When it comes to international hockey and Canada, gold has long been the standard and Saturday night was evidence that the standard isn’t exclusive to the frozen form of the sport.
After the Canadian men’s field hockey team’s 3-0 loss to Argentina in the 2015 Pan American Games gold medal match in Toronto, it was clear it was gold or bust for the Canadians.
“As a hockey player in Canada you want to play finals against Argentina at Pan Am, and you want to beat them,” says Canadian captain Scott Tupper, who was on the team that lost to Argentina in the 2011 Pan Am Final.
“Winning the Pan Am Games is something we wanted to do. We wanted to gold medal in front of our fans and I’ll be honest it stings a lot.”
The Canadians, as they always do, played a good game against Argentina. The match started very evenly with not much offensive opportunity on either side through a very defensive first quarter.
In the second quarter, both teams earned a string of penalty corners each. Canada had four and on three of them Tupper was stopped by Argentine keeper Juan Vivaldi. The fourth, from Gordie Johnston was also turned away.
Argentina, one of the world’s best teams on the penalty corner, had five of their own short corners in the second quarter.
Canada’s corner defense was good, with a combination of athletic saves from goalie David Carter and blocks from the defense keeping the elite dragflicker Gonzalo Peillat off the board.
“We’ve got one of the best goalies in the world so that helps a lot on our defensive corners,” says Canadian defender Gordon Johnston. “It’s something we take very seriously and we pride ourselves on. When you have a game like that when the opposite gets a bunch of corners then that’s a small victory for us.”
But Argentina decided to throw a curveball when the pullout on their fourth of went to veteran Pedro Ibarra. His drag found its way to the back of the net for the first goal of the match.
“They maybe got one a little bit lucky that gave them a bit of the upper hand and maybe got them rolling,” says Tupper. “I think it two sticks maybe on the way through.”
Carter made another big save on a corner before the half to keep it at 1-0.
The game changed quickly in the second half when Argentina struck in the thirty third minute. A goal from Lucas Vila on a deflection in close gave the South Americans the 2-0 lead and made the task a tough one for Canada.
Their best chances of the game were behind them, and after Manuel Brunet scored in the forty-seventh minute the game was pretty well out of reach for Canada.
In addition to contending once again against a team higher than it in the world rankings, the fact that Canada has qualified for the 2016 Olympic in Rio de Janeiro can be another point of solace – but not in the immediate aftermath.
“I think it still stings just as much. Playing at home is a special opportunity,” adds Johnston.
“It’s kind of hard to fight back the tears when we put so much work into playing at home. At the end of the day, you just come a little bit short and it’s the wrong colour medal around your neck.”
The medal is Canada’s twelfth total and seventh silver in its history at the Pan American Games.
The Canadian men, with their recent fourth place finish at the World League Semifinal, have also qualified for the World League Final in November in India, where they will join seven of the world’s top field hockey nations for a high-level Olympic primer.