Hindsight Diary - Quebec 2018

Quebec 2018 #13 - Quarterfinals part 1

And so we all came to the sticky end of the tournament...  the knockouts.  As we were first seed we missed some effectively extra knockout games the day before, which we might go back to for some saved penalty shot drama, but I thought let's look at some quarters.

Colombia vs France was an epic game for starters.  Both teams came out roaring and there were some massive hits and big intensity especially in the opening minutes.  Unfortunately the video is glitching and misses some crucial details, but the first goal was to Colombia, Juan Hose rolls back on D as a center-forward type position and shoots off on a big swim after picking one of the french backs pocket, he links with his right support player and the Colombians all roll onto the puck one after the other putting on a tonne of pressure until Juan finishes it in the goal, the French just unable to clear or get possession long enough to snuff out the attack.

Then we have some interesting stuff going on, for example this Colombian free puck...

Check out how wide their players are, especially compared to the norm for almost every other team.  Instead of putting players into an area and trying to apply pressure, this play looks more like putting the puck into the opposition, putting light pressure on and then when the opp turn to the corner or look to swing wide they have a guy in each spot.  Very different.  Compare to this...

Here's the French adv puck, and yes I know it's a lot closer to the bin but they are doing this all over the court, also Turkey, GB, Portugal, NZ, lots of other teams are using this very tight 3 man hanging curtain attack style.  Turkey are doing it with lets be honest some sheperding going on behind it (which we will look at later), and Aus a bit more loosely than they have in the past but similar.

The Colombians don't manage to make anything of this loose adv puck approach in this game that I can see however.

This game is one of those with a French and Colombian commentator, one of those hilarious vids where as the game goes on, each commentator as they are both speaking different languages just starts to ignore and talk over the other so we have a double commentary, and magically each set of listeners in both languages can still understand.

Lkie wehn you mses wtih wdors in tihs way it slitl meaks snsee.  Cazry.

Here's a good bit.  From the start of the clip, french are attacking and as they roll forward a col player gets the puck and makes a couple meters, and immediately FOUR of his team sub out.  Ahhrghh!  But he somehow realises he's very alone and turns, holds onto the puck and then flings it toward the subs bench...  still danger time but then a french forward grabs it, can't see options and throws it the rest of the way towards the Col bench where the 4 fresh subs storm all the way up the pool, but somehow the french defence makes a miraculous save, and pushes to the corner.

A goal would have been Col 2-0 up and very tough, so it was a clutch save from France there, awesome.

Colombia have another couple of really good chances which each time the french defence just skims off the bin, and then Raphael saves a penalty shot, again clutch defence and the Colombians really are the dominant team in the first half but can't make it show on the scoreboard.

Then, right at the start of the second half, this happens.  The French get one back.
As a coach, very interesting to see what the Colombians do to try to control the puck on their left wall.  Four of them in a row do the exact same move trying to keep possession, pulling the puck back but without turning fully to use the body, and each time a french guy punts the puck through this weak position...

This is 4 Col players in a row each doing the same move.  More obvious on the vid above.

One french player essentially goes through 3 colombians like this, with a french forward in support the whole time who finally gets it behind defender 4 and throws a great centering pass that gets wider than the remaining 2 col defenders who have had to come in close, and the french open forward drops on it beautifully and has a clean run to the bin.

Through the rest of the game which is mostly in the middle, both teams attack the space but the Colombians are right up on the french bin another couple of times, with a goal disallowed.  Again dominant in territory and chances and they are really not having the luck fall their way this game.  But, after a french drive goes to the right the french end up in that same right corner where the first goal was scored from and again the colombians are losing ground quickly through that corner and looking really vulnerable.  (You don't ever want to have a weakness on the wall against a french team, they are very aware of which wall is strong/weak for teams and where goals are scored from, these are the guys that have their resting players marking maps of adv pucks around the pool to determine hot-spots etc).  Arguably, the Colombians have looked their most vulnerable in that one corner.  There is a colombian defensive adv but they aren't able to move it away up the pool and the puck ends up in the corner again, and the french put on a heap of pressure through the corner and score.

Great game, in all honesty the Colombians in a lot of areas were dominant, probably had more territory and definitely more scoring chances, but great clutch defence from the french kept them in it.  Possibly the tendency to avoid full body turns in their left defensive corner might have hurt the colombians, but of course it's never as simple as just one thing that puts you under pressure.

What can we take from the game?  Well, the Colombians were right in this comp weren't they.  So so close.  You do have to have a little bit of luck in getting through 3 knockout games and the Colombians just didn't get those finishes to the goals falling in, and that's the way it goes I guess.   From the same game, you have to give a lot of respect to a team that can grind a win from a game where they were under pressure the whole time and mostly on the back foot...   the French team would be coming out of this game with extra confidence that they can hang on in pressure and get the result.  And that was actually a perfect game to prepare the French for their semi-final which was even tighter.

Australia vs Turkey

The background for this one is, the last time these teams played was in the Final in South Africa, where Aussie put on a school of how to play open hockey.  The Turks that day, you could wonder if through all the intensity and drama and euphoria of the semi-final where they ended up winning with 2 vs 6 in the last minute, maybe meant they played their final in the semi?  A big emotional result like that can make it hard to get the same intensity in the last game, especially when a team is making it into that last game for the first time.  Some people even say you have to lose a final before you win one, but of course that doesn't always apply.  Anyway.  The main thing was...  how much would the Turks have changed and learnt from the last time they played this Aussie style?

In this game it seemed like the obstruction interpretation that ourselves and Australia had struggled a bit to adjust to when we played each other earlier in the comp had moved a bit further back towards what it had been at previous worlds.  A defending player was allowed to occupy the space where his torso was (as long as it was flat on the bottom not dropping) and if an attacking player moved into that space the defender got the benefit, so this kind of thing could happen....
Dummy into a guys legs? Wear some legs in your face, that's the way it should be too I think.  We haven't really chat much about the refs but I am waiting on a bit of information to include, will put that in the next post.  Suffice to say, I thought the refs processes, evaluations and consistency of interpretation especially in the later stages of the comp was fantastic, a big step onwards from past comps.  Actually probably one of the only things to fault about the whole comp was that the referees weren't officially recognised at the closing ceremony, because they certainly deserved a big shout, but anyway.  Back to the uwh geeking out.

I suppose that gif above is a good example.  A couple of moves which are quite common in the Aussie skillset tend to involve putting the puck under or through the oppositions legs.  There is the dummy attempt from Josh Mackenzie above, but also in that situation there is a lot of pulling back the puck and then forcing it through on an angle from a lot of aussie players.

It's often a reverse curl.  But, the crucial thing about this is, in this particular game, these moves actually require the defending player to essentially be polite and raise his bum/legs out of the way to let the puck through, to attempt to reach it immediately with his stick.  Many players do this especially inexperienced ones.  But, if the defender just turns flat leaving his legs where they are, the Aussie attacker barges his legs or gets a facefull of bum...  and on every team there will be a couple of older players who do this, just sit patiently and it's harder to get through.  Normally no big deal, percentages will still make these moves very worthwhile.  But, the Turkish skillset is very very stay down, turn the other way and keep bums on the bottom.  Almost every player is going to be very difficult to make these moves work against.

What does this mean?  Not too much, other than a couple of shots in the armoury the Aussies would normally have are going to have a much lower success rate against this particular Turkish group of players playing as they are.  I haven't found any other examples yet, so maybe not a big deal, but these things all add up.

From the start of the game, Turkey are pretty territory dominant.  Aussie get a bunch of calls relieving Turkish pressure, and after not getting much change going straight they start to look to use the full width of the pool for their defence, going straight sideways on adv in front of their goal, but the Turks race up very fast not allowing the Aussies to connect around the corners to their forwards and pinning the Aussies in defensive territory for much of the half.

The Aussies had a headshot too which to be honest was very lucky not to have gone for 5 mins just because it was so dead-on...  Apologies Rhys if you see this for bringing back the memories, and Yusuf too as it probably hurt a bit!

But this was just a bit of an accidental brain fart and I think the refs made a good call with 2 mins.  Brain makes the pass as though the guy isn't there, one of those weird things, we've all done it at some stage.  But, good teams defend well with 5 and the Aussies plugged through and defended well.

First goal after a couple disallowed or very close was to Turkey.

After a Turkish Adv with the hanging curtain of turkish forwards, there's a melee and then the puck pops back to Nick who has been patiently sitting waiting, and he goes for a gap which if he squeezes through has him going for a big swim and linking with his left winger most likely and only one Turkish cover defender, but, there's a clutch tackle from a Turkish player or maybe puck bounces away and it goes right back through the Nick-shaped space behind him....  nightmare for a fullback/goalie as generally when you do anything aggressive you want to hold team possession, or this kind of thing can happen, but, his only option was to go for it he had a corridor of opposition players to either side!  Anyway great pressure from the Turks to make this goal and finally get their finish, good hustle and backtackling to make the chance and nice clean finish which they lacked earlier.

In the first half, 4 times the Aussies get 1-3m inside the Turkish half, very briefly each time, a couple of these with momentum from adv pucks.  The rest of the half is solidly in the Aussie half, very strong territorial advantage for Turkey. 

Most of the Adv pucks the Turks popped the puck to the fwdline so there's no foul but this one was getting a bit dodgy...  When number 5 Ismail here (who takes all the pucks) starts to swim to either side of the hanging player(s) there is some definite sheperding starting to creep in.

Speaking of number 5...  this guy is good, right?  Most of the Turks are very strong powerful swimmers and brute force is their strength, speed, power.  But Ismail here had a fantastic tournament and he's done a great job of directing them around, shifting the point of attack for the others to bludgeon, and he's got some great puck retention skills and short passing game.

Aspiring centers, definitely have a watch of the way this guy plays.

Second half, well it starts with a big strike from Turkey but here's a nice and under-rated bit of skill from Rhys Milburn

A lot of kids tic-tac for no particular reason, because they see good players doing it, but this is why you do it, to keep the perfect distance between the puck and your tackler to keep your pass option alive.  Aussies might call this a pull-back I think?  Kids, take note.  Nice pass too.

Aus quickly gets their best chance of the game, Adv in Turkish half.  Right away they are pretty aggressive.

All 3 in the backline are up in this play and the outside half ends up engaging.  Other teams with a 3 man backline have 1 up hanging back as cover, especially say france a long way back...  usually I think Aus do have 2 backs in and 1 out?  So possibly they have had a chat about taking a risk and making the most of any attacking opportunity?  Maybe.  They get another free and repeat with really aggressive cover defence , maybe thats just the way Josh always rolls.  As they game goes on they are doing this the whole time so I guess I just never noticed before.

So, sometimes it's hard to see what a team is doing, and then you have a clear little snippet on video where you get a good idea of intent, and intent is one of the only ways to figure out what is planned and what is random...  so, watch the Turkish number 5, forward on camera-side until the next break in play

 This is the interesting bit...
He glances back, sees his wall half behind, then launches back and over him, rotating back behind the half.  If you keep watching you can see him do it again as the play comes back towards the camera before it gets called up.

So, in this little snippet it's easy to see the forward in rotation with the half.  What to take from this?  Well, it means if they are working a wall they will have another body rolling around in the rotation from behind, similarly to some of the Argentinian and Colombian play.  If you are trying to arm-wrestle the Turks going straight through them this is going to make things much harder.  But, conversely, it means if you turn around you won't have a Turkish forward back-tackling you on the wall like you would an Aussie, French, NZ or GB forward.  So there is scope to have space to start off sideways moves and swings a bit easier...  If you aren't getting crushed into your defensive corners all game that is.   What this also means, a little less obviously, is that the Turkish halves know they have forwards rolling back behind them so they will have a more aggressive approach.  The converse again, is this is actually pretty risky because while the forward can look back, they don't have any sight system like GB do rotating their outside guys in, as we saw in a past post.  So when a half runs forwards aggressively, he doesn't actually know if the forward has rolled back or is rolling into rotation or has his mask off or subbing or just out of position...  if you can get onto the half and he commits and you can catch the forward up, then there is very little to no cover.  The kind of thing you can file away to remember later.

Aussies are looking much better this half with more time in the Turkish end, but then Turkey have an adv and do a great little shift.  They hang their curtain of forwards, but then Ismail sells going straight pretty well and biffs the puck out left to a half charging onto it, and this fixes all 3 Aus forwards because they are tangled trying to get through the curtain.  Aus half is actually a bit slow reacting too and I think Coskun gets right around, he's got good pace and very strong straight-ahead skills, Turkish forwards then squish the remaining Aus backs into the bin and to be honest the legality looks a bit iffy but the refs were happy with it and they are a lot closer than the camera, and pretty well executed by the Turks.  The goal counts and the Turkish chatroom goes wild.

This goal lights a bit of a fire under the Aussie arse and they pull out by far their best passage of the game so far, all the way up to the Turkish bin, the first time the puck has been up there I think.  This is a really mint section of play...

My favourite is this bit, nice centering move from Matthew Paine, then a little tap back from I think Shannon and then the perfect timing of the hit from the no. 12 again, that is juicy!  Man that would have felt good on that hit.

Aussie get the puck all the way to the bin holding good possession, even an under-the-bum flick Jason Lord style from Stew Parko showing his Tasmanian roots, and then an advantage puck right on the Turk bin and possibly unlucky not to get a penalty shot, foul must have been outside the area and then playing advantage.

So, Coskun has been binned just before this by throwing his elbows all over the shop, now Turks have another guy binned for a bit of a grab/push/flail as the bin adv is setup, now Aus have a 6 on 4 on the Turkish bin.  Crunch time.

This is really rough on the Aussies.  They are all down early, they have 4 guys right up in the bin taking up all the real-estate, Turks were late down or not at all, both refs setting the line are hands up ready...   but there is a Turkish guy (Coskun) waiting to come in when puck is touched and the chief ref is busy sorting him out, sitting him down etc and doesn't start until people have been sitting there quite a few seconds and people are going up wondering if there's a timeout...   it's a mess.  Chance is gone by the time the play is finally started. 

But, Aussie gets another free and puts it in pretty easily, gets the goal, but then after a big conference it's disallowed and goes to equal...  possibly the buzzer went early?  Unsure what happened actually.  But aussie keep putting on pressure 6 on 6, some great stuff centering the puck in front of turkish bin at 7:00 to go.  The Aussie forwards didn't get much chance to do anything in the first half really being kept out of the play but now they are coming into it, Tom is starting to open the play up and take the puck to space and Jack and is it Shannon in the middle starting to really do some damage with their underbody skills, getting in behind the Turkish backline.  

Aus have another adv on the Turkish bin and for once Nick doesn't blow out all his air on the charge.  Perhaps with the benefit of that extra oxygen, the Aussies finish the goal and the game is all on, 2-1 to Turkey but with the Aussies right back in it and pressure now going both ways.

Then, Turkey with 1 in the bin already and they really don't help themselves when Coskun throws another elbow this time in front of camera so we can have a nice view.

Judge for yourself but it does look a bit like Coskun here isn't thinking about the puck anymore when his arm hits Matts face, although to be fair to him this pull-back-scrape-forward is Coskuns main move.  There are a lot of passionate Turkish supporters in the chat, (too passionate sometimes you might argue) and there is always a lot of chat about refs, but it is good to see this on video, then see the play called up and then the right guy go to the bin for it.  Good job refs with this kind of stuff.  And I don't mean to be picking on Coskun...   this one just ended up right on the screen!

The Turks get through with 4 for a minute and really do some great defence, Aussies move it around the spaces and Jamie North has a bit of a video blinder in the last couple of minutes (ie we can see him do a bunch of good things which I'm sure he was doing all game but on the other side of the court), but the Turkish defence just too hard to break down and they finish the game in the Aussie half.

Great game.  Obviously I got into this one a lot. Turkish win 2-1.

Well, if you are still here reading congratulations, what an effort.  Next post we will look at the other 2 quarters including ours against USA, and GB vs Spain.





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Quebec 2018 #12 - Rest Day! Then Game 6 POR

Rest day!  Bang in the middle of the comp.  We weren't the only ones who got one, but we were pretty stoked about it knowing maybe not everyone did.  Sure, the draw works out pros and cons for other teams, maybe no 2 game days, but still.  The mental concept of having a day off is nice....   or is it?

Is it a disaster suddenly taking a day off when a bunch of your opposition are battling each other to a finely-honed apex while we are lying around?  Well.  It all depends I guess.  Years ago I would have been champing at the bit wanting to keep playing and I used to think a 1 game day was a big break....   it still is, let's be honest.  But this time around my first thought was awesome, a whole day of stretching, hooking up to my EMS machine, maybe a massage somewhere, eat well, sleep.....   oh, extra sleep.  Never sounds bad.

I did wonder if Jeremy's luxury hair salon would make an appearance on a day like this, but he was still traumatized from the Portuguese haircuts at the opening ceremony. 

Another satisfied customer at a past tournament

A few of the guys went to SkySpa, a luxurious sounding massagy place with soaking pools etc, but somehow I decided I'd skip it...    with a fair dose of FOMO and regret of course.  But a bit of yoga with the guys in the morning to get us up nice and sharp on a regular routine and then some serious eating and movies seemed pretty awesome.  Exciting huh.  I've never been much of a tourist...  it doesn't really seem to count if the family isn't there to share a nice touristy castle with, so why bother?  Come back and do it with them properly later, and watch more prep vids in the meantime.  And superhero movies.  Maybe see Nick lose a bet and paint himself with nutella if you're lucky.

Honestly this youtube at tournaments thing is amazing.  Great for people at home, but great for players too...   beats waiting after the games for the footage to be burnt onto CDs, or god forbid onto VHS tapes.  And to be honest, some of the comps the footage was absolutely worthless, dark, grainy, terrible water quality, camera operators artfully switching from empty camera to empty camera to surface and managing to avoid all sight of the puck for the most crucial parts of all the games.  Well....   actually I'm being way too harsh.  There have only been a couple of comps where it's really sucked, but the experience has coloured my memory a bit I guess.

Still image of game video from Durban 2008

Anyway.  After our break, the next day we were up against Portugal.  The boys!  These guys I coached in 2011, had a great time with them and there were a big bunch of those guys still in the team, so it was especially cool to see the young fellas and how they had been developing...  and some older fellas too.  They were still doing some of the stuff we developed back then around basic formation, a 2-3-1 variant, but not everything...   we had some mad-cap set-plays and advantage pucks which were a bit loose to be honest.

Did I mention the Portuguese guys are a bit crazy?  In the best way possible.  Like 30 hours driving non-stop to an uwh comp crazy.  Very fun to be around...   well, maybe you saw some pictures of their haircuts.  There you go.  I still have flashbacks to bundling into one of these...

...to head to a training camp 3 hours drive away and storming along with Ricardo at 160km/hr wondering when we were going to blow off the road like a leaf.  I guess the weight of the gear bags which somehow we stuffed into the back kept us down...   or were they on my knees?  Can't remember.  But good times!

Training camps in Portugal are some of the best.  Amazing pool, amazing weather, warm, pool is all ours all weekend, there's a shallow warm pool to walk-through in, tiles are nice, team is keen....    and then you walk outside and you're in a town with 1000's of years of history and there's a wee castle over there.  Like the village has a pet castle, no big deal.

Sample pet castle

Ok back to the hockey.  Turned out, our gamestyle this comp really played well against a couple of teams in a couple of games and this was one of them.  Our forwards were positioning in really damaging spots behind their backline and Jesse and Rob were hitting some very good angles and feeding the puck up, and we got a lot of very fast goals, some planned and some not...   everything seemed to go right basically.  There was one other game in the comp where this happened which we will get to later too.

This clip is a good example, PRT on attack, Ed does a great job clearing the puck and gets a great pass to Brendan, it's then 3 on 1 with our other Fwd Andrew and Jesse in support at center on Torto their goalie who is alone because they had only one held back from the adv puck (who Ed passed past).  Things don't normally happen by the book like this in an international.

Once we fed our forwards and they got rolling PRT was generally able to break things down before we could score, they are very very good at last-ditch defense and especially knockdowns around the bin, Torto the lefty goalie is a master at this kind of desperate defense.  But, the breaks generally got us to the bin and we did a good job that game identifying that finishing would be hard and our second phase guys coming in from the backline finished a lot of the goals off.

The score did blowout to 11-0, Brendan high scoring with 3.

I'd like to say more about what our team was doing in all these posts, but it's tricky because some concepts the guys in the team are still building and want to use again...  Spoilers, right?  So, I'll trip back in time and talk about what we used to do once upon a time instead.

In 2002 we had endwall subbing still, it was the last time.  So, what with the depth and decent size corners, we came up with a bit of a trick to try.  This was based on this concept.

I never saw it but the theory was the Aussies had done this back when they were wrecking everyone so hard they could actually plan to throw the puck in front of their own goal to fresh forwards and score goals with it.  Dominant right?  If they actually did this...  put it in comments if someone knows.

Now, we weren't quite confident enough to try that.   What we did was we got a back to go in the corner and hold, and then the next guy in was a center or goalie who was ready with big lungs.  He held it in the corner while our 2 forwards and wall wing all subbed, getting 3 fresh guys in.  Then the fresh wing took the puck, bombed it up the channel to 2 fresh forwards and trundled along behind them as they went kamikaze.  This actually worked very well, and also was a bit similar to the Dutch corner attack in 2000, except we did it with 3 guys every time it was in our corner, while they did it with 6 guys twice a game and the rest of the time stayed rotating in their own corner.

Corners have been a bit funny comp to comp....  as they vary in length, the corner becomes more safe or more dangerous.  Many teams have the approach of, if the puck ends up in the opposition corner, have a crack and see if you can catch them subbing or off-balance....  if it doesn't work, then bring it out and attack the angle or wide.  Or, you can sit back and let the defenders bring it out for you.  In a long corner pool you kinda have to do this because it's such a tough job to get all the way up the backwall, especially with 3 refs now spotting more random gloves and chops.

But, if the corner is short, like a 12m width court?  You can attack the corner because it's only really one clear pass and you're under most of the defence.  In a deep pool too, that makes corners super dangerous.  Ponds Forge for instance is a pool you can press corners really hard and get decent value for it if the opposition are still thinking the corner is safer than it really is.

What was the topic here?  Must have veered off.  Will pick it back up next time I'm sure!  So, after the PRT game I think we were top seed in our group, which meant we got another rest day following while the other teams played across groups.  GB was the other top seed who was resting from the other group.

Next post, a look at the seedings games that would determine who we would end up playing in our Quarter.  


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Quebec 2018 #11 - What the heck is going on in there anyway

As might come across, I'm a bit fascinated by the different styles teams bring and when they mix together at a worlds its a great thing.

There's a trick to even being able to see what people are actually trying to do, which often seems like a bit of a mirage...  there's so much going on in a game of hockey, fins everywhere, bodies twisting in all directions, if you don't know another team it's hard to tell who is who, who on earth is even playing what position?  What positions do they have?

Where the hell is the left forward??!!

Well, it's all a bit of a guess really but you just do the best you can to see patterns.  The french love to take a tonne of notes from the surface, where fouls happen, redzones and weak spots of various teams etc, areas to push and avoid.  Jolyon Van Daalen, a famously avid video watcher, reckons it's best to watch a vid on fast-forward to see patterns in play, which is a nice approach.  Unfortunately for me, I tend to go the other road and watch a game in frame by frame to see what's happening when things seem confusing.  This takes up time.

Ultimately, the question when you watch a team play is this...   what are they being forced to do, what decisions are reactions, and what dynamic decisions are they making to shape their play.  If the puck comes off the wall, did the white team push it off?  3 meters off the wall a black player is swimming wide but was the direction from the white team, is that swim simply the best option from that point when the black teams gameplan is actually to shut the puck down on the wall?  Who is doing, and who is reacting for given movements of the puck.  It's tricky!

Anyway, so let's say it is possible to see things without imagining them.  Let's look at GB men.  Why them?  Well, these guys are a great example of a team doing it's own thing, not trying to copy anyone else and changing their play significantly to try to tweak to get constant improvement.  It takes a lot of balls to make big changes.

I remember back in the day when I first lived in the UK.  In 2002 I was there for I think a year, and I played as much hockey as I could.  The level was really good, the players were very strong individually and there were a lot of guys with seriously good fades, they loved that.  Lots of skills in front of the body going forward, very swashbuckling and quite similar in that way to the kiwi skillset, we do that too.

I remember playing the highest level sessions available around London in Ealing, and if you were on a team that was winning one night, sweet.  Halftime, breaks in play everything just stayed the same.  But if you were down a couple of goals, I found it amazing that generally the team would start swapping players through different positions...  we never did this at home, or not nearly as much.  It was as if there was a belief that somehow, there would be a perfect combination of the different skillsets in the team in different positions to unlock the defence of the other team and crack the game.  And, it's plausible too, that makes sense right?

These were just kick-around sessions, but maybe that's a good indicator of the GB mindset that is quite happy to adapt and problem solve, is that part of the British uwh culture?  I think so.

So anyway, the GB mens team.  These guys under master-motivator coach Bernie Tarling have been quite prepared to change things up and try new things that maybe haven't been seen before at international level.  I don't know what they were doing prior to Eger, but in 2013 they rocked up with a very distinctive take on 2-3-1 that seemed new.

They basically had a midfield line of 3 really tight to the wall, a wall forward, and an open forward who was wide enough to get outside and turn an opposition fullback back to the wall.  When the opp turned to go wide, their outside forward was like...

They played like a U shape and tried to keep the puck on the wall, or in the U.  A goalie floated around as backup...  (A very good left-handed one.  Gotta give a shout to Fletch when you talk GB.)  This made them really strong on the wall and channel.  The drawback was, the midfield line was really tight, had to be to remove gaps in the channel for the driving game, but this meant their widest guy was only a pass away from the wall at times, and if an opposition could get outside it there was trouble, and ultimately they lost the semi against us when we managed to get outside them consistently.  But, this tight channel game worked pretty well and they had some landmark games against very good teams.

So, they then changed things up a little and in SA in 2016 they still had the midfield line, but only 1 roving forward in front and another backup in behind in a 1-3-2.

This was pretty interesting, we have had teams in NZ try this formation but never quite get it working very well.  GB were still able to put lots of driving pressure on the wall, but they weren't so worried about it going wide because they had an outside back out there covering for it.  This worked a lot better for them, and although we scored a bunch of goals in the quarter-final they made the famous comeback and went into the semi past us.  I imagine they would have been a lot happier with the setup they were using even though the semi didn't work out for them, because toss a coin and that game could have gone either way.  As so many games these days!

So, fast forward to Quebec and another tweak and now they were using the same setup but with at least one twist,  rolling the outside winger into the center spot, trying to keep a player on the bottom holding ground in that center position the whole game.  

It is cool to see someone doing this, I have heard of teams swapping their wall players from side to side but never seen it, lateral rotations for some reason are pretty rare to see apart from the good old 3-way goalwall rotation in the defensive corner....   or, I suppose, in the attacking corner sometimes too.

Here is a snap of the GBvsUSA game...

GB has 5 in right now so imagine a forward up front if they had 6, but you can see number 7 holding center spot and the outside wing above and outside him.

Every time they were on the wall in this game they were doing this, and obviously being really careful with it because they are checking and doing an eye-to-eye thing before switching.

So, maybe a small adjustment for the 3m?  They have a great facility in Ponds Forge to use at camps so no surprise to see something for the depth.  This means it makes it that much harder for opposition teams to get started moving off the wall as the time without an active center in that spot is cut drastically.  Interesting!

GB aren't one trick ponies, they are quite capable of playing all around the pool and scored a nice 2nd goal with pressure up the middle from a free puck before Scott Allen dramatically saved a penalty shot to keep them ahead 2-1, this game was madcap.

The goal USA scored though, was interesting too because it went basically like this...

USA went wide but the outside GB wing had just rotated out, overshot wide to cover and USA cut through unexpectedly and scored.  Maybe the downside to the rotation is that the wide guy has a little less breath and harder to cover?  Of course the upside is he isn't sitting out there un-used when you are playing the channel, only useful if the opp manage to bring it out, he's going in constantly and adding to the workload of the team.  And when you are playing someone like Turkey who might not try to come wide but just go up the pool, maybe makes sense to keep everyone involved. 

Interesting to see anyway, I'm not sure if GB kept this rotation all the way through the comp, maybe it'll be apparent in the later games. (edit: they were doing it in their last game too)

.....or maybe it's just a mirage.

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Quebec 2018 #10 - Game 5 BEL

Game 5, Belgium, and I had a massive blank spot in  my memory.  Couldn't remember anything about it!  Then when I went to the video, I was sitting out the game, ok that made more sense, Andre and Rob were both taking some time at goalie in there.

I thought I must have been at home sick and sleeping like a proper old man until I finally twigged that I had been up in the stands taking tactical notes.  Cheekily trying to watch both screens, as USA were playing France at the same time in the other court.  I don't think I got many useful notes for Benny to be honest, but I meant well.

In an effort to make this post a bit more visual, here is a photo of our fantastic Coach Benson at his most endearing.

Here also is a nice pic of room-mates Nick and Rob snoozing in between games.  It did get a bit cramped having to share single beds between two towards the end of the comp I must admit but we all just got on with it.

Belgium, I actually coached the U23 Belgium guys team in Holland in 2011.  Ben Tilly did a bunch of coaching there and there could be a slight Kiwi flavour to their hockey if you look closely for it I think, although they have now found a frenchman to coach them and are doing a more french 3-3 from the look of it.

There were some super keen guys there very committed to their hockey when I coached and a couple had moved on into the Elites in Quebec, so it was nice to see guys like Andy at the comp, and see around our corridors as well as they came to see that most popular of Canadian tourist attractions, the home-made icebath in the end cubicle in the toilets down there.  Some of our guys had made a bunch of mates in the Belgian team while living in Europe too so there was a lot of gossiping around the place as people caught up with events.

One of our NZ brothers Ty was coaching the Belgian womens team which added yet another connection, and Ty kindly did a pretty sweet job of commentating our game for us too.

The Belgians had a new group of fresh young guys, pretty fit, very keen, almost all of them having their first experience of a worlds competition, and a couple of older heads.  For the amount of experience in the group I thought they looked really good.  Hopefully they can keep that young keen core together for a few years, if they can do that they have every chance of doing what Spain have recently done and be pushing and beating the top teams.

Not long into the game, someone tried to go sideways on an adv puck in front of goal and took his eye off the charging forward for a second...  Ben Pav is like a shark that smells blood in the water in these situations.

Take your eyes off him for a second and he will do this to you (or eat your lunch before you get back to the table and then say Nick did it).

The score was 6-0 at halftime and at 12mins to go in the second half, when the guys found a few holes and put in a flurry of 5 goals in 5 minutes which broke the rhythm of the game entirely, but then the Belgian guys sorted things and steadied the ship for the remainder, game ended with a big score though 14-0.

Here is the NZ girls pulling off a mint deep switch goal against the Aussies in their RR game a little later on...

Nicely done, that game was a first half blow-out of 6-0 for NZ and then flipped with Aussie winning the second half 2-1 and rueing some loose early passages.  Here's another highlight of Emma Raes super duper puckling skills

Round and round like a washing machine, nice.

Forgot to put up the guilty photo of myself and Rob in the bin against Aus.  Here it is.

We did a jokey game before the comp started where the whole group essentially eliminated one by one the people they thought least likely to be sinbinned, leaving at the end the guy that collectively the team thinks will get the most sinbin minutes.  The team totally stitched me up, and left me last.  I couldn't believe it, I'm such a gentle guy, how could they think that I would be the most binnedest player.  Plus they are all way dirtier than me.  

But so far so good anyway, 5 games down, only 2 mins on the board.  No goals either.

Next post, we might have a look around to other grades, try to remember some non-game happenings and other corridor antics.




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Quebec 2018 #9 - First look over into the womens grade

So, the awesome thing about having all the vids up on youtube is, months later some of us who missed games when they were happening can get to catch up!

As our game against Canada wound down, in the next court the NZ women kicked off against France.  I tried to catch a few of the womens games over the comp, but didn't see a lot...   what with trying to see all our opposition play, sleeping, skyping and watching endless superhero movies on american Netflix, watching Ben eat red onions, helping Nick eat other peoples lunches...  it's a busy time back home at the accommodation.

So, how mint is this that we can have a look now.  Here's the link, NZ vs FRA.

What an epic start to this game.  Watch the french striker.  Not including the time she takes to get to the strike, she is down for 25 seconds on this first play of the game, and most of the players around her on both teams have a similar first involvement.  Awesome!

It's long for a gif but at 5:50 in the clip, Leah drops on a french back and gets in behind the french backs.  It's apparent here how getting players behind the puck like COL does can be really helpful, as the play is slowed but not stopped by the french cover defender, and a forward comes back to backtackle but it never comes back, it is pushed forward and the kiwis essentially have a vertical overlap and the forwards finish it with a good doubleteam.

A couple times in the first few minutes the french team gets a sniff of space and goes straight to the middle trying to hit a forward swimming an angle, looking like they are determined to use the middle as much as they can...

Notice she has oodles of space in front in the channel to just get going forwards but she's not interested whatsoever.

Not long after the kiwis pull a legit aussie switch, complete with back swimming backwards, and hit a forward on the other side ending up on the bin, great move.

There was no-one out there except the ref for a while there so it appears to have caught france offguard a bit.

NZ then had an advantage and france a sinbin, and from the corner the kiwis pushed towards the goal and just got the puck in before the defence could sweep to the other corner.  This is known as a "backdoor" goal in Nz, to add some trivia.

Halftime already!  This is a great game, lots of bottom time and intensity from both teams.  I really really hope the next worlds they have a camera on each side though...   you have to!  It's so frustrating only really being able to see what's happening on the near side of the pool, and anything past halfway is a blurry haze, despite Quebec having amazing clarity.  Don't worry about mirror imaging everyone to lefties....   I reckon just put a white and black arrow on the overlays so we can check it if we get confused and then just switch the cameras.

ok rant over.

Lots of the french girls are wearing elbow pads, makes it hard to tell them apart a bit but their 12 is having a great game from the back.  They seem to be playing a 3-2-1, which basically means

Essentially, are you trying to keep your fullback behind everyone as last defender, or are you pivoting the backs around so the outside defender is the back on that side.  The aussies push the fullback up into the middle and pivot.  Some french teams push both halfbacks together and protect the goalie, some do it similar to the aussies.  It won't stop the fullback from pushing up into the play and coming onto the wall, just a default or starting position from general play sometimes really.

There is very excessive use of the phrase "coming in hot" from the incredibly biased nz commentator who is i'm pretty sure one of the kiwi girls who is sitting out, who can blame her watching her team-mates right?  Not a lot more on camera in that game, ending 3-0.  Great start for the kiwi girls but france were looking pretty good too and had a bunch of chances.

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Quebec 2018 #8 - Game 4 AUS


I could go on and on about these guys, so it could be a long one.  All my team-mates assure me they are reading this blog on the loo, so I'm sure their families and/or work-mates will be thinking they have some kind of serious bowel complaint after this post.

Australia are our neighbours across the Tasman Sea, and NZ has been playing them since forever.  For me as a young developing player, these were the guys we played at Juniors level, Age-groups, and every year that wasn't a worlds year in Trans-Tasman champs and Southern Hemisphere Championships.  We played them far more than anyone else.

And, what a history.  The guys who won everything forever, who every other country was either trying to catch or copy for decades.

There is floating around a table of all the past winners at worlds...  I can't find it today!  But, from my memory, it goes a bit like this....

1980 - first Worlds, Nederlands won it.
1986 - Canada won it, famously changing styles and gameplay
1998 - France won.

Every other year up to 2004, Australia won?  Something crazy like that.

The worlds in Wellington in 1992 where I first saw uwh played?  Aussie won the final 10-1 against NZ.  (the NZ goal was a breakaway length of the pool by local legend Shane Clegg, who had a hand in coaching me when I was wee and was one of the most likeable stoners you could ever wish to meet.)

They seemed to have a never-ending generation of amazing players.  I've already talked about the Aussie switch etc in previous posts too, so I won't go over that again, but they were doing it before anyone else.

Anyway, before I get too depressed to continue.  When Andrew Carr took over coaching the NZ mens team in 2001, he introduced a new formation that he had been using in schools and nz junior teams for a few years...  2-3-1.  I remember him giving us a brief history of his experience with this, and to summarize, he said it had been developed in an attempt to beat the Australian style, the expansive swinging switching style that opens up the whole pool.  2-3-1 had been an effort to contain the puck on the wall and drive those Aussies back, used earlier when Andrew had been a NZ player himself.  We were now going to have another shot at it, and the style we used in 2001 then morphed and grew through a few phases into the style we use today, and also spread across most of NZ until it is almost exclusively the only formation played in the country.  Who knew right?

Early 2-3-1...

Isolate half-back, drive wall channels, possibly win 1-0.  Or, puck gets out into Aussie backline = Death, destruction and Aussie win 7-0

Annoyingly, the Aussies are actually good at the wall game too when they are forced into it, they just don't like it.  So limiting them to a wall game won't even give you a good chance of winning, just maybe a better chance than if you let them swim round you.

So, the point of this really is... you could argue that the whole current NZ way of playing is descended directly from a style that was exclusively intended to beat the Australian style.   That's a compliment I think, isn't it?  We finally beat them in 2004, with a style that had evolved a lot already since 2001, and was very honestly a bit boring and pretty conservative.  We played the wall channel, and we attacked the space only when we had pressured enough to make some nice big holes to go through, generally.  The final did break into a crazy 10 minute section of open helter-skelter play in the second half all around the pool, but that was mostly because we were all buggered rather than a conscious effort to use space.

Sidetracking slightly, of course I'm not saying that back then we discounted any other team but Australia.  When you only play other teams at worlds and you play Aussie every single year, you end up plotting on how to beat the team that's right in front of you...  and that's the gameplan you begin with when you face everyone else as well.

South Africa vs Australia in the Round robin in 2004 basically showed us how to beat that Aussie team, and this was probably the first time we had got something really solid from video analysis, so it was a bit of a landmark for us.  Basically, Aussie beat us 1-0 in the RR.  Beat everyone else I think, but SA beat them 9-5.  9 goals!  Against the defending champs, stacked full of multi-golds winners, a decent handful of the best players ever to play uwh in that team, and SA put 9 goals on them but didn't end up dominating any other team to the same degree....

How incredible, really.  So, after we made it past France in the Semi we had basically an evening to look at all Aussies games and try to find some cracks, and there was that scoreline, 9-5.  The Aussies did have someone have some ear problems in the game I vaguely remember, maybe a young Yongy?  But one injury couldn't account for the result.

In short, Grant Russell from SA had a huge impact on that RR game.  (he was in the sinbin 12 minutes in the game we played against them, so didn't have much opportunity to do the same)  I think he was playing goalie, perhaps center, definitely in the middle, but he had a really nice long low pass and as a lefty he was getting into spaces they weren't used to and  throwing long low passes straight up the pool past the Aussie backline, hitting his forwards who were getting on the end of those passes and they were getting breakaways and doing massive damage.  Every time he held the puck until he found a nice window and threw a deep straight pass, the Aussie backline was put out of balance and we realised that no-one usually threw those passes, people came up to the aussie backs and usually crapped themselves, either threw on angles where the passes landed in front of the other aussie backs to swim onto but more likely, pulled the puck back to turn around and the aussie forwards backtackled them on the other side.  It looked like the main source of possession for the Aussies was actually backtackling, and the backs were just hitting the right positions and waving their stick, scaring the opposition into turning.  Not every time of course but high %s.  He got so many passes off because they weren't even going for him, they were holding their ground and trying to make him turn into their forwards.

So, basically what Grant was doing was keeping the puck behind the Aussie backs and that was shutting their forwards out of the game.  It's easier said than done to do that, but we took a huge amount of confidence in seeing someone pull it off and we tried to do it ourselves in the final, and that combined with our structured approach allowed us to nullify a lot of the usual game they played.

Well, that was then. That was 14 years ago!  Today, if you focus on tactics for only one team there are at least 6 more that will bite you on the bum.

The Aussies like to use the channel too, but they do it a bit differently.

They hate the wall.  They hate it so much.  They might use it for a couple of minutes to close up a game, or wait until they get a guy back from the sin-bin, sure they're not dumb.  But generally, trying to play on the wall is not the Aussie way.

I first went over to Oz in....  oh dear.  2003 or 2004?  I had to pretend I was living in Queensland in Kellys spare room and use his address on the membership forms to squirm my way into the Queensland team...  but I'm sure no-one really would have been bothered.  Aussie nationals is an amazing competition, I still think it's the closest you can get to playing at a Worlds in terms of structure of the competition and rhythm of games.  I had the luck to play with a few Aussies of my generation in Colombia in 2010, and I've been back to Aussie nationals a couple more times too.  Over the last few years Aussie teams have been starting to come over the ditch and attend some of our comps here in NZ, which is really nice and always adds a great flavour to the comps.


So anyway,  we got to play them in Quebec!  Again we were in the same group, like 2016 in SA.  However, they had then gone on to win that comp while we had bombed out in the Quarters....   yep, still stings.

We did have a couple of games of footage to watch of them at this stage, but that's the thing about these guys...  they have probably changed their style of play the least of any team in the world since I ever started playing them, and from well before if footage I've seen is any guide.  Every other team has chopped and changed trying to make adjustments while they have kept on refining the game they like to play.  They just trust their gameplan 1000%  and go out and do it and they are always chockfull of quality players who all have very very strong basic skillsets...    flat bodies on turns, hard and fast swimmers, chase in support, follow their passes, they just do all the basics right.  One of my favourite aussie players is Rees Quilford, who will tell you he only needs 3 skills...  swerve, curl, and pass.  He also has bulletproof tackles, knockdowns and can do everything else as well, but I don't like to argue with him.  I get his point anyway, which is good basics gets you a long way.

There's a reason they haven't changed too much either...  Oz is huge.  It's a massive $$$ to get their players together to have a camp, and when you compare it to Holland, France, NZ, GB?  All those countries can get their players together on a weekend and develop new approaches pretty easily and cheaply, so the scope for development is far higher.  Some of those countries have had some very dramatic shifts in formation and gamestyle over the years, accordingly...  A team as spread out as Aussie is, it's a lot more tricky.

Now having said they don't often change much...  well of course we watched their games.  You have to do all you can against every opposition and there are things to pick up even with a team you think you might know well.

For example, for years and years they did this on attacking Freepucks....

They set a hanging fwd line and bombed it to the middle guy then drove.  Just using it to restart running play really.  Some little variations on the goalbin, one fwd might sit up on the corner of the goal, but this was the standard setplay for a long time.  They blew my mind one year when they passed it to the half and then he threw the same pass to the center-forward, but this has been the play forever (that everyone copies, the turks, GB, and us too recently.)

Of late they have been doing a slight variation, just to prove me wrong.

The pass sometimes goes up alongside the hanging line and they often manage to get the fwd on that side a bit of a swim around the edge of the opposition formation.  They aren't trying to contain and drive straight anymore, but trying to spit it out the side and get someone around the outside.

Anyway, so how did the game go?  It was a great one for us in the end.

Here's the link.

We played at lunchtime and both teams would play again later that evening.  

So right from the start, here's something to contrast some of our earlier games

Aus in possession (white) is a back, and his forward is waiting on the other side of the opposing back, ahead of him waiting for the pass.  We would almost never see that in games against Arg or Col earlier in the comp.  We do this too, so in this respect it's a lot more familiar to play against fwdlines that operate this way.

In the first few minutes we got a couple of Adv pucks in front of their bin, and the second one we got the puck in underneath them and converted the goal.  Very standard free puck, we were doing a copy-cat of their own hanging forward line approach and the pass went through.

After a bit of back and forth, Aus had a break towards our bin and ended up obstructing, and had a guy binned for a minute.  This play ended up being pretty pivotal in the game.  Aus had their guy swimming to the sinbin, and because it was in front of our subs bench it was very fast for us to sub a couple of guys.  But, the Aussies had a lot of subs, in particular the 2 fwd players who would be playing the front 2 in their 2-3 while they were a man down. (like most teams, Aussie drops a fwd when playing with 5)

This meant we started the play with 6 and the nearest Aussie fwd wasn't even at the 3m line, and he was therefore easily beaten with a pass.  The other fwd tracked across from the subs bench but couldn't affect the play and we had a 6 on 3 against the Aus backline, and the guys did very well to trap the drive and roll it to the goal.

So we were 2-0 up.  Not long after there's a nice snippet of a classic Aussie change of direction from Tommy...

Kinda notably, Aus then had a free in their D left corner and did a flat switch to their own subs bench, Gav took the puck and Andrew was the forward on that side for us.  This repeated a few times later in the game which ended up being pretty relevant.  When a team switches in front of you the first time they might catch you by surprise....  2nd or 3rd time, bit harder to pull off.

Here's a nice snippet of Andre pulling off a nice fade into the middle

For interest, you can see (a bit blurrily) in this clip how Andre is using monkey grip in his turn, with his thumb up over his stick to get that snappy curl with control.  He's looking over his own elbow well before the puck is coming around too, which is awesome to see if you're a coach.

Pixely monkey-grip.  This is why hooks aren't big in NZ.

Not long after, a refs call stops the game and Rob flicks the puck as everyone starts to go up...  puck hits an Aussie fin(foot?) and ref overides the call and Rob is binned, a first!  Binning for a pass after the play is stopped, that is.  He's been in the bin before.

A minute later I went to the bin too for obstruction and Aussie had a good opportunity to get a bit of 6 on 4 action.  Nick ran it straight off the free puck with his trademark Choo choo train plume of bubbles...

It's a good thing his lungs are so big, because he blows out more than mine can hold every time he swims in to belt someone.

We had a minute or so to hold out until halftime and Rob was back in not long before that, and we did manage to hold out.  We had a few things to sort out when down to 5 after the COL game and we had put a big emphasis on improving it, and it really showed in this game, for example here.

Jesse and Andre, clubmates from Phoenix, in tandem here.  Jesse lays back to Andre and then rolls on around him to become the guy who backs him up.  This is great covering.  This is where Jesse being so damned enthusiastic about everything pays off bigtime.

So, we then had a few minutes with some sinbins each way, and both teams were struggling to get the obstruction interpretation just right.  We got some better clarity on exactly how the refs were ruling it after the game, but hindsights a lovely thing.

Jesse went to the bin and Jamie from Aus was just about to re-enter the water, and Gav notices this, and goes wide to try to connect as Jamie comes in fresh, you can see him plonk down from the wall at the end of this gif...

But, things became very stop start with lots of fouls and neither team able to get a roll on, irrespective of who had what powerplay. (powerplay = 6 on 5/4 situation)

Minutes later, Jack is in the sinbin about to re-enter and Aus has a free in front of their subs bench on the 5m.  Gav takes it again, Andrew is our fwd who is expecting this by now, and you can see in the vid Gav looking over to the sinbin seeing jack about to drop in, but the 2 Aus fwds, subbed in and ready this time, haven't twigged to this and are taken by surprise and take a looong time to get over, leaving the half isolated...

you can see Jack swimming in and down in this Gif but our fwd Andrew by this time has shut down the Aus half who is unable to connect to his forwards, our wing drives to the goal and Jeremy does a small-stick special to slide it in behind and Andrew manages to score it.

Aussie then put us under a heap of pressure for the rest of the game basically.  They got a couple adv pucks working their way up the court and then about 5 in a row on our bin, the last couple with sinbins until we were down to 4 again when they had a goal disallowed.  This is what Andrew Carr liked to call "squeaky bum time" ala Alex Ferguson.  3 goals are a lot but you can leak goals really quick when you are down to 4 players, so this was very tense.  We held out and the game finished 5 on 5,  really good experience for both teams moving on into the comp and especially for our younger guys.  Great to have a lot of kickouts early so you can get used to it.

We had a good chat to the refs afterwards and the interpretation was that they were judging a defenders shoulders and head to be allowed to hold their ground, but he had to try to move his back/bum/legs out of the way of an attacking player trying to swim through.  In past comps this had been the players bum/back/legs had every right to be there as long as he wasn't moving into the way, so an attacking player swimming into someones bum would be the one barging.  All the pods of refs seemed to agree so our refs seemed to be ruling it correctly in terms of the general approach the refs group was taking, but it did seem like the interpretation might have morphed back to the older one by the time of the playoff games, so we had this kind of thing in the Quarters for instance...

In the playoffs, defender could leave his body where it is, and an attacker trying to go through gets the raw end of the deal.  If a defender moves his bum out of the way you are good to go but if he holds his position you end up face-planting his backside and he is legal.  The refs were consistent which is the most important thing, and I will do a post later on about how they were setup and the new systems they were using.

Next post, Game 5 BELGIUM


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Quebec 2018 #7 - Game 3 COL, switches and breakfast mince

Saturday, and we had only one game for the day, Colombia with an O not a U.

Where Canadians store all their gear.  No budgies down there though (I assume)

At this stage in the comp, we had a routine running that had developed over the warmup days.  Every time we went anywhere, drove to the pool, dropped our bags and raced for the toilets before (name with-held) got there and befouled them...  every time we ran through a warmup, dry or wet, whatever, Benny would take his notebook out from the cubby-hole in his beard and be working out timings to get a handle on exactly how long it took us as a group to do anything. 

Anatomy of a coach

Warmup area

Second day of the comp there were still tweaks being made, a little longer here, not so long there, guys maybe requesting a bit more time for x and y, but it was getting close to settled.  We generally used the area in the photo above for a bit of stretching and yoga, and it had tremendous acoustics which came into play when the GB boys arrived to use the area with gigantic speakers and a nightclub playlist.

At some stage, some guys making some form of documentary latched on and took a bit of footage here and there, and we saw them stalking other teams as well.  Another first.  Whens the thing coming out and will we all get to see it?  Is it pay per view? Dunno.

Not to be outdone, our womens team also had a routine for warmups etc.  However, while theirs involved a lot of laughing and smiling, we tended to go more for the stretching groans and farting noises.

Single leg-stands.  Showoffs!

Tris pwning Fortnite noobs while Nick is very impressed


The day before while we had been distracted by our own affairs, some epic battles had gone on in other games, 2 that stood out.

First, Aussie had drawn 0-0 with Colombia.  That is a really rare scoreline, and at worlds, in 3m where games often score higher?  Amazing.

Second, let me get this right...  GB had drawn with Turkey 2-2 in a massive grudge match, and then protested the result afterwards and won the protest, then winning the game 3-2.  Drama!

I saw the end of the GB/TUR game poolside, and it really was a thriller.  Very tense.  These guys had been bashing 7 colours of snot out of each other all over Europe since the big Semi-final in SA 2016, and Bernie the GB coach made no secret that they had been working steadily to counter the Turkish game over the past couple of years.

The Turks got up to 2-0 early, and this turned out to be a bit of a theme for GB as they dropped early goals in many of their close matches, but after a hair-dryer team-talk or two from their coach they always managed to go up a couple of gears and come back.  On full-time, GB were back to 2-2 and had the puck on the Turkish bin for an adv with only a few seconds to go.

Hard to tell as it was first day, no clocks etc but with a man in each sin-bin GB put 4 guys up in a wall and chucked it in, and trapped it in long enough to get it in the tray. 

The refs disallowed the goal at the time but on the protest must have sorted out the timeline and GB took the game after all, a big win for them that they'd been targeting.  Both teams had the players and capabilty to go wide and use space (in spades), but it almost seemed like there was a bit of a challenge felt, that maybe they each just wanted to get stuck in and beat the other guys on the wall and channel?  Like the scene in the movies where in the last standoff, both antagonists throw away their guns and finish the fight hand-to-hand.  Exactly what you want at a worlds, center stage for a great soap opera.

Meanwhile, as the cleanup crew got to work scrubbing the bone, gristle and hair off the goaltrays and walls in court 2, the game in court 1 had just finished 0-0 between COL and AUS.

If you're coaching it's a great game to have a look at, here's the link.  Why?

This was the Aussies first game, and while they are always big on playing their style, this was like all 10 of them had been listening to sleep hypnosis tracks of their coach saying "switch, switch, switch" all night for a month.  They came out at the start of the match switching like a strobe light.  In the first 90 seconds before the refs made the first call they had made 3 full swings around the backline.  Then Colombia got a chance to touch the puck and the Aussies were unable to find much opportunity for the rest of the game (well, one more off an adv puck and one that went a bit hairy in the second half).  But nonetheless that first couple of minutes has some great examples of Aussie switching.

The Aussies are famous as the masters of swinging it around the backs.  Do they do anything differently to everyone else?  Well, they seem to start their switch differently to most teams.  They go backwards to switch far more than anyone else, generally.  The half who initiates it also doesn't switch as a last resort when he's out of options and surrounded, he looks to do it well before that.  Then when he turns he swims back a few kicks, and bombs to the fullback who often also swims backwards.  This gives each player more time before he gets hit by a forward in which to make his pass.

In this way they try to keep ahead of the chasing forward line and get around the outside.  Most other countries players (including ours from NZ) tend to turn and pass back from a stationary position which can be shut down by the wall forward or center far more easily.  Often backs only switch when they find themselves turned already in position, and then bomb it out without really proactively originating the movement themselves.

Also, check out this slick pickup in front of camera.  It's not often you get good examples of skills plain on screen (unfortunately). Generally a good indication of how much control a player has is how quickly he or she takes their eyes off the puck and gets their head up to look for whats coming next.  Great skill here from Jack.

It's at 18:00 in the vid to see it real-time, this GIF is very slow.



"this is the incorrect way to hold the stick"

The world cup in Medellin, 2010 was a fantastic tournament and Danni and I got to meet and get to know a bunch of the Colombian players.  They are super friendly, amazingly enthusiastic about hockey and it's no surprise that they have now found a great way to get people to their amazing facility to play with the 3x3 tournament.  They are always an awesome challenge to play against in a test match and we have been lucky enough to be in their group each worlds since the split from full RR.

The first thing that always struck me about Colombia is the names.  

They all have so many awesome sounding names.  Romantic and dashing like characters out of a western.  We have two 4-name players, they have seven.  Plus with the latin sauciness, they beat us here hands down.  I think we had the edge in beards though, maybe that helps even things up.

Their womens team also has a huge names advantage over our NZ Womens team.  24 names to 44!

The way they play, I love that they do things like this...

Watch the COL player swimming out to the right on the surface before dropping and waiting for the puck while the play is going on behind him.  Sneaky!  Also very calm and disciplined.

The last time NZ men played Colombia at worlds was in 2016, in South Africa.  It was first thing in the morning, still dark in the outside pool, murky, freezing cold because the pool staff for some reason didn't think it necessary to turn on the heaters for an international tournament....  conditions, to be blunt, were horrendous.  We had to make adjustments to play in the freezing dark, and we came from New Zealand where it is always cold and dark, and sometimes not just in winter (I'm looking at you, Wellington and South island).  But if you might have thought this would affect the Colombians, who come from a country where there is essentially no seasons and just nice weather all year round a bit wetter or drier?  No way.  They put on a storming game, and beat us 2-1 (possibly faulty precise scoreline memory).  

In Quebec in heated water with light and where the refs and players could actually see, it was a nice game to play.

I wish I knew exactly how they organize themselves.  They definitely had a bit of the Argentinian everyone-rolling-behind-the-puck thing going on, but only in some areas of the pool, maybe in more defensive areas.  They are a lot more fluid than most teams...  guys jump over players a lot, hitting both sides of an opposition.

This guy is a back, too (I think!).  Most teams a backline player would hold his side and let another player take the other side...  sometimes a forward might do this if he'd just subbed in and was frothing to make an impact.  In NZ there used to be a rule/saying for backs, that you never follow an opposition around his turn, for example.  We are such fuddy-duddy conservatives.

They scored a nice goal against us with some good celebrations to go with it...  of course passion in the pool and in the stands are what these guys are famous for as well.  Ai!  Ai-ai-ai!

Gooooooooooooollll!  And Cuy has big muscles.

Turning of the match was probably 10 mins into the first half, Col had a free puck and took it sideways to their bench, we were then able to bring it off on the angle while they had a guy subbing and before he could get involved we got the puck in behind their central line and Brendan drove to the goal with Nick finishing on the outside.  It can be a huge advantage having the play next to your bench, but if the timing goes wrong it can hurt you as well. 

Straight after this we scored a goal on the strike, a great bit of team play and backing up from Rob and Nick and finished off by Gunny.

Cuy got his goal to bring it back to 2-1 not long after but the 2 goal jump really made the Colombians chase us and we were able to control things until the end, ending 3-2.

The reffing was un-noticeable, which is to say, fantastic.  There was at least 1 of theirs in the bin at one stage, we might have gone for a couple of minutes too but nothing memorable really, game was in a good spirit.  The calls were consistent and the reffing group system seemed to be producing good results so far.

Rob did a great interview after the game, but the sound was off so no-one could hear it.  

It was I think this day, we must have got back after the game at 1?  Early afternoon anyway.  I watched a movie I think after lunch, I was feeling pretty tired, fell asleep.  When I woke up, it was grey outside and Ed had already gone to breakfast.  I was feeling pretty groggy but much better.  Sleep was a bit broken at home with our little one so I wasn't used to having such a massive snooze.

Walking into the kitchen, I was the last one in and Sarah and Jane were behind the table handing me a heaped plate of Pasta and Mince.  This was the weirdest breakfast, what happened to all the yoghurt and cereal and fruit?  Good to change things up though for sure, it had been getting a bit boring.  I went and sat down, making a couple of remarks about how weird it was to be eating mince for breakfast.  I wondered if we would have bacon the next day which would have been incredibly exciting.

As we walked out of the kitchen, I asked Jeremy how the analysis session had gone the night before, we were going to go over our Canada and Argentina games and I'd slept through it.

Unfortunately, Jeremy was our sheriff so there was no escaping a fine for thinking dinner was breakfast.  Later that night we watched the Canada and Argentina videos.

Next post - Game 4, defending World Champions AUSTRALIA



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Quebec 2018 #6 - Game 2 ARG and I am inundated with Womens team photos

EDIT:  Some problem with the gif website will see if I can get it fixed, apologies :)


Argentina.  We played our second RR game at 6pm that evening.  Argentina had played Belgium earlier that day and won 3-2, so they were off to a positive start.

We had played in a warmup so both teams had some idea of what to expect.

We pushed a goal in early driving it straight off a free puck in front of their goal.  The next goal happened to be on the close side so we can see a bit of footage as Andrew pushed around the left edge only for the Argentinian D to stop him on the bin and push down the wall.

Then Andre bombs it back to space finding Jesse who slots it through a row of defenders where it's finished by Jeremy on the other side, helped by a bit of a bunt from Ed to free it up.

So, I've mentioned before about how the Argentinians play a different style.  What am I on about?  Well, some things are pretty easy to see in terms of what a team is doing, or maybe planning, like this...

The wide player went down nearly 10 seconds before the play started on our first free puck, waiting for us to come wide.  Quite likely they were expecting us to go wide on frees based on our warmup game.  No-one was quite so enthusiastic again, but that wide player always set-up wide and came into the play from that angle, ready to shut things down if we went his way.

But, the reason these guys are fun to play is it's not really clear what they are doing.  It's always a bit of a guessing game anyway right?  The only people who know what an uwh team is really doing is the team itself, but with these guys it's even harder than usual to see because their forwards behave differently to most other teams.

Australia are an easy example to use, because everyone has been trying to copy them for 30 years and they still do it best.  We are very similar in NZ.

If you are a backline player in either of these 2 countries, you are almost always going to be moving into position in a spot behind the puck, between the puck and your goal.  You very rarely receive the puck from a team-mate behind you.  If you are in front of the puck, you are almost always out of position automatically.  This is pretty much the same for any formation or style of play.

Forwards will start behind the puck on strikes, free pucks etc, and if they find themselves behind the puck then fine, they will simply swim straight onto it and work.  But, if it goes behind them, they will stay ahead of the puck and operate between the puck and the opponents goal, backtackling, taking up space in opposition rotations, looking for positions to receive a pass from behind.  Some forwards operate exclusively up there, and some will roll around and drive onto the puck occasionally if they think their back needs a bit of momentum.  How far ahead the forwards look for passes is an adjustable element, you might need to drag them back a bit if passes arent going or the puck/pool bottom is rubbish.

Many many countries operate like this.  If you want to see who is playing what, just wait until the puck sits on a wall for a few seconds and see where players setup.  You will get a halfback on each team behind the puck on their respective sides,  and working forwards coming back to backtackle ahead of the puck.

So, Argentina do put forwards ahead of the puck and pass up/across to them, but only when they have the puck and on the fly, when the forward sees the play happening and swims up...  he is never up there waiting for an opportunity to open up.  Instead, the forward line seems to rotate back behind the puck and keep on driving onto it constantly, which makes it pretty difficult to see who is who and kinda irrelevant because everyone is doing the same thing apart from the outside half who hangs back further.  Sometimes, a lot further.  They essentially operate a rotation between forward and back on a given side.

Now just to make clear how little I really knew about the way they were playing, the Argentinians scored a goal against us by swimming to the subs bench, subbing a guy in at the forward end of the bench, passing past me to him and pissing off to score a great breakaway.  Shows what I know eh?

They obviously made a conscious decision to slow things down and hold possession a bit more just prior to this, which worked well for them.

Ed got a few "happy birthday"s in the chat for this game, it was his birthday!

For his present, the Uwh gods gave him this...

And I'm willing to bet it'll take longer to forget than the standard pair of socks from Auntie Uncle.

Argentina were most effective when they played their possession game and picked the right time to push through a gap, a lot of the play was far side but this is a good example

The score ended 9-1 to us.

Considering that ARG were being coached by Lugo, a Colombian, were the Colombians going to play a similar style?  COL were going to be our next game, so we were about to find out.


 I had asked for some photos showing the local habits of our womens team.  They have arrived in a flood!  So, some quick introductions.  For full intros, see the womens blog (I will link to it if someone starts one).

Meet the NZ Womens Uwh team, 2018.  I had forgotten how smiley they all are, but this is bringing it all back in a rush.  Our hallways were a mass of smiles 24/7 with these guys around

You can't catch these guys out not being happy

Here they are officiallyish, Jane and Rebecca Manager/Coach on the left.

These guys had 8 players for whom this was their first worlds.  8!  Not only is that amazing to do so well with such a young group, but also I may have just used the word "whom" in the right place.  Possibly.

The women got into the action with our ice-bath pretty much immediately, loving a challenge, and did the old "make something that guys make a big deal over seem a piece of piss"

Although, not all of them seemed to fully understand the game.

Here are Christie's actual recovery boots...

And here was the standard view of any given Womens room...

If you've never been to a competition with a NZ Womens team, you are missing out.  They are amazing.  They have everything you could possibly have meant to take and forgotten.  Also you can see them doing sensible things and copy them.  I highly recommend it.

They even find time to do not-uwh stuff, which I hear is very healthy.

Next post will be Game 3 COL and epic show-downs in the other group games.


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Quebec 2018 #5 - Groups, Gear Mods and Game 1 CAN

The eve of the comp.  So this was the grouping in our grade...

Really similar to the groups from the last worlds in 2016, funnily enough the top 3 seeds in each group remain exactly the same, but of course some countries are returning (Portugal among others and JAPAN who we last saw in 2006 and got a standing ovation at the opening ceremony for making it back to Worlds).  Do the groups have contrasting play-styles?  Some thought yes.  Which one was the tougher?  Was one a group of death type thing? Time would tell.

We were starting to get to know our way around a wee bit by now.  Apparently according to the map provided by the organisers below, P (methamphetamine) is obviously just as much a problem here as it is in other countries, but we didn't see any dealers in the areas they marked out or any obvious drug use at all in fact.  Around this time our drivers were coming to grips with the free right turns on red lights.  But was Brendan just making this rule up?  I still don't know.

Map of the Pool surrounds

Map of complex

 I mentioned people using their down-time messing around modifying their gear earlier.  Well, here are some specific examples of the little things people customize when given hours of time with nothing else to do...

Mouthguard hooks
These are attached to the end of the guard and hook into the bottom of the earpiece to add a bit of extra security and stop any movement of the end of the mouthguard.  Hinders being able to talk easily though...  a big plus for any mouthy members of a team likely to back-chat the ref.  This one isn't a mod I make use of but some people feel incomplete without it. We will have these little fellas available shortly on our site.

Earpiece padding
This is foam cut into a hoop and glued onto the inside of the earpiece.  Helps cushion impacts, reduce chances of an ear injury, just be a bit comfier.  Jake Hocking invented this as far as I know, and also has a large piece of padding glued into the top of the cap like a mohawk as he has a slightly small head and likes the cap to be tight.  Also he is quite tall and walks into the tops of doors so this must help there too.  If you scratch the surface up glue will stick best, superglue or hot melt. This really makes caps super comfy, I am a big fan.

Earpiece integrity
Some makes of caps have earpieces where the 2 parts aren't fully welded together and can pop off with impact.  You can finish off the weld properly with a hot screwdriver or similar.

That little bit sticking through needs to be melted and squished

Lots of players get by with finger loops these days but for test-matches you want to be sure you're not going to be losing your stick.  This is the Lanyard I use...

Avoids needing a hole in the middle of the stick (which I used to do with wood when I was a teen), it's clean, and you can leave one or two fingers out for a bit more movement, or keep them all in if you have a wandering finger and need some help keeping it on your stick. The cord itself is 3-4mm elastic bungy cord, very easy to make yourself or you can get them here.

Trimming foot pockets
New backup fins for some people need a bit of trimming to fit just right

Regluing composite fin foot pockets
Superglue is in high demand around our accommodation, and not just for the fumes.

Painting Sticks
Nah just kidding, but 10 years ago this was probably the biggest thing you had to worry about with everyone having wooden sticks!

Sarah put a blindfold on and practised for hours until she could reassemble a popped lense from a Sphera mask in 15 seconds without catching any of the annoying seal bits in the frame, this is a skill she has perfected and it always comes in handy tournament time.

Jesse started putting layers of strapping tape on his knees as soon as we arrived so by the time the comp started he already had 5 or 6 layers of protection, but of course the velocity of those knees hitting the tiles just can't be denied and he still ended up with cuts every game.

We are finally at the first game!


Canada.  I first saw them play in 2000 at my first Worlds in Hobart, when half of them had these funny long thin sticks like boomerangs... kinda like this but thinner even...

I had never seen anything like that before, totally weird.  But they were so aggressive, they blew us away in the RR game and our coach Tim couldn't get over things like this

Which is pretty snazzy huh, the roll sideways to bounce off the wall?

The Canadian 2000 team was amazing, they had 7 guys returning from the last squad in 98 and that's always powerful to have so much carry-over between comps.  There was a guy named Faycal who was totally awesome somewhere in their backline, and their forwards were fit and fast and just ganged up on breaks and did massive damage.  Their semi-final against I think France was crazy because they had a guy sent out for the game in the first half(?) and still made it very very close, I think it might have only been a goal in it in the end before France went on to the final.  I heard the guy sent was done for headbutting while swimming dolphin kick but I'd love to know the real story actually if anyone knows the exact details.

2000 worlds.  The most mad worlds ever, possibly.  There was that controversy in the mens Semi.  There was the Turkish team turning up for their first worlds ever, having played Uwh for 3 months and getting all their stick designs off the internet with gear like this...

The Turks all couldn't believe it when they saw a puck lift off the bottom of the pool.

There was some tactical innovations from the Dutch that literally changed the game where they held the puck in their own corner all game and only broke to attack together when they were ready.  This instigated the introduction of the corner rule afterwards, and was nuts to play against, especially when you're a young fella at your first worlds with brain not engaged, which was me.

There was the amazing goal-bin tangles, with only 2 refs and lets be honest not at the level of the refs of today, some teams just stopped the puck with their hands or picked the puck out of the bin, which caused the attacking team to throw everyone onto the corner of the bin to prevent this, ditto defenders until no-one could even see the goal and the play looked like a big tangle of legs.  Gutted I can't find a screenshot of this as I only had copies on tape.

And then there was the team from Moldova, who all turned up for a warmup day with $20 yellow snorkling sets, splashed around for an hour, and then disappeared and were never seen again, having successfully smuggled themselves into Australia.

So anyway, that was a great and very unlucky Canadian team.  Some years later only 2 of them were left when we had a practice game against them before the 2006 comp, and things actually got so heated with fouls the Canadian coach pulled his team out and cancelled the practice.  We should really have had some refs, in hindsight!  Later in the comp though they found themselves in another crazy game vs the Dutch in a playoff, at 4-4 fulltime.  

They had come back from 2-4 down to equalize.  During extra time the Dutch eventually got up 6-4, but the game ended in the last couple of minutes with a frenzy.  I remember looking over from the other court where our game had just finished and wondering what on earth was going on.

Excitement aplenty, 3 vs 2.

By 2018 there was one player remaining from that 2000 team (Richard Andrade) and a bunch of young enthusiastic talent, and they were playing at their home comp which is a huge boost for motivation so we didn't know quite what to expect.  They had been trying out a 2-3-1 setup for the past couple of years with a very regimented wall focus in the Hawaii competition.  How much would that relax in a deeper pool, and as they had developed further in their team pattern?

Benson made Gunny and Brendan waterboys for this first game, 2 of our most experienced players.  This dropped all our young debutants right into a test-match on day one and they were fizzing for it as only young fellas can fizz.

We managed to get on the front foot early and put in 3 or 4 goals before the Canadians really had a chance to get themselves firing, before an advantage puck was even called.  The puck sat for long periods on the corner of the goalbin with the defenders unable to clear and attackers unable to finish for a long time, this became a recurring theme in this pool.  The game was very clean with maybe only 1 or 2 sinbins and very few calls.

Here are a few highlights and snippets from the game.  Apologies for the ads on the gifs.

Free pucks are a good chance to see setups.  Here you can see CAN putting 2 fwds in the channel and trying to set them up to drive and make ground from their defensive end.  Really similar to how a lot of our patterns look as well, leaving the goalie on the surface as a sweeper until he's needed.

Canada Number 8.  This break looked very fast and scary in the game, an adventurous angle from the corner.  This pool was great for these angles.  Thankfully someone else tackled him before he made it to me. (Thanks Nick)

We had the obligatory camera guys learning the ropes on a first day, no commentary and some growing pains as the organisers jiggled a few things into place, no score overlays etc but everything was pretty good given all that.  The reffing seemed to have started pretty well too.

When we got rolling forwards the Canadians struggled to stop us and spread the puck away and that's where we got most of our goals.  They put us under pressure when they held onto the puck and worked possession, like this passage

But they weren't able to do this consistently enough to put us under sustained pressure.

I messed up a barrel roll in this game.  Jesse told me afterwards that some clubmates of his from Canada were very unimpressed with someone pulling out such a tacky move at worlds.  A common viewpoint!  They put you in front of a firing squad for doing that in Australia.  But, I want to jump to the defence of the always-criticized barrel roll....  it's just a tool in a toolbox that never gets used after all.

When people learn to barrel roll, it's like a new cordless drill in your toolbox.  Then often people try to bang in nails with that drill, wash dishes with it, brush their teeth, no idea when to use it and for what.  Eventually it goes back into the toolbox after their team-mates have an intervention and it rusts away un-used.   Anyway.  Here's me fluffing it up slightly by losing the puck mid-roll and having to look back and re-collect it above my head and therefore losing the timing to be able to get the pass around the Canadian outside forward and swimming shame-faced back to the wall...

It's really the only time you can use it in a game, picking up loose puck with an opponent that side of you.  It can be better than a reverse curl tackle pickup because the guy can't get an arm under your body to reach for it, plus if you do it right you end up with the puck on the front of your stick immediately on the other side swimming away.  This is it done better, in 2000 when it was all I practised 24/7 (other than backflicks).  Unfortunately this is a blooper too as the guy I'm rolling it off is on my team.  Still beat him to it though!  Oh dear.  Too late for an intervention guys, I'm retired.

EDIT - I was just sent the link to the Toronto Facebook page with an epic discussion/debate about barrel-rolls following this.  Pretty interesting to see all the different viewpoints, and people putting a lot of thought into things like this! I'm not smart enough to link the post directly, it's on July 21st.  According to that thread, the second gif above is probably a "full" barrel-roll most people are talking about.  All I was doing was a half one to get swimming wide quickly. Will just repeat the intervention/retirement comment! 

Back to the game, which was otherwise noteworthy for Jesse trying something a bit outlandish on a free-puck which didn't work very well, and then telling himself off unprompted in the debrief afterwards and reverting to his epic trademark dummy-punches through the rest of the tournament.  No intervention required!

The game finished up 9-0, a better than hoped for start for us and a great first hit-up for the young guys who were in their first worlds game.

The next game was vs Argentina in the afternoon.  Australia and Colombia had just battled to a nil-all draw earlier, and Turkey had a controversial game against Britain which finished with a draw and was then protested.  

Meanwhile, it was about this time back home that the girls had just had a day at the beach with Nana, and thankfully the accommodation wifi was solid so we could all get skyping to family back home.

Nana and the little one having a lovely walk.  Meanwhile, photo-bombing in the background, my eldest runs around like a savage covered in mud.  You just can't fight genetics.

Next post, Game 2 vs Argentina

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Quebec 2018 #4 - Pre-Competition Camp

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.

Butt Angel

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.

Intro time!

Gunny #99

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 #102

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 #121

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 #106

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 #100

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 #120

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.

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