When Gordon Johnston was about 10 years old, he recalls playing goalkeeper for his older sister Shanlee’s childhood field hockey team. Their mother, the coach at the time, put Gordon in net, thinking no one would mind a little kid subbing in for a missing goalkeeper.
“The other team probably regretted letting him play goalie,” Shanlee laughed. “He was diving around, stopping everything.”
For the Johnston siblings, sports played a major role in their upbringing. They recall constantly playing everything they could from soccer, ice hockey, basketball to tag in the back alley. It was in those back alley afternoons where Shanlee and Gordon developed a competitive but supportive relationship.
Now Gordon and Shanlee are both representing Canada at the highest level at the Commonwealth Games this week in Australia. For them, the opportunity to go to a major games together and be by each other’s side is a special one. Even more than that, the two, despite the natural competitive relationship share a mutual admiration for one another.
“If I ever want to look to anyone for how to be committed and completely and utterly dedicated to the task at hand, it’s Shan,” Gordon said. “She works so hard on and off the field. It makes me very proud seeing her develop over the past few years.”
Shanlee and Gordon are not the only siblings to take the field this weekend on behalf of Field Hockey Canada. Amanda and Nikki Woodcroft are at a major games together for the first time in their careers. A moment neither will forget anytime soon.
“I got to watch her compete at the Pan Am Games in Toronto and it was such an amazing experience, but I am so excited that I get to be beside her on the field for this one,” Nikki (the younger Woodcroft), said before suiting up for their first match.
The two Woodcrofts are no strangers to being teammates. The two of them briefly played together in high school and then suited up for University of Toronto for two seasons, and have been together on the national team for two years.
Amanda said, “it was exciting to watch Nikki grow in the junior program and integrate herself into the senior squad. It’s always been a dream of mine to play for Canada and to be doing that alongside my sister is unbelievable.”
Amanda has been overseas this year playing for KHC Leuven in Belgium. Nikki said they still try to connect at least once-twice per week over the phone. Reunited in Gold Coast and taking on the world together alongside their teammates, Nikki couldn’t be more thrilled.
“I definitely miss her both on and off the field while she’s been away in Europe playing, Nikki said. “It is amazing knowing I have my sister right beside me at my first major games. Knowing we get to experience this amazing event together makes it that much better.”
On the men’s side, there are two sets of siblings taking to the field, furthering the narrative that field hockey in Canada truly is a family affair. Sukhi and Balraj Panesar are attending their first major games together. Sukhi has become a steady midfield presence for the men’s national team over the past several years. He represented Canada at the Olympics in Rio and is now looking forward to a new chapter alongside his younger brother.
“It’s really nice to see him earn his spot,” Sukhi said. “It’s pretty special any time we get to play together, and it is especially cool lining up together on the field in Australia.”
The two brothers have been long-time club teammates and for the younger Panesar, the chance to get to suit up for Canada with his brother has been a long time coming. Balraj represented Canada on the junior scene and has since been consistently selected for senior team tours. This is his first major games on the senior side and wants to emulate his brother’s playing style and confidence.
“We have pretty similar styles. We are ball possession players. I’ve seen him come in as the youngest guy on the team and now he’s progressed to be a leader on the team,” Balraj said of Sukhi. “He’s certainly someone I really look up to.”
According to John Smythe, the younger of the two Smythe brothers, he and Iain have always had a healthy competitive relationship. He even went as far as to say, “if you weren’t competitive in the Smythe household growing up, you weren’t going to eat.” (Said with a smile on his face, of course.)
The Smythe brothers kept up that competitiveness through their university-age years with John playing for the UBC Thunderbirds and Iain playing for the Vancouver Hawks. Iain said the competition is very real on the field, but off the field, they are dedicated brothers and teammates.
“There is nothing I’d rather do, even now at training, then put my brother to the turf,” Iain said. “The competition makes me better, it makes him better…and there’s a healthy amount of trash talk as well.”
Both Smythes were quick to say although the competition and rivalry is fierce on the field, off the field and as teammates, they support each other to the fullest.
“It’s really cool having that bond with him on and off the field,” Iain said. “The whole team is a family that’s always pushing each other to get better.”
For the Johnstons, they no longer share the bond of playing on the same team, but they said they make time for each other while on the road together.
“Shan and I share the love for coffee,” Gordon said. “So we will make the time to have a coffee and talk about games and connect about what’s going on. We can bounce ideas off each other and just hang out.”
It’s always special to be able to share your passion with the ones you love. And for the siblings on the Gold Coast this week, that family connection takes on a special meaning. You can catch both the men’s and women’s national team play out the rest of the 2018 Commonwealth Games live on www.dazn.com and follow the action on our coverage page here.