Two thrilling penalty shootouts bookended an enthralling four semi finals of the JDH Hockey One League at the National Hockey Centre in Canberra.
Brisbane Blaze will meet an inspired Canberra Chill riding the home support in tomorrow’s women’s grand final, while NSW Pride Men, who are chasing a three-peat, will take on Brisbane Blaze who survived a nail biting shootout against HC Melbourne, in the men’s decider.
Women’s Semi Final 1
The Brisbane Blaze edged out the Perth Thundersticks 4-2 in a penalty shootout, courtesy of an inspired performance from goalkeeper Emily Kingston, after the teams were locked 2-2 at full time.
Dayle Dolkens opened the scoring in just the 4th minute, completing a threatening baseline run by teammate and FIH World Player of the Year nominee Rosie Malone.
The goal would be the sole reward for a first half the Blaze had control of, although both opposing goalkeepers were called on to make important saves.
Following the main break, the Thundersticks swung momentum firmly back with Shanea Tonkin firing an early reverse stick warning across the face of goal.
It wasn’t long before the equaliser came when Line Malan – sister of South African cricketer Dawid Malan – crashed home a penalty corner rebound in the 36th minute.
A hush went around the National Hockey Centre when Malone was struck in the face by a raised ball on the stroke of half time, but the gutsy star would return to the field late on after passing concussion protocols.
Blaze midfielder Rebecca Greiner edged Brisbane in front with a sublime tomahawk strike in the 53rd minute, before Perth keeper Lizzy Duguid kept her side in the match by saving the conversion opportunity.
Brisbane fans barely had a moment to celebrate their advantage when Thundersticks and Hockeyroos defender Penny Squibb slammed home a leveller just 90 seconds later with a well-placed penalty corner flick.
Come the shootout, the Blaze earned an early two goal cushion when Steph Kershaw and Savannah Fitzpatrick converted as Kingston saved from Elyssa Melville and Georgia Wilson.
Despite goals from Sarah Byrnes and Tonkin, the Blaze secured their passage to Sunday’s grand final with Malone and then Greiner finishing on their fore-sticks.
Greiner was delighted to see her side emerge victorious and move through to a third straight grand final appearance.
“We knew going into this game that Perth was going to put up a really good fight because of what happened when we played them last weekend,” said Greiner.
“We wanted to play with a lot of heart and make sure we competed better than them. That was our motto…to stay in it. Queensland teams love playing in big games so that was our theme…to go out there and fight hard to the very end.”
“It gives us a lot of confidence that we can grind out those tough games but we know who we play next is going to be a very different team. It’s a matter of switching off from this game and going, ok what’s the next job.”
Men’s Semi Final 1
The NSW Pride have maintained their unbeaten campaign and moved within one win of claiming the first three-peat in Australian men’s hockey history, surviving a stern examination by the Tassie Tigers to claim a 6-2 semi-final win.
Kookaburras forward Blake Govers stood tallest of the Pride players with an incredible four goal haul that simply had to be seen to be believed.
Govers would crash home an unstoppable strike with his first look at goal before doubling up to knock home the two-goal play on his reverse stick after nine minutes.
In the shadows of quarter time, the Tigers struck back with Kookaburra Jeremy Hayward drilling a powerful low flick as their dogged counter attacking plan reaped reward with teammate Ehren Hazell causing headaches against his former side.
After 23 minutes, Govers had registered his hat-trick with a tracer-bullet penalty corner flick that zeroed in on the top left-hand corner of the net to stretch the score to 3-1.
In the 34th minute, Hazell’s mesmerising base-line run and quick taken shot saw the rebound fall to teammate Gobind Gill and the Tiger slammed home the field goal.
Pride keeper Ash Thomas made an important save to deny Gill and protect his side’s advantage into the final break.
In a seesawing final quarter, the Pride took advantage of a dispossession high up the park with Tim Brand earning a penalty stroke that was converted expertly by Govers eight minutes from time.
19-year-old Tigers keeper Magnus McCausland recovered quickly to deny Brand’s conversion opportunity with a sharp stick save.
Desperate to eat into the deficit, the Tigers withdrew McCausland in favour of an additional field player but their efforts were in vain as they were reduced to ten men, allowing Brand to score a late converted field goal to extend the scoreline to 6-2.
“They got under our skin a few times and they know how to, so they did that well. That disrupted for a large part of the game and kept them in it,” said Govers.
“It was a bit disappointing we couldn’t overcome it a bit earlier but we defended well enough to keep them out and ended up running over the top of them.”
“We finally got away from their tactics. Tassie played to their strengths, so we had to sort it out and not play into their hands.”
On his four-goal haul, Govers said he took confidence from his early strike.
“The first one fell to me nicely and it’s always good to get a few early as it gives you confidence for the rest of the game,” said Govers.
“It has probably been a bit of a mindset thing. I feel like I’m in a good place…everything off the field is good, so I felt like I saw the first one like a beach ball and gave it a whack.”
“We are all really close mates and love playing for each other. We love this culture, we want to uphold what we deserve and that’s performing. At the end of the day it’s the mateship we have off field translating to the mateship on field.”
Women’s Semi Final 2
Canberra Chill have stormed into their first national grand final since 2004, riding a wave of home crowd support to secure an eye-catching 4-1 defeat of defending Hockey One League women’s champions NSW Pride.
The Chill overcame a nervous start to control proceedings with their precision out-letting and hard running in transition stunning the pre-match favourites.
The Pride were dealt a massive blow when Hockeyroos co-captain Grace Stewart succumbed to a calf injury in the opening minute of play.
NSW opened the scoring from a broken down penalty corner after the Chill failed to clear their lines, with Meike van Haeringen knocking home at the far post after 12 minutes. Chill starting goalkeeper Sarah Steinhardt denied the conversion to keep the damage at one.
Less than a minute before quarter time, the Chill fans were off their seats as New Zealand import Kaitlin Cotter slammed home a penalty corner flick to tie the scores up at 1-1.
From there, the Chill only grew in confidence and minutes before three quarter time teenager Lauren Yee earned a penalty stroke and Irish international Roisin Upton placed it in the top bins.
Chill forward Katie Mullan caused headaches for the Pride and moments after the main break the Irish captain brilliantly picked out former Hockeyroo Naomi Evans to ramp the ball above Pride keeper Jocelyn Bartram.
When Evans’ clever spin move evaded Bartram to convert her field goal, the scoreboard stretched to 4-1 and it left an unsurmountable mountain for the Pride to climb.
The final siren sounded to cue jubilant scenes for the home fans as their side sit on the cusp of creating their own slice of sporting history in tomorrow’s women’s grand final at 3:30pm against the Brisbane Blaze.
“I don’t really have any words at the moment…it’s still sinking in,” said Chill midfielder Mikaela Patterson.
“It has been a long training period leading up to this and to do it in front of our home fans on our home pitch is amazing.”
“The relationships we’ve built, especially with the international girls coming in…everyone has gelled really well.”
Men’s Semi Final 2
The flame still flickers for the Brisbane Blaze Men after they emerged victorious 10-9 from the JDH Hockey One League’s longest ever penalty shootout to decide their semi-final against a gallant HC Melbourne.
After scores were locked 3-3 at full time, the shootout required 26 attempts before the Blaze were able to secure the epic win, with Mother Nature threatening to intervene and HC Melbourne forced to replace a penalty taker mid-shootout.
With the shootout precariously placed at 9-9, Blaze keeper Mitch Nicholson was able to deny HC Melbourne defender Connor Otterbach to create the scene for teammate Daniel Beale to slide the winner in near post.
Earlier, HC Melbourne had opened the scoring through Eden Davis in the 8th minute, before the Blaze levelled the scores when New Zealand international Scott Boyde assisted Cale Cramer for a clinical deflected finish.
A territorial battle then ensued with both sides adept at the aerial pass and it wasn’t until Boyde scored a converted field goal to push Brisbane up 3-1.
But HC Melbourne responded in emphatic fashion, with Davis fortuitously seeing his tomahawk strike fall over the goal line after crashing into Nicholson’s helmet.
Davis simply converted his follow up effort to lock the two side’s at 3-3 and they remained there, courtesy of Brad Marais’ miraculous goal-line save to deny a late Blaze penalty corner flick from Joel Rintala.
The match was forced to over-time to determine a winner and after conceding an early advantage in the shootout, the pair traded seven consecutive sudden-death attempts before Otterbach’s unsuccessful effort opened the door for Beale.
With ice in his veins, the Kookaburras midfielder became ‘the real deal Beale’ by expertly finishing their thirteenth effort to book a place in the decider against NSW Pride at 5:30pm tomorrow.
“You just have to stick to your process. We practise a lot at training so it’s just about executing on the day. I think I took three or four against Johan then so the mind games start…but to finish it like that was awesome,” said a jubilant Boyde post match.
“They’re a grinding sort of team. We probably didn’t execute some of the things we spoke about before the game and HC Melbourne intercepted and counter attacked us pretty hard…they played bloody well.”
“We’ll come into the grand final as underdogs. NSW Pride have been playing well all season and when reflect on our game against them in the regular season, it was a tough battle but we didn’t play up to what our standards are.”
“All the work you do throughout the season is to reach the grand final and have a crack at winning the title and I’m glad we’ve got the opportunity.”
Match report courtesy of Adam Clifford.