Photo: Junior Women’s National Team celebrates a goal in Santiago, Chile in January 2016. Taken by Lorena Angus.
In the last year, the Canadian Junior Women’s National Team hasn’t competed internationally very often. In fact, they haven’t been together as a team all that much. But that hasn’t stopped the group of young athletes from uniting ahead of the most important competition to date in their international careers.
With athletes located across the country, and not many opportunities for international competition at the junior level, the squad has been limited to annual training camps and two test series to become a team.
But in this case, quality trumps quantity, and with one week to go before the start of the Junior Women’s Pan American Championships – a 2016 Junior World Cup qualifier – in Trinidad and Tobago, the Canadian junior women are as much as a team as any.
“We all learned a lot and become extremely close,” says one of the older girls, Nikki Woodcroft. “We’re all really confident with each other, believe in each other, and trust in each other’s abilities.”
For a team that has only been together for about a year, that’s quite the feat.
The junior women were just getting to know each other, a lot of the women playing together for only the first time, last February in a series with the United States Under-21 team at the Spooky Nook Sports Complex in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
“I think our team improved a lot since the U.S. series at Spooky Nook,” says newcomer to the international scene Margaret Pham. “We have really gotten better playing with each other and our chemistry has improved. We know how each other plays and works as a team.”
A lot of that improvement can be credited to time spent together at camps throughout the year, instruction from National Team coaches, and maturity as hockey players. But no experience was more important to the team’s progression – on and off the field – than the trip to Santiago, Chile to face the Chilean Under-21 team earlier this year.
“I think it was extremely important, because we’ve had a few camps here and there, but it gave us an opportunity to get to know each other even more,” says Woodcroft, who, after the series in Chile, went on to earning her first senior international cap in February in San Diego.
“On the field, knowing how each other plays and where we’ll be, when to pass the ball, and communication. Even off the field, we’re all so close, always hanging in out each other’s rooms. Just getting really familiar and comfortable with each other.”
That familiarity and comfort led to a successful series against Chile.
In seven games, the Canadian women won three matches, capping the series off with a convincing 5-0 victory.
But success was not only measure in the win-loss column, especially for players like Pham, who was new to the entire international experience.
“It was a really different and cool experience because this was my first time outside of North America, experiencing a different culture and country,” says the native of Mississauga, Ontario.
Getting that first-time experience out of the way will allow Pham and her teammates to focus on the hockey in Trinidad and Tobago.
And according to Woodcroft, the experience over the last year has positioned Canada’s junior women
“I think we all really believe that we can do it and that we’re good,” she says. “I think it really helped.”
The Canadian Junior Women open the 2016 Junior Pan American Championships on March 30th at 4:00pm local time (1:00pm PT/4:00pm ET) against Bermuda.
For Canada’s full schedule, results, and game recaps click here.