Photo Credit: Yan Huckendubler
Canada had a tough final match-up today against host nation, Spain, at the 2019 Hockey Series Finals. The energy was high in the crowds, as supporters from both teams filled the stadium. It was another early goal that caught team Canada in the first quarter, but Canada was able to bounce back with a penalty corner goal by Sara McManus. The first half was back and forth action throughout. Every goal Spain would get, Canada would come right back and tie it up. The first half finished with a close 3-2 lead for Spain.
Canada was hoping to get a quick goal to tie the game early in the second half, but Spain had a plan of their own. Three minutes into the third quarter, Spain was on the board again, with a commanding 4-2 lead. Although Canada was able to get chances, Spain’s strong defense and goalkeeping kept the door shut, as Canada was not able to put another goal in the net. The game ended with a 4-2 loss for Canada.
“Everyone was really excited after the game against Italy,” said Shanlee Johnston, a veteran player on team Canada. “Our focus was a little bit off at the beginning of this game, and that kind of hurt us. Although we fought back in the first half, It was too little too late, and our performance wasn’t good enough to beat Spain.”
Although Canada was able to draw 1-1 against Spain in the group stages, they were not able to defeat Spain’s strong offensive performance, something that Canada kept at bay in the first game. Spain, ranked 7th in the world, finished with a bronze medal at the 2018 Hockey World Cup, beating some of the top teams in the world.
Brie Stairs led the offense for team Canada throughout the tournament, achieving the event’s highest scorer award with eight goals. She adds to her great reputation as the most prolific scorer that Canada has ever had.
“It always feels great to be recognized but I feel the success comes from the team,” said Stairs. “I wouldn’t be able to get those goals without everyone else building the play up and passing those balls. For me its just about getting into the right spot at the right time.”
Anna Mollenhauer had a great tournament as well, winning the best junior player award in her first major tournament for Canada. Dani Hennig led the way on defense for Canada, while captain Kate Wright contributed on all ends of the pitch, with goals, assists, and some great defensive plays.
Despite the losing effort in the finals, Team Canada achieved what they set out to do: finish in the top two and secure a place in the next stage of Olympic qualifiers. Penalty corner offense for Canada was strong throughout the tournament, scoring at least one goal from the penalty corner each game. Because Canada, coming in at 21, finished higher than the 20, 17 and 15 ranked teams, they will receive a rankings boost. Stay tuned to the FIH rankings to see how high they shoot up.
“It’s definitely a high for us, to win in that semi-final,” Said Stairs. “Everyone contributed, everyone played so well, so it was really special for us to finish in the top two. Today was unfortunate, but we’re still happy with our performance overall.”
“For sure the biggest takeaway is that we qualified for the next round of Olympic qualifiers,” said Johnston. “I think we need to take that as a positive and just make sure we tighten up on the things that didn’t go quite well. There were a few games in the tournament where we didn’t feel like we played our best game, and we need to be able to find that standard throughout the entire tournament.”
Canada set out to show exactly what they’re made of, and they did just that in this FIH Hockey Series Finals. They look to carry this performance and momentum into the 2019 Pan American games which begins on July 29th in Lima, Peru.
Canada Wins second place at the 2019 FIH Hockey Series Finals, and punches their way into the next stage of Olympic Qualifiers. Photos/Yan Huckendubler