Hindsight Diary - Quebec 2018
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?
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.
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
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
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.
GAME 3 - COL
"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
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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!
ROUND ROBIN GAME 1 - CANADA
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
This apparently is a groundhog or Marmot. I didn't see one up close but I think it turned out to be Gabi's spirit animal? All the womens team were assigned these by elders in their tribe (Rebecca and Jane, Coach and Manager). We were staying in the same accommodation as our womens team, which I should have mentioned by now if I haven't already. This was great as they are a great bunch and there was an awesome supportive atmosphere between the teams.
I don't have a bunch of pics with them to hand, have asked a few to send me some but no luck yet so for now, here is a sweat angel created by one of their team who shall remain nameless, but who was as proud of this as I was impressed by it.
Quickly swinging back into Uwh details, we also played the USA Elite men as part of our warmups, which was extra special as Ollie #105 a past member of our team was playing with them, along with a bunch of guys that many of us knew from past comps. We had a sweet social dinner out with them in the old town, can't remember which exact night but I'll bang the pic up here...
Was a nice night. Look at those happy faces. The restaurant didn't have Raspberry Coke though. Not as civilized as I expected..
For the game itself, it went pretty much like the Argy one, both teams put each other under pressure. We were starting to feel a little more comfortable in the pool I would say, but it was the US guys first hit-out in their precamp. The US team we thought would be a bit of a surprise package for anyone who underestimated them... they have been building development teams for the last couple of worlds but in 2018 they had a bunch of experienced guys who knew their own ability and were confident.
The US has a big playing community and so many clubs, it's just the spread over the huge country that must be a difficulty. They will always have the potential and the players, it's just a case of have they got enough high level players to get a nucleus together in a given year, are they able to gel well enough? If the answers are yes to both they are a threat to go far in any comp. In Hawaii 2015 and 2017 they were very competitive with their top teams, and they played and beat a very good Barbarians team including some of our Kiwi boys in the buildup to Quebec.
Right from the outset in the warmup game they played very expansive hockey, they went anywhere in the pool they thought they could find a foothold to exploit and were pretty much fearless in that regard, from both back and forward-lines. This isn't always the case with most teams being far more conservative under pressure, so we felt like they were a real contender. More on specifics when we get to the USA later in the comp, but that's not for a while as they were in the other side of the draw.
Meanwhile, Sarah had been sorting out the best places to get all the canned beans from.
Somewhere in there is the breakfast mince.
Ollie had given me the heads-up on a recovery device he and some of the US guys had been using about christmas-time or so, and after reading up on it and seeing a write-up by an aging triathlete who used it to try to keep up with younger competitors, I got one and started using it. Was I worried about getting too old? Maybe. I have found that getting a bit more senior, the main difference is just it takes a little longer to recover from training so this seemed like a good idea to help.
Not my legs, but I'll use the photo. (mine are smaller and whiter)
This toy was pretty good! Also a psychological prop, probably. If you think it looks a bit weird, just wait until I find a pic of the recovery gear the women's team were using, courtesy of Christie.
Christie's recovery boots
Also useful in an alien infestation
Christie's boots and my EMS ended up doing the rounds a bit helping shake out a few legs in our hallway, plus Gunny had an EMS too. Andre wins the prize for being able to withstand the least amount of discomfort of anyone... not an electrical guy. Maybe his personality is just too grounded.
Andrew Gunn, I remember initially coming through school a bit after me, as a skilful center type playing for Onslow College who probably preferred space rather than confrontations. Fast forward 20 years or so and he still likes space, but if it's on the other side of you he likes it just as well to go through you to get there. He uses a custom rubber-coated plastic stick of his own design and manufacture, Najades and a Hydro prototype glove customized with post-production adjustments to suit.
Andre is another Uwh wanderer like Rob, having spent a few years in Europe bouncing around playing every tournament there is and being incredibly enthusiastic about anything Uwh. He uses Soft Rockets, a Ninja glove, and Full-foot Breiers. Andre had a bit of an injury scare a couple months before the comp which had us all worried, but thankfully it all came right in time.
Look at that sad face at the thought of being injured for the comp!
Around this time we had our last dinner out for a while, as we had by then figured out the kitchen and bought an army-load of crockery, utensils and a fridge.
The last touches to our entertainment were also picked up, with some trips to Walmart.
Settlers, plus a poker set.
Ed and Jeremy also staged a hunt around Walmart to find objects representing various relevant team concepts... pretty much got them all too, here's just a few. I won't explain in any way at all, just to foster a sense of mystery.
Ed is big, strong, was clean-shaven in the morning and the profile pic was taken about 2pm. This was his first year at worlds, although he's played international level before and been a member of the nz squad for a number of years. He uses Stingrays, Full-foot Breiers and a custom silicon glove. Ed is a Winger. He is generally pretty sensible, which is probably why they made him my room buddy... But he'll still try to eat 70 hamburgers at 2am after a worlds function.
Bon Apetit... More on this photo later
And the guy holding the camera in Walmart,
Jeremy is an old stager now, he was once an earnest young man playing schools hockey in Wellington, now he's an earnest old man who likes to dance and has what must literally be the smallest stick on the planet. He uses a customized Shiv with a big hole in it, reducing the water resistance from slight to non-existent. He also uses a Ninja glove and Najades modified to fit a size big so he can get more POWER when he's playing in his position of forward.
About this time we had a kerfuffle with the gear check I think, with colours being broadly too dark or light....
Top glove judged too dark. Bottom glove too light....
(Photo credit Andy from Belgium)
As a manufacturer this was a bit stressful, especially as it affected our Ninja gloves quite a bit, but after trying spray-paint which works at home but doesn't dry so well in humidity (or something!) we found nail polish to be a good solution. Thanks Gabi. So with all our gloves nail-polished up we were a step closer to the comp starting.
I'll note that since we got home we have done some incremental colour testing to try to hit a shade the refs will judge just right, and apparently something is in the works to give people better guidelines next time... progress!
Next... Spain. We played them in a warmup with the French masters following afterwards.
Spain again similar to the USA we knew would be quality because of inside info, Jesse had played with most of them in Europe. Plus Benson coached a bunch of them in U23s, and I managed to get myself on teams with a few of them while I was in Europe too.
Jesse Hocking, he of the dummy-punch, extremely painful elbows and bleeding knees. He's one of those guys that the first time you play him, someone on your team says in the team-talk, "watch out for that guys dummy" and then you get in and he goes past you and then next game you're the guy in the team-talk saying "watch out for that guys dummy". He uses custom Stingrays 2009 style with the thin handle but mega reinforcing, a Ninja glove and Najades.
A "dummy" is the NZ name for a swerve, deek, sidestep.
So, we knew something of what to expect with Spain, some of the Spanish guys have the cleanest sharpest skills around but they were all very fit and fast too. Julian #96 was the spanish mens coach, and turned up to the comp in disguise with an afro, a moustache and lacking the famous Budda belly which got him his nickname. Hamish got a fine for re-introducing himself before recognizing him.
I thought he looked kinda dashing anyway
Hamish Arthur is otherwise known as "Bucket". This is because he once put a bucket on his head at a training camp, dropped down to the bottom of the pool and ate 3 cheeseburgers while breathing the trapped air. No not really I made that up, sorry. But this part is true, Bucky came in from the U23 team in 2017 and plays forward. He uses Soft Rockets, Murena Fins and a Ninja glove. He's one of only two players in our team who really likes to rock out with his dolphin kick on a breakaway, the other being Andrew.
Which brings us to I think our last Intro...
Andrew Harris #113
Andrew is a proud gammy, returning some much-needed lefty goodness into the team after a few years of 100% boring right handers. In fact the last lefty in the team was himself back in 2011, and before that Julian in 2008! This photo is also possibly the only one ever taken where Andrew isn't smiling, so don't be fooled, he's very friendly. He uses a custom silicon glove, Soft Katana 260s and Najades.
Back to warmups. The Spanish were one of the first teams to switch to a 2-3-1 similar to the formation we use, on the back of some NZ coaching exposure I guess. They had some dangerous forwards and some extremely physical players on the wing including one fella who hit like he-man, along with slick operators in the middle and were a handful. Sadly this was the only chance we had to play them as they were in the other pool and we didn't cross paths later in the comp. Many of our team followed their progress very closely as the comp went on, and our hallway was filled with whoops and excruciating sighs when they had a game and we were home.
When we played the French Masters it felt weird as we'd been playing against over half of them in the mens grade for 10 years or more, some had been constant opposition for 18 years (20 for Benson). It gave us a different set of things to work on again. The deep pool changes things so much, it didn't feel like playing a french team as they are usually able to crowd the bottom a lot more, but again getting used to these differences was what it was about. This french team was full of super confident players with big balls and they tried to go wide and straight using the space with a lot of freedom. They went on to dominate the masters grade, as it turned out. More on the french later, and the elite team which we would eventually get to play as well.
The pool setup was great, the team behind the scenes had been beavering away putting it all together and it had been mainly complete through most of our pre-camp...
Dozens of Canadas top jigsaw puzzle fans converged to assemble the courts
Unfortunately one of the only things that hadn't been sussed out beforehand was the tops of the barriers were pretty sharp, we got a little cut up here and there in warmup week by them. The organisers taped foam over the top which fixed it but it was black tape and foam which ended up right on the horizon of the camera view and blocked a bit of gameplay. Bummer. Poor Caleb from Team Canada also tore his arm up on a temporary goalbin in the warmups and had to sit the first few days of the comp, which was rubbish luck. This is exactly the same injury suffered exactly the same way as one Nat Marshall received before the SHC in 1999, and many others I'm sure... Goalbins are a hazard in warmups. Good thing to be aware of next time I guess, but apart from those hiccups, the facilities were looking top notch.
Caleb the People's Champ, pre-buff version
Quickly sidetracking, the poorest attempt I've seen or heard of to make up competition walls for Uwh was in Bari in 2007 at the UW Games. Everything looked good on our first practice session in the court and we were the first ones in, walls were ~400mm high (15 inches, for people from countries flinging satellites willy-nilly into space). However, when I flicked a puck at the barrier the puck disappeared! I found it had simply gone straight through because the wall was made of one layer of plastic corrugated sheet like this...
And it did not work very well
They must have double layered and prayed for the comp or something, can't remember.
We had one more warmup game, against Colombia. The GB guys had agreed to give us a friendly in our last session of pooltime but in the event, we were feeling a bit tired at that stage and Benson made a call to try to freshen us up a bit and cancelled the GB hitout. Bit of a pity as we had a good warmup against them in 2016 and it would have been a different style to our other warmup games, but the rest was good for us.
So Colombia, one of my favourite countries to play as they approach the game so differently to us, much more patient it always seems to me than most teams. Similar in some ways to the Argentinians, which considering the Argy coach (Lugo) wasn't surprising. The Colombians play in a 3m pool at home, and at altitude, so I was really interested to see the style they played, which you could argue would be the most adapted 3m game. GB play a lot of their comps in Ponds Forge as well which is 3m, so again it was going to be interesting to see their play too.
Colombia have been different and again were different in 2018 to the tactical approach that many teams take, a different flavour certainly. We were in the same pool and would hit them early in the RR. They always step up against us, and beat us in 2016 in the RR.
More goals each way I think, more bits and pieces to work on, a couple more video sessions trying to figure out what was happening, and the comp was about to begin.
But first, must mention the opening ceremony! This one was great, very short and to the point as these things go, very much appreciated! A long ceremony can get hot, tiring and dehydrating. This was a nice opportunity to catch up with players from other countries and say a few hellos, and try to figure out the international language of brotherly handshakes without doing this...
I amused myself trying to snapchat cheerleaders onto the court for a while, but the highlight was the Portugal team sitting below us.
Not natural bald spots
The portuguese haircuts were amazing. I should have had them do this when I coached them, if I could have thought of it. I would have insisted they all did this.
The opening ceremony was on the Wednesday, Capt and refs meetings were the next day with last practices, then the comp started on the Friday.
Question in comments, Zac is wondering why I use Murenas. Well, a high % of kiwi players now use hungarian fin-swimming fins of some sort, whether Murena or Najades. There's even some french ones called Powerfins around which are very similar too, but not as good in my opinion over long sessions (foot pocket quite soft).
Najades, Murenas, Powerfins
I think 4 guys in our elites used Breiers, the rest Najades and me and Bucket Murenas. It was a similar proportion in the NZ womens team. There is essentially very little difference between the fin-swimming models, but the Murenas have a much comfier strap and foot pocket and don't require trimming while the Najades do for some people (more on this next post). Najade Irons are noticeably stiffer and therefore faster but you need beefy legs to run them.
So what's the advantages? They're cheap. They fit in a backpack. Breiers cost $450NZD to get to NZ if you're lucky and if they snap you're broke. If you use them properly (ie take on and off correctly) fin-swimming fins won't break like fibre/carbon fins can. They point straight off your foot which is really nice and once you're used to them standard foot-pocket fins can feel quite heavy and clunky. They have lots of vanes and are short and very good for turning similar to the old Alas, whereas fibre fins especially custom pockets slide sideways through the water which really slows turning and is a disadvantage (I've timed it, it's a real thing).
Are they faster than carbon Breiers? Probably not. Are they slower? No they aren't. They just look a bit different and people take some time adjusting to different things... for example I heard an Aussie womens player commentating saying something like "she's going pretty fast despite wearing those little fins" ...when the fastest guy in her elite men is wearing them (and Tommy is blindingly quick) but she still thinks fin-swimming fins are a disadvantage? It's taking quite a while for information to sink in that these fins are a genuine alternative, and I guess it's just a human nature thing. I had the same reaction when I first saw a couple of guys from Hungary wearing them in Breda a few years back, I was like what are these tiny things? Benson lead the way with these fins in NZ and I'm glad he did as it gives all the kids a genuine performance fin option for comparatively cheap.
I really thought the fastest guys coming to Quebec would be french and turkish players driving breiers, and no surprise they were super swift but I saw those guys get beaten on strikes regularly by guys wearing Najades too so, I guess the upshot is they definitely work for some people.
For the record, I bought a new set of custom pocket Breier fibre fins before heading to Quebec just in case they turned out to be faster, trained a few sessions in them, had them in my bag as backup fins and never used them at the comp, used 6 month old blue Murenas and they were good for me.
Next post is the groups, gear mods and day 1 of the RR.
LAX. Not much to say, really.
We will never get that 2.5 hours in the custom hall back.
Travel is boring for everyone, I'll only mention that I took being sick very seriously and wore a SARS mask the whole way, kindly provided by various members of the womens team as the masks wore out.
Unclean but conscientious.
Anyway once we had flown halfway around the world, we finally arrived in Canada. Caught a glimpse of the Aussies sprinting through the carpark with the Trophy case on a trolley while we waited for hire cars... first taste of the comp. Classic.
So, off to find the uni dorms where we were staying, and bundled into our rooms after the usual amount of buggering about.
I was still sick, and sick of SARS masks. Good to have a manager with a sense of humour at times like these.
We had the day to get used to things, then the following day we were having a practice session to get used to the pool.
We had a mooch around the pool to check things out, such a great facility! And cool to see it empty before things got crazy.
Soon to be less tranquil.
So, there's a bit of downtime when you're actually on location with a team. In between eating, sleeping, and Uwh things people generally start looking for ways to amuse themselves, bugger about tinkering with their gear, or just relax. We immediately started upgrading our accommodation by looking for something we could use as an ice-bath.
Yes the science isn't very proven they say, but the thing is, Canada is hot, as it turns out. So this was a good project.
In the end everyone jumped in, the womens team had a go, eventually later in the week the Dutch and Belgish players were using it too. One at a time though. Good community project.
Back to intro after that photo, this is Rob Tinkler, Captain of the NZ mens team. He's played all over, he's lived with Tom, you can't get more Uwh than that. Playing center, using custom Chunky Rockets with holes cut in them and covered with rubber, sporting a Ninja glove, Full-foot Breiers and with the roughest hands of any builder you've met.
Meanwhile, others were trying to get their new gear to fit. Nick, who has a massive head, always struggles with getting his caps to fit and came up with this genius plan.
He doubled down with the set overnight, and eventually we got to eat the melons.
Still introducing as we go, this is Nick. He is very tall, very very fit, and half of the Jackass routine that is Nick & Ben. He uses Soft Rockets, his own custom glove with a Ninja as a backup, and Najade Irons. Nick came through the U23 grade and is known for saying things like "let's try that!" on hearing of any kind of horrible physical test or challenge. Playing Winger in 2018, which is like an aggressive half-back.
Now that I've mentioned Ben, here he is too.
Ben came straight in from the 2017 U23 team for his first Elite worlds, guns blazing. He uses a Whiptail, a custom glove with a Ninja backup, and Najades. He plays forward and while I thought he was fast before Quebec... now I know he's fast, and I'm not the only one. He's a guy that responds well to being motivated, whether it's to win every strike or to eat a raw red onion after losing a bet.
This happened. That is a red onion the size of a small pumpkin.
Back to the trip. So, I'm hazy on the exact timings but our first warmup friendly game was against Argentina. They have had a team for a long time, I remember playing them in 2000? Definitely in 2004 in NZ, but in the last few years they have had a lot of enthusiasm, new players and a lot of development. They had some great results in the U23 comp, and they have been getting Sebastian Lugo across from Colombia to train them. Lugo was coaching the Argentinian Elite men in Quebec, as well as playing for Colombia!
So, the Argentina game was a good initial match for us. They were fast, all very fit, good skills and they were very disciplined in holding onto the puck. In particular we struggled a bit when they built sequences of lay-backs together, running angles and turning to give to a support player behind them. This is Uwh 101, and reasonably effective in a shallow pool, but in 3m it becomes far more powerful as it's harder for the defending team to disrupt possession with the extra depth. So it was a great exercise for us to get some experience figuring out how to try to defend it.
It works a bit like this drill in a game, everyone swimming as much angle as they can manage or busting forwards through traffic as far as they can until they get turned, then turning before they are dispossessed to a mate who does the same thing, ideally in the opposite angle. Legend has it this is the gameplan devized by player/Coach Jill Ford that helped the NZ Women win worlds in 1988. Unfortunately recorded history only goes back so far so we'll never know for sure. Jokes! I could have just asked Jane who was the Women's manager and played in that team as a youngster.
Technically you might say Argentina played 2-3-1 or 2-1-2-1, but you might just as easily say they played 5-1 from a certain point of view, will get to this when we look at our RR game against them. But certainly a very different style of play to what we play and are used to, so very exciting and fun to play against.
But wait... what is this numbers gobbledegook? What code is this? So, for anyone unfamiliar with the terminology, this is a short-hand and very vague way to basically describe the tactical setup of a given team, with some rough assumptions about positions. Popular formations are 2-1-2-1, 3-3, 3-2-1, 2-3-1, 1-3-2. In football they talk about 4-3-3 as 4 backs, 3 midfields and 3 forwards. Confusingly, in Uwh we go the other way around, so 1-3-2 means 1 up front, 3 midfields and 2 backs/fullbacks. What does this mean in practical terms? Mostly, a forward line are the players that operate at the front of the formation, and in most teams this extends to operating between the puck and the oppositions goal. The centers and backs tend to operate between the puck and their own goal, behind the puck or sometimes next to it for centers, and there are often rotations between centers and backs and between backs to keep bodies behind the puck. Occasionally teams bring their entire forward line behind the puck as well, but this isn't taken into account when you name their formation, which confuses things. More about this later when we look at teams that do this (Argentina, Colombia, Turkey). Some teams are pretty elastic in these roles, some teams are very regimented, and of course WHAT a team does from these setup positions varies tremendously, so that you can have Australia and France both arguably playing forms of a 3-3 formation setup, with Aus constantly swimming into the middle of the pool and across looking to operate in a lane in the middle, and Fra forcing to the wall and working a tight channel on the walls all game (past French teams, not the 2018 french mens team which we will look at later). I've found an app which will help whiteboarding this stuff as we come to the games, so that should help make things clearer. For the record, the kiwi teams at worlds were all playing variations of a 2-3-1 setup, which has slowly become popular in NZ since 2001 when Andy Carr brought it into the Mens team from the agegroup and school teams. Before this time most teams played variations of 2-1-2-1 or 3-2-1, in fact there was for many years a formation clash of 3-2-1 (auckland) and 2-3-1 (wellington) at NZ regionals every year, until the Wellington win streak got pretty long (and coincidentally I moved to Auckland), and the northern team switched over as well.
Back to the warmup game, I'm not sure who scored how many goals... I did keep track of such things many years back, but results from warmups are really quite meaningless, depending how the opposition are using it. In fact you could argue that you would rather lose those games, at least get goals scored against you, because then you can troubleshoot what happened and fix the problems so they don't happen in a real game. Anyway I think both teams scored goals. Some teams always go hard in a warmup game, but some really just test the waters, and the difference between say a Colombia in a warmup game, and Colombia in a test-match is literally worlds apart in terms of intensity, so you take what you can from those games but with a pinch of salt.
We found a squirrel in the carpark after this session. Incredibly exciting as always.
To understand how exciting this is for New Zealanders, you have to consider that we are so far away from the rest of the world that there were no rodents in our islands and birds evolved into every spot on the foodchain that rodents usually take, for instance Kiwis. Until rats came on ships and killed them all that is. So, squirrels are a real delicacy. Just kidding! Strange and fascinating though. We always have some fool who will chase them non-stop.
...Perfectly leading into the last intro of this post! Now I can't remember him doing it this trip, but Brendan is just that sort of guy who would chase a squirrel. Stopping him gnawing down the tree with his teeth would be your biggest concern though, because he doesn't do things by halves.
Brendan is a forward, but with a famously booming pass, a rarity in NZ. He uses custom Katanas stuffed full of extra reinforcing because otherwise he will break sticks like dry twigs. He uses a Ninja glove and Full-foot Breiers. His speciality, or one of them, is terrorizing backs with un-expected hits, especially on free pucks. He is famous within the team for using no more than a handful of spoken words in any given year, which imparts immense gravitas and meaning to anything he says, like some holy monk breaking a vow of silence.
Next post, more on our Pre-Competition Camp.
We had an epic selection camp, bit of a new thing from Benson, 4 days long which is 2 days longer than our standard camps.
Before that we had camps in Rotorua and then Wellington, which is middlish of the country. In Wellington we could billet players even which helps with costs. NZ is a small country and we can get together for camps and selections fairly easily... not as easily as say, Holland where they can drive across the country in a couple of hours, but we certainly don't have the issues facing a huge country like Australia or the USA. More on this later.
For prize winners in the driving for Uwh categories, the best contenders I know of are Slovenia in 2007 who drove from Llubjana to Bari non-stop (about 10hr), and the hands-down winners, the Portuguese team who have driven from Portugal non-stop to places like Breda in Holland. That's 19 hours non-stop. Those guys are insane, more about them later I'm sure.
Well I hope someone managed to sleep
The standard at camps was high and the playing group was very tight, with great players making the team but also great players staying at home when final selections had been made. We ended up with a good mix of enthusiastic young fellas, players in their prime(theoretically!) and old timers (me).
I should do some introductions as we go along.
First, the ones keeping me on my toes.
Danni prefers to stay in the background, but she put in an absolutely mammoth shift making it possible for me to do the training to make the team and get to the comp. She's a superwoman and anyone who has trained for these comps with kids will know what I'm talking about. It's a very hard thing working toward a dream but at the same time that work taking energy and time away from your family. It did mean that I pushed really hard to get the most out of every session. I think I ended up the fittest I've been in a couple decades of international comps, I certainly trained the most, ironically when time was most precious! Danni held everything together to make it possible with our 2 kids under 5, running our own business through endless camps, tournaments, selections and then the big comp itself.
And now our coach, who had been masterminding it all from the beginning. Benson is #66 in the NZ player numbering system. So fitting.
Benson at rest.
Benson coaching us.
Benson Taylor Wolf likes to live life on the edge, and with a reckless disregard for timing he and his partner hatched a plot to make things as exciting as possible by threatening to have a baby at each of the last couple of camps, and then doing it. This was very cool and the guys all appreciated this level of commitment.
Benson uses a stick of his own design, computer modelled by us here at Hydro and similar to the Shiv (which is based on his design) but 3mm shorter. Which tells you what kind of attention to detail you are dealing with when it comes to Uwh for this man. He also uses one of our Ninja gloves on occasion, which I am proud of as he is hard to please. He is a Najade guru with thighs like alaskan tree trunks.
Our manager Sarah Arnold stepped in at the last minute when she finally realised that we were all going to wander off like badly herded cats if she didn't keep us sailing straight, she had been organising everything all the way along as caretaker manager anyway.... was in denial until the very end I guess.
Sarah. Serves mince for breakfast.
I better introduce myself. I'll do all the fellas as we get to them.
Me in first NZ Mens team, 1999.
19 years later, worn around the edges.
I'm Liam, bewildered Dad and professional Uwh gear-maker. #75.
More intro later, now a bit about Positions.
After a really gutting result in 2016 where we got knocked out by the great GB comeback in our quarter-final, I played forward at club level to do something a bit different and really enjoyed it.
First time playing forward since 2000, but back then I was a little fella with a wee stick who practised backflicking more than anything else and hardly ever turned.... Now I was a goalie playing forward with a giant stick and hook (for NZ hockey), swimming around slowly and doing nothing but turning and trying to hold possession. I kept at it and ended up trialling at forward for the 2018 team, as "that guy who gives you something different in that position" kinda thing. As our style of forward goes, the kind of forward where your partner forward knows he is on strike every time you're in the water with him and knows he can't pass to you until after 1st phase because you'll be back behind his fins. But didn't I come back and do work on D! I sure did. Backs trying to play forward, that's what we do apparently.
Playing forward in a deep pool changed my training quite a bit, trying to go for long bursts of play at high intensity and then resting, simulating big involvements and then subbing. I've always been a high workrate type player and struggled with long breatholds (and deep pools). However, towards the end of our selection Benson changed things up a little and tried me again in the backline, and I ended up getting selected as some kind of utility. The balance of the team could go a lot of ways with lots and lots of guys able to play different positions and configurations, but I ended up looking like I was going to play goalie or maybe wing, in the backline anyway. Goalie would be for the first time in ten years, although it felt like it had always been my default position. Funny how that is, like an old glove I guess. Goalie in NZ is like a fullback, center-back, or 6 in other countries.
Like a glove.
So after the selection camp, we had our team. A few weeks more of pretty fanatical training with a couple of last camps to round off the rough edges, and we were nearly ready to head off to the competition.
In terms of getting some time in 3m pools, Jesse had a comp in the Quebec 3m pool itself to get a bit of a handle on it and do some reccie for us earlier in the year, he went over to play in a team with Jake and a bunch of fantastic players from a few different countries.
The boys who went to Hawaii did get to play in 3m there and Benson was very careful to do a lot of analysis of that comp, it was useful in helping figure out what parts of a 2m game he could take through and what bits needed to be basically re-built or ditched and replaced. I got over to Aus Nats in Perth and played for QLD in the 3m pool there too, so a few of us did get a bit of practice in the depth and we all had an idea of what it would be like.
And so, after all that careful prep, it turned out the last thing I did before leaving the country was pick up a cold to take with me to Canada.
Next post is Welcome to Canada!
There's always excitement around a world championships in any sport. The first time I ever saw Uwh played was at the 1992 Worlds in my hometown (home suburb almost!) in Wellington, swimming at the pool and having a watch on the screens, fascinated. I took up the sport that year at school.
It's easy to think that a Worlds is only for the players involved when it's such a minority sport, but who knows how many people have found the sport they love through the ripples of publicity these competitions produce when they roll through town? Me for one I guess.
My first Worlds was in 2000 in Tasmania, Australia. I'd been playing hockey for 8 years by then, from high school on through age groups. Since then, when my country has competed at Worlds, I've tried (hard!) to be there.
So I've been lucky enough to be at a bunch of these comps. Following on from those competitions, Quebec 2018 was an outstanding tournament. Our teams had a great result and so I have both motivation to remember it, and a lack of the mental trauma which comes with not achieving your goals and trying(failing) not to think about what might have been forever after. Sport seems like a casino sometimes when it comes to results... very few walk out winners, and the house always wins. When you get a result, especially in the scene today which is so incredibly competitive, you have to appreciate it and realize how lucky you are.
I'll include some tactics and strategy in this blog, as that is one of the many areas where I like to geek out. In fact when it comes to anything uwh I do sidetrack all over the place like crazy... So this could get a bit long. But, it's all about Uwh. And you love that stuff! Probably. If you don't, you're a tourist in a world of weird, and you'll get bored soon.
While this Worlds campaign finished in 2018, of course for many or even most teams it began long beforehand. There was months (years) of prep that teams and players, coaches and managers put in well before they arrived in Quebec and drowned together at the tournament.
Most of us don't get paid, but we put all the time and effort in on our own wallets. We are profoundly amateur, so most players I know seem to feel a little like this when it comes to $$$ and Uwh...
Trying to do everything as professionally as you can, but with very little $$$ help.
So if not for the big dollars, Why? Good question. I guess because we care, one way or another. And one of the best things about Worlds is being surrounded by people who all care about our sport, train for it, take it seriously. It's awesome. There are so many Uwh players together we could probably take over a part of the town and hold it for at least a few hours... and that's comforting. Isn't it? If that's a bit militant, I guess there are enough of us to empty the town of, say, canned beans if we all banded together and ate and bought nothing but canned beans of a certain variety all tournament. Or at least cause a mild shortage.
The kiwi mens team of which I was a part was no exception to this. (Training well before the comp started, not eating a diet of only beans.) The "official" leadup to this comp for NZ began with the prep for teams to go to Hawaii in 2017. For me, I stayed at home for that one, so my buildup began just before our family moved cities, alongside all the madness of moving and packing. Training started somewhere in June in Wellington, mostly swim sessions, and after we moved to Hawkes Bay in... August/September(?), I did about 2 months of Crossfit at a local box, dragging myself out of bed at 5:30am for most of those sessions. I am NOT a morning person.
Camps were popping up every few weeks as the Hawaii lads prepped and then flew off, battled valiantly, improved themselves and then reformed with the remainder of the squad for more camps afterwards leading into christmas. The U23's trained with us too then had their own comp and keen guys joined back into the main mens squad afterwards. It was quite the merry go round for a while there, but we had a great squad.
Did I mention our family runs an Uwh equipment business? I should mention that. I'll probably mention it again, though the website is a bit of a giveaway.
Training at camps is a little tricky when the comp you are training for is in 3m, and there are no 3m pools in your country. We did our best with the 2m pools our comps are played in, and ventured nervously into the depths of Naenae pool for camps. This pool has a 3.5m dive-well, 45deg angled slopes around 3 walls to make sure any wall-play is rendered meaningless for proper practice, and a stainless steel trench across the middle of the pool complete with rivets, bolts and holes to snag, bobble, grind and grate pucks, sticks and gloves (and elbows, knees, etc). And it's about 15m x 15m square. We had quite a few sessions in this grotto and it did us a wonder of good over the months. Mostly by reminding us that what may work in 2m, doesn't work in 3.5.
How surfacing feels during your first 3.5m training session
After a few weeks of Crossfit-induced DOMS which went mainly like this...
"Oh pull-ups are fun!" (can't bend or straighten arms for a week)
I considered the ball to be sufficiently rolling and ditched the kool-aid. I joined a "normal" local gym where I could turn up and be that weird guy doing odd exercises in the corner, where I stayed for most of the remainder of the buildup.
Crossfit is good for general strength but I tend to pick up niggles and feel like I need something more uwh specific than the random Wods you might get. Plus, maybe it's just me but when I'm fittest in the pool my HR drops really low, but crossfit training tends to keep your HR high, which I wanted to avoid. I've done lots of Crossfit training for hockey before and it just didn't seem to give me quite the result I wanted underwater carrying it all the way to the competition. Just me. But anyway, a couple of months was great to get some general strength and all-round fitness going, and then it was into more specific stuff.
I joined a local pool complex where gangs of old ladies floated along the lanes aquajogging and noodling their hearts out while I swam in the other lane next to them. They were good sports about eating waves every time I went past, but I think it was probably entertainment for them too, wondering if I would eventually just fail to come up. The pool tiles were nice and smooth, but the grout-work was poor, as I found when I promptly broke a tile the first time I flicked a puck, and then had to avoid that spot for months afterwards. I feel guilty but I don't think they will read this and the place is being refurbished as we speak so no harm no foul!
Rush hour at a pool in a small town. Bliss. (This is the big pool too)
What about training specifics? Well, generally the standard approach to training for Uwh in NZ is pretty similar to those I've seen from other countries, everyone seems to be running the same approaches. There are some example pool sessions in our Foundation Coaching download, for example. (There is a preview image in the listing that shows some schedules, you don't have to buy the download to see what kind of sessions I'm talking about). It's normally based around sets of various exercises in the pool, at varied intensities and with varied amounts of rest depending on what energy systems you are trying to develop. Same as any sport.
Things start to change as you move exercises underwater with breatholds, as those energy systems start to bend a bit and things like lactate buildup become more of an issue.... how exactly? Dunno! We have to go on anecdotal evidence of what works don't we? Ask an exercise scientist what happens with aerobic/anaerobic energy systems when you hold your breath while exercising and watch them go cross-eyed, I've tried a few. Obvious solutions to this conundrum I have embarassingly missed in comments, please.
Does the NZ team have training given out to everyone with sessions etc to do? Yes. But this tends to be a beginning point, there's a bit of freedom to do your own alternative programs if you know what you respond to and if you can get results with it.
I used to have all my sessions printed and laminated in my gear bag, but I haven't tended to use them for a while. I know what kind of session I want to do, high intensity or lower, and volume is normally inversely proportional to intensity. So I decide on what exercises I'll do as I go along to get the desired result for the session, and as I've got older I now change what I'm doing or have partly planned depending on how I feel as well, feeling good or struggling a bit. I have my favourite exercises for various kinds of sessions and I don't need a lot of variety to keep me happy, I just grind it out and hit little targets within those exercises as things progress. I build skills stuff into as much as possible, but you have to do a certain amount of just core swimming, unders, streamlining etc. Boring and painful. Happy to answer questions in comments on specifics. Might cover a bit more when we talk about positions, as training for different positions can require different approaches.
Periodization? Yes. Planning? Yes definitely. Rest? Yes. Coaches banging on about Nutrition? Yes! All the stuff other sports focus on, we try to cover, and I would be very surprised if all the other teams we played at worlds didn't cover all the same bases too. That's why these competitions are so epic!
Gym work? Well, some guys train to put size on, some go to drop weight, some for power, some strength. I've moved from trying to put weight on in the gym to going for power (where I think I overdid it a bit, with a Crossfit angle) to just going for muscular endurance and strength for injury prevention really, trying to make sure all the joints and main muscles are strong so you can take a battering over 2 weeks and still have a chance of putting out a good performance at the end. A lot of my gym sessions ended up being pre-hab managing old imbalances and niggles. And then normal exercises to any gym bunny, squats, press, pullups etc.
Proper use of the Squat Rack essential of course
Next post will cover Selections, Positions and Pools.