Field Hockey Canada > Big game experience a calming influence on road to Olympic qualification

There’s no bigger stage than the Olympic Games for any athlete or any sport. Just ask Scott Tupper and Mark Pearson, two of the three players on the Canadian Men’s National Field Hockey Team who have experienced the excitement and elation of going to the Olympics.

Tupper and Pearson, along with goalkeeper Dave Carter – all of whom are currently with the Men’s National Team in San Diego, California for World League Round 2 – were members of the Canadian team that went to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.

A career high no doubt. But each also knows the sting of missing out on Olympic qualification, having missed the chance to qualify for the 2012 Games in London. 

“You never want to miss an opportunity, but we’ve learned a lot but I think we’ve come back a lot stronger,” says Pearson, 27, a native of Tsawwassen, British Columbia. “We’ve got a good group here and we’re working hard.” 

The chance to make good on opportunities missed and return to the sport’s promise land has re-emerged with World League 2, which serves as the next stop on the road to qualifying for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

If Canada finishes in the top three in San Diego, they will progress on to the World League Semi-Finals in June, where a top-six finish would mean Olympic qualification. 

“If we take this tournament game-by-game and focus on the process, as cliché as it sounds, I think we will be successful,” says Tupper, Canada’s captain, who is expected to play in his 200th international match for Canada during the tournament. 

“At the end of the day it is part of the Olympic qualification, but we have to recognize it is one tournament that we have to focus on especially when it gets into the latter half.” 

The team will likely heed cues from the likes of Tupper and Pearson, who they know have been through the process before, and have been successful.

And both know they will have a role to play in leading the team through difficult, pressure-packed situations. 

“What Scott and I bring to a game is that calming influence,” says Pearson, who has played in 163 matches for Canada. “Whether you’re up or down a goal, just knowing that it’s not won or lost in the first ten minutes. That’s what I try and bring on the field.”

Tupper has a similar view and believes that staying calm and managing expectations and emotions is key in the process. 

“As we play big games, we have to recognize bad things are going to happen. We’re going to get scored on, we’re going to have peaks and valleys,” he says. 

“I think it’s just about managing the valleys and managing your emotions through the peaks as well.”

As a team, the Canadian men have been through some highs and lows in the last year.

After a thrilling semi-final victory over the host Malaysians at the 2014 Champions Challenge, Canada fell to the Koreans in the final. The second place finish, however, was Canada’s best-ever finish at the tournament. 

At the Commonwealth Games later in the year, while the play on the field was encouraging, the final result left much to be desired.

But Tupper and Pearson feel the team is better for having gone through both those experiences and don’t believe expectation will come in the way of performance at World League 2, despite the ramifications of the tournament. 

“I’m not one that puts a lot of undue pressure on myself,” says Pearson. “I just try and stay relaxed and try and support my teammates and work hard and lead by example.” 

That team first mentality is what Tupper believes will help the team to be successful.

“At the end of the day, the other ten guys on the field are going to help you out,” he says. “No individual is going to play a perfect game, but I think if we accept that we’ll get through any bad periods and we’ll probably come out on top.”

And if they do, they’ll be one step closer to bringing their teammates to the world stage to which they themselves have been so badly wanting to return.

Canada’s Men’s National Team kicks off World League Round 2 on Saturday, February 28 at 10:45am against the host United States. Click here for Canada’s schedule and results.