Canada will take the field against the reigning Olympic silver medalists on opening night at the FIH World Cup in Bhubaneswar, India. It may be the middle of the night in Canada but it will be prime time and centre stage at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar. Canadian Head Coach Paul Bundy will lead the Red Caribou out to battle against the Belgium Red Lions on November 28, 2018.
According to Bundy, it will be a wild atmosphere at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubanswar, also known as the spiritual home of hockey. And despite a challenging first game, drawing the world number-3 in Belgium to start the tournament is a blessing in disguise according to Bundy.
“I really like that we have Belgium first,” Bundy said. “I think we play our best hockey when we play the best teams in the world.” He added that the fast-paced and challenging start will get the players in the right mindset for the entire competition.
Team Canada’s first event of 2018 was way back in January in Malaga, Spain. The team has since battled through a tough Commonwealth Games, a successful summer home series and finished off their competition elements by winning a series in New Zealand. Overall, Canada played 25 matches in 2018, setting themselves up to peak at the World Cup this week.
Veteran midfielder, Mark Pearson, reflected on the competition season and thinks the team is in a great spot heading into the biggest event of the year.
“It’s a little unusual to be preparing for a major competition at the end of the year, but the guys are feeling strong after a lot of games this year and we’re ready to compete,” he said. “It was really nice to finish off that New Zealand tour on the right note. Showing we can come back and beat a quality side means a lot to us heading into the World Cup.”
Bundy echoed Pearson’s sentiments and is using the New Zealand tour as a jumping off point for this week’s competition.
“The New Zealand tour felt like a nice reward for a year’s worth of hard work. If you look at the stats, being in New Zealand and getting results has been really challenging for us,” Bundy said. “So coming out of there with a series wins was really nice and very motivating looking forward.”
The World Cup competition format sees round robin action where the pool winners advance directly to the quarterfinals, the 2 and 3 finishers in each pool will play a crossover prequarter and the fourth place team in each pool is eliminated from contention.
Belgium (world rank 3)
Belgium is coming off a silver medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics and is one of the favourites to win the World Cup. John-John Dohmen has over 350 caps and was the 2017 FIH player of the year and leads Belgium into the World Cup as true contenders.
India (world rank 5)
India is historically a team that performs very well on home soil. From talking with the Canadian players and staff, it’s clear that Canada and India have a history of scrappy and intense games. Canada won the most recent clash at World League Round 3 in London in 2017, resulting in their qualification for this event. Bundy said that Team Canada has shown to raise their level when taking on top teams. Without making any predictions of the result of that game, Bundy is looking forward to the experience of playing India on their home turf.
“Stereotypically, India does very well in India. They have a history of medalling on home soil,” he said. “I think it will be an amazing game in an amazing venue in front of a crowd that really loves hockey,” Bundy said.
South Africa (world rank 15)
Canada will be looking for revenge against their Commonwealth rival, South Africa who defeated them in Australia at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. With the 3, 5, 11 and 15 ranked teams, pool C has a blend of volatile and powerhouse teams. Coach Bundy reflected on the Commonwealth Games loss and the subsequent motivation.
“We didn’t have a great Commonwealth Games and now we have a little bit of a rivalry with South Africa,” he said. “It’s created a lot of motivation for the guys. We have a pretty clear mandate for that game: we want to get a result, we want to win that game.”
Canada’s defensive core is highlighted by Scott Tupper and Gordon Johnston with support from John Smythe, Brandon Pereira and Balraj Panesar. Watch for Johnston and Tupper to also be taking the majority of Canada’s penalty corners. Veteran GKs Dave Carter and Antoni Kindler will be splitting duty in the Canadian cage.
Moving into the midfield, Sukhi Panesar anchors a unit featuring Brenden Bissett, Gabe Ho-Garcia and Mark Pearson. The forward staff including Matt Sarmento, James Kirkpatrick and Jamie Wallace will be applying the attacking pressure. Wallace, a 19-year-old first year player, received his first senior caps in July and has since made impact enough to crack the World Cup roster. View the complete roster here.
Canada takes on Argentina in a pre-tournament friendly on Sunday before the World Cup begins. Photos: Yan Huckendubler