HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
The ever-growing Chelsea Phoenix Field Hockey Club may be small, but it’s taking the national scene by storm. Turning a decade-old next year, the Phoenix is putting the spotlight on the Gatineau Hills, its energy source.
Under the direction of club founder/board member Ian Bird, the Phoenix won a combined three national age-group titles in 2018 and 2019, has become one of three national training centres and has had nine junior players recognized nationally this season.
Goalkeeper Zach Coombs, defenders Nicolas Syrros and Alex Bird, forward Flynn McCulloch and midfielder Chris Tardif were named to Team Canada for last month’s Junior Pan American boys’ field hockey championship in Santiago, Chile.
Phoenix’s Casey Brennan-Raab, a forward, and Noah Loomis, a defender, as well as Gloucester Tigers defender Nityanand Rewankar were selected as the team’s three reserves.
Coombs played all four games for Canada, which placed fourth and fell a semi-final win shy of qualifying for the 2021 Junior Men’s Field Hockey World Cup in Guwahati, India, Nov. 24 to Dec. 5. Coombs is attending Simon Fraser University this fall.
After placing second in Pool B at 2-1, Canada fell to seven-time champion Argentina 2-1 in its semi-final and lost the bronze-medal game to the United States. Canada and the U.S. tied 1-1, but the Americans won the shoot-out 4-3.
Tardif, one of two Team Canada captains, and McCulloch, one of five strikers up front, saw their junior careers end at the Pan Ams. Bird and Syrros saw plenty of field time as defenders and have four years of eligibility remaining each.
All seven Phoenix players also gained good experience last November, playing with senior national team members in Field Hockey Canada’s month-long, three-team Super League competition, a warmup for the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Phoenix players Lilly-Anne Breton and Elizabeth Assimes, who is from Lac St. Louis, Que., joined the national women’s junior team for games in San Diego against the United States, but didn’t make the trip to Santiago.
However, West Vancouver’s Bronwyn Bird, the niece of Ian Bird, played for the undefeated national team, which became the first Canadian junior or senior women’s squad to win a Pan Am championship.
Canada, 3-0-1, didn’t allow a single goal in the tournament, defeated Uruguay 1-0 in the final and earned a berth in the 2021 Junior World Cup, which will be held Dec. 5-16 in Potchefstroom, South Africa.
Ian Bird explained the Phoenix success by saying it’s a “whole community thing – across the Gatineau Hills with lots of help.”
A mini field hockey field has been installed in Low, Que., and other fields are planned for Chelsea and Gatineau.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Phoenix had its biggest year in terms of membership, which stands at 117. Bird also credits the players, who come to play field hockey with a multi-sport background.
“The players come from so many sports – soccer, basketball, skiing, canoeing and hockey,” added Bird, a two-time field hockey Olympian in 1988 and 2000. “By the time they focus on field hockey, they can use all of their other skills.
“We’re the poster child for that (not specializing in one sport). A good example is we have to remind parents to put the field hockey sticks away and get out skiing.”
Bird also was thankful for the guidance and co-operation of the 20-year-old Nepean Nighthawks Field Hockey Club. Both clubs recently staged their first game in almost two years for young players.
In June, the Phoenix posted this proud message about their junior boys’ program: “A lot of turf time, gym time and tough choices. In return, many new friendships, broadened horizons, doors opening, and setbacks, too. All seven of these young men from Quebec will play for Canada one day – five get their chance this summer.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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