The sun shone in Wellington and the Ricoh Capital Cobras took full advantage with a bright 5-0 victory over the Central Mavericks to begin their NHL campaign in the best possible way.
The first quarter was even with both sides missing a couple of good chances. A Capital shot hit the crossbar, while Central’s penalty corner was thwarted by captain Dane Lett’s speedy running from the goal-mouth.
Capital began to play with more cohesion in the second quarter as Daan Jongejan and Black Stick Harry Miskimmin gained some control in midfield, while recent arrivals Sijbrant Bolhuis from Rotterdam, and Aussie Doug Buckley starting to find their rhythm.
Ben van Woerkom and Gabe Kepes were looking dangerous up front and it was Kepes who was on hand to turn in Bolhuis’ cross from the left to open the scoring after 15 minutes.
Capital continued to attack and were awarded a penalty stroke when Ollie MacIntyre was brought down from behind in the circle. Dane Lett’s powerful flick low to the goalie’s right doubled the Cobras’ lead a minute out from half time.
A fast, open third quarter saw Capital extend their lead when Kepes was on hand to score his second after good lead-up play from Miskimmin and Daniel Harris down the left.
Central certainly did not give up inspired by a powerful display from 12-year Black Sticks defender Shea McAleese and deft touches from Hayden Phillips and Dylan Thomas, but they could not find a way past Capital’s defence where Brad Read was unyielding as were goalkeepers Kyle Pontifex, and Fletcher Phillips, who was subbed on for the final quarter.
Capital finished flamboyantly with a late goal to Miskimmin then a spectacular final one by hard running Nick Finlayson after Buckley’s drag flick from a penalty corner had cannoned off the cross bar, but quick reactions saw the ball returned to the circle and past the sprawling goal-keeper.
In other games 21-year-old Black Sticks striker Sam Lane scored three times to help Canterbury beat home team Southern 5-1, while Mark Weber’s strike from a penalty corner was the only goal in Midlands’ narrow win over Auckland at Hamilton.
It was a different story at Hawkes Bay where the Ricoh Capital women’s team went down 4-0 to the Central Mysticks. They were rocked early on when Napier Girls’ High School striker Kaitlin Cotter scored twice in the opening three minutes. They responded strongly with Felicity Reidy and former New Zealand Under-21 striker Maddi McLean to the fore, but were thwarted by several fine saves from 29-cap Black Sticks goal-keeper Georgia Barnett.
The Mysticks scored again late in the third quarter through Iona College striker Olivia Shannon. Finally it was the fleet-footed Cotter, a member of the New Zealand Under-18 Development squad, who completed her hat-trick with four minutes remaining.
In other women’s games Capital’s next opponents Canterbury overran Southern 9-1 at home as Junior Black Sticks striker Emily Wium scored a goal in each quarter; while North Harbour beat Northland 4-0 at Whangarei, with experienced Black Stick Kirsten Pearce netting twice in the second half.
In a repeat of last year’s semi-final Auckland scored late from a penalty corner at Lloyd Elsmore Park to draw 1-1 with Midlands. There was no further score during extra time, and the visitors won the shoot-out 4-2 to take the extra point.