Ball boys prep for Swiss assault

After a historic triumph on home soil, local ball hockey players are targeting success on the world stage.

The Cayman Islands will be among countries competing at the International Street and Ball Hockey Federation’s 11th World Street and Ball Hockey Championship. The competition is slated for next June in Zug, Switzerland. For resident stars like Randy Cannon, the goal is to build off winning the 2014 Caribbean Cup at Kings Sports Center.

“We put two Cayman teams into this but Switzerland is different,” Cannon said. “We will probably want to carry more than 20 guys as injuries will take their toll. I reckon in the New Year we’ll start practicing and send most of this team there. After that, it’s the Caribbean Cup again in 2016.”

Competing at the world championships is nothing new for Cayman. According to Cayman Islands Ball Hockey Association founder Mark Thompson, there have been four previous trips. Cayman finished fifth in its group, which normally contains seven teams, at the 2011 competition in Bratislava, Slovakia before achieving its best result – a fourth place finish – at the 2013 event in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. Cannon, regarded as the top goalie on island since coming here in September 2010, starred in both tournaments.

However, those results pale in comparison to Bermuda, who won the B Pool – Cayman’s division – in 2013 ahead of Italy and Hong Kong and placed third in 2011 behind France and Pakistan.

Matt Stone is a relative newcomer, having only been in Cayman about six months. Yet the Nova Scotia native is confident Cayman’s victory in the Caribbean Cup this month will translate to Swiss success.

“Since I moved down here last December, I’ve been playing in Cayman,” Stone said. “I played back home right up until I left in a Junior Gents League, basically an amateur competition. The first priority now is Switzerland in 2015, we’re looking forward to that.

“We’ll have some organized team practices before that. Bermuda are a tough challenge, they are the defending champions of our group. But we plan to take the momentum from the Caribbean Cup to Zug. Now we know we have a good team.”

Cayman won the Caribbean Cup in dramatic fashion, beating the United States and Bermuda via penalty shoot-outs. As a result of their finals triumph over Bermuda, Cayman claimed their first ever victory over their arch-rivals in the sport of ball hockey after a decade of defeats. The locals ended up unbeaten throughout the competition – topping their group before winning three playoff games. The other competing countries were Armenia and the Bahamas.

Aside from Cannon, the winning squad consisted of Andrew Bowden, Derek Bruce, Evan Ellbogen, David Fiebig, Darryl Hather, Joe Jewitt, Jason Keating, Rob Leadbetter – who would suffer an injury early in the competition and become the assistant coach, Brian Lehnerer, Rob Mahadeo, Jamie Nelson, Claude Plamondon – the tournament Most Valuable Player, Ryan Pull, David Stadnyk, Matt Stone, Paul Strenk, Jason Windsor and Tim Courtis as head coach.

Cayman also fielded a second team, captained by Patrick Cover, which was eliminated in the quarterfinals. That side featured Mike Bowden, Ian Bridges, Brad De Schiffert, Mike Hall, Jeff Hart, Kevin Hunter, Kevin Huys, Leo Kassam, Ian Lambert, goalie Shawn Lunt, Matthew McGrath, Dan O’Flaherty, Dennis Passchier, Paul Peene, Brendan Rainonen, Jared Vienneau, Warren Weiss and Joel Young.

Cannon and Pull said the impact of the Bermuda victory cannot be overstated.

“We knew the USA game would be tough,” Cannon said. “Bermuda was the end goal. We’d never beaten them, ever. But we didn’t go in fear, we knew we could. I was just trying to stay focused, not get down on the team and keep the players into it.”

“It felt fantastic. After the penalty shoot-out in the first game against the USA we were tired but we put our injuries aside,” Pull said. “It could have went either way, we all had equal lines. Bermuda is a fantastic team and we had never beaten them so it was our first win ever in any major competition. We had a fantastic victory. Evan, of course, was huge for us and Matt came out on top in the shoot-out. We have a great group of guys for the team and it helped having a B team. We’re basically putting together the same team for Switzerland.”