Team Canada receives their bronze medal at the Youth Pan American Championships. Photo: Mariano Avila/PAHF
It took an extra day, but Canada qualified for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games with a thorough 6-0 victory over Paraguay in the bronze medal match in Guadalajara last weekend. Canada finished with a 5-1-0 record. Their only loss came at the hands of host-country Mexico in the semifinals.
With the third-place finish, Canada successfully punched their ticket to the Youth Olympic Games, which will be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina in October. Head Coach, Geoff Matthews said he was very impressed with how the team responded to the adversity of the semi-final loss to bounce back in the bronze medal game.
“It’s an incredible achievement to qualify for the Youth Olympics,” he said. “We showed a lot of character coming back after the semi-final loss. I’m really proud of everyone on this team.”
Goalkeeper, Ethan McTavish put on a terrific display in net, allowing only four goals over the six-game event. Shazab Butt, Amraaz Dhillon and Rowan Childs led the team in offensive production with five goals apiece. Seven of the eight Canadian field-players found the scoresheet at least once. Matthews talked about the balanced attack and creativity contributing to the success of the team.
“Everybody played their part and we were able to put out very solid nine-player performances,” Matthews said. “It really showed on the last day, that we were well conditioned. We played our best game in the bronze medal match.”
Notably, the team was unable to find that offensive flair in the semifinals against a tough Mexican squad. After defeating Canada 3-0, the hosts went on to drop a heartbreaker in the finals to Argentina. Matthews said Mexico played a very solid game and didn’t’ give Canada many chances.
“They were better than us on that day. It’s that simple,” he said. “They absolutely deserved to move onto the finals. They were really good at contesting shots. In Hockey 5s, once you lose momentum, it’s very hard to get it back. Full credit to the Mexican side for their performance.”
The Youth Olympic Games is taking place in Argentina in October. Between now and then, the athletes will train with their provincial programs and in their National Training Centres. Given the many months between competitions, there is the potential for new faces to join the ranks. Players will be assessed at nationals and an additional selection camp after Nationals in July. The final Youth Olympic roster will be announced in late August.
The bronze medal at the Youth Pan American Championships marks the first time a Canadian team has medalled with representation from four provinces. Matthews said this is a testament to the growth and support of the men’s NextGEN system.
At the end of the event, Matthews said the team atmosphere was bitter sweet.
“On the one hand, we accomplished our goal of qualifying for the Youth Olympics. But on the other hand, I could tell the players were disappointed sitting in the stands, watching the finals and not playing in it,” Matthews said. “I think it’s great motivation for us moving forward. We know we can challenge the best in the world and we are looking forward to getting another chance at a gold medal in October.”