PHOTO: Jamie Wallace carries the ball in Canada’s first game at the 2016 Junior Pan American Games in Toronto in May 2016 (By Yan Huckendubler)
With less than one month to go before the 2016 Men’s Junior World Cup in India, the anticipation is building.
Canada’s Under-21 Men’s National Team will be one of sixteen teams looking to claim the title of best junior nation in the world, and with that can come some pressure.
But for a group of young athletes who are headed to their first Junior World Cup, the experience of the World Cup qualifier last summer in Toronto has helped calm the nerves.
“You really have to play your best each game to get the result,” says 17 year-old Jamie Wallace, who – at 16 – was the youngest player on the Canadian roster at the 2016 Junior Men’s Pan American Championship in Toronto in May.
“I didn’t expect the game to be as fast, especially against the lower ranked teams,” he adds. “I was really surprised how good the Mexicans were, how good Trinidad was. It just shows that at the international level, if you have a bad game any team can win.”
Canada got off to a less than ideal start at the Pan Ams, losing its first two games.
But it was that adversity that helped the likes of Wallace, and teammate Fin Boothroyd, and others like Thomson Harris get their international bearings quickly.
“We learned to battle the adversity,” says Boothroyd, who was also playing in his first major international competition at the Pan Ams. “Coming out and losing our first two games was pretty difficult – we were expected to win those ones – and just dealing with the expectations and pushing through it and being cohesive as a team.”
It brought the team together. Canada went on to win its next three games and finish with a silver medal and a spot in the Junior World Cup.
“The feeling that we were going to go to a Junior World Cup and the excitement around the guys and the coaching staff was just electric,” Boothroyd adds.
What’s more, it gave many players a taste of what a top-flight international competition is like and has prepared them for what’s to come in India in December.
“I’m excited again. I’m excited to face this new competition and see how we can do,” says Boothroyd. “I sort of have a little bit of experience under my belt internationally now but definitely not at the level we are going to be experiencing in India.”
The World Cup will be another step up.
And despite it being unknown for all but two of the Canadian men (after playing in 2013, Brandon Pereira and Balraj Panesar will be competing in their second Junior World Cup), the Junior Pan American Games experience will inform how players – especially those who have nothing bigger to compare it to – approach the upcoming competition.
“Mentality wise, you can’t really underestimate anyone, especially at the World Cup. All the teams are going to be really good, they’re all going to be really prepared,” says Wallace, who – as a part of Canadian tradition afforded to the youngest player on the team – wore the captain’s arm band in the Gold Medal match in Toronto.
Wallace is no longer the youngest on the team – although he is not far off in age. But what he and his teammates have gained in experience will not only help them, but others, who in India, will be in the same boat they were in just months ago.
“I definitely feel a bit more ready and experienced,” he says. “I can give some advice to the new guys because I think when they step on the field they’re going to be shocked at how good those guys are.”
Canada opens the Junior World Cup against host India on December 8th at 7:00pm local time.
Help Canada’s Under-21 along the road to the Junior World Cup. Local apparel outlet Nine O’Clock Gun is once again selling Red Caribou hats. $10 from every purchase goes directly to the team, to help offset costs. Buy two hats and get a 25% discount with the promo code juniorcaribou. Click here to buy.