Family and tradition have played a huge part in many a young hockey player’s choices as they have grown up and pursued a future within the sport. Nowhere is this more true than in the lives of two young Canadian stars – Brandon Pereira and Rohan Chopra.
Brandon Pereira is hoping that sparks will fly when Canada take to the field in the men’s Pan American Junior Hockey Championship in May. While the young defender has one eye on a bright future as an electrician for now, and the next few years, it is hockey that is giving him his sparkle.
Pereira has been part of the junior national team since 2013 and during the intervening years he has become a pivotal member of the squad, captaining the team at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing.
The skilful defender, who hails from Surrey, British Columbia, says that he still remembers the nerves that threatened to engulf him as he prepared for his first international performance as an U21, against Korea in the 2013 Junior World Cup. “It was in Delhi, and we played a tough game against Korea. Unfortunately we lost 7-4 on that occasions. I remember feeling very excited and a little bit nervous, wondering would I be able to compete at the international level.”
That doubt was soon dispelled as Pereira’s hockey career flourished. His most memorable match to date was at those 2014 Youth Olympic Games. “It was the 2014 Nanjing Youth Olympic final and we lost in a shootout against Australia. It was made so memorable because of the atmosphere of being in the finals at the Youth Olympics and being able to represent Canada at a multi-sport event.”
That silver medal and the taste of success has whet the appetites of the players who were at the 2014 final. The team has stuck together as far as age restrictions allow and Pereira has a very clear goal. “Our team goal is to win the tournament and qualify for the Junior World Cup. We are hardworking, committed, determined as a team and that will help us fulfil that ambition.”
Standing in the way of Pereira and his teammates is the side that has won every edition of this competition, Argentina. “Sure, Argentina is our biggest competition but we cannot afford to overlook any of the teams that are competing in the tournament, we will have to stick to our game plan and play as a team.”
Currently the team is training six times a week, both on the field and in the weights room, and it is a demand on the young player’s time that should not be underestimated. Learning how to manage his time and training commitments have been two of the challenges faced by the 20-year-old over the past three years.
He is candid about both the team and his own levels of performance. “I think my best quality is being a leader because I have had a lot of experience playing with the junior team. Another quality I contribute to the team is my work ethic and perseverance. I think the one thing I could work on is being more of a vocal leader, as I feel I can sometimes be too quiet on the field. From a team perspective, we need to continue to work on building our team chemistry and playing as one unit.”
The pressure of competition at the top level is something that Pereira thrives on and his hockey ambitions involve Olympic appearances as a senior national. He has also completed his Level 1 electrical course and is currently working with a contractor until he can complete the rest of the levels and gain formal qualification.
So where does the abiding love of hockey come from? Pereira explains that it is something that runs in the family: “My biggest role model growing up would be my grandpa. He competed in the Olympics for the Uganda field hockey team. He always taught me to work hard in order to achieve my goals.”
Another Canadian athlete for who hockey is in the blood is Rohan Chopra. Both Rohan’s father and mother – Sandeep and Maureen – played national hockey for Canada and, in fact, were in Australia earlier this year representing Canada at the Master’s World Cup.
We caught up with Sandeep before he left for Australia and he had this to say about his son: “Rohan has always showed an incredible aptitude for all things athletic. He played virtually every sport growing up, including ice hockey, soccer, track and cross country running. He excelled at all of them. Regardless of what sport he involved himself in he competes with passion. I think if you spoke to any of his coaches they would tell you that not only does he possess incredible fitness but is known for his ability to understand tactics and absorb coaching direction at a level beyond his years.”
If Pereira had his grandfather to thank for his hockey skills, Chopra can look to both sides of his family. The Chopra family are well known in hockey circles as they have been building hockey communities in Canada for decades, while the Conn family – Chopra’s mother Maureen and auntie Michelle – both played for the women’s national team. Michelle played in two Olympics (1988 and 1992) and has been inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of fame.
However, joining the national programme has not been all plain-sailing for Chopra. He was brought up on the east side of Canada, where the weather and culture means hockey is played to a lesser extent than on the western side. To become part of the national squad, Chopra – along with several other Ottawa athletes – had to move 3,000 kilometres across the country and put his academic life on hold.
The athlete explains the challenge he and others from the east side face: “The biggest problem for us east side athletes, particularly those from Ottawa, is that the majority of field hockey is played in Toronto, which is a five hour drive.
“In Ottawa, I'm able to train with a few national level athletes who also are identified in the junior national program as well, however for any real high level competition we need to travel across the country to British Columbia. Which is why I had to move out to Vancouver to be a part of the junior national team this past winter. I am currently training and living out here in Vancouver preparing for the junior Pan American Championship.”
Despite this, there was really never any doubt that Chopra would be following in both his parents’ footsteps. “Growing up with four other family members who loved the sport definitely had a huge impact on my commitment. We were all at the field five or six times a week, even if our teams didn't have practice. We all found great pleasure in not only playing but also helping out the whole club. By the time I was 14, I was completely hooked on the sport.
“My brother also loves the game, so we could always play together and talk about field hockey. Other players didn't have that same connection so it was more difficult for them to join and then stick around the sport.”
Chopra’s first junior international appearance was against the USA in a four series test earlier this year. He says of that first match: “Definitely one of my most lingering moments was waiting to play that first game, from waking up in the morning to that first whistle, everything seemed much longer than it was.”
Six months on from that international debut and Chopra’s competitive juices are flowing strongly. His immediate ambition is to be part of a Canadian team that not only qualifies for the Junior World Cup, but becomes the first team other than Argentina to win the Junior Pan American Championship! After that, who knows? He would like to play at the Olympics but he is also determined to go back to Ottawa and help develop hockey on the eastern side of his country. There is no disguising the sense of family pride as he says: “It's definitely something special to be carrying the legacy of my family who previously represented Canada.”