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Canadian men's field hockey team clinches Olympic spot

07/23/2015 09:24 EDT | Updated 07/23/2016 05:59 EDT
It was a double victory Thursday for the Canadian men's field hockey team at the Pan Am Games.

Not only did the Canadians guarantee themselves a spot in the gold-medal game against Argentina on Saturday night, they also qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympics, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro.

Canada beat Brazil 5-3 in penalty shots after a hard-fought scoreless 60 minutes of regulation time. The Canadians held a territorial advantage in regulation time, but couldn't buy a goal despite having beaten Brazil 9-1 during the preliminary round.

For two members of Team Canada, captain Scott Tupper and Mark Pearson, it will be their second time competing in the Olympics. They were part of the 2008 team that placed 10th in Beijing.

Tupper said going back to the Olympics as a leader on the team is the biggest accomplishment of his career.

"For us it means everything in our hockey careers," said Tupper, who along with Pearson lives in Vancouver. "We were quite young the first time. He was 20 and I was 21. We didn't know failure at that point and to have gone and then failed to get back to the 2012 Games in London, it really hit us hard. There is nothing worse as an amateur athlete who has been to an Olympics to have to watch it on TV."

Pearson is thrilled to be heading back to the Olympics.

"It has been a long road back," Pearson said. "It is what we train for. I was the youngest guy on the team in Beijing and now I'm a senior guy. My granddad is from England and to miss out on the 2012 Games there was heartbreaking. To get back to the Olympics is indescribable."

Pearson said his biggest memory of the 2008 Olympics was how overwhelmed he was.

"I'm a young guy and they told us going it it's going to be distractions, distractions, distractions," Pearson said. "It's true; there were plenty of distractions. China was cool. The Olympics is a big event and it was awesome, but this is going to be more special for me having missed out in 2012 and having trained for this for eight years."

Tupper believes that, now that he and Pearson are older, the 2016 Games will be much different for them.

"The Olympics, in a way, is a circus," Tupper said. "You have all the glitz and the glamour and then you also have a hockey tournament to play. It's tough to separate the two and prioritize the hockey tournament sometimes. Foe me it is making sure I soak in the things I need to soak in outside the pitch, enjoy the Olympic experience, but first and foremost we have to take care of our performance on the field."

Brazil brings better effort

Pearson said Brazil gave Canada a much tougher game in the semifinal than in the 9-1 lambasting in the preliminary round.

"Kudos to them, they play a strong defence," Pearson said. "They centralized in Europe for four months before this and played all kinds of teams. They are well-versed in playing defence. It worked for them in the quarter-final against the United States and it almost worked tonight. They really frustrated us at times in that game."

This will mark the 11th straight Pan Am Games Canada and Argentina have met in the gold-medal game. Argentina has won six gold medals to Canada's four.

Canada advanced to the semifinal with four consecutive victories. Canada beat Brazil 9-1, Chile 1-0, Mexico 8-1 and Trinidad and Tobago 3-0. All told, Canada outscored its opposition 21-2.

Playing at home in the Pan Am Games has helped put the Canadian men's field hockey team on the map. Because the sport is not funded, the Canadian players have to pay their own way to international events. Playing before a huge crowd in Toronto was thrilling for Pearson, who said he hopes a similar audience shows up for the gold-medal game.

"We just have to hope this crowd turns up again," Pearson said. "That was pretty awesome. We rarely get a chance to play on home soil before a crowd like this and it was fantastic."

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