Field Hockey Canada > Junior men drawing on past high-stakes success ahead of Pan Ams (with video)

Junior men drawing on past high-stakes success ahead of Pan Ams (with video)

PHOTO: Canadian men celebrate after a semifinal shootout win against Spain at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in China.

May 4, 2016 | Shaheed Devji |

With less then two weeks to go before the 2016 Junior Men’s Pan American Championship, the Canadian Under-21 Men’s National Team is confident.

They’re confident not only because of the preparation that has been put in over the last several months, but also because of what a core group of athletes on the team headed to Toronto has experienced in recent years.

Five Canadians – Amrit Sidhu, Balraj Panesar, Brandon Pereira, Floyd Mascarenhas, and Harbir Sidhu – competed at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China. Two of them had already played in a Junior World Cup in 2013, and for all of them it was yet another opportunity to play international hockey at the highest level.

The Canadians finished second, bringing home a silver medal and a wealth of experience which has allowed them to feel comfortable heading into the Pan Ams.

“As a young player you don’t want to have too much going through your head, you just want to be able to play the game,” says Panesar of what he and many of his teammates have learned playing at top flight international tournaments. It’s the message he and the other leaders on the team try to impart on their teammates.

“The message we try and get around is just to focus on the game plan. So whatever the coaches tell us, that’s all we try to do. Before the game we don’t try to calculate in our heads we have to try win by three goals. We review our game plan. Whatever our tactics are, we just want to focus on those.”

While only two Canadians on the roster – Panesar and Pereira – have been to a Junior World Cup, another set on the Pan Am team went through the qualification process leading up to the tournament, meaning much of the team has been together, through ups and downs, for the better part of three years.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Panesar adds. “I went as one of the youngest players last time. This time I’m going as one of the leaders on the team, so I’m just going to try and take what I learned and try and pass it on and also try and perform myself.”

Panesar and his teammates with the big game experience will be passing it on to the rest of the Canadian team in Toronto, which will feature several athletes who will be playing in their first major tournament for Canada.

That’s where the experience gained in China and at the previous World Cup in India will be invaluable for a Canadian team that is looking to qualify for its second straight Junior World Cup.

“We know that we can win some meaningful games,” says Canada’s head coach Inderpal Sehmbi. “And it’s not just the group that went to the Youth Olympics or the World Cup, but the group that was involved in qualifying. So there’s some familiarity there.”

Coaching experience also plays a part in Canada’s readiness, as Sehmbi was also in China as head coach for the Youth Olympic Games team, and in India as an assistant coach for the 2013 Junior World Cup.

And as a result, its not only the players who have had the opportunity to learn from the previous high-stakes experiences.

“I think personally I have grown as a coach of the last couple of years,” he adds. “I’m not as controlling and I realize that I have a group of guys who know how to play the game, and I’m more comfortable letting them do that.”

And the hope is that letting them do that will once again result in success on the biggest stage.

Canada opens the 2016 Junior Men’s Pan American Championship on May 20 against Mexico at 2:30pm PT/5:30pm ET. The matches will be live streamed on the International Hockey Federation YouTube channel.

Canada’ schedule, results, and game recaps can be found here.

WATCH – Amrit Sidhu and Harbir Sidhu draw on their experiences from the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in China: