Touted as the best hockey goalkeeper in world hockey, Netherlands’s Jaap Stockmann is a name that even the best of strikers treat with respect.
The 28-year-old tall Dutch goalkeeper has carved out a reputation for himself that most other goal-tenders would struggle to match.
Stockmann strutted his world-class stuff in front of the Indian hockey fans during the inaugural Hero Hockey India League (HIL) earlier this year, while turning out for the Jaypee Punjab Warriors.
Superb reflexes, acrobatic saves, poise and picture of confidence are things synonymous with Stockmann. He has represented the Netherlands national side in more than 70 internationals matches.
The Rabobank employee, who runs a hockey goalkeeper academy – Oranjekeepers - spoke in an exclusive interview.
Tell us a bit about your early days as a hockey player. How did you come through the junior ranks?
I started playing hockey when I was 6 years old. First I was a striker but when I became 12 years of age, I wanted to become the number one goalkeeper. That’s when I decided to switch. It turned out pretty well.
Share us your memories about your first senior international match for Netherlands.
I made my senior international debut against New Zealand in a Test series held in New Zealand. We won that match 4-3 and it was an amazing match to play. I will never forget that match.
Can you elaborate about the hockey structure in the Netherlands?
Hockey is quite popular in the Netherlands. It is the second most popular team sport after soccer. Most people who are playing hockey are youngsters. There are over 600 astroturfs in the country. The number of people playing hockey has more than doubled since the 1998 World Cup held in Utrecht. This will promise something for the upcoming 2014 World Cup slated to be held in the Hague.
You were the reserve goalkeeper at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where the Dutch team finished fourth. But at the 2012 London Olympics, you were part of a silver medal-winning Dutch side. It must be hugely satisfying to make a podium finish in London after the disappointment in Beijing?
Although I didn’t play in Beijing, the fourth place finish was a huge disappointment. You see other athletes who win medals and we didn’t. It made me really determined to win a medal in London.
You are considered the world’s best hockey goalkeeper. How does it feel?
I’m honoured when people call me that. There are lots of good goalkeepers around on the international stage.
Which has been the most memorable senior international match for you as a goalkeeper and why?
The 2012 London Olympics final and the final of the 2009 Punjab Gold Cup held in Chandigarh. The Olympic final is the highest level you can play as an athlete, and the Four Nations Punjab Gold Cup was very special because we played in India against the hosts (we beat them 2-1). Both matches were very close and played in front of big crowds.
What do you think are the qualities that define a good hockey goalkeeper?
You need to stay calm, be flexible, have good reflexes and coach your defenders.
Has the role of hockey goalkeepers changed over the years owing to various changes in the rules of the game?
Since the speed has gone up, reflexes and flexibility have become more important.
Who is your favourite hockey player and why?
I think Sardar Singh is definitely one of the best players in the world. Unfortunately, I’m yet to play with him.
Netherlands are considered one of the top teams of the world. How much gap do you think India has to bridge to come anywhere close to top teams like Netherlands, Germany and Australia?
I think the gap is getting smaller. India is on the right track by using foreign expertise in terms of tactical knowledge. They have the best technical players, so if they keep on improving tactically, they will be the team to beat in the future. India needs to realise that it takes time before the results start to show, it doesn’t happen overnight.
How do you assess the current Indian team, especially after our disastrous London Olympics campaign?
Indians were very unlucky at the Olympics. They almost beat us in the first match, we finished second and they came last. This shows that the differences are very small. India’s fourth-place finish at the Champions Trophy is a further indication of the upswing in their performance.
Celebrated Dutch striker Teun de Nooojer has retired from international hockey. How much would the Dutch team miss him?Of course, we will miss him. He is the best player Netherlands ever had and will have. However, hockey is a team sport and everybody is replaceable.
How do you assess Indian hockey coach Michael Nobbs?
I have never worked with him so I cannot address that question.
Tell us your experiences of playing in the Hockey India League?
The HIL was an absolute cracker! In the first year, I think it already became the best league in the world. All international superstars are playing and those who didn’t get picked were very disappointed. It set a new bar for international hockey. I think that all international tournaments and national leagues will depend on the HIL. For me as a player, it is the best league to play in and I hope to play in the HIL for a long time!
Are you employed with any organization?
Besides playing for the Dutch national team, Jaypee Punjab Warriors and my Dutch club Bloemendaal, I work at the Rabobank when I have no hockey obligations.
Tells us a bit about your hockey goalkeeper academy?
In Holland, I run my hockey goalkeeper academy, Oranjekeepers (www.oranjekeepers.nl). Goalkeepers are always a little forgotten and deserve more attention. It is probably the most important position in the field. That’s why I organise daily and weekly camps for young goalkeepers and train with them like I train. I already have had talks with Jaypee to get involved in the academy which they plan to start in the future. It would be great if I can contribute something to Indian hockey.
Tell us a bit about your family?
We are five in my family, my parents and two elder brothers. My brothers and I don’t live at home any more, but we see each other regularly. I have got a nice family!
What other things you do when you are not playing hockey?
I love to travel. I am lucky that I travel all around the world. Since I have only been to India for hockey purposes, I plan to go to India one day with only a backpack and not a hockey stick. India and the Indian people fascinate me. I love it. Chak de India!
Photo: Courtesy www.hockey.nl