In April twenty-eight Westlake students and four staff departed Auckland to tour the home of hockey – Holland, North-West Germany and Belgium. In this small but heavily populated pocket of Europe hockey enjoys a significant following, and the area produces high quality and well-resourced players and clubs.
The touring teams started in Rotterdam, a busy, industrial port-city. The first outing to watch a top flight Dutch league match between HC Rotterdam and Den Bosch was an opportunity to see what type of hockey we were likely to encounter – Dutch players with excellent ball protection skills and a patient, building brand of hockey. The boys returned to HC Rotterdam for two professional coaching sessions and were fortunate to be trained by Black Stick Blair Tarrant and English striker Simon Egerton. Our first matches vs. HBR provided an opportunity to let off some steam and put some training into action. The U-18 side started well, with Charl Ulrich scoring twice, before a last minute goal to HBR levelled a 2-2 result. The U-16s were beaten 5-1 in their match. The second match vs. HC Voorn heralded two wins – the U-16s fighting hard for a 2-1 win with goals to Connor Smith and Nic Knowles, while Jarryd Russell slotted two and Ulrich one in their 3-2 victory. Between matches the boys cycled between the windmills of Kinderdijk and had a day to explore Amsterdam and the Anne Frank House.
At the end of our first week we arrived in Hoorn for the West Friesland Easter Tournament. With up to four 40 minute matches every day, the boys were to play a lot of hockey against a great variety of teams. The U-16s started their tournament off with a tough 0-3 loss to English side Sheffield and Sandy, but followed this up with their second win on tour by beating Melbourne Grammar 2-0. Belgian side KMTHC were too strong in a 0-3 loss, and the boys started to run out of steam by the fourth match of the day, a 0-1 loss to Swiss side Roslagens. Day two started well with a 1-0 over Trinity College, before a 1-1 draw with German team SV Blankenese and 0-2 loss to eventual winners WFHC capped off the day. In the 5th/6th playoff WBHS were beaten 1-4 by Roslagens.
The Westlake U-18s started strongly, beating Australia’s Trinity College 4-0. However, conceding a last minute goal meant a 1-1 draw with South African side Cornwall Hill, and a 1-3 loss to eventual finalists HV Myra left the team needing wins on Easter Sunday. Despite a gritty defensive effort, Westlake went down 0-1 to Norwich High School, who won all their pool matches with a +18 goal differential and the final 10-2. Again, a frustrating last minute goal lead to another 1-1 draw with KMTHC, and a deflated WBHS team went down 0-1 against Bridge House School. The final match of the day was a 2-2 draw with WFHC. In the 7th/8th playoff vs Trinity, Westlake won 3-0. A highlight of the weekend was Calum Grassick being named Goalkeeper of the Tournament. Calum played brilliantly, ensuring that despite finishing 7th we finished with a +3 goal differential.
From Holland the tour moved on to Germany – stopping in Eindhoven to watch the EHL quarter-finals – a spectacle that would be hard to find in any country other than Holland. Hosted by HC Oranje-Rood in front of over two thousand fans, the boys were treated to two excellent matches.
After a couple of days off hockey both Westlake sides were refreshed and ready to compete against Bonn’s HC Schwarz-Weiz. The U-16 side played an excellent match against a skilful opposition, but a ten minute drop in concentration lead to a 1-4 loss. The U-18s were determined to put lessons from tournament into action, and a last minute winner by Stefan Wiig ensured a satisfying 3-2 victory. Whilst in Germany the boys enjoyed a trip to Phantasialand and sightseeing around Cologne.
On return to Holland, Westlake played HC Nova in Heerlen, with the U-16s scoring first before an onslaught of goals from the home side eventuated in a 1-6 loss. With Nova losing most of their top talent to neighbouring Maastricht, the next match vs. MHC Maastricht was a hefty 0-10 loss to one of the best U-16 sides in Holland. The U-18s fared better, coming from a three-goal deficit against HC Nova to win 4-3, and managing to find a late equaliser against Maastricht in a 1-1 draw. Our final matches were against Saint-Georges in Kortrijk, Belgium. We were greeted by a senior player clutching his drink who announced proudly that his club was older, “than your country!” and duly beat both of his U-16 team 3-2 and U-18 team 6-0.
A special highlight of the trip was spending Anzac Day in southern Belgium to commemorate the centenary of the Third Battle of Ypres. A freezing Dawn Service was held in Polygon Wood, the scene of bitter fighting south of Passchendaele. The boys then travelled into Ypres for a service at the Menin Gate – a huge monument adorned with the names of the thousands of missing soldiers with no known grave. A final service was held in the small town of Messines. With the sun finally making an appearance, the setting felt decidedly Kiwi – complete with Māori waiata to commemorate the New Zealand Division’s success in taking Messines Ridge. Calum Grassick spoke excellently in delivering a poignant reading about a young New Zealand pilot who was killed twelve days after joining his squadron on the Western Front, while Daniel Young and Netesh Sukha laid wreathes on behalf of the school. Following the town reception the Westlake boys performed a rousing haka to show the school’s appreciation for Messines’s hospitality, closing a day and tour that the students and staff will never forget.