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Hatching a new AHL champion
23 Mar 2005 10:44

The men’s finals series of Australian Hockey League commences on Monday, 28 March, in Brisbane with the conclusion of rounds five to eight during the week, culminating in the semi finals and finals the following weekend which will determine the 2005 Champions. 

Competition heats up during the Finals Week, with teams playing each other only once for double points, in comparison to the previous rounds where teams had the opportunity to meet twice. The double points system means the final top four spots are up for grabs for almost all of the teams as the ladder can change significantly depending on results of the games. As with the previous rounds, all games will go to extra time and penalty strokes if required in order to declare a winner. 

Currently in the box seat are the NSW Waratahs, Queensland Blades and Adelaide Hotshots, with the Azuma Vikings, SmokeFree WA Thundersticks and Canberra Labor Club Lakers nipping at their heels. 

While the run is not yet over for the Vodafone Territory Stingers and the MIA Tassie Tigers, these two teams will have to produce some earth-raising performances to reach the top four. The Waratahs presently sit on a more than comfortable goal difference, while the other teams are all within striking distance of each other in what can be the make or break between a semi finals berth if points are equal after the round matches. 

The NSW Waratahs have been blooming, dropping only one match against the Azuma Vikings out of eight so far, and scoring an awesome 34 goals. Dutch international Taeke Taekema has been instrumental in their penalty corner goal scoring and is currently top goal scorer, while youngster Eli Matheson also features in the top 10. 

The return of Olympian Brent Livermore will increase the Waratahs battery, however two tough matches ahead against the Queensland Blades and Adelaide Hotshots in the final two round matches potentially keeps the top of the ladder open for others. 

Meanwhile, the Queensland Blades will welcome the return of Olympic gold medallists Jamie Dwyer (also WorldHockey Player of the Year in 2004) and Troy Elder, who have both been playing overseas. 

In their bid for a third consecutive AHL title, and despite having a number of Australian representatives on the team, the Blades have had a rocky start to their campaign, failing to achieve maximum points against some of teams they would be expected to beat. They will also face tough opposition, meeting the Waratahs and Hotshots in rounds five and six, and the Canberra Labor Club Lakers who have posted mixed results. 

The surprise achiever of 2005 to date, the Adelaide Hotshots, will be aiming to maintain their much improved form. 2000 Olympic bronze medallist Craig Victory is currently second top goal scorer, with Dale Stephen and Canadian import Ravi Kahlon not far behind. Once again however, the Hotshots have met the lower ranked teams, and the Blades and Waratahs will be working hard to stop them in their tracks. 

In the middle of the table, the Azuma Vikings, SmokeFree WA Thundersticks and Canberra Labor Club Lakers will be jostling to gain points and achieve a coveted semi final spot. Last year’s runners up, the Thundersticks, have shown form in beating the Blades, but they also crumbled to the Waratahs. Their performance against the Vikings, Lakers and Stingers may be rather unpredictable, but against these middle of the table teams, there may be a chance for them to climb the ladder again. 

The Azuma Vikings have been able to take points from every round by winning one match of the double headers, but failed to keep consistency and claim both results. Stephen Mowlam’s superb goal keeping has been a key for the Vikings while Declan Geraghty has been hitting the backboard at the other end of the field. With the Stingers, Thundersticks and Hotshots ahead, the Vikings will have to work hard to gain a shot at the title after finishing third and fourth in the past two years. 

The Canberra Labor Club Lakers have had disappointing finishes over the past years, and while they have claimed one victory over each of the Hotshots and the Vikings, they will need to put on their top performance to make the final four. 

Meanwhile the Vodafone Territory Stingers and MIA Tassie Tigers have shown glimpses of their talent throughout the season, but have been unable to put enough points on the board to beat the top teams. 

They will meet each other in the final round, before which they will be looking to take anything they can from their remaining games. It will be a tough challenge but if play falls their way, anything is possible. 

The AHL Final will take place at 2.30pm on Sunday 3 April at the State Hockey Centre in Brisbane.

The women’s AHL Finals Week will take place from 4-10 April in Canberra.

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