Premier Hockey League Semi Finals Confirmed as Group Stage Ends
Premier Hockey League Semi Finals: 30 games of hockey over 6 days produced 108 goals and now leave us with just four women’s sides and four men’s sides in the 2018 CTM Premier Hockey League. The weekend of four fixtures for most sides has taken its toll and the teams will be excited for a week off before taking on next week’s final weekend.
The early story on the day was the Wineland Wings and the Madikwe Rangers playing off for a place in the Quarter Finals, with the Namaqualand Daisies waiting to capitalise. The pressure and fatigue took its toll on the players and ultimately the quality but the Wings, knowing a victory gave them a chance, took the lead through Candice Manuel, reminding SA Hockey fans of her quality in front of goal. Young Stephanie Botha extended the lead in the third quarter to 2-0 giving the Wings a real chance of progress. The Rangers needed someone to take the game into their own hands and they are fortunate to possess a player with the quality of Kristen Paton.
The South African World Cup squad member pulled a goal back in the third quarter from a penalty corner before saving the best for last in levelling the game in the last minute. For the Wings it was the dreaded shootout that already meant they were eliminated from the tournament. To add insult to injury it was the Rangers that won the shootout and the three points and gave the Wings their 8th straight shootout defeat.
That result meant that the final game had something to play for still. The Daisies would qualify for the semi-finals with a 6-goal win, while the Rafter would become the first team in PHL history to complete a perfect group stage. Unfortunately for the Daisies in a very slow match, the Rafters possessed the quality when Donna Small went on a slalom run that set up Lerato Mahlangu, the poacher finished superbly. As much as both teams tried, the legs were gone, and no further goals were found.
In the other women’s game both the Blyde River Bunters and the St. Lucia Lakers had qualified already but a game that will be repeated next week in the semi-finals was lit up by two moments of quality from Carmen Smith. Her two penalty corners for the Bunters were hit with such velocity that the rebound went almost back into her own half. Neither goal left much opportunity for Moya Smith in the goals and probably showed teams the best way to beat the Lakers is by using your penalty corner opportunities.
Next week Saturday the Orange River Rafters reward for topping the table is a semi-final encounter with the Madikwe Rangers while the Blyde River Bunters will take on the St. Lucia Lakers again.
In the Men’s tournament there were two main questions still to be answered. Could the Mambas get a bonus point and qualify ahead of the defending champion the Cavemen and could the Addo Elephants become the first men’s side to win 5 out of 5 in the group stages of PHL.
The Mambas answered the first question emphatically with a no. They never really looked like they would score three and struggled to keep up with the combination play of the Dragons front line. The Dragons underlined their title credentials with goals in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th quarters through Mbuso Mgobozi, Richard Pautz and Amkelwe Letuka. Courtney Halle got a late goal back for the Mambas before the coaches added some excitement as both pulled their keepers for the last four minutes. It created a comical moment for the Dragons as kicking back Cameron Ryan inadvertently set up an easy finish for Mambas striker Luthando Jonas. Fortunately for Ryan the goal did not cost the Dragons the victory in the end as they saw out a 3-2 win.