Feature Photo: Yan Huckendubler
It was almost a full year ago that Canada officially started their Olympic journey by winning the Hockey Series Open in Salamanca, Mexico. That win qualified them for the 2019 Hockey Series Finals, set for June 18-27 in Valencia, Spain. Countless hours, matches and training sessions have gone in since that moment and now we’re a month away from the next step. But before they head to Spain, they will travel to Glasgow for a week of training and competition.
The team arrives in Scotland this week and plays their first test match against a Scottish side, that is ranked 18th in the world, on May 15. The Canadian players have been centralized in Belgium since September, training and competing in the Belgian Hockey League as well as committing to training with the Canadian National Team. For Hannah Haughn, veteran Canadian forward, the time spent in Belgium was very valuable to the team’s development and competition preparedness.
“We had access to high-quality facilities and specialist trainers each week,” she said. “Furthermore, we have been able to fully immerse ourselves in the hockey ‘culture’ and schedule games against other neighbouring countries on short notice with little cost.”
Canadian midfielder, Maddie Secco, who has been playing for the Belgian club Victory HK, echoed Haughn’s sentiments about the valuable training experience in Belgium.
“The Belgian league has offered us high level games every weekend, which we wouldn’t get in Canada. As a result, our Canadian team is feeling confident, fit and ready, heading into our Olympic qualification phase,” Secco said.”
As the Belgian league commitments wrap up this month, the Canadian players can shift their focus entirely to national team performance. They will have a domestic training camp in Victoria, BC at the beginning of June, making this week’s test against Scotland their final competition tune-up before the Hockey Series Finals in Valencia.
Being the first time the two teams have faced off since their 1-1 draw at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Hauhgn said it will be a good test for Canada to show their growth.
“They are a high-quality team that will test our structures,” she said. “This is exactly the kind of team we want to play to prepare for Valencia.”
Secco added that she “expects Scotland will be very hard working and aggressive, and that the matches will be close. It will be exciting to put all of our new skills to the test against a team who will challenge us.”
With a top two finish at the Hockey Series Finals in Valencia, Canada would secure a spot in the final leg of Olympic qualification (a two-game head-to-head series in the fall). They also participate in the Pan American Games, taking place in Lima, Peru in August. The winner of that tournament automatically books a ticket to the Olympic Games. Each cycle, the four-year build comes down to being ready for a few critical competitions. Haughn, who was a member of last quad’s run, said overall, the team is more prepared and ready this time around.
“Although in both cycles we had similar goals, this time around I feel we are much more prepared,” Haughn said. “Not only because we have all gained more game experience as players but we also have spent more time on connecting as a team as well as working on the small details individually.”
The Olympic journey started in Mexico last year, it continues this year in Valencia and Lima and will hopefully feature a head-to-head in the fall. Canada is ready for an exciting and action-packed summer of competition.
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