The Men’s and Women’s Pan American Cups are taking place in Santiago, Chile from 19-30 January. There is an added excitement to the contest this year after the enforced international break experienced by many of the teams due to the travel restrictions imposed due to the pandemic.

Lurah Hess, from USA, is Technical Delegate for both events. She says: ‘I was fortunate to be at the Pan American Challenge recently [October 2021] where Peru did an excellent job hosting - overcoming the challenges posed by running a tournament during a pandemic.

‘I'm looking forward to reuniting with those qualifying teams for another successful event in Chile. The officials have been working hard to prepare: meeting on Zoom, checking documents, and watching videos. We are ready for hockey and excited to be pitch side as the matches unfold to determine who we will watch at the men’s and women’s World Cups.

‘And much as I enjoy a walk on a snowy day, I wouldn't be lying if I said I'm more than ready for some southern hemisphere summer warmth!’

With strict protocols for testing in place, the tournament is the first major event in a busy 2022 calendar after the FIH Indoor Hockey World Cup was cancelled due to the continued restrictions posed by Covid-19. For teams such as Canada women and USA women, this could be seen as a mixed blessing, as there would have been players who would have been selected for both the indoor and outdoor squads, placing a heavy load on the athletes.

The importance of the two competitions in Santiago cannot be overstated. At stake are three qualification spots at the FIH Hockey Women’s World Cup in Spain and the Netherlands later this year while, for the men, a top two finish will ensure a place at the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup, Bhuabneswar and Rourkela, taking place in 2023.

In the men’s competition, reigning champions Argentina (FIH World Ranking: 7) will face some stiff competition from Canada (WR: 10), who will be looking to build on the experiences gained at the Olympic games Tokyo 2020. They will also find Chile (WR: 29) eager to repeat the feat their junior national side achieved at the Junior Pan American Championships when they won the competition and became the first team to beat Argentina in the process. However, Argentina remain unbeaten in all six previous editions of this contest, so it will take a super-human effort to dislodge them from the top spot.

Head Coach Mariano Ronconi, who took up his position in October 2021, is expecting the Pan Am Cup to be the start of his team’s journey back to the podium after a disappointing seventh place finish at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

‘Our immediate challenge is in Chile, but our long-term goal is to be a challenger for the World Cup in India.’

Eight teams line up to contest the competition, with the three aforementioned teams joined by USA (WR:24), Brazil (WR:32), Mexico (WR:33), Trinidad and Tobago (WR:37) and Peru (WR: 41).

While past history would suggest that Argentina and Canada will be fighting it out at the top, Canada’s Head Coach Pasha Gademan says he is taking nothing for granted. Gademan has enjoyed some quality time with his squad during a training camp in California and the squad is now putting in some hard work at their base in Vancouver. The team will be without the services of long-standing squad members Scott Tupper and Mark Pearson after the two players announced their retirements. However, there is some bright talent in the squad, including many players who currently play club hockey in the Dutch, German and Belgium leagues.

For hockey fans looking for an upset, then the team to watch could be Mexico men. The central American side won the Pan American Challenge in Peru in October last year. Among the players who proved they had what it takes on the international stage were Jorge Gómez, who was voted player of the tournament for his dynamic performances, and the two goal scoring heroes Francisco Aguila and Luis Villegas.

Former international and member of the 2016 gold medal winning team Lucas Rey, says that the entire continent will benefit if more teams start to challenge Argentina’s dominance. ‘It is similar to Oceania,’ he says, ‘where Australia and New Zealand are far ahead of the other teams in the region. To improve as a team, you need regular, strong competition, so it is good for everyone if teams like Chile and Peru challenge the higher ranked nations.

‘We saw it with Brazil at the 2016 Olympics. Just getting onto the pitch against higher ranked teams was a really beneficial experience to the players.’

In the women’s competition, the team to beat will again be all conquering Argentina. Las Leonas have not been beaten in this competition since it began in 2001. In the last edition, which took place in 2017 in Lancaster USA, Argentina beat Chile by a convincing 4-1 score-line in the final. 

However, all will not be plain sailing for Las Leonas, especially as they will be without the talents of one of their leadership team, Delfina Merino, who is recovering from illness. On the back of Noel Barrionuevo’s retirement, the young Lionesses, such as Agustina Gorzelany, Agustina Albertarrio and Valentina Raposo will need to step up into some big shoes.

It is a challenge that Gorzelany is looking forward to: ‘It is always an honor to be back representing my country in an international competition. The World Cup is the most important event this year, so, of course, it is important that we qualify.

‘I think the team is really ready for this. There is a lot of energy and, with a new coach [Fernando Ferrara], we are trying new things. he makes things very clear about what he wants to happen on the pitch. I think it is going to be a great year for Las Leonas.’

Assessing the women’s teams in Chile, Lucas Rey says that there are plenty of teams lining up to challenge Las Leonas. ‘USA are always good and they will be looking for a top two finish, but both Chile and Uruguay have been developing fast. Uruguay, in particular, as they have a new national pitch and they have been investing a lot into hockey.

Joining Argentina (WR:3) in the race to the Women’s World Cup will be Canada (WR:13), USA (WR:15), Chile (WR:18), Uruguay (WR:26), Peru (WR:34) and Trinidad and Tobago (WR:48).

For Rob Short, head coach to the Canada ‘Wolf Pack’, qualification for the World Cup is the ‘end game’.

Canada last qualified for the Hockey World Cup in 1994 but the team’s silver medal at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima has instilled a lot of confidence in the squad.

Quoted on the Field Hockey Canada website, Elise Wong said the team will be taking the event one game at a time. She added: ‘The last two years have been full of uncertainty; that iswhy it is even more important that we can trust the work we have put in and focus in on our goals.

‘This would be the first time a Canadian women’s team has qualified for the World Cup since 1994, and we are excited to continue the legacy and continue showing the world what Canada can do.’

Wins by Canada over their USA neighbors in a recent five-match test series may have set some alarm bells ringing for head coach Anthony Farry, but with a tough selection process and several pre-tournament games, there is little doubt that the USA team will be looking to start their own World Cup adventure in Santiago.

Of the two other teams pressing for one of the coveted qualification places – Peru and Trinidad and Tobago – Peru will be the more confident after they recently won the Pan American Challenge and so qualified for this event. Marina Montes was top goal scorer, and head coach Patricio Martinez will be hoping for more of the same from her and the entire team.

The women’s competition gets underway on 19 January, with the opening day of play seeing Canada face Peru, USA taking on Trinidad and Tobago and Argentina facing their South American neighbors, Uruguay.

The men’s opening day fixtures will start with Canada against Mexico, then USA face Trinidad and Tobago before Argentina take on Brazil.