By: Sarah Juggins, a seasoned hockey journalist who writes for a number of publications and websites, including the International Hockey Federation (FIH), the Pan American Hockey Federation (PAHF), European Hockey Federation and the UK-based newspaper, The Hockey Paper. She also walks the walk as she is a national league player and coach.
The Pan American Cups (PAC) is a showcase event for the best teams and players from the Pan American Hockey Federation (PAHF) region.
This year’s event, held in Lancaster, Pa., will be no exception, particularly as many participating teams will have already played a heap of international hockey in the months prior to PAC. June and July will have seen the top teams participating in the FIH Hockey World League (HWL) Semifinals, while most participating nations took part in Round 1 and/or Round 2 earlier in the year.
Fresh off the back of the HWL Semifinals, teams will know whether they have qualified for the 2018 men’s and women’s FIH Hockey World Cups, so PAC will either be a time when a team is high in confidence and looking forward to building for the World Cup, or it could be a time for a squad to re-group and turn disappointment into revenge.
So let’s take a look at the teams and assess their chances of success.
Argentina to Land First Place but Minor Medals are Up for Grabs
In the men’s competition, it is very hard to see past the current Olympic Games champions and current FIH Hero World Ranked No. 2, Argentina.
At the 2013 Pan American Cup, Argentina beat Canada 4-0 in the final after cruising through the tournament rounds. That was before the Argentina revival, which began with a bronze at the 2014 World Cup and continued to the moment in Rio 2016 when Los Leones took gold.
While the team rosters are yet to be announced, it is likely that Head Coach Carlos Retegui will be introducing some young blood to his team. Maicon Casella was a player that impressed mightily at the men’s Hockey Junior World Cup in India, while Santiago Tarazona is ear-marked for a bright future with Los Leones.
Canada has a great tradition at the Pan American Cup. Since the first event in 2000, the Red Caribou has always finished in the medals, including a gold in 2009. The team, FIH Hero World Ranked No. 11, has the added benefit of a good showing at the 2015 HWL Semifinals, which led to Rio 2016 Olympic qualification. Head coach Anthony Farry says recent experience of top level competition, combined with the squad’s high levels of fitness and mental resilience will plan to their benefit. Watch out for Sukhi Panesar who says that qualification for Rio 2016 was just the start of an exciting new chapter in Canada’s history.
Trinidad and Tobago finished third in the 2013 Pan American Cup, but has often failed to deliver on promise in recent years. Hosting this season’s HWL Round 2 event has given the team a boost and the presence of many players who are now playing and coaching abroad has given the squad a new level of experience. Tariq Marcano, who currently plays for British Club St Albans, is likely to catch the eye with his skill and energy, while Head Coach Glen Francis is an experienced former international who will get the best from his players.
USA has home advantage and a squad that is determined to put on a show for the home crowd. Experienced squad members, William Holt and Pat Harris, will give Team USA a striking threat, while the confidence and ability of defenders, Sean Cicchi and Tom Barratt, will give the team a solid base. This is also Rutger Wiese’s chance to implement his strategies in his new role as head coach.
The team that promises to provide some element of surprise is Chile. The South American side hasn’t won a medal at this event since 2004, but a third-place finish at the 2015 Pan American Games and an easy win at HWL Round 1 means Chile’s team has bragging rights over all its opponents except Argentina and Canada. Sven Richter is the man to watch as he lead the Chilean attack, while goalkeeper Adrian Henriquez is likely to be keeping the goals out at the other end
The player who is most likely to cause an upset when Venezuela takes the field is Cristian Vargas. The 21-year-old striker went on a goal-scoring rampage at HWL Round 1 in Peru and if he is given any space, the same is likely to happen again. Hero FIH World Ranked No. 47, Venezuela is unlikely to push for medals, but every team at this event is capable of an upset.
Hero FIH World Ranked No. 25, Brazil’s team has definitely benefited from hosting the Olympic Games. Investment in the national team and a raised public profile has helped the sport develop over the past six years. It is unlikely that Brazil will challenge its higher ranked rivals, but the competition is another chance for players such as Patrick van der Heijden and Bruno Mendonca to show what they are capable of.
The eighth team under the spotlight is rapidly emerging Mexico. The team has never finished higher than sixth at this event but their barnstorming performance at HWL Round 1, on home soil in Salamanca, demonstrated that the team is getting ever closer to its higher ranked rivals. This is a very inexperienced side, with only a handful of players with more than 50 international caps, but Head Coach Marco Molina has found a penalty corner expert in Ivan Arballo, while Edgar Garcia and Ruben Martinez add experience to the squad.
- Trinidad and Tobago
Intense Rivalries Set to Light Up the Tournament
Now to the women’s Pan American Cup and an uncertain final outcome. The battle for PAHF supremacy has been raging between Team USA and Argentina for years. While Las Leonas has the better medal haul on the world stage, USA has won the last two Pan American Games titles and finished higher at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
While Argentina is still recovering from the sudden retirement of Carla Rebecchi, they have Maria Granatto who’s lively goal scoring has already made her a successor. Another name that has been popping up with regularity since the women’s Junior World Cup is Eugenia Trinchinetti who, like Granatto, has no hesitation in finding the back of the net. Opposition defenses will need a plan to contain these two if they are to stop Argentina from winning their fifth straight title.
The team most likely to halt the blue and white army is Janneke Schopman’s USA. FIH Hero World Ranked No. 6, this is a side that has been growing in stature the past few years. A dynamic early Olympic campaign that just ran out of steam toward the end demonstrated that USA can hold their own against anyone. The squad combines enormous experience with an injection of new blood. Expect Michelle Vittese and Katelyn Falgowski to do what they do best, which is pressure the defense, while Jackie Briggs continues to show why she is a world class goalkeeper.
Canada women went through a huge learning curve at the 2015 HWL Semifinals and have been building on that ever since. While some of that squad has moved on, veteran forward Kate Wright continues to lead from the front, while youngsters like Hannah Eborall will be looking to help her side break the USA/Argentina vice-like grip at the top of the podium.
An equally intriguing rivalry is building between two teams FIH World Ranked No. 19 and No. 23. Chile has charged up the rankings in recent months, overtaking Uruguay and just one place behind Canada. While Chile beat Uruguay to finish fourth in the most recent Pan American Games, Uruguay took first at HWL Round 1. For Chile, captain Camila Caram and Francisca Tala are just two of many dangerous players with the ability to score at will. Uruguay will be looking to Manuela Vilar to control things in defense, while Maria Viana Ache will provide much fire power up front.
The threat from Central America comes from Mexico. The team, led by Head Coach Arely Castellanos, is a rapidly improving unit. Michel Navarro is an exceptional goal scorer and she is skillfully backed by Marlet Correa and Arlette Estrada. Expect vibrant attacking play and some high scoring matches when Mexico gets on the turf.
The final two teams in our assessment of the women’s Pan American Cup are Brazil and Barbados, FIH Hero Ranked No. 41 and No. 54 respectively.
While neither team is likely to make the podium, both are the types of team that can upset the odds. Brazil were bitterly disappointed not to qualify for their home Olympic Games and have been working to improve their international standing since. The very inexperienced team performed well at the recent HWL Round 1 in Peru, where they finished third, behind Uruguay and Chile. The squad will be looking to Anita Rodriguez and goalkeeper Andrea Gomes for guidance in Lancaster, Pa.
Barbados enter the tournament as the lowest ranked team and with much less international experience than many of their rivals. Nonetheless, expect players such as Dionne Clark, Joanna Davis and Cher King to be looking to exploit any chance to get Barbados on the scoreboard.
This article is featured in the Spring 2017 issue of FHLife magazine. To read more inspiring, knowledge-packed and fun features revolving around hockey, fitness, healthy eating and how to strengthen your game, subscribe to our quarterly publication by clicking here.