Playing a lousy league one season and finishing ninth. The following year, on the last day of April, they secured a playoff ticket, with practically the same players. What Rotterdam is performing this season is the opposite of a year ago.
It is 3-2 for Rotterdam on Sunday when Little Switzerland gets a penalty corner with four seconds left on the clock, but Aki Käppeler drags the ball alongside. Then the horn sounds. From the sidelines, you expect a Rotterdam folk festival to erupt, now that participation in the playoffs has been secured. But Rotterdam’s players celebrate the victory rather subduedly. As if they had won in the third round of competition against pak ‘m beet Schaerweijde or HDM.
Then the speaker intervenes. ‘Heren 1 has qualified for the play-offs’, it echoes over the complex on the Hazelaarweg. Surprised, the players look up, standing in the circle. Then they start cheering. Only now is the news dawning on them.
Of course, reaching the playoffs doesn’t get you there. We go for more. Thijs Van Dam
International Thijs van Dam (26) honestly says that he did not realize that Rotterdam, as number three in the league, could already qualify for the play-offs. Due to Pinoké’s loss to Kampong , the Steekneuzen can still draw level with Rotterdam as number five in the league on the basis of points, but not on the basis of the number of games won.
“Honestly, I thought the number of goals scored would count. In that case, of course, you never know what will happen in the next two games. But it turns out to be about the number of games won,’ says Van Dam. “Either way, it’s nice for us that we’re now sure of the playoffs. That’s a nice reward for our good season. But of course, reaching the playoffs doesn’t get you there. We’re going for more.’
Kampong or Bloemendaal opponent in the play-offs
The flagship of Rotterdam finished ninth last season, in the last season of coach Albert Kees Manenschijn. Van Dam: ‘That was of course a mediocre result. We knew our group has a lot more potential than finishing ninth. This season, that potential is coming out. We’re showing good hockey at times. We enforced that ourselves. And that’s why we’re here with a playoff ticket.’
Van Dam doesn’t want to dwell too long on last season. He’d much rather talk about this season. ‘We have analysed where our qualities lie. First, with very good defending. And also at our speed. Our counter. We really started using it to hurt our opponents. This is also reflected in the number of goals we score. More than any other team in the league. We did an excellent job in that respect.’
He also stresses that there are still plenty of areas for improvement. Of both teams that Rotterdam can meet in the semi-finals of the play-offs, Kampong and Bloemendaal, Rotterdam lost twice this season. Last week, Rotterdam squandered the win over Kampong by giving away two goals in the last three minutes. The defeats against the Sparrows were especially painful: 0-5 and 4-1. About the chances in the play-offs, Van Dam says: ‘The position in the rankings clearly shows that Kampong and Bloemendaal are the best teams in the league. We have steps to take in this regard. But I think you saw last week what we are capable of against a team like Kampong, playing hockey.’
As a club we want to be at the top of the big league, with young Dutch talents Robin Rösch
The special thing about the resurrection of Rotterdam this season is that the players are largely the same as last year. Instead of the purse strings, the club continued the path that had been taken. Only Steijn van Heijningen and Adam Dixon were brought in as reinforcements. However, a new coach was put in front of the group with Robin Rösch. But his task was mainly to continue to give confidence to the generation of Rotterdammers who made the playoffs in 2021.
Rösch compliments players such as Van Dam, Justen Blok, Tjep Hoedemakers, Menno Boeren and goalkeeper Derk Meijer. But also Joaquín Menini, who has been put in midfield after the winter break. And of course Jeroen Hertzberger, who as the current top scorer of the Tulp Hoofdklasse is working on his second youth.
“Our goal this season is mainly what we want to radiate. How we want to play hockey. Offensively, with a defensive foundation. That’s what we work on every training. We’re building. Investing in young players, so that they can develop further. As a club we want to belong to the top of the big league, with young Dutch talents. In that respect, we are well on our way,” says Rösch.
“But of course we’re not there yet. It has to be better. We are aware of that. For us anyway, it’s great to play the playoffs. It’s going to be tough, but not impossible. And the experience we will gain in the future, no one will take away from us anymore.’