game ends with a very relieved us winning 3-1. 


Read more →

Quebec 2018 #19 - Semi-final EM NZL vs TUR

From last posts Prologue Fast forward to vaguely modern times.

In 2013 we got to play Turkey in a Quarterfinal, and it was very tight.  I think they went up a goal first and we ended up winning 2-1, something like this.  They were playing the style I had coached them with, 2-3-1, and the coaches were guys I had coached.  By then there was only one guy there in the team I had actually coached myself.

From there, the Turkish team and especially their U23 team built up a big reputation for being very physical and winning games with 4 guys in the water the whole game.  They made sinbins look easy.

Sinbins...   no big deal

They were impressive, and impressed a lot of people.  I got told I don't know how many times by I don't know how many people how bad Turkey was going to beat us up over these last couple of years.  It's good motivation for training.

In 2016 we didn't get to play them but they ended up coming through the most dramatic game pretty much ever played and winning in the last seconds with a penalty goal and 4 in the sin-bin in their semi...   incredible game.  So incredible in fact, and so hard to process, that it was almost written on the wall immediately that the semi-final was likely to be their final...  all their emotional energy was already spent and they were now winners no matter what the outcome of the final, which they went on to lose to Aussie 3-0, sure enough.

I've been in teams where that has happened and it's hard to deal with...  I've heard it said you have to lose a final to win one, which makes sense in some ways.  Our first success at worlds in my generation was in 2002 when we went into a Semi-final against France having solidly lost to them in the RR.  The french in 2000 had been finalists and incredibly unlucky to lose the gold, so we were huge underdogs having placed 7th in Hobart.

This was the last comp with end-subbing.  It was a thing, young people! 
I feel so old.  Demarkation-line old. Not long-stick old, but still old.

Jacques the french coach actually stayed dry on the side throughout that game, though I'm not sure if that was confidence or maybe some nasal congestion to be fair.  Anyway, ending up coming from behind to win that game was unexpected and in that situation, you have to focus on the opportunity of a final and it can be difficult when you have already exceeded expectations.  After 2016, expectations were understandably already sky-high for Turkey.

Since 2013 they have had some turnover of coaches, and changed their formation to an Aussie 3-3 with a Turkish twist.  The Turkish federation has bags of money and a lot of political clout, and that hasn't changed since I was there.  They certainly arrived with a team that meant business, and looked the goods.

Awesome huh!  What country wouldn't love to have the backing that these guys do. The federation organizes crowds and fireworks at the airport when they get home.

The matching suits, wicked.  The flash hotel lobby, mean.  But the team shoes do it for me the best.  Team shoes!  So slick.  Last time we had a team photo, we wore jandals and Benson didn't have any so he drew some on his feet with a black marker pen.

I don't know the detail, but if it's anything like what they had when I was there then these guys had at least one training camp running for 2-3 weeks just before worlds where the federation plonked them in a hotel and they had 2 hours of training and games a day for the whole time, or more.  Pool booking issues?  Mate, forget about it.  Problems getting enough annual leave?  You're dreaming, if your boss pipes up the federation would give them a swirly.

A team full of guys who not only had this backing and training behind them, but were also all big strong dudes from a country famous for its strength athletes and most had swimming backgrounds?  Well.  It's a dream opposition if you want to try to beat the best.  It's a fair bet that one day Turkey will be world champions if they can carry on their momentum.  The question was, would it be in 2018.

Well, whaddaya know we got to play them in the Semi-final.  Let's look at the game.

Through the comp people tended to declare Turkey a wall team, but I felt they weren't anywhere near that simple.  They weren't trying to play the wall...  they were just trying to play straight at the goal, straight ahead all the time.  They didn't care where from...  if a team defended to the wall then that's where they would go from, but they never bothered to try to go wide with one exception, their number 5 Ismail was a very obvious playmaker who looked for space and was happy to find width on occasion...  everyone else just ran it straight.  In rugby they call this kind of play the Samoan sidestep.

So, and what were we doing?  Well, we had been playing the by-now-standard NZ style 2-3-1 same as our women, Spain men, GB women I think, our masters and some others.  We were trying a bit of everything, wherever we could find space in the deep pool...   a bit of wall, a bit of middle, whatever seemed to work.

GB commentator Lewis thought it would be a wall vs wide type of game...  Not that simple maybe but there's probably a degree of accuracy in that the way it played out. 

Here's the first strike.

Turkish with a standard Aussie 3-3 setup, forwardline, goalie pushing really high behind them and halfbacks either side waiting for play to develop to their side to move up.  NZ, vanilla 2-3-1 as per our womens team.

In the first couple of minutes we can see how aggressive the Turkish style is, how well it works for them but also the problems it causes them.
Turkey gets momentum to the right off the first strike (the first I've seen our forwards lose all competition) and shape like this on the wall, in a standard pattern...

They then pressure our corner for a minute or so.  They then get a bit off balance. From the start of this vid, the lefthand Turk is their outside back...  the cover defender.
As the play moves to the wall, he moves over and covers, then gets the puck and swims all the way into the corner.  Super aggressive, but while the goalie (number 5) sits in his normal position, no-one covers outside and when the puck is thrown wide straight to our outside winger Nick, he only has an outside forward in poor position ahead of him and he swims off and gets from our second lane to their second lane before a Turkish back can get over to disrupt the swim, of which Jeremy gets on the end of and adds pressure which the Turks eventually manage to deflect.  This is a massive swing in momentum and territory and shows the Turkish vulnerability to wide switches very early.  

This is feeling pretty serious and re-living this game is making me feel tense so I am going to attempt to lighten the mood by throwing in some Chuck Norris jokes, but using our own Chuck Norris, a man of few words and much beard...  Gunny.

When Gunny jumps in a pool, he doesn't get wet.  The water gets Gunny.

Turks get an adv and push down the wall to pressure our right corner, and again, really aggressive, the outside half coming right up to the goal.  Our forward Ben subs and this time Andrew gets a perfect sub in, comes right into the goal, Ed pushes it out from the tray, Andrew grabs the puck and goes on an epic swim.  Coskun does really well to get back over the top and catch him, he's got some serious wheels and you can see him use a nice streamline to do it.

Andrew manages to stay down and Hamish comes in on the other side and nearly has the goal but for a last-gasp drop tackle by the Turkish defender #11 Fatih.

A little while later, we see the first Turkish "curtain" on an advantage puck...

This is something they have been doing all comp, putting 3 forwards in a hanging line like many teams do but putting them straight up to stop any opposition forward swimming through at the puck.  Most games they get at least one call against them for obstruction from it, but they are pretty attached to it.

If you ask Gunny what time it is, he always says, "Two seconds
till." Then you ask, "Two seconds till what?" and he roundhouse kicks you
in the face.

Lewis at this point has a distinctly GB-themed commentary, topped off with the classic commentators curse, "GB would like to have New Zealand in the final".  We will cover the France-GB Semi later on.  Is the French Uwh god Crossey McPalmeface listening?  However, bearing in mind this patriotic enthusiasm, the commentators are doing a pretty fantastic job.  Maybe we should keep an eye on them as the game goes to answer any points they raise if we can.

A minute later Jesse gets a bit of a foul and looks around for a ref, then plays on without half his air, in a nod to Nick Martyn the Aussie choo choo train.

After the refs give the foul on Jesse, the puck pops to Andre in the channel who tries a trademark sucker dummy, which is well done but also very well defended by Turkish number 3 Mert who is onto it and doesn't let him past.

Turkey get a free after this and after some roundy round Coskun #2 makes a nice tackle and gets space, and swims in behind his forwards, holding onto the puck very nicely and not rushing the pass until he is right up on the goal.

Yes, I can vouch for a defender getting squished into the wall because it was me as Turkish #4 Ahmer swam ahead of the play, but the refs were happy with it and we should have had a guy on the puck earlier in the phase so, ah bugger.  Turkish caught a nice crack in our support as our forwards were looking to break, as it often happens when teams can be more vulnerable when trying to take an attacking chance.   Volkan #10 put it in the goal on the other side of Ahmer, and the refs give the goal.  We are 0-1 down.

Gunny does not sleep.  He waits.

Volkan is the one guy remaining in the Turkish team that I coached in 2007.  He's a fantastic player, huge, incredibly fast and powerful, amazingly flexible for a big guy and with a good head for reading the play.  He swam over and handed me a Turkish federation flag before the game and we had a nice moment to wish each other luck before play started.

He had a great goal celebration too.  Very simple.

Judgement day.  It sure was!

Rob slips a great pass here flat under #12 Yusuf's body onto his forwards stick.  Looks simple but takes some presence of mind to slide a flat slow pass in the heat of the moment.

This is a big coaching point that takes a long time for young players here in NZ to catch on to.  When making every pass as big as possible, you lose a lot of accuracy and nuance.  Once your goal becomes to hit a target on a given trajectory, like "get puck to that stick through that hole" then accuracy seems to go up a lot.

Not long after, the fading seconds of the first half and NZ gets a free on the Turkish bin.  6 on 6 still, and no sin-bins in the game so far.  That's pretty good going for an Elite game, let alone a playoff!

Some things are hard to explain.  Jesse, a guy weighing, I dunno, maybe 80kgs when he hasn't had a poo in a week?  Waves the team behind him and goes straight and physical against a team where I'm guessing every player outweighs him by at least 10kgs, many a lot more.  He gets a great pass off to get in behind the charging forwards, and chases it in like Forrest down a hole.

Ed did a good job on the outside keeping it from turning for the corner, and Hamish did some digging too as they finally shoved it across to Nick to finish.  Quite an unexpected goal if I'm honest, to score straight away in first phase like that...  probably no-one was expecting it.  Coskun did pop very early for this one, the Turkish right back, and I can only think that he must have had his view obscured and didn't see the puck move towards the goal until too late when it went in under him.  Visions tricky in uwh and if we got lucky there, well I'll take it. 

Halftime, and the score was tied 1-1.

Gunny doesn't read books.  He stares them down until he gets the information he wants.

We had a bit of a look at how the Turkish formation was working in one of the Quarterfinal posts - link here.   But just to reiterate, Turkey were playing a vanillaish Aussie 3-3 but with their working forward rotating behind and with the working halfback.  What that has a tendency to do, is mean that when the puck moves across the pool, in a normal 3-3, the outside half will come up to limit territory loss or even if he times it aggressively to attack, but he will do it pretty carefully because he's coming up from last cover defender to do it.  In the Turkish version, that guy knows that as soon as he engages he will have his forward roll over behind him in a few seconds, and you can see that this gives the Turkish outside half a lot of confidence to shoot up extremely aggressively.  This puts heaps of pressure on but also is pretty risky.

In terms of tactics, this is a little similar to a game we had in 2008 against South Africa in the Semi-Final.  We could see that the outside SA halfback came right in to the wall from lots of areas in the pool leaving no cover...  whether a tactic to add wall pressure, or just preferences of individual players.  We went into that game with a plan to take the puck to their outside half as often as we could, and ended up catching them out of position a few times, and got a bunch of runaway goals in the game as a result.  This game was one of the few times I can remember having a plan that seemed to work.

Lets be honest in Uwh Mike Tyson had it right.

Detailed plans in Uwh very rarely bear fruit, and we were playing a lot of the tournament heads-up, ie play whats in front of you.  So we didn't have secret plans to target these things...   I'm just pointing things out in Hindsight, and I find it pretty fascinating to see how things ended up happening.

Gunny once tackled someone so hard his stick broke the speed of light, went back in time and killed hitler in his bunker.

This post went long (unlike all the others, right?) so I'll break here and be back in a while with the second half, or maybe cut back to the accommodation to see what the parentals and supporters were up to.


Read more →

Quebec 2018 #18 - NZL-TUR semi-final Prologue

Before we dig into our semi-final against Turkey, a bit of backstory as there's a bit of history to this for me personally.

This is 12 years ago now so I'm hazy on a few details but I'll just bustle on and try to sound confident and it'll be fine.

In 2007 (maybe late 2006?) Andrew Carr the longtime NZ Mens coach went over to Turkey and did some coaching there to try to help them develop.  After he came back home, they wanted him to go again but I think he was out of leave from work, or simply generously handed the gig on, but either way, I got the opportunity to go over to Turkey for 3 months and coach them leading up to the CMAS world games in Bari, Italy.

I thought I was going to Europe for a couple years, quit my job etc...  then met Danni my future wife a few weeks before leaving here in NZ.  So I bought a return ticket to bring me back after Bari, and headed off.

There's a whole blog in this trip.  Me, for 3 months, in a country with very little english spoken, just coaching uwh.  I fully lost about 20% of my english vocabulary and spent months after coming home with words on the tip of my tongue...   and not big words either.

I stayed with one of the players in Istanbul.

This was my office for 6 weeks.

It was an amazing experience.  The local press gave the boys more coverage than I'd ever seen or heard of (until I got to Colombia 3 years later).

I kept a pretty detailed coaching diary of every session, and full programs of everything we did.  For 7 weeks it was working with the main club which most of the team had been from previously.  I made them sticks, redesigned any that were ratty, made gloves...   I was all-purpose.

On the balcony.

Some surreal stuff happened.  The player I was staying with who I won't name but who is a great dude, convinced me to use this mode of transport, against my better judgement...

...Once.  That was enough.  It was one of the scariest experiences of my life, and afterwards I insisted we used the car.  Which was very slightly less scary.

I lost about 7kg floating about coaching for weeks...  I had my birthday there.

The fellas brought a cake to the pool and everything.

I'll admit, I did a crapload of hockey stuff...  I finished the coaching booklets that are available on our site.  Link here if you haven't seen them. 

I did all sorts of testing and planning for the Turks, and a bunch of video analysis.

I also had a bit too much time on my hands on occasion.

I made this gif for some reason, probably to make Danni laugh.

I did a bit of sightseeing when people came to visit, my Dad made it over and Tania McLeish the Aussie superstar came touring with me to visit Gallipolli.

Looking down from the Turkish defences to the landings at Gallipolli. 

The Turks have an interesting relationship with ANZACs, Aussies and Kiwis, because the founder of modern Turkey Ataturk (whose face is all over the sides of every building and on every flag) got his big break fighting the ANZACs.  

Who?  What?  Dunno.  From somewhere in Turkey.

I'm hazy on it but pretty sure this is the royal circumcision chamber from the palace.  This is the kind of tourist my dad is.  (nah my idea probly sorry Dad)

Absolutely no memory of this at all.  I wish I knew.

I had quite a few sessions at the local swimming club pool, and put footage together, this was in the days of the Hockings brothers famous skills videos.

Even got a bit of a tan which is amazing for me.


The Turkish womens team, after training.

So, after 6 weeks the federation put me in a hotel next to the pool complex and shipped in all the mens triallists for a massive training camp.  I also found out I was coaching a womens team as well.

They had a selection camp over 4 days, then after that a buildup camp of 16 days, then a break for elections, a few more sessions then off to Bari for the comp.  With the 2 squads through all the camps, it was mostly girls 2 hours pooltime 7-9am and guys 2 hours 8-10pm?  Every day.  I was having nana naps in the afternoons to make it through.


This is the kind of thing I remember.  When I arrived, the guy I was staying with had a massive poster of a shark on his lounge wall.

Terrifying right?  Not a big fan of sharks.

So, one night we come home, and there's a new piece of art on the wall in the lounge.  Sweet!  I was relieved.  Later that night when I go to my tiny bedroom, and the shark is up on the wall over the foot of my bed.  

We did go to Bari.  6 countries, the french were heavily favoured to destroy all opposition, but Turkey made big steps and made it to the final in both grades.

We were stoked! It was a great result and was probably the start of some confidence building which is very important...  the men were 2-1 with France at halftime of the final (maybe even 2-2?) before the score blew out to a pretty comfortable french win in the second half.

The french womens team was a bit more dominant but the Turkish women still improved out of sight over the time we put in.

The Turks got some very good coverage and financial rewards for these placings too under their governmental sporting rewards system which was great for the players.

I had spent months of my life as a full-time Uwh coach with these guys trying to give them systems and build foundations they could follow, and the guys I coached then would tell me, next time we play you at worlds it will be in the final...  and we would all laugh but of course they would really be meaning it because that was the dream, and I would be hoping it would happen too.  First I hoped I'd make another final, and second,  how cool right?  There were guys there playing who had turned up to Worlds in 2000 and had the pants scared off them when they saw someone lift the puck off the tiles for the first time.  

When you realise you didn't know the things you don't know. The puck lifts?

They had come a long way very fast, and they have come a lot further now.

This is the end of this particular memory lane.


Read more →

Quebec 2018 #17 - Semi-finals!!!!

Oh man.  What a week.  What a holiday, what a year so far.  Yesterday we had some family landmarks, with our 2 year old learning the names of body parts I never imagined a 2 year old singing songs about, and our 5 year old learning how to give the middle finger to random people in public.

I'm keen to get into our Semi-final but let's have a look at our NZ womens semi-final against South Africa first...   it's a goodie.  I've been neglecting in-depth coverage of our ferny sisters.

I spotted something to geek over from the outset, but I also wanted to take a page out of Ross-the-powerful-backs book, and try to work some monikers into the analysis.  Very inspiring listening to Nick and Jack talking about Honey-badgers and Canavans of courage in the aussie womens quarter.  Who needs real names right?  I will be using the NZ womens official Canadian Spirit animals, and making things up for the SA ladies based on how their video aura appears.  Ie I'm making it up.  Actually let's make up the NZ girls ones too to make it fair.  Spirit animals can wait.  Of course, no offense intended, just a bit of a light-hearted addition to an otherwise extremely high pressure and stressful occasion.

Elite Womens Semi-Final 2018 - South Africa vs New Zealand      ...Boom!

Right from the first strike, SA come out with a pretty different shape which gets them in all sorts of trouble.

SA on left, NZL on right.  Formations heading up the page.

Pretty different approaches!  NZ on the right has 2 striking forwards slightly staggered, then a midfield line of 3, then a goalie between puck and goal.  This is pretty standard for 2-3-1 all over the world.
SA on the left has a striking forward, then a line made of the other 2 forwards and Zandre "Zeus" Coetzee on the right end, then the remaining 2 backs bookending really wide each side, extra wide on this near side as I think the goalie Lauren "ScrewDwyer" Dwyer looks like she might be expecting play to come towards us, maybe a team directive to go right from the outset?  Here's the play as it unfolds from there...  Hilariously, the commentators have the teams around the wrong way and think SA has scored the first goal.  Classic!

What ends up happening is puck goes to SA left, and the left back gets pulled up into the play immediately, and after a couple seconds she's outnumbered and the puck is worked past her.  Screwdwyer started so far to the right, it takes her a long time to get to the play after the left back has gone in, by which time the NZ players have made a couple meters with heads up, see her coming with lots of time, sneak a pass past her and run on the goal.  A lot of the attacking opportunity is made in catching the SA backline off balance here.  Then Zeus comes in from the outside and has had to make a bit of ground herself and the kiwi girls again have had time to get heads up after going past the goalie, and despite some good desperation defence from SA the next support player Leah "Howitzer" Chamberlin-Gunn drives in and finishes.  Basically SA defence gets really stretched

Like this.  SA seem to vary their positioning on their strikes maybe according to plans or personal preferences.

A little later, Zeus gets in a similar situation, a long way back from the play as it breaks and Paige "Mighty Mouse" Moran is able to swim up unchallenged with support all around her.  Zeus does an amazing job somehow stopping the pass and swimming out of a knot of NZ players but the refs call back as the puck has hit something, and it's called a knockdown and penalty goal.

Zeus alone on Mt Olympus at the back pretty isolated.

Further into the half, SA have some time pressing the kiwi corner, then NZ rolls down the wall and SA run some solid D for a few phases in their corner.  They are running a 3-way rotation of backs down that goal-wall, and it works well with very strong body positions until the puck moves out from the corner a few meters to that horrible spot where the rotation has to be ditched and the backline has to reform, and the 3 SA backs all get stuck in the same spot on the corner of the bin, oh crap.

Gabi "Gremlin" Steer and Christie "Cyborg" Whitehead put lots of pressure on but the combined efforts of Zeus, Screwdwyer and Jeanie "Genie" Van Der Merwe (lazy of me I know) are too strong and it's kept out before being called up for an offensive gloving foul by the kiwis.

After an adv and a bit of grinding out of the red zone, SA get another free and Julie "Guillotine" Borstlap throws an incredible dummy around Rachel "Colgate" Arbuckle

which sparks a nice attack in the middle from SA before it's pushed aside by NZ.

After Rebecca "Wraith" Gatland tries to defuse a SA push to the wall, Zeus gets a nice pass through to forwards and Marli "Bandaid" Pelser drives then gets turned by Cyborg, holds and feeds Guillotine who gets right onto goal before a knockdown gets a penalty goal for SA.  Game 2-1!

Jennifer "6-shooter" Coppinger wins the ensuing strike but play rolls around in a mess and I can't see who is who.  Eventually the Wraith gets some space around the near flank and connects with Claire "Kodiak" George who draws 2 backs and slides it out to Emma "Young-Gun" Bavelaar in a nice give-and-go and then gets it back, gets a pass towards the goal corner as Zeus and the SA defence squeezes them out but it's hit something again and another penalty goal!  Madness.

It's raining penalty goals and blocked shots in the pool here.

Off the strike and after the initial mess, Emma "Stingrae" finally gets into it where we can see it, ogring through and getting caught by the last defender who's called for a chopping foul and really, SA lucky it's not called penalty goal as it was the last defender.  Time then ticks into halftime and it's getting quite tricky remembering all this.

Start of second half, SA make a great drive all down the wall and push the kiwi corner, get an adv right in front.  In the chat, Mackenzie "clairvoyant" Edwards says
"All the penalty goals are from illegal knock downs so the big flicks are obviously causing trouble"...

Seconds later, SA gets a bit unlucky, but not as unlucky as Howitzer who wears a big SA flick in the face 2 feet from the goal.  Roxy already has a nickname the commentator seems to be using , looks like it was her?  Out for 5 mins, and the refs calling it by the book.

SA holds some great defence together for 3 minutes, then NZ get a free on the SA bin and make an appalling mess of bodies on the corner of the SA bin, which gives us a nice shot on the way of 12 on the bottom...

That's what you show your mates when they ask what uwh looks like, to freak them out.  Refs down as well!

Here's the play, really the refs can't see anything and neither can we but what a great D and great drive to pressure...  Mighty Mouse ends up moving in to finish from the back when the bodies start popping and the refs give the goal.

 Great work from Colgate, Wraith and Abby "Cobra" Vorstermans to turn the puck around the corner of the sweeping D and get it back toward the goal.

Some amazing pressure from SA with 5 after this goal, kiwi girls maybe getting a bit keen to attack and riding too high, leaving Howitzer at the back a bit isolated.  I'll highlight this, this is a great second effort.  Screwdwyer makes a great bust through the middle and catches the NZ backline flat, Howitzer drops to tackle, and then gets double-teamed by Screwdwyer and the supporting SA forward, check the second effort she makes
That's just what you want, if she doesn't chase again herself Screwdwyer has the goal (or if she's like me after having done all the work she'd offload to that forward to finish it and get some breath) although Cyborg on the outside might have something to say about it but very close anyway, probably a knockdown and penalty goal in this game right?  If you can have a team all regularly making second attempts like Howitzers it's worth a lot.  Good stuff.  Remember SA made that push with only 5 though!  Exhausting.

Here's the Genie giving Kodiak the old "you ain't gonna dummy me, mate"

All that attacking effort makes it tough for the SA defence to hold and they roll back, eventually conceding a goal seconds before Roxy re-enters.  Always the way.

7 minutes to go, 5-1 down and SA have a massive task but they are back to 6 and storm up the pool, ending in this nice passage and a goal to start the come-back

Roxy scores it, full of energy after the enforced rest.  Rebecca "Wise Owl" Brosnan calls a timeout to settle things down for NZ.

After a massive period of play with no calls which must have had both teams hanging their lungs out their bumholes, Guillotine makes a great break under the NZ defence and scores a breakaway.  I won't link this one, it's just swimming.  She's got a pretty fast cadence, if you want detail.  This makes it 5-3, with just over 2 mins to go and realistically, SA can still equalize in time to push it into extra.  

NZ then work their way up after a solid SA hit on the strike, and after some useful lurking ahead of the puck Colgate pulls off a ninja pickup in front of goal, gets in behind the backs and scores the winner, from here SA really don't have the time to equalize.

NZ gets one last push on the SA goalbin but somehow they hold it out after some feral defence from Guillotine who has had a blinder in the second half, and the game is over.

Well that's it.  How exhausting to comment on, let alone play.  Some pretty awesome skills and play from both teams.


Read more →

Quebec 2018 #16 - Quarterfinals part last

Merry Christmas and Happy New year, dear underwater hockey geeky blog follower! 

All the best for the coming year, may your sticks never break, your togs never disappear up your bum crack and may the masks of your enemies be filled with bubbles.

As we find ourselves past christmas time and edging past New Year, back in the hindsight diary we have crept up to the last round of Quarterfinals in the Mens division, USA versus NZ.  With a lot of side-tracking along the way.

In camp, during one of our rest days we went for a group visit to a local shop in search of costumes for the party.  You don't know how you are going to be finishing up in the pool, but you can always prepare to have a good time on the function night no matter what.

We had done a few minor expeditions to various shops and malls, with mixed results and discoveries.  Normally this kind of questing goes like this....    team splits up, looks at different spots, someone finds somewhere that does cool costumes or something, everyone else turns up to look.  After a while, someone (ahem, always Benson) makes some incredibly witty/insightful/hilarious remark to the store owner that also either offends them greatly on general good taste grounds or possibly makes them call the cops outright.  Or, someone (ahem, always Benson) tries on some incredibly unsuitable garment without using a changing cubicle, and everyone gets thrown out and banned.  Repeat, until we can find somewhere and get costumes before we are ejected.

This time around we had a good look at a mean cosplay store, and Benny was very well-behaved, probably due to his being all grown up and a dad now...  more likely due to extended effects of sleep deprivation...  well, it's the same thing sometimes. Anyway we ended up at some dress-up emporium.

There's always a large element of democracy in selecting a theme as everyone feels out their different boundaries.  I won't show the end theme yet, but we got one, got a load of stuff, had a laugh, and then got home and promptly stashed it all in Sarah's room, out of sight and mind until the comp was over.

A team at quarters has now run through a bunch of learning and tuning.  By this stage, hopefully, a team will have everything sorted out that's in their control...

Hydration and eating routines

Loosening, stretching routines and areas

Probably have a quiet spot or spots to chat and motivate, at accommodation or pool

Reserves have their routines set, know where they fill the bottles, the deck areas, all that stuff

Pre-game warmups are set, whatever they may be, as well as all their timings

Subs are well-practiced, everyone knows who's doing what

Hopefully the team will have had a lot of practice dropping to 5 or 4 and have transitions smooth and comfortable.  You absolutely want to have at least a few kickouts early in the comp.

Even timeouts and chants have formed patterns

The inevitable new gear for the comp, especially hats and togs have all been figured out and settled into 

And REFS!  Interpretations by now have been adjusted for...  hopefully.

By this stage, in Quebec, I thought the teams of referees had been doing a great job.  They were very well organised, and although there were very minor adjustments in interpretations from start of comp to the playoffs in some reffing teams, these were very small and most importantly seemed to be applied consistently.  That's the ideal really.

I was waiting for a bit of a report from some keen refs but haven't received any yet, but at the risk of getting something wrong, very loosely, the refs this time around were split into a few large groups.  Each group had a couple of more experienced refs to help guide any newer ones, and there were also secret ninja refs floating around watching and rating refs in the early stages...   that's my understanding.

From these reffing pods I guess were selected the refs that went on to ref the knockouts, based on performance in the early games.  More info if I get more info on this, probably a whole post.

This kind of visible feedback loop for referees is really great.  It provides a form of accountability and an opportunity for feedback and improvement that really helps players to see.  As a player and coach that has at times had the maturity level of a 7 year old when dealing with refs, sadly, I can safely say from experience that feeling frustrated at reffing related stuff can really put a ratty shadow on a tournament.  It's no fun for the refs and no fun for players having frustrations occur or escalate.

In this vein, when referees project themselves as a group of people applying processes to improve and monitoring themselves just like the players do it really helps to reduce any player frustrations and in turn improve the player/referee relationships.  Hopefully this helps referees to enjoy the experience of officiating and contributing such an important aspect to the event and keeps them coming back and also adding their experience back in.

And they had to do a fitness test too!  Seeing the refs take things so seriously is great for the sport as a whole and the improvements that are being made are really good to see.  I really hope it keeps developing.  Big positive steps, in my opinion.


Ok anyway lets start the hockey bit.  NZ vs USA Elite Men, Quarterfinal 2018.

So, we started well and got a bit of territory and pressure off the first strike, ended up getting a couple of adv pucks in the US corner.  I muffed the first one with a silly pass, then Jesse went straight on the second with all the guys behind him, everyone around the puck in a colombian type play, here

Jesse followed this in really well in typical animalistic fashion and he and Andrew managed to bunt the puck across goal-side, where Andre lurked in wait, and someone threw a pass that was going vaguely towards the goal and hit something. After a quick refs chat they awarded a penalty goal.

Jesse following a free puck.  Or any puck, for that matter.  Boy's got commitment!

So, this goal actually seemed to be a bit of foreshadowing of the game.  A lot like the Portugal game, things just went right for us, a lot.  These games don't come around very often, and you really don't expect them in a pressure knockout game, but regardless, let's look at some things that stood out.

A bit after this, here's an interesting snap from the footage.

play has just moved across after the strike, and very quickly the US has 4 guys on the wall/channel.  The interesting thing I find is the positioning of the outside forward and halfback.  Reeeeeally deep.  USA is playing a 3-3 variation, and given there are 2 champion french players in the team, maybe a bit of frenchness has been injected here.

When I was a young fella playing forward in 2000, we played 3-3 and our open forward was doing pretty much what most forwards were doing, it seemed.  you tended to set your position in line or thereabouts from the puck when it was on the far wall.  You need to be far up enough to catch/pressure an opposition switch but not too far up so they can cut under you.  From there you might adjust a bit.

mighta looked a bit like this.

We noticed that a few years back the outside french forwards had started setting a lot further back than this. 

US guys looking a bit more like this in our quarter, but of course they slide up as breaks are made or onto the bin in the attacking corner.

The effect anyway is that you drop the pressure on the switch, and stop trying to hit the goalie when he has the puck.  You just let the switch go across in front of you, and the forward protects your back on the outside, the switch can't get round, run them to the wall and set your channel play up again.  Why would you do this?  If you're happy on the wall, for sure.  Ok, lets go across to the other wall!  And given that a team like Aussie generally gives ground to go wide, you'd often gain territory and switch walls when they try to swing it, and in fact that's what happens these days.  Switch defence has improved so much, many teams don't bother or only switch when on a powerplay and the opposition will be missing their outside forward, ie their protection for their outside back.

So if you look at the US outside players, the outside forward is a full lane and a half behind the puck.  Any switch and the goalie is going to have heaps of time and get his pass off, but you're never getting around that forward when he starts so deep, or if you do it's taken so long everything is set behind him.  Worth considering that USA beat Aus for maybe the first time in a long time later in the comp in Quebec.

A few frames on for example...

US pressuring the wall and rolling us back, check the positions of outside players top right, that's fwd and back.  Wall fwd is hovering out of court, center-forward on the wall....  they really, really aren't bothered if the puck goes into the middle because their outside guys just run up onto it from deep.

Soon we had another adv this time right in front, again Jesse was in, he went straight with a similar play and after the initial chip someone got a perfect straight pass behind the US backline and Ben Pav was ghosting over the top of the mess, dropped on it and swam it in and we were 2-0 up.

So far USA had great cover in place in case we tried to go around them, but going straight through had worked really well instead.  2 similar situations, 2 identical approaches, 2 goals.

Next up, US pressured our corner after a good break up the wall by Andrew Creedon, and eventually managed to turn the corner and get a quick break up the backwall, catching our rotation out.  The US outside forward pushes right up and dropped on the goal corner,  but a defender manages to slide the puck away into the middle and watch Ben Pav entering frame from the top right on a fresh sub...

What about this guy eh?  Without a hitch, just swims straight onto the puck as it slides out and off and away to clear it.  No doubt, Pucky McStickface the Uwh god had a crush on young Ben this comp and I couldn't be happier about it, being on his team.

This was gutting for the USA guys, would have been a 2-1 scoreline and settled the game, but just didn't drop for them.  This play was the best attacking opportunity they had in the game in the end.

A few minutes later we had another adv and after a pass made it through the first row a big clump of bodies finished the goal.  With only a couple minutes to go until halftime, we then had a ripper of a strike.  Ben wins it, then Jeremy happens.  It's worth keeping your eye on him through it, especially for young forwards.

As the puck bobbles Jeremy reaches back for it and pulls it up between the US forward and center, and then sneaks inside the supporting back who is slightly off balance covering the wide option.  Jeremy then draws the last defender, fades to his right around him and inside flicks it across towards goal where Ben and Rob following up finish it.  Jeremy has his own very unique skillset and way of moving the puck around with his tiny benson-style stick, and this kind of ambush move from an unexpected body position is where it works best.  

Honestly a freakish play there and a 4-0 scoreline going into halftime after that...   a similar scoreline as we had at halftime against GB in our quarterfinal in 2016 at the last worlds before they came back to beat us.  All our goals went straight through the middle of the US formation while they seemed to be expecting us to try to go around the edges.

Second half and the US push down their right wall a few meters but then give away an adv puck.  Jesse then takes it with forwards hovering trying to look to drop on a pass.  I don't know how he does it but Jesse a bunch of times will take the puck fast, have the puck bobble up on his stick, all the opposition start to go for him and then he instantly controls it and slots a pass.  It's crazy, you can see it here and it looks like an accident but it happens all the time.  He even does it on penalty shots, no joke.  Probably gave Benson heart palpitations every time.

So Jesse does get a nice pass through the line of 3 US forwards, and as it lands for the US back in support Andrew bumps it across to Jeremy who slides it back in a nice 1-2 and Andrew is away around one of the remaining cover defenders, which pulls the other back in and the US have lost a lot of shape.  The opportunity is really made when Andrew converts this break into 2nd phase by laying it back to Gunny in good position who then takes a slow angle not quite toward the goal trying to get as close as he can before drawing a tackle, makes a nice pass and everyone around collapses into a scrum and the goal is finished.

Andre then had his turn on the highlight reel to do something freaky.  Andre turns a nice cover-tackle on the outside, goes wide then cuts inside and pops past the support defender behind and well finished by the forwards on the other side.

A little after that I actually have a chance to push up and attack, end up backflicking a bit too high which you can't see in the vid really but I'll post it up anyway...

And we score it but it's deemed dangerous and disallowed.  It seems really ratty to have a big highlights reel here with only NZ stuff on it but, this is the game where it all went our way, really.  I'm not just being a one-eyed dick here.

Andre with a great dummy to his outside here gets around the outside flank of the US and combines with Ben and Rob, then finishes it himself in the end too.  Andre having a blinder in this game.  USA making most of their ground with short bursts up the walls but unable to hang onto the puck long enough to create a lot of pressure, and as the game goes on, giving up a few fouls trying to force something to happen in those channels and releasing pressure on us that way too.

This last play rounds out the game and I guess it's a bit of a microcosm.  Is that the right word?  Of the game as it played out.  US look to go wide to open up some space, Andrew Harris drops on it and catches the puck on the backs stick, forces it back in, Jesse pounces on the US guys trying to control it who aren't sure who is in the best position to take it, he's in behind the backline very quickly and feeds Hamish for the goal.  

To be honest, what a bloody weird game.  Game finished 8-0 to us.

As I mentioned above, USA beat Australia 2-1 later in the rounds as the knockouts went on for the final placings, and we were very lucky to get past Australia with a 3-0 in the RR that could very easily have been a 3-2 2-1 type scoreline or even have gone the other way or a draw.  I guess that's why it's never a good idea trying to compare scorelines.  Never a good predictor of anything.

We were through to the Semi-final.  In the warmdown area Ross from GB said to me "You didn't want to stop at 4-0 this time eh?"   ...Oh mate.  Of course there is always a tiny bit of a sting being reminded of bad beats like that, even after a few years...  but hey.  Fair call!  That Ross has got a good sense of humour, I'll give him that.  I love the fact that when the GB boys play,  Lewis never fails to say "Ross the powerful back" any time he touches the puck.  It's hilarious.  Even better when Lewis reveals that Ross had requested it!  I think a few of the other GB boys might have too, maybe someone was a power-forward?  Didn't stick as well though.  Suddenly I want everyone in the to have a moniker, it's a fantastic idea.  I have no idea what I would ask for.

 Next post, Semis.


Read more →

Quebec 2018 #15 - So many Quarterfinals! part 3

There are just so many more quarterfinals when you look at 2 grades and I haven't even had a chance to glance at the Masters grades.  Brilliant.

So, we will stay with the hockey until the round is complete and then maybe zoom out a bit and see whats happening at basecamps of the various teams and around the comp.

Aussie Women vs SA Ladies

This was a great game, I took a quick look and ended up watching the whole thing.  Part of the entertainment value is Nick, Jack and Jack giving each other a big dose of banter but also always fun to hear all the terminology from the Aussies, they seem to have the thickest terminology dictionary around.  Good value as well, constantly taking the piss out of their own team and in some cases family members in the time-honoured Aussie tradition.

Some great clips in this game caught on camera too.  First, the SA ladies with the most complicated scoring ritual I've seen so far, almost rivalling Cuy's "big guns" goal celebration.

Next we have a classic from Aussie number 4 Sarah Walker, possibly...  SA player flicks the puck past her head, so close to be honest it's probably a dangerous shot, but, and Sarah will be the only one to know this, am I the only one who sees her head dip suddenly into the path of the puck after it's gone past?  Reflexes not quite quick enough to help it hit?  It's all instinctive at that speed so who knows, but it wouldn't be the first time someone helpfully encouraged a close shot to make some contact...  My deepest apologies to Sarah if she just had a tickle in her nose and sneezed at that moment, which is most likely the case.

Next, here is Zandre doing the old "I'm swimming the puck off you so fast I'll turn around and give you some eyeballs to the face as I do it...."   
She is young, she is very fast.  If I can just make a wild prediction with my crystal ball, she will do this until the time she tries it against a team that double-teams closely where the other forward will take the puck politely as it's offered and score a runaway.  Until then, this adds to the drama perfectly.  Thank you Zandre!

Just who is this mystery skills ninja? Watch her stick above the puck.  Hai...ya!

I'm going to say Marie #2.  Reminds me of Bruce.

Great skills and option-taking.

It's a wonder the refs don't have something to say about the Aussie hats, to be honest.  All the Aussie women are essentially wearing extra-strength Toyota Landcruiser seatbelts all over their heads to keep their masks on with giant handles on the back of their noggins.   Number?  What number.

Stop knocking my mask!

I do understand where this originally came from, I remember a phase where me and all my mates were strapping all our junk to our faces, it was back in 2006ish.  But, such a pain in the bum.  A pain to setup, to undo, and if stuff does get pulled around hard you are in all sorts of trouble and have to take the whole thing off and start from scratch.

I was then putting on my gear next to old wise-one Sandor Duis one day and he casually said, oh don't worry about all that.  Just put your mask on underneath your cap...  No worries. And... HE WAS RIGHT!  So right.  Think about it.  With all that strapping, any time anything touches anywhere on your head, snorkel or cap it wrenches your mask and you risk losing seal, so you have to strap everything super tight.  95% of the area of your head will affect your vision potentially.

Put your mask underneath, and anything that hits anywhere on your cap or snorkel doesn't affect your mask at all, it just slides above it.  The only thing that can affect your mask is if you get a hit right to the mask, which is actually very very very rare, and even if it does you can simply blow the water out and re-seal in 2 seconds without even coming up, which you can't do very well with seatbelts.  Maybe 15% of the area on your head will affect vision.  And it's the 15% you can see best for and avoid stuff the best for.

Top tip from a guy who tried all the strapping cos he had lots of issues with masks getting knocked for a decade of internationals, then not a single issue in the next decade with strap under, despite sticking his head in sillier and sillier places as he tried to take more and more shortcuts as the younguns got faster and faster.  But, who am I kidding.  Those seatbelt people love being all strapped up, they won't listen to this, I've tried to tell them.  I think it's like swaddling, a comfort thing, and I totally get that too!  I couldn't sleep for years without the blanket covering my ear.  I get it.

And here's a nice clean move from the SA side too, number 8 Tatton who does a mean run through a bunch of players after this too.


So many good bits on film in this game, if I ever coach girls again I'll be showing them this one.  My oldest is 5 so there's a few years yet to wait I guess.

So this game ended up SA advancing over Aussie 5-3, and a very disciplined effort of restraint in the commentary box in the end from Jack and Nick, under very intense provocation from South African Jack's classic SA patriotism-based commentary.  Celebratory shouting is all good when you're a neutral but difficult to listen to when his team is beating your team and he's sitting in the seat next to you.  Classic stuff.







Read more →

Quebec 2018 #14 - Quarterfinals part 2

Spain vs GB 

We have had a bit of a look at GB already so a bit more on Spain this post.  First, have to recognise the work these guys have put in and the huge improvements they have made over the past few years.  They are a genuine chance to beat any team on their day now and this kind of improvement is making the Mens Elite grade a massive tussle all the way through the groups.

This vid, all the way through to the goal shows some great support and pressure.  

Most notably you can see how they are cranking their center players.  Alvaro number 8 is their Center, and Fer number 11 is their goalie.  Alvaro takes the puck, follows in, and then it's Fer who pushes through aggressively to attack and support in the next couple of waves, finally getting a nice benson style inverse pickup move around the last GB defender and it's Alvaro barrelling in to help finish the goal as well...  both center players very very aggressive, probably the most aggressive combo out of all the teams.  Here's that finish...

Don't see that pulled off often in a big game.  Nice!

Here's a free on the GB goal, really good taking up position early and tight from the Spanish fwds, also not a straight line but angled which makes all sorts of different shape and pressure on the GB defence.  This goal was finished a couple seconds after the GIF ends.

So they are really doing some good stuff.  I was told by team-mates to watch myself or I'd get my wrist broken by one of their  wingers before we played them in our practice game...   a friendly!  Maybe that just shows how tough my team-mates think I am I suppose.  Surely it was just genuine concern that they have a seriously strong guy that can damage people.  But no question they are doing a lot right.

They are also still developing experience in the big pressure games and they weren't able to push on past this Quarter, with GB taking this game 5 goals to 3.

A big reason of course is that GB played a good game!  

In this clip, GB forward Henry Ing-Simmons (if they got the goal-scorer correct?) is on a break, and Fer the spanish goalie drops on him, and gets about a millimeter away from rolling right under and coming away back up the pool at top speed, but Henry reaches back and manages to grab it, and keeps going, good tenacity, plus scores the goal himself.  Clutch moment there, if Fer ends up with the puck he is headed up court at a rate of knots, but the GB forward showing good tenacity makes it a goal the other way instead.  Did Fer attack before he finished defending?  Maybe, but then he doesn't get the reward if he doesn't take the risk either.

This one is a bit of a clear-cut issue on D for the Spanish.  As the GB player turns, you can see the Spanish defender sitting waiting behind?  Sitting back and not pressuring the GB player puts more pressure on the defence because it's leaving the attacking player enough space to keep his pass option alive, and sure enough he just flicks the puck past that waiting defender, and it's a goal.  What to do instead?  From that waiting position, run up as close to the guy turning as you can and try to get stick on puck.  Any stick on puck removes the clean pass option and leaves the GB guy with only a push underneath his body or a messy drive, and the defender is also buying space and time behind him for team-mates to drop into as well.

Of course, we don't know the specifics of the Spanish defensive rotations, or that positions job?  We can see a defender dropping to try to tackle as well...   but almost always better to push up, cut off the pass, force a rotation with the other defenders etc rather than hang back.

Those little things, getting your defensive patterns just right, getting the balance of attack/defend to match the situation just right, it all comes with experience and those guys will continue to get better and even more dangerous.  If they can hold their group together!  Because as always, these things are also about cyclical learning and experience...   For example the Canadian team in 2000 that was pretty experienced and then held a fair bit of the group in 2002, had pretty much all evaporated by 2004 when they had a newer group building their own development.  

In the same way, we had an incredibly experienced NZ mens elite team in 1998 that was very competitive, and then only 1 player carried on into 1999, and he was still a newbie himself just after his first big comp, Mr Benson Taylor.  It all goes in cycles.

Some quarterfinal highlights.

Just looking through some of the Womens quarters and saw this little gem from no.12 Emma Bavelaar in the NZ womens team.  So, it's not crystal clear in the GIF but Emma turns, sees the pass back to Paige her support player.  She wants to make that pass, but Karine the Canadian 10 is going to block that pass, you can see her reaching her stick to block.  Emma then moves her stick quickly over the puck as if she is going to pull it back to the corner, and Karine is forced to move her stick over to the right to follow the option, then Emma pops her stick back behind the puck and makes her pass, which is now no longer blocked. It's a bit clearer here in the game vid...

This is what a tic-tac should be used for, to manipulate the opposition.  It's such a small thing, but it's done really well here and considering Emma was the youngest player in that team, that is epic that she is pulling that off under pressure.  Awesome.

Note also that a lot of people preach that tic-tacs should be rolled around the stick?  You hear a debate sometimes, is it better to move your stick around or over?  People prefer one method, it's like scrunchers and folders, right?   Well, this kind of move involving a pass pretty much requires you to go over...  the puck isn't moving, you can see Emma is just flashing her stick over the top of the puck to do this.  Just a coaching note.  (I'm a believer in over, not around, just to put my flag in the ground on this one, but I acknowledge that around has it's place too.  What a pussy on the fence, I know)

Here's Rachel Bell the GB 7 doing this same thing but with a bigger pass, if you watch the french player she swims up to, her stick hand moves toward Rachel just as she passes it because of how she times her tic-tac.  Nice.

Doesn't take long watching the GB ladies play to see Sophia do something epic, here the puck moves towards the subs bench just as she is coming in fresh, ends up with 1 to beat, fades outside and goodnight.

She is a freak in the best uwh way possible, love watching her play.

I think that's my bedtime, next post we will finally get to our own Quarter-final.  Probably.


Read more →