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Strong Island flavour to Commonwealth Games field-hockey teams

Outside of Canada, the field version is simply called hockey. The other version is referred to as ice-hockey, as the equation changes dramatically for Canada.
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Island players on the national women’s field-hockey team, from left: Sara Goodman, Kathleen Leahy, Lexi De Armond, Anna Mollenhauer and Maddie Secco. SUBMITTED

Outside of Canada, the field version is simply called hockey. The other version is referred to as ice-hockey, as the equation changes dramatically for Canada.

The Canadian women’s field hockey team, with five Island players and making its first appearance in the World Cup in 28 years, are off to a 0-2 start in Spain after losses to the hosts and South Korea, and will need a seismic event to make it out of the group stage. But they will get another chance on the international stage this month at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England.

The Canadian women’s and men’s field-hockey teams for Birmingham were named Monday. Four of the five Island players on the women’s team will stay on for the World Cup/Commonwealth Games double. They are Maddie Secco, who scored in the 3-2 World Cup loss to South Korea on Sunday, Anna Mollenhauer and Lexi De Armond, all from Victoria, and Sara Goodman from Duncan. Kathleen Leahy of Victoria is playing in the World Cup but will not go to Birmingham.

Two-time Olympian and Victoria Sports Hall of Fame inductee Rob Short, coaching the women’s team in the World Cup, will remain as head coach of the Games team in Birmingham. Short played in four Commonwealth Games as a player.

The Canadian men’s Commonwealth Games team will be headlined by two-time Olympians and former University of Victoria players Keegan Pereira and Matthew Sarmento.

It will be the fourth Commonwealth Games for Canadian captain Pereira and the second for fellow Vikes alumnus and Tokyo Olympian Sarmento. Pereira came directly to UVic as a freshman out of high school in Toronto.

Sarmento came to UVic to play another sport but failed the fitness test for Vikes soccer. He regrouped and vowed he would never fail another and tried out for the UVic field-hockey team: “One door closes and another opens,” he said.

Making his Games debut will be Harbir Sidhu of Victoria, the Mount Douglas Secondary graduate, considered one of the most exciting young Canadian players coming up.

“The Commonwealth Games is one of the biggest events in our four-year cycle and this team is really looking forward to showing what we can do there,” Pereira said in a statement.

“We have a bunch of new faces in the team, and for a handful of our guys it’s not only going to be their first multi-sport event, but their first senior cap as well.

“I remember being so excited to get to the village and be around all these other high-performance athletes. I am excited for our young guys to get their first taste of that feeling as well.”

Both the Canadian men’s and women’s teams won bronze medals at the 2019 Lima Pan American Games. But the Commonwealth Games tournament is much tougher and features several of the sport’s powerhouse nations such as India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand and England.

“With many of the world’s leading field-hockey nations competing at the Commonwealth Games, the challenge for medals will be significant,” said Scott Stevenson, executive director of Team Canada 2022.

“We are looking for solid performances from both the women’s and men’s teams with a few upsets along the way, so they can challenge for the podium. We know from past Games that our Canadian teams always compete hard.”

Canada’s pools in Birmingham are identical in both men’s and women’s with Wales, India, England and Ghana, with the top two teams advancing to the semifinals.

“There’s going to be a lot of learning for us throughout the tournament, but I think this group is ready to take on the challenges ahead,” Pereira.

Nearly 50 Island or Island-based athletes will compete on the Canadian teams in the various sports at the Birmingham Games.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com