It was the single largest junior development tour that anyone could remember. Three teams, two weeks and one goal: to give young Canadian athletes top quality training and experience in a dedicated hockey culture.
Over the course of March and April, over 60 athletes, coaches and support staff took off to the Netherlands and Belgium for two-week training tours. With one last team departing this week, this spring has marked a milestone for Field Hockey Canada’s men’s junior development.
Junior Development Squad Head Coach, Indy Sehmbi said the tour served its purpose and definitely opened up some eyes along the way. Sehmbi said it was really rewarding to watch some of the athletes get their first training tour experience and many of them get their first out-of-continent travel experience.
“For some of these guys, it was their first time playing abroad. For others, it was their first real training tour as opposed to a competition tour. I think everyone learned a lot on the tour,” he said.
Sehmbi said in large part, one of the biggest successes was the scope of the operation.
“We had over 50 athletes, representing four provinces all traveling to and from Europe over spring break. We had coaches, managers, athletic therapists, trainers working hard for the whole trip. It really opened up the kids’ eyes to what’s out there,” he said
The teams trained in the Netherlands and in Belgium over the course of the two-week trip. All three teams also played in a series of exhibition teams against junior national and club teams. According to Sehmbi, simply the culture around hockey was enough to really open the young athletes’ eyes to what’s out there.
“Some of these Canadian kids have only played on one or two pitches in their whole life. The emphasis on hockey is just so much bigger in those countries. You might show up at a club for training and they have several fields and a clubhouse,” he said.
Chris Tardiff, 17, lives in Chelsea, QC and plays for the newly established Chelsea Phoenix Field Hockey Club. This spring’s JDS tour to Europe was his first time on tour with the national junior program. Tardiff has, however, been abroad to Europe before with his local club program but said it’s a different feeling when he went with the JDS program.
“It was really intensive. We usually had at least two sessions per day. So that was different than last time. You have to really take care of your body throughout the trip,” he said. Another difference for Tardiff was the feeling he got representing his country abroad. “There’s also a sense of pride you get when you step out to play with the Canada logo on our chests.”
Tardiff’s squad played several exhibition games against junior national teams and local club teams. He said he definitely got a boost of confidence seeing that Canada can compete with the European junior teams.
“You compare the infrastructure and the numbers…let’s just say it’s nice to know that we can compete with them. They are more technically skilled than us overall. The dribbling, receptions and hitting. We can definitely work harder on those skills to catch up,” he said.
Tardiff said he is glad to be a part of a growing Quebec Field Hockey scene.
“A few more clubs are popping up in Montreal and other regions. We are going to have a provincial team for nationals this year. It will be cool to see some representation from other regionas of the province,” he said. Tardiff credits the hard work of Ian Bird, Mark Dekker and others for the dedicated work developing field hockey in Quebec.
Lyle Fernandes, a 20-year-old from Mississauga, ON, has hockey in his blood. He said his father played so he was exposed to the sport at a very young age. Now, he plays for OKD in the Greater Toronto Area in the senior men’s league.
Coming from the Toronto area, Fernandes was well-practiced in indoor hockey as well. At 20 years old, he was one of the most experienced players to go on the spring tours to Europe. Despite this trip being his first outdoor hockey tour, his playing experience with the national indoor team gave him a sense of confidence going into this tour. For him, one of the biggest differences when it comes to training tours as compared to competition tours is body management.
“Each practice is super intense, then we go straight into a test-game. Then we might have two practices the next day,” he said. “You definitely feel sore. You have to do what you can to take care of your body every day.”
Fernandes also recognized the culture shock of playing in hockey-loving nations. He said the experience was amazing and it makes him think about future playing opportunities.
“First of all, you see a lot of really good hockey there. And the crowd’s interest; They actually know hockey. They love it, they know all the rules. It kind of makes you think that maybe I could go over and play in Europe someday and that it’s a real opportunity.”
Fernandes, who now has experience going on indoor and outdoor tours, had advice for younger national team prospects that may get a chance to go on tour in the future:
“When you go on tour, you are often learning more off the field than you are on,” he said. “From diet, to taking care of your body. Get started early and understanding all the little things. Just learn all you can.”
Fernandes will be playing at Field Hockey Canada nationals and the national junior camp to follow.
Rajan Kahlon grew up in Vancouver, BC and played for the United Brothers Hockey Club growing up. The 20-year-old is currently playing for the UBC Thunderbirds and was another member of the junior development team that traveled to Europe for spring training.
He said the tour definitely opened his eyes to the amount of field hockey going on in those major European hubs.
“It’s just so cool to see how much is actually going on. We’d go somewhere, and they’d have nine or ten pitches all in one area,” Kahlon said. “It was great to get some competition with them. In Canada, not as many people play, especially men. So it was really cool to see how many athletes there was and how they are always pushing each other to be better.”
Kahlon doesn’t take his role in the junior national program lightly. He said it’s an amazing experience to represent Canada on foreign soil and was quick to point out that other countries are very welcoming to Canadian hockey players.
“Representing Canada is a privilege. You have to earn it. It won’t just be given to you,” Kahlon said. “We have grit, heart and professionalism on the field. And other countries have a high level of respect for Canada. It was a really welcoming environment for us.”
Kahlon returns to UBC where he said he wants to continue to develop his skills and take his game to the next level. He said he has a goal of being identified for the senior development squad.