With Canada’s men’s and women’s senior field hockey teams ready to play in their biggest and toughest tournaments of the year so far – the Azlan Shah Cup and Hawke’s Bay Cup respectively – it is important the teams stay as sharp as possible in the lead up.
While each team has made one trip out of country for training and matches since the start of the year – the men to South Africa Training in Vancouver in January and the women to San Diego in early February – the better part of the last two month has ben spent training in Vancouver.
Practice is great – and necessary – but players love playing games.
“Games are really important,” says Women’s National Team and West Vancouver Millionaires goalkeeper Kaitlyn Williams. “It’s an opportunity to work on things you need to work and in a different setting. It’s always unpredictable; you don’t really know what’s going to happen. Bounces happen, touches happen. It’s a good way to stay sharp.”
Staying sharp is one reason a large contingent from the men’s and women’s Canadian National Teams have been playing in Vancouver’s men’s and women’s field hockey leagues.
This year’s Vancouver Women’s Field Hockey Association Premier Division consisted of a sizeable group of Women’s National Team Players.
In fact, on semifinal weekend alone the four teams in the playoff featured 12 current Canadian internationals. And some retired ones too.
Safe to say bragging rights are on the line.
“Definitely some smack talk going on,” says Holly Stewart, who has been playing for West Vancouver since she was a kid and started up again after her university career.
“It’s definitely competitive, but at the end of the day we’re all still teammates.”
The West Vancouver Millionaires and the Vancouver Meralomas went on to the final, with Stewart’s Millionaires coming out on top.
And while winning a championship – and against your friends and teammates to boot – is certainly a point of pride, as Men’s National Team captain Scott Tupper notes, it’s important look at the bigger picture.
“I’m a firm believer that players progress and develop through a club system,” says Tupper, a member of the West Vancouver Millionaires men’s team which made it to this year’s finals. “Clubs are integral to the development of the sport and to the development of players, and the pool that you want to put into the National Team.”
Tupper, who has played club hockey across the world – in Germany and Belgium – says for Canada to continue progress as a field hockey nation, a healthy the club system is essential.
“Every great country in the world has a good club system behind it,” he adds. “It’s really important for us to play in it and take it seriously.”
And they do.
“It’s always good to play games,” says Canadian defender Ben Martin. “No matter what the level, playing an actual match does give you something different that practice can. And also what’s nice with playing with clubs is that you get a chance to maybe to do bit more.”
Since his childhood hockey days., Vancouver’s Martin has been playing for the Vancouver Hawks – a team also chalk full of current and former National Team players, and which also made it to this year’s finals and were the eventual winners.
Over the years, club hockey has definitely helped Martin – and his teammates and competitors – develop, and in recent years, stay sharp when not on tour.
But it’s not all about winning, tactics, or development.
“First and foremost, it’s a lot of fun,” Martin says. “It’s fun playing with your friends and playing games is always awesome. I enjoy it.”