This apparently is a groundhog or Marmot. I didn't see one up close but I think it turned out to be Gabi's spirit animal? All the womens team were assigned these by elders in their tribe (Rebecca and Jane, Coach and Manager). We were staying in the same accommodation as our womens team, which I should have mentioned by now if I haven't already. This was great as they are a great bunch and there was an awesome supportive atmosphere between the teams.
I don't have a bunch of pics with them to hand, have asked a few to send me some but no luck yet so for now, here is a sweat angel created by one of their team who shall remain nameless, but who was as proud of this as I was impressed by it.
Quickly swinging back into Uwh details, we also played the USA Elite men as part of our warmups, which was extra special as Ollie #105 a past member of our team was playing with them, along with a bunch of guys that many of us knew from past comps. We had a sweet social dinner out with them in the old town, can't remember which exact night but I'll bang the pic up here...
Was a nice night. Look at those happy faces. The restaurant didn't have Raspberry Coke though. Not as civilized as I expected..
For the game itself, it went pretty much like the Argy one, both teams put each other under pressure. We were starting to feel a little more comfortable in the pool I would say, but it was the US guys first hit-out in their precamp. The US team we thought would be a bit of a surprise package for anyone who underestimated them... they have been building development teams for the last couple of worlds but in 2018 they had a bunch of experienced guys who knew their own ability and were confident.
The US has a big playing community and so many clubs, it's just the spread over the huge country that must be a difficulty. They will always have the potential and the players, it's just a case of have they got enough high level players to get a nucleus together in a given year, are they able to gel well enough? If the answers are yes to both they are a threat to go far in any comp. In Hawaii 2015 and 2017 they were very competitive with their top teams, and they played and beat a very good Barbarians team including some of our Kiwi boys in the buildup to Quebec.
Right from the outset in the warmup game they played very expansive hockey, they went anywhere in the pool they thought they could find a foothold to exploit and were pretty much fearless in that regard, from both back and forward-lines. This isn't always the case with most teams being far more conservative under pressure, so we felt like they were a real contender. More on specifics when we get to the USA later in the comp, but that's not for a while as they were in the other side of the draw.
Meanwhile, Sarah had been sorting out the best places to get all the canned beans from.
Somewhere in there is the breakfast mince.
Ollie had given me the heads-up on a recovery device he and some of the US guys had been using about christmas-time or so, and after reading up on it and seeing a write-up by an aging triathlete who used it to try to keep up with younger competitors, I got one and started using it. Was I worried about getting too old? Maybe. I have found that getting a bit more senior, the main difference is just it takes a little longer to recover from training so this seemed like a good idea to help.
Not my legs, but I'll use the photo. (mine are smaller and whiter)
This toy was pretty good! Also a psychological prop, probably. If you think it looks a bit weird, just wait until I find a pic of the recovery gear the women's team were using, courtesy of Christie.
Christie's recovery boots
Also useful in an alien infestation
Christie's boots and my EMS ended up doing the rounds a bit helping shake out a few legs in our hallway, plus Gunny had an EMS too. Andre wins the prize for being able to withstand the least amount of discomfort of anyone... not an electrical guy. Maybe his personality is just too grounded.
Andrew Gunn, I remember initially coming through school a bit after me, as a skilful center type playing for Onslow College who probably preferred space rather than confrontations. Fast forward 20 years or so and he still likes space, but if it's on the other side of you he likes it just as well to go through you to get there. He uses a custom rubber-coated plastic stick of his own design and manufacture, Najades and a Hydro prototype glove customized with post-production adjustments to suit.
Andre is another Uwh wanderer like Rob, having spent a few years in Europe bouncing around playing every tournament there is and being incredibly enthusiastic about anything Uwh. He uses Soft Rockets, a Ninja glove, and Full-foot Breiers. Andre had a bit of an injury scare a couple months before the comp which had us all worried, but thankfully it all came right in time.
Look at that sad face at the thought of being injured for the comp!
Around this time we had our last dinner out for a while, as we had by then figured out the kitchen and bought an army-load of crockery, utensils and a fridge.
The last touches to our entertainment were also picked up, with some trips to Walmart.
Settlers, plus a poker set.
Ed and Jeremy also staged a hunt around Walmart to find objects representing various relevant team concepts... pretty much got them all too, here's just a few. I won't explain in any way at all, just to foster a sense of mystery.
Ed is big, strong, was clean-shaven in the morning and the profile pic was taken about 2pm. This was his first year at worlds, although he's played international level before and been a member of the nz squad for a number of years. He uses Stingrays, Full-foot Breiers and a custom silicon glove. Ed is a Winger. He is generally pretty sensible, which is probably why they made him my room buddy... But he'll still try to eat 70 hamburgers at 2am after a worlds function.
Bon Apetit... More on this photo later
And the guy holding the camera in Walmart,
Jeremy is an old stager now, he was once an earnest young man playing schools hockey in Wellington, now he's an earnest old man who likes to dance and has what must literally be the smallest stick on the planet. He uses a customized Shiv with a big hole in it, reducing the water resistance from slight to non-existent. He also uses a Ninja glove and Najades modified to fit a size big so he can get more POWER when he's playing in his position of forward.
About this time we had a kerfuffle with the gear check I think, with colours being broadly too dark or light....
Top glove judged too dark. Bottom glove too light....
(Photo credit Andy from Belgium)
As a manufacturer this was a bit stressful, especially as it affected our Ninja gloves quite a bit, but after trying spray-paint which works at home but doesn't dry so well in humidity (or something!) we found nail polish to be a good solution. Thanks Gabi. So with all our gloves nail-polished up we were a step closer to the comp starting.
I'll note that since we got home we have done some incremental colour testing to try to hit a shade the refs will judge just right, and apparently something is in the works to give people better guidelines next time... progress!
Next... Spain. We played them in a warmup with the French masters following afterwards.
Spain again similar to the USA we knew would be quality because of inside info, Jesse had played with most of them in Europe. Plus Benson coached a bunch of them in U23s, and I managed to get myself on teams with a few of them while I was in Europe too.
Jesse Hocking, he of the dummy-punch, extremely painful elbows and bleeding knees. He's one of those guys that the first time you play him, someone on your team says in the team-talk, "watch out for that guys dummy" and then you get in and he goes past you and then next game you're the guy in the team-talk saying "watch out for that guys dummy". He uses custom Stingrays 2009 style with the thin handle but mega reinforcing, a Ninja glove and Najades.
A "dummy" is the NZ name for a swerve, deek, sidestep.
So, we knew something of what to expect with Spain, some of the Spanish guys have the cleanest sharpest skills around but they were all very fit and fast too. Julian #96 was the spanish mens coach, and turned up to the comp in disguise with an afro, a moustache and lacking the famous Budda belly which got him his nickname. Hamish got a fine for re-introducing himself before recognizing him.
I thought he looked kinda dashing anyway
Hamish Arthur is otherwise known as "Bucket". This is because he once put a bucket on his head at a training camp, dropped down to the bottom of the pool and ate 3 cheeseburgers while breathing the trapped air. No not really I made that up, sorry. But this part is true, Bucky came in from the U23 team in 2017 and plays forward. He uses Soft Rockets, Murena Fins and a Ninja glove. He's one of only two players in our team who really likes to rock out with his dolphin kick on a breakaway, the other being Andrew.
Which brings us to I think our last Intro...
Andrew Harris #113
Andrew is a proud gammy, returning some much-needed lefty goodness into the team after a few years of 100% boring right handers. In fact the last lefty in the team was himself back in 2011, and before that Julian in 2008! This photo is also possibly the only one ever taken where Andrew isn't smiling, so don't be fooled, he's very friendly. He uses a custom silicon glove, Soft Katana 260s and Najades.
Back to warmups. The Spanish were one of the first teams to switch to a 2-3-1 similar to the formation we use, on the back of some NZ coaching exposure I guess. They had some dangerous forwards and some extremely physical players on the wing including one fella who hit like he-man, along with slick operators in the middle and were a handful. Sadly this was the only chance we had to play them as they were in the other pool and we didn't cross paths later in the comp. Many of our team followed their progress very closely as the comp went on, and our hallway was filled with whoops and excruciating sighs when they had a game and we were home.
When we played the French Masters it felt weird as we'd been playing against over half of them in the mens grade for 10 years or more, some had been constant opposition for 18 years (20 for Benson). It gave us a different set of things to work on again. The deep pool changes things so much, it didn't feel like playing a french team as they are usually able to crowd the bottom a lot more, but again getting used to these differences was what it was about. This french team was full of super confident players with big balls and they tried to go wide and straight using the space with a lot of freedom. They went on to dominate the masters grade, as it turned out. More on the french later, and the elite team which we would eventually get to play as well.
The pool setup was great, the team behind the scenes had been beavering away putting it all together and it had been mainly complete through most of our pre-camp...
Dozens of Canadas top jigsaw puzzle fans converged to assemble the courts
Unfortunately one of the only things that hadn't been sussed out beforehand was the tops of the barriers were pretty sharp, we got a little cut up here and there in warmup week by them. The organisers taped foam over the top which fixed it but it was black tape and foam which ended up right on the horizon of the camera view and blocked a bit of gameplay. Bummer. Poor Caleb from Team Canada also tore his arm up on a temporary goalbin in the warmups and had to sit the first few days of the comp, which was rubbish luck. This is exactly the same injury suffered exactly the same way as one Nat Marshall received before the SHC in 1999, and many others I'm sure... Goalbins are a hazard in warmups. Good thing to be aware of next time I guess, but apart from those hiccups, the facilities were looking top notch.
Caleb the People's Champ, pre-buff version
Quickly sidetracking, the poorest attempt I've seen or heard of to make up competition walls for Uwh was in Bari in 2007 at the UW Games. Everything looked good on our first practice session in the court and we were the first ones in, walls were ~400mm high (15 inches, for people from countries flinging satellites willy-nilly into space). However, when I flicked a puck at the barrier the puck disappeared! I found it had simply gone straight through because the wall was made of one layer of plastic corrugated sheet like this...
And it did not work very well
They must have double layered and prayed for the comp or something, can't remember.
We had one more warmup game, against Colombia. The GB guys had agreed to give us a friendly in our last session of pooltime but in the event, we were feeling a bit tired at that stage and Benson made a call to try to freshen us up a bit and cancelled the GB hitout. Bit of a pity as we had a good warmup against them in 2016 and it would have been a different style to our other warmup games, but the rest was good for us.
So Colombia, one of my favourite countries to play as they approach the game so differently to us, much more patient it always seems to me than most teams. Similar in some ways to the Argentinians, which considering the Argy coach (Lugo) wasn't surprising. The Colombians play in a 3m pool at home, and at altitude, so I was really interested to see the style they played, which you could argue would be the most adapted 3m game. GB play a lot of their comps in Ponds Forge as well which is 3m, so again it was going to be interesting to see their play too.
Colombia have been different and again were different in 2018 to the tactical approach that many teams take, a different flavour certainly. We were in the same pool and would hit them early in the RR. They always step up against us, and beat us in 2016 in the RR.
More goals each way I think, more bits and pieces to work on, a couple more video sessions trying to figure out what was happening, and the comp was about to begin.
But first, must mention the opening ceremony! This one was great, very short and to the point as these things go, very much appreciated! A long ceremony can get hot, tiring and dehydrating. This was a nice opportunity to catch up with players from other countries and say a few hellos, and try to figure out the international language of brotherly handshakes without doing this...
I amused myself trying to snapchat cheerleaders onto the court for a while, but the highlight was the Portugal team sitting below us.
Not natural bald spots
The portuguese haircuts were amazing. I should have had them do this when I coached them, if I could have thought of it. I would have insisted they all did this.
The opening ceremony was on the Wednesday, Capt and refs meetings were the next day with last practices, then the comp started on the Friday.
Question in comments, Zac is wondering why I use Murenas. Well, a high % of kiwi players now use hungarian fin-swimming fins of some sort, whether Murena or Najades. There's even some french ones called Powerfins around which are very similar too, but not as good in my opinion over long sessions (foot pocket quite soft).
Najades, Murenas, Powerfins
I think 4 guys in our elites used Breiers, the rest Najades and me and Bucket Murenas. It was a similar proportion in the NZ womens team. There is essentially very little difference between the fin-swimming models, but the Murenas have a much comfier strap and foot pocket and don't require trimming while the Najades do for some people (more on this next post). Najade Irons are noticeably stiffer and therefore faster but you need beefy legs to run them.
So what's the advantages? They're cheap. They fit in a backpack. Breiers cost $450NZD to get to NZ if you're lucky and if they snap you're broke. If you use them properly (ie take on and off correctly) fin-swimming fins won't break like fibre/carbon fins can. They point straight off your foot which is really nice and once you're used to them standard foot-pocket fins can feel quite heavy and clunky. They have lots of vanes and are short and very good for turning similar to the old Alas, whereas fibre fins especially custom pockets slide sideways through the water which really slows turning and is a disadvantage (I've timed it, it's a real thing).
Are they faster than carbon Breiers? Probably not. Are they slower? No they aren't. They just look a bit different and people take some time adjusting to different things... for example I heard an Aussie womens player commentating saying something like "she's going pretty fast despite wearing those little fins" ...when the fastest guy in her elite men is wearing them (and Tommy is blindingly quick) but she still thinks fin-swimming fins are a disadvantage? It's taking quite a while for information to sink in that these fins are a genuine alternative, and I guess it's just a human nature thing. I had the same reaction when I first saw a couple of guys from Hungary wearing them in Breda a few years back, I was like what are these tiny things? Benson lead the way with these fins in NZ and I'm glad he did as it gives all the kids a genuine performance fin option for comparatively cheap.
I really thought the fastest guys coming to Quebec would be french and turkish players driving breiers, and no surprise they were super swift but I saw those guys get beaten on strikes regularly by guys wearing Najades too so, I guess the upshot is they definitely work for some people.
For the record, I bought a new set of custom pocket Breier fibre fins before heading to Quebec just in case they turned out to be faster, trained a few sessions in them, had them in my bag as backup fins and never used them at the comp, used 6 month old blue Murenas and they were good for me.
Next post is the groups, gear mods and day 1 of the RR.