Canada’s top U21 side took to the field on Sunday night for the highly anticipated series opener vs. their U21 rivals, Argentina. This would be a rematch from last September’s Pan-American final, where Argentina squeeked-out a 3-2 win over the young Canadian side. Before the game, Canada’s senior team ran a clinic for juniors from the Hawks FHC, which was very well attended, and ensured that there was a healthy crowd out to watch under some dark, stormy clouds.
Early-on, the Argentinian’s asserted control over the game, pushing Canada back into deep defence for long periods of time. Content to play patient, measured hockey, the experienced Argetinian backfield was able to calmly swing the ball into wide channels, and attack the Canadian defence mercilessly. A standout defensive performance not only by Canada’s goalkeeper Lauren Logush, but also Sara McManus and Rachel Donohoe, ensured that wave after wave of creative Argentinian attacking hockey went unrewarded. While not creating too many quality scoring opportunities in the first half, the young Canadian side slowly gained in confidence through some impressive individual efforts from Maddie Secco and newcomer Stephanie Norlander from West Vancouver FHC. Argentina was however able to eventually score on a well taken penalty corner, and went into the halftime break with a 1-0 lead over Canada.
Despite not having played a game since their Pan American final in September, Canada’s first half performance was a strong indication of the depth of talent in this young team. Early jitters and unforced errors slowly were eliminated towards the end of the first half, and Canada looked ready to contest the match more evenly in the second frame.
Whatever was said in the halftime huddle clearly worked in favour of Canada, as they quickly started to gain momentum over the match. Now sharing longer periods of ball possession in the Argentinian half, Canada created numerous chances through Ashley Kristen, Holly Stewart, and Norlander. Some superb individual efforts in midfield from Secco and Natalie Sourisseau meant that Canada’s wide attacking channels opened-up and gave them more room to attack the Argentinian circle. Their efforts were eventually rewarded, when Natalie Sourisseau sent an absolute rocket of a flick into the top shelf on a well-earned penalty corner, to the delight of the home crowd. With roughly ten minutes to play, Canada was now on even terms at 1-1.
The last ten minutes were a fantastic exhibition of hockey. Both coaches clearly were looking for the win, and the game opened-up into a run-and-gun affair with numerous attacking opportunities for both sides. As the pace picked-up, Canada was caught-out of position inside their own D, and a bad tackle led to a penalty stroke being awarded. Argentina made no mistake, and buried it for the 2-1 winning goal.
As time ran out, Argentina took home a deserved 2-1 win over Canada. Some standout individual performances on both sides were seen. This should be a fantastic series, if Game #1 was any indication of what is to come.
Game #2 of the series goes Monday at 1:30pm – UBC Wright Field. Thanks again to PAUL WINSTANLEY for some stunning pictures from today’s match.