Alberto "Coco" Budeisky, PAHF President

As 2019 approaches, it seems an appropriate time to chat all things hockey to three people who are immersed in the sport, albeit in very different roles.

Alberto ‘Coco’ Budeisky is the President of PAHF and an executive member of the International Hockey Federation (FIH). As such, he has wide ranging knowledge of the machinations of international hockey and how PAHF fits within the global hockey scene.

Giles Bonnet is Head Coach to Canada women, having previously coached in the strong Dutch domestic league and internationally with his home nation South Africa, as well as Ireland, Belgium and China. Bonnet has been in position for just a few months but already is making his mark as the team recently returned from a successful – two wins and two draws – four-match test series against World Cup bronze medalists Spain.

Denise Krimerman-Losada is one of the stars of a nation that is on the rise – Chile. Regularly voted Player of the Tournament, Krimerman is one of the most highly respected defenders on the continent and was a popular choice in the PAHF 2017 Elite Team.

Alberto "Coco" Budeisky: Magical moments and steady progress

Looking back on 2018, Budeisky has two stand-out memories of a busy year: “The ODESUR Games in Cochabamba, Bolivia, because that was the first ever hockey tournament to take place in the country. Hosting an event for 16 South American nations on a new artificial pitch, that is a real achievement for a country that is relatively new to the game.

“The second memory is the Youth Olympic Games 2018 in Buenos Aires. There were full stands every day, every moment was magical and, at all matches, there was a really amazing atmosphere.”

The PAHF President is not so happy about the Central American and Caribbean Games (CAC Games) that took place in Barranquilla, Colombia. He explains that 16 teams took part in the Games, which acts as a qualifier for the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. When they turned up, the artificial pitch, which had been installed after four years of hard work between various stakeholders, was not up to standard.

The Games had to go on, said Budeisky, for the sake of hockey in the region, but the sub-standard pitch was a huge disappointment to the participating nations. From the tone of his voice, Budeisky gives the impression that this situation will not be allowed to happen again.

Budeisky has been PAHF President for five years now and one of his ambitions is to get more PAHF teams into the higher echelons of the world rankings. He wants to “shorten the gap between the top three national associations and the remainder of the PAHF hockey playing countries. “That has not yet been possible but we have made some very good advances,” he says. “There is some excellent development work and I think we will see some teams starting to break into the top 20.”

Two nations that have really tackled the development challenge are Guatemala and Costa Rica, says Budeisky. “Guatemala have really been pushing over the past few years and they have taken part in every tournament open to them. They received the FIH Pablo Negre Award two years ago and because of that, and the FIH support that the award brings, they will open a new artificial pitch next year.

“And in the case of Costa Rica, they are increasing the number of athletes all over the country. This year, for the first time, the men’s team took part in a FIH competition, the Hockey Open Series in Salamanca, Mexico. That is real progress.”

Giles Bonnet: “Change the environment and growth will occur”

Newly-appointed in the spring, Giles Bonnet is a man who is itching for his team to play as many international matches as possible. Canada has played only one major event under the South African-born head coach’s leadership – the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games – and Bonnet knows that for Canada to march up the rankings, they need to play the top teams.

“It has been disappointing to have been an observer of major events played this year,” he says. “However, with this comes also reflection and we have been inspired by the performances of teams like Ireland and Spain [who finished second and third respectively in the women’s World Cup].

“Our one major international, the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games was a great event and a fantastic venue. Unfortunately, it came too soon for us to really peak at the right time but it was good to see certain qualities being regularly presented by the team.”

Bonnet is full of praise for the attitude displayed by his new charges. “They have embraced a new direction and met the numerous challenges and requests that have been both thrown and made of them with spirit, resilience and an open mind.”

He explains that training has been focused on recreating the competitive environment of international fixtures, although he acknowledges there is no substitute for the real thing. “You can’t buy experience,” he adds.

The next year will be a big one for every team because it is the year that nations attempt to qualify for the Olympic Games. For Canada this route could well come via the Hockey Series Finals, the FIH event that has replaced the Hockey World League. Canada’s Hockey Series Finals campaign starts in Valencia, Spain in June and Bonnet is looking forwards to competing against teams with similar goals and aspirations.

There has been breakthrough for the Canada team, as Bonnet explains: “The women’s team will be supported by 94Forward in 2019. This is a legacy fund from the Commonwealth Games and it means we will be able to resource the woman's national team next year. The athletes are ecstatic about what changes this will bring to their environment. For the first time our dedicated athletes will have parity with the top teams in world hockey. Used properly, it will be a game-changer for us and I hope it will revolutionize the woman’s game in Canada.

“Canada has plateaued at about 21st in the FIH Hero World Rankings for more than 20 years. We are attempting to change this by introducing a high-performance approach. There is fantastic material to work with. Canadian players are athletic, smart, hungry to learn, ambitious, and have a focus that is very unique.

“In essence, I am saying, ‘if we provide the environment, the growth will occur.”

Bonnet has been delighted with the support he has received from the national hockey association. His approach is to put in place an aggressive strategy at youth and senior level. He has called for an “uncompromising approach to create a high-performance environment.”

The ambition and energy virtually crackles from the Head Coach as he says: “If we are allowed the time to see our strategy through to fruition, we will be able to fit into the international hockey scene once again.”

Denise Krimerman Losada: “We want to make history.”

Winning the Hockey Series Open in Santiago and beating arch rivals Uruguay in the final was the highlight of Denise Krimerman’s hockey year. “There were not so many international competitions for us this year, so to win the Hockey Series Open in front of home support was very special,” says the Chilean defender.

“We trained hard throughout the year for this competition, so to be able to play on our pitch, in our country, with the people we love the most, that was the highlight of this year. We gave a great show and people appreciated what we were doing as the Diablos.”

This year has been a year of heavy training with an eye on the Hockey Series Finals and the Olympic qualifiers in 2019. Krimerman says the team has grown throughout that period, with the Head Coach setting new goals and targets every month. “Our confidence and conviction in our own performance is growing but we know there are many details we still have to improve upon. Our final goal is to reach the Olympics so we know we have to continuously work as hard as we can.”

Chile has two routes to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics; via the Hockey Series Finals or through the Pan American Games, which are taking place in Lima. The latter competition will almost certainly pit them against two giants of the game, USA and Argentina, but Chile’s recent form means no-one can rule them out. USA under-estimated the Diablos to their cost at the Pan American Cup in 2017, and Chile came away with a silver medal as a result.

“Sport in Chile is still in development stages,” says Krimerman. “We are still some way behind the nations that have a strong tradition and culture in the sport. But clearly it helps that Chilean hockey is getting good results because we have more support and funding, which makes it easier for us to be elite athletes.”

Krimerman talks of a revolution in her country as more and more people take up hockey. Where Santiago was an oasis of hockey in the soccer-mad country, now pockets of hockey activity are opening up all over the South American country. As she says, more people playing means more exposure for the game. She also adds that the government could do more to support the national teams – not least by providing better and more numerous playing facilities.

The Chilean players commitment to their sport is evident in Krimerman’s words. Despite very few international fixtures this year, every training session is heavily loaded physically and mentally and there is a lot of focus on high intensity match play. “We are 100 per cent committed to hockey,” says Krimerman, “We will turn up for next year’s challenges in the very best shape possible. We want to make history and get an Olympic qualification. Yes, the ambition is a high one, but with perseverance we will achieve that dream. It will be our own hockey revolution.”