The 11th season world’s best club hockey competition, the Euro Hockey League, reaches the FINAL4 stage this weekend with HC Bloemendaal playing the perfect host to fellow contenders HC Rotterdam, SV Kampong and Belgian fairytale story Herakles.
Already, Sunday’s GRAND FINAL has sold out with all 4,800 tickets snapped up well in advance while Saturday’s semi-finals between Kampong and Herakles (1.15pm, CET) and the Dutch derby between Bloemendaal and Rotterdam (4pm) are close to selling out, too.
All the matches will be available to view around the globe either via the www.eurohockeytv.org streaming platform or via the EHL’s link-ups with NOS (Netherlands), Eleven Sports (Belgium), DAZN (Germany, Austria and Switzerland), BT Sport (GB and Ireland), beIN Sports (Australia) and Supersport (South Africa).
The games themselves bring together some of the best players in the world, playing in the club environment that helped them develop to be the best they can be.
SV Kampong come into their semi-final against Herakles following a glorious season, winning the Dutch Hoofdklasse title for the second successive season last Sunday with a dramatic final win over AH&BC Amsterdam.
The 2016 champs are now seeking a rare Hoofdklasse and EHL double, something that would surely provide an emotional send off for the retiring club legends Quirijn Caspers, Constantijn Jonker, Philip Meulenbroek and Sjoerd de Wert.
Jonker is indicative of the love of the club. He started training with the first team since he was 15, helping Kampong win promotion to the top level in 2006 before waiting a decade before finally tasting glory in the EHL.
“We cherish beautiful memories of the EHL FINAL4 in Barcelona two years ago and there are some similiarities in our preparation in that we went to Spain fully fit and with a lot of confidence like this season.
“The EHL in 2016 was the first big prize for the club in over 33 years and since we have won the national title two years in a row, I feel that we have gained experience and belief in ourselves, so we are really looking forward to this weekend.
“The road [from 2006] was difficult and, at times, I really had my doubts if we could win the big prizes with a young, Dutch team which is mainly based on our own youth. Of course, I am delighted that we were able to reward the club, its supporters and ourselves for the work we put in.”
They face a Herakles side with a very similar ethic of promotion from within their club in Lier in Belgium with a number of brothers and cousins lining out in the team.
Two of their stars Amaury Keusters and Nico de Kerpel have been with the club since they were five years old and now play with the Belgian Red Lions. Keusters scored the key equalising goal against Real Club de Polo in the KO8 and de Kerpel slotted the winning shoot-out, giving their raucous “yellow submarine” of fans lots to shout about.
Keusters has had many offers to move club, trying to tempt him with the lure of playing in the EHL, but he is delighted to have stayed with his home club, one where his grandfather and father both played in the first team while his mother has volunteered with the youth teams for over 20 years.
“Playing EHL with Herakles is something I’ve always dreamed of; we have been investing in our youth for a long time now. It is a reward for the youth development of the club and the hard work that has been done past 10 years.
“The event itself is so cool, it is the best way hockey ever has been presented in Europe. Being able to compete with the best European club teams at this level is a great experience.”
“I’ve been part of this team for 10 seasons. We have been fighting to keep our spot in Honor Division for some years while we were investing in our youth. In the long term, it has paid off.”
The family connections also generate an incredibly loyal fan group.
“Our fans have been outstanding at K016 and at Belgium Play-offs last year. They are all connected to the first team. Whether they have been playing for the first team, their kids are playing or they are future first team players.
“They all want to part of this event. They are pushing us forward and help us to go that extra mile.”
The second semi-final features the hosts Bloemendaal against Rotterdam, the excellent hosts for the KO16 at Easter.
Bloemendaal produced some of the marquee performances in that KO16, beating KHC Dragons 8-0 and Saint Germain by the same scoreline. With multiple world player of the year winner Jamie Dwyer, poster boy Florian Fuchs, Xavi Lleonart, Glenn Schuurman and Thierry Brinkman, it is a glittering line-up that goes in search of their third EHL crown following wins in 2009 and 2013.
Schuurman hopes his side can do their home crew proud, particularly their passionate Bloemigan supporters.
“It is a unique experience hosting the FINAL4 at your home ground, especially in front of our amazing crowd. I've seen the stands for 5,000 spectators. It's going to be amazing.
“Bloemendaal is a family club with a lot of passionate volunteers. Those people put all their time and effort in it because they love the club. The way we host the FINAL4 reflects the great atmosphere within the club.
“Of course, playing for the Bloemigans is amazing. You have seen them in Rotterdam during the KO16. They give us the advantage and I think they are going to show us special things this weekend.”
Rotterdam, meanwhile, are hoping they can finally win the big prize following two bronze medals and a silver in 2010. Featured in their line-up is the EHL’s all time top scorer, Jeroen Hertzberger with 36, while they will look to the speed on the counter-attack from Nick Catlin, Seve van Ass and Thijs van Dam.
The tournament will be the final act for Sjoerd Gerretsen and Paul Melkert before they retire from the Rotterdam first team.
For Gerretsen, he says his club’s incredible comeback from 4-0 down in the last 10 minutes against Mannheimer HC in the KO16 to win in a shoot-out was one of the highlights of 14-years playing at the top level.
“The second half was just crazy; we switched on, started to play our own game and, with a little bit of luck, managed to get back in to the game. When Cat scored the 4-4 a few seconds before time, that feeling, that atmosphere, and that noise in the stadium.... I will never forget it.”
He says moments like that and the upcoming clash with Bloemendaal are the “reason I started playing hockey when I was a little boy”.
“I think it's gonna be a real clash and it's gonna be really close but, whatever the result is, I will enjoy every second because these weekends, these games, are the reason where I started playing hockey for when I was a little boy.
“There's one prize I don't have in club hockey and I have one more chance to get it, a beautiful opportunity in the last weekend off my hockey career!”
These semi-finals lead into Sunday’s medal matches with the battle for bronze taking place at 1.15pm (CET) before the GRAND FINAL hits the turf at 4pm (CET) with the famous Alain Danet Trophy on the line.
MATCH SCHEDULE: http://ehlhockey.tv/season/20172018/
Find out where you can watch the event at the following link:
Visiting the EHL along with thousands of others? Here are all the details:
Read about the changes here: http://ehlhockey.tv/news/ehl-trial-new-scoring-system-201718-season/
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Hashtags: #ehl #FINAL4
Event website: http://ehlhockey.tv/
Source: Euro Hockey League Media Release