July 21st, 2024

Canadian men’s field hockey team puts jobs aside in bid to qualify for Paris Olympics

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on January 14, 2024.

The Canadian men’s field hockey team is shown posing with the bronze medal Nov. 3, 2023, at the Pan American Games. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Field Hockey Canada-Yan Huckendubler **MANDATORY CREDIT **

Once again, Gordon Johnston has put his career as a civil engineer on hold to wear Canadian colours.

So have many others on the Canadian men’s field hockey team, with occupations ranging from student to software developer.

“It’s cool to see and to have that diversity amongst the team of people working in different places and everyone building themselves and creating a life after hockey,” said the 30-year-old Johnston, a two-time Olympian who works for SRK Consulting as a water resources engineer.

It also means sacrifice.

Johnston, a Vancouver native who now lives in Victoria with his wife, regularly travels back to the Lower Mainland to train with the team. And with funding for the program hard to come by, players have often had to dig into their own pocket.

“Most of the guys have a full-time job outside of hockey and that is because living in Vancouver is expensive,” said Johnston.

“Over the years we have had moments where we were funded very well and moments where we don’t have as much to spend on travelling and playing games,” he added. “Field hockey is a small sport in Canada and in North America for me. So for us to get good games it means travelling across the ocean one way or another to go play in Asia or Europe “¦ it’s an expensive sport and we don’t have as much funding as some of the other teams do. But we’ve done a really good job of making do with the money that we do have.”

Johnston, the team captain, says the team is always looking at ways to cut costs and stretch the dollar.

“But to be completely honest, a lot of us spend a lot of money to participate with the Canadian national team. A lot of tours are either partially or fully player-funded. It would be great to see that change and to have a sustainable program where players aren’t contributing to playing games.”

Winning helps. As would making the Paris Olympics.

The 17th-ranked Canadian men open play Monday at an FIH Olympic qualifier in Muscat, Oman, where they have been drawn in Pool B with No. 5 Germany, No. 10 New Zealand and No. 22 Chile. Pool A features No. 12 Malaysia, No. 16 Pakistan, No. 23 China and Britain.

Canada opens Monday against Germany before facing Chile on Tuesday and New Zealand on Thursday.

“We don’t have to win every single game. We have to win the right games,” said Johnston, who has won 203 caps for Canada.

Another men’s qualifier runs simultaneously in Valencia, Spain. The top three teams at each tournament book their ticket to Paris.

The Canadian men have competed in eight Olympics including three of the last four, finishing 10th in 2008, 11th in 2016 and 12th in 2021.

They downed Ireland in a dramatic shootout in 2019, capping a two-game series, to qualify for Tokyo where they finished 12th.

The Canadian women, who last took part in the Olympics in 1992, are looking to make the Paris field at a qualifying tournament that started Saturday in Valencia. The women are 1-1-0 so far.

The Netherlands (men and women), Australia (men and women), Argentina (men and women), South Africa (men and women), India (men) and China (women) have already qualified for Paris by virtue of winning their respective continental qualifiers.

The Canadian men are coming off a bronze-medal performance at the Pan American Games, bouncing back from a penalty shootout loss to Chile in the semifinal by defeating the U.S. 3-2 to make the podium.

The men’s roster features eight players with more than 100 caps including Johnston, Curran Taylor and Keegan Pereira, who have 200-plus caps. There are also six players with under 25 caps.

“It’s been really cool to see the next generation of players come up and join the team,” said Johnston, who made his senior debut in 2011. “We have a really strong core of guys that have been to an Olympic and other major games that have contributed for a very long time. So it’s nice to have the balance of experience and youth.”

Canada Men

Goalkeepers: Zachary Coombs, Chelsea, Que.; Ethan McTavish, North Vancouver.

Defenders: Sam Cabral, Vancouver; Manveer Jhamat, Abbotsford, B.C.; Gordon Johnston, Vancouver; Balraj Panesar, Surrey, B.C.

Midfielders: Taylor Curran, North Vancouver; Brendan Guraliuk, Tsawwassen, B.C.; Thomson Harris, Vancouver; Matthew Sarmento, Vancouver; Harbir Sidhu, Victoria; Floris van Son, Calgary.

Forwards: Brenden Bissett, New Westminster, B.C.; Fin Boothroyd, West Vancouver; James Kirkpatrick, Victoria; Devohn Noronha Teixeira, Mississauga, Ont., Keegan Pereira, Ajax, Ont.; Oliver Scholfield, Vancouver.

Head Coach: Patrick Tshutshani.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2024.

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