PHOTO: Canada’s Junior World Cup Squad faces West Vancouver in an exhibition game in West Vancouver, British Columbia on October 5, 2016
With four of six exhibition games in the books, Canada’s Under-21 men have two games remaining to make their mark before Junior World Cup team selection.
“Guys are pushing each other and being encouraging but at the same time everyone knows it’s crunch time and it’s time for selection,” says forward Amrit Sidhu. “The competition level is really high.”
The six game stretch wraps up this week when the Canadian Junior World Cup Squad faces the Vancouver Hawks on Wednesday and the Canadian Senior Development Squad on Friday.
The games will be followed up with Men’s National Program Identification and Carding Camp the week of October 17th, before the Junior World Cup team is named the week after.
“It’s pretty tough. We’re all putting everything in,” says Michael Mackenzie, who was on the outside looking in during the Junior Pan American Championship – the World Cup qualifier – in May. “All those guys that made the team are trying to keep that spot and then everyone else is pushing them.”
The 18 players who represented Canada in the Junior Pan Ams in Toronto last spring have been through this process before – and have even seen success through their initial selection – but Junior coach Inderpal Sehmbi has gone on record to say he is not tied to selecting those same players for the World Cup and that others have shown significant signs of improvement since.
What the makeup of the final Junior World Cup roster will be is unclear, but what is certain is that Canada’s best will be selected to wear the red-and-white in India come December; making these last two weeks before selection even more important.
“I think the effort is good for me,” says Mackenzie. “I just have to keep pushing and if I keep pushing I can see myself making the team.”
The high stakes nature of the exhibition matches are intensified by the fact that the Junior men are facing stiff senior competition.
Each game and each opponent is filled with current and former Senior National players, including members of Canada’s 2016 Olympic men’s field hockey team.
But that’s by design. And, as Sidhu explains, the Junior men will reap the benefits in the near future.
“It’s huge for us to learn, just the way they open up spaces, the way they communicate. And just the things it takes to be good at a senior level,” says the native of Abbotsford, British Columbia.
“We’re getting better as a unit, but there are still a lot of things we can better at and cleanup. It’s good to make these mistakes in these types of games so we don’t make them at the Junior World Cup.”