Bridging the ditch

By Zoe Canavan

“Is that a wooden stick? What are you, a dinosaur?”

“No, I’m Australian.”

Using plastic sticks for the last two years I’ve been living in New Zealand has helped me blend in with the Kiwis playing UWH in Wellington. I recently switched back to wooden sticks and quickly became aware of the flashing sign above my head that screamed ‘Australian’. The first night I played with my wooden sticks, I caught one of my teammates staring at my stick with a mixture of confusion and intrigue. He had no idea sticks could be made of anything but plastic because it was all he had ever seen.

Naturally, there are many differences between the way in which New Zealand and Australia play. We play in different formations, we have different ‘rules’, the names for our positions and even our gear differs.

Let’s start with the gear. The majority of Kiwis use plastic sticks – typically the Dorsal or Stingray. A stick can be quite a personal thing and different types work for each of us. The plastic sticks that they use are particularly efficient with the Kiwi puck – a puck which is significantly different to ours. The Kiwi puck is heavier than the Aussie one and has rounded edges. The weight gives it more stability when swimming, lessening the chance of the puck bobbling on your stick when you’re doing a breakaway. Players that have used both types of puck say the Kiwi puck seems to fly straighter and further, while keeping at a reasonable height. The rubber finish on the Aussie puck provides better grip between the puck and stick, which is helpful when learning to flick but, it can result in a flick going higher than anticipated.

Most people know NZ play in a 2-3-1 formation. They have two forwards, then two wings (half backs) and a centre back, and behind them all is the goalie (full back). One of the key differences in our formations is the lack of a centre forward. The NZ centre is more of a defensive player sitting behind the puck and controlling the middle of the pool rather than up front like we’re used to.

The Kiwi backline doesn’t rotate like an Aussie one would. Instead they use a two way rotation between the goalie and the on-side wing, leaving the off-wing to hang back and hover over the tray. Don’t be tricked into thinking they won’t switch it across the backline because they can and will.

Kiwis also have a different philosophy on flicking than Aussies do. We like to flick on a 45 degree angle whereas NZ will only flick straight forward or flat to the side. Each approach suits the country because of the way their formations work.

There are some incredibly talented players in NZ and the competition, even at a local level, is of a high standard. They hold many competitions throughout the year, some official and some fun and quirky. There are Club Nationals, North/South Island Club tournaments, Regionals, an annual 4-a-side in Dunedin (which was fantastic!) and quality local hockey to attend. If you ever get the opportunity to play with, or against, the Kiwis at one of these tournaments, I highly recommend you put your name down and get on a plane.