PHOTO: April 3, 2016 – Canada’s men warmup at their first training session in Ipoh, Malaysia ahead of the Azlan Shah Cup.
In an Olympic year, nothing is business as usual. But as the Canadian men’s field hockey team inches closer to the 2016 Games in Rio, their approach is very business-like.
That’s especially true for veteran defender Jagdish Gill, who has battled his way back into the Canadian lineup after two injury plagued years, which culminated in him missing out on playing in the Pan American Games in his hometown of Toronto.
“I was feeling upset, but there were no other options,” he says. “I was just preparing myself mentally to move forward in the future and do well.”
The approach was simple and is very much like the one the Canadian men are taking in the lead up to the Rio Olympics.
“If there are ten steps on a ladder, you can’t go for the tenth step,” says the 31 year-old Gill, who is slated to play in his 50th international match for Canada during the upcoming Azlan Shah Cup. “You have to go step by step. The main focus is Malaysia. We want to do well there and go forward according to that.”
The 25th edition of the Azlan Shah Cup, which begins April 6 in Ipoh, Malaysia, is a benchmark event for the Canadian men.
Not only does it give the coaching staff another look at athletes in competition ahead of Canada’s Olympic roster selection, but it also gives the team another look – in person and on the field – at their Olympic opponents.
At the Azlan Shah Cup, Canada will play Australia, India, and New Zealand, three teams that are going to the Olympic with the Canadian and one – India – which will be in Canada’s pool in Brazil.
But the Azlan Shah is not all about the Olympics.
Athletes like Richard Hildreth, who also missed out on the Pan American Games in Toronto, knows that it can’t be if he wants to end up in Rio.
“It gives you a sense of perspective,” he says of being left of the roster for a major event like the Pan Ams. “What it’s like being out, how tough that feeling is, and not wanting to feel that again gives you that extra push.”
That kind of mindset is what allows the Canadian men to stay focused on the task at hand – in Malaysia and as the Olympic approach.
“I think it’s important to kind of enjoy the lead up as well, not just wanting to make the team for Rio,” says Hildreth, one of Canada’s most experience active players with 138 matches played.
“Not being selected for stuff last year helps you kind of appreciate every training with these guys and every game and every tournament you get to go to.”
Canada opens the Azlan Shah Cup on April 6 at 4:00pm (12:00am PT/3:00am ET) against Pakistan.