In anticipation of this week’s matches against Argentina at Spooky Nook Sports, I thought I’d give some insight into the history of our contentious yet budding rivalry. Games will be held February 13th (6:30pm), 14th (4pm), 16th (6:30pm), and 18th (6:30pm). Check your local TV listing for details on the live broadcast.
Our rivalry with Argentina, it’s like a modern-day adaptation of David and Goliath, only our version picks up in the aftermath of the epic showdown - the 2011 Pan American Game Final - and comes with a slight plot twist, Goliath, Argentina in our case, didn’t vanish after we became victors.
With each contest, the rivalry grows. Here’s what you need to know:
Argentina, ranked #2 in the world, is one of the most dominant nations, alongside the Netherlands and Australia, in international hockey. Their play, typical of its South American roots, is tenacious and energetic, seductively skillful, blazing with fanciful flashes of flare and fire. The crown of Las Leonas, as they are colloquially known in Argentina, glints with the gold of World Championships, the silver and bronzes of Olympics.
USA, ranked #8, is one of the emerging nations on the world hockey scene. Traditionally known for our physical prowess and relentless discipline, our typically brutish play has been technically and tactically refined in recent years. The sophistication enhances our inherent physical abilities and mental fortitude, making us, in my opinion, one of the most dynamic and interesting forces in the game right now.
The storyline hasn’t always been so riveting. In fact, until a few years ago, it was downright predictable. The trailer would’ve read something like this:
America, dutifully playing the role of pesky, Pan-American under study, valiantly takes the field to overcome the seemingly invincible Las Leonas. Chest’s puffing with the forged bravado of belief, the Americans’ style, physical and resilient, keeps the contest close, yet inevitably, the Argentines always pull away victorious.
Argentina had an edge on us. We’d try, try, try, but deep down, I think we questioned whether we belonged. Something needed to change. We needed to reformulate our strategy, figure out what was holding us back, and do something about it.
Our task was to bring Goliath, in our own minds, down to size. Because, you see, here’s the thing about David and Goliath, Goliath so believed his own invincibility, that David was, to him, a mere nuisance. Yet, David didn’t buy the bluster. He saw Goliath for what he was, a massive, skilled, trained, yet most importantly, a mortal fighter. David called Goliath’s bluff.
For years, we’d been buying into the Argentine bluff, trying, and failing, to outdo them at their own game. David didn’t beat Goliath with brute force. We had to find a way to create an even playing field, that meant playing to our strengths – using our discipline to win the small battles, and our resilience to stay in the moment, resisting the urge of getting caught up in the Argentine storyline.
Eventually, the mental block began to unravel. It didn’t happen overnight. It took patience. We lost many more games, but with each loss we learned, and in time we were able to take the field without the weight of the albatross around our necks. We were free to play the game.
In 2011, we had an historic victory over the Las Leonas in the Pan American Games Final. Since then, the scorecard has been pretty even. We won in the 2012 Olympics, tied in pool play at the 2014 World Cup, and in our last meeting, for the World Cup Bronze Medal, we lost 2-1.
With a new cast of characters, the upcoming games will open a new chapter in our ever-evolving rivalry. As they seek to stay atop the world rankings, and we yearn to climb the ladder, much still remains to be written. The only difference now is that Goliath knows the name of David. It’s the United States of America.
Courtesy of Rachel Dawson and Fig Lancaster: http://bit.ly/1zGnDAx