To close out 2016, which was as eventful as they come in Canadian field hockey, today we count down the top 10 hockey stories of the year.
If you missed earlier Year-in-Review coverage this week, check out our Men’s and Women’s National Team Reviews here:
The Hockey India League is one of the top professional field hockey leagues in the world. With a condensed schedule of games played across India, the league features a host of the world’s top field hockey players, who are selected in a draft to play with India’s best. This year, Mark Pearson was asked to play for the Delhi Waveriders, and became the first Canadian player to play in the competitions four-year history. His Waveriders finished in third place.
Much of the hockey talk in Canada this year surrounded the 2016 Olympic Games. After qualifying for Rio in 2015, the Canadian men’s field hockey team spent the better part of the year preparing for the games. This included a length battle for spots on the team going to the Games. After months of competition in training and on the field, Canada’s Olympic team was selected and announced in a special way at a special place.
After 2015, when many of Canada’s senior hockey player reached meaningful milestones, the benchmarks kept coming this year.
Among the highlights were:
On the junior side, 2016 was a year of opportunity for Canada’s women’s field hockey players. With nothing major on the line throughout the year, development within the squad was the focus. Many junior athletes pushed for spots on senior tours, and a group of them was able to earn their first. Thora Rae, Shannon Pereira, Rowan Harris, Nikki Woodcroft, and Alexis de Armond were among a group of athletes who played in their first senior international matches this year.
As exciting as the milestones were this year, 2016 was also a time to say goodbye to some familiar faces in Canadian hockey. Every year, there is a possibility that athletes decide to retire from international play, and that outcome is even more likely at the end of an Olympic cycle.
This year, the Women’s National Team said farewell to one of the most experience players in the team’s history: Thea Culley. The forward from Rossland, British Columbia retires after playing in 157 international games for Canada.
On the men’s side, veterans Philip Wright, Benjamin Martin, Jagdish Gill and Stephen Bissett also announced their retirements from international play.
After the establishment of Canada’s Masters Hockey, a division of Field Hockey Canada aimed at promoting the lifelong participation in hockey at the highest level, Canadian Master returned to competition in 2016 at the Masters World Cup in Australia.
Canada sent two teams to Canberra: an over-50 men’s and over-50 women’s team. A total of thirty Masters athletes, seventeen men and thirteen women, represented Canada at the Games, which were played at Canberra’s National Hockey Centre, in the Australian capital city.
The focus for Canada’s Masters now shifts to the 2018 Masters World Cup, which will be played in Spain. Canada is looking to send a larger contingent. Those interested in represented Canada should see the latest information here.
One of the biggest stories of 2016 will actually play out in the New Year. This year, West Vancouver, British Columbia was confirmed as the host for the International Hockey Federation’s 2017 Women’s World League Round 2, which will take place from April 1-9 next year.
The tournament is part of the 2018 World Cup qualification process, with the top two teams moving on to World League Round 3 later in the year, for a chance to grab a spot at the 2018 World Cup.
Canada’s senior women (ranked 18th in the world) will be joined by opponents from India (12), Belarus (19), Uruguay (22), Chile (23), France (24), Mexico (30) and Trinidad & Tobago (34).
Not only did Canada’s junior men’s national team have a chance to play a major tournament at home in Toronto, Ontario this past spring at the 2016 Junior Pan American Championship, they had to opportunity to cement their spot at the 2016 Junior World Cup while doing so.
The scenario saw the Canadian men having to finish in the top two to qualify for the Junior Men’s World Cup later in the year
The tournament began with adversity for Canada, which dropped its first two games to Mexico and Chile. But the Canadians rallied together after the first two matches and won their next three to earn a berth in the tournament final. Canada ended up taking silver after facing Argentina in the final, guaranteeing their spot at the 2016 Junior World Cup in India in December.
With 2016 being an Olympic year, and Canada’s men having qualified for the Games, the 2016 Field Hockey Canada Hall of Fame class had a special Olympic theme.
Janet Ellis, inducted as a Builder, is one of the most decorated officials in Canadian history, having participated in four Olympic Games. Nick Sandhu, inducted in the athlete category, is a two-time Olympians. And the 1964 Men’s Olympic Team, inducted as a team, was the first Canadian team to compete at an Olympic Games.
Canada’s women’s field hockey team had a year full of tough competition. After showing their worth in 2015 by winning a bronze medal at the Pan American Games for the first time in 16 years an just narrowly missing out on Olympic Games, the team played a schedule full of Olympic-bound teams in 2016.
The year was highlighted not only by Canada’s invitation and participation in the prestigious Hawke’s Bay Cup in New Zealand, where all other teams competing were Olympic bound, but also by Canada’s result in the first game.
After going down 1-0 to Korea, ranked 9th in the world at the time, Canada rallied back on goals from Brienne Stairs and Holly Stewart to win the game 2-1 and upset a ranked 10 spots higher at the time.
The highlight of the year in Canadian field hockey was far away Canada’s participation at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. After missing out on qualification for the 2012 Games in London, Canada’s Men’s National Team was back at the Games.
It was a continuation of a historic run for Canada’s men’s field hockey team, which has qualified for every other Games on average since 1964.
For two of Canada’s men – Scott Tupper and Mark Pearson – it was a return to the Olympics eight years after having been at the Beijing Games. For the rest of the team (16 others) it was their first time at the Games.
Canada’s men were in tough in a pool with top teams like Germany, the Netherlands, and eventual gold medal winner Argentina, but proudly put their best effort on the field, and in the final game were rewarded with a 2-2 draw against an Indian team ranked fifth in the World compared to Canada’s 15th at the time.
After the Games, Canada was rewarded with an improved world ranking: 12th.