Commonwealth Games

Commonwealth Games launching new chapter for Canadian field hockey

Canada's men's and women's field hockey teams are welcoming Birmingham 2022 as an opportunity to push the programs into the next generation of players.

Canada continues busy year with focus on development in Birmingham

Anna Mollehnahuer, centre, is one of five players from Vancouver Island playing for Canada's women's field hockey team at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England. (Yan Huckendubler/Field Hockey Canada)

It's a transition period for Canadian field hockey. After years of a similar group leading the way, the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games will showcase a new chapter as younger athletes take the reins. 

Canada's women had a busy summer, playing at their first FIH World Cup in 28 years, while the men, who haven't played a competitive match since January, spent an extended period together preparing for the tournament. 

Both teams are in pool play with India and England, ranked in the top 10 on both sides, as well as Ghana and Wales. 

"When I took over the team, I had the task of turning the roster over from a personnel and a culture dynamic," men's interim head coach Peter Milkovich told CBC Sports. "This tournament is about laying a foundation and broadening the player-base that could be selected for Canada in the future."

The top two teams in each pool advance to the semifinals, while the remaining play consolation games for places 5-10. Canada's best finish in the men's competition at the Commonwealth Games is sixth, at Manchester 2002 and Glasgow 2014, while the women set a best-ever result at Gold Coast 2018, finishing fifth. 

"It's been pretty intense over the last while; we had a long prep ahead of the World Cup. Our first time there in 28 years was exciting, and at times overwhelming," women's head coach Rob Short told CBC Sports. 

The Commonwealth Games don't offer the grandeur of the Olympics or World Cups. Still, it is a major tournament that offers a chance to prepare for future competitions.

Canadian women continue big summer

2022 has been historic for the Canadian women. The year began with them qualifying for the FIH World Cup through the Pan American qualification tournament and a 1-0 win over the United States. 

At their first World Cup since 1994, they bowed out in the group stage with losses against Spain, South Korea and Argentina before losing to India and South Korea to finish 15th. 

"We made some big mistakes at the World Cup, which we weren't used to from our group. We're going to get back to what we know we're good at," Short said. "I've selected a younger team, and we'll move some players around; of course, you want a successful tournament, but it's a building block for the future with Olympics and World Cups."

The Commonwealth Games are a quick turnaround, but Canada arrives in Birmingham with clear goals — gain experience and surprise a few people. 

Despite such a short time between competitions, with athletes and coaches splitting up for just over a week, many of them stepped back from the sport while maintaining their training regimes in preparation for Birmingham 2022. 

"We're lucky to have had over a month together in Europe before the World Cup, and we've spent a lot of time as a team," midfielder Anna Mollenhauer told CBC Sports. "The time off has been a bit weird; there's a lot of personal accountability to keep up with your workouts, but it's been nice to recharge not only our bodies but our minds as well."

With a fast-paced and exciting style of field hockey, Canada's women look to surprise at Birmingham 2022, eyeing a first-ever semifinal appearance in an already historic year for the program. 

Canada's diversity a strength on, off the field

Walk by the Canadian men's field hockey locker room, and you'll hear a wide variety of music. One minute it's the hip hop of Kanye West. Next, it's Taylor Swift's pop and country. After that, it's the most popular Punjabi songs.

"I think it's a testament to Canada's diversity and the guys coming together from within our team; it's inspiring to blend all these different flavours and different cultures," Canada's captain and most capped player Keegan Pereira told CBC Sports. 

Even with the youthful additions, the cohesiveness continues as debutants such as Ethan MacTavish, Tristan Burgoyne, Gurpreet Singh, Manveer Jhamat, Roop Dhillon and Alexander Bird join the team.

While Team Canada features six new faces and two with less than 10 caps, the diversity remains. It proves to be one of Canada's strengths as they approach the next generation. 

"We can be one of the only teams in the world that can play two different styles, in an Asian style and a European style, which if we do effectively can be dangerous," Milinkovich said. "As a country and a team, it shows what the DNA of what Canada is and I think that diversity is a real bonus and advantage for us."

Team Canada is as ready as ever for the Commonwealth Games. The tournament falls at the perfect time in the coaching staff's peaking plan, which included exhibition matches against club teams and the French national team.

CBC Sports is the home for all of Canada's field hockey games at Birmingham 2022. You can stream all of the action on CBCsports.caCBC Gem and the CBC Sports App for iOS and Android devices.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ben Steiner

Freelance Writer

Ben Steiner is a freelance sports journalist and commentator with experience covering U SPORTS, FIS World Cup Alpine Skiing, IBSF World Cup Bobsled, and the Canadian National Soccer Teams. After growing up in Vancouver, he is now based in Toronto. Twitter: @BenSteiner00

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