RAIPUR: Argentina have a penalty corner. The defending team cuts a forlorn look as they strap on their face masks, gloves and abdomen guards. Most of them are sure they don’t even need to do any of this as in a minute’s time Los Leones will be ahead. Yet, they continue.
When the charade is done and the whistle is blown, the pusher completes his job and looks on. The stopper dummies the onrushing defenders with a clever trick and Gonzalo Peillat starts his movement. Does he score? He always scores.
They call him the king of the drag-flick. The leading goal-scorer with eight (all from penalty corners) at the ongoing World Hockey League Final, he is a country mile out in front – Great Britain’s Simon Mantell is the next best with four.
What is Peillat’s secret? Just how is he a crack from penalty corners? “I don’t know,” he says. “I practice my penalty corner. Thirty shots per session, three sessions per day and nothing more or nothing less.”
Peillat’s rise as one of the best coincided with Argentina’s rise up the world rankings. He has top-scored for Argentina in all competitions since the beginning of 2014 and has a strike rate of more than 100 per game (scoring at a rate of more than one goal a game). But remarkably he says he doesn’t feel the pressure to constantly score. “No I don’t feel it. Because I’m sure we will get other chances to score.”
To watch Peillat score from a penalty corner is to look on as a predator descends from the heavens, catches its prey before taking off again. There’s a certain inevitability to it. Eight years in the making. “It takes a long time to learn the art. I started taking drag-flicks when I was 15 and now am 23. About 7-8 years I have spent practicing.”
The other thing is who did Peillat pick up the skills from? Jorge Lombi, widely considered as the father of the modern drag-flick. “He never tried to change anything. He just encouraged me to practice more and add more variety and variation to my drag flicks.” Importantly, he thinks Lombi has given him something other coaches might not have. “Another coach could have changed my style or given me a different coaching methodology, something that might have changed me for the worse.”
Peillat, who is a second year student of architecture at the University of Buenos Aires, says proper rotation of arms and the upper body is important to achieve the perfect drag flick. “We have a video session before the game. And we watch the opposition. How they defend corners and where the players are positioned.”
“I just practice with the team. With the pusher, stopper, drag flicker and the goalkeeper. Everything is about the rotation of the body. The back, abdomen, upper body… it is not only the arms. The girls do it with the arms, but the men with the entire upper body.”