Ask Scott Tupper how he’s reached two-hundred international field hockey games played for Canada and he’ll tell you he’s been “a bit lucky.”
This statement isn’t untrue, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
While Tupper – like any other athlete who has enjoyed a long and fruitful career in sport – has certainly needed luck to be on his side to avoid major injury during his career, and for the timing of being mentored by Canada’s most experienced field hockey players, he has also done his fair share of work to reach this elusive milestone.
When Tupper takes to the field for the 200th time in Canada’s World League Round 2 quarterfinal match versus Italy on Thursday morning in Chula Vista, California, he’ll do so knowing his actions are just as much a part of his success as luck.
After playing in his first senior international matches in 2005, Scott was not named to the Men’s National Team in 2006.
The former AAA ice hockey player for the Vancouver Thunderbirds, who was only nineteen at the time he was left of the roster, could have easily been turned off from the sport by the experience.
But he wasn’t.
“I was in the weight room a lot,” he says of his year-off. “I put on a lot of muscle and worked hard on my skills.”
“I’ve always said it was something that maybe made me better.”
In 2007, coaches – specifically Louis Mendonca – took note and selected Scott to the National Team. And he never looked back.
“Louis selected me when a senior player couldn’t go on the first training tour,” he remembers. “I was a little bit lucky for that, but worked hard and I guess I made an impression on him because he continued to select me after that.”
That determination, that dedication, that fire within pretty much sums up what Scott Tupper is all about.
He has gone on to be a part of Canadian teams that have competed at nearly every major tournament field hockey has to offer: Pan American Games, Commonwealth Games, World Cups and Olympic Games.
(Photo: Yan Huckendubler)
In 2008, as a twenty-one year-old, Tupper played at the Beijing Olympics alongside many Canadian veterans such as Canada’s all-time cap leader Ken Pereira (348).
None had more of an impact on Tupper’s career though than Rob Short, who played in 346 international matches for Canada. The two roomed together in Beijing and Tupper was able to learn as much off the field from Short as he did on it.
“I’ve learned a lot from him, mostly about what representing Canada meant to him and the pride he took in that,” Tupper says. “It’s something I respected a lot and try and carry over into what I’m doing.”
When Tupper joined a team full of veterans like Short, he wasn’t out of place. In fact, he fit in right away.
“He just sort of brought of maturity at a young age which you don’t see a lot of in our sport, or any sport,” says Short. “As soon as he stepped into it, he seemed to understand what his role was but he also had this quiet leadership ability.”
When veterans like Short and Pereira moved on, that leadership ability was quickly formalized when Tupper was given the captaincy.
“He’s a smart guy, and an awesome player,” Short adds. “We knew he would one day be a captain for Canada and there as no doubt about that pretty much from the moment he stepped in there.”
In his role as captain for the past several years, Tupper has learned to approach the game a bit differently.
“I think you take an added responsibility but its kind of nice. I enjoy it,” he says. “It makes you think about your own role and the team a little bit more holistically.”
“You have to balance your individual wants and desires with what is best for the team.”
(Photo: Yan Huckendubler)
For Tupper, who is in his fourth season of playing club hockey in Europe – the first two in Germany, followed by two in Belgium – it’s always team first.
“It’s no secret that Scott is probably the backbone of this team in more ways than one,” says Anthony Farry, head coach of the Canadian Men’s National Team.
“He’s more so the guy that actions are louder than words and now he’s really starting to fill out the verbal side of his leadership too in terms of bringing guys along with his talk.”
Where he’s taking them is exactly where he wants to go with his own career: back to the Olympic Games.
“While I played a lot of minutes when I was younger, I wasn’t in a leadership role quite as of yet,” he says. “It would be really something that I’d be proud of to make that transition and be one of the leaders and help take this group to where we want to go.”
As Canada attempts to finish in the top three at World League Round 2 and move on to World League Round 3 for a shot at Olympic qualification, Tupper is focused on the immediate task in front of him.
Reflecting on his career, and the 199 matches that came before Thursday’s quarterfinal isn’t quite a priority. And for a guy that has always been about the game on the pitch, that shouldn’t be a surprise.
“I remember being worried or thinking about getting my first cap and being a little bit infatuated with it,” he remembers. “As I get older it’s not really about how many I play as long as I’m playing well.”
And with a bit of luck, he’ll have many more chances to do just that.