Monday, 28 October 2019

An Unbelievable Finish

I watched the stream of this game yesterday after people on social media were talking about it, and the end was something only Hollywood would have written. Except it happened in real-life. If you missed the kerfuffle on social media, Canada's men's field hockey team is going to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games after an unlikely victory over Team Ireland yesterday. While I'll post the story of the closing minutes of the game below, I do want to expand upon why this important as well. Don't kid yourself - this is gigantically important.

With the Irish players celebrating what appeared to be a hard-fought win over the pesky Canadians, the umpires were off examining video replay to determine whether or not Canadian striker Jamie Wallace was taken down in the penalty area. After what seemed like forever, the umpires returned a verdict - a penalty stroke would be awarded to the Canadians!

Scott Tupper, captain of the Canadian squad, was picked to take the penalty stroke. Tupper, playing in his 307th game for Canada, put the weight of his team and his country on shoulders, and struck the ball true to find the back of the net to tie the two-game match scoring at 6-6, sending the game to an unlikely shootout when it seemed that all hope had been lost.

If you thought the drama was done there, the shootout brought all sorts of new heart palpitations for viewers, fans in attendance, players, and coaches.

Ireland wasted no time in the shootout, making good on their first three shots. Canada, on the other hand, scored once, meaning that they needed to score on their final two shots while goalkeeper David Carter had to stop the final two Irish shooters. With Canada already having defeated ridiculous odds once just to remain alive in this game, why not do it again, right?

Two goals and two stops later, Canada was square with the Irish squad at 3-3 and heading to a sudden-death shootout! Ireland scored; Canada responded. Six shooters each, four goals each. On the next Ireland attempt, the shot was missed, opening the door for the most unlikely result considering everything that had happened. And it would be this moment where Adam Froese's name would be etched into Canadian history.

Every time there's a Summer Olympiad, I usually devote this space to the field hockey event. The sport is an incredibly exciting event to watch, and the athleticism and abilities of the players are extraordinary. In short, it's a sport I enjoy watching, and I wish I could see more of it in my neck of the woods.

There are just three teams that play the game at the university level in Canada West - Victoria, UBC, and Calgary - and all three teams are women's teams. U SPORTS, as an organization, doesn't even offer a men's field hockey championship, so it's likely there are no teams playing anywhere across Canada at the university level unless they are playing locally against other organized teams. In short, there aren't many men's field hockey teams across Canada that one could play with even if one wanted to make this his chosen sport.

Of the 25 players who suited up for Canada against the Irish, 22 of them are from British Columbia. The west coast province seems to be the unofficial home of field hockey in Canada, and they have one of the oldest established clubs in Canada in the West Van Field Hockey Club which was established in 1972. That's not to say there aren't places across Canada where the game is played. Rather, it seems that for a country of nearly 40 million people, the population of British Columbia churns out nearly all of the elite-level talent when it comes to field hockey in Canada.

We've heard the women's hockey world claim "You can't be what you can't see," and it is entirely applicable to field hockey in Canada for both men and women. There are no kids playing it locally, and there are very few who are interested in it nationally. A large part of this comes from the fact that Canada hasn't been very good on the Olympic stage against the superpowers of the world, but Canada routinely posts medal wins and podium finishes at the Pan-American Games that get almost zero media attention. Why is that?

Look, I get that Canadian field hockey stories don't sell newspapers nor do they generate clicks for websites, but there needs to be some attention paid to these teams when they do amazing things. This is the only the second time since 1964 when Canada entered a field hockey team at the Olympics that they've qualified for consecutive Olympiads. That's incredible news, but I'm guessing most of you had no idea about that. And that's ok - I'm not blaming you for not knowing. What I am saying is that the next generation of potential players don't even know they're the next generation because Canada simply pays zero attention to its national field hockey teams.

The admission I'm making here is that I'm just as guilty as everyone else. I didn't watch the first game between Canada and Ireland, and I only tuned in when social media started talking about the second game. I should be doing more, but it doesn't hit my radar often enough that it gets pushed to the background outside of big stories like the one above. With Canada now qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics, I'm pledging to keep an eye on the Canadian men's team as they begin their quest to win gold in Tokyo next summer.

HBIC will cover the men's and women's tournaments in Tokyo just as I've done with other Olympiads. I try to watch the games because I do enjoy the sport and it's exciting and entertaining. But covering the sport for two weeks every four years is doing the sport a major disservice on my part, so I'm committing to bringing more field hockey stories to HBIC. It starts here, and it will continue when news breaks in the field hockey world.

"You can't be what you can't see" - truer words have never been spoken.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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