Brisbane Blaze Men have come from two goals down with two minutes remaining to book their ticket to the JDH Hockey One League Finals Main Event in a 6-4 result, while Canberra Chill Women edged a step closer to playing in the first semi-final with a thrilling penalty shootout win.
The Chill curse continued for the Brisbane Blaze women after a remarkable double act of goalkeeper Rene Hunter and Kalindi Commerford earned a spectacular 3-2 penalty shootout victory on home soil, after the teams were locked 2-2 after regular time.
Canberra had to come-from-behind in the shootout thanks to the heroics of Hunter to earn a bonus point that now edges them closer to a finals berth. All eyes will now be on their final round match against HC Melbourne next Friday night.
The hosts were earlier dealt a pre-match blow with the loss of Irish international Roisin Upton, which compounded the unavailability of former Hockeyroo Edwina Bone. And the Chill had a forgettable opening 105 seconds.
That was all it took for Junior World Cup-bound Hannah Cullum-Sanders to open the scoring for the Blaze after touching home an incisive reverse stick pass.
The young speedster duly re-affirmed the Blaze’s hot start by converting through the legs of a hapless Hunter.
The visitors’ two goal cushion was nearly added to when Tatum Stewart crashed their first penalty corner against the crossbar, with the ensuing rebound also striking the woodwork before the Chill scrambled to safety.
Another Blaze set piece on the cusp of quarter time brought out a spectacular save from Hunter to deny Brisbane extending their advantage after some brilliant work from Steph Kershaw.
The Chill remained on ice until Sarah Hawkshaw bobbed up to earn just their second sighter on goal in the 27th minute.
It proved to be the spark that was ignited by Commerford mere seconds after the main interval, as she arrived late on the scene to smash Naomi Evans’ pass home with a thunderous strike.
With Commerford scoring her conversion, the game was played on a knife’s edge thereafter with Hunter continuously called upon to make important saves, including seeing off seven consecutive second half set pieces.
The closest the Blaze could get were two Morgan Gallagher tomahawk strikes as the match was sent to a penalty shootout.
With both sides scoring once from their opening two attempts, Cullum-Sanders gave the Blaze the advantage that was reinforced when goalkeeper Emily Kingston marked her return to the top flight with a second diving stick save of the night to deny Commerford.
But Hunter was undeterred, saving from Rosie Malone and Madison Fitzpatrick to set the scene for Naomi Evans and Katie Mullan to score and clinch what could potentially be a vital bonus point.
“It’s moments like this that we play for and come back every year for,” Chill goalkeeper Rene Hunter said post-match.
“Brisbane really put it to us today and we got lucky when they hit the crossbar a few times, but the girls put in the hard yards all the way to the end.”
In one of the best men’s matches of the season, despite being outplayed for much of the night by a courageous Canberra Chill outfit, converted field goals from Liam Hart and Michael Francis in the final two minutes se the Brisbane Blaze come from 4-2 down to clinch a miraculous 6-4 win.
The old saying ‘fire and ice do not mix’ rang true in a heated match that drew four yellow cards and three green cards, with the Chill requiring a victory in regular time to keep their slim finals hopes alive.
After the Blaze levelled the scores up at 4-4, Chill goalkeeper Max Robson was withdrawn to open the door for Brisbane’s late winner from Francis.
Earlier, the Chill had dictated play and generated much of the attacking opportunities with stars Jay McDonald, Davis Atkin and Ben Staines at the heart of any free-flowing moves.
A goalless first half ended with Blaze youngster Diarmid Chappell owning the best scoring chance, forcing Robson into a smart deflect save before the main break.
No sooner had the match re-started though that Corey Weyer was forced to save a Ben Staines drag flick on the goal line, whilst at the other end Robson again denied Chappell with a clutch reflex save.
The match opened up with the Blaze dropped to nine players and Ben Staines made them pay, knocking home the rebound from a driving Owen Chivers baseline run, then duly converted to make it 2-0 after 38 minutes.
Kookaburras star Jake Whetton almost secured something from nothing after stealing possession high up the park, but his mid-air swipe skimmed the wrong side of the upright.
The Blaze’s night appeared to go from bad to worse when Ben Staines scored under heavy pressure from Brisbane keeper Mitch Nicholson, after Connor Tuddenham spotted his run.
Staines then proceeded to draw on his party trick with a shimmy-shake move that saw the ball in the roof of the net to stretch the scoreboard to 4-0 after 48 minutes.
But when Chappell was brought to ground by Macdonald, Weyer stepped up to send the penalty stroke into the top bins and Chappell steadied himself to convert on his reverse stick.
The duo traded half opportunities in an open and frantic final term, but when the Blaze earned a late penalty corner through debutant Tyler Gaddes, Hart was able to touch home an outside five variation crashed in by Whetton.
With Robson withdrawn as the Chill placed all their eggs in another basket, Francis was clever enough to guide the ball into the unguarded net and, in doing so, booked Brisbane’s return flight to Canberra for a fortnight’s time.
A simple tomahawk finish completed the scoring, but it was far from the performance Whetton feels will be enough come the Main Event.
“It’s a funny sport. We probably got dominated for three and a half quarters and then we put some plans together and then they came off,” Whetton said post-match.
“It was one of those games where you feel we probably snuck it in the end, and we’ll certainly take those points, but as the cliché goes all credit to Canberra who played really well tonight and we were pretty unlucky.”
Every match of the JDH Hockey One League 2023 Season is LIVE and free on 7plus.
Match report courtesy of Adam Clifford.
Match Details – Women’s Match
Canberra Chill 2 (Commerford 31’/31’)
Brisbane Blaze 2 (Cullum-Sanders 3’/4’)
Canberra Chill won shootout 3-2
Friday 10 November 2023
National Hockey Centre
Canberra Chill Women’s team: 1.Mikayla Evans, 2.Katie Mullan, 5.Claudia Johnston, 7.Naomi Evans, 8.Sarah Hawkshaw, 9.Samantha Economos, 11.Tamsin Bunt, 16.Georgie Smithers, 17.Kaitlin Cotter, 18.Olivia Martin, 21.Mikaela Patterson, 23.Kalindi Commerford (c), 24.Sarah White, 25.Lauren Yee, 32.Rene Hunter (gk)
Brisbane Blaze Women’s team: 1.Savannah Fitzpatrick, 2.Rosie Malone, 3.Kendra Fitzpatrick, 4.Claire Colwill, 5.Morgan Gallagher (c), 6.Hannah Cullum-Sanders, 8.Dayle Dolkens, 9.Casey Dolkens, 10.Madison Fitzpatrick, 11.Morgan Mathison, 12.Tatum Stewart, 14.Stephanie Kershaw, 16.Keeley Walker, 21.Emily Kingston (gk), 23.Ruby Harris
Match Details – Men’s Match
Canberra Chill 4 (B.Staines 38’/38’/48’/48’)
Brisbane Blaze 6 (Weyer 49’, Chappell 49’, Hart 59’/59’, Francis 59’/59’)
Friday 10 November 2023
National Hockey Centre
Canberra Chill Men’s team: 2.Ben Staines, 4.Jaume Torras, 6.Connor Tuddenham, 8.Sean Baker, 10.Owen Chivers, 11.Garry Backhus, 12.Jake Staines, 14.Koby Johnstone, 15.Hayden Dillon (c), 17.Aiden Dooley, 22.Jay Macdonald, 24.Davis Atkin, 26.James Jewel, 27.Max Robson (gk), 33.Rupinder Pal Singh
Brisbane Blaze Men’s team: 2.Shane Kenny, 3.Corey Weyer, 5.Lucas Brown, 7.Liam Hart, 10.Cale Cramer, 11.Michael Francis, 12.Jake Whetton (c), 13.David Hubbard, 14.Tyler Gaddes, 16.Tim Howard, 17.Scott Boyde, 19.Luke Randle, 21.Max Harding, 24.Diarmid Chappell, 32.Mitchell Nicholson (gk)