The last time the Canadian Women’s National Team qualified for the Olympic Games, half of the current team wouldn’t have been born, the other half, so young they wouldn’t remember it. Brian Mulroney was the Prime Minister of Canada and smartphones were still 15 years away.
Generations of Canadian field hockey players have come and gone without even a sniff at the Olympic Games. So, when Team Canada defender Shanlee Johnston says, “These are the two most important games in our hockey careers,” she means it.
Canada will play against Ireland in a two-game aggregate series on November 2 & 3 in Donnybrook Stadium in Dublin. The winner will advance to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, the defeated will have to try again in four years. Simple as that. Win and you’re in.
“These are the two most important games in our hockey careers,” – Shanlee Johnston. Photos/Emma Van Mol
This style of qualification series is brand new, the culmination of the FIH Hockey Series. The Canadian Wolfpack’s journey started in 2018 by attending the Hockey Series Open in Salamanca, Mexico where they steamrolled the competition en-route to a tournament victory. They then waited a year for their next Hockey Series event, the Hockey Series Finals in Valencia, Spain. A top-two finish would advance them to the final stage. Sure enough, Canada fought their way to a silver-medal performance, only losing to host-nation Spain.
The other avenue to the 2020 Olympic Games is through winning the continental championships; for Canada, the Pan American Games. Team Canada smashed their way to their first Pan American final since 1991 and came away with a silver medal, still one spot shy of that coveted Olympic berth. The successful 2018 and 2019 seasons gave Canada a rankings boost, vaulting them into the top-15.
On September 9, 2019, it was made official with the FIH Olympic Qualifiers draw pitting Ireland vs Canada. Coincidentally, Canada’s Men’s National Team also drew Ireland in their Olympic Qualifiers. That drama unfolded a few days ago, with Canada’s men’s team punching their ticket to Tokyo.
The stage is set and now it’s just about executing when the lights come up.
Canada is looking to qualify for the Olympics for the first time since 1992. Photos/Yan Huckendubler
Making it to this series has been the goal for the team since their fifth-place finish at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia. Under the encouragement and support of head coach Giles Bonnet, the team centralized in Belgium in September 2018. The goal was to get quality competition exposure and have access to a high-level training environment. Bonnet has experience using the centralization method with the South African National Team and aims for similar levels of success with the Canadian Wolfpack.
The team has played three test series this fall simulating the environment of the Olympic Qualification series. They have posted a series wins against USA and Chile, a series tie against Spain and a loss against Belgium.
Johnston explained that the test matches have been helpful for getting into the right mindset for the Olympic Qualifier.
“Basically, the way that we have thought about it as a team is that it is eight quarters,” said Johnston. “Because the games are back to back and its aggregate score, you have to treat it as one big game.”
Whether or not the team qualifies for the Olympics, what they have accomplished in the last few years has been nothing short of incredible.
“This journey has been amazing and that we’ve all come a really long way and just being able to play these games shows how far we’ve come,” explained Johnston. “It would mean the world if we qualified but I think that we also need to recognize that it has been a huge accomplishment so far as well and we can’t lose sight of that.”
Defender Kathleen Leahy said that it would mean the same thing to each player to qualify as it would to the team.
“It’s what we’ve been fighting for, for our entire hockey careers,” said Leahy. “Whether it’s been 10 plus years like some of the girls or one or two years that some of the other girls have been with us.”
“We’ve fought for it for a long time and we’re so close. We’re excited going into the qualifier and we’re ready.”
Right now, Canada is preparing and training with an extended squad. The final 18-player roster for the Olympic Qualifiers will be announced publicly this week.