With the world watching, Hong Kong put on a show.
In the opening game of the 2018 World Championships, Hong Kong walked through Luxembourg, 20-1, Wednesday at ESPN Field in Netanya, Israel.
With 46 countries saturating the competition, one game had to be played the night before the chaos begins Thursday. All attention turned to Hong Kong and World Championships-newcomers Luxembourg under the lights in the first showdown in the Olive Division.
In the matchup’s opening minutes, Luxembourg opened up the tournament’s scoring and tabbed its first-ever World Championships goal via Max Rubin’s stick. But once Hong Kong found its footing about 10 minutes into the first quarter, the levees collapsed, and the flood of goals poured. After Luxembourg started the scoring, Hong Kong tallied 20 unanswered goals in its largest margin of victory at a World Championships.
“After the first few minutes, I think we shook off the jitters about playing in front of everybody and the first game,” said Hong Kong player Evan Mok-Lamme, who led his team with four goals on the night. “After that, we did what we prepared to do. It took a couple of minutes to get our legs right, get our minds right, and then we were good.”
Expectations were high coming into the tournament for a Hong Kong team that has come a long way since finishing dead last at the 2013 Asia-Pacific Championships. Luxembourg’s program size and inexperience made the Hongkongers strong favorites before faceoff, but there’s assurance in taking care of business.
“We played pretty well at both ends, so I think all of us gained some confidence for the next game, especially with the next game being Poland,” said Hong Kong player Ho Chun Kelvin Mak, who posted two goals and two assists.
Four years ago in Denver, Poland handled Hong Kong 14-4. In 2018, both teams are expected to be the cream of the crop in the Olive Division, and this win gives Hong Kong momentum heading into the rematch. But the team suspects its next game won’t go the same as Wednesday’s.
“Many players contributed throughout our roster, so this was a good start for everybody to the tournament,” said Hong Kong head coach Scott Browning. “We know our game against Poland is crucial to our results in our pool. They’re going to be ready for us, we’re going to be ready for them, and I think it’s going to be a totally different game from what took place tonight.”
Despite the scoreline, there were some bright spots for Luxembourg. Ten months ago, the team didn’t know if it would be able to come to the World Championships, so being on the field and getting internationally playing experience is a victory in of itself.
Goalie Nick Beattie took full advantage of the opportunity, drawing oohs and awes from the crowd with some acrobatics in front of net. He turned away 11 shots, with a couple highlight-reels saves in the second quarter, including a miracle save from his knees with the stick.
“I love doing stuff like that,” Beattie said of his second-quarter saves. “I came out here with the mentality that I’m going to play lose, I’m going to play the best game I can. I think a few of those I’d like back, but I think I did the best I could.”
Despite the scoreline, the team is still happy with its performance, Beattie said. Luxembourg knew it would take some lumps. The process is more important than the results at these World Championships.
“We just talked about it as a team. We’re really proud of ourselves for not giving up and grinding through the whole game,” Beattie explained. “We played like it was 0-0 the entire game, and we’re going to keep doing that for the rest of the tournament. We’re said it before and we’ll say it again, we’re not so worried about the end score. We’re worried about how we look as a team and how we carry ourselves as a team from beginning to end.”
Luxembourg will be back in action against Uganda on Friday at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN Field. Hong Kong will continue its campaign versus Poland on Friday at 3:15 p.m. on Epoch Field.