Van Aubel hails EHL turning point as vital step in Pinoké journey

Pinoké’s Florent Van Aubel says last year’s EHL Men’s FINAL8 was a “special moment” in his team’s evolution despite a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Racing Club de Bruxelles.

It meant they could not fully savour the entire EHL party they were hosting but he says it was the catalyst to their ground-breaking first ever Dutch championship title.

“On one hand, we lost to Racing but it ended being a special moment because it turned our season around for the domestic competition,” he explained the EHL website.

“That game wasn’t good for us but it made sure we talked a lot of stuff out. We weren’t doing extremely well in the championship and there were maybe some issues which weren’t being dealt with.

“That game allowed everyone to be open about what was going on and it kickstarted the team once again. We went on to win the league and that moment was important!”

It came in the wider context of a team in a rapid ascent but enduring their first dip in form on that journey. Many of the side have been present since surviving the 2018 relegation playoffs before rising to reach the playoffs for the first time, reaching a first championship final and making an EHL debut.

“Pinoke has had a lot of ‘firsts’ in the last few years,” the Belgian star continues. “First EHL tournament at this level, a lot of players had to deal with first time nerves.

“Last year maybe felt too early to win the EHL. It is very easy to say ‘we want to win the EHL’ but maybe first you have to experience what it is!

“Pinoké has been building to be a top club for several years. I have only been there two years but I feel it is slowly transitioning from being a fun club where everyone likes to go and there are nice parties.

“It is now moving to a club which is really professional and trying to have that mindset in everything they do without losing the fun part.

“A lot of guys – seven or eight – are from the club and you try to mix that with internationals and players with a lot of experience. It is exciting for me to be part of that, to feel that eagerness again, and I feel I can help them a lot with how to handle the pressure of  this kind of event.”

With that experience under their belts, he is sure the club and the team will now make the most of their FINAL8 co-hosting with AH&BC Amsterdam.

“The club is insanely excited to host such a big event. After last year, for everyone around the club, they wanted to do it again. They just wanted more!

“Organisationally, they will learn a lot from last year, especially now linking with Amsterdam who have a lot of experience. For us players, playing in a stadium is always cool, playing in front of big crowds.”

On March 28, they will face Real Club de Polo, a new opponent at EHL level for Van Aubel who is one of the most experienced players in the competition.

The big Pinoké crowd enjoying their win over Hervestehuder THC in a ranking match last year. Picture: Frank Uijlenbroek/World Sport Pics

Since scoring on debut against Russia’s Izamylovo Moscow, the Olympic gold medalist has faced 21 different clubs, scoring 20 times in 35 games.

In that run, he has picked up bronze medals in 2012, 2014 and 2017 as well as silver in 2013. With Olympic, World Cup and EuroHockey Championship titles also under his belt, he does say it is and elusive EHL gold is one he is really chasing.

“Personally, the EHL is very special. I have played in a lot of them, winning one silver and a few bronze so there is that one medal missing! Talking with Alex Hendrickx, even though it is a personal achievement, there is this one thing missing in my – and other players – career.

“It would be amazing. The most important thing is the Polo game but the EHL is not just a tournament you want to play, but you want to win!”

As for Polo, that would also require a first for Van Aubel; his only prior meetings with Spanish sides – Atlètic Terrassa and Club de Campo – have ended in defeat so it is one he needs to put right at Easter.

“When you talk about Polo, you talk about the traditional Barcelona, Spanish club. The history of Polo and the EHL is one of the biggest, practically playing every year.

“They know what it is like which is a big difference to Pinoké. They have internationals who understand the game and exciting young guys – it is a team to be reckoned with!”

Van Aubel celebrates a goal. Picture: Frank Uijlenbroek/World Sport Pics