A rivalry like no other, it’s always tense when Canada lines up against its little sibling to the south.
With a disrupted international calendar, it was hard to tell where our national teams stood on the international stage, that was until we lined up in Racine, Wisconsin, in August.
The men were up first, intent on ending a period of American dominance.
The Northwind started their match against the USA Revolution sluggishly, kicking into the wind in the first quarter, but overcame a two-goal deficit in the first quarter to lead at the main break by a goal 22-16.
But the US took advantage of the scoring end in the third quarter, and Canada trailed 23-31 going into the final break.
Our boys rallied, to kick two goals to one in the final quarter, but it just wasn’t enough on enemy territory. The Northwind did Canada proud, but fell just short – 39-36.
It was a rougher game for the development squad, with the depth of American depth shining through. Canada never relented, but were overwhelmed by an impressive USA – 13-82.
AFL Canada executive director Jacob Haeusler said he was proud of the Canadians’ performances.
“While a three-point loss is devastating, it shows we can match it with the top teams, and our men’s program is progressing well.”
Two weeks later, our women’s teams went to battle, with Canada keen to continue their dominance over the Americans.
Northern Lights head coach Tricia Rolfe said nerves were high ahead of the match.
“To follow up the past leadership of the previous coach, Jason Arnold, and all of his success. They were tough shoes to fill,” Rolfe said.
“Six years without international competition; we had no idea where we stood on the international stage.
“The thing that calmed my nerves was the women. I knew we had amazing athletes. I had confidence in each of them and we only brought people up to the national side if we felt they were ready to play that level of football.”
It was a low-scoring start, with Canada kicking the only goal of the first half. But the Americans stepped up their game, stepped up their pressure and managed to eke out a four-point lead at the third-quarter break.
“The players, the coaching staff and support staff never got down on themselves, they never gave up, everyone just kept working together,” Rolfe said.
“In the close, hard-fought games, everyone has to think quickly on their feet.”
Two unanswered goals in the final quarter ensured a Canadian victory – and that the streak over the Americans was extended to six (including matches in the International Cup).
“Their skills, support, tackling and fitness were amazing to witness,” Rolfe said.
“When the US got up in the third quarter, we saw what the Lights were made of. They reacted with grace, poise and increased their connections with their teammates.
“They came back out onto that field ready to play the game that they had been training for the past two years and they did it!
“They wanted to bring that cup back to Canada and they did.”
Quebec Saints stalwart Aimee Legault was voted the game’s best on ground.
The Northern Lights win followed a tough win by the women’s development side – the Midnight Suns.
In a low-scoring affair, the development match became a game of inches. A lone goal from Nova Scotia’s Lacey Bellefontaine, earned Canada the early lead. Leading by less than a goal throughout the last quarter, the atmosphere was tense, where a slip in defence could have meant the end. But the Suns showed their mettle and held on for a 13-10 victory.
Hamilton Wildcats’ Lise Kiefer was voted best on ground for the match.
“It was incredible. The Midnight Suns were work horses on that field. They supported each other, they helped each other and they had fun,” Rolfe said.
Our Northwind and Northern Lights already have their eyes on their next competitive bout in 2024. The best national teams from the Americas and Europe will be visiting North America for the Trans-Atlantic Cup.
Story by Shane Hendrickson,
AFL Canada Communications Coordinator.