It’s been a while since the Canadian women’s field hockey team played in a meaningful game.
After the Women’s National Team won bronze at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto last July – the first time the Canadian women medaled at the event since 1999 – the program de-centralized, with the fall and winter on the horizon.
But elsewhere around the world, hockey season was in full swing.
While National Team training continued in Vancouver for a small group throughout the fall, and others played for Canadian universities in Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) competition, a handful of Canadian Women’s National Team athletes hopped on flights across the world to continue their competition season.
For the second straight year, defender Abigail Raye joined Royal Wellington, a top club that competes near Brussels, Belgium.
“I found when I came here last year, I think I improved a lot with building my confidence and my game sense,” says Raye.
“The level over here is also really good. Training with the team I’ve found it’s maybe a different style of hockey. It’s broadening my hockey knowledge.”
With the National Team in a non-competition period, the timing was right for Raye, who was joined in Belgium by midfielder Natalie Sourriseau and forward Brienne Stairs, both of whom competed for Victory, a team which plays south of Antwerp.
While in Belgium, the athletes kept up with their National Team prescribed training before returning to Canada in December for end-of-year camp.
“(Women’s National Team coach Ian Rutledge) has been super accommodating,” says Raye. “I’ve been super motivated to keep my fitness up.”
Earlier in the off-season, it was also a perfect time for defender Danielle Hennig and forward Hannah Haughn to head to New Zealand to compete in the National League tournament for Northland.
“Because we didn’t have any competition going on for Canada, it was a good opportunity to go get some high level games without missing out anything here,” says Hennig. “It was something I thought I’d jump at.”
“Most of the teams had 2-5 Blacksticks (New Zealand senior National Team members) within their team, and a lot of Under-21s and development players as well. Most of the teams were very strong all around and it was a pretty high level.”
Hennig and Haughn helped in sending Northland all the way to the final, before losing to powerhouse Auckland.
Overall, the experience for Hennig was a good one and allowed for a bit of variety during National Team downtime.
“It was just really fun to get to play with and against different players,” she says. “Playing in Vancouver there is a very small field hockey community. You very quickly get to know players very well. You know players’ strengths and tendencies and as a defender I can pick that out.”
“In New Zealand, like in international games, you have to read the play as it happens. It was a high level where I was challenged and couldn’t get away with developing bad habits.”
Having been back with the National Team since the beginning of January and with the first competition of 2016 on the horizon next week in San Diego, the women turn their focus once again to Canada and to what the last year both with Canada and abroad can do for the team’s future.
“I think Pan Ams was a huge benchmark for us,” says Raye. “Now we’ve proved that we can play with the best.”
The Canadians start the year with a four-game series against the seventh ranked United States beginning on Monday in San Diego, California. The last time the two teams met was in the 2015 Pan Am Games semifinal when the U.S. narrowly beat out the host Canadians 3-0 before going on to beat Argentina for the gold medal.