Debutants Ranchi Rays produced an inspired performance and twice came back from a goal down to beat favourites Jaypee Punjab Warriors in the shootout and emerge champions of the third Hockey India League at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium on Sunday.
India cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni co-owned Ranchi Rays fought hard to eke out a 3-2 win in the shoot-out after both the teams were locked at 2-2 in the regulation time of the thrilling summit clash.
Kieran Govers (39th minute) and Christopher Ciriello (56th) scored the goals for Punjab Warriors while Stanli Minz (42nd) and Barry Middleton (57th) were the goal getters for Ranchi Rays in the regulation period.
Last year’s champions Delhi Waveriders finished third after beating Uttar Pradesh Wizards 2-1 in the third-fourth place play-off match earlier in the day.
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Indian Olympic Association Secretary General Rajiv Mehta were in attendance at the stadium today.
The summit clash witnessed exciting first two quarters with both the teams playing free-flowing hockey.
The Punjab Warriors might have entered the final as favourites going by their form this season, but it was Ranchi Rays which looked more threatening to score goals at least in the opening 30 minutes.
The Rays enjoyed the better share of ball possession in the opening two quarters and created some good moves but failed to convert them into goals.
In the absence of experienced Jamie Dwyer, who missed the match with an injury, the Punjab Warriors’ forward line lacked creativity, which was quite clearly evident in their performance in the opening half.
Even though it was action-packed first half, both the teams failed to garner a single penalty corner.
The match livened up after the change of ends and finally the crowd could see the first penalty corner of the match in the 34th minute which went in favour of Punjab Warriors, but Sandeep Singh’s high flick was gloved away by Lovell Tyler in front of Ranchi goal.
The Punjab Warriors came out with more purpose in the third quarter and finally managed to break the deadlock in the 39th minute through Govers who sounded the board with a first time shot after the attack was build up Chris Ciriello’s interception.
Stunned by the goal, the Ranchi Rays went on the offensive and earned a penalty corner in the 41st minute. But Punjab Warriors went for the referral which was upheld by the TV umpire.
In the very next minute, the Rays secured another penalty corner and Minz scored with a rebound after Ashley Jackson’s initial flick was saved by Punjab Warriors goalkeeper Jaap Stockmann.
The Rays got their second penalty corner just after the start of the fourth and final quarter but this time Jackson’s try was kept out by an alert Stockmann.
Four minutes from the final hooter, Satbir Singh pounced on a defensive error to win Punjab Warriors second penalty corner and Ciriello made no mistake in converting the opportunity to hand his side 2-1 lead.
But Punjab Warriors’ joy was shortlived as Ranchi Rays drew level from the very next move through Middleton, who guided home a Mandeep Singh pass from the right.
In the final three minutes, the Punjab Warriors got two more chances in the form of penalty corners to seal the match in their favour but wasted both the opportunities as Tyler made a fine save to deny Sandeep and take the encounter into shoot-out.
In the shoot-out, Simon Orchard, SV Sunil and Robert Hammond missed for Punjab Warriors with only Ciriello and Dharamvir Singh converting their shots.
For Ranchi Rays, skipper Ashley Jackson, Daniel Beale scored while Jackson converted a penalty stroke after Stockmann fouled Manpreet during his attempt in the shoot-out. Birendra Lakra was lone miss for the champions.
Earlier in the day, last year’s champion Delhi Waveriders defeated Uttar Pradesh Wizards 2-1 to win the consolation bronze medal.
The Waveriders scored two field goals through Rupinder Pal Singh (6th minute) and Yuvraj Walmiki (50th) to register the victory, while Wizards’ lone goal came from the sticks of Bob de Voogd in the 18th minute.