PHOTO: Adam Froese celebrates his shootout winning goal against Malaysia at the Champions Challenge in Kuantan (Courtesy of FIH/Helmi Dawi)
Whenever Canada plays in a tournament with many of the top teams in the world, there are always interesting sidebar storylines above and beyond tournament implications.
This year Sultan’s Azlan Shah Cup is no exception.
Here are some storylines to follow as Canada makes its way through the tournament:
When Canada opens the tournament against Pakistan on April 6, it will be the first time the two teams meet since the 2010 World Cup of Hockey in Delhi, India. Canada and Pakistan played in the 11th-12th match, with Canada coming out on top by a score of 3-2.
Six players from this year’s Azlan Shah Cup roster played in that game. They were Scott Tupper, Richard Hildreth, Mark Pearson, Keegan Pereira, Taylor Curran and David Carter. Philip Wright, a current member of the Men’s National Program, also played in that match.
Canada and Pakistan open the Azlan Shah Cup on April 6 at 4:00pm in Malaysia (1:00am PT/4:00am ET in Canada).
The match schedule for the 2016 Olympic Games has yet to be confirmed but the pools are widely known. Canada plays in Pool B with the Netherlands, Germany, Argentina, Ireland, and India, which means when Canada and India play at the Azlan Shah Cup on April 10, it will be a preview of what might be to come in Rio.
The Indians have left a few key players at home, but that won’t make the match much easier for the Canadians, as India is a perennially dangerous team in men’s hockey.
The two teams last met at last year’s Azlan Shah, with India claiming a 5-3 victory. Canada’s goals came from Oliver Scholfield, David Jameson, and Jagdish Gill, who was born in Calcutta, India before moving to Canada.
While New Zealand is also going to the Olympics, they have been drawn into Pool A – opposite to Canada’s Pool B – and won’t face Canada at the Olympics until at least the quarterfinal. But that doesn’t mean the Azlan Shah match won’t have any intensity.
Canada and New Zealand played in a heated and highly meaningful match last June at the Hockey World League Semifinal in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
With a potential spot at the 2016 Olympics on the line, the game went into a fourteen round shoot, with Canada triumphing on an Adam Froese winning goal. David Carter made 8 saves in the shootout, and Gordie Johnston converted on multiple attempts to keep Canada alive.
The win propelled Canada to Olympic qualification, while New Zealand had to wait anxiously overing the coming months before their bert was also solidified.
Canada and New Zealand play at 6:00pm on April 7 in Malaysia (3:00am PT/6:00am ET in Canada).
Malaysia match has potential to be headliner for Canada
They are worlds apart geographically, but over the years Canada and Malaysia have managed to strike up a rivalry in men’s field hockey.
The animosity dates back to the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lampur when emotions got the better of the two teams and a game turned physical after the match.
More recently, Canada and Malaysia have found themselves in more emotional and meaningful matches in Malaysia. Last year at the Azlan Shah Cup, after Malaysia won a round robin game between the nations 4-1, Canada beat the host team in a shootout to finish 5th, handing the Malaysians a last place finish.
In 2014, another shootout win over Malaysia at the Champions Challenge in Kuantan sent Canada to the final and its best finish ever at the tournament. Adam Froese also got the shootout winner in that match. This came after Canada.
Canada and Malaysia meet again on April 12 at 8:35pm in Malaysia (5:35am PT/8:35am ET in Canada).
Follow Canada at the Azlan Shah Cup with full schedule and recaps here. Keep tuned in to Field Hockey Canada on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for the latest updates, photos, and videos of the tournament.