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Canada expected to collide with Argentina once again in Pan Am field hockey

03/02/2015 07:00 EST | Updated 05/02/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - The Pan American Games schedule is set and it should put Canada's men's field hockey team on a collision course with arch-rival Argentina.

The field hockey schedule was released Monday for this summer's Pan Ams, which are a direct Olympic qualifier for the sport — a gold medal comes with a ticket to Rio.

Canada and Argentina have met in the past 10 Pan Am field hockey finals, in one of the sport's fiercest rivalries that stretches back to 1975.

"You're kind of taught as a young player that the blue and white stripes are bad," said Canada's captain Scott Tupper.

The Canadians won gold in 1999 in Winnipeg to qualify for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and at the 2007 Pan Ams in Rio to earn a spot in the 2008 Beijing Games.

But No. 6 Argentina has had the upper hand lately, defeating the 14th-ranked Canadians 3-1 in the Pan Am Games final four years ago in Guadalajara, and then at the Pan American Cup — a World Cup qualifier — in 2013.

"It's our time to get a little retribution, perhaps, bring it back the other way," Tupper said.

The 28-year-old from Vancouver is a veteran of two Pan Am Games and said there's little love lost between the two countries.

"The nature of the rivalry is we don't play too often in training matches, and so usually when we do play each other it's in big tournaments, and it's often in finals, so because of that when we do play each other, it's intense," he said.

"And (the Argentines) . . . used to do a lot of singing and stuff before the games, when the busses would come in, they'd shake the bus just to get into your head. Which is fine, it's cool, it's fun. But they haven't done that, I don't think, since we beat them in Rio."

The Canadians are in Group B with Chile, Brazil and Mexico, while Argentina is in Group A with the U.S., Trinidad and Tobago, and Cuba.

The 23rd-ranked Canadian women open July 13 versus the Dominican Republic. Also in the women's group is No. 3-ranked Argentina and Mexico.

A new two-pitch field hockey facility was built at the University of Toronto for the Games, which saw a bitter feud over the historic back campus that drew opposition from the likes of Canadian author Margaret Atwood.

The nomadic Canadian players, who are accustomed to playing their biggest games abroad, are thrilled to host an international tournament at home.

"It will be such an incredible experience and it's pretty hard not to roll on those emotions," said Kaelan Watson of Richmond, B.C., a defender on Canada's women's team. "My experiences in the past in playing for something that matters, and at home where it has meaning to you, it always made a really big difference in the result."

Kate Gillis, whose dad Mike is the former president and GM of the Vancouver Canucks, relishes the rare chance to play in front of a pro-Canada crowd.

"To have it so close, on home soil, is amazing," Gillis said. "We don't get a lot of domestic competition here in Canada. . .some of my family has never seen me play internationally, so having them in Toronto will be awesome."

The Canadian women are looking for their first Olympic appearance since 1992.

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