Edit: After the FIH Olympic Qualifier Draw (Sep. 9, 2019), this article has been modified.
The matchups are set. Canada vs Ireland on both men’s and women’s side. If there wasn’t a rivalry between these two hockey nations, there is now. The implications are clear: win the series and qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Games; lose and try again in four years.
Both the women’s and men’s national teams have advanced to the final stages of Olympic qualification set for this fall. They will play a two-game series against an opponent yet to be determined, with the aggregate winner advancing to the 2020 Olympic Games. Every path to the Olympic games is different. And although the two national team pathways have looked very different over the last 18-months, they both stand on the precipice of Olympic qualification.
Women’s National Team rising through the ranks
For the Canadian Women’s National Team, the story starts with their fifth-place finish at the Commonwealth Games in 2018, planting the seed of hope that they could be a top-12 team. Under the encouragement and support of newly appointed head coach Giles Bonnet, the team centralized in Belgium in September 2018. The goal was to get quality competition reps and have access to high level training environment. Bonnet has experience coaching with this centralization method with the South African National Team and aims for similar levels of success with the Canadian Wolfpack.
By all accounts, the opportunity has been amazing. The Canadian athletes were dispersed in the Belgium and Dutch elite leagues, getting new and exciting training and competition exposure, all while training weekly as a part of the Canadian national program. The Wolfpack’s international results speak volumes to the dedication and commitment to improvement. They had successful series results in Mexico, USA, Spain, Ireland and China as well as other positive results against top-15 nations.
They manoeuvred through the FIH Hockey Series finishing second place in June in Valencia, securing them a spot in the two-game Olympic playoff series this fall. Their silver medal finish at the Pan American Games in August was their best since 1991 and will thrust them higher up the world ranking as well.
According to Giles Bonnet, the team will be ready.
“These matches are new for every team. It’s about how one specifically prepares for these matches,” Bonnet said. “I think by the end of October; we will be ready to compete and able to withstand the enormous pressures that will be present.”
Bonnet said that riding the successful results from Pan Ams will set the team up nicely for this pressure-fuelled series with the Olympics on the line.
“Pan Am Games delivered a confidence boosting result in a semi-final match against the USA in a major tournament,” Bonnet said. “The second-place finish and silver medal gave the team enormous confidence.”
Men’s National Team hosting Ireland in two qualifying matches
The Men’s National Team earned their spot in the Olympic qualifier series by winning the Hockey Series Finals in Kuala Lumpur in April. They defeated host-nation Malaysia in a thrilling championship game securing their spot in the final stage. To add excitement to this whole process, because of their top-10 ranking, the Men’s National Team will be hosting these games at home in BC in West Vancouver.
For a team coming off 2016 Olympic and 2018 FIH World Cup appearances, this is a veteran team with the pedigree to match. Their recent success at the FIH Hockey Series and the 2019 Pan American Games has put them on track for a successful home series.
Similar to the Women’s National Team, almost every player currently rostered on the Men’s National Team has spent time in Europe playing in the best leagues in the world. Although not all centralized, that competition exposure is encouraged by the coaching staff.
According to Head Coach Paul Bundy, the team will spend the next two months addressing gaps and weaknesses they’ve identified to make them as prepared as possible for whoever the opponent is.
“We’re going to focus on us,” he said. “We’re very excited to play these games at home and feel we can use the energy and the crowd to our advantage.”
“This is why we play,” Bundy continued. “We have a legacy and we can’t wait to take this opportunity to continue it.”
Support Team Canada
There are many ways to get involved and support the national teams this fall as they play for an Olympic berth. Read below for ways to leave your mark on this fall’s exciting action!
Donate to Team Canada
Field Hockey Canada is accepting donations to the national team programs. This money will go directly to contributing to these athlete’s Olympic dream. The Women’s National Team will be playing abroad, and the money will go towards assisting with team travel, accommodation and support staff. The Men’s National Team is hosting. There are all kinds of costs associated with hosting international events and the money you donate will help support Field Hockey Canada in hosting our international opponents and providing an amazing competition environment.
Specifically for hosting, Field Hockey Canada is looking for keen volunteers to help support the event. From field set up, to parking attendants, water and garbage and general support, it takes an army of dedicated staff and volunteers to put on an amazing event. Get involved today and support our hosting efforts. Fill out this volunteer form if you are interested.
Become a sponsor
Does your company want to get involved with our national team programs as they pursue their Olympic dreams? Get involved as a team sponsor and support them as the national teams compete for a coveted Olympic berth. Support our Women’s National Team as they travel abroad and attach your name to the local hosting package and support the Men’s National Team in their home effort! Email us to get involved today.