The countdown to Tokyo 2020 is on and with carding camp finished, the coaching staff, led by Pasha Gademan, will shift their focus to performance at the Olympic Games.
The Men’s National Program wrapped up its five-day identification and carding camp this week. The camp featured multiple on-field and in-gym training sessions as well as full games on Saturday and Sunday. For the coaching staff, the chance to see everyone in one place for an extended time was valuable for making decisions moving forward.
“Having a camp like this really gives me a chance to get the full picture; get a full overview of what we have. Right now, the goal is short term, but having the NextGen guys in here can give us the overview and show what we need to work on, long term,” Gademan said.
At this point, the coaching group will start to pare down the numbers at training and start focusing attention on the Olympic-bound squad. Coaches and athletes alike agree that finding safe competition elements is the next step. For Gademan, he wants to see the team perform under pressure against quality opponents.
“What I really want to do now, is work with the smaller group so we can make huge steps forward. I can’t wait to really get my hands dirty with this group moving forward.” Gademan said. “As Field Hockey Canada, we will do everything we can to get to safe games and get some competition.”
The Men’s National Team uses Carding Camp to make selections for upcoming tours and competitions. Photos: Blair Shier
For MNT veteran forward, James Kirkpatrick, having the NextGen athletes at camp has opened up the opportunities to play full games. He noted the injection of youth is a nice motivator and good for the program as a whole.
“The trainings have been great; the games have been great. It’s really good to see the young guys coming up. It’s similar to the exposure I had when I was younger,” he said. “We have a culture on this team and it’s important that everyone buys in. Getting the NextGen guys here so we can lead by example is a good start to getting them into the program.”
Kirkpatrick, who wasn’t on the 2016 Rio Olympic Team but will be pushing for a final roster spot this year, is looking forward to the next several months as the team makes its preparations and push for the Games. He understands that given the circumstances with restricted travel and a lack of competition, the team has to use every opportunity they can to improve.
“Anytime you are on the pitch, you can get better. At this point, we are just trying to control what we can, and do whatever we can to make the team better,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s been a really weird year. Things felt in limbo for a long time, but now it really feels real. Having Andre [Henning] and Pasha here, offers a fresh outlook.”
The Men’s National Team will continue to train in Vancouver and prepare to tour and secure international test-matches when safe. The final Olympic-bound roster will be named at the beginning of July before the team travels to Japan. They will stage, train and compete in Japan prior to the games.
Canada’s National Junior Coaches Indy Sehmbi and Geoff Matthews were on hand to coach during the camp scrimmages. Many of the NextGen athletes taking part in camp are eligible for the upcoming Junior Pan American Cup and subsequent Junior World Cup. Sehmbi said the opportunity to train and play alongside the senior men was invaluable for the junior-aged athletes.
At the same time, having the young players nipping at the senior’s heels showed that the separation may not be as big as they thought. Sehmbi said that the NextGen athletes can push the senior team players from below, resulting in a better overall level.
“It’s great to show the MNT players that there are young guys below them chasing them. It’s good to show that physiologically and technically, the gap might not be as big as they think it is,” Sehmbi said. “In this group here [at camp], there are 15-18 guys that are eligible for the Junior World Cup, so it’s a competitive group that can hang with senior men’s players.”
Sehmbi said that finding competition is one of the biggest challenges during the COVID-19 times. Getting these full games at identification camp with the senior national team is a great opportunity for the junior-aged players.
“Any time we can get games, it’s great. We’ve had a lot of our guys training in the MNT environment for the past month and even more here at camp. It’s good from a coaching standpoint to see them all together.”
The Next Generation of Canada’s superstars get a chance to train with the MNT at the 2021 Carding Camp. Photos: Blair Shier
Zach Coombs, from Chelsae, Quebec, is turning 20 in April and is one of athletes that is eligible for the upcoming Junior World Cup. He has been training full-time in the MNT environment since the fall and he said he can notice his own improvement, drastically over the past few months.
“I could tell you certain aspects of my improvement and my stand-up game. But, really, learning, watching video and being here training with the national team, has helped me improve in my understanding of the game. I’m stopping the ball more than I was a year ago,” he laughed.
Coombs, a goalkeeper with international aspirations, remembers watching Canada’s Men’s National Team qualify for the Olympics in 2015, citing David Carter’s shootout performance as a particular memory that inspired him.
“Now coming out here and actually training with them, knowing what they have been through, hearing the stories, it’s a surreal and humbling experience. Just seeing them play ups my level and inspires me.”
For 19-year-old Nicolas Cain, this week was one of the first chances he’s had to step on the field with the senior national team. He said the biggest difference is the pace of the game. It takes some time getting used to but knows it will benefit him when he shifts into the junior level.
“The first few minutes, it’s hard to adjust. But once I got used to it, I started to feel better. I know when I go back to junior environment, I can bring the speed there and bring the whole pace up.”
Cain scored two goals in Sunday’s scrimmage at Rutledge Field, showing his knack for the goal crosses over into the senior game. Cain, who plays with Hawks Field Hockey Club in Vancouver and has recently shifted to the club premier team, has looked up to players like Gordon Johnston since he started playing.
“It’s so cool. I play club hockey with some of them. I’ve known Gordie and [Mark] Pearson since I started playing. They are both idols and I try to watch and follow the forwards like Iain [Smythe]. It’s been amazing being on the field with them. I learn so much every time I’m out there.”
Both Coombs and Cain are eligible for the Junior Pan American Cup scheduled for August. Coombs understands that the current NextGen group is the future of the national program. He is setting his sights on success at the Junior Pan Ams and developing quality relationships with his cohort.
“I want to bond with these players. We are considered ‘the future,’ so I want to get along well with them and go to these major competitions and do well. I want us to be proud of ourselves and how we play,” he said.
The Pan Am Cup serves as a qualifier for the Junior World Cup currently projected to take place in 2022. Sehmbi and Matthews will make selections in June in the year leading up to the competition. Field Hockey Canada’s Men’s Junior National Team last participated in the 2016 Junior World Cup.
UPCOMING: The Women’s National Team has their sights set on 2022 World Cup Qualification. They have an Identification and Carding Camp coming up in Vancouver on March 15-22, 2021. Keep an eye out on our channels for photos, videos and stories from the upcoming camp.