TENGKU Mahkota Ismail Sports School (SSTMI) Thunderbolts hold a slight advantage against UniKL Young Guns in their quest to win their first Junior Hockey League (JHL) double at the Azlan Shah Stadium in Ipoh today.
SSTMI Thunderbolts, formerly known as Bandar Penawar Sports School, had shared the silverware with UniKL for the last two seasons, and this year, a 1-1 draw against UniKL was enough to hand them the League title on goals scored.
But the draw in the league can’t be taken into consideration in the Milo Cup title chase, as Thunderbolts went on a rampage while UniKL were barely above water and crawled into the final.
Thunderbolts have the two JHL top-scorers in Shahril Saabah (18 goals) and Sufi Ismat (15 goals) as well as senior team drop-out Firhan Ashaari.
Firhan was named by Thunderbolts before the start of the season, but he could only help his club in the quarter-final stage as he went into training and tours with the Olympic Qualifier team. But after he was dropped from the senior side, he scored four goals in the knock-out.
Firhan, 19, is a capable player as he scored seven seconds from time to hand Malaysia a bronze medal in the Inaugural Asian Champions Trophy in Orods, Inner Mongolia. Malaysia edged Japan 3-2 then.
“It is now or never for Thunderbolts. This is our best chance to win the JHL double after two frustrating seasons of sharing the spoils with UniKL,” said Thunderbolts coach Wan Roslan.
In 2010, UniKL won the Overall while Thunderbolts the League title. And in 2011, Thunderbolts won the Overall, while UniKL the League title.
And this year, Thunderbolts took the League title, and the Milo Cup will be a toss between both of them again.
But the fact that only two teams have been showing class, especially in the 26-team JHL this season, did not get past Wan Roslan.
“The standard among the other teams is quite worrying, as instead of improving, it is becoming worse after each year. I noticed only four out of the 11 teams in Division One had some good players, while the 17 teams in Division Two too far behind,” lamented the seasoned JHL coach.
As for UniKL, their passionate manager Amir Azhar was a total wreck during the knock-out stages.
“We had a good season in the League, and were unlucky not to have lifted the title. However, in the knock-out my players fared miserably and should consider themselves lucky to be in the final tomorrow (today).
“ But if we play like we did on the quarters and semis, we will be slaughtered by Thunderbolts,” said Amir.
TODAY -- Final: UniKL v SSTMI Thunderbolts (6pm); Third-Fourth: Bukit Jalil Sports School v MBI Anderson (4pm).
(Both matches at the Azlan Shah Stadium in Ipoh).