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Canada mounts serious challenge in Leipzig

Germany vs Canada

The Canadian men’s team have been to every Indoor Hockey World Cup, could this be their year?

The Canadian men’s team has been at every edition of the Indoor Hockey World Cup, a record that the North American side shares with Germany, and this year, they are joined by their women’s team after both teams won their respective Pan-American Indoor Hockey Cup to qualify.

Head coach to the men’s team is Louis Mendoca, a driving force behind indoor hockey and the man in charge of Canada at two previous World Cups – 2003 and 2007. He says: “The non-European countries arrive at a disadvantage because of the lack of regular high level competition, but we are ranked seventh in the world, and we are certainly looking to make the quarter-finals.”

To fulfil this ambition the team has been travelling to Europe as often as finances allow, but as Mendoca says: “Canada is quite isolated, so any international exposure involves lengthy travels. Of course this is also a disadvantage shared by other qualifying nations such as Australia and South Africa.”

That said, indoor hockey is playing its part in developing both versions of the game in Canada. While most of the Canadian indoor team hail from Ontario, where the weather forces the players inside for six to eight months of the year, a number of international outdoor players from the Toronto area were also training indoor during the winter months. As Mendoca points out, “This means the national indoor team was immediately competitive when official international competitions were organised.”

Mendoca believes the two games complement each other, and the specific indoor skills could certainly benefit players when they move to the larger outdoor pitch. He says: “There are a lot of transferable skills. Plus Canadian players have limited opportunities of playing high level competitions, so indoor could add to their international experience.”

The head coach to the women’s team is John de Souza, an experienced coach who has played for Canada outdoors and indoors and was coach to the men’s team at the Indoor Hockey World Cup alongside Mendoca in 2007. He agrees with his colleague that experience in one version of the sport can only be good for the other. “I believe you must have good elimination skills with good vision and passing skills. I really don’t see much of a difference between the two. In the outdoor game, so many teams are playing the half court to defend and stay compact so the game really isn’t so different in that way. I believe the best players have great dribbling skills and are able to beat defenders in both directions.”

For John, one of the best things about the build-up to this World Cup has been the four-nation event that was hosted by Canada: “We played South Africa, Argentina and the USA because we need to get international experience for our athletes. The fact that we had a second team in the event exposed 12 more athletes to international hockey and we can’t forget the impact on the people that came to watch, and the fact that we had two umpires and a technical table of four new judges. The benefits from this event far outweighs going to Europe because so many people benefited, not just the players.”

Like many teams, Canada’s players will be raising a lot of the funds for the event themselves. One player who knows just what it takes to combine the high level of training with fund-raising is Shankar Premakanthan. The goalkeeper first played in 2003, as the reserve ‘keeper, and has been a regular in the side ever since, moving as he says from ‘being one of the young guys to one of its leaders.”

“For the past 14 years, fundraising has been a part of the programme. For as much as we train and practice, we fundraise as well, it is always part of our indoor programme. In preparation for this World Cup, we have tried many different fundraising activities: selling t-shirts, running clinics, umpiring games in local tournaments and leagues, various dinner/dances, a charity golf tournament, to name just a few. The beauty of these events is how much they raise the profile of the sport.”

Shankar, who will be one of the few players in the world to have appeared at all four World Cups, adds: “Having participated in the previous World Cups I have seen a fair bit of change. I feel teams are getting stronger and the competition is getting more fierce, so for the fans and hockey lovers alike, this is something to be enjoyed.”

Despite the challenges faced by the Canadian teams, there is a dedication to the game among its coaches and players that overrides the financial and logistical challenges. Premakantha says: “What motivates me? I think I can most simply state that is it the love for the game, and the love of competition. I enjoy every minute that I am out there, and I love competing against the best, no matter the level. I can’t wait to see what will be in store for this World Cup.”

And de Souza adds: “I’m not sure there is a better place to play Indoor Hockey than in Germany and to be competing in Leipzig again is just awesome.”

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