Cloverdale ball hockey player Gavin Pooni is in the Czech Republic this week, representing his country in the 2019 World Junior Cup.
The 15-year-old Salish Secondary student will be playing for Team Canada West, and facing off against teams from Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Great Britain.
Gavin has been the top points leader in his division in Surrey Minor Ball Hockey for the last two years, but he brings more to the field than just goal scoring.
His biggest strengths are his work ethic, and not giving up, he told the Reporter. “That, and I like to battle pretty good in the corners,” he said.
Though he’s now representing his country on the world stage for ball hockey, Gavin didn’t initially find success in the sport.
When he tried out for a local ball hockey league when he was 12, he “didn’t even make the team.” Coaches said that his speed just wasn’t there.
“A few years later, I guess I’ve stepped my game up,” he said. “Now that I look at it, they’d probably take me in a heartbeat.”
But getting to that point took years of perseverance and hard work.
Gavin started playing ice hockey when he was 3 or 4 years old, and picked up ball hockey when he was 10.
“I wanted to try something new and I figured it would be really fun,” he said.
Now he plays hockey year-round. When ice hockey season ends, and the ice comes off the rinks in the spring, Gavin laces up for ball hockey. “I just have a passion for the sport… it’s so fun that I can’t really stop playing.”
The transition between sports usually takes a few games to really set in. “When you play higher level in ball hockey, the ball moves way quicker compared to [the puck in] ice hockey. You have to control the ball differently.”
“It takes a few games to get used to how to control the ball properly.”
He was scouted for Team Canada West at a 2018 national tournament in Fredericton, N.B. Five players were selected from B.C. — Gavin is the sole Surrey player, and he will be joined by players from Maple Ridge, Richmond and Victoria.
He knows his B.C. teammates “pretty well,” as he’s faced off against them in regional games, as well as played alongside them for the national tourney last year.
It wasn’t easy to make the transition from opponent to teammate, he said, but they got there. One player in particular presented a challenge, as Gavin had gotten into a fight with them in an ice hockey match during playoffs.
“We didn’t like each other in the beginning, but we played together on the same team for nationals and now we’re playing worlds on the same team,” he said.
Bridging that tense relationship was a valuable life lesson. “It was a good experience to bond with each other,” he said. “We got to know each other in order to win.”
Gavin is currently in a training camp in Pilsen, Czech Republic, bonding with players from across the nation as they run drills together to prepare for the tournament start on Thursday (June 27).
When the Reporter caught up with Gavin before he left for Europe, he said that he planned to focus on playmaking and being a team player at the training camp. “I plan to show them what I’m best at,” he said. Part of that is “showing them what a leader I can be. A team player, bringing the team together, involving everyone and getting to know everyone.”
“To say that you are playing for your country is pretty cool, I think,” he said. It’s an “experience that I can have for the rest of my life.”
Cloverdalians will be able to stream Team Canada West’s games, which take place from June 27 to 30, online at cbha.com.
Gavin, meanwhile, will be focused on staying at the top of his game — physically and mentally. He’s most looking forward to the overall experience, to bonding with people from across the nation and making new friends.
“Also, winning gold for my country,” he said with a laugh.