On the Road to Tokyo, we will be spotlighting young blood on the Men’s National Team and their journeys from the junior to senior level. As baby Red Caribou, their stories are a signal of what hard work and perseverance can lead to, and can be a source of inspiration to us all on our own pathways.
Since his debut on the Men’s National Team on Canada Day in 2018, Jamie Wallace hasn’t missed a beat. He’s been named to each touring roster and has played in every major tournament since, including the 2018 FIH World Cup and 2019 Pan American Games, making his early mark on the squad.
Wallace first started playing around the age of 11 for the Vancouver Hawks FHC after being persuaded to give the sport a try. Growing up an ice hockey player, he found that many of the skills were transferable and was able to pick up field hockey quickly before joining a few provincial teams and making his junior debut.
Forty-six senior international matches later, 21-year-old Wallace is well on his way to his first major cap milestone. It’s been a journey that he describes as “non-stop,” but wouldn’t have any other way.
“Following the 2016 Junior World Cup, I trained with the National Team for about a year and a half before I was finally selected for anything,” said Wallace. “It all kind of happened so quickly. You know, you make your first junior team, you get selected to your first camp and you play in the USA series, and then you’re training with the senior team.”
In his transition to the senior stage — which Wallace calls ‘seamless’ — he praises the junior program, led by coaches Inderpal Sehmbi and Geoff Matthews, for well preparing players for the next level. While the speed and intensity are taken up a notch, tactics are relatively the same and the hours start to add up.
“With experience, you just get better. I’m a bit smarter around my training; when I was younger, I would just go to the field and think, ‘if I put in as many hours as I can, it’s going to translate into good results’ which it definitely did. But I became smarter with more focus and intent, and it’s made the process more efficient.”
Jamie Wallace celebrating in a friendly against Belgium on 05.18.21 (Photos: Emma Van Mol)
Though the pandemic has put a damper on many plans, Wallace used the time to his advantage. With school moving online and the UBC Thunderbirds season getting cancelled, he realized that he didn’t have to physically be in Vancouver. Now, he plays for Almere Hockey Club in the Dutch Hoofdklasse.
“As a field hockey player at a high level in Canada, you really want to go overseas and test yourself. It was just really special playing in probably the best league in the world. Every weekend, you’re playing against amazing guys and it’s quite motivating.”
Getting professional experience during an unpredictable year has also helped Wallace better navigate the Red Caribou’s recent tours. Consistent exposure to high quality matches has proven to be very valuable: he’s learned to keep calm and composure under pressure during league play which has translated to his international hockey as well.
Following a testing two weeks in May that saw four losses and one win against top teams like Belgium and Germany, Wallace says the group is swiftly re-adjusting to the new system ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
“We have a new set of coaches; we have a new philosophy, and it’s been really different from what everyone was kind of used to,” Wallace explained. “We’ve had the same mindset for the past eight to ten years so I think, for everyone, it’s a balance of getting used to playing again and learning this new system, trying out what works.
“We’re still in the process of figuring it all out to make sure it works best for us. When we get to the Games, you know, we’re looking to get results in Tokyo. We don’t really care about getting results on a tour like this. It’s about the process, and building towards being able to play the best we can in Tokyo.”
“It’ll be super, super exciting if I’m selected to go and represent Canada at the Olympics. That would be a dream come true for sure.”
Wallace recalls the Olympic Qualifiers like they were just yesterday. Not only was he able to score in the dramatic shootout against Ireland, but to do it on home soil — with all of his friends in the stands — was a euphoric moment and one he says is the highlight of his budding career.
“We knew it was going to be really tough. But it was also pretty cool because, my friends, they hear about all the places I go and [see] the pictures on Instagram from time to time, but they’ve never actually seen me play, at least at a high level, or the sport at the highest level.
“It’s hard to describe those 48 hours. I’ve never felt such euphoria in my life. I missed a midterm too because I was just out celebrating. Especially after qualifying in front of the home crowd, because that community has done so much for us and it was just awesome to be able to give them something to kind of say ‘thank you for all their help.’”
Jamie Wallace following Canada’s Tokyo 2020 qualification in October 2019. (Photos: Blair Shier)
With such a quick ascension to the top, Wallace only took a step back this past March to reflect on how far he’s come. With already many items checked off his hockey to-do list, he’s looking ahead to solidifying his career and being the best of the best.
He was recently named to the 18-person roster heading to Chile for the Junior Pan American Championship this August, and it’s no surprise that he has his eyes on the Olympics — not just Tokyo 2020, but Paris 2024 too.
“Athletically, I definitely want to have a good career in Europe and establish myself as a world-class player, being able to have huge impacts against the best teams in the world. From a field hockey standpoint, I want to help lead the team and get us to Paris. I’d like to support and mentor a bunch of the guys I went through the junior program with and be there for them.
“It’s all exciting to think about it. Obviously, it’s been a weird year and it’ll be weird Games for sure, but it’ll be super, super exciting if I’m selected to go and represent Canada at the Olympics. That would be a dream come true for sure.”
Jamie Wallace playing for Almere Hockey Club in the Netherlands. (Photo: Bert van der Toorn)