Jim Knight first started playing field hockey in high school after being surrounded by the game all his life. He grew up in the Cowichan Valley in British Columbia, a mecca for field hockey, but pursued other interests at the same time, including water polo and a move to New Zealand. Little did he know that, three decades later, he and a group of dedicated individuals would find themselves playing at the 2018 Masters World Cup, and later enter a team of their own into the Vancouver Men’s Field Hockey League.
High off the 2018 World Cup campaign, the potential that Knight and several others saw from training together as a Men’s 50+ group for nearly twelve months was tremendous.
With an incredible management team led by John Sacre, the ability to work together on a regular basis is what made them so competitive. It was the common realization that, in order to sustain and grow masters hockey in Canada, one needs to be prepared as a team.
“It’s one thing to send a training regime to people around the country or various provinces, but that’s only going to take you so far,” Knight explained. “So part of that was a recognition that we had a few options. While training sessions would be centralized in the West, having active competition puts us a step beyond what previously existed.”
The goal was to get half a team together on a weekly basis. With players coming in from Abbotsford, Chilliwack and the Island, the team actually built a squad bigger than the standard 20-person roster. To allow members from Alberta and sometimes Ontario to join, Knight had to be realistic about the commitment required.
“For me and three others, we come from the Island and it’s about a 12-hour journey. It’s a four-hour ferry to Vancouver from Victoria, then we warm up, play a game and head back,” Knight said. “People from out of town would now come maybe every second week.”
Men’s O50 Team spotted in Vancouver and Barcelona.
Another challenge presented was joining the right division, appropriate for a Masters 50+ team, and matching experience and skills to teams with 20-year-olds playing. There was slight hesitation over whether the group would be competitive enough, before settling on Division Two. Their first season, recorded in 2019-2020, saw them amass 11 points with four wins, three ties and nine losses. Finishing second to last was a satisfying run for the World Cup stars.
Adam Hyde, who sits on the Masters Steering Committee, was one of the individuals who recruited and formed the team, as well as managed and played on it. Seeing the idea come into fruition has paved the way for future successes.
Hyde said, “Having a masters team play in the Vancouver League has been instrumental in the development of masters athletes because it allows players to play together competitively and also experience the benefits of national calibre coaching.”
Looking back at what the group has achieved since 2018, the response has been positive around having a new form of competition — having a different type of team in the league. But the focus is on what comes next. There is an untapped opportunity in masters hockey, and Knight believes the momentum has to come from the national teams and youth.
“I was speaking to Antoni Kindler (Goalkeeper, Men’s National Team) at the 2018 National Championships and he was interested in the fact that I was heading to Spain [for the Masters World Cup] the following week,” Knight said. “We have these fantastic opportunities that people should be made more aware of so there’s not just a small group of people wanting to play at the master’s level.
“We need to retain the connection so there are players from the 45+ group that spill over to the 50+ team, to the 55+ team and so on. We haven’t had that yet, but it starts with community and being a member for life. It’s loyalty to the sport and ensuring field hockey isn’t lost with them during that in-between period.”
Jim Knight and the Men’s O50 Canadian Team at the 2018 World Cup in Spain.
Having the same league structure for the upcoming 2021-2022 season is the goal for both Knight and Hyde. The ability for players to go and meet new individuals is what will motivate and sustain participation, in addition to creating a team familiarity as they work towards the 2022 World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa. Though cancelled once in 2020, they’re eager to make up any lost ground and, most importantly, have fun in the process.
“We’re setting up to be reasonably competitive and if you’re not in the same league, it’s never as much fun. I think we’ve done really well to achieve that and we’re just taking it one step further with cohesion and consistency,” said Knight.
With progress and time, the group hopes that Eastern provinces will pick up on something similar and enter teams into their respective leagues. It goes without saying that representing your country, no matter at which age or stage of life, is an honour and playing masters hockey is certainly no exception.