When the Canadian women’s field hockey team takes on Chile for Pan Am bronze on Friday (2:00pm PT/5:00pm ET, cbc.ca/panam), they will be doing so with a chance at ending a long drought for Canada’s women at the Pan Am Games.
In the time since women’s field hockey was introduced at the Pan Am Games in 1987, Canada has won four medals – three bronze and one silver. In seven competitions, that’s better than a medal every other time. But it has been a while.
Not since the 1999 games in Winnipeg – the last time the Pan Am Games were hosted in Canada – has the Women’s National Team brought home hardware.
Forward Brienne Stairs knows the feeling of missing out. Four years ago in Guadalajara, Mexico, after losing to the United States in the semifinal, Stairs and her teammates lined up against Chile in the bronze medal game.
“I remember it being a tough match and I remember it being a close game,” says the 25 year-old Kitchener, Ontario native who scored six times in that tournament in 2011.
Chile ended up winning 3-0 and Canada narrowly missed out on a medal. It hadn’t come close the two tournaments prior, so for many on that team it was a particularly painful loss.
Many – including former team captain Katie Baker – ended their careers soon after that tournament, leaving a group of younger players, which includes Stairs, to take the lead.
“There is a core group of players that was at the last Pan Ams that is stll together. We’ve been playing together and built a lot of chemistry, so I think that will definitely help.”
Those players and their new teammates – about half of which are playing in their first major, multisport games – have a chance to re-write, in a sense.
In what is not likely a coincidence, since the four teams in the medal matches (Canada and Chile for bronze, and Argentina and the U.S. for gold) could place in order of their rankings, the exact same scenario has presented itself for Canada at the 2015 games in Toronto.
Canada and Chile face off again for bronze on Friday, after Canada lost to the United States in the semifinal and had its 2016 Olympic hopes come to an end.
But it’s a different Canadian team and that’s credit to what coach Ian Rutledge has been able to two in the two and a half years that he’s been on the job.
“The message has been pretty consistent all the way,” says the Canadian coach. “I think we’re really trying to make sure we play well in every game and focus on what we’re about. I thought yesterday’s game (against the U.S.) was a really good performance; one of our better ones.”
That performance has given the Canadian women a lot of confidence heading into a game in which they have a chance to make history by bringing home a medal.
“It’s still a pretty good position to be playing for a medal in our last game,” adds Rutledge. “That’s the position we want to continue to get into, to be playing for something tangible.”
Chile and Canadian have played for something tangible even more recently at World League Round 2 in Dublin, Ireland in March.
The two teams met in the tournament semifinal with the Canadian coming out on top in a shootout, to send them to through to the final against host Ireland.
That game meant a lot, but this game would mean more to Stairs and her teammates.
“It would absolutely incredible,” she says. “I think that’s our goal now. To get on the podium would be amazing, especially in front of our home crowd. We just want to end on a good note.”
The 2015 Pan American Games bronze medal match is scheduled to start at 2:00pm PT/5:00pm ET and will be live streamed at cbc.ca/panam.