With 22 goals in the league, Punjab Warriors were the leaders in the goals for tally and heavily favoured going into their seventh match of the Hockey India League against fifth-placed Kalinga Lancers at the Mohali International Hockey Stadium.
One man in the Lancers’ pack had other plans though. In a match which saw the Lancers leading twice, young goalie Harjot Singh made four brilliant saves, as the Lancers drew 3-3 against the Warriors to snatch a draw.
Gagandeep Singh had put Lancers ahead with a ninth-minute goal but Chrisopher Ciriello converted Punjab’s second penalty-corner in the 18th minute to equal the scores.
Jake Whetton gave the Warriors the lead in the 22nd minute but Mandeep Antil equalised four minutes later.
Cue Harjot, who made a brilliant save against Simon Orchard three minutes before the end of the second quarter. After Ryan Archibald (41) and Simon Orchard (50) traded goals, the youngster came into his own in the fourth, making three more saves — one, only a minute before the hooter.
Harjot played a stellar role in the Indian junior team’s title triumph in Sultan of Johor Cup last year, before making his senior debut in the Asian Champions Trophy.
“I was little nervous before the match but this performance has made me more confident. I spent a lot of time with South African Dave Staniforth and his inputs have improved my game,” he said.
Harjot played as the second goal-keeper in the FIH World Finals under national coach Terry Walsh and the Lancers’ coach has followed his progress.
“Harjot is a young talent and he has shown courage. As a goalie he will learn with more exposure. We were down to nine men in the last quarter and missed some chances in the last quarter. But the team is learning well,” said Walsh.
UPHILL TASK FOR RHINOS
New Delhi: With the league phase of the Hero Hockey India League drawing to a close, the race to determine the top four teams that make it to the semifinals seems clear enough to call. Delhi Waveriders are on top with 29 points from 8 games have already qualified. Punjab Warriors are second with 25 points, Ranchi Rhinos third on 23 points while UP Wizards are on 21 points. The last two teams Kalinga Lancers and Mumbai Magicians are on 10 and 7 points respectively and have little chance of moving up the rankings.
On the face of it therefore, there is little at stake in Wednesday’s match between Waveriders and Rhinos. A win for the Rhinos will take them through as well but even a loss will not hurt them considering, at six games, they have played a match less than other teams and two less than Waveriders.
Making things a bit harder for Rhinos is the fact that they have lost a number of key players to injury. Midfielder Austin Smith fractured his foot early in the tournament while Ashley Jackson was injured in their last game against Mumbai. Striker Mandeep Singh has also been ruled out with a back injury.
— Jonathan Selvaraj