Hockey season is back

Published 01/22/2015, 12:05 PM EST


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Hero Hockey India League is back with its third season starting from 22nd January in hockey’s new capital, Bhubaneshwar. The league is a month long thrilling event featuring six franchise-based city teams consisting of star players from India and the rest of the world. The tremendous response worldwide in the first two seasons showed that the league is here to stay and with India qualifying for the Rio Olympics the mood is upbeat and the excitement is paramount for this edition. Here Essentially Sports brings you an insight of each team which will fight for your attention this season-

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RANCHI RAYS

A new name, a new owner, a new captain and a new coach. Much has changed for Ranchi in the last year but the same old zeal to play hard and win big remains intact. The winners of the inaugral edition have retained 18 of their 24 players and is opening its campaign against Kalinga Lancers on the first day of the league. The team has a good mix of indian and foreign talents. Manpreet Singh and Mandeep Singh have proved their worth for their franchise as well as in national colours and represent the emerging young generation of Indian Hockey. The team is led by Ashley Jackson and has the likes of Nick Wilson of New Zealand and Nick Budgeon of Australia in their ranks. Under the watchful presence of Coach Harendra Singh, they will look to reclaim the old glory this time.

UTTAR PRADESH WIZARDS

They have been termed as the “chokers” of the Hockey India League after losing in the semifinals of the previous two editions. The side boasts of a perfect blend of exuberance and experience as it has the league’s once highest paid player Teun de Nooijer and dynamic Indian forwards in Nikkin Thimmaiah,S K Uthappa, Ramandeep Singh and captain V.R.Raghunath to command the backline. But all eyes will be on their new recruit India’s star goalkeeper P.R.Sreejesh whose acrobatic saves and quick reflexes could be the deciding factor in close matches. The team would enjoy unparalled support from the home crowd as the tickets are free for all matches in its Lucknow stadium.

JAYPEE PUNJAB WARRIORS

Easily the best side on paper since the first edition. And it appears even more lethal this season. This can be undermined from the fact that it has the Best Goalkeeper of 2014 Jaap Stockmann under the bar, the reigning World player of the year in defence, Mark Knowles and 5 times World player of the year as captain and forward, Jamie Dwyer. The team looks Australian with 7 of them in their ranks with the team jersey also yellow in colour. Their indifferent performance in the league is due to lack of quality indian players in the midfield. They will be hungrier as ever having lost the title last year by a whisker in penalty shootouts.

DABANG MUMBAI

Dabang Mumbai may not have many big names but they have a side with very talented and spirited players who have been training vigorously under a new management. Legendary Australian forward Glenn Turner will look to turn the side’s fortunes after miserable outings in previous two campaigns. The team has emphasised on local flavour with players as well as support staff having a sizeable portion of Mumbai players in Anup Walmiki, Rajat Sharma, Tyron Pereira, Amit Gowda, Adrian D’Souza, Vikram Pillay and Vikas Pillay.  Considered as the dark horses of this edition of the league, the newly assembled team is ready to take everyone by surprise.

KALINGA LANCERS

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Kalinga Lancers, who finished at the bottom of the table in their debut season, are clearly not the favourites this time too. The team has a lot of untested young players and the team’s fortunes depend upon how they would perform at this level. The team will once again look up to Gonzalo Peillat for goals who was their highest scorer last time with 8 goals. The Lancers have previously stunned the Ranchi HHIL Team by 4-1 at their home-turf last season and thus are very unpredictable. They will now aim to be the victor of as many games as they can.

DELHI WAVERIDERS

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The most successful team of the Hockey India League will step up to defend their title this time around. Studded with celebrated players such as Simon Child, Matt Gohdes, Pirmin Blaak along with India’s top players such as Rupinder Pal Singh, Gurbaj Singh and Danish Mujtaba, the Delhi-based HHIL team is the top contender for the title and looks forward to win back-to-back championships, retaining it for their team. India’s most loved and respected hockey player Sardara Singh will lead the side once again with his classy stickwork in the middle as Delhi will be without the services of their reliable Goalkeeper Jacobi for the first time.

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Vivek Goel

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