Two goals from KHC Dragons star Florent van Aubel continued the Belgian side’s remarkable record in this competition, clinching their third podium finish in four years as they saw off a stern challenge from Racing Club de Bruxelles in a tense encounter.
It was a tight game of few chances and with the sides locked at 1-1 going into the final quarter it had looked set to head to a shootout to determine a winner. However, Van Aubel got on the end of Felix Denayer’s cross in the dying embers of the game to steer a lovely finish into the corner to secure the bronze medal for his team.
Van Aubel had looked the most dangerous in the opening quarter, his darting runs and excellent skill on the ball ensured Racing had to be on their mettle to keep the No11 at bay. With two minutes left in the first quarter it was indeed Van Aubel who broke the deadlock. Maximilien Peeter cut in and played a lovely pass into the D and Van Aubel dived in to deflect the ball past the goalkeeper to make it 1-0.
Two minutes into the second quarter it was all square again. Racing forced a penalty corner which Tupper played back to the injector, Andrin Rickli. He fired the pass into the net with a first time finish, but was given an anxious wait as Dragons referred, claiming the strike was a hit and should be ruled out. The video umpire disagreed and the goal was given. The rest of the second quarter was tight with both defences firmly on top. Arthur Van Doren turned in another exemplary display in the Dragons backline whilst Tupper kept a tight leash on the Reds’ forwards.
Dragons spent the majority of the third quarter camped in the Racing half, having a lot of the ball and a lot of pressure without really creating the clear cut chances they needed. Despite the pressure, Racing had the two best opportunities of the quarter as first Tupper won the ball high up the pitch and found Aldo Dalla Palma who could not keep his deflection on target and then Jonathan Beckers had a penalty corner swatted away by Manu Leroy in the Dragons’ goal.
The fourth quarter was the most open of the lot with both sides getting more and more frantic as the clock ticked down. The game swung from one end to the other as the ball was turned over by two sets of tired and nervous players. It may not have been the most technically sound period of hockey but it was certainly exciting with both sets of fans roaring their team on. Dragons goalkeeper Matteo Gryspeerdt was warming up in anticipation of a shootout but his services were not required as with just over a minute on the clock Denayer collected a diagonal ball into the D on the right hand side. Showing terrific composure he waited for the right pass and then picked out Van Aubel who once again applied the finish to hand his side the win.
The two-goal hero told The Top of the D afterwards:
“We’re very happy to get the bronze medal. It’s now three years in a row we’ve got an EHL medal. I don’t know why the EHL brings the best out of us. It’s such a special competition you feel like everyone in the team steps up a level when it comes to these games. We’re boosted by the whole atmosphere and the competition itself and it’s great we seem to do so well.” he added “It’s nice to score two goals but the whole team played really well and I just happen to be on the end of it.”
“The Dragons fans are insane. They ask if we heard them during the game and we always say “You were crazy“. The flares, the sea of red and the songs make us a club everyone in Europe knows. The players do their bit but so do the fans. They are amazing and we’re happy to win for them.”
Dragons have now finished third in the competition twice and runners up once. Their love affair with the EHL continues.