Gamebirds hovering for repeat

The Gamebirds are confident in more Cayman hockey glory in the coming months.

After winning the 2012 national roller hockey championship, the squad is primed to gain more accolades at Kings Sports Centre. For elite scorer Eric Mildenberger, 30, the focus is already on 2013.

“It was a team effort all around,” Mildenberger said. “Our offence and defence clicked and our goalie was solid as usual. It’s been a great season and I look forward to defending the Cherry Cup next season.”

At the moment, Kings is hosting a summer league. Matches started in mid-June and continue every Thursday until mid-August at Kings at 8pm and 9pm. The single elimination playoffs start on 16 August, with the final on 23 August.

The current structure sees players divided into four teams: the Gamecocks, Flames, Sharks and High Rollers. While the teams are similar to those in the national competition, with most of the participants also taking part, the squads are slated to be different as members of the Spartans have been dispersed on to the various sides.

Mildenberger, a native of North Carolina, and his Gamebirds are still relishing their two-game sweep of the top-ranked Club House Sharks in the best-of-three championship series. Both games were never in doubt behind solid play from goalie Randy Cannon. He would turn away numerous shots from the likes of Joe Jewitt and Dan Etherington. The Gamebirds would get tons of scoring from the likes of Mildenberger and Curtis Appleyard as both had hat-tricks in game two.

Mildenberger is a long-time High Roller who switched over to the Gamebirds for 2012. The engineer states his latest title compares favourably with past triumphs.

“I’ve been playing roller hockey in Cayman for five years and have won four titles. Each of the championships I’ve won has their own set of circumstances that make them unique.

“But this championship ranks high on the list because I don’t think anyone expected us to dominate as we did in the playoffs. We may not be the flashiest team in the league but when it comes to endurance and hustling especially late in the second half, there simply isn’t anyone better.”

Club House were heavy favourites heading into the finals. They claimed the regular season crown at 11-1, had the league’s best offence (scoring 99 goals), the top goalie in Scott Hughes (82.6 save percentage and 23 goals allowed, both tops in the competition) and the scoring champion in Rob Rintoul (26 points off 14 goals).

The Gamebirds meanwhile were ranked third. For veteran player Colin Wilson, the Gamebirds were a squad that overcame obstacles.

“We lost two players this season to injury in Ken Ritchie, to a broken arm and Steve Park, to a face laceration and injured jaw,” Wilson said. “I have played on and off probably three seasons and have won two Cups, both with underdog teams.

“It goes without saying that team captain Brendon Malice had a vision when he drafted this team, taking a Most Valuable Player-type goalie in Randy Cannon with the first pick overall in the draft, then drafting speed, skill and hard workers. On paper we were an ugly team, but when we clicked we were unbeatable.

“Also we would like to thank our sponsor – Bateman Financial. They graciously wrote a cheque to the league for the development of Cayman roller hockey.”

Malice essentially formed the squad during the league draft before the start of the season. A multi-sport star, Malice spoke about how the draft helped everyone in the competition.

“The expansion of the teams and league needed to happen,” Malice said. “One thing I like is the drafts help the competitiveness of the league. I’ve been playing some five years with about four drafts. There’s mutual respect for the teams.

“We’re not trying to stack up as everyone wants good, competitive games. We all do. If you’re struggling and can’t make the playoffs, guys will not be committed.

“The sport is growing, people are asking me about it all the time and there are now Sunday pick-up games. There are kids coming of age that can play in the men’s league. In a few years, there can be six or eight teams.”