LONDON, 22 July – On their way to winning gold at Beijing 2008, Netherlands’ women’s team, and captain Maartje Paumen in particular, proved just how essential penalty-corner drag-flick specialists are in hockey.
Netherlands were the tournament’s top scorers with 21 goals in seven matches, 16 of which came from penalty corner plays, including 11 converted by Paumen.
The 2011 International Hockey Federation player of the year is regarded as the world’s best drag flicker and her performances in China clearly underlined the impact penalty corners have in the modern game.
It wasn’t just Netherlands and Paumen that relied on the skill at Beijing. Penalty corner goals accounted for 48% of goals scored in the
women’s tournament with Spain, Britain, New Zealand, South Africa and USA all netting more set-piece strikes than goals from the field.
Despite that trend continuing after Beijing – nearly 40% of all goals scored at major women’s tournaments since have come from penalty
corners – Paumen insisted her team consider their execution to be just another aspect of their game.
“For us, it is an opportunity to score a goal,” she said. “It is not that we have to score a goal, but we have a chance to score a goal.”
Paumen added she practises just 20 drag flicks a week, in contrast to the hours of dedication put in by fellow experts such as Crista Cullen (GBR) and Jodie Schultz (AUS).
Cullen does about 200 drag flicks a week while Schultz admitted she works on her technique every day except Sunday.
“It’s probably the most important shot these days in both men’s and women’s hockey,” Schultz said. “It guarantees a shot at the net. One penalty corner can win the game, it can be a game-changer. I put in a
lot of hard work, a lot of time into it, a lot of training.”
Cullen agrees and speaks from experience about the importance of a technique in which a player, with a balanced combination of strength, power and skill, receives the ball from a penalty corner and “slings,” rather than “hits” it, towards the goal. At the 2012 Champions Trophy in Argentina, Cullen scored more penalty corner goals (5) than any other
Her tally amounted to more than a third of her team’s tournament goals and was key to Britain’s progression to their first Champions
“We (GBR) are not hiding from the fact that if we don’t convert our corners, we probably won’t make it to the semifinals,” she said. “I’ve flicked the best I’ve ever flicked in the last year.”
While the drag flick is not an easy shot to master, deadly exponents such as Paumen, Cullen, SchultzZ and Argentina’s Noel Barrionuevo offer a consistent threat from the top of the circle.
Recent history certainly suggests penalty corners will play a big part in deciding the outcome of London 2012’s women’s tournament.