Dragflick Newsdesk : Upon reflection, when Mark Pearson broke into the national team at the age of 18, he admits he thought he was a bit of a hot shot. To his credit, there weren’t many teenagers cracking the national team roster featuring the likes of Canadian legends Rob Short and Ken Pereira.
Pearson, from Tsawwassen, B.C., was a natural with a field hockey stick from a young age. He made the U16 provincial team when he was 14 and when he made his national team debut in 2005, Pearson was no stranger to competition. But when he didn’t get selected for a tour in 2006, he realised he needed to buckle down and commit himself to reaching that next level.
“I probably thought I was better than I was, probably needed to be knocked down a few pegs,” Pearson said.
“I was from a small town; I had already been to a Commonwealth Games. [not making that roster], caused me to re-assess. I definitely needed to work a little harder.”
After that initial setback and a subsequent broken finger, which took him out for the majority of the 2007 season, Pearson surged onto the international stage and was there to stay.
Pearson was selected to the 2008 Olympic roster alongside Scott Tupper as the two youngest players on the team. From there, the sky was the limit for Pearson. He went on to represent Canada 284 times including trips to three Olympic Games and two World Cups.
In those early years, Pearson said he looked up to many of the older, established athletes on the team for guidance and mentorship, none more than Rob Short, a fellow resident of Tsawwassen. Being from the same town as Short, and his brother Pete showed Pearson that he could make it the highest level of the sport.
“It was awesome for me to have those local legends to look up to,” Pearson said.
“At that point, Rob was lighting up the best league in the world in the Hoofdklasse and was really a star. We would take his parents old [van] to and from training together. It was an awesome experience for me to spend time with someone with his experience.”
Pearson established himself over many years as a true striker. He had a deadly shot from the field and played a critical role in the penalty corner sets. In all, Pearson notched 71 international goals in his 16-year career, including goals in his last three games at the Tokyo Olympics. He was a true scorer ‘till the very end of his career.
After qualifying for the 2008 Olympics and the 2010 World Cup, Pearson and the Red Caribou missed out on the 2012 Olympic Games and the 2014 World Cup. He noted a turning point in that 2014 season, at the Champions Challenge in Malaysia, where the team turned a corner and he started to see what they could becoming over the next five-eight years.
“We had an amazing tournament…there was great energy,” he said.
“We had wins against France, we had wins against Poland, we won against Malaysia. We made it all the way to the final. This was a big confidence builder for our group. It was a springboard for the success in 2015 and so forth.”
Pearson notes that because he qualified for an Olympics so early in his career, he didn’t fully grasp how challenging it really is to qualify for those major games. The team went on to qualify for the 2016 and 2020 Olympics as well as the 2018 World Cup.
Pearson was dealt a major blow in 2019, when he tore his Achilles tendon at the Lima Pan American Games. He showed tremendous discipline and dedication to the program to get back to full health for the Olympic Games. He didn’t know how it was going to go, but he wanted to give himself every chance to play in one last Olympics.
“I didn’t really know how I was going to respond. I wanted to get back to [full health] to play hockey, for general quality of life,” he said.
“I was just doing what I could. It was one step in front of another. I’m just happy that I managed to make it back and compete without getting injured.”
Pearson retires as the fifth most capped hockey player in Canadian history with 284 international matches under his belt. His 16-years of service marks one of the longest tenures in the sport’s rich history. For him, the decision came shortly after the Olympics, when he realised he had put his everything into the program and it was his time to go.
“When that final whistle blew against South Africa, I knew I didn’t have anything left to give,” Pearson said.
“I still love it, I still love the guys, but it took a lot out of me. I have other priorities in my life. And I don’t have that same fire to do the things I have to do to stay at the highest level. I had done it for so long and I’m proud of things we had done.”
Congratulations, Mark, on an incredible career and thank you for your contributions to the Canadian field hockey community. Best of luck in the next chapter!