All Photos: Oscar Muñoz Badilla
Every athlete wants to win every game. But right now, it’s the process that counts for the Canadian Men’s National Team.
With their sights set on peaking in July for the Olympic Games, every piece of the Men’s National Team schedule is meticulously planned. Today, they wrapped up their first competition element of the season; a 10-day training and test-series tour in Santiago, Chile.
Canada is currently ranked 10th in the men’s world rankings. The tour roster featured 20 players and was primarily centred around warm-weather training. The event included two capped test-matches against the host Chile (28) and the reigning Olympic champions, Argentina (4).
Team Canada qualified for the Olympic Games in October in dramatic fashion against Ireland. Since then, they haven’t faced any international competition. According to head coach, Paul Bundy, after a break, he expects some rustiness, especially on set plays. Overall, he said he was pleased how the team improved throughout the matches.
“The emphasis of this tour is not necessarily winning every game,” Bundy said. “It’s about making sure a broader group of guys get into the games and it’s about working on our technical and tactical skills.”
With a few injured players rehabbing at home, the roster opened up for some younger players to get their chance to show on the international stage. UBC’s Sam Cabral and Brendan Guraliuk made their first tour appearances and goalkeeper David Vandenbossche played his first international senior cap to close out the tour. Pleasantly surprised, Bundy said the young athletes fit into the senior game well.
“I thought they managed the pace of the game well,” he said. “Of course, they still have lots to learn and pick up on but overall I was really pleased. They are fit and strong and only getting better and better.”
Brendan Guraliuk (left), Sam Cabral and David Vandenbossche (right), compete on their first senior international tour with Team Canada. Photo: Oscar Muñoz Badilla
Statistically, Gordon Johnston and Matt Sarmento led the team in goal-scoring, with Johnston knocking in three penalty corner goals and Sarmento adding two goals during the series. For Argentina, Jose Tolini peppered the Canadian net with five penalty corner goals.
Johnston, who turns 27 this week, has been a member of the senior national team since his debut in 2011. He reflected on the team’s production and overall performance this week in Chile.
“By no means were we firing on all cylinders,” he said. “But it was good to get some PC goals and show that our work in the last year is paying off. More than anything it’s just important to get games against good teams at this point in the year.”
Johnston has been through an Olympic cycle before (2016 Rio) and he knows that with only 16 spaces available on the Olympic roster in July, the competition for spots is already heating up. According to Johnston, the added pressure of it being an Olympic year only ups the level of play on tours and in daily training.
“Of course, when we are training and competing, we’re a team,” he said. “But knowing that there are only so many spots on the team; it makes the intensity higher. Everyone wants to play well, everyone wants to earn a spot.”
Bundy and Johnston both agree that despite some rustiness and a few missed opportunities, the tour was a success and both are looking forward to the next training block.
“I thought we didn’t capitalize on some chances, and at some points, we were our own worst enemy,” Bundy said. “Despite that, we definitely played our best overall game today [Jan 29 vs Arg]. We’ll take what we learned from this week and continue to grow and improve.”
Team Canada returns to the domestic training environment next week and sets their sights on the prestigious Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in April.