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Number increase . . . Oamaru Intermediate School Red player Mosstyn Brydges (11) is one of nearly 300 junior hockey players involved in the sport this season. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

North Otago Hockey president Jared Ovens believes this year’s successful season could be down to the influence of Ethan Booth.

Booth, a New Zealand under-21 development squad member, has been working as North Otago’s development officer for several months and has attracted fierce competition at the top level to Oamaru.

The North Otago town will host the Ian Smith Tournament at Queens Birthday weekend, between North Canterbury, South Canterbury, Central Otago, Eastern Southland, Invercargill and North Otago.

More than 20 people trialled for this year’s North Otago team and it was set to be one of the region’s strongest teams in many years, Ovens said.

“Pretty much, if you turned up you got in the team in the past,” Ovens said.

“Ethan . . . he’s come in and shaken up our whole way of thinking, and he’s got quite a few of the young ones trialling. He wants to see a progression for these young kids to have something to strive for.”

Booth would coach the Ian Smith tournament team, and Ovens hoped North Otago could send its top team to nationals later on this year, for the first time in many years.

“He’s trying to get something for people to play for. He’s just got some fresh ideas, and actually keen to get out there and do it, and he’s great with the kids.”

He was also helping coach the Tainui side, sitting third in the South Canterbury competition this season.

Tainui changed its formation and strategy this year and had been producing some great results, beating top-of-the-table Eastern 6-2 and drawing with Cambridge.

There were great things happening in the Oamaru competition, too. Nine teams were entered this year, up on previous years, which was exciting, Ovens said.

“We are seeing some more of the juniors coming through. I think people just got sick of sitting at home and not being able to do anything with Covid, and are getting out there.”

Team Shamrocks had come “back from the dead” after a five-year hiatus and the competition was proving to be an even one.

“Everyone’s beating everyone, and it’s going to be quite a good competition.”

Nearly 300 juniors were involved in hockey this season, which was significantly more than previous years.

headache having kids playing so late on a weeknight, but I think it’s a good problem to have.”