Rhian Wilkinson looks back on a decade of soccer

Rhian Wilkinson / Photo courtesy of Canada Soccer

Rhian Wilkinson / Photo by Canada Soccer

When Rhian Wilkinson headed south of the border this fall, it wasn’t to put on her cleats. Instead, she picked up some hardware and was named to the 2013 Hall of Fame Class at the University of Tennessee.

The accolade is a perfect way to remember her college career, which almost didn’t come to fruition, because joining an NCAA program wasn’t necessarily at the top of her list as a teenager.

“I never thought I would go play in the United States,” she admits. “Both of my parents were teachers in Quebec and I was expecting to stay there. I ended up getting a few scholarship offers at 17, which is quite late.”

She says she changed her mind once she met the Tennessee coaching staff and athletic director. They expressed a desire to move the Lady Vols soccer program up the NCAA rankings and said she would play a key role in the team’s future.

Rhi with the Lady Vols

Photo by utsports.com

They were right; it was a perfect fit. The Vols went on to make three NCAA Tournament appearances and capture a pair of SEC Eastern Division and Tournament titles. Even a decade after her graduation, Wilkinson continues to lead in a handful of statistical categories. She remains first in single-season assists (15), first in career assists (32), second in career points (88) and third in career goals (28), making her one of the best offensive players to ever suit up for Tennessee.

“It’s definitely an honour to see your name,” she says. “I’m very proud of my assists stat because I’ve always prided myself on being able to create goals.”

Although the 31-year-old is best known as a fullback, she actually grew up playing forward. She adapted to a backline role at the request of then-national team head coach, Even Pellerud.

“I wouldn’t say I immediately fell in love with the defensive position,” Wilkinson admits. “But, teams appreciate learning a new position and I really enjoy fullback now. In Tennessee, I was very lucky to have a very good first year and to be an important member of the team. It was nice to be relied upon for scoring.”

One of the reasons for her success on the scoresheet was because of her speed, as Wilkinson jokingly says “it certainly wasn’t because of my technique”.

When asked about the toughest competition she ever faced in college, her answer is no surprise: Abby Wambach. “I remember her dragging me down the entire field,” she recalls with a laugh. “She was a strong girl even then.”

Although much of the current Canadian roster is made up of former NCAA players, Wilkinson believes times are changing. She identifies midfielders Desiree Scott and Kaylyn Kyle as two Canadian Interuniversity Sport success stories. She advises players looking to join a NCAA or CIS program to be aggressive.

“Do your due diligence,” she says. “It doesn’t matter where you go. Just make sure you’re going to a program that’s right for you. Be confident and be assertive. If there are schools you want to go to, approach them. Go after something if you really want it.”

Photo courtesy of Canada Soccer

Photo by Canada Soccer

2013 marks Wilkinson’s 10-year anniversary as a member of the Canadian squad. She was 20 when she made her debut for the red and white and has been a key contributor ever since. She’s played in 143 games, scored seven goals and won an Olympic medal, but it’s important to note her tremendous leadership, experience and focus on teamwork continue to make her a very important player as Canada works toward the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

She’s a true role model for soccer players at any level and has a decade of hard work to prove it.

You can follow Rhian on Twitter or visit her website to read her incredibly insightful journal entries.

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Sochi is how many days away?!

77. It’s hard to believe we are on the cusp of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. It seems like only yesterday Canada was preparing to welcome the world in Vancouver. Now, it’s Sochi’s turn.

sochi-2014-logoRegardless of the event or sport, expectations for Canadian athletes are high. The team will be looking to duplicate and hopefully exceed their outstanding efforts in 2010, where Canada finished at the top of the medal rankings with 26 (14 gold, 7 silver, 5 bronze).

The Opening Ceremony flag bearer will soon be announced. I’m predicting hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser gets the call. This will likely be her last go at the Olympics. It would be a fitting way to honour an athlete who has done so much for her sport, not only in Canada, but around the world. She’s also one of the proudest Canadians you’ll ever meet. Her teammate, Danielle Goyette, carried the maple leaf in 2006.

As we inch closer to February 7th, here are some key links to get you up-to-date with what’s been happening with the red and white, in each discipline:

Alpine Canada

Biathlon Canada

Bobsleigh Canada Skelton

Canada Snowboard

Canadian Curling Association

Canadian Freestyle Skiing Association

Canadian Luge Association

Hockey Canada

Nordic Combined Canada

Skate Canada

Ski Jumping Canada

Speed Skating Canada

Official links:

Canadian Olympic Team Website

Canadian Olympic Team Collection (Hudson’s Bay)

Sochi Games 2014

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Another step in the right direction for Canadian women’s soccer

Canada continue to prepare for the 2015 Women’s World Cup both off and on the pitch. Most recently, the Canadian Soccer Association announced the hiring of Daniel Worthington. His role is two-fold: Women’s Excel U-23 Program Director and assistant coach with the Women’s National Team.

Canada Soccer logoHead coach John Herdman often speaks of a massive gap that continues to trouble the women’s program in Canada. There are promising teenagers (centre-back phenom Kadeisha Buchanan, Summer Clarke, Nichelle Prince) along with talented, reliable veterans (Christine Sinclair, Erin McLeod, Diana Matheson), but what about the players who don’t fall in those age groups? What happens when Sinclair retires? No one is denying there are many unanswered questions, but the hiring of Worthington is a step in the right direction.

Worthington will be Herdman’s eyes and ears in the U-23 group. He’ll be able to see who can make the progression to being a key contributor and mesh with the already solidified group on the senior squad. A player like Sophie Schmidt was able to make a seamless transition from youth soccer to the senior ranks, but every player is different. Worthington, along with Beverly Priestman the Women’s U-14/U-17 Excel Program Director, will be able to pinpoint the girls who can take the next step in their soccer careers.

The addition of Worthington to the coaching staff is a great fit for Herdman. “From previous collaborations and encounters, we found that Daniel had the right skills set to serve as the link between our group of U-20 players and our Women’s National Team athletes and will be a great asset in leading the U-23 program,” he said.

The hiring also allows Herdman to focus the majority of his attention on the group he’s preparing for 2015 and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

Worthington’s resume is impressive: Director of High Performance and National Training Centre Atlantic Director for Soccer Nova Scotia, Canadian Soccer Association National “B” Coaching Licence, UEFA “B” Licence and he’s in the process of completing his Canadian Soccer Association National Licence “A” certification.

It’s also important to recognize that Worthington is Canadian. He knows the intricacies of soccer in our country and where the biggest struggles lie.

This fall is a busy one for all of our women’s programs:
– U-14/U-16 camp
– CanWNT residency camp in Vancouver
– CONCACAF Women’s U-17 Championship (Jamaica)
– CanWNT friendlies versus Korean Republic (Edmonton – October 30) and Mexico (Vancouver – November 24)

Tickets are available for both friendly matches through Ticketmaster.

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Bright days ahead for Canadian goalkeepers

In a few days, we’ll mark the one year anniversary of the Canadian women’s soccer team winning bronze at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Over the last year, they’ve grown as a unit and while many of the faces from that team remain with the squad, there have been some changes.

Goalkeepers Erin McLeod and Karina LeBlanc are still very much in the fold, with McLeod as the team’s starter and LeBlanc a close second. Both are poised veterans who have been key contributors to the national program, both on and off the field, for the last decade. Currently, they’re playing well south of the border in the inaugural NWSL season with their respective clubs.

Because they’re both in their 30s, some fans are wondering who will follow in their footsteps when they decide to move on from soccer.

With all that said, there are impressive names as you look down the list of keepers coming through the ranks. Canada currently boasts great depth in this position. The timing’s perfect with the U20 Women’s World Cup next summer and the Women’s World Cup in 2015.

Stephanie Labbe / Photo by Canada Soccer

Stephanie Labbe / Photo by Canada Soccer

Stephanie Labbe
After taking a hiatus from the national team in 2012, the Alberta native is now back in the fold. She backed up McLeod in Germany for a friendly this past June and saw her first playing time in over a year when she faced Finland at the Cyprus Cup on March 3rd. At 26, Labbe still has plenty of time to be an important member of the national squad. She’s honing her skills in Sweden right now as the starter for KIF Örebro. Her height is one of her biggest weapons because she does a tremendous job of nabbing high balls on corner kicks and crosses. Right now, Labbe’s in the best position to challenge for the backup spot on the national team. She has the experience and maturity to be a key contributor going forward.

Erin McNulty / Photo by Canada Soccer

Erin McNulty with CanW20 / Photo by Canada Soccer

Erin McNulty
She’s an accomplished youth and college player. After graduating from Florida State, she headed over to Penn State as a graduate student where she was an absolute powerhouse. She backstopped the Nittany Lions to the 2012 Big Ten Championship and was runner-up in the 2012 NCAA National Championship. McNulty spent the last few months as a member of the W-League’s Seattle Sounders. Although they didn’t make the postseason, McNulty played in 11 games, was tied for second in GK wins, had three clean sheets and made the top ten for GAA. She most recently attended an EXCELeration camp in February.

Sabrina D'Angelo / Photo by Canada Soccer

Sabrina D’Angelo / Photo by Canada Soccer

Sabrina D’Angelo 
Her list of accolades over the past few years is exceptional: 2012 Canadian U20 Female Player of the Year, 2012 U20 CONCACAF Championship Team, 2011 Soccer America All-Freshman First Team,  2011 SEC Freshman of the Year, 2011 NSCAA First Team All-South Region and 2010 U17 CONCACAF Championship Team. She had a solid year for South Carolina in 2012, starting 16 of 17 matches. As a junior this fall, she’ll again be the number one goalie for the Gamecocks. On the national team front, she’s at a point in her career where she’ll soon be taking the step to the senior squad after being the starting keeper at the 2012 U20 Women’s World Cup.

Kailen Sheridan / Photo by Canada Soccer

Kailen Sheridan / Photo by Canada Soccer

Kailen Sheridan
It’s going to be a big year for the Whitby, Ontario native. She’s headed to Clemson University, where she’ll be a member of the Tigers. This will give her some valuable college experience. That said, Sheridan is no stranger to high pressure situations in goal. She was the starter for Canada at the recent U17 Women’s World Cup, where the red and white reached the quarterfinals. She’s been a member of the youth programs since she was 15. Sheridan’s positioning is one of her strong suits and never shies away from playing the ball. One of her best skills is dealing with the back pass and helping the develop the play from her team’s third. In July, Sheridan traveled to Norway with other U20s for a 12 day camp. She’ll likely be Canada’s starter when the country hosts the U20 Women’s World Cup next summer.

Genevieve Richard / Photo by Canada Soccer

Genevieve Richard / Photo by Canada Soccer

Genevieve Richard
Richard made her mark this year, thanks to exceptional play for the Laval Comets of the W-League. Richard led the league with six shutouts, was second in both GAA at 0.545 and wins with seven and was crowned Goalkeeper of the Year. She also led the Comets to the championship final where they unfortunately fell short, 1-0. Richard was a member of the 2012 U20 Women’s World Cup. She spent last year as a backup at the University of Wisconsin and played in six matches. This fall, she’ll have the opportunity to challenge for the Badgers’ starting job.

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Kadeisha Buchanan: Canada’s next sports hero

Kadeisha Buchanan / Photo by Canada Soccer

Kadeisha Buchanan / Photo by Canada Soccer

Remember this name: Kadeisha Buchanan. At just 17, she’s turning heads and has already made her mark against some of the world’s best players.

A little over a week ago, she was the talk of the press box, as the Canadian Women’s Soccer Team hosted the US in front of a capacity crowd at BMO Field in Toronto. Her task that game was a big one: mark Abby Wambach. The gifted American forward searched for a goal on her 33rd birthday, but Buchanan had other ideas. The young center back marked Wambach diligently and kept her off the scoresheet.

Media members, both Canadian and American, were absolutely buzzing about Buchanan and her fantastic performance. She looked like a seasoned veteran on that backline. In the second half, she single-handedly stopped two goals from finding the back of the net. One was a fantastic block on a shot by Alex Morgan and the second was a goal line clearance on a powerful Wambach shot. All you could hear in the press box was “Wow!” and “Can you believe she just did that?” with a bit of “She’s incredible!”.

Buchanan was named Canadian player of the game. Head coach John Herdman raved about her in his post-match media conference:

“She’s unbelievable. She owned Abby Wambach….A 17-year-old kid out there and did an unbelievable job.  I’m proud of her. She’s shined a light for any kid in this country to say, ‘Look, no matter what background or where you’re from, you can play in front of 23,000 people’.”

A throng of media waited for the players in the mix zone to get their thoughts after the homecoming match.  The largest crowd huddled around captain Christine Sinclair. It was Buchanan though who generated the second largest crowd. As she made her way down the line, I was standing by myself and I asked her if she had a moment. We chatted briefly. I asked her about the pressure of playing in front of Canadian fans and what it was like marking world-class players like Wambach:

Team Canada - June 2, 2013 / Photo by Canada Soccer

Team Canada – June 2, 2013 / Photo by Canada Soccer

“I felt honored to cover her. She’s a very good, talented player and I’m just lucky enough to get a chance to mark her. My next step is to inspire more fans.”

She also told me in her soft-spoken voice her next goal is to get her degree and set a standard at West Virginia University.  At this point, the other journalists joined me and the crowd around her began to grow. I’m sure it’s a scene she’ll get used to very soon.

June 2nd was Buchanan’s first game as a member of the senior squad on home soil. On that day in Toronto, she wore number 9, which is fitting. For the larger part of a decade, it has been worn by one of the best center backs in Canadian history, Candace Chapman. Buchanan is definitely following in Chapman’s footsteps.

Canadians will be seeing a lot of Buchanan in the future. She’ll still be eligible to represent Canada at the U20 Women’s World Cup next year and she’s well on her way to solidifying a spot on the 2015 Women’s World Cup roster.

Right now, Sinclair continues to be the face of the national team and Canadian women’s sports in general. There’s been plenty of discussion among fans and the media about an eventual passing of the torch. So, who will be Canada’s next soccer star? Say hello to Kadeisha Buchanan.

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How the Canadian Sochi roster would look if only stats are considered

500px-05_NHL_ShieldAs the Ts are crossed and the Is are dotted, it looks like we’re just days away from an official announcement NHL players will be able to participate in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daley has been in talks with the IIHF and had intense meetings late this week. A number of details were released from the meetings, including a couple of major ones:

– There will be a break in the NHL during the Olympics. The last day of games would be February 8 and play would resume two days after the gold medal game.
– There will be roster changes for Sochi. Each team will be allotted two extra players (22 players, 3 goalies), compared to the roster at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver (20 players, 3 goalies) .

So, out of curiosity, how would Canada’s forward group look if Hockey Canada only selected the statistically best players from the condensed 2012-13 NHL season?

Chris Kunitz: 52 points (LW) – Steven Stamkos: 57 points (C) – Martin St. Louis: 60 points (RW)

Taylor Hall: 50 points (LW) – Sidney Crosby: 56 points (C) – P.A. Parenteau: 43 points (RW)

Andrew Ladd: 46 points (LW) – Eric Staal: 53 points (C) – Blake Wheeler: 41 points (RW)

Matt Moulson: 44 points (LW) – Ryan Getzlaf: 49 points (C) – Jordan Eberle: 37 points (RW)

Statistically next in line –  Jonathan Toews: 48 points (C), Claude Giroux: 48 points (C), John Tavares: 47 points (C), Joe Thornton: 40 points (C), Rick Nash: 42 points (LW), Evander Kane: 33 points (LW), Patrick Marleau: 31 points (LW), Corey Perry: 36 points (RW), Jeff Carter: 33 points (RW), Jordan Eberle: 37 points (RW)

This certainly speaks to the immense depth of the centre position in Canada.

Most of the wingers are able to switch sides in a pinch and most often than not, centres can adjust to playing on the wings to allow the coaching staff a plethora of line combinations.

sochi-2014-logoAs the 2014 Olympic Winter Games near (272 days to go), there will be countless potential rosters and line combinations dished out by both the fans and media. Those lists will likely include a number of the players listed above, but those rosters definitely won’t be based solely on stats. Experience, chemistry, coach-ability, and clutch play will all be factors in determining the final roster selected by Hockey Canada. Stats don’t always show the true picture and a number of notable Canadian-born players, like Jason Speeza, struggled with injuries this short regular season.

A camp with potential Olympic players will likely take place late this summer. The 2009 camp, which was in Calgary, happened over a period of four days in August with 46 players hitting the ice.

The final roster will have to be submitted five to six weeks before the start of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

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Unforgettable memories as Kim St-Pierre calls it a career

After three Olympic gold medals, five world hockey championship first place finishes and a lifetime of memories, goalie Kim St-Pierre is hanging up her skates for good.

And what a career she’s had. St-Pierre ends her Hockey Canada tenure with a 1.17 GAA, .939 save percentage, record 29 shutouts and a remarkable 64 wins.

Kim St-Pierre (WikiCommons/Jeff)
Kim St-Pierre (WikiCommons/Jeff)

She backstopped Canada to Olympic gold medals in 2002, 2006 and most recently, 2010. Although she didn’t see much playing time in Vancouver, she proved to be a mentor and leader for the emerging Shannon Szabados. It’s a role that helped St-Pierre’s career come full circle, because she herself was taken under the wing of Manon Rheaume and other veterans in 1998 when she joined the national program. Some of St-Pierre’s most dazzling saves came at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. The unforgettable 3-2 victory over the USA was marred by controversial reffing, as St-Pierre and the Canadians wouldn’t let being nearly shorthanded for the entire game prevent them from capturing our country’s first ever gold medal in women’s hockey.

She put together an amazing 25 save performance in that final. Many of them came in the first period, when Canada survived two lengthy 5 on 3s by the USA. They were resilient and showed the nearly 10,000 spectators on hand the true meaning of playing with heart.

Wayne Gretzky and the Canadian men’s team were on hand to watch the tenacity of that squad. Truthfully, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say the women’s performance was motivation for them, as they too went on to capture gold versus the USA in 2002.

Although she’s now moving on from international play, no one will ever forget the impact she’s had on women’s hockey not only in Canada, but across the world.

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