This year, the Chinese Championship was hosted in Hong Kong and unsurprisingly that skewed the participation towards Hong Kong and southern China teams. The lineup this year saw three teams from Hong Kong (HK Fashion Boys, HK Fashion Men, YMT Jokers) and two from Guangzhou (GZ Taipans, GZ Ram Chops), out of the eight teams in total. Shanghai Sharks were back as reigning champions after having regained the title last year in Beijing. As were last year’s runner up, Hakkapeliitat, with Suzhou SSV completing the lineup.
Shanghai Sharks met up with the largest team and really lived up to being the international team of Shanghai as two of the Shanghai Sharks players flew in from Singapore and two even from as far away as Sweden, among them, the team captain.
The championship has since Shanghai 2013 played on two courts to allow for longer games. Hong Kong kept up with this tradition, but the venue could not accommodate two full size courts, so one of the courts was smaller and required only four-on-four players. To make it fair, each team had one match each on the smaller court and the rest on the full-size court.
Shanghai Sharks had the opening match of the tournament on the full-size court, playing against YMT Jokers. Sharks and YMT had not met in a tournament since Hong Kong 2012, where Sharks got a comfortable victory. This year, it started out far from comfortable for the Sharks as the Sharks quite possibly had not gotten over their jet-lag and YMT put up a good fight and scored the first goal of the game. Sharks managed to equalize, but both teams exchanged goals until the score was 3 – 3, when the Sharks got a break and managed to pull away to 5 – 3, which became the final score.
So a victory for the reigning champions, but not a convincing victory. At the same time, Hakkapeliitat showed that they were ready to get revenge from last year with a crushing 6 – 0 victory against HK Fashion Boys on the small court. The second round of matches saw an even bigger victory, when HK Fashion Men introduced themselves to the tournament with a 8 – 0 victory over GZ Ram Chops. The second game on the small court was a much more even affair with SSV just barely beating GZ Taipans 5 – 4.
In the third round, it was time for Shanghai Sharks and GZ Ram Chops to battle it out on the small court. Even if the rink was small and the Sharks had a big team, the Sharks chose to play all lines, which made it hard to get a real flow in the play, but in the end, the Sharks still managed to control the game and secure a 7 – 1 victory. On the full-size court, Hakkapeliitat also bagged their second straight victory, by beating GZ Tapians 5 – 3. This was followed by a 5 – 0 victory over HK Fashion Boys by Suzhou and a whopping 12 – 2 victory of YMT by HK Fashion Men on the small court.
Since all team by now had played a match each on the small court, the last four pool matches would now be played on the full-sized rink. The first two of these matches would be pool finals, as Shanghai Sharks would meet HK Fashion Men and Hakkapeliitat would meet Suzhou. However, the way the tournament was arranged, meant that the result from the pools would not affect any team’s possibility to reach the final as all teams would go to quarterfinals. Naturally, a top position in the pool, would mean a supposedly easier opposition in the quarterfinals, but the path would not be completely blocked. With this in mind, Shanghai Sharks chose to continue playing all lines throughout the entire match against HK Fashion Men, regardless of the outcome.
HK Fashion men was a formidable opposition, with the two largest victories behind them and they did not show any nerves coming up against the reigning champions. The Sharks were pushed back in a very defensive position, with HK Fashion Men controlling the game. This did inevitably also resulted in not just one, but two goals for HK Fashion Men. Sharks stuck with their strategy and did manage to reduce to 2 – 1, but in the end, HK Fashion Men, played better than Sharks and got their third well deserved victory with 4 – 2, securing the top of the pool.
Hakkapeliitat continued their winning streak and beat Suzhou 3 – 0 and with YMT beating GZ Ram Chops 2 – 1 plus GZ Taipans beating HK Fashion Boys 5 – 1, the pools were rounded off and Sharks would meet GZ Taipans in the quarterfinals.
After a lunch break where all teams could recharge for a new set of matches in the afternoon, the quarterfinals commenced. With the quarterfinals, the smaller court was put to use again, to allow for two quarterfinals to be played in parallel. Shanghai Sharks were lucky to be placed on the full-sized court, as was the other runner-up from pool B, Suzhou. Both winners, on the other hand, would play their matches on the smaller court.
With the play-offs started, it was now all-or-nothing in every single remaining game. Shanghai Sharks was among the top four teams in the pools, but had not won their games as convincingly as the other three teams and needed to step up their game to have a shot at the title. That step-up did not happen initially in the quarterfinal. GZ Taipans scored the first goal and even if Sharks managed to equalize shortly afterwards, the game was still hanging in the balance and the Sharks did not manage to build up a pressure. Then Sharks decided to reduce the number of lines playing which gave the remaining lines more time on the court and helped get the flow back into the Sharks’ game. From here, Sharks did score three straight goals and in the end win the quarterfinal 4 – 1.
The other quarterfinals did not offer any surprises and HK Fashion Men, Hakkapeliitat and Suzhou all won their matches with 6 – 3, 7 – 1 and 5 – 0 respectively. In the semifinals, the arch rivals from Shanghai, Hakkapeliitat and Shanghai Sharks were to meet in a repeat of last year’s final. In 2015, Shanghai Sharks came out ahead after a generally strong performance in the tournament. This year, Sharks almost limped into the semifinals whereas Hakkapeliitat came to the game with just clear victories behind them; would they they get their revenge from last year’s final?
As could be expected, the game was tight from the start. Nerves and fatigue also started to take a toll and the match was much more physical than previous games. It had all the characteristics of an important derby game. About half way into the first half, Shanghai Sharks scored the first goal of match, but it was by no means a decisive goal; the match continued to be tight and even. At the end of the first half, Shanghai Sharks again reduced the number of lines in play in order to try and increase the lead and secure the victory. This again proved to be a winning strategy and for the first time this tournament, the Sharks managed to keep their goal clear, while scoring another two goals, for the final result of 3 – 0.
With the undefeated HK Fashion Men facing off with Suzhou in the other semifinal, the tournament final seemed to become a repeat of the pool final where they won against Shanghai Sharks. However, the Fashion Men vs Suzhou semifinal was probably the biggest surprise of the tournament, if nothing else because it became a tie in the match with the most number of goals in the tournament; drawing with Fashion Men’s previous 12 – 2 victory. This match was much more level, though. Suzhou have some fearsome shooters and they will take shots as soon as the slightest opportunity presents itself. This gave them a couple of goals lead early in the match, but Fashion Men was by no means a beaten team and started to reduce the scores. However, everytime Fashion Men would get real close, Suzhou would respond and increase the lead again. Time, in the end, did run out for Fashion Men and Suzhou were in the finals after an impressive 8 – 6 victory.
SSV Suzhou vs Shanghai Sharks in the final was a final between the sharpshooters of Suzhou and the routine of the Sharks that were in their 6th consecutive final. Just a the semifinal, this match was tight and physical. Suzhou and Sharks have played each other several times before, understanding the gameplay of the other team and not wanting to let up a single ball. It was Suzhou that were to be the first to score with one of their signature shots. Shortly afterwards, Sharks showed that they could also master shooting with a slap shot right up in the corner of the net.
A badly timed change in the lines from Shark’s side gave Suzhou a free path to shoot at the goal, which is an opportunity they rarely miss. This time was no exception, and Suzhou was ahead 2 – 1. Now Sharks went down on two lines; a strategy that helped them through both the quarter and semifinals. Still, but half time, Suzhou was still ahead 2 – 1. In the second half, Sharks fired off a shot from a free-hit situation, straight into goal, equalizing to 2 – 2. The Sharks got a taste of that medicine not far afterwards, though, when Suzhou got a free-hit from the corner and an unchecked Suzhou player could, once again, put Suzhou in the lead, 3 – 2. The Sharks were now down for the count, but with more than 5 minutes left, there was still time to turn the game around. Suzhou kept up the barrage of shots, but the Sharks managed to block or save all of them and Sharks instead managed to equalize to 3 – 3 with minutes left to play. It started to seem like the match would go into extra time, which probably would not have surprised anyone in the audience. It wasn’t to be this time, though. With a minute or so left, Sharks had a player at the right place at the right time, to shoot in a deflected ball, giving Shanghai Sharks the lead for the first time in the match. Suzhou made a furious effort to equalize before the time was up, but Shanghai sharks managed to fend off the rest of the attacks, claim victory and take home the trophy to Shanghai for the 5th time in the last 6 tournaments.