The field hockey pitches across Canada are still be thawing out as March signals the shift from winter to spring. March also signals the real beginning to competition and tour season. Field Hockey Canada is excited to be sending a mass of men’s Junior Development athletes out on tour in March to Mexico, Netherlands and Belgium.
Canada is sending a Youth (u18) National Team to Guadalajara, Mexico to compete in the Youth Pan American Championships from March 12-17, 2018. The team is led by head coach, Geoff Matthews and Assistant Coach Shankar Premakanthan. The nine-player traveling roster has representation from four provinces, making it truly feel like a national team.
The top two finishing nations will qualify for the Youth Olympic Games, taking place in October in Argentina. Canada is a top team at the tournament alongside Argentina, Brazil and Jamaica. According to Matthews, he feels the team has what it takes to qualify but isn’t taking anything for granted.
“It will be vital for us to start each game at 100 per cent. That comes from our mental preparation and discipline leading into each game,” he said. “For us, it will be about being professional about how we approach each game of the event.”
The nature of the competition is dictated by the rules of youth 5v5 hockey. The games are short, the field is smaller and restricted by short boards around the edges. According to Matthews, he feels the Canadian team is well-suited to the environment and hopes it spurs creativity throughout the event.
“We have creative players and we encourage a creative game. We’re really looking forward to the experience and we hope to be in the finals with a chance to qualify for the Youth Olympics,” Matthews said.
In addition to the immediate goal of qualification, the junior development program exists as well to graduate players through the player pathway with a final target of the senior men’s national team. Matthews said providing these athletes with quality international experience at such a young age, really sets them up for future success.
“Thinking about the players’ development, it’s so important to get them in an international competition environment at a young age,” he said. “It sets them really well to potentially move forward to the senior national team down the line.”
In addition to the above roster, three teams of 20 Junior Development athletes will depart this weekend on a two-week training tour in Europe. Inderpal Sehmbi will be the head coach of the massive undertaking alongside coaches and managers from all four National Training Centres in Canada (Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Ottawa/Chelsea).
Although spring training tours for junior development athletes are nothing new for Field Hockey Canada, the scope of this 60-athlete venture is bigger than anything done in the past. According to Sehmbi, key leaders in the community thought long and hard about development and training of young athletes and worked to offer the best training and competition environments possible.
“The traditional model would have seen us cut our group down before going on tour. But it’s so clear that athletes develop at varying rates. This tour is about providing an opportunity to train and compete and really develop a love for hockey,” Sehmbi said.
Initially, two teams will head out to Belgium and Netherlands respectively and train at local clubs and national training centres. They will swap locations and continue to train and compete with local teams and even face the U18 Dutch National Team. As the two teams wrap up their tour, the third Junior Development squad will arrive and start their training tour. The entirety of the tour will last from March 9 – April 3. Sehmbi said he’s never been a part of any tour of this magnitude.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “These kids will have the opportunity to really see what’s out there. Netherlands is home to some of the best hockey in the world. We have to expose the kids to other styles and standards. To be honest, a lot of our players might not really know what good looks like until you are truly tested.”
And as if the March tours weren’t enough, another Junior Development unit will depart at the beginning of May for a two-week tour in Europe. Between March and May, over 100 Junior Athletes, managers, coaches and support staff will be in action. All in the name of development and progress and encouraging the love of the game.