With Commonwealth Games less than two months away, head coach, Paul Bundy, has some difficult decisions to make.
The Men’s National Team, 22 strong, returned this week from Malaga, Spain where they were training and competing for the last two weeks. According to Bundy, that number has to drop to 18 for the Commonwealth Games in April and the players aren’t making it easy for him and the MNT coaching staff.
“We intentionally took a bigger roster of 22 athletes so we could rotate guys around a bit,” Bundy said. “At the end of the day, we are only taking 18 to Commonwealth Games so as much as this was a nice tour to start the year, it was also a selection tour.”
The 14-day training tour culminated in a five-nations tournament featuring a round robin with Spain, Ireland, USA and Scotland. Canada (11) went 2-0-2, defeating USA (26) and Scotland (23) and dropping games to Ireland (10) and Spain (8). Bundy said the opportunity to go on a training tour that includes a competition aspect is extremely valuable at this juncture in the year.
“It’s really nice to get everyone, including all the European-based players, all on the field together. We treated this, first and foremost as a training tour. The results weren’t the priority last week,” Bundy said.
Despite results not being the primary focus, Bundy admits the win against Scotland was a good statement leading into the Commonwealth Games where Canada will face Scotland again in their pool play. For veteran defender, Gordon Johnston, the tour was a good opportunity to get the whole team back on the same page after five months without official competition.
“It’s been a long time since we have all been on the field together in a competition setting,” Johnston said. “It was just really nice to get back in the groove and be fully engaged and focused for those two weeks.”
It was really nice to get back in the groove. – Gordon Johnston
The team came off a week of intense training and dropped the first game of the tournament to 10th-ranked Ireland. Johnston admits the team was slow out of the gates but said the team bounced back and raised their level for the rest of the event.
“We started a little slow. Most of the guys have been playing club-level hockey so it was a bit of a shock to the system,” he said. “But it didn’t take long to get our game back to an international standard. We definitely built and improved throughout the event.”
Forward, Matt Sarmento echoed Johnston’s sentiments and said it was really nice to get everyone back together for the tour. Sarmento, who plays for KHC Leuven (Belgium) in the Audi Hockey League, represents one of the off-shored members of Team Canada. For Sarmento, who doesn’t get the daily repetitions with his national program teammates, this tour came at a great time.
“It was awesome to get everyone out on the field together and start to reform those connections. We really focused on that team cohesion. It was a great start to 2018,” Sarmento said.
Both Johnston and Sarmento said the team atmosphere off the field plays a big part in how the team performs during training and competition. According to the two veteran players, between card games, golf, shooting hoops and team meals, the players gel very well off the field.
“We all get along very well off the field and it definitely translates well to on-field success,” Sarmento said. “I think this tour really set the standard and was a great fundamental start to a big year for us.”
The team is back on home soil and the mindset now shifts to preparing for Commonwealth Games. Bundy plans to announce the final CWG roster at the end of February. The next two months represent a major training block before the multisport games in Australia. The head coach didn’t mince words when he said this upcoming training block will be hard.
“Moving forward, we need to work on our physical fitness, team chemistry and really nailing our systems,” he said. “We experimented a bit with certain styles of play in order to see what will work well at the Commonwealth Games. This upcoming training block is vital in our preparation for Commonwealth Games.”