Photo Credit: Yan Huckendubler
Team Canada, the 21st ranked team in the world, vs Italy, the 17th ranked team in the world. Canada had a tough match up en route to the next stage of Olympic qualification. It was a close first quarter of play, with Italy putting a high pressure on Canada’s veteran defensive core. However, Canada’s defense, led by Dani Hennig stood strong against the pressure, and was able to keep the ball out of the net to start the game. The game was at a standstill until the last minute of the first quarter, where Canada’s Sara McManus was able to capitalize on a penalty corner, with a great hit into the bottom corner of the net.
Italy pushed back early in the second quarter, trying to tie up the game with a few chances of their own. However, Canada’s defense was able to stand strong against the attack, and took advantage on the counter attack, with Rachel Donohoe and Brie Stairs both putting away counter attacking goals.
“I think It was a great performance by everyone on the team,” Said veteran defender Hennig. “We talked about playing free, and we’ve known for a long time within our group the potential that we have, and today we all just brought our strengths and I think you could really see what kind of team we are, and what we can be.”
Going into the second half with a 3-0 lead was big accomplishment for the seeded underdogs, but Canada was not done yet. Fitness played a role in the second half, with Canada putting on constant pressure. They were able to get lots of shots, and capitalized on two penalty corners, with two amazing shots from Karli Johansen.
“Winning those corners has been a big focus for us this tournament,” said Johansen. “It’s been a lot of work in training to get every little piece of the corner to be perfect. I was happy to be able to put it in the net, but definitely a team performance.”
Canada finished the game with an outstanding 7-0 lead, and advance to the next stage of qualification, which is a two game series against a top two Hockey Series Final winner. Win the series, go to the Olympics, lose the series, go home.
“This was that first big hurdle for us to get over,” said Hennig. “I think it gives us a lot of confidence to see how emphatically we were able to do that. Good teams are able to perform on a once off, and we want to become a great team, and that means laying out solid performances day after day.”
Hannah Haughn, veteran Canadian midfielder, who notched Canada’s seventh goal knows the sting of being eliminated from Olympic contention. With Canada moving on successfully, she gave an emotional interview after the game to the FIH reporters, saying that, “this moment means everything for us.”
“I’m so proud of how we’ve been able to come together through the highs and the lows…and come out on top,” Haughn said.
With the win, Canada will be in the championship match tomorrow of the 2019 FIH Hockey Series Finals against host nation, Spain. The crowd will be full of hometown supporters, as Canada will look to upset the fans in Valencia.
Canada defeats Italy 7-0 in the semi-finals the 2019 FIH Hockey Series Finals in Valencia, Spain. Photos/Yan Huckendubler