Originally written by Sarah Juggins for panamhockey.org. Photo by Lorena Angus.
Margaret Pham is a rising star in the Canadian hockey team. She was 15 years old when selected for the junior national squad for an U21 match against the USA. She says of that experience: “I was so nervous and was afraid to make a mistake but I reminded myself to work hard and be proud to represent my country. Wearing the red and white is now one of my favourite feelings.”
That match was in the USA women’s team spiritual home in Pennsylvania, which added to the intensity of Margaret’s debut match. She says: “I remember playing my first couple minutes against USA and thinking, ‘wow this is what international competition is like’. The game was a high intensity and very fast pace. It was a shock but after that, I knew I wanted to play at that level.”
With the Pan Am Junior Championship just around the corner, Margaret will have her opportunity to really shine in the red and white of Canada as they seek to prove the giant steps the nation’s hockey teams have been making in recent years. With the senior men off to the Olympics and the senior women winning through to the HWL semi-finals last year, there is a positive vibe around Team Canada at the moment.
With only a few weeks to go, Margaret’s excitement about the forthcoming event is palpable: “I am excited and nervous and am not really sure what to expect, as it will be my first international tournament. I can’t wait to get back with the team and play outdoor hockey again.”
And that is a salient point when it comes to realising how hard the young player has worked to force her way into the team. Margaret lives on the eastern side of Canada in Ontario, where the main form of hockey takes place on ice and Margaret spends a lot of her time training indoors because of the deep snow fall. However, she is far from alone in this respect, with 11 of the squad named for the tournament in Trinidad and Tobago hailing from Ontario.
A typical day for the teenager takes the form of school in the morning – she is a 12th grade student – from 8am to 2.30pm. She usually goes to the gym after school and works mainly on cardio and some strength training, then the weekends are filled with two intense hockey training sessions.
Margaret is encountering a steep learning curve at the moment. She was part of the squad that recently played test matches in Chile, an experience that she says has made a real impact. “Going on the Chile tour was the first time I had left North America and I got to experience a completely different culture from where I’m from.”
She is also learning just what it means to be part of a travelling squad, where you get to spend all day, every day with your teammates. “Being on tour and spending every moment with your teammates is so much fun. It’s quite a comedown when the tour ends because we are all like one big family.”
Like athletes in any sport, becoming an elite player has inevitable consequences. For Margaret, it has changed her plans for her future, meaning she will take a different university route to the route she had planned and, ultimately, a different career path.
“Becoming an international player has changed my whole future. It has been influential on me choosing a different path for my university then I had originally planned. I was looking at playing in the states on scholarship, as this is primarily the best option to continue playing at the highest level possible. But, since I was introduced to the national program, I decided that playing on the Canadian national team is my main goal. So I decided the best way to achieve that goal is to centralize with the national team in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“I was accepted to the University of British Columbia for the kinesiology program and I will be moving to BC as soon as I finish high school to train all summer. I am really excited and I know I am making the right decision.”
Certainly, for the foreseeable future, Margaret’s attention and focus is very much hockey-shaped. She is realistic and knows that as a new member to the squad this is very much a ‘honeymoon’ period, but, she says: “I am still young and just beginning in the program, but after capturing a glimpse of what it’s like to represent your country with teammates, there’s nothing else I’d rather do.
“I know there will be up and downs along the way, which are necessary to getting anywhere. So I sincerely believe that if I work hard, all the sacrifices and disappointments will be rewarding.”
With less than three weeks to go before the Junior Pan Am Championship bursts into life, all the players are finding that hockey is becoming the only thing they can think about. As a student, who spends six hours a day at school, finding any kind of balance between school, hockey and social life must be pretty tough.
Margaret agrees. “It’s difficult to find a balance because I do spend the majority of the day at school. Time management is very important to balance training, school, and fun. After school, I make time to work-out and do my homework. It’s also important to give myself breaks and in my spare time, I like to hang out with friends, go out to eat, Nordic ski, and chill at home. I do enjoy very much spending time with my teammates whether at practice or in non-training environments.”
When it comes to the opposition, Canada have the prospect of meeting Argentina in the cross-over semi-finals if other matches go true to form. In past tournaments, only one team has ever beaten the blue and white team – Chile in the semi-finals in 2008 – but this is a new era of hockey and Margaret has high hopes of a spot in the final and a subsequent appearance at the Junior World Cup. “As a team, we definitely want to play in the final. It will be difficult but ultimately, we want to qualify to JWC and I think it’s possible. Personally, I want to be able to compete at an international pace and execute on the forward lines as much as possible.”
Margaret, who plays her hockey for A&C Field Hockey Academy, is not averse to the odd superstition, not least her pre-match ritual: “Before each game, I take time to rest and have a snack; usually my favourite cereal, Vector. I go over my personal objectives and responsibilities for the game. Then I like to listen to music and get pumped up with the team in the change room.”
So, with three weeks to go, a heap of training under her belt and a box of Vectors in her suitcase, Margaret is all ready to embark on her first overseas hockey tournament and the biggest adventure of her life so far.