Photos by Marcel Sigg
The Cavemen, Dragons, Mambas and Bunters have all secured their spots in the semifinals of the Premier Hockey League. But it was the TopT Madikwe Rangers who were breathing some of the biggest sighs of relief after securing a crucial win over the Private Property St Lucia Lakers to keep their playoff hopes alive.
It certainly wasn’t a convincing victory – a 1-1 scoreline at the end of full time taking it to a shootout which they won 3-1 – but that didn’t bother coach Tsoanelo Pholo, whose team were simply after the three points.
“It was never going to be pretty, but we’re not here for pretty. We’re here for results,” said the relieved coach after the match.
“We had to score the one to equalise but there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to score today. And I think we have the best goalkeeper [Anelle van Deventer] at shootouts in the tournament. That’s one little trick we have in our arsenal. We don’t really want to use it all the time though, but three points is what we came here for and three points is what we got.”
The Rangers’ only other win of the PHL so far has also come from a shootout, and this time they had to do it without the services of the hugely experienced national player, Lisa-Marie Deetlefs, who has been ruled out of the tournament with a back injury.
“Those are huge shoes to fill but I think Kerry Pearton, who came through late last night as a replacement did a really good job. I’m really happy with how we could pull off what we needed to do,” added the coach.
There was also relief for the Kilimanjaro Addo Elephants. The 2016 runners-up have been struggling this year but managed to beat the Garden Route Gazelles 4-0 in their final group game to preserve their hopes of reaching the playoffs. Their progress will all depend on whether the Gazelles can pull off a colossal, bonus-point win against the Dragons on Sunday.
Meanwhile, former SA captain Austin Smith was starting to think he may be an unlucky charm for his ProGrip Drakensberg Dragons team. But that was all put right after his side handed the Mapungubwe Mambas their first defeat of the tournament. The Dragons’ 2-1 win also booked last year’s men’s wooden spoon winners an all-important semifinal spot with one match in hand.
“It’s great. I was a little bit worried because the guys did so well without me on the first weekend, getting two wins and then we lost last weekend. I was starting to worry that I was the common denominator but we did well today. It was tough but it’s really great to start the weekend off well.”
Smith scored from a penalty corner in the sixth minute to take the Dragons 1-0 up, but early in the second half Ross Gozalves found the equaliser for the Mambas, who were playing without ace goalkeeper Richard Curtis, Jarryd Jones and Rusten Abrahams, who have all been called up to the SA indoor hockey team. It was then Gareth Heynes who slotted in the winner for the Dragons, who have also lost SA player Jethro Eustice to the national indoor team.
“I thought our structure was better than theirs today,” explained Smith. “We created more circle opportunities than they did. We haven’t scored a field goal in the last two games so maybe that’s an area we can work on, but as long as we’re scoring and winning, we don’t really mind how it goes in.”
Later in the day, the Crossroads Maropeng Cavemen displayed their dominance once again in an impressive 6-2, bonus-point victory over the Old Mutual iWYZE Golden Gate Gladiators, who have now been ruled out of the playoffs after only managing one win so far and no more games to play.
Interestingly, the tournament’s top two goalscorers so far, Courtney Halle on five and Connor Beauchamp on four, are both from the Gladiators team, but they’ll play no further part in the 2017 PHL.
Eventual man of the match, Miguel da Graca, managed to hit the goalposts on four occasions before finally slotting one in to add to his team’s total and said afterwards: “I hit four on the bar and the fifth one finally went through the keeper’s legs. I thought if I go straight it’ll miss the posts so it was good to finally get one.”
The Cavemen were without their top scorer, Ricky West, who was nursing an injury, as well as captain and goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse, but still managed to dominate throughout the game and the result means the defending champions are now top of the log.
“It was a good win for the guys and it was one of those games where we needed the three points to make sure we secured the semifinal. That job was done today while resting some of our big guns. They’ve had a few injuries so they were rested today but they’ll be good to go from tomorrow,” explained Da Graca.
Later in the day, in a bottom-of-the-log battle between the Wineland Wings and the Orange River Rafters, it was the Wings who managed to secure their first win of the tournament with a 3-2 victory.
9 December 2017
ProGrip Drakensberg Dragons 2-1 Mapungubwe Mambas
TopT Madikwe Ranger 1-1 (3-1 SO) Private Property St Lucia Lakers
Crossroads Maropeng Cavemen 6-2 Old Mutual iWYZE Golden Gate Gladiators
Wineland Wings 3-2 Orange River Rafters
Kilimanjaro Addo Elephants 4-0 Garden Route Gazelles
10 December 2017
8am: Private Property St Lucia Lakers v Wineland Wings
10am: Crossroads Maropeng Cavemen v Mapungubwe Mambas
12pm: Orange River Rafters v Tivoli Blyde River Bunters
2pm: ProGrip Drakensberg Dragons v Garden Route Gazelles
4pm: Old Mutual iWYZE Namaqualand Daisies v TopT Madikwe Rangers