PHOTO: Goalkeeper David Carter and Adam Froese celebrate after Canada’s shootout win over New Zealand at the 2015 World League Semi-Final in Buenos Aires, Argentina (By FRANK UIJLENBROEK, FFU PRESS AGENCY)
With only one week to go before Canada’s men hit the field at the 2017 Hockey World League Semi-Final in London, England there’s no better time to relive the drama from the last time Canada competed at World League 3.
The thrilling tournament featured two Canadian wins against higher ranked teams, Spain and New Zealand, the latter of which came in an electrifying extended shootout and resulted in Canada qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil.
This time around, 2018 World Cup qualification is up for grabs if the Canadian men can finish in the top five. But what might be more exciting than qualification itself is how it happens.
That may have been true in 2015.
While many may remember the quarterfinal match against New Zealand as the highlight of the tournament – and rightfully so – Canada’s competition did not lack entertainment in the lead-up to the elimination round.
One of the team’s toughest tests came in the first match of pool play when it faced 11th ranked Spain in what was a game that the Canadian men had targeted as winnable, potentially setting up a favourable quarterfinal matchup.
Gordon Johnston scored the game’s first goal on a penalty corner in the 6th minute, putting Canada ahead early and James Kirkpatrick added another before the half to give Canada a 2-0 lead.
Strong play from David Carter in goal and an insurance marker from Devon Noronha-Texeira meant Canada held on for a 3-2 win.
The Canadians then disposed of Austria 3-0 in their second pool match, and despite losing the remaining two games pool play to Argentina and Germany, they had accomplished the first goal of getting through the group stage with two wins.
That set up a quarterfinal match against 7th ranked New Zealand.
While their rankings would have suggested otherwise, there wasn’t a lot between 15th ranked Canada and 7th New Zealand.
The two teams had met earlier in the year in a test series in New Zealand, which meant there were no surprises when they met again in the World League 3 quarterfinal.
The quarterfinal was an evenly played match through regulation time with both teams having their chances, but strong defensive play winning out.
In the end, neither team was able to score and the 0-0 scoreline through regulation meant the shootout would decide a winner.
The shootout itself was full of tension and drama.
The pressure started to build for the Canadians after finding themselves down 3-1, with the Kiwis having two opportunities to come out victorious. New Zealand’s Ryan Archibald believed to have scored the game winning goal. However, upon video review, the ball did not cross the line before the 8 second timer expired, and the goal did not count.
Later on, Canada’s Gordie Johnston had to score to keep the Canadians alive twice and did.
After saving five straight shots, Carter then made another save on Ryan Archibald to setup an eventual sudden death winner from Adam Froese, and the 8-7 shootout win for Canada.
Carter’s play not only in the shootout, during which he made a handful of spectacular saves, but throughout the tournament was recognized by way of the netminder from Vancouver being named the tournament’s Top Goalkeeper and Most Valuable Player.
Later that year, Carter was nominated for the Goalkeeper of the Year worldwide in the International Hockey Federation’s annual awards.
2015 was a year to remember for the keeper, and it was highlighted by a breakout performance at the World League Semi-Final.
2016 Olympic Qualification
It wasn’t known officially at the time – although the Canadian men celebrated as if it was – but the win against New Zealand ended up being Canada’s official ticket into the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
With double qualifications through the Continental Championship circuit, Canada – which finished 4th at World League 3 – was given a ticket to Rio.
It will be a similar scenario in London this year, with World Cup qualification on the line.
While the top five nations are given a spot at the 2018 World Cup in India, with Continental Championships to follow later this year and the potential again for double qualifications for Continental Champions and World League top finishers, 6th or 7th place at World League in London might also be good enough.
Which means every game counts.