Hockey: Black Sticks women embark on vital USA tour as do-or-die Olympic qualifying tournament awaits

The Black Sticks women are hoping to build some much-needed confidence without giving away all their secrets as they embark on a road trip to the USA.  

They're yet to lock in a spot at the Paris Olympics, and a series against the Americans before a do-or-die qualifying tournament in India means it will be a crucial few weeks for a team that's been to every Games since 2000.  

Heading stateside for games against one of their rivals for a spot at the Olympics, redemption is the theme for the Black Sticks.

"We've had some disappointing results this year, so we want to try and make sure we improve," said coach Phil Burrows.

The team are flying out to North Carolina on Tuesday, for a tour of two official tests and three friendlies.

The Americans are perhaps no longer the ideal opponent, though.  

The games were confirmed before New Zealand discovered the two nations were in the same pool for January's Olympic qualifying tournament in India.

"There is some element of showing what we've got, and making other teams worried," striker Olivia Merry said. "And [there's] elements of set pieces that we will hold back a little."  

The Black Sticks have been to every Olympics since Sydney but missed out on gaining an automatic spot for 2024 after a heartbreaking three-game series loss to Australia in August.

And the road to Paris will be challenging.

"We're not going to get an easy run to the Olympics," added Burrows. "January will be very tough.

"But I hope by the time we get there, we'll be prepared very well." 

That sentiment is shared by the players.

"I think these next two weeks of living and breathing hockey is really going to help us towards that," added Merry.

The Black Sticks have five games to try and find their groove before their Olympic hopes go on the line.