PHOTO: Canada celebrates a goal against 6th ranked India at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil (By Yan Huckendubler)
The 2017 Men’s Hockey World League Semi-Final gets going today in London, and Canada’s men take to the field for their first game against Pakistan on Friday.
With World Cup qualification and the chance to move on to the World League Final on the line, there is a lot to watch.
The End Result
First and foremost, it’s about the results in London.
2018 World Cup qualification will be awarded to the Top 5 finishers at the World League Semi-Final, so placement is key.
Canada’s men will be looking to place as high as possible in the pool stage to draw a favourable opponent in the quarterfinal.
A win the in the quarterfinal would mean a guaranteed top-four finish and guaranteed World Cup qualification and a spot at the World League Final.
A quarterfinal loss means Canada would have to playoff for the coveted 5th spot and World Cup qualification.
With so much on the line, every game is important.
Each game in pool play carries with it a different storyline and implication, but the first and last are the most crucial for Canada’s men.
Two wins would like result in a 3rd place finish after pool play, meaning avoid the top seed in the crossover quarterfinal, and the best opportunities for wins come against the two teams ranked below Canada in Pool B: Pakistan and Scotland.
The Canadians open the tournament on Friday, June 16th against 13th ranked Pakistan. And while Canada is two spots ahead in the World Rankings, currently sitting at 11th, Pakistan will not be an easy opponent.
Canada and Pakistan last faced each other at the 2016 Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia, where the two teams met twice – the second of which was in the 5th place match – and in both matches, Pakistan had the edge by a score of 3-1.
Canada’s men will have likely targeted the final pool stage match on June 20th against 23rd ranked Scotland as another opportunity to pick up a win and improve placing before the quarterfinal.
But in the Scots, Canada draws the team that the most (4 spots) when the last World Rankings were released.
The last time Canada and Scotland met in a tournament of note was at the 2013 World League Round 2 in France, where Canada come out on top by a score of 5-3 on goals from Keegan Pereira, Mark Pearson, Gordon Johnston, and Matthew Guest.
Also of note is Canada’s tilt with 6th ranked India. The two teams last did battle at the 2016 Olympic Games in August and Canada shocked the world by picking up a 2-2 draw thanks to a two-goal performance from Canadian captain Scott Tupper.
Canada will likely have a strong belief that it can once again take points from India, this time in London.
Pan Am Cup Preview?
While Canada will be hoping to avoid drawing Pool A’s top seed in a quarterfinal matchup, that doesn’t mean that there is not a chance that the Canadian men meet Pan American rival and World No. 1, Argentina, in London.
And if the two Pan Am powerhouses do meet, it would likely be a preview of what is to come at some point during the Pan Am Cup in Lancaster, Pennsylvania this August.
It’s safe to say the two teams know each other well, having met in two of the last four Pan American Cup finals, and the last eleven straight Pan Am Games finals.
The Argies are the reigning Olympic Champions and knowing their continental foes well will give Canada the belief that they will be able to upset Argentina if the opportunity arises.
In Canada’s first match of the World League Semi-Final against Pakistan on Friday, midfielder John Smythe will be playing in his 50th senior international match for Canada.
Fifty games is the first big milestone in terms of games played on the international circuit, and for Smythe it is even more meaningful as his battle with Crohn’s disease once had him questioning whether he would even play one game for Canada.
When Canada faces India in Game 2 on June 17th, Gabriel Ho-Garciaa will play in his 100th match for Canada.
The 24 year-old native of Burnaby, British Columbia has already competed in an Olympic Games (2016) and Pan American Games (2015).