Stoop fixture key factor behind Hinch's return

Hinch v Germany FIH Pro League 2
PLAYING in front of nearly 15,000 fans at Twickenham Stoop is exactly why Rio hero Maddie Hinch couldn't resist returning to hockey.

The 30-year-old goalkeeper is back from ten months away, resuming a glittering career that reached its dizzying peak with gold at the 2016 Olympic Games. 

Hinch, who saved four penalties in a shootout to earn victory over the Netherlands, stepped away to spend a season in the Dutch top flight with Stichtsche. 

Back between the sticks for the FIH Pro League run-in, Hinch says she's refreshed and ready to spearhead a tilt at Tokyo. 

"It's been an incredibly important ten months for me," said the 2016 Olympic international. 

"I was in a place where I was really struggling to enjoy the game anymore, and I knew I had so much more to give. 

"I needed some time to reset and now I feel in a great place, not just with my hockey, but mentally as well. 

"It's like I'm starting all over again. I'm looking forward to giving so much more energy than I could ten months ago. 

"In the end, I started to see that I really missed it. Not only did I miss playing, I missed the lifestyle, the discipline, I missed Bisham Abbey! 

"I just missed being a part of this team. As soon as I felt that way, I picked up the phone to Mark (Hager) and asked if I could come back."

Hager, who took over as coach in January, now has one of the finest goalkeepers in the world at his disposal for the end of the inaugural Pro League campaign. 

And Hinch will once again play her part in history as the Stoop hosts a men's and women's double-header between Great Britain and New Zealand. 

An anticipated capacity crowd at the iconic rugby stadium would shatter a record for the highest-attended hockey match on British soil since London 2012. 

With crowds for last summer's Vitality Women's Hockey World Cup, Hinch's last tournament before her self-imposed break, topping 100,000, the sport's growth is in overdrive.

However many more medals the goalkeeper adds to her cabinet, she'll always swell with pride when she's reminded how many people she's inspired to get involved in the game.

"Occasions like this were one of the reasons I came back," she said.

"Just pulling on a shirt and playing in front of one person is a special occasion, but to potentially be able to do it in front of 15,000 people is unheard of. 

"When I started, I would go to an international game and there would be a few hundred people there. 

"Now we're talking about filling a 15,000-seater stadium. Hockey is just in such a great place. 

"We couldn't have done that without doing what we did in Rio. 

"People are picking up a stick, people are getting involved, tuning in and picking it up on social media. 

“Without that, we can't keep growing as a sport and these matches are just another platform to show why hockey is a great sport. 

"We're excited to go out there, put on a show and hopefully get a GB win on the way.”

Great Britain Men and Women face New Zealand in a unique FIH Pro League double-header at the Twickenham Stoop on Sunday, 23 June. Tickets still available here.