When Canada’s men take to the field for the first time since the 2016 Olympic Games at World League Round 2 in Trinidad and Tobago on March 25, they will do so with some new faces.
Not only does the 18-man roster feature a few faces that were not at the Olympics – including the likes of John Smythe and James Kirkpatrick – but it also consists of two familiar faces to the Junior – not Senior – program: Balraj Panesar and Brandon Pereira.
Panesar and Pereira are both coming off participating in the 2016 Junior World Cup in India, and shortly after representing Canada at Junior hockey’s biggest competition, were named to Canada’s senior Men’s National Team for the first time in January.
“Had both those guys not been going to a Junior World Cup, where we wanted them to play, maybe they would have played (on the senior level) last year at some stage” says Men’s National Team head coach Anthony Farry. “I think their progression, and the timing of what they’re doing is perfect now.”
In addition to being a part of the Junior program, both were part of the men’s Senior Development Squad last year, so training with the seniors is not something new.
But playing in a senior international competition – let alone one with implications like World League 2 – is fairly foreign to the duo.
Panesar has played in just three senior matches, all back in 2014 on a tour in New Zealand, but has gone to two Junior World Cups.
“It’s a good feeling, after being on the junior team for about 3-4 years,” he says. “It feels good to make that step on to the Senior Team. Nothing is guaranteed. It doesn’t mean we’re here to stay, we have to keep working at it.”
Pereira has also been to two Junior World Cups and will be making his senior debut when Canada hits the field in Trinidad and Tobago.
“It’s a great jump,” says Pereira of his time training full-time with the men since the beginning of the year. “It’s good to see the game being played at such a fast pace.
“It’s emphasized throughout our training, our transitions need to be faster, the whole game needs the played at a faster pace.”
Both have served as co-captains in recent Junior tournaments, and were effectively the veterans of the Junior team.
Now, the dynamic changes, as they take to the field with Olympians, players with hundreds of internationals caps, and some teammates ten years their senior in age.
“A few of the guys have retired after the Olympics, and a lot of the guys have been talking about the younger guys pushing for selection and making the daily training environment more competitive,” says Panesar, who joins his older brother Sukhi – a 2016 Olympian – on the Senior Team. “I think a little bit of injection of youth is always good for the squad.”
And while their addition to the Senior National Team and the first competition of the year seems like a natural progression for the two, Farry is quick to point out that their inclusion is based purely on ability.
“The big thing is their selection is based on merit,” he says. “It’s not because they’re young guys or anything like that. It’s because they deserve to be there.”
“We’re not having to build them up in terms speed or capacity or understanding. They’re good enough right now to be in there and they fully deserve their opportunity. “
That opportunity comes at World League 2, where Canada will be looking to advance to the World League Semi-Final and continue its journey to the 2018 World Cup. And for Panesar and Pereira, it’s the beginning of what they hope is a journey that takes the far beyond that competition and to a long and fruitful career at the senior international level.
Canada opens World League Round 2 on March 25 against the United States at 1:15pm (local time) in Tacarigua, Trinidad and Tobago. Click here for Canada’s full schedule, results, and game recaps.