LAX. Not much to say, really.
We will never get that 2.5 hours in the custom hall back.
Travel is boring for everyone, I'll only mention that I took being sick very seriously and wore a SARS mask the whole way, kindly provided by various members of the womens team as the masks wore out.
Unclean but conscientious.
Anyway once we had flown halfway around the world, we finally arrived in Canada. Caught a glimpse of the Aussies sprinting through the carpark with the Trophy case on a trolley while we waited for hire cars... first taste of the comp. Classic.
So, off to find the uni dorms where we were staying, and bundled into our rooms after the usual amount of buggering about.
I was still sick, and sick of SARS masks. Good to have a manager with a sense of humour at times like these.
We had the day to get used to things, then the following day we were having a practice session to get used to the pool.
We had a mooch around the pool to check things out, such a great facility! And cool to see it empty before things got crazy.
Soon to be less tranquil.
So, there's a bit of downtime when you're actually on location with a team. In between eating, sleeping, and Uwh things people generally start looking for ways to amuse themselves, bugger about tinkering with their gear, or just relax. We immediately started upgrading our accommodation by looking for something we could use as an ice-bath.
Yes the science isn't very proven they say, but the thing is, Canada is hot, as it turns out. So this was a good project.
In the end everyone jumped in, the womens team had a go, eventually later in the week the Dutch and Belgish players were using it too. One at a time though. Good community project.
Back to intro after that photo, this is Rob Tinkler, Captain of the NZ mens team. He's played all over, he's lived with Tom, you can't get more Uwh than that. Playing center, using custom Chunky Rockets with holes cut in them and covered with rubber, sporting a Ninja glove, Full-foot Breiers and with the roughest hands of any builder you've met.
Meanwhile, others were trying to get their new gear to fit. Nick, who has a massive head, always struggles with getting his caps to fit and came up with this genius plan.
He doubled down with the set overnight, and eventually we got to eat the melons.
Still introducing as we go, this is Nick. He is very tall, very very fit, and half of the Jackass routine that is Nick & Ben. He uses Soft Rockets, his own custom glove with a Ninja as a backup, and Najade Irons. Nick came through the U23 grade and is known for saying things like "let's try that!" on hearing of any kind of horrible physical test or challenge. Playing Winger in 2018, which is like an aggressive half-back.
Now that I've mentioned Ben, here he is too.
Ben came straight in from the 2017 U23 team for his first Elite worlds, guns blazing. He uses a Whiptail, a custom glove with a Ninja backup, and Najades. He plays forward and while I thought he was fast before Quebec... now I know he's fast, and I'm not the only one. He's a guy that responds well to being motivated, whether it's to win every strike or to eat a raw red onion after losing a bet.
This happened. That is a red onion the size of a small pumpkin.
Back to the trip. So, I'm hazy on the exact timings but our first warmup friendly game was against Argentina. They have had a team for a long time, I remember playing them in 2000? Definitely in 2004 in NZ, but in the last few years they have had a lot of enthusiasm, new players and a lot of development. They had some great results in the U23 comp, and they have been getting Sebastian Lugo across from Colombia to train them. Lugo was coaching the Argentinian Elite men in Quebec, as well as playing for Colombia!
So, the Argentina game was a good initial match for us. They were fast, all very fit, good skills and they were very disciplined in holding onto the puck. In particular we struggled a bit when they built sequences of lay-backs together, running angles and turning to give to a support player behind them. This is Uwh 101, and reasonably effective in a shallow pool, but in 3m it becomes far more powerful as it's harder for the defending team to disrupt possession with the extra depth. So it was a great exercise for us to get some experience figuring out how to try to defend it.
It works a bit like this drill in a game, everyone swimming as much angle as they can manage or busting forwards through traffic as far as they can until they get turned, then turning before they are dispossessed to a mate who does the same thing, ideally in the opposite angle. Legend has it this is the gameplan devized by player/Coach Jill Ford that helped the NZ Women win worlds in 1988. Unfortunately recorded history only goes back so far so we'll never know for sure. Jokes! I could have just asked Jane who was the Women's manager and played in that team as a youngster.
Technically you might say Argentina played 2-3-1 or 2-1-2-1, but you might just as easily say they played 5-1 from a certain point of view, will get to this when we look at our RR game against them. But certainly a very different style of play to what we play and are used to, so very exciting and fun to play against.
But wait... what is this numbers gobbledegook? What code is this? So, for anyone unfamiliar with the terminology, this is a short-hand and very vague way to basically describe the tactical setup of a given team, with some rough assumptions about positions. Popular formations are 2-1-2-1, 3-3, 3-2-1, 2-3-1, 1-3-2. In football they talk about 4-3-3 as 4 backs, 3 midfields and 3 forwards. Confusingly, in Uwh we go the other way around, so 1-3-2 means 1 up front, 3 midfields and 2 backs/fullbacks. What does this mean in practical terms? Mostly, a forward line are the players that operate at the front of the formation, and in most teams this extends to operating between the puck and the oppositions goal. The centers and backs tend to operate between the puck and their own goal, behind the puck or sometimes next to it for centers, and there are often rotations between centers and backs and between backs to keep bodies behind the puck. Occasionally teams bring their entire forward line behind the puck as well, but this isn't taken into account when you name their formation, which confuses things. More about this later when we look at teams that do this (Argentina, Colombia, Turkey). Some teams are pretty elastic in these roles, some teams are very regimented, and of course WHAT a team does from these setup positions varies tremendously, so that you can have Australia and France both arguably playing forms of a 3-3 formation setup, with Aus constantly swimming into the middle of the pool and across looking to operate in a lane in the middle, and Fra forcing to the wall and working a tight channel on the walls all game (past French teams, not the 2018 french mens team which we will look at later). I've found an app which will help whiteboarding this stuff as we come to the games, so that should help make things clearer. For the record, the kiwi teams at worlds were all playing variations of a 2-3-1 setup, which has slowly become popular in NZ since 2001 when Andy Carr brought it into the Mens team from the agegroup and school teams. Before this time most teams played variations of 2-1-2-1 or 3-2-1, in fact there was for many years a formation clash of 3-2-1 (auckland) and 2-3-1 (wellington) at NZ regionals every year, until the Wellington win streak got pretty long (and coincidentally I moved to Auckland), and the northern team switched over as well.
Back to the warmup game, I'm not sure who scored how many goals... I did keep track of such things many years back, but results from warmups are really quite meaningless, depending how the opposition are using it. In fact you could argue that you would rather lose those games, at least get goals scored against you, because then you can troubleshoot what happened and fix the problems so they don't happen in a real game. Anyway I think both teams scored goals. Some teams always go hard in a warmup game, but some really just test the waters, and the difference between say a Colombia in a warmup game, and Colombia in a test-match is literally worlds apart in terms of intensity, so you take what you can from those games but with a pinch of salt.
We found a squirrel in the carpark after this session. Incredibly exciting as always.
To understand how exciting this is for New Zealanders, you have to consider that we are so far away from the rest of the world that there were no rodents in our islands and birds evolved into every spot on the foodchain that rodents usually take, for instance Kiwis. Until rats came on ships and killed them all that is. So, squirrels are a real delicacy. Just kidding! Strange and fascinating though. We always have some fool who will chase them non-stop.
...Perfectly leading into the last intro of this post! Now I can't remember him doing it this trip, but Brendan is just that sort of guy who would chase a squirrel. Stopping him gnawing down the tree with his teeth would be your biggest concern though, because he doesn't do things by halves.
Brendan is a forward, but with a famously booming pass, a rarity in NZ. He uses custom Katanas stuffed full of extra reinforcing because otherwise he will break sticks like dry twigs. He uses a Ninja glove and Full-foot Breiers. His speciality, or one of them, is terrorizing backs with un-expected hits, especially on free pucks. He is famous within the team for using no more than a handful of spoken words in any given year, which imparts immense gravitas and meaning to anything he says, like some holy monk breaking a vow of silence.
Next post, more on our Pre-Competition Camp.