|Singapore team captures|
Karon Beach in Phuket recently played host to the eighteenth annual Mekong Cup. This one-day ball hockey tournament, the biggest of its kind in Asia, was played for the first time on the tennis courts of the Centara Karon Resort Phuket. The six competing teams played 5-on-5 (four players and a goalie) in a round-robin format with four teams advancing to the afternoon semi-finals and championship final. An awards banquet/BBQ followed the tourney, and post-game celebrations took part on lively Soi BangLa in Patong.
Explaining the Mekong Cup, tourney organizer John Casella says, "This event takes place every year in the middle of springtime once the winter snows of Phuket have melted exposing the soft underbelly of Karon Beach and giving way to the smooth surface of the Centara Karon's tennis courts.
" In this year's tourney, the Singapore Chili Crabs ball hockey squad reclaimed top honours, beating out five other teams for their first championship since 2003. After the preliminary round-robin round, the Singapore Chili Crabs were seeded 1st, followed by the Bangkok Thai Stix in 2nd and the Hong Kong Islanders in 3rd place. The Pepper Crabs tied the Chili Crabs in the final game of the round-robin to secure the 4th spot; if they hadn't, they would have finished 5th behind the rookie Seoul R.O.K.s making their first visit from South Korea. The surprise result for the tournament was the 6th-place finish by the Slovakian team "HKL-MJM Petrzalka" who were making their third visit to the Mekong Cup and who had made it to the final in their first two appearances, winning the tournament outright the last time they played; it was clearly evident that they had lost their "focus" in this year's tournament.
The all Singapore match-up in the first semi-final game, was a more lopsided result than their round-robin encounter, with the Chili Crabs comfortably winning over their undermanned Pepper Crab squad. In the other semi-final game, the Thai Stix defeated the defending champion clutch-and-grab Hong Kong Islanders in a closely fought battle. This 3-1 feisty affair was settled a late go-ahead goal by Geoff McIntyre who then followed up with the empty netter, too.
After a 20-minute rest from the afternoon sun, the stage was set for another historic championship bout between the Thai Stix and the Chili Crabs. The Chili Crabs were confident going into the final having beaten the Thai Stix convincingly in the round-robin play. But it was tight and physical championship game with some usual chippiness, but as time wound down Singapore scored into an empty Bangkok net to seal its first Mekong Cup in almost a decade with a 4-1 victory.History
Ball hockey developed in North America so ice hockey players could keep in shape during the summer months when ice time was scarce. Half of the Thai Stix team (Geoff McIntyre, Todd Switzer, Stephen Sproule, Devin Keer, Charlie Argue, John Schachnovsky, Adrian Myers and goalie Lance Parker) also play ice hockey with the Flying Farangs but they will likely admit that they find it tougher to play ball hockey because of the greater demands it puts on their cardiovascular system. Other Thai Stix include Antti Nyrhinen, Jouni Sunikka, Keith "KJ" Johnston, John Stevens, Mez Lalji, Tom Phillipson and goalie Yves Gaboriault.
The game itself has morphed from simply using dead tennis balls, beat-up ice hockey sticks, a driveway and a couple of trash cans as goal posts. Now, there's hightech equipment and special playing surfaces. But the Thai Stix are purists - balls and sticks, enthusiasm and that never-ending competitive spirit, which you'll find them honing at the British Club every Saturday afternoon.
The first tournament, played in 1995, was a showdown between Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. With the best-of-five series knotted at two game a piece, the game was called due to darkness with the score tied at one. The following Cups saw the addition of teams from Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Phnom Penh and Slovakia.
One of the founders of the Thai Stix, Luc Perron, was the son of a former Canadian Ambassador to Thailand. Back then the team played on the roof of the AIA building on Suriwong Road in Bangkok. They caught more breeze that way. By the way, the tourney was named after the whiskey, not the river, by tourney founder Richard Meiklejohn. John Stevens, captain of the Thai Stix, and one of the longest serving members on the team, sums up his passion for the game: "First, it has to do with carrying on the great hockey tradition that almost every Canadian shares. Second, the thrill of playing in a tropical climate is quite bizarre. Third, the sheer excitement of the game you've loved since you were a little kid. It gets in your blood very quickly".