Dane Lett in action for the Black Sticks earlier this year against India at the Commonwealth Games. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

HOCKEY

JAKE BELESKI
jake.beleski@age.co.nz

Black Stick and Dalefield player-coach Dane Lett will not forget the 2018 hockey season in a hurry.

Fresh from leading the Capital Cobras to the gold medal at the National Hockey League last week in Wellington, Lett has now set his sights firmly on the Hockey World Cup, starting in November in India.

Before that, the Black Sticks will play a four-match series against Canada in Auckland, with games scheduled to be played on October 17, 18, 20 and 21.

It has already been a remarkably successful season for Lett, who attended his first major tournament with the Black Sticks when they won silver medals at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in April, and also led the Dalefield men’s team to the Wellington premier 1 final against Hutt United.

After Sunday’s thrilling National Hockey League final against North Harbour — which Capital won in a shootout — Lett was named most valuable player at the tournament.

But he was quick to deflect any praise to those around him who had helped get the job done.

“You don’t go out to get the individual awards — it’s the team ones that you want,” he said.

“It was really humbling because there’s some really good guys going around, and it was a pretty special moment.”

As well as preparing for a final pre-World Cup hit-out against Canada, there is also the small matter of contracts being offered to Black Sticks players for the next year.

The players’ contracts run from November 1 to October 31 of the following year, and Lett’s form would suggest he would be a certainty of being offered one of those contracts.

The Canada series may be next on the agenda, but Lett said the World Cup was always in the back of the players’ minds.

“We’ll have the Canada series and that will be the last selection event for the World Cup — shortly after that, they’ll name the World Cup team.

“I shouldn’t have to do too much before the Canada series, but if I’m in the World Cup team I will need to have another training camp before we leave.”

The Black Sticks beat Canada 6-2 in their opening match at the Commonwealth Games, with Lett scoring a goal from a penalty corner.

But several Europe-based Kiwi players will be unavailable for this series, and Lett said that would level the playing field.

“We played them [Canada] at the Commonwealth Games and beat them pretty comfortably, but the three or four occasions before that we had either drawn with them or lost in a shootout.

“They’re a tricky customer — they’re quite physical and defend really well, and they’re one of those mid-range teams that can upset teams on their day.”

The absence of some key players may put extra responsibility on Lett’s shoulders, but that was a challenge he was ready to embrace.

It is an important series for the Black Sticks as they finalise their preparations for the World Cup, and that was the way the players and management were looking at it.

“The other stuff is preparation for the World Cup,” Lett said.

“That’s the way I’ve been looking at it — the World Cup is the end goal.”