Starting off the new year with a coaching change may have been exactly what the doctor ordered for Team Canada. They have responded admirably to the shake up and now go into the 2018 Commonwealth Games with momentum and a reinvigorated sense of confidence.
Canada starts the 2018 Commonwealth Games with a bang taking on host-nation and world-number 5, Australia. According to Canadian captain, Kate Wright — who will be suiting up in her third Commonwealth Games — playing on opening night against the hosts will be an amazing experience.
“Playing against Australia, in Australia on opening day. It doesn’t get any better than that,” Wright said.
But merely playing against the top nations in the world isn’t enough for this team. There is a general sense around the locker room that this team can really start to compete and get results at the top level. The Commonwealth Games offers a true test to see where Canada stands. Currently ranked 21st in the world, Canada is in a preliminary group with New Zealand (4), Australia (5), Scotland (18) and Ghana (30).
Canada has played eight games (4-1-4) this season over the course of two tours (Chile in January and San Diego in February). Veteran defender, Dani Hennig, said the team has a nice balance and is feeling very prepared and looking to channel some of the positive results from their 2018 tours into the Commonwealth Games.
“We’re looking really good. We have a good mix of veterans and some newer players that have a lot of spark and creativity,” she said. “We have had a really positive start to 2018 playing under a new coach and new systems. We’re feeling really prepared to go into Commonwealth Games and make some waves.”
Hennig, who is on pace to play her 150th career international game next week against Ghana, has spent the last eight years on the women’s national team. She represents a veteran core that has been together for the past several years. The 2018 Gold Coast roster features 11 players returning the 2015 Pan American Games and 9 players returning from the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
This year’s Commonwealth Games roster is stacked with talent. Up front, Brienne Stairs and Steph Norlander bring the offensive firepower, having combined for nine goals this year in Canada’s training tours. The midfield is well controlled by Hannah Haughn, Wright and Shanlee Johnston. Defensively, Sara Macmanus, Karli Johansen and Hennig share a total of 373 caps between them. And with the veteran presences of Kaitlyn Williams and Lauren Logush between the pipes it’s no wonder Canada is feeling confident and excited heading into competition.
It was breaking news in January that Field Hockey Canada had hired South African coach, Giles Bonnet to be the Interim Head Coach of the Women’s National Team. Since then, the team has boasted a winning record on both training tours and moves into the Commonwealth Games on a high note. For Bonnet, the athletes’ approach to training and improvement both on and off the field has motivated him.
“The players have worked very hard this year and should be commended for the commitment and continuous search for excellence,” Bonnet said.
According to the players, they have really embraced Bonnet’s style of play and channeled it into impressive results along the way. According to Norlander, Canada’s top goal scorer this year, the new style of play is very aggressive and has led to more offensive chances. As a result, the team has a noticeable increase in confidence, which is showing on the field.
Hennig echoed Norlander’s point, saying again, that the team has embraced Bonnet’s structural changes and is really starting to make strides just in time for major competition.
“Giles likes to play a very fast, attacking style. It’s a really fun game to play and I think the team has latched onto it really well,” Hennig said. “The passion that he brings is really visible. He pushes us really hard because he wants us to be better and the team is responding really well to it.”
Bonnet has more on his mind than just bringing on-field style and structure changes. He is excited to be a part of a team that’s shifting their culture to a winning atmosphere. In competition, he wants to see it pay off.
“We’ll be watching for how the team plays under pressure, how effective our set pieces are and how our individual players perform in our new structure,” he said. “The team has been very professional in how they conduct themselves and are starting to develop a winning culture.”
2018 has been a roller coaster ride for the Women’s National Team. They brought in a new coach with new ideas, they had back-to-back tours to kick off the new year and now they head into a major competition after a six-week training block. Hennig said, that now it’s time to put all of that aside and deliver on the field.
“We’re really focused on coming out with not only good performances but also good results. We’ve been learning this year to get actually get results from the game,” she said. “We’re excited to go in there and take it to the home team on opening night and cause a bit of a ruckus.”
Canada faces England in a pre-tournament exhibition game. Photos/Yan Huckendubler