Field Hockey Canada > Shanlee Johnston retires after a decade-long career on National Team

Johnston finishes career after 2022 World Cup; a career defined by hard work and commitment to the craft

Shanlee Johnston had something of a mantra for herself when she first cracked the national team program.

“It is the hard work you do off the field and when nobody is watching, that can be the work that winds up being most noticed.”

For Johnston, the Vancouver native, this notion supported and buoyed her through challenging periods in team leadership and when she was recovering from major injury. That silent hard work paid off, as Johnston, who played her first cap in 2012, finally entrenched herself in the program in early 2015.

World League Round 2 in Dublin in the spring of 2015 was an early career highlight that she won’t forget. Originally selected as an injury reserve, Johnston took advantage of a late opening and played in every match at that event. For her, this was her breakthrough moment and one she remembers fondly as the team battled to a second-place qualification.

“That tournament was a highlight for me. We won against Chile in a shootout [in the semifinals]. It was a big win that actually meant something, in a high-pressure moment. It was great to see the team celebrate that moment together,” Johnston said. “And after that tournament, it really solidified my role on the team. And it gave me the opportunity to go to the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games.”

Shanlee Johnston had her breakout season in 2015 at World League and Pan American Games. Photos/Yan Huckendubler

Her hard work was paying off in spades and Johnston was performing at a high level on the field. She concluded her 2015 breakout campaign with appearances at the World League 3 in Valencia and the Pan American Games in Toronto, where Team Canada won bronze on home soil, an experience that sticks with her today.

“Going to any major Games on home soil is an amazing experience. We had fans at every game. It felt like a once in a lifetime experience,” she said. “It’s pretty rare, as a field hockey athlete, to have over 1000 fans cheering just for your team. And they got to see us win bronze, so that was really amazing.”

After a successful 2015, Johnston had established herself as a starter on the defensive line on the Women’s National Team. A role she would hold for the next seven years until retirement.

“The Pan American Games on home soil…felt like a once in a lifetime experience.”

She notes that 2018 was a whirlwind season and one of her major career highlights as well. The team traveled to the Gold Coast, Australia for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, where they had their best finish of any Canadian hockey team to date.

The team was centralized in Europe for the bulk of the year, playing club hockey and training as the national team regularly. Members of the Canadian Wolf Pack played over 30 caps that season, against different international sides, which vaulted their team into the top 14 of the world rankings. Johnston reflected on that 2018 season as one of the most rewarding of her career.

“As a Canadian player, if you have the opportunity to go play in Europe, you should definitely do it. It’s completely worth it and it will make you a better player. It’s an interesting perspective on what hockey culture can look like.”

Johnston’s 2018 was a major career highlight, playing over 30 international matches for Canada. Photos/Yan Huckendubler.

After building throughout 2018, the team pushed to the very edge of Olympic qualification in 2019, losing in shootouts in an aggregate series against Ireland in Dublin. The loss was devastating, but for Johnston, the journey and preparation to getting to that point can never be taken away.

“We were so united in this common goal, the level of buy-in was unparalleled,” Johnston said. “Whether it was a two-hour sports psych meeting, or if it was the tiny technical details that we drilled repetitively. The most you can do is to be prepared for a game. We covered all our bases and we were so prepared. Sometimes the result doesn’t go your way.”

Even though the result didn’t go in Canada’s favour, that preparation and growth set the team up to qualify for the World Cup. Despite the challenges that the COVID pandemic had on amateur and professional sport, the team built off their successful 2018-2019 campaigns and earned a World Cup berth in the spring of 2022.

“We were so united in this common goal, the level of buy-in was unparalleled.”

The World Cup in Terrassa, Spain, would wind up being Shanlee Johnston’s last national team hockey tournament. A bittersweet moment for the stalwart defender as she looks back on a 10-year career.

“On one hand, it was definitely disappointing, not only from a results side, but because of COVID, we were not feeling totally prepared. We hadn’t played any games in 2020 and 2021.” she said. “It’s definitely a bittersweet finish. We’re at the best tournament in the world, but it didn’t feel like we had our best foot forward.”

However, Johnston said that the Wolf Pack is right there. And she has faith that the team will build on the positives from the major event experience and have many more shots and a big tournament like the World Cup.

“The team did a great job competing in every game. Even though we didn’t get the results, some of our performances were very impressive. We are right there with those teams and need a little fine tuning and we’ll start winning those games.”

Johnston closed out her career at the 2022 FIH World Cup in Terrassa, Spain. Photos/Yan Huckendubler.

Johnston retired with 138 international caps to her name, her national team career spanning over a decade. When she broke the news of her retirement to her teammates, she felt nothing but support.

“It’s a congratulatory thing, not a sadness thing. There were a few tears on the teammates side, it definitely was emotional, but overall, everyone was really supportive,” she said. “And even though I’ll remain friends with many of my teammates, I won’t see them every day. It’s definitely going to be a tough transition.”

According to Johnston, as she reflected on her career, the on-field highlights can be recognized as great sporting moments, but they are only just that; where as the small moments of repetition, the day-in-day-out with her teammates is what will stick with her forever.

“I had a group of people who inspired and motivated me everyday, every training, every game. I wanted to be better for those women, and everything they did, constantly pushed me every day to be my best for them,” she said. “There are incredibly inspiring people on this team and will continue to be. It was so important for me to look at the strengths of other people, which inspired me to produce my own strength and be my best self for them.”

Congratulations Shanlee Johnston on an incredible career with the Canadian Wolf Pack. We look forward to seeing where you take your strengths next.