Self-proclaimed 'battlers' Northland to meet Midlands in NHL women's final
The "battlers" of the National Hockey League women's competition have made it to the decider after a stunning semifinal win.
Northland, who haven't won the K Cup since its inception in 2000 (although they have made three of the last four finals), beat North Harbour 3-2 on Friday night, scoring two goals in the final four minutes to secure the victory.
They will meet Midlands in the final after they beat Auckland 3-1 in their semifinal thanks to some clinical finishing.
In the early game, Harbour looked as though they may have found a winner through Stephanie Dickins drag-flick early in the fourth quarter, but that was answered by Black Sticks penalty-corner specialist Brooke Neal with 3.23 left in the final quarter.
*McCaw goal sees Midlands through
Fellow Black Stick Ella Gunson scored the winner with 91 seconds remaining, producing a looping reverse shot which somehow made its way in.
Neal said they never gave up hope of getting back in the match, despite not having scored since Jodie Nichol's effort in the opening two minutes.
"The last quarter we just put it all on the line. Northland, we're all about stepping up and having a bit of mongrel in you.
"It's not always pretty - we call ourselves the battlers - but we made it happen. We worked as a team today and really put our heart into that one, so we're excited for the final."
As for Gunson's goal, Neal said she was as perplexed as many of the spectators to see it go in.
"I don't even know how she did that. I don't think she does either. She's amazing and we really need our players stepping up like that when it matters."
The pair were instrumental in Northland's win, as was fellow Black Stick Stacey Michelsen.
For North Harbour, British import Steph Elliott played well in both defence and midfield, while Erin Goad was part of a lot of their best play.
Harbour coach Sam Bartholomew was understandably gutted after the game, having watched his team squander a number of chances through the middles stages of the match.
"Sport is cruel sometimes. You've got to give credit to Northland, they fought to the end and put their chances away.
"It's very disappointing, but our girls still need to keep their heads up. They put out there a good performance."
The second semifinal saw Midlands shoot out to a 3-0 lead by halftime on the back of some clinical finishing. The pick of the goals came from Shiloh Gloyn, who got on the end of a great through ball out of the back, before smashing home a finish from the top of the circle.
Auckland weren't really in it in the first half, but came back strongly in the second. Julia King got their goal in the fourth quarter, but clear-cut chances were few and far between. Anita Hope in the Midlands goal also produced a great save to keep out a penalty corner.
Midlands captain Sam Charlton was happy with their first-half finishing after they had struggled in that area in their 1-0 quarterfinal win over Capital.
"We didn't get too many opportunities in the first half, but we took the ones we did get.
"I don't think we had our best performance for the whole 60 minutes, but we ground it out and everyone worked really hard for it."
Midlands lost to Northland 3-2 in pool play, with Charlton expecting another close game in the final.
"I think it will be a tight affair. Each team has some solid players across the field so it should be a good game."
Auckland coach Jude Menezes was disappointed with the result, but happy with the way his team continued to battle away in the second half.
"The most frustrating part was the goals came off our errors and it's always going to be a tough ask going down three goals against a quality team like Midlands.
"But we had belief we could come back and I'm very proud of the way they fought in the second half and made a game of it."
AT A GLANCE
National Hockey League semifinals
Northland 3 (Brooke Neal, Ella Gunson, Jodie Nichol) North Harbour 2 (Stephanie Dickins, Kirsten Pearce). HT: 1-1.
Midlands 3 (Kate Savory, Shiloh Gloyn, Natasha Fitzsimons) Auckland 1 (Julia King). HT: 3-0.
Canterbury 7 (Rachel McCann 4, Margot Willis 3) Southern 1 (Tessa Jopp). HT: 5-1.
Capital 1 (Esther Chan) Central 1 (Clodagh McCullough ). HT: 0-1. Central won shoot-out 3-1.
Northland v Midlands at 1pm
Auckland v Capital 12.30pm
North Harbour v Southern 2.30pm