With both teams eliminated from contention, national pride and an Olympic victory was on the line for Canada and South Africa on Friday afternoon at Oi Hockey Stadium. When the final buzzer sounded to indicate the 4-4 match complete, it was a bittersweet mix of emotions on the turf.
The last time these Commonwealth Rivals met at a major competition was at the 2018 World Cup, which they also drew. This match, however had more fireworks. South Africa opened the scoring with a pair of early goals. Just when it looked like Canada was down and out in another game, their veteran leadership stepped up.
Three-time Olympians Scott Tupper and Mark Pearson have been a driving force on both sides of the ball all tournament and they picked a clutch moment to deliver a blow. It was a carbon copy of the penalty corner set play from the Netherlands match. Tupper sliding the backdoor pass for a Pearson. It was a thing of beauty. It was Pearson’s team-leading third goal of the tournament. He said that he and Tupper are close friends and teammates and scoring a goal in the final Olympic game today was a special feeling.
“We probably have over 2500 games together between club and country,” Pearson said, talking about his connection with Tupper. “We seem to have a knack for finding each other. It was nice to end it that way.”
For Pearson, this tournament was a culmination of rehab from his major injury, the challenges of the pandemic and the postponement of the games. And as for the future of the Red Caribou, Pearson sees nothing but good things coming.
“We’re obviously disappointed, but I’m still incredibly proud of our group and some of the moments we did have in this tournament,” he said. “There are some great young guys coming through the system — Jamie [Wallace] scored, you saw Fin [Boothroyd] score today — and we’re all hoping the team can keep that positive momentum going forward to the World Cup.”
For Fin Boothroyd, the 22-year-old from West Vancouver, this was his first Olympic experience. He notched the crucial third goal for Canada, tying the score line at the time. He was relentless in his attack all tournament and said he knew he had a goal in him at some point.
“I felt like I had one coming and I also left a few on the pitch that I felt I could have buried, so yeah, getting one today was an unbelievable feeling,” he said. “Sure, it’s good to get an individual goal, but I’m just proud of the guys. Today it was just two teams that left it all out on the pitch. It’s a complete team effort, I’m just so proud of the team.”
Boothroyd, Jamie Wallace and Brendan Guraliuk are a part of the Team Canada youth movement, all 22-year-old or younger, that took part in these Olympic Games. With the Junior Pan American Cup and the ensuing 2022 World Cup, Canada no doubt has the makings of a strong youthful core to go along with the veteran experience.
Team Canada fought back to even the score line on three separate occasions. They got two back in the first half, one off the PC deflection from Pearson and the other a smashing drive from Keegan Pereira — his second of the event. in the dying minutes of the game, South Africa jumped ahead again. But in true Red Caribou fashion, Canada tied it up immediately as Gabe Ho-Garcia deflected in a Wallace crossing pass. Captain Tupper said the team showed a lot of grit fighting back on multiple junctures in the game.
“We had patches where I think we should have been better, including the start of the game,” he said. “But I am so proud of the fight we showed. It can be demoralizing falling behind but to hit right back immediately, that’s really impressive, so I’m proud of that effort.”
Tupper reflected on the event as a whole and admits the team never put the full 60 minutes together. The team does get on the points table with the draw this afternoon against a plucky South African team.
“We had ambitions to get some results this week. So in that sense, I know we’re going to feel disappointed overall with how the tournament went,” Tupper said. “At these top events, if you slip up for a second, that can be the difference.”
Tupper closed with comments about the Olympic experience and the future of the Red Caribou. “We were a little disappointed on the pitch but what a place to play; they’ve done such a good job with the venues and it was an enjoyable event from an athlete’s perspective,” he said. “Our young guys are out there scoring goals in the Olympic Games. I’m thrilled for them and I hope they can drive our program forward.”