March 19, 2009
With 5 rookies, an untested goalkeeper and new coaching staff since the Beijing Games in August 2008, the Canadian Men’s field hockey team once again displayed its character traits: heart, determination and intelligence as it was crowned Champions of the Americas and the first team to qualify for the World Cup finals to be held in New Dehli, India in March 2010.
With a short preparation window and no funding or sponsorship, the staff: lead by former top international Alan Brahmst, assistant coach and former captain Peter Milkovich and manager and former international goalkeeper Hari Kant designed a 100 day plan that included a self funded 12 day training camp at the United States Olympic training centre in San Diego and a series of mini – camps in Vancouver and Victoria. However, success at this qualifier relied most on a core group of veteran players who continually commit to “winning” at the elite level and they did not disappoint.
Lead by tireless captain Ken Pereira (Toronto), Rob Short (Tsawwassen) tournament MVP and Paul Wettlaufer (North Vancouver) the re-tooled Canadian Team negotiated its way through their pool play, during which 12 players were severely affected by a bout of food poisoning, the young Canadian team applied mature play and intelligent tactics to secure a semi final berth against long time rival Argentina.
The semi-final match will long be remembered as one of Canada’s greatest performances. After a first half that saw Canada score early and defend a lead against solid pressure from Argentina, Canada settled in and slowly began to take control of the match. Argentina scored just before halftime and again early into the first half, off a poorly executed corner that took goaltender Dave carter (selected as goaltender of the tournament) by surprise. Canada replied quickly with a R Deol ( Mississauga) goal that exposed a weakening Argentinean defence.
At 2-2, the match evened out with various chances by both sides. Argentina went ahead 3-2 by a goal in decisive effort by Pedro Ibara to take back the lead amongst some confusion on the pitch. With all calls discussed at length by both teams, and a prolonged debate amongst officials resulted in the goal standing. Canada once again down by a goal with only 8 minutes left to play in front a sizeable and knowledgeable crowd pushed forward.
With three minutes to play the Pan American Champions found their opportunity as Argentina went down to ten players after a yellow card to L Vila and Canada earned another penalty-corner. A straight shot goal from the gifted stick of Gubbar Singh (Surrey) ensured overtime.
With increased confidence Canada’s resilience showed yet again in second overtime period where once again Gubbar Singh eliminated 2 defenders and then found an alert Conner Grimes with a 20 yard pass that Grimes tipped deftly off the far post to secure the victory.
In the final, Canada shook off a poor start and after falling behind 0-1 in the 3rd minute but went on to dominate the rest of the match. Circle entries and penalty corners were far in favour of Canada, who had continuous pressure on the Americans. However, it took until the 58th minute to even the score. Canada controlled the rest of the match and secured the Pan American Cup through a smart finish from veteran Paul Wettlaufer early in the first overtime.
The Champions of the Americas having secured their berth in the finals of the World Cup in New Dehli will now return home to begin their preparations for a busy 18 months which will include both the World Cup and Commonwealth games in India.