In front of a raucous home crowd in Toronto, the Canadian women’s field hockey team faced off against its North American rival, the United States, in the Pan American Games semifinal Wednesday, and it was the fifth ranked Americans who came out on top by a score of 3-0.
The world’s twentieth ranked team, Canada will play for bronze against Chile on Friday at 2:00pm PT/5:00pm ET.
The loss is particularly stinging for the Canadians, who were hoping to play for for Pan American gold on home soil and with it earn 2016 Olympic qualification, something the Canadian women haven’t done since 1992.
“Going to the Olympics is something that every athlete dreams of, but it doesn’t mean that you’re not a good athelte if you don’t get there,” says Canadian veterean forward Thea Culley, who is Canada’s most capped active player, but has not played in an Olympic Games. “I’m so proud of my team today and we’re going to be pulling everything together to get to that bronze medal match.”
Canada still has a chance at history on Friday, as it has been sixteen years since the women have medaled at the Pan Am Games. The last time the Women’s National Team took home hardware at its continental championship was the last time they played at home; 1999 in Winnipeg.
Wednesday’s game began with the United States pressuring Canada constantly. It was a kind of pressure Canada has rarely seen throughout the tournament, aside from its pool match against Argentina.
The push resulted in the game’s first goal. After Canadian keeper Kaitlyn Williams made a couple of early saves on U.S. penalty corners, Kelsey Kolojejchick broke through in the ninth minute scoring her first of two goals in the game.
In their previous four games, the States hadn’t surrendered a goal so Canada’s had a steep hill to climb. But the home team responded well, with several rushes into the American end and good opportunities to score.
U.S. goalkeeper Jackie Briggs was forced to make a strong blocker save off a Culley backhand, which was Canada’s best chance in the half.
Canada kept pressing in the second half and thought it had come within one when Stephanie Norlander potted a rebound after a Karli Johansen drag flick on a penalty corner. The goal, however, was called back because it hit a Canadian body.
The Americans added two more goals in the forty-seventh and fifty-eights minutes, putting the game out of reach for Canada.
Once they get over the sting of the loss, Culley and the Canadians will shift their focus to Chile and the bronze medal match.
For a team that is typically one of the youngest at each tournament it plays, earning a medal at a major games will be an accomplshment and a positive step forward for the program, which will soon after the Pan Am Games refocus and have its targets aimed at 2020 Olympic qualification.
“Our squad is fantastic,” adds Culley. “The girls who are in the twenty to sixty (games played) range are totally pulling more than their weight.”
Canada will face Chile in the bronze medal match Friday at 2:00pm PT/5:00pm ET.