Heartache for Thai Stix in 20th Annual Mekong Cup ball hockey tournament

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It was a great day of ball hockey in Phuket and a Mekong Cup Final for the ages!  The Bangkok-based Thai Stix ball hockey team rallied from a 3-1 deficit to tie the Hong Kong Islanders 3-3 in the dying seconds of the Mekong Cup championship game only to see Hong Kong lead a last-second rush, score and snatch victory while the Thai Stix were still celebrating their tying goal.

In ball hockey jargon, after you score, players from the scoring team regain their half of the court and then “turn and face” their opponents, but if the scoring team doesn’t do this quickly enough the team that was just been scored upon can turn it to their advantage, which is exactly what Hong Kong did to the Thai Stix, not once, but twice, during the final game.  On both occasions, after Thai Stix goals, the Islanders quickly steeled themselves, refused to grouse and rushed back without missing a beat, scoring both times and turning the Thai Stix short-lived euphoria into abject misery.

Thai Stix take on the Hong Kong Islanders in the final of the 20th Annual Mekong Cup ball hockey tournament at Centara Karon Resort in Phuket, Saturday, march 15.Thai Stix take on the Hong Kong Islanders in the final of the 20th Annual Mekong Cup ball hockey tournament at Centara Karon Resort in Phuket, Saturday, march 15.

Many of the Hong Kong ball hockey players are also members of that community’s top ice hockey team, which has a history of not panicking and winning closing games in the dying minutes.

This year’s tournament, held March 15 at the Centara Karon Resort Phuket, saw six teams compete for Southeast Asia’s most coveted ball hockey trophy.  Three came from Thailand; the Bangkok Thai Stix, the Bangkok Thundering Chang and the Chiang Mai Highlanders; two from Singapore, the Chili Crabs and the veteran Crusty Crabs; and one from Hong Kong, the eventual champions, the Islanders.

After round-robin play in the morning, the only two teams that remained without a victory were the Singapore Crusty Crabs and the second Bangkok team, the Thundering Chang (previously called the Bangkok Bullies).  These teams were eliminated from semi-final action in the afternoon.

The first semi-final saw the top-seeded Thai Stix shut-out the fourth-seeded Chiang Mai Highlanders 3-0; this was a physical affair, which saw the Highlanders constantly complaining about the officiating.  It didn’t help that the officials missed an accidental high stick, which cut one of the Chiang Mai players in the mouth.  There is little love lost between the two squads, and Chiang Mai is still looking for its first win against the Bangkok squad.

The second semi-final saw second-seeded Hong Kong face off against third-seeded Singapore Chili Crabs.  This match was played after a 45-minute rain delay.  In this game, Hong Kong came out flying and dominated Singapore, winning easily 6-0.

The Thai Stix last won the Mekong Cup in 2004 and captain John Stevens and goalie Yves Gaboriault are the only surviving members from that team on the Stix today though Thundering Chang members Keith Johnston and Scott Murray as well as tourney organizer John Casella were also part of that dynasty, which won four titles over five years.

This was a record fifth championship for the Islanders, though they did share a title with a Slovakian team, the HKL-MJM Petrzalka in 2009.  The last time the Islanders won was in 2011.