Shanlee Johnston said she still thinks back to that weekend in November and wonders what could have been.
Canada and Ireland played a two-game qualifier series all the way to the bitter end in Dublin last fall. When the dust had settled at the end of a six-round sudden-death shootout, it was the home team celebrating Olympic Qualification and the Canadians heartbroken, knees on the turf.
“It’s hard to describe the feeling,” Johnston, the 30-year old Vancouver native, said. “On the one hand, you’re crushed and devastated. Sometimes the feeling of helplessness is overwhelming. We had put so much work into this one moment. Qualifying for the Olympics is a dream I’ve had in my mind since I was 12 years old.
“But at the same time, I also realize that the reason we play sports is not about one tournament. It’s about the fight you put in. It’s about the people you battle with and grow with along the way and I couldn’t be prouder of our team. It’s easier to say that to my teammates and help lift them up but I try to remind myself of that as often as I can as well.”
The lead-up to the Olympic Qualifiers for Team Canada was nothing short of spectacular. They centralized in Belgium for weekly trainings and played in the Belgian League scattered amongst local clubs. They toured in Europe, North American and Asia, playing the best teams in the world. The Wolfpack finished with a silver at the Hockey Series Finals in Valencia and followed it up by making the Pan American Games finals for the first time since 1991. In the end, their shootout loss dashed the 2020 Olympic dream and left the team to reflect on those final moments.
Victoria’s Maddie Secco, a midfielder for Team Canada, echoes Johnston’s sentiments and adds that Canada’s preparedness in the months leading up gave them every chance to come out on top.
“Heading into the series with Ireland, I really felt that were prepared to the fullest,” Secco said. “We knew their players; we knew how they were going to play. We had our plan. We were so ready stepping onto that field.
“It was really heartbreaking. Especially in a shootout. We worked so hard for two games and it all came down to one moment. It’s so hard. But, it’s sports and on the day, it can go either way. We put everything on the field and I have no regrets.”
Team Canada battled Ireland to the bitter end in November. Yan Huckendubler/Photo
The majority of the Canadian National Team, currently ranked 14th in the world, is back overseas competing in the Belgian League, of the top-rated leagues in the world. The Belgian League is known for attracting international players from all over the world. The Canadian athletes, many of whom have signed contracts with top-teams in the league, have been welcomed and made to feel at home by their Belgian clubs.
Secco, who played the 2017 season for Flottbek in the German League, said that the access to consistent competition and high-level coaching in Europe is a great opportunity for the Canadian players to continue to improve, especially in a year void of major international competitions.
“We hope to build on the momentum that we created over the past year,” Secco said. “We are a very talented side and it would be sad to see all that hard work go to waste.”
The next major milestone for Team Canada will be qualifying for the 2022 World Cup co-hosted in Netherlands & Spain. Canada’s Women’s National Team hasn’t qualified for a World Cup since 1994. Johnston closed by saying this group of players isn’t done improving yet.
“The journey is why we all do this,” Johnston said. “And we want to keep pushing for something. The majority of this team wants to build towards the World Cup and succeed at that event.”
|First Name||Last Name||Current Club Team|
|Alexis||DeArmond||White Star, Brussels|
|Rowan||Harris||Cambrai HC, France|
|Hannah||Haughn||Royal Victory HC|
|Danielle||Hennig||Royal Victory Hockey Club|
|Alison||Lee||Leiden Hockey Club, Netherlands|
|Lauren||Logush||Leiden Hockey Club, Netherlands|
|Sara||McManus||KHC Leuven, Belgium|
|Steph||Norlander||KHC Leuven, Belgium|
|Maddie||Secco||Royal Victory Hockey Club, Belgium|
|Natalie||Sourisseau||THC Hurley, Netherlands|
|Brie||Stairs||KHC Leuven, Belgium|
|Holly||Stewart||Royal Evere White Star (Belgium)|
|Kaitlyn||Williams||Royal Victory Hockey Club|
|Elise||Wong||K. Mechelse T.H.C.|
|Nicole||Woodcroft||Royal Evere White Star Hockey Club|
|Kate||Wright (Gillis)||KHC Leuven|