Canada edges Chile 1-0 to win women's field hockey bronze at Pan Am Games
TORONTO — Brienne Stairs made sure the Canadian women's field hockey team didn't leave the Pan American Games empty-handed.
Stairs, a native of Kitchener, Ont., scored off a corner at 5:02 of the fourth period as Canada edged Chile 1-0 in the bronze medal game Friday night at the St. George Campus of the University of Toronto. The victory wasn't enough to secure the Canadians a berth at next summer's Summer Games in Rio — they had to win this event to qualify — but Stairs said it was important to come away with a medal before a loud, boisterous home crowd.
"We're obviously disappointed we didn't make the gold medal game but this is still awesome for us," the 25-year-old Stairs said. "It's absolutely incredible having all the fans behind us.
Many of the victorious Canadians celebrated after the game by throwing frisbees into the stands. When they were done, players and team officials gathered with family and friends in the corner of the main stands.
Canada and Chile were relegated to the bronze medal game after losing their respective semifinals. The Canadians dropped a 3-0 decision to the United States while the Chileans lost 5-0 to Argentina.
"It's always a little tough (to play after semifinal loss)," Stairs said. "But we knew we had another real important game coming up and we knew we wanted to be on the podium so we moved forward and focused in and came out with the result we wanted."
However, it came with some anxious final moments as Chile had three penalty corner attempts over the final five minutes, forcing Canadian goalie Kaitlyn Williams, 25, of White Rock, B.C., to come up with some big saves to preserve the narrow lead.
"We work so much on our penalty corner defence, there was a good feeling the girls were going to do their jobs and they did," Canadian team head coach Ian Rutledge said. "Kaitlyn made some big saves when it really mattered and that was really positive for the group.
"Our girls maintained their nerve and justified all their good work for the previous 55 minutes."
Stairs credited Williams with securing Canada its victory.
"Our goalie played absolutely amazing," Stairs said. "She made some very clutch saves so without her I don't think we would've got the win.
"Well, it was a little bit scary having those short corners against us but everyone was going to put their body on the line . . . everyone just did their role."
The medal was Canada's first in women's field hockey since winning bronze in Winnipeg in '99. Rutledge ending that drought on home soil is invaluable for the youthful Canadians, who finished the tournament with a 4-2 overall record.
"We're the youngest group in this semifinal and one of the least experienced," Rutledge said. "We've been making progress the last two years so to be able to come away with a good performance backed up by a good result and something tangible like a medal is really positive for all of the girls and a just reward.
"This will be a lifetime memory for this group of athletes. They'll probably never play another Games at home for a long time and to win a medal in front of their home crowd, I'm sure that will be in their memories for a long, long time to come."
The Canadian Press