With roots in two powerhouse countries in international hockey, Floris van Son’s field hockey fluency comes as no surprise.
The twenty-four year-old forward was born in Apeldoorn, Netherlands and raised in Ghent, Belgium. He has played club hockey in both countries, where the senior Men’s National Teams are ranked second and fifth in the world respectively and are both headed to the 2016 Olympic Games
It’s not out of the ordinary that someone with his pedigree now has a chance to compete at the Olympics. But if he does, he won’t be wearing the Dutch orange, or Belgian black and red.
He will be wearing the Canadian red and white.
“The decision for me to take this opportunity was not very hard,” he says. “I was thinking about it for a long time; to go to Canada and try to get to the Olympics in 2016. But it was never as concrete as it is now.”
Things became concrete when Canada officially qualified for Rio last summer, and even more so when van Son got his Canadian passport this January.
Van Son’s father Bert – also a hockey player, who represented Hong Kong internationally, but was born in Calgary after his parents (Floris’ grandparents) relocated to Canada after the second World War – is a Canadian citizen.
(Van Son’s mother also played a high level of hockey, competing in the Dutch women’s top league.)
And because of his father’s Canadian roots, van Son has always had an eye on Canada.
“When I got my passport, I immediately contacted (Canadian Men’s National Team Head Coach) Anthony Farry,” van Son explains. “I asked him if it’s too short term to join the team, only six months before Rio.”
Coach Farry said no. And, while offering no guarantees, he told van Son his best shot would come from moving to Vancouver to train with the Canadian team full-time
“When I heard that, I thought I have to go.”
And so he did, joining the team at the beginning of February when they returned from South Africa.
It would be not a field hockey player’s typical route the Olympic Games, and the decision to pursue the path did not come without sacrifices for van Son.
Before coming to Vancouver, van Son was playing for HIC in Holland’s second division.
“We were in such a nice process and doing really good,” he says. “It’s too bad to leave and go to another country to pursue your dreams, and have to leave the club behind.”
It would be a tough decision at the best of times.
But for van Son, it was made even more difficult because – when he left – HIC was in first place with a five-point cushion over second place. And while it’s not the top-flight of hockey in the country, it’s not far behind.
At the end of the season, the top team in the second division gets promoted to the Netherland’s first division, where many of the world’s best field hockey players play.
“They were not to happy about me leaving but I couldn’t let go of this opportunity.”
So van Son packed up and headed to Canada, not only leaving his hockey team, but quitting his job as a Junior Broker, and putting his Business Economics degree on hold.
All for a shot at the Olympic dream.
The decision to leave everything behind and come to Canada was a simple one for van Son.
While he played for junior teams in Belgium, his shot at cracking two of the world’s best field hockey rosters – just before the Olympics – was slim. That made the opportunity to play for Canada his priority.
Not cracking the Canadian team – which is still a possibility – was not a big fear, despite his moving heaven and earth for the chance. That uncertainty is just part of sport.
But the potential of what would come after his arrival in Vancouver is what brought most of his angst.
“The thing I was most concerned about was if the guys would say ‘There is a guy from Holland walking in six months before Rio, what the heck is he doing?,’” he explains candidly from his temporary home with Canadian Team Manager Celia Plottel.
“Obviously the other guys have put in so much effort just to qualify for the Olympics. I could imagine if they see it as a guy walking in and putting no effort and looking for maximum output.”
But after a month with the team, van Son says his worst nightmares were simply fiction. In fact, his new teammates have been nothing but accommodating.
“They have been really friendly and have given me help wherever I needed,” he says. “Whenever we are training, you don’t get the sense that they see me as an outsider.”
What he does notice, however, is the difference in style of hockey between what he’s used to in Europe and what he has experienced here in Canada.
In addition to training with the National Team, Van Son has been staying game sharp by playing for the West Vancouver Millionaires in Vancouver’s Men’s Field Hockey League, where he quickly noticed the intricacies of the Canadian game.
“Whenever I would receive a ball, you would immediately have someone on your back,” he explains. “In Holland, you have a little bit more freedom maybe. It’s a little more fierce here. Everybody is pushing more.”
But the extra effort is not something van Son is afraid of.
Van Son has been in the gym three-times a week, with the intent of getting stronger off the pitch and stronger on the ball.
He has also had to shake off some rust, coming off the Dutch league’s winter break.
Combine all that with having to get to know new teammates, and van Son has had his hands full in his first month in Canada.
“I’ve put in a lot of effort,” he reflects. “Just getting out there, hitting a lot of balls, and being on the pitch as much as often.”
But he knows his spot on the Olympic roster, let alone in the next tournament – the 2016 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia – is not guaranteed.
And while playing for Canada right now is his main goal, he also sees a future in which he wears the maple leaf
“If I can, I really want to help out the team,” he says of his long-term prospects as a Canadian international.
He says he would like to continue to play club hockey in Holland because of the high-level of competition. But in a perfect world, he would be able to represent Canada internationally.
“If Anthony thinks I can be an asset for the team, then, I really want to play for Canada.”
“If they need me, I’ll be there.”