AUSTRALIAN hockey players and officials have heaped praise on Bendigo following the city’s hosting of a trio of international matches.
The Kookaburras twice defeated the New Zealand Black Sticks, while the Hockeyroos proved too strong for the United States in games played on Saturday and Sunday as part of the International Festival of Hockey.
It was the second time in as many years international matches have been played during November at the Bendigo Hockey Centre as part of the festival.
Normally a Kookaburras assistant coach, Anthony Potter, who assumed the head coaching role in Bendigo, could not speak high enough of the team’s experience in central Victoria.
“A good percentage of our guys are country boys and the same with most of the staff actually, so to get back into the regions in great,” he said.
“They have a great water-based facility (and) it’s so nice to see the people of the town come out and do anything for you.
“It’s awesome … and the guys really appreciate it.”
Potter said the Kookaburras would have no hesitation in returning to Bendigo for a third straight year and fully supported initiatives to pay more games in regional centres.
After defeating the Black Sticks 4-0 on Sunday, the Kookaburras faced a much stiffer challenge in Monday’s game two, which ended in a 2-0 victory against the Kiwis.
Midfielder Eddie Ockenden believed his side would only benefit from an obvious tough test.
“It’s always hard playing two games in two days, teams can change a few things and really improve quickly over 24 hours,” he said.
“I thought New Zealand were a bit more defensive and really clogged up the defensive circle.
“That’s something teams do against Australia because they know we want to be attacking.
“(Monday) we didn’t get that many opportunities – I don’t think we won any penalty corners.
“That’s probably an indication of not having the ball up in the circle that much – we had a lot of possession, but not enough clean chances.”
In further good news for the Kookaburras, the Australians have risen from fifth to fourth in the latest world rankings, overtaking the United States following last month’s Oceania Cup triumph.
Returning Hockeyroos star Emily Hurtz said the girls had also enjoyed their Bendigo experience.
The 27-year-old capped her first game for Australia in three years with a goal and an assist in a 2-0 Hockeyroos win.
“I’ve actually been here before and done a couple of coaching clinics in Bendigo – it’s real impressive and great to have such a good crowd getting around these games,” she said.
Hurtz said there was a good feeling among the team heading into the Melbourne leg of the tournament.
“The girls have been really welcoming, I’m glad to be back. I just wanted to go out there and put on a good performance and get the basics down pat leading into the next few games,” she said.
The Hockeyroos continue their tournament against world No. 1 ranked Netherlands on Wednesday, while the Kookaburras clash with Pakistan.