As Canada took to the field in their final game today against South Africa, they were standing on the edge of Canadian hockey history. The previous best finish by any Canadian hockey team in Commonwealth Games history was sixth. On the back of two first quarter goals and some rock-steady defense — that has come to be expected — Canada decisively finished off the event with a 3-1 win. For Kate Wright, these types of performances have felt like a long time coming.
“This was a great showing from our team, and now it really feels like the beginning of something great,” she said. “We stuck to our game plan all tournament and it was really nice to see where we measure up.”
In today’s game, it was actually South Africa who had the first penalty corner try, but as has become routine, Canadian goal keeper Kaitlyn Williams deflected the early chance away. Canada bounced back and struck fast and furious, immediately pressuring South Africa and earning a few penalty corners of their own.
With six minutes remaining, Canada’s Shanlee Johnston injected a penalty corner and went straight to the net deflecting in the return pass from Karli Johansen. The goal, Johnston’s first of the Games, came at a crucial moment for Canada and led to another first half goal by Maddie Secco. If Wright had one criticism of the team’s play this week it was in their goal scoring. The team was held scoreless in their first three matches.
“We did a lot of things well this tournament but we really struggled with actually putting the ball in the net,” Wright said. “We’ll get straight to work adjusting small things with our attacking circle play and see if we can fix that.”
While Canada’s attacking play may not have been up to snuff, their defensive performance was all-world. The rear-guard unit of Johansen, Sara McManus and Dani Hennig was lights-out over the past 10 days, protecting the Canadian zone, all the while being clinical and dangerous with their outlet passes.
“It’s great to have them back there,” Wright said. “They give us so much confidence. With them back there, it gives us the breathing room to focus hard on our attack. They are how we get the ball out and how we keep it out.”
The goalkeeping of Kaitlyn Williams over the course of the event was nothing shy of MVP worthy. Williams allowed only one goal (in the form of a penalty stroke in the game against Australia) in 3.75 games of work. Her athleticism, positioning and decision making was world class and Wright had nothing but good things to say about the Canadian keeper.
“She has worked so hard over the past few years to get where she is now. We’re so proud of her and were lucky to have her back there,” Wright continued. “She stood on her head for us. She’s just so dominant back there.”
Canada finished off South Africa in the second half, adding another marker in the fourth quarter, successfully making history and finishing fifth. For Wright and Team Canada, a historical finish at the 2018 Commonwealth Games is a great start but there’s clearly more in the tank for this young team that’s just getting started.
“I think we belong in the medal round with the best countries in the world. We’re definitely proud of how we played but we’re not satisfied. We want to make sure, next time we come up against those top countries, we’re beating them. It’s that simple,” she said.
Canada secures fifth place with a 3-1 victory over South Africa. Photos/Yan Huckendubler