The Wairarapa contingent in the Capital Cobras after winning the National Hockey League on Sunday. From left: Rowan Yeo, Benedict van Woerkom, Dane Lett and Nick Finlayson. PHOTO/JO MURRAY

HOCKEY

JAKE BELESKI
jake.beleski@age.co.nz

Sunday was a day to remember for the Dalefield Hockey Club.

As well as having four current or former players in the Capital Cobras team that won the National Hockey League in a penalty shootout, Black Stick and Dalefield player-coach Dane Lett also picked up the most valuable player award for the tournament.

Lett was joined by fellow Dalefield players Rowan Yeo and Nick Finlayson in the team for Sunday’s final, as well as former Dalefield player Benedict van Woerkom.

Capital got off to a fast start and scored in the third minute through Sebastian Buddle, and it stayed at 1-0 until the final few minutes.

North Harbour — the defending champions — took their goalkeeper off with four minutes left as they desperately searched for an equaliser, and it paid off straight away as Kalyan Jeram scored three minutes from fulltime.

That sent the match to penalties, and van Woerkom and Lett were both chosen to take part in a tense shootout.

Van Woerkom went second and found the back of the net, but Lett fired just wide on his attempt.

After five penalties each it was tied at 2-2, sending the shootout to sudden death.

Van Woerkom stepped up again to take the first penalty for Capital, and once again showed his composure to find the back of the net.

Capital goalkeeper Kyle Pontifex then saved the next penalty from North Harbour, sparking wild celebrations in the Capital camp.

Lett paid tribute to North Harbour after the match.

“You guys have had an awesome week.

“We knew coming into this year that you guys would be the toughest competition and you’ve continued your form from last year.

“I think the match was probably deserving of a draw — there were opportunities either way and it was a really tight contest.”

Lett was a calming presence for Capital throughout the tournament, controlling play from the back and using his drag flicks to great effect from penalty corners.

He scored four goals throughout the tournament, with three coming from penalty corners and the other from a penalty stroke against Central.

Lett knew they were in for a tough test against North Harbour, but the fact that they had beaten them 3-2 earlier in the week must have added to their confidence levels.

“Shootouts are one of those things where somebody has to win and somebody has to lose unfortunately, and we’re happy it was our day [on Sunday].

“Harbour are a really strong side and probably the most skilful team — they have really skilful guys across the paddock.

“We had to contain them with the ball and knew we would be a good chance.”

Capital very nearly didn’t make the final at all, after trailing Auckland 1-0 in the final minute of Saturday’s semifinal.

But Lett equalised with a trademark drag flick before a powerful cross from van Woerkom was deflected into the net with seconds remaining.

Lett said getting over that semifinal hurdle had provided a major boost.

“The semifinals are sort of where there is more pressure on because you’re playing for everything, and in the final you turn up to see what colour medal you’re going to get.”

Those medals were gold for Capital this year, in what was their first triumph since 2015.