THAI STIX TRIUMPH AGAIN
by Scott Murray

The Thai Stix ball hockey squad captured their second straight Mekong Cup recently at the Amari Coral Beach Resort in Patong, Phuket. This event, the biggest of its kind in Asia, saw five teams from the region compete for the coveted prize.

After the preliminary round robin round, the Thai Stix were seeded first, followed by the Singapore Chili Crabs, Saigon Chinooks, Bangkok Bullies and the Kuala Lumpur Sharks.

The biggest surprise of the tourney was the Bullies, who led by captain and business mogul Kirk Nell, and the goaltending tandem of Michael "the Financier" Cohen and Thanit Changtao, the only Thai on either Bangkok team, edged out the Sharks, a pre-tourney favorite, for the last play-off spot. They then faced off against their rivals from Bangkok, in the first semi-final.

The Bullies line up included ISB teachers, Moe Baron and Michael Leonard; Reebok executive, Todd Hewitt; computer programmer, Ken Wright; PriceWaterhouseCoopers auditor and South African native, Andrew Young; entertainment consultant, Kirk Bentham; and the premier log cabin designer in Asia, Scott Maner, who flew in from Manila just for the event. The Bullies also picked up a very good ringer from Phuket named Jeff Lamantia. He teaches physical education at Dulwich College, and is the cousin of the one of the Bullies' best players JoJo Goods Lamantia, who couldn't make the tourney because of previous commitments.

John "Il Duce" Casella the Thai Stix' GM/Playing Coach/Captain and Tourney Organizer deserved kudos for putting together a line-up that saw him team with Shane "Peaches" Gunther for the first forward line; while then putting his two most skilled players, business developer, Germain Bergeron and consultant, Jamie Hunter, on the second line; followed by Scott "Madman" Murray and Graham "Smiley" Mattison on the third unit.

Casella pulled off quite a coup picking up Murray and Mattison at the inter-league trading deadline from his ice hockey brethren for next to nothing. Although they both looked a little lost without their skates at times, they both hustled well and contributed to the Stix victory. Murray, the Flying Farang captain, basically just made a nuisance of himself, but did manage to stay out of the penalty box and not get into too many fights, while Mattison, who is currently studying for his MBA, and who scored two beautiful goals in overtime at the recent Ice Hockey 4's Tournament in KL, should have been given "the dedication" award for coming all the way from Connecticut to play in the tourney.

Casella then rotated his five defensemen, which included e-services guru Richard Meiklejohn; ore trader, Keith Johnston; Soloman Smith Barney analyst, Thomas Hilboldt; computer whiz Kelly Cailes, and Dusit Operations Analyst Marc "the Berlin Wall" Ehler. The Thai Stix goalie was Yves "Red Bull" Gaboriault, who is currently taking his MBA at Singapore's INSEAD campus.

Best in Bangkok guru John Stevens, a longtime member for the Thai Stix was supposed to play forward with Jamie Hunter, while Bergeron was slated to play defense with Ehler, but an unfortunate car accident to two of John's friends who were visiting from Canada caused him to miss the tournament as he attended to the pair in hospital in Phuket. (We are happy to report though that both John's friends are now ok and recuperating in Canada.)

Getting back to the tournament, the Bullies almost pulled off the biggest upset of the tourney earlier in the day by nearly defeating the Thai Stix, but a late rally by the Stix forced a 4-4 draw. "It was our wake-up call," said Thai Stix veteran defenseman, Keith "KJ" Johnston, as his club went on the finish the tourney 5-0-1.

In their rematch later in the afternoon, the experience and depth of the defending champions just proved too much for the Bullies as the heat and fatigue began to take its toll and the Thai Stix rolled on to the championship with a 7-1 triumph.

The other semi-final pitted the upstart Saigon squad against Singapore. The team from Vietnam was extremely skilled but undermanned, and as with the Bullies, as the game worn on lack of depth on the Vietnamese bench became evident as Singapore took control of the game, out muscling and outmaneuvering the Saigon squad to win 9-4.

So Singapore and the Thai Stix met in the final. In a thrilling match, the Thai Stix took the lead three times, but each time Singapore fought back, eventually sending the game into overtime. In the early stages of extra time, Gaboriault, made a number of sensational stops to keep his club in the game as the Singapore players swarmed his net.

But the Thai Stix regrouped as Kelly Cailes led a superb rush down court, and John Casella, pouncing on a miscue by the Singapore goalie swooped up the ball in front of the Chili Crabs' net and put it in the top corner to seal the victory. Shane Gunther, Casella's line mate, and UBSW Warburg analyst by day, was the Stix' premier forward, and was named the tourney MVP for a number of clutch passes and goals.

As Singapore is known for its physical play, the final was expected to be a hard fought and bloody affair. But the Thai Stix' Richard Meiklejohn, one of the most feared players in Asia, kept the Crabs at bay and the game never really got out of hand. Meiklejohn, or "Reg" to his buddies, as he was nicknamed after Paul Newman's character in the film Slapshot is the founder of the Mekong Cup and the former captain of the Thai Stix. He now runs a company out of Sydney, Australia, called E-GAIN, but the Stix still reserve a spot for him every May and he is definitely the most beloved member on the squad.




If you are interested in playing ball hockey in Bangkok, it happens at 9PM every Thursday night at the British Club, Silom Soi 18. Contact either Ken Wright or John Casella for more info:
wright_kt@hotmail.com
jcasella@churchill-pryce.com