Turning back the clock…

I am sitting here 35,000 feet above Winnipeg – which is fitting as you’ll see – returning home from an absolute whirlwind 5 day trip to Toronto for the wedding of one of my high school buddies. Although the amount of stamps in my passport would suggest otherwise, this was my first time to Toronto and I also used it as an opportunity to catch up with a couple old teammates from the Canadian Team in their natural habitat. The first night I caught up with Scotty Sandison, a veteran of the 2008 Olympic and 2010 World Cup Teams, a great friend and always one of my favourite guys to go on tour with. We shared some old war stories over a couple beers the first night and I talked openly about my goals and motivation for the next Olympic cycle. I mentioned to him that there was an old diary entry from the 1999 Winnipeg Pan Am Games that Andrew Griffiths wrote shortly after Canada had defeated Argentina 2-1 in the final to qualify for the Sydney Olympics that I have occasionally dug up and looked at in advance of important games or tournaments. It was the first time that I had talked about this to anyone and he suggested it would be a good thing to write about, so here goes…

I can remember reading it for the first time as a teenager, probably after yelling at my sister to get off the phone so I could start up the 56k dial up, and being completely captivated by how well Griff was able to describe his emotions and feelings after achieving the ultimate goal and qualifying for the Olympics on home soil. (Griff was a Journalism Major so that does make some sense) It really resonated and stuck with me all these years and it is something that I have gone back to and re-read time and again. Part of this has to be that this was before the era of youtube and you can’t go watch highlights of the game so Griff’s account with a few small pictures

KEN PEREIRA,

CANADA FIELD HOCKEY

remains my only connection with the event.  Anyways so I’ve gone digging in Huckendublers’ FHC archives again so I can share it with you guys.

Well, the first thing I should say is that we won the gold medal – 1-0 over Argentina – and we earned ourselves a spot at the Sydney Olympics next year…
That was the easy thing to say – now I’ll try to describe the game, the celebration and the feelings – much harder to put into words.
By 6:30pm on Wednesday – the time the teams lined up for the pre-game national anthems – everyone involved had been waiting a long time for this moment. Months of anticipation and preparation and expectations, days of nerves all funneled into this one place and time.
We listened nervously through the Argentine anthem, and then O Canada began. We (the players) were facing the flag and singing, but I heard the crowd singing behind me, sounding loud and strong. I looked over my shoulder at the stands, and saw red and white hair, faces, clothes, and two thousand mouths open wide singing together. I saw my family and friends in the middle and when I turned back to the flag, I noticed my voice wavering. I couldn’t hold a note steady and the lump was definitely in my throat, tears coming into my eyes. This feeling didn’t leave through the post-anthem roar, our Team Canada huddle, not until I shook hands with the Argie centre-forward just before the whistle was about to go. Now it’s time to run hard and play hockey.
The game was quite strange in some ways – two games in one. In the first half, we controlled the ball, and the movements on the field, creating corners and chances. We definitely had the better of the game, and this led to a Ken Pereira goal from an Alan Brahmst drive up the field, somewhere in the middle of the half.
Now the second half. What a half! Argie pressure to the maximum, here they come into our half, here they come, good tackle, good save, here they come again, penalty corner, good save, whew, good tackle, release pressure for a minute, good tackle… it went like this for most of the half! What caused the change, and why did they have so much pressure? Well, the umpires changed the game significantly with 7 yellow cards, creating several man-advantage situations. We were unable to keep solid possession moving forward. The umps seemed to be keen to level the scores, but that’s a Canadian perspective!
Whatever the reason, we were definitely not out there just trying to protect a one-goal lead, but that’s the way it worked out. We protected and protected and protected – Mike Mahood stood on his head in the goal, and all of a sudden, the final whistle…
Here’s what I remember. I ripped out my shin-pads and launched them into the air. Then I ran as fast as I could across the field to the stands and the hundreds of outstretched hands. I don’t know who I met first, but I know I was screaming and smiling I launched myself into the red sea of people. I was pulled in and hugged, I hugged back, and saw my family, girlfriend and my friends. I grabbed them. The intensity of everything came down on me so thick and fast and kept coming, and the arms over my head and the shouts of Sydney and You Did It and Griff and Yeah Baby and everything else. It makes my adrenaline go even writing about it. This seemed to go on for a long time, hugging each team-mate for all the shared meaning and work, then a lap with the flag – I don’t know where all the energy came from…
After things calmed down a bit there was the podium, holding the gold medal, and more – it was all so, so good.
The tension release, winning the gold, qualifying for the Olympics, feeling the crowd’s emotion and support – all these things made the celebration… and as I think about it in the days after, more good things come to mind, and there seems to be a smile and a good feeling in every quiet minute.
Anyway, this isn’t a pulitzer-prize account, but I hope you get some sense of the excitement. For now I need a drink of water – it’s been tiring…

To me this diary entry captures perfectly everything about why I commit and sacrifice to play Field Hockey for Canada. On the surface it describes in detail our ultimate goal as a team which is to qualify for the Olympic Games. But on a deeper level it summarizes and symbolizes the motivation I get from the past accomplishments of this Team. Despite the long odds this team has remained remarkably successful and I take so much pride in that and feel privileged to wear the same shirt that Scotty, Griff, Shorty, Kenny, Bonesy, Al, Wetty, Nicki, Milko, Mahood, Peckerfish, Bubli and the list could go on. I truly feel like a member of an exclusive brotherhood and feel an obligation to continue the tradition of success and feel like I am letting not only myself but the collective community down when results slip. Therefore repeating the success of 1999 in 2013 and 2015 in Toronto is my sole objective and main motivation moving forward and I dream about being able to sit down with a gold medal around my neck and write my own Griffesque reflection on the game… oh and luckily I now also get to tweet, instagram and facebook about it…

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3 thoughts on “Turning back the clock…

  1. […] wrote breaking down the diary entries from the Canadian boys who won gold on home soil at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg. I look to the successes of the past for inspiration and hope that this group of guys will be able […]

  2. […] wrote breaking down the diary entries from the Canadian boys who won gold on home soil at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg. I look to the successes of the past for inspiration and hope that this group of guys will be able […]

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