Ali Baggott, for Field Hockey Canada
There will be a whole new look for the Canadian men’s national side at the upcoming Commonwealth Games, hosted July 29-Aug. 8, in Birmingham, UK. The multi-sport games is one of the major competitions Canada can guarantee themselves to be a part of and it’s an experience of a life time. This will be the first major games for the majority of the men’s side, while six of the players are on target to play their first-ever senior international match.
“The Commonwealth Games is a great opportunity to work on team turn over,” described interim head coach and former Canadian international Peter Milkovich. “While the event doesn’t have any necessary points or standings that Sport Canada or Own the Podium (federal sport funding organizations) are looking at, it really gives the players a chance to get experience. Some of the team’s players are aging out and they are taking time to figure out what accommodations they might need to be in the program. In order to protect the program and build for the future we need to do this. We used a broad spectrum lens to view how we selected this team and the core of the youth selected will be the next generation of this program.”
Goalkeepers Ethan McTavish and Tristan Burgoyne will suit up in the absence of stalwart Antoni Kindler, while forward Gurpreet Singh and defenders Manveer Jhamat and Roop Dhillon will add to the already strong Indo-Canadian presence on the squad. Alexander Bird, whose father Ian Bird played for Canada from 1988 to 2000, will also be joining the defensive unit. These six will earn their first international, while Gavin Bains and Harbir Sidhu, both with less than 10 caps, will bulk out the rest of the youth on the team.
“This is also time for a group of players to be thrust into leadership roles,” said Milkovich on veterans like Matthew Sarmento, Oliver Scholfield and Keegan Pereira. “It’s their time.”
“Obviously we have a relatively young and inexperienced group, but there’s still a good core of guys who have been around for a while,” commented Scholfield, who dawns 85 caps to his name. “We’re all stepping up as leaders while also trying to create an environment for everyone to also step up. The new guys are giving us different looks that we haven’t necessarily had before. Guys like Gopi (Singh) have been ruthless in the ‘D’ while guys like Birdy (Bird) and Roop (Dhillon) have been solid in the back.”
The men’s team have not competed in a major international game since the 2022 Pan American Cup in Santiago, Chile at the end of January 2022. Nine players from that team will not be suiting up for the upcoming Commonwealth Games and it becomes an opportunity for the program’s youth to be on a big tournament stage.
Two-time Olympian Sarmento added about the new additions: “From scoring goals to saving shots, we are counting on the new players and 10 or so with less than 20 caps to pick up the loose ends and help us perform at the Commonwealth Games. It’s a great story to have Alex Bird representing Quebec and following his in his father’s footsteps with the team.”
The team’s traveling reserves also include defender Thomson Harris and midfielder Jyoth Sidhu, both also without international caps.
The whole squad is training and playing test matches in France ahead of the Games which begin on Jul. 29 with Canada playing Wales. Read more on the event page. All games will be available live via CBC Sports.
Age: 19 years old
School/Club: Philemon Wright High School
Notable hockey experience: Junior World Cup, Junior Pan American Championship
Credit to past coaches/supporters: All of my teammate’s throughput the years. My junior coaches Indy Sehmbi, Geoff Matthews and Richard Hildreth were great helps over the past few years. Before them coaches such as Hugh Purvis, Mark Dekker and many others really helped me set up the basic skills and knowledge to my game that others have built off of since. My mom has been a great role model and support throughout my entire career and I can’t thank her enough. Last but certainly not least my dad, my dad played for Canada from 1988 to 2000, he has given me unreal support in the pursuit of my dream. He was my coach for the first 5-6 years I played and since then has been a well of endless knowledge of how to be success at the highest level.
On being selected: “It means too much to make the men’s national team. It has been my dream since I first picked up a stick – to play for my country. The fact that my first cap will be at a major games feels very selected.”
On training with the senior team: “Training with the senior squad, I would say, has been the biggest help in my development. The intensity the team brings daily is pretty contagious and it’s a lot of fun. There are so many experienced players who give great advice and help me get better each and every day. I found the training environment to be intimidating at first but once you settle in with the group and understand the amount of effort it takes to be competitive then the intimidation definitely goes away.”
Captain Keegan Pereira on Bird: “He’s a Quebec guy that I’ve coached for the past three years so it’s very exciting to have had the opportunity to see him grow as a player and person and now delighted to have the opportunity to share in his first cap for Canada.”
Age: 28 years old
School/Club: University of British Columbia
Notable hockey experience: 2013 Junior World Cup, Senior development squad tours to Mexico, UBC tours to Barcelona, Metro Vancouver Pro League
Credit to past coaches/supporters: First of all my parents John and Diane, my sister Sophie and my partner Giulia for always supporting me. I can’t mention my injury without thanking Sean Campbell for figuring out what was wrong and getting me to see the right people. In the field hockey community- Karen Gilmore for being an advocate for me to start playing as a kid; Ross Stewart for believing in me and helping me get an opportunity to try out for the Junior National Team; coaches Indy Sehmbi and Aaron; the Vancouver Hawks; Mike Mahood for all the years of goalie coaching; Then recently Cam Munsie for all the extra goalie sessions, Masa Kobori for always going out to the field to shoot on me whenever I asked and the countless friends who have drag flicked on me with a lacrosse stick or thrown balls at me even though I seemed crazy.
On being selected: “I can’t put into words how special this is for me. I previously played on the junior team and then with the senior team for six years. I had a bad injury that forced me to step away from playing. When dealing with that injury there were times when I wasn’t sure if I would play sports again, let alone at the national team level. I always trained so hard and appreciated what a privilege it was to play for Canada, but given everything I have been through, that appreciation has reached a new level. Because of everything I’ve gone through, and the extent to which I went to become healthy, this opportunity means the world to me.”
On training with the senior team: “It’s been so much fun! I played with the senior players when I used to be in the program and it’s been really cool to train with them again and see how their game has changed and evolved. There are a lot of new younger guys on the team and they’re a really fun group. Overall it’s a great group of guys.”
Captain Keegan Pereira on Burgoyne: “There’s been a large gap between Tristan’s last game for Canada at the 2013 Junior World Cup and now where he’s going to be getting his first senior cap for Canada. It’s been a long journey for him and he’s had growth in many areas off the pitch that have prepared him for his current success now.”
Age: 20 years old
School/Club: Kwantlen Polytechnic University
Notable hockey experience: Youth Olympic Games, Junior World Cup
Credit to past coaches/supporters: All my friends and family that have supported me and gave me confidence have all helped me get to where I am. Both my parents have helped me the most. They always supported me, pushed me, and never let me settle for less. Having them always cheer me on, wanting me to be the best player I can be, and driving me out to late night and early morning training made me want to reward them for their sacrifices and motivated me to always push for more. The best is yet to come and I have much more to do, but I would not be where I am without them
On being selected: “Being selected to the MNT for a major games is unreal. Having a chance to get my first cap at the Commonwealth Games and representing Canada at an international level is a blessing. Being selected to the MNT is something I’ve always wanted to do and having the chance to represent Canada with the group of guys we have is special.
On training with the senior team: “It has been a great experience training with the more senior players and learning from them. Training with Olympians is an honor because they are at a level that I want to reach and eventually exceed. They know what it takes, so having them challenge the younger guys and push us has really helped. The environment is intense, competitive, and fun. We hold ourselves to high standards, train at match intensity, and try to enjoy every part of the journey.”
Captain Keegan Pereira on Dhillon: “He has had some tough injury troubles in the lead up but with Gordie (Johnston) not playing in this tournament, Roop is going to be huge stepping up and showing off his power from the top of the circle. He’s got a devastating drag flick and I’m excited to see him surprise some world class keepers with his power.”
Age: 20 years old
School/Club: University of Fraser Valley
Notable hockey experience: Junior Pan American Championships, Junior World Cup
Credit to past coaches/supporters: My father, Harpreet Jhamat, has helped me the most to get to where I am now. He played field hockey in India and here in Canada and possesses a vast amount of knowledge that he passed onto me. He has always guided me since I began playing and is the reason I started in the first place. My father taught me the importance of work ethic, the foundational skills, and how to play with an edge. He is my biggest supporter by both cheering me on when I am doing well and correcting me when I do anything wrong. Without him, I would not be the type of player I am today.
On being selected: “To be selected to the MNT is a dream come true. It is something I have aspired for ever since I touched a field hockey stick. On top of this, having the opportunity to play at my first cap at such a prestigious tournament such as the Commonwealth Games is a blessing. I am honoured to represent Canada at the highest level and very excited to experience my first senior major games.”
On training with the senior team: “Training sessions are usually intense but enjoyable. We, as a team, ensure to train at a match-like tempo and aim to set the standard high at every training. That being said, it is fun being around the guys who are a great group of people. The environment is a balanced mix of competitive but educative. Tough yet informative. Training with Olympians has only pushed me to train and compete at a higher level. Rather than intimidating, it is exciting to be chasing after them and forces me to instil similar behaviours and skills on the field.”
Interim head coach Peter Milkovich on Jhamat: “Manveer was captain of the junior national team at the most recent Junior World Cup. He has certainly been very impressive in our training. He’s consistent, quick and great tackler.”
Age: 22 years old
School/Club: University of British Columbia
Notable hockey experience: Youth Olympic Games, Youth Pan American Championship, Senior tour to Los Angeles
Credit to past coaches/supporters: Coach Geoff Matthews both my club and junior team coach has played a vital role in my success. He pushed my development forward and kept me going when times were tough. Mike Mahood has been a vital piece in training me to become an international-level goalie. He consistently reminds me that being the best goalie isn’t just saving the ball but how sometimes slowing down and focusing on my technique will make all of the difference. Antoni Kindler has been a big mentor for me. His experience, approachability and kindness have inspired me to be a leader both on and off of the pitch. Without my parents, all of this would have never been possible. Their support throughout all of the years driving me to practices early in the morning and helping fund my development has given me this unforgettable opportunity to me. Finally, to all of my friends and coaches I’ve had throughout my journey, thank you for supporting me.
On being selected: “It’s surreal to be able to play at a multi-sport event let alone be in my first cap at the commonwealth games. Having all my friends and family able to watch my first cap means so much to me.
On training with the senior team: “Training with the more senior players has been very important for me and all of the young guys getting their first caps. They have taken all the new guys under their wing and are always approachable if you need anything.”
Interim head coach Peter Milkovich on McTavish: “Both of our goalkeepers are new to the side. Ethan is very fresh but has some great physical attributes to contribute. I’m excited to see what he can bring.”
Age: 27 years old
School/Club: High school in India
Notable hockey experience: Namdhari Hockey, Surinder Lions, Metro Vancouver Pro League
Credit to past coaches/supporters: Namdhari Hockey played a very important role in where I am today. Their teachings and guidance have resulted in many of their own players representing India at the international level. Two individuals who have helped me in my journey are Harpal Singh and Sardara Singh. My own cousin, Harpal Singh, is an Olympian who played for a couple of years, he was also at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Sardara Singh, former captain of the Indian Hockey Team, had a 16 year long career. Both of us share the same hometown and he has always been an inspiration to me. Both Harpal Singh and Sardara Singh have always been very supportive and helpful as I move forward with my field hockey journey.
On being selected: “Honestly to be selected still feels unreal to me. It has always been my dream to play field hockey at an international level and represent my country. Due to my circumstances, I was unable to play for India, but when I moved to Canada in 2013, I did not forget my dream. Over the years I have been working very hard to be where I am today, and I am so grateful to see where my hard work and determination has gotten me. Playing my first cap at the Commonwealth Games makes me both excited and nervous, but I will keep a positive mindset and play to the best of my abilities.”
On training with the senior team: “It’s been quite overwhelming playing among the experienced senior players, but I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. I still remember my first day at the camp how nervous I was to be there, but it was so easy being around the seniors. There is so much to learn and gain from them, they are so talented and helpful, and I am very thankful for this opportunity.”
Captain Keegan Pereira on Singh: “Gopi is a skillful forward and lethal finisher who is a testament of the success of the Metro Vancouver Pro League. He was not on the radar until this year and he’s come in and done a great job to earn his spot on the team.”
Photo Credits: World Sports Pics, Blair Shier, Provided.