By Martin Cleary
If you scrolled through the list of players in the Hockey Hall of Fame, you’d find a select group with deep Ottawa connections, including Denis Potvin, Daniel Alfredsson and Doug Wilson.
The same can be said for that other hockey game that is played in Ottawa, but doesn’t have the same profile or popularity – field hockey.
Ottawa standouts Reg Plummer and Patrick Burrows are in the Field Hockey Canada Hall of Fame as athletes. They represented Canada at the Olympics and were followed to the Summer Games by Ottawa players Laura Branchaud, Terry Wheatley, Ajay Dube and Hari Kant over a half-century span.
But for the first time since the 1980s, the National Capital Region has two Ottawa-trained players on the Canadian women’s national team, which played its first game Thursday at the Pan-American Games in Santiago, Chile, and emerged with a convincing 7-1 win over Cuba.
Canada plays its final two pool matches against Chile on Saturday and Mexico on Monday before the playoff round.
Goalkeeper Rowan Harris has been the lone Ottawa player on the national team for the past seven years. But now she has company with the arrival of midfielder Kenzie Girgis, who also is a member of the Canadian women’s junior squad and will return to Santiago for next month’s Junior World Cup.
“That is really incredible, really cool,” Harris told High Achievers in a phone interview about two Ottawa field hockey players competing for Canada at the Pan-Am Games.
“We both played at the same high school, university and club. We know you don’t have to be from Toronto or Vancouver to be on the national team, if you put in the work.”
Despite being eight years apart in age, Harris and Girgis have followed similar paths. Both careers started at Glebe Collegiate Institute (under coach Colin Harris, Rowan’s dad), veered to the successful University of British Columbia program and ascended to the Canadian national junior and senior women’s teams.
After sustaining two concussions while playing competitive soccer and losing 2½ years in her competitive youth sports career, Harris decided to switch to field hockey. It was an obvious choice in the end, but not immediately recognized, since field hockey wasn’t a big sport in Ottawa and “it’s not the obvious thing to go to,” she said in a February, 2016, interview with High Achievers.
Harris’s parents had previously played field hockey, her uncle Douglas Harris was on the Canadian men’s Olympic team in 1988, her aunt Candy Thomson played for Canada at the 1992 Summer Games and her cousin Thomson Harris was a member of the national boys’ junior team at the time she was entering field hockey.
After starting as a field player in her first year at Glebe, she switched to being the goalkeeper for her final three years. She was the Gryphons’ team captain and MVP for her Grade 11 and 12 seasons.
Girgis came to field hockey inspired and motivated by her older sister Abrie, who was on the Canadian women’s team for the 2023 World Cup indoor championships. When Kenzie attended Glebe, she helped the Gryphons win the 2021 National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association championship. She also played with the Outaouais Field Hockey Club.
Once they graduated from Glebe, both Harris and Girgis headed West to attend UBC and play for the Thunderbirds.
Harris helped the Thunderbirds to four consecutive Canadian university titles from 2014-17 and was named the U Sports MVP in her final championship season.
Girgis was named the U Sports field hockey player of the week in mid October, after scoring her only goal of the season in a 3-0 win and then assisting on the game-winning goal in a 1-0 decision, both against the University of Calgary Dinos. The Thunderbirds finished second in the Canada West Conference regular season at 3-4-1 this season. In 2022, UBC also placed second, but with a 4-3-1 record.
For only the third time in their international careers, Harris and Girgis played together as Canada won its Pan-Am Games opening match against Cuba. Harris now has 61 caps playing for her country, while Girgis has three.
Madison Thompson of Ridgeway, ON., scored three goals, while Thora Rae of Vancouver and Chloe Walton of North Vancouver counted two each for Canada, which controlled the play for 58 per cent of the time, had 10 penalty corners (one goal) and scored seven goals off 19 shots.
Harris faced only two shots and allowed her only goal late in the game, when Cuba’s Yuraima Vera scored off a penalty shot. Vera shot high into the net as Harris dove right, but couldn’t reach the perfectly-placed ball.
“This is my first time at the Pan-Am Games,” Harris said in a phone interview. “It’s exciting. We have been training in Vancouver for a good number of months and it was exciting to put into action what the team has been working on.”
Even though she faced only a pair of shots, she was active in the game.
“It was good because I was involved with the team. I helped the team focus on our game plan,” she added. “Cuba has strong players. I guessed right (on the penalty shot), but she got it over top of me.”
A first-year player on the Canadian senior women’s team, Girgis played about two-thirds of the four-quarter, 60-minute game.
“It was a great experience. You’re always learning from the other team and our team,” she said. “It’s nice to get the nerves out.
“I thought we played a good game, got better as the game went on and made more connections.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 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 High Achievers “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.
HELP SHINE A LIGHT ON LOCAL SPORT! The Ottawa Sports Pages has proudly provided a voice for local sport for over 10 years, but we need your help to continue another 10 and beyond. Please donate to the Ottawa Sports Pages Fund today.