Sarah Juggins, for PAHF

Hockey spreads its wings across the continent

December 8, 2022

Hockey spreads its wings across the continent

It’s been a frantic and exciting year for the Pan American Hockey Federation national associations.

The year began with a bang as the Men’s and Women’s Pan American Cups burst into action in Santiago, Chile.

While the opportunity to be crowned continental champions is a huge motivational factor, the two tournaments had added significance as this was also a final chance for teams to gain qualification to the FIH Women’s World Cup taking place later in the year and the Men’s World Cup taking place in 2023.

And wow, how the host nation took that chance! Chile women played some inspired hockey to book a place in the final against the tournament favourites Argentina and, in doing so, also qualified for the Women’s World Cup for the first time in their history.

In taking third place, with a 1-0 win over the USA, Canada also booked a place at the World Cup.

Talking after the event, Chile’s captain Camila Caram said: ‘‘We have been gaining confidence over time. We haven’t changed our style of play very much in the past few years but playing with confidence is a big thing. As a culture, Chileans are very humble and we try to stay low. So, we are now trying to instill a sense of self-belief. We can go to the World Cup! That is a new thing for us, to believe we deserve to be at a major event. Lacking self-belief can play with your mind, so we have been working really hard at that.

"We now believe that we can play at a higher level no matter who the opposition is. Whether it is Argentina, or Great Britain, whoever it is, we feel confident enough to use our skills."

If Chile women were delighted to be going to a first World Cup, their men were even more overjoyed. Argentina and Chile both won their semi-final matches in Santiago and booked their places at the Men’s World Cup in India at the start of 2023. The victory for Argentina was not really a surprise as the Leones have won four out of six editions. For Chile, a goalless draw and then a shoot-out victory over USA sealed a first-ever spot at the World Cup. For the Diablas this was really the moment they peaked at this event and a 5-1 win for Argentina the following day in the final was no surprise.

For the junior teams, April heralded the Women’s Junior World Cup and hopes were high for a strong showing. Uruguay was making their debut appearance, and for the Uruguay athletes the experience of a trip to Potchefstroom, South Africa, to play against the top juniors in the world was all set to be a life-changing time.

In the event, the PAHF teams failed to make the podium, with Argentina finishing in fifth, USA seventh, Uruguay 13th and Canada 15th.

Canada’s Head Coach Jenn Beagan said that the tournament was always set to be a challenge for her team, particularly as many of the players had never played in an international tournament before. Fellow coach, Tracey Paul of the USA agreed and went a step further as she explained how the players had come through two years of Covid restrictions and the impact that had upon the athletes.

"These athletes, who have been playing hockey for the past two years have done something unique. They have been wearing masks on the sideline, I’ve coached them wearing a mask. they have lived with all the different protocols for Covid, the nasal swabs and other things. I hope they look back in years to come and have some sense of historical perspective because, hopefully, no other generation will go through what they have had to go through."

"From a tournament perspective, our group learnt about the pace of tournament play and how to deal with being in a longer tournament. That will help with World Cup and Olympic experiences in the future."

While the junior women were facing stiff international competition from across the world, senior teams from Central America and the Caribbean were taking part in qualifying events for the 2023 Central American and Caribbean Games which will be held in El Salvador.

Bermuda won the Women’s Qualifier, beating Puerto Rico into second place. Both teams will qualify for the 2023 competition. In the men’s event, Jamaica was crowned champions after they won the round-robin competition. Like the women’s team, Puerto Rico finished in second place and will be in El Salvador for the CAC Games in 2023.

Argentina’s young stars finished top of the podium in both the men’s and women’s South American Youth Games. The event was held in Rosario and the host nation fans were able to cheer the players to comprehensive victories. Argentina’s Leoncitas beat Uruguay 4-0, while the men’s youth team went one better to beat Brazil 5-0.

While Argentina was sweeping up all the continental trophies, it was Uruguay who stole the headlines in epic fashion when they won the inaugural FIH Hockey 5s in Lausanne, Switzerland. The team beat the host nation Switzerland in the final and also dispatched India, South Africa and Poland along the way.

Soledad Vilar, who was a member of the victorious team said the victory would raise the profile of hockey in Uruguay and would bring the sport to a new audience. With the country recently opening its first water-based pitch, hockey is definitely on the up in the South American country.

2022 has been a year of firsts for some of the developing hockey nations. Joining Chile and Uruguay in celebrating notable ‘firsts’, is Guatemala. The Central American nation won both the men’s and women’s inaugural Central American Championship, beating Panama, Costa Rica and El Salvador in the men’s event and Panama and Costa Rica in the women’s competition.

To this point, the teams have only competed in the 5-a-side format of the game, so this was a big step up for players, coaching staff and organizers. Speaking after her team’s victory, Cristina Giron said: "It was an incredible journey, the team was magnificently prepared, and I think that everyone was able to see all the work we did, both individually and as a group. This is a sport that we love, this title is a reward for all our sacrifice, being able to hang this medal on us cannot be compared to anything."

As the teams of Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama and El Salvador take tentative steps onto the international hockey stage, Argentina continues to challenge for the top honours. At the FIH Women’s Hockey World Cup, which took place at dual venues in Spain and Netherlands, las Leonas came tantalizingly close to toppling the world's number one team.

Argentina had been almost flawless through the pool stages. In fact, the team had been unbeaten in all competitions since the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2021. Their finest performance of the World Cup was the semi-final match-up against Germany. A stellar performance from the team, particularly Victoria Granatto, Agustina Gorzelany and Augustina Albertarrio, saw them beat the European side in the match of the tournament. Unfortunately, it seemed that this had been the Argentina team’s moment to peak and in the final against the Dutch, Las Leonas failed to sparkle and they lost 3-1, a mirror result of the Olympic final.

It was mixed emotions for the athletes of Chile and Canada who were also competing at the Women’s World Cup. For Chile, a first appearance seemed to be no deterrent to the team and they brought a flamboyant and positive vibe to each match. Their reward was a final win against South Africa and a 13th-place finish.

Canada, by contrast, failed to win a game and finished the tournament in joint 15th position. A bright spot was Sarah McManus celebration of 200 caps for her country but on the whole, the Wolfpack will look back with frustration as the ravages of Covid had a big impact on their preparation for the event.

The final major continental event of 2022 was the ODESUR Games, which took place in Paraguay. The winners and runners-up both qualify for the 2023 Pan Am Games in Santiago, Chile and on this occasion, Argentina and Chile men and women were the victorious teams.

In the men’s final, it was Argentina who took the honours for the eighth time as they beat Chile 3-1. However, Chile women overcame a strong Argentina team to win 3-2 and claim their first ODESUR title.

Hockey development continues apace across the continent and it was heartening to see the teams of Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador and Panama all taking part in the fifth Central American Hockey5s tournament in Costa Rica in November. The eventual winners were Guatemala women and Costa Rica men, but the competition throughout was fierce and fast-paced and a credit to the development work being done in this region.

Laura Macchiotti, Event and Development Coordinator at PAHF, summed things up: "After eight years of work in partnership with the National Federations, this isn’t just a sports event, it is a social commitment to continue improving the quality of life of many athletes in this region."

With Argentina men and women and USA women about to embark on Season Four of the FIH Pro League, and Argentina and Chile men off to India for the 2023 Men’s Hockey World Cup Bhubaneswar and Rourkela, there is a lot to look forward to on the global stage. But, with nations such as Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama setting out on their hockey journeys, and with Uruguay and Chile scoring firsts on the international stage, there is a bubbling of excitement across the entire continent as hockey reaches out to new audiences.

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