Canada's field-hockey teams must go through Ireland to get to Olympics

It will be the red/green show for both the Canadian men’s and women’s field hockey teams in the final Olympic qualifiers this fall.

The hand of fate has drawn both national sides to play Ireland in two-game, total-goal showdowns with the winners advancing to the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

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The Canadian men’s team features Oak Bay-product James Kirkpatrick and his former University of Victoria Vikes teammates Keegan Pereira and Brenden Bissett and is based in Vancouver. The women’s team features Oak Bay grad Maddie Secco and SMUS-product Anna Mollenhauer of Victoria, former UVic Vikes players Kaitlyn Williams and Danielle Hennig, and is based at UVic.

The Canadian men will play Ireland on Oct. 26-27 in West Vancouver. The Canadian women will meet Ireland on Nov. 2-3 in Dublin.

Both Canadian teams met Argentina last month in the gold-medal games of the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, which was the direct regional qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The Canadian men lost 5-2 to the defending 2016 Rio Olympic-champion Argentines and the Canadian women were beaten 5-1 by the world No. 3 Argentines.

So, it is down to a final chance for both Canadian sides.

The Canadian men should be favoured at home against Ireland, especially after having also qualified for Rio 2016.

The Canadian women’s team, however, has not been to the Summer Games since a run of three consecutive Olympic appearances, buttressed by two World Cup medals, ended in 1992 at Barcelona after many of the players from Victoria, Cowichan and Vancouver retired after powering that halcyon era. There is a connection still, however. Two-time Olympian Nancy Mollenhauer of Victoria is now co-manager of the Canadian team, on which her daughter and UVic Vikes standout Anna Mollenhauer is a rising star.

But long removed from its glory days, the withered Canadian women’s program was cut off from a large swatch of federal funding, and has had to fight both on and off the pitch to get to this point.

“Our financial situation put a lot of pressure on us and we are thankful for the women’s national team partnership and business club that was put together, and for the huge amount of support we have received from donors across the country,” said Canadian captain Kate Wright.

It will allow Canada to centralize in Belgium this fall ahead of the Olympic qualifying set against Ireland and to play the U.S. in a pre-qualifying tuneup set of games in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The U.S. national team is preparing for its two-game Olympic qualifier in India.

An $82,000 online crowd-sourcing campaign in the spring allowed the Canadian team to travel to Spain for a crucial first-round qualifier, in which Canada placed second, to allow it to advance to this final round of qualification.

An aggregate two-game set means every goal will be precious against Ireland.

“We’ll be looking to come out strong and not sit back,” said Wright, a veteran of three Pan Am and Commonwealth Games each.

The Canadian captain, daughter of former Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis, said the team learned a lot from being in the final of both the first-round Olympic qualifier against host Spain and in the Pan Am Games final against Argentina.

“We got caught up in the emotion of being in the Pan Am Games gold-medal final, so we will look to avoid that, and stick to our game plan against a gritty and competitive Irish team,” said Wright, Canada’s all-time caps leader with 222.

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