SURREY — Close to 800 field hockey players and staff from across Canada are in Newton this week for the 2017 National Championship Festival.
The eight-day tournament began Tuesday and runs until July 25 at Tamanawis Park, 12601 64th Ave.
Thirty-six male and female teams are in action, in U15, U18 and U23 divisions, which makes for long days at the two-field facility.
“We’re doing 13-hour days here, from eight in the morning until nine at night,” said Mark Saunders, executive director of Field Hockey BC, host of the tourney on behalf of Field Hockey Canada. “It’s going to be long for our technical officials and volunteers, but the sun is shining and people are smiling and this promises to be a great week of field hockey. Obviously we encourage everyone to come check it out.”
A lot of athletes in the tournament are vying for “talent identification” for Canada’s national teams, at both junior and senior levels, Saunders explained.
“In our U23 divisions, there will be talent identified by the current senior national head coaches, who will be looking to select them, potentially, for the next identification camp. For our juniors, the junior national coaches are here all week, and this is the number-one domestic talent-identification tournament for those athletes who are looking to hopefully represent Canada in the future” – possibly at the Olympic Games.
For hosts, the tourney is a first at Tamanawis in festival-style format, he said.
“This is the first time we’ve actually been brave enough to do three age-group divisions at once, in both gender groups,” Saunders explained. “So to have six divisions and extend it to eight days, as opposed to what it would normally be, which is four or five days, that’s a challenge for everybody. A lot of people here don’t get too much sleep between one day ending and the other starting.”
The festival-style tourney aims to celebrate the sport, he said, “to get more teams on the field and more players involved, more kids to be talent-identified and just more people playing this great sport.”
B.C. is a major player in Canadian field hockey, and Tamanawis Park is home to what Saunders calls “a jewel of a facility.”
“The fantastic aspect for this municipality, Surrey, is they’ve started to earmark sports-specific parks,” he elaborated. “Tamanawis Park has two of the best fields in the province, and if we’re looking at a situation (of) multiple teams playing at the same time, we need a minimum of two fields, and this is actually the only place where we can currently host. That’s a good thing for Surrey, and there’s a lot of talk about the potential for a third field here, and I wholeheartedly advocate for a third field here.”
The name ‘field’ hockey is a bit of a misnomer, as the sport is played on carpet. The big water guns at Tamanawis don’t soak any grass, they keep the game ball moving at a fast pace.