Photos: Yan Huckendubler
Ali Baggott, for PAHF
The Canadian Wolfpack have been re-writing history since head coach Giles Bonnet stepped on board and the their happy ending has come a bit closer after a big 2-0 semifinal victory over the USA. In 2015 Canada stepped on the podium with a bronze medal, their first medal since 1999, while the USA and Argentina have met in the past six-straight Pan American Games finals.
The battle of North America was a game of stingy defence as the teams neutralized each other well through midfield. Kate Wright opened the scoring chances in the sixth minute when her back-hand shot went high over the USA goal, and Danielle Grega sent a slicing pass that went untouched through the Canadian circle in the other end.
The Canadians earned their first penalty corner in the 10th minute and Karli Johansen confidently flicked the ball low and it ricocheted through traffic and in to the goal to erupt the Canadian crowd with a 1-0 lead. Canada built off the momentum as a swift run from Natalie Sourisseau allowed her to find Steph Norlander in the USA circle. Norlander drew wide to beat keeper Kelsey Bing but the attempt at goal was saved by a sprawled Julia Young on the USA defence line.
The Americans started the second quarter on a rush that resulted in Margaux Paolino firing a back-hand shot but that was steered away by Canadian goalie Kaitlyn Williams. The USA followed up with a penalty corner but the give-and-go play between Kat Sharkey and Ali Froede was spoiled by Canadian defender Sara McManus. Williams was called to action again on a shot from Young in the 23rd minute and again from Mackenzie Allessie two minutes later but the Canadians looked calm as they brought the ball out of their backfield.
Canada had another penalty corner in the 26th minute after some hard work from Brienne Stairs. Johansen looked for Rachel Donohoe posted up at the stroke mark but the ball took a bounce and fell to McManus. The resulting shot went wide and Canada clung to their 1-0 lead at half time.
In the 35th minute Canada double their lead as Wright curled and fed a pass towards the feet of Bing. The ball skipped behind her and Maddie Secco tapped the ball in for a 2-0 Canada advantage.
The Americans had their share of attack in the Canadian circle but Williams looked sharp in goal for the Canadians. Canada had another penalty corner in the 40th minute and they executed a nifty play that allowed Stairs to weave through traffic but her shot rolled just wide of the goal.
USA earned their first penalty corner in the 44th minute but Danielle Hennig blocked the strike from Sharkey and Williams cleared the rebound attempt. On the break out Canada had a two-on-Bing but Secco’s pass was just out of reach for a sliding Holly Stewart at the far post.
Canada never stopped pushing forward through 60 minutes and when the final whistle went they raced to Williams and celebrated the fact that they were heading to the Pan American Games final for the first time since 1991.
Canada will meet Argentina, who conceded the last two Pan American Games titles to the USA but before that won six straight. The USA will regroup to play Chile for the bronze medal. The winner of the Argentina-Canada final will earn a continental champion berth to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Canada’s women have sat out the last six Olympics, last competing in 1992 when they finished seventh in Barcelona.