In November 2019, the Women’s National Team walked off the field in Dublin heartbroken, their Olympic dreams dashed in a sudden death shootout. Then COVID-19 took over the globe and put a halt on team sports.
It’s been two years since Canada’s last official match, two years since putting the jersey over their shoulders. Next week, Team Canada finally gets back on the pitch, as they take on Pan American rivals USA in a series of test matches.
For Amanda Woodcroft, Waterloo native and veteran of 10 years on the women’s national team, she is most excited to simply get back on the field with the team in a meaningful international match.
“It’s going to be so awesome being back on the field,” Woodcroft said.
“Just putting on that jersey and singing that anthem before the games. Honestly, just spending time with everyone, having a good time. Being on tour is one of the best things about playing, so I’m just excited to get down there and get playing.”
All eyes are on the Pan American Cup, taking place in January in Santiago, Chile. The top three finishers automatically qualify for the World Cup and as the silver medallists in 2019 at the Pan Am Games, Team Canada has its sights firmly set on the podium.
Woodcroft said that the five test matches against the US next week will be a great opportunity to fine tune the team’s tactics and skills and get back up to international game speed.
“It will definitely be interesting to see where we are at and where we can get to in this tour,” Woodcroft said.
“We’re going to focus on ourselves and our game plan and make the tweaks as we need. This tour is going to be all about us.”
Despite having no international matches over the last two years, the team has been training and preparing for when the opportunity to safely travel and compete presented itself. The Women’s National Team also has a new face at the helm.
Rob Short was hired in September and took over as head coach. According to Woodcroft, he has established a new training standard and it’s already starting to feel like a world class team on the practice pitch.
“He’s been great. It’s been something different, he comes in with so much experience and excitement and just changed up what we’ve been doing,” Woodcroft said. “He’s bringing up the level in the environment, he’s bringing in new players, he’s really pushing us to get better every session.”
For Short, this upcoming tour to the US is all about identifying the team’s strengths and weaknesses and how to take the next steps for the qualifier in January. Understanding that the important matches are yet to come, he said they’ll evaluate the results, of course, but this week is more about adapting and improving.
“It’s important for us in terms of continuing to build our identity and team culture, but most importantly we all simply look forwards to enjoying the challenge of playing international matches again,” Short said.
“I am sure it won’t be all smooth, but I am so confident in the ability and intelligence of this team to learn and bounce back quickly. These anticipated difficult moments will make us stronger for Pan Americans in Chile.”
The team roster is a collection of veteran players and new additions to the mix. The 23-player roster is comprised of only 11 players from that 2019 qualifier. The others are imports from the junior national team, indoor team and other athletes that have stepped up over the last two years. According to Woodcroft, she’s excited to see the injection of youth and new energy into the team.
“The new players bring that fresh and energy to the team. We’re trying to blend the past building blocks and culture with a new group,” Woodcroft said.
“This tour will be great for us to connect on and off the field. I think the veterans can do a good job leading by example and working to integrate the newer players into the team culture.”
Short said that he always wanted to broaden the player pool, including athletes from the U SPORTS environment, NCAA, Europe, and the junior national team and has done extensive consultation and identification to put together this squad.
“I believe the new faces will push internal competition within the group, which is always an asset in preparation,” Short said.
“Each athlete on this list was selected because they have a chance to represent Canada at the Pan American Championships in January.”
It’s been two years since the team has played an international match. This week marks a monumental stepping stone for the team’s World Cup aspirations. Follow along on Field Hockey Canada’s social media and website for game results and updates.