Many athletes subscribe to the notion of practice time being as important – if not more so – than game time. And right now, many athletes on the Canadian men’s field hockey team have exactly that mindset.
Not playing a competitive game in two months – from the end of January’s training tour in South Africa to the next tournament in April – isn’t an issue Canada’s Men’s National Team, because the current training block sets the stage for what is an historic year.
“I think the guys know what’s at stake,” says defender Gordon Johnston. “When you’re training for the Olympics, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
With the team leaving for Malaysia and the 2016 Azlan Shah Cup, one of two training tours left prior to the 2016 Olympics, on April 1st, this current two-month block of training is what the coaches will use to make final decisions on the roster.
But it’s not just a trip to Malaysia that is on the line.
“We expect that the team named for this tour will be the one that goes to Rio, give or take a couple of names,” Johnston adds. “This is a very important time and guys know that.”
There are not many opportunities left after Malaysia to impress the coaching staff.
After the Azlan Shah Cup, the Men’s National Team will return to Vancouver for more training before heading to Europe in June for a set of games prior to Rio.
The roster for that trip will likely augur the Olympic team and serve as a key period for the Rio team to build chemistry, which means leading up to and during the Azlan Shah might be the best time for athletes to make their mark.
“It’s a tough block we’ve got going here,” says Burnaby’s Gabriel Ho-Garcia, who is one of many players fighting for a forward spot. “It’s always good to keep the spirits up and laugh. But also when drills are going it gets intense in there.”
With competition for Olympic spots on the line, the pace and intensity at training is fierce, and the balancing act between individual accomplishment and team goals can – at times – be a challenge.
But the Canadian men are quick to put the team first, despite the personal implications of each training session.
“You always want to score goals as a forward,” he says. “But a big thing is also building chemistry and making players around you better because if you’re making the team better, there’s a good chance you’re going to make the squad.
And while successfully competing for Canada at the Olympics is the end goal for every player in the men’s program, Johnston is quick to remind himself and his teammates that appreciating the entire experience is as important as the end goal.
“With all this intensity, sometimes you lose sight of why you play the game,” Johnston says. “I think that playing with our teammates, having a good time on the pitch and enjoying hockey for what it is, is the important part.”
The Canadian roster for the 2016 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, Malaysia is expected to be announced on March 21.
Canada’s first game of the tournament is on April 6 against Pakistan. For Canada’s full schedule, results, and game reports click here.