WEST VANCOUVER – There was no time on the clock and Canadians had already begun to hang their heads. In a dramatic twist of luck, a video referral favoured the home side and a penalty stroke call gave Canada back their Olympic hopes. Captain Scott Tupper’s goal from the spot drew the series 6-6 in aggregate score and forced a shootout. Adam Froese’s composure as the second sudden death shooter gave Canada the victory and qualified Canada for Tokyo.
Gordie Johnston, Oliver Scholfield and Tupper scored in regular time that ended 3-1 for Canada. Johnston, Froese and Jamie Wallace capitalized in the shootout victory.
“It was an awesome effort by the boys today and it came right down, I mean, right down to the wire but it feels just awesome,” said Froese. “Congrats to both our keepers because they both played such a big part today which is huge. Wow, we’ve done it again.”
Today’s 5-4 shootout victory was a replay of their Olympic qualification in 2015 during the World League Round 3 quarter-finals against New Zealand. A late tie, down 3-1 in a shootout, sudden death shootouts, David Carter making big saves in Canada’s goal and Froese sealing the game winner – were all identical moments in their 2016 Olympic journey.
“This group of guys are amazing and the biggest priority for us moving in to this quad was to double qualify because of the legacy of those alumni that were around the pitch today and the young kids out there that can also see our sport on the Olympic scene,” said Canadian head coach Paul Bundy. “(The team) give me so many grey hairs but I had no doubt that we would play much better today and we did. We executed the game plan and we got into a shootout and we know David is great in shootouts. That dream and that vision we had four years ago just continues.”
This will be just the second time in history that Canada qualifies for back-to-back Olympic appearances following 1984 and 1988. This will be a potential third Olympic appearance for veterans Scott Tupper and Mark Pearson, who was injured in the final of the Pan American Games and unable to compete in this weekend’s qualifier.
It took just three minutes for Canada to get a penalty corner. Incredible stick work from James Kirkpatrick forced the set piece but the Tupper flick was turned away by a sharp David Fitzgerald in goal for Ireland. Back the other way, Ireland’s Tim Cross charged down the right side of the field and calmly dished the ball to an open Sean Murray. Murray’s one-time sweep seemed booked for goal but Antoni Kindler found a way to get across and make the save.
Despite a good start for Canada, it was Ireland who extended their aggregate lead as a ball down the left side of the field allowed McKee all kinds of space. McKee entered the circle intending to pass far post but his sweep shot beat Kindler’s out-stretched body and put Ireland up 1-0 and extended their overall goal advantage to three.
Canada didn’t same shaken as quality attack out of the backfield from Johnston to Sukhi Panesar allowed an open ball to Oliver Scholfield. Scholfield’s cut towards the circle forced a foul off John Jackson and gave Canada another corner. Tupper’s flick was again turned away.
A favourable video review gave Canada two penalty corner chances before the half but they couldn’t beat Fitzgerald, leaving Ireland up 1-0 after the opening 15 minutes.
In the second quarter, Canada yet again had another video review to put them back to top of the Ireland circle. This time Johnston flicked low stick side and sent the sold out crowd in to jubilation with the game tied 1-1.
Canada had several attacking opportunities including two more penalty corners but the Irish defence was stingy and the teams remained level at half time.
Scholfield’s effortless touch in a crowded circle lifted Canada 2-1 after hard work from Johnston who broke down the left side of the Irish defensive end.
Late in the fourth quarter, Kindler made a world-class save on Eugene Magee. Kindler dove acrobatically to his right to make an incredible block on a back-hand rip from Magee to guard Canada’s lead.
With three minutes to go, Canada pulled Kindler from the net to play with 11 field players on full attack. It wasn’t until the final second of the game when the entire crowd fell silent. Ireland had already started celebrating but an infraction on the Irish baseline with Canadian forward Wallace encouraged Canada to push for one last strike of luck.
Canada was two-for-two on their referrals throughout the game and could ask for one last look. All Canadian eyes were hoping for at least a penalty corner chance when video umpire Diego Barbas was heard over the stadium awarding a penalty stroke.
Captain Tupper didn’t hesitate, burying the ball low and hard past Ireland’s Fitzgerald and stunning the Irish bench.
Now, heading to shootouts Canada found themselves in familiar territory. Johnston, Wallace and Froese scored in the shootouts, while David Carter stepped in on off the bench to make critical saves on Ireland’s Michael Robson and Shane O’Donoghue. Canada was down 3-1 but came back to tie it 3-3 sending the shootouts to sudden death.
“I was pretty confident in the guys and their abilities,” said Tupper about the moments before the shootout. “We all know that Dave (Carter) is world class in his shootout goalkeeping. I think we are 7-0 in shootouts internationally so we are confident. We knew if we could get there we had a really good shot and the guys did their job and it was amazing to watch.”
John McKee was unable to get off Ireland’s last shot as the ball got stuck and hit his foot, setting the stage for Froese to do what he did just four years ago. Calm, collected and using nearly all of the eight seconds given, Froese solidified all the work Canada had put in to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
“I just love both my goalkeepers,” added Bundy about Kindler and Carter. “It is the hardest, hardest thing to choose between two amazing people and two amazing goalkeepers and today we got that right. They were both incredible.”
Game 1 score: Canada 3, Ireland 5
Game 2 score: Canada 3, Ireland 1
Aggregate score: Canada 6, Ireland 6