For the fourth time in six years, Northland's top women's hockey team have taken home silver at the National Hockey League (NHL) competition last week in Tauranga.
The Northland team, which featured Black Sticks legends Stacey Michelsen, Ella Gunson and Brooke Neal, couldn't overcome the 2018 champions, North Harbour, in the final on Sunday, losing 2-nil.
Current Black Sticks player Steph Dickins proved to be the difference as she netted North Harbour's two goals in the first quarter from two penalty corners. Despite earning about seven penalty corners themselves, Northland couldn't finish in front of goal and walked away with yet another silver medal.
"It was really sad, we've had a few stabs at that title and we haven't quite come away with it," Northland captain Gunson said.
"I was wondering if this would be the year and I was hoping it would be, but it wasn't to be."
Considering the squad's first full gathering was during their first game against Central on September 14, Northland's appearance in the final of New Zealand's premier women's hockey competition was a mammoth achievement.
After beating Central in a shootout finish, Northland then lost to Midlands in another shootout before beating Capital to qualify top in their pool and progress into the top four.
Northland started the final qualifiers poorly with a 3-1 loss to North Harbour before bouncing back against Canterbury, winning 4-2. The ladies in blue slipped past Central once more to make the final against North Harbour on Sunday afternoon.
The Northland squad featured nine debutants to the NHL level. Gunson said to make the final with such youth and inexperience was an incredible effort.
"To have [the younger players] throughout the week just getting better and better and they were so keen to learn, it really meant a lot to the whole team and it was part of the reason we got to the final."
Gunson, who has played almost 250 games for the Black Sticks and featured in all four of Northland's second-place finishes at the NHL competition, said the chance to play for Northland again was worth the disappointment of another silver medal.
"I always love to play for Northland, I take any chance I can to play for them.
"I find that Northland has something other regions don't, that real pride and playing a mongrel kind of style which shows how much we care about Northland."
Northland women's coach Angeline Waetford said she was incredibly proud of how her team played throughout the week, and she hoped it would inspire Northland's young talent to stick with the team.
"Taking nine players who've never played NHL before, it's incredible... it was really pleasing to see those new players play around [the Black Sticks] and learn so quickly," she said.
"When you see us in the final and then teams like Midlands with 10 past and present Black Sticks coming fifth, it's a real testament to our character and to Northland, we are battlers and we get on with it."
Northland's top men's hockey team also competed last week at the national senior men's tournament (a tier below the NHL) in Tauranga. After playing well to qualify in the top four, Northland were unlucky to lose the bronze medal match 2-1 to Waikato.