A tournament on home soil, the chance to reach the Hockey World League (HWL) Semi-Finals and a shot at qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, the stakes couldn’t be much higher for the Canadian women’s team as they enter the last stages of preparation before the HWL R2 event, which springs into action on 1 April.
It is a scenario many of the team has faced before. Two years ago, Canada found themselves facing some of the top 10 teams in the world as they competed at the HWL Semi-Finals in Valencia. On that occasion, the team finished in ninth position, just one place ahead of fellow PAHF team, Uruguay.
That the team learnt a lot from that experience was plain to see when they participated in the prestigious Hawkes Bay Tournament in New Zealand and shocked Korea (ranked ninth in the world) by defeating them 2-1.
Danielle Hennig, who has been a member of the team that experienced the highs and lows of the past few seasons, took some time out of training to tell us about the preparations: “Our team’s ultimate goal is to qualify for the World Cup, so we know we need to finish top two at HWL2 in Vancouver. Our main focus though is just performing well throughout the entire tournament because we know, if we do that, we can accomplish our goals. We also have extra motivation playing on home turf in front of friends and family as that is a very rare occurrence for us”.
The defender, who has more than 120 caps for her country added: “As for what we learned from HWL3 in Valencia, I guess just taking confidence that we can and have made it through to round three before is a powerful thing. From there we've used those games, and what maybe let us down, to shape the past two years of training and competition. We have been constantly refining and improving our game.”
“We feel confident that we've made big strides in our game and are closing the gap on top teams and will be able to compete and accomplish our goal of qualifying for the World Cup.”
In preparation for HWLR2, the squad has recently been on a tour to Australia, where they played an eight match series against the highly-regarded state team, the Queensland Scorchers. Among the ranks for the Australian premier league team are several of the Australian national team, including hot-shot drag flicker Jodie Kenny, plus Kirstin Dwyer, Tegan Richards and Madison Fitzpatrick.
The tour was beneficial in every way. The results were good: four wins, two draws and two losses and the trip was a chance for the team to bond and get used to tournament conditions.
Another stalwart of the Canadian team, Kate Wright, who has represented Canada more than 150 times, said: “We’re really excited. It’s a short turnaround before World League, but I think we have a really good foundation moving forward from the Gold Coast. I think the tour of Australia really set us up for complete focus.”
“Our number one goal is to qualify for World League Three,” Wright adds. “But there are some big steps in place to do that; coming first or second.”
With the Canada women’s HWLR2 roster expected to be named mid-March, the women have just a few weeks to compete among themselves for the chance to compete on home soil and prepare to fight for 2018 World Cup qualification.
For Canada men, the challenge comes even sooner. The Red Caribou will be one of five Pan American teams lining up in Trinidad and Tobago to do battle for the two top spots and automatic qualification for the HWLR3.
“We have returned to a centralised program now,” says midfielder Taylor Curran, who is looking to add to his 121 caps. “From the fall until now, the guys have been doing their own thing and it was a bit fragmented but now we have come together and we have all these new guys and there is a lot of fresh energy, which is great.”
At just 25, Taylor is a veteran of the team. He made his debut for the senior team in 2009 and was on the roster for the 2010 World Cup. Now he is one of a number of the younger players who, he says, “are ready to step up, set an example more and take a new role, a leadership role, within the squad.”
Forward Iain Smythe also made his debut in 2009 and has more than 130 caps to his name. Like Taylor, this includes two silver medals from the 2011 and 2015 Pan American Games and of course a place on the team that qualified and participated in the 2016 Olympics.
Smythe says the new campaign offers a new challenge, and not just from the opposition: “This is a new group and there are new guys trying to take my spot. Good on them, but I’m just going to push on myself and push a few goals in and try to take a bigger role.
“We have a good chance. We will play the way Canada plays, we will concentrate upon the simple things, play hard, not stall – I think we have a great shot.”
Hockey World League Round Two is part of the qualification process for the 2018 Men’s and Women’s Hockey World Cups to be held in India and London respectively.
The top two teams at HWLR2 in Trinidad and Tobago and Canada will advance to the Hockey World League Semi-Finals. The third placed teams at each venue will also still have a chance of qualification if either team’s ranking place is higher than the third place finishers at earlier HWLR2 events.
Two women’s HWLR2 events have already taken place, with Ireland, Malaysia, Spain and Poland qualifying. Scotland, (ranked 17th in the world) and Italy (ranked 15th) finished third in their respective events, so their rankings will prove all important when the action stops at West Vancouver.
Canada men start their campaign with a tough opening fixture against the USA on 25 March. They then play Chile and Barbados in the pools before the competition moves to the quarter final stages.
The women will face Mexico in their opening game on 1 April. They then play Chile and Trinidad and Tobago.