Friday, 8 August 2008

Summer Olympic Hockey

As the Games of the XXIX Olympiad begin in Beijing, China officially today, Hockey Blog In Canada has decided to revisit my goal of exposing other types of hockey as well. The reason for this is because of Canada's entry in the field hockey competition at the Beijing Olympic Games. I have previewed other types of hockey in the past, but I didn't do a feature on field hockey. Because of this oversight, I feel it would more than appropriate to dwell on Canada's field hockey team that will compete in Beijing, and to expose the sport a little more on this stage. While I'm sure you probably don't expect a pile of articles on field hockey from this blog, it is a form of hockey, and it deserves as much respect as ice hockey. With that in mind, let's take a look at the game of field hockey.

I warn you now: this article is very in-depth in terms of the information presented. Grab yourself a beverage because you could be reading this for a long time. Don't say I didn't warn you. Onward!

Field hockey holds the distinction of being the oldest ball-and-stick sport on the planet with versions of the game dating back to 2000 BC in Egypt. It was played mainly for fun, but it got fairly popular in Europe during the Middle Ages. It was even banned in England for some time during the Middle Ages as more people were playing field hockey than training in archery, which was the foundation of the English army.

It was thought that the game of field hockey got its modern look from the game of hurling which was also popular in England. Hurling is played on a grass pitch, and players use sticks, called hurleys, to hit the ball, called a sliotar, in mid-air through an H-shaped goal. Hurling has been deemed "the fastest game on earth", something that hockey fans can relate to, and has regularly been compared to hockey in terms of how fast the games moves and flows from offence to defence. Hurling is an ancient Gaelic sport, and is played regularly in Ireland to this day.

As the popularity of the modern field hockey grew in England, field hockey spread to other areas of the British Commonwealth. It is one of the more prominent sports in India and Pakistan, and those two nations normally have very strong teams.

Field hockey debuted as an Olympic sport in 1908 at the London Olympic Games. It wasn't picked up at the following Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, but field hockey returned in 1920 at the Antwerp Olympic Games. In 1928 at the Amsterdam Olympic Games, field hockey became an official game of the Olympic Games, and would not be dropped from the Games again.

It was at the Amsterdam Games that the Indian men's field hockey team established their dominance in the sport. The men from India won six straight gold medals over the next 28 years before being defeated in the final by rival country Pakistan at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games. In total, the Indian men have won eight gold medals, four better than second-place Australia. However, the team with the most medals to date is The Netherlands, having won three gold, four silver, and six bronze medals in their time.

The women's field hockey competition began at the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games. The Australian women are three-time gold medalists since the competition began, establishing their dominance in the game. The Dutch women, like their male counterparts, have accumulated the most medals in women's field hockey. To date, they have one gold, one silver, and three bronze medal finishes.

Now that we've gone through a little history, there are some vital pieces of equipment needed for field hockey.

First, the field hockey stick is needed. Sticks can be made from wood, but most players now opt for a composite stick made out of kevlar, fibreglass, or carbon fibre. Metal is not allowed for field hockey sticks. The stick has a rounded handle flattened on the left side and with a hook at the bottom. The hook has a much longer bend to it historically, but this longer "blade" made using the stick on the reverse much more difficult. For this reason, the compact curved blade is used today. The stick also has a bow, or bending of the stick, from top to bottom. The bow, also called a "rake", cannot be more than 25 millimeters in order to reduce the power at which the players can shoot.

The field hockey ball is hard, and made of plastic. The inside of the ball is a cork core, and adds weight to the ball. The dimples allow the ball to prevent hydroplaning in order to keep the ball moving consistently on a wet playing surface.

Other pieces of equipment you may want to invest in if you're interested in playing include mouth guards, shin guards, gloves, and goggles. The first two items are fairly understandable in terms of protecting your teeth and shins from contact with the ball or sticks. The gloves, called Astro Gloves, are a little different. They are used in the same fashion to provide protection from the ball and sticks, but also to avoid abrasions on the hands if a player falls.

If you're a goaltender in field hockey, you basically get yourself covered from head-to-toe in armor. Goaltenders wear a helmet, leg guards and kickers as standard equipment, but most also opt for chest guards, padded shorts, heavily padded hand protectors, groin protectors, neck guards, and arm guards. Abdoguards for men and pelvic guards for women, known as groin protectors, are probably a good idea as well. Kickers guard the goaltender's feet from being hurt by the ball when stopping a shot or kicking a ball out into the field of play.

The field of play is set up under metric measurements as set forth by the International Hockey Federation (FIH). Field hockey is played on a pitch that measures 91.40 meters x 55 meters (100 x 60 yards) rectangular field. The goals at each end of the field measure in at 2.14m (7 feet) high and 3.66m (12 feet) wide. Around each net running from the back-line is a semicircle, known as the "shooting circle" or "D" or "arc", that measures 14.63m (16 yards) from the goal. A spot, called the "penalty spot" or "stroke mark", is found 6.40m (7 yards) from the center of each goal. There are also lines across the field indicating zones. These lines extend across the field 22.90m (25 yards) from each back-line and in the center of the field. The 25-yard lines are commonly called the "23-meter lines".

Historically, the field was made of grass, but today's field hockey pitches are normally synthetic surfaces. Sand pitches are also very popular, but they tend to slow the game dramatically. Water-based artificial turf is the most popular of the synthetic surfaces as the surface is less abrasive than sand, causing less injuries, and allows the ball to be transferred more quickly than on the sand pitches. There are actually three types of pitches that can be built:

  • Unfilled: Often called "water-based", the pile is unfilled. The pitches require wetting, hence the name "water-based", often via prolonged showering with pitch-side water cannon prior to their use and occasionally during half-time intervals depending on the prevailing atmospherics.
  • Sand-dressed: The pile of the carpet is filled to within 5-8 millimeters of the tips of the fibre with fine sand. The sand cannot be seen. It can be confused with unfilled pitches.
  • Sand filled: The pile of the carpet is filled almost to the top with sand. The sand makes the pitch rough and harder. In comparison to water-based pitches or minimal sand-dressed pitches, ball speed across the surface is often noticeably slower.
The FIH is proposing that all new fields be built as sand-dressed fields due to the negative ecological effects of the high water requirements of water based synthetic fields.

There are a number of rules that one has to follow when playing field hockey. The most important rule is that the ball can only be played with the flat side of the stick. The flat side is always found on the right-side of the stick when holding it, meaning there are no left-handed sticks in the game of field hockey.

The goalkeeper must wear a helmet with full face mask, and is allowed to wear protective padding as discussed above. Goalkeepers are allowed to block and/or deflect the ball, as well as propel the ball with their feet and/or stick. All stick rules apply for goaltenders, so they must abide by the same rules as the other players. Goaltenders are permitted to play the ball outside of their semicircle, but can only use their sticks if they do. They cannot pass the 23m line, except if they are taking a penalty stroke.

There are 11 players on the field, and up to 16 players on a field hockey roster. The 11 players are aligned strategically, much like in soccer. Common formations are three attackers, four midfielders, and three defenders (3-4-3), 4-4-2, and 5-3-2. Substitutions are made on the fly, rather than during stoppages as was done in the past. There are two umpires who patrol the field, cutting the field diagonally into two halves. The umpires look for infractions and award goals and penalty shots. The timekeeper and record keeper are normally on the sidelines to assist the umpires.

The game is divided into two 35-minute halves with a five-minute half-time. A coin toss decides which team has the option of choosing sides or choosing to start with the ball. Like soccer, the game is started with a pass. All players must be on their defensive side of the field to start the game.

Goals are scored from within the "arc" or "D" only. Attackers must shoot from within this arc to score only. If the ball is outside the arc, field hockey resembles a chess match as players line up against one another to reduce scoring chances.

In order to score, players use a "push", "flick", or "hit". A push uses the wrist to push the ball ahead. A flick is much like a wrist shot in ice hockey where the wrists are used to propel the ball faster and through the air. A hit is like a slapshot in ice hockey where there is a wind-up and the ball is propelled forcefully by the follow-through. A variation of the flick, known as the "drag-flick", looks like a snapshot in hockey. Rather than trying to explain this one, I'll just let this video do the talking:

To move the ball, players must pass the ball or dribble the ball. The standard for dribbling the ball in field hockey is called the "Indian dribble", named after the technique devised by the Indian and Pakistani teams in the 1950s. The player simply pushes the ball rapidly from right to left and then from left to right repeatedly with the stick. However, the stick cannot be behind the ball at any time, and the ball must remain in front of the player's body. This innovation is now the standard for all field hockey players, and allowed for a greater variety of passes and deception in the player's movements.

Defending against a player with the ball is called "tackling". The tackler cannot make contact with the attacking player or his stick before playing the ball. Oppositely, the attacking player cannot use his/her body to push an opposing player out of his/her path. Players cannot use their feet to play the ball. If a ball inadvertently strikes someone's foot, and no benefit is gained from the action, then there is no foul called.

In field hockey, unlike ice hockey or soccer, there is no offside rule. The change of this rule has opened up the game dramatically as skilled players can use the open room to break down the field.

In terms of penalties, there are normally two called most often: obstruction and dangerous play. In the case of obstruction, the penalty can be called if a tackler (a) comes between the ball and attacker without making a legitimate tackle; (b) strikes an attacker's body or stick with out contacting the ball, or (c) if a defender obstructs the path of an attacking player without the ball, called "third-party obstruction".

Dangerous play can be defined by a number of infractions. Sticks must be kept below the shoulders at all time. A ball can be raised off the ground, but if the umpire deems it to be dangerous to a player, the play will be whistled dead. If a ball is raised and a shot is attempted with players in between the goaltender and attacker, the play could be called dangerous as well. Dangerous plays are solely up to the umpire's discretion.

The penalty for the above infractions is a loss of possession of the ball. If the umpire deems the infraction to be serious, there are three color-coded, shaped cards that can be presented to an offender:
  • a green card is an official warning, and is triangular in shape.
  • a yellow card is a suspension from the game for a minimum of five minutes. This card is normally rectangular in shape.
  • a red card is an ejection from the game. This card is circular.
A player can receive more than one card at a time. For example, if a player makes an aggressive tackle, the player may receive both a green card and a yellow card. Players cannot receive the same card for the same infraction - two yellow cards for a dangerous play, for example. If a player receives a second yellow card in a game, the duration of the suspension will increase from the five minutes served from the first suspension.

If a game is tied, the FIH has mandated that a "golden goal" overtime format be implemented. The teams will play 7.5 minutes of hockey either way, for a total of 15 minutes, or until a team has scored the sudden-death goal. If there is no winner after the 15 minutes of overtime play, the game is decided on penalty strokes, similar to a soccer shootout.

There are a number of set plays that happen in field hockey as well. "Free hits" occur when an infraction has occurred outside the scoring arcs. Free hits allow the attacking team to move the ball in any direction, but the ball cannot be raised off the ground. If the ball leaves the ground, the umpire can award the defending team a free hit. Both attacking and defending players must move five meters from the free hit spot. A 15m hit is awarded to the defending team if an attacking player commits an offence within the scoring arc.

A "long corner" is awarded if the ball touches a defender and crosses the back-line. This is similar to soccer. The attacking team can play the ball on from the corner nearest to the sideline that the ball went out.

A "penalty corner" or "short corner" is awarded if the defender commits an infraction within the scoring arc that does not constitute a penalty stroke, or if the defender commits a deliberate infraction within the 23m zone, or if a defender plays the ball deliberately over the back-line.

If a penalty corner is called, five defenders and the goaltender must line up along the back-line while the other six players line up on the center line. The attacking players stand outside the scoring arc, except for one player who starts the corner from the 10m mark inside the semicircle. The ball must be passed outside the arc to the other attackers before a scoring chance can take place. Also, for safety of the defenders, the initial shot on a penalty corner can not exceed the height of 460 millimeters when it crosses the goal line. However, if the shot is deemed to be below the 460mm limit, the shot can be deflected higher by another player before it goes into the goal. Subsequently, if this deflection leads to a dangerous play, the entire play can be blown dead.

The last type of set play is the "penalty stroke". This is awarded when a defender commits a deliberate foul that deprives the attacker possession of the ball, when an infraction prevents a probable goal, or when defenders repeatedly run from the back-line before the penalty corner has started. Like in soccer, this is a one-on-one battle between an attacker and a goaltender. The attacker stands 6.4m directly in front the goal, and must stand behind the ball within a stick's length of the ball. The goaltender must start with his heels on the goal line, and cannot move from the goal line until the ball is played. The attacker is allowed one shot, and cannot fake a shot in order to psyche out the goaltender. Once the shot is released, the attacker cannot interfere with the goaltender in any way. The 15m hit is awarded if the attacker commits an offence during the penalty stroke, and, if he scored, the goal is wiped out.

Ok, if you've made it this far, please just put your name in the comment section stating that you made it. Canada is sending only a men's field hockey team, so that's who I'll be watching over the next two weeks. The men are ranked 15th in the world. Rob Short is the captain of the Canadian squad, and they'll begin their gold medal quest on August 12 against the Australian team who is ranked second in the world.

Team Canada's schedule against their Pool-B opponents is as follows, with world rankings in parentheses:

August 12 - Australia (2)
August 14 - Pakistan (6)
August 15 - Netherlands (3)
August 17 - Great Britain (8)
August 20 - South Africa (13)

The gold medal game is on August 24th, and Canada is looking to improve on its best finish ever of 10th place, a mark achieved in 1976, 1984, and 2000.

Team Canada is represented by Wayne Fernandes (Mississauga), Anthony and Philip Wright (Vancouver), Rob and Peter Short (Victoria), Scott Sandison (Mississauga), Paul Wettlaufer (North Vancouver), Ranjeev Deol (Campbellville, Ont.), Connor Grimes (Duncan, BC), Ravi Kahlon (Victoria), Bindi Kullar (Surrey, BC), goaltender Mike Mahood (North Vancouver), Mark Pearson (Tswawwassen, BC), Ken Pereira (Unionville, Ont.), Marian Schole (Vancouver), Sukhwinder "Gabbar" Singh (Surrey), Scott Tupper (Vancouver), David Carter (Vancouver), and head coach Louis Mendonca (Thornhill, Ont.).

"These athletes have trained hard for years, they love field hockey and are so proud to be nominated to represent Canada on the Olympic world stage — they will give their absolute best. I am confident that our top eight goal will be reached at the Beijing Games," head coach Louis Mendonca said to the CBC.

I'll be tuning to cheer on the Canadian men as much as possible. I'll try to keep everyone updated on here as to what's happening in both the men's and women's competitions. For more information on the Canadian field hockey team, please check out CBC's website for the Beijing Olympics.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the field/ice!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Kudos on posting about field hockey! I played the sport for a couple years and it doesn't have a lot of exposure (at least not here in AB!) I know in other parts of Canada it is slightly more popular.
If I were to pick a hockey blog to read, it would be yours! (However, I only ended up here doing research for a friend, I am a bad Canadian who does not fully appreciate the sport of hockey...which is really only because my friends over-appreciate it. I have nothing against watching a game but do not go out of my way to inform myself, nor do I feel the need to have every conversation revolve around hockey!) But that really was a compliment! I swear!