Oranje Zwart were crowned Dutch Champions for only the second time in their history just last weekend. They won their two playoff games against HC Rotterdam to reach the final stage where again, over two games, they saw off the challenge of HC Bloemendaal. A constant feature in the playoffs, and indeed the whole season was the importance of the goals scored by Mink van der Weerden.
Van Der Weerden chipped in with 36 league goals in 22 games and then five more in four games across the playoffs. It is fair to say his goalscoring ability has been central to his team winning the title for the first time since 2005. It is something of a story of redemption, too. Back in that 2005 campaign, Van Der Weerden, aged just 17 was a peripheral figure at OZ, yet to establish himself fully in the team. Indeed the future international star was one of the hordes of fans waiting to welcome their triumphant team back to the club for a victory party that glorious day. Now, nine years on, he is the returning hero, firing his team to glory.
Of course Van Der Weerden’s penalty corner ability and goal return this season is no surprise to the hockey world. In the 2012 London Olympics he announced himself as a major threat in the world game as he picked up a silver medal and finished as the competition’s top scorer with eight goals. Inevitably, a Dutch player scoring from penalty corners drew immediate comparisons with the great Taeke Taekema.
“I can only be flattered to be compared to Taekema. If you look at the number of games he’s played and the goals he’s scored it’s incredible. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to that level, I’ve only played about 50 games in four years for Holland, so I might not make his appearances but I can still dream of achieving what he has.” said the OZ No11 when the comparison was put to him.
Despite his outstanding talent from penalty corners, Van Der Weerden is keen that he is not, as so many specialists have been before him, pigeonholed into being on the pitch solely for his threat at set pieces:
“I’ve been very pleased with my improvement as a player. That was something I was focusing on. Corners are important but at this level and international level you have to be able to play and contribute, too. Otherwise there are ten other guys who are able to do it instead of you. I want to be in the team because I am a good player who can flick corners and not just because I flick corners. I want to contribute as much as I can and I’ve worked hard on that, which hopefully is showing in my performances. I’ll keep at it in the future as I would like to continue to get better.”
His improvement has been striking with his physical strength, pace down the flanks and ability to get up and down the pitch proving to be great assets in Oranje Zwart’s attacking style. Indeed one of his goals in the Dutch playoffs came from a driving run in from the right and a splendid reverse stick shot, showing he is far more than just a one trick pony.
With the Dutch title safely in the trophy cabinet, Van Der Weerden and his Oranje Zwart team mates are chasing a historic double as they try to win the Euro Hockey League, too. The 25-year-old was delighted with his team’s display in the semi-finals to overcome KHC Dragons of Belgium, telling The Top of the D:
“We knew it would be a hard game, especially because they have a great back four, we had to get our tactics right to break them down. We played really well and that’s what feels best about the performance; we did what we had spoken about before the game and carried out our gameplan.” he added: “I thought it was going to be a very close game and it was. We did well to keep them out and to play to our plans. It was a really good team effort and that’s why the score wasn’t as close as maybe we thought it could have been.”
In that semi final he continued his habit of scoring important goals, popping up with a trademark penalty corner on 41 minutes to give OZ a 2-0 lead and to knock the wind out of the Dragons’ sails as they were mounting a strong challenge for an equaliser. It is a nice habit to have and will, he hopes fire his side to another big trophy in the EHL final:
“Sometimes this season I have been able to score a few important goals and it feels very good to help the team in this way. To win both titles would be great. It’s amazing we have the chance to get the European title to add to the Dutch one. It won’t be easy but we’ll see how it goes.”
Perhaps if the Dutch penalty corner star can supply the goals to get his side over the line people will start to think of him as a great in his own right instead of comparing him to the legendary Taeke Taekema. He will certainly have earned his moment in the spotlight.
The Top of the D would like to thank Mink van der Weerden for his time and patience in conducting this interview.