When members of the Canadian Women’s National Team left Canada for Belgium in August, they were leaving behind family members, school programs, jobs, teams and coaching roles. But the goal of team improvement and Olympic qualification is a priority for everyone.
This fall, the Women’s National Team has been centralized in Belgium with a majority of players competing in the Belgium Hockey League. Taking advantage of the proximity and location, the Women’s National Team members have been commuting to Victory Hockey Club in Antwerp to train as a team with Head Coach Giles Bonnet on Mondays-Wednesdays. They then return to their local clubs for the rest of the week to train and play in league games on the weekends. Canadian captain, Kate Wright, said that the experience has been extremely valuable for the Canadian players.
“All we do is hockey all the time, Monday to Sunday,” Wright said. “The competition environment is great here. We get to learn skills and immediately put them into play either with our national team trainings or our league games.”
The Belgium Hockey League is one of the top leagues in the world featuring international players from across the globe. Of course, with Canadian players spread over six teams in Belgium and two in Netherlands, the Canadian women even get a chance to compete against each other in a club setting.
“We’ll give our club teammates a little intel on each other,” Wright laughed. “But at the end of the day, there is a huge emphasis on competition and we are trying to make each better.”
Canadian Women’s National Team members in their Belgium Hockey League team uniforms
As a part of their accelerated plan to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, Head Coach Giles Bonnet has enlisted the help of specialist coaches to fine tune the Canadian’s skills and strategies. Hannah Haughn, veteran Canadian midfielder said this opportunity has been eye-opening and led to immediate improvements.
“The coaches Giles brought in are really knowledgeable and were able to pinpoint even small movements that needed improvement,” she said. “At this level, we rarely get to break down basic skills anymore and I think the small changes we have made will make a huge difference in our game.”
The Women’s National Team members were unanimous in saying the competition exposure, the training opportunities and the facilities have been a step up compared to their Canadian league-equivalents. For Kate Wright, it’s an inspiring standard that she hopes can one day be replicated in Canadian domestic leagues.
Natalie Sourisseau (left) and Shanlee Johnston (right) compete in the Belgium Hockey League
“The facilities are incredible,” she said. “Each club has at least two fields and a clubhouse. It’s amazing to be a part of a club with kids’ teams, senior teams and they all spend time together. It’s a culture I’d like to bring to Canada if we can.”
Haughn agrees that the club environment is very positive and offers more opportunity for improvement.
“The community here at Victory [Antwerp] has been extremely welcoming,” she said. “And with three good fields centred around a clubhouse, there’s always opportunities to get on the field and practice.”
The team departed today for Seville, Spain where they will compete against a few local club teams and then face-off against Spain in four capped test matches. Spain recently finished third at the Hockey World Cup in London and offers a top-level competitive environment to finish 2018. The Spain training and competition tour will wrap up the Women’s National Team’s 2018 fall training block and lead into the 2019 Olympic qualification cycle.
This article is Part I of a three-part series recapping the Women’s National Team fall training block. Stay tuned for the upcoming articles previewing and recapping the WNT vs SPAIN Winter Test Series. Follow day-t0-day updates on the Women’s National Team’s Instagram account.