By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
TORONTO, Ont. – The Hockey Hall of Fame seemed like an obvious choice.
When all of the Canadian Women’s National Team hopefuls came to Toronto for a week-long selection camp in May before the final 18-man roster was chosen for the Pan Am Games, several players decided to wander over to the national landmark during some downtime.
Little did Ella Matteucci and her baseball teammates know that they would be running into her Clarkson hockey squad there, forever enshrined into the Hall after the Golden Knights won their first NCAA championship last year, the defenseman’s picture first spotted on the wall by another member of the national team.
“Our hockey team was good,” Matteucci said. “We had a rough start in my first two years, but in my third year we captured our first NCAA championship. That was awesome; such a great feeling. This year we came close, we made top eight and lost out, but we had such a great group of girls there, and they’re all supporting me through this process too with baseball.”
Not long after graduating, the 22-year-old was named to Canada’s final roster for the Pan Am Games, the first time women’s baseball has ever been a part of a multi-sport event, and she couldn’t have been more excited just to get another chance to don the red-and-white uniform.
“It’s been awesome,” Matteucci said. “Obviously I’m one of the younger players, but just being able to put the Canadian jersey on in the summertime, it’s so special, especially going overseas and playing in World Cups, and even in the tournaments where we’ve had two Team Canada teams.
“It’s just such a great opportunity and it’s such a great nation, we’ve just got to represent it right. Especially at the Pan Am Games, because it’s one of the biggest sporting events Canada has put on, so it’s really big for everyone.”
In Matteucci’s third year with Team Canada, the tournament is just her second international event, missing out on the 2012 Women’s Baseball World Cup in Edmonton, Alta., because of her hockey obligations, but making it to last year’s World Cup in Miyazaki, Japan with the squad.
“Japan was my first World Cup,” the native of Fruitvale, BC said. “I wasn’t in Edmonton because I was off playing hockey at school, so I wasn’t able to attend that, but it was such an exciting experience. Especially as a pitcher, and my first game was against Japan, so that was a little nerve-wracking, but other than that it was awesome.”
Matteucci’s versatility makes her an easy choice for the team, with the abiity to play almost any position on the diamond. In Japan, she spent time on the mound, catching in the bullpen, and in the outfield, bringing her hockey mentality with her to the diamond every time she stepped on the field.
“She’s the type of girl who wants to play every game,” Team Canada manager Andre Lachance said. “The number of times we watched her play with Team BC told us how much of a competitor she is. The fact that she plays competitive hockey also reflects on the field in baseball as well. She’s a fighter and she wants to contribute all the time.”
The west coaster never missed a matchup at Clarkson, setting a new school record after playing in 154 games over her four years of post-secondary school. While she enjoyed every minute she got on the ice, diamonds have always been Matteucci’s best friend.
“Oh, absolutely,” she said. “Hockey’s my winter sport, but my pride is just in the game of baseball. I’ve played it since I was four years old and I’ve been playing hockey since I was six, so it was kind of my first sport; my first love. I’m just excited for the opportunity to be able to represent Canada in the Pan Am Games.”
There was a moment of panic for the utility player during the selection camp in May when she thought she might not get that chance. In one of Canada’s exhibition matchups early in the week, Matteucci dislocated her shoulder sliding into second base and didn’t know if she had done enough to make the squad, or if she would be back in time to be a Pan Am participant.
“It was an awful feeling,” Matteucci said. “Your heart drops, your stomach drops, your shoulder drops, because it’s dislocated. My first thought was thank God it’s not my throwing arm, and then my second thought was just wow, I want to play … Then the third thought is just getting it better as fast as you can, figuring out what’s wrong, heading to the hospital, getting it clicked back in, and getting right back to it.”
Lachance added: “I know she was disappointed. Knowing her, she wants to be on the field all the time, whether it’s pitching, infield, outfield, catching. She does a lot with the provincial team and she plays a lot, so that was very difficult for her obviously.”
Matteucci did get right back to it, recovering in plenty of time to be in top shape for the Games, where Canada’s squad has notched three straight victories to secure themselves a medal. The team faces its toughest competition on Friday, however, matching up against the Americans in what could be a preview of the gold medal game on Sunday.
“Our big competition is the United States,” Matteucci said. “We also look towards them, the games against them at the World Cup are good and whenever we play them in off years are competitive. We’re a big threat this year, and I’m excited to see how it turns out.”