Canty women win first title in decade
The Canterbury women's hockey team ended their decade-long drought and at the same time won the province's first major team title of the year.
A 3-1 win over Auckland yesterday sealed the Canterbury Cats' first National Hockey League crown since 2002 and vindicated a decision by coach Aaron Ford to coax former Black Stick Stacey Carr out of retirement.
Carr was nervous about coming back to the Canterbury side two years after ending an impressive domestic and international career.
Commuting from her home town of Ashburton and playing with a team full of younger players - two of the side are still at school - was all made worth it when she and her young charges threw their sticks in the air at yesterday's fulltime whistle in Auckland.
"I'm so excited and so proud of the girls," Carr said.
"There's been a real culture change in the side and I'm so happy for the girls that we've done it, especially because it's been 10 years since Canterbury last won."
Carr was in that side in 2002 as a nervous 18-year-old in her first NHL.
She has played since, missing just last year's sixth place, and been on the wrong side of three frustrating finals losses, in 2003, 2005 and 2006.
Having retired once, Carr was already in demand for next season from first-year Cats coach Ford.
"She's been amazing, inspirational," he said. "Hopefully we can talk her into another year."
Carr said she was not sure what next year would bring, but the win was "a nice way to go out".
She was by no means the side's only star. Young striker Olivia Merry was the tournament's leading goal scorer with 10 goals, including one each in Saturday's 2-1 semifinal win over North Harbour and one in yesterday's decider.
Sian Fremaux was another standout, as was the defence as a whole.
The Cats conceded just eight goals from nine games.
"We just wanted to play enjoyable, competitive hockey," Ford said.
The win is the Canterbury women's 27th since the national competition began 104 years ago.
Merry opened the scoring against an Auckland side full of current and former Black Sticks and several New Zealand development squad players.
She was followed on the scorecard by Pippa Hayward helping the Cats to a 2-0 lead at halftime.
Auckland's Kate Hollywood drew one back for her side in the second spell, but the game was put beyond doubt when Tenille Burnside scored Canterbury's third.
Carr, who played 127 games for the Black Sticks, said "a number" of the current Cats side were bound for higher honours.
The Canterbury men's side finished their tournament on a high. An Isaac Staples hat-trick helped them win the seventh-eight playoff game 5-0 against Northland.
Auckland won the men's final, beating Southern 2-1.