Timaru born Sam Lane made his Vantage Black Sticks debut after the team returned from a tough Rio Olympics campaign which saw their heartbreaking quarter-final exit at the hands of Germany. Since that time Lane has been capped 63 times for the national side including being part of two Oceania Cups. The 2019 season for Lane was a breakout one as he cemented his place in the team and played a whopping 24 tests.
As the FIH Hockey Pro League heads into the final weekend in New Zealand for 2020, Lane hopes that the large Canterbury hockey community will come out in force to support their homegrown stars. Olivia Merry, Rachel McCann, George Enersen and Lane are playing on their home pitch at Ngā Puna Wai. Sports Hub in Christchurch as they aim to secure another good win on their turf.
Lane commented on the importance of home town support "Home support is huge! The Canterbury region has a passionate and tight-knit hockey community, where support is never an issue. As players, we are lucky enough to travel the world and experience football-like atmospheres, where home support can be the 12th man to their teams. For the Black Sticks, this is our last chance to play at home for 2020, so we hold these opportunities to our hearts closely. We want to provide exciting entertainment, and the crowds help certainly adds to the occasion."
"I personally really enjoyed last weekend, to play in front of the eyes of those who watched me in my younger days from South Canterbury and Canterbury, and I look forward to doing so again next weekend."
It had been a long time since Canterbury hosted international Hockey when the FIH Hockey Pro League came to town in 2019 when New Zealand played host to Great Britain, Germany and China at the newly constructed Ngā Puna Wai.
The fantastic event held in 2019 breathed life into international Hockey in the region and was the driving force behind the Pro League returning for the second season in 2020.
Lane understood the impact that the earthquake had on the hockey community "I was being schooled in Christchurch at St Andrews College when the 2011 earthquake hit, so I fully understand how the demise of hockey had effected the region with minimal turf availability, as well as limitedinternational hockey opportunities available. I believe the public is hugely grateful to now host the Pro League , especially to those aspiring to be in the position some of us have found ourselves in today.”
The FIH Hockey Pro League has not always been easy for the New Zealand Men. They come up against the top 8 sides in the world every week. The Kiwis are the lowest-ranked international team in the league and have battled for competition points throughout the 2019 season. Last weekend marked a turning point for the Black Sticks as it saw them get only their secondPro League win with a hard-fought win over a Spanish team they hadn't beaten since 2013. Their first win came in a penalty shoot-out against Great Britain in north Harbour the weekend before.
"Last year in the Pro League was disappointing for us, and this year we have been thereabouts with performances, but not fully getting over the line. There has been so much work behind the scenes that not many people see, so getting that first regulation win was gratifying for our group."
"Especially to do it on the second day as well with tired bodies and being able to pull through right at the very end. It was also special to do it on Stephen Jenness' 250th, one who has given so much to the black jersey. However, we know we can't get ahead of ourselves and the Pro League is a competition where consistency is key."
The Argentina Men are the reigning Olympic Champions and looked to be in fine form against the Netherlands last weekend where they would fall in both matches in a penalty shootout. The last time that New Zealand beat Argentina was before Lane made his debut and he will be determined to help lead the Kiwis to their first win over the South Americans since early 2016.
"I think Argentina have experience in their team, including many from the 2016 Rio Olympic team who won gold. They have some highly skilled individuals upfront and some very experienced campaigners at the back controlling things from behind. I do, however, believe the two teams match up well and constantly play out close and exciting battles."
Following the Pro League matches in Christchurch, the side will return to Auckland where they will start training for a tough overseas leg of the Pro League that begins with a long flight and challenging match-up against the Netherlands on March 20th.
"The aim of the next rounds of the Pro League is for us is to get points on the board firstly, we want more wins. We also will have to adapt to new environments and continue our routines as if we were at home. I think also playing after travel will test us and the Australia/India leg will test how we play in differing climates."
The 2020 season is leading to one place for all the qualified international teams. Lane was a big part of the 2019 Korea series where the Vantage Black Sticks punched their ticket to Tokyo. If selected this will be Lane’s first time going to the Olympic Games which is the pinnacle event on the international field hockey calendar.
"There is no certainty for anyone attending the Olympic Games. But if I was selected, like any other athlete, it is clearly a goal of mine. For me, where it has been somewhat of a roller coaster ride these last few years with things that have affected or interrupted my performance, it would mean a lot to my family and me."
"However, I truly am more focused on the day to day, and game by game opportunities. We get to represent our country a lot between now and the Olympics, and to do it alongside a great bunch of men, that's pretty awesome in itself."
"The team preparing for the Olympics is trying to focus on ourselves more than anything - that being on and off the turf. That includes focussing on how we want to play and each individual doing the best of their ability in the role they have been given. We have also been learning about our New Zealand heritage while continuously building on our team culture."
While he gets to travel all around the world, living the dream that many young players aspire to do Lane has never forgotten the people who helped get him to where he is today and the advice he was given as a young player which was to always enjoy himself and the process of practice making perfect.
Lane and the Vantage Black Sticks Men will return to the turf on Friday the February 28th where they will battle the current Olympic Champions Argentina in the final home matches of 2020 for both our New Zealand sides. Tickets and corporate hospitality packages are still available at Ticketek as the teams would love a sell-out and spirited home crowd to help get them over the line and send them off towards a successful 2020 season.
Back the Black Sticks
– the Vantage black Sticks Men and Women play their final Pro League matches in a block-buster double header weekend, as they take on Argentina, on Friday night, Feb 28th (Men play at 5:30pm, Women at 8pm) and Sunday afternoon, Mar 1st (Men play at 3pm, Women at 5:30pm). Don’t miss the last home games for the Black Sticks teams and Back the Black Sticks before they head to the Tokyo Olympics!