Team Canada faces do-or-die Olympic qualifier in West Vancouver

National men's field hockey team takes on Ireland in two-game series this weekend at Rutledge Field

The North Shore hosts its fair share of top-notch sporting events, but few come with stakes higher than the field hockey series which will hit West Vancouver’s Rutledge Field this weekend.

The Canadian men’s national team will play Ireland in back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday with a berth in the 2020 Olympic Summer Games on the line. At the end of Game 2, they’ll count up all the goals and whoever has more will earn a ticket to the big show in Tokyo, while the loser will be left home for another four years.

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“It’s definitely high stakes,” said Taylor Curran, a North Vancouver native and national team veteran. Curran is one of the players looking for a return trip to the Games, as Canada qualified for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“The Olympics is always the pinnacle,” said the 27-year-old. “Realistically we’ve all been training the last three years, since Rio, to try and get back there. Now it all comes down to these two games. A lot of guys have made a lot of choices in their lives to try to keep playing on this team – to come on all these tours, to come to all the training – just for this moment.”

Last year Field Hockey Canada and the West Vancouver Field Hockey Club entered into an agreement making Rutledge Field – a field-hockey specific pitch in West Van’s Ambleside Park – the home of the men’s national team. This weekend the field will be spruced up with extra bleachers – there will be approximately 1,300 seats available – as well as a beer garden as Canada and Ireland battle for the coveted Olympic berth.

Curran, who is also a member of the West Vancouver Field Hockey Club, said that close to 1,000 tickets had already been sold for the series as of last week.

“Hopefully it’ll be pretty loud,” he said. “The stands there are right close to the pitch. Field hockey, it’s not a huge pitch like a soccer field, you can get people quite close to the action. 1,300 people sitting a few metres from the pitch on each side can get quite a buzz. Hopefully that’s going to be pretty exciting. I think it will be.”

Team Canada, led by head coach Paul Bundy, was expected to finalize its roster for the series Tuesday night after North Shore News press deadline. There are currently 24 players vying for 18 spots, including North Van’s Curran, who has 179 career international appearances and suited up for Canada as they won silver at the 2019 Pan Am Games, and West Vancouver’s Fin Boothroyd, a 20-year-old who made his international debut in March of 2019 and has 16 caps to his name. Whoever ends up on the final roster, they’ll have their hands full with Team Ireland, ranked No. 13 in the world, three spots behind 10th-ranked Canada.

“It’s going to be a really tough series,” said Curran. “They’re a really solid team. … They’re known to be hard-working, tough. They’re a physical team, they’ve got good goaltending, good strong defenders at the back. We’re going to have to be on our A Game and work hard to try to break them down.”

The format of the series lends some intrigue as well. The two-game aggregate score setup is a new one for international field hockey.

“Obviously it means teams are going to be a little more cagey, a bit more strategic,” said Curran. “If you’re down a goal say late in the first game, you’re not going to push with everything to try and win that game.” Conversely, Game 2 could see a lot of fireworks depending on what the aggregate score is heading into the late stages of the game.

“With this unique format, every goal and every moment is so important,” said team captain Scott Tupper in a Field Hockey Canada release. “We’re very excited to play these games at home and feel we can use the energy and the crowd to our advantage.”

Curran said he hopes Team Canada can send North Shore field hockey fans home happy.

“It’s going to be really exciting to play such a big series of games at home. Hopefully that can give us that little edge that we need to get over the top.”

Both games, Saturday and Sunday, are scheduled to start at 2 p.m. at Rutledge Field. Tickets for bleacher seating and access to the beer garden are available for purchase at fieldhockey.ca, while there will also be free standing-room-only admission for both games.

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In an interesting coincidence, the Canadian national women’s team will also be taking part in a two-game series for an Olympic berth against Ireland. The two squads will battle for aggregate score glory Nov. 2 and 3 in Dublin. The selection pool for Team Canada features several North Shore players, including Hannah Haughn, Holly Stewart, Karli Johansen, Rachel Donohoe and Stephanie Norlander. 

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