Bonjour From Brussels

Well after a busy Summer with the National Team which had me in Glasgow, Scotland for the Commonwealth Games I’ve finally settled into my new home in Belgium and figured it was time to put pen to paper and update everyone on how I’m doing.

The search for a European Club can be difficult at times and I was fortunate enough to find a spot playing alongside Canadian National Team Captain Scott Tupper at Royal Racing Club de Brussels and the set up here couldn’t be much better. The club itself has a long and proud history and will be celebrating its 125 year anniversary next season. The facilities are equally impressive and we not only have a permanent tribune next to the main hockey pitch but also our very own street sign.

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The team itself has been super welcoming and we have a nice mix of Belgians, Canadians and even 3 Irish lads. The only downside to this is that it’s often difficult for the Belgians to understand the Irish when they speak English so Tups and I are usually called upon to be emergency interpreters, better equipped to decipher the confusing Irish lingo.

On the pitch we have had some successes already as we had a great last preseason weekend in England at East Grinstead Hockey Club, going 3 – 0 and winning the inaugural Five Feathers Invitational Trophy. This weekend was especially fun for Scott and I as we got to catch up with Kevin Pereira, a fellow Canadian manning the pipes for Reading HC this season.

Back in Belgium we have started the Division Honneur (DH for short) somewhat cautiously with hard fought draws on the road against Braxgata (3-3) and Daring (2-2), not terrible results by any means but tough not to have picked up a W considering how well we have been playing at times. Overall though we know it is a long season and as long as we pick up the 3 points this weekend in our first home match vs Leuven we are still on track for a top 4 spot and berth in the playoffs!

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Outside of hockey I’m quite busy coaching youngsters in the club and am beginning French lessons on Monday, so I’m quite confident the next blog post you see from me will be in perfect French! Also my girlfriend Abi has settled in nicely at her club Royal Wellington and outside of hockey is equally busy with coaching and a heavy course load UBC.

Thanks to everyone for their support back home and huge congratulations to our U-18 boys for their recent Silver Medal in the Youth Olympic Games, very impressive and hopefully a sign of things to come.

 

Allez Racing!

 

Mark

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3 Lessons from Sochi

Well another Olympic Games have come and gone and in order to help stave off some post-Olympic depression I thought I might reflect back and share my 3 major takeaways from the successful Games in Sochi, Russia. These are the things which I will be keeping in mind as I move towards the 2014 Commonwealth Games, 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto and of course the 2016 Rio Olympics.

1) Don’t Believe the Hype – The storyline was perfect, America’s former Cold War adversary looking like it was about to get a massive Ostrich egg dropped on its face in front of the World, so corrupt and inept that even with a $52 Billion dollar budget, one 8 times that of Vancouver, it was not going to be able to get facilities done on time or the accommodation ready. I for one lapped it up, voraciously scouring for the web for articles, blogs, pics, tweets (from the infamous @sochiproblems), and youtube videos

before holding my breath to see exactly how bad it was going to be – and if this wolf did find a room for the night. In the end things really went off without a hitch, people were safe, the athletes competed, medals were won, we won gold in hockey and outside of some Spring-like conditions and a malfunctioning ring the Titanic did not crash, and Sochi proved a success. In hindsight I should have known better since we dealt with nearly the exact same story line leading up to the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India, with rumours of unfinished buildings, dogs roaming the village, and major security concerns. On the whole there were some ridiculous scenarios and yes the buildings certainly weren’t up to Canadian building codes, but the athletes competed, the food was good, people were safe and I look back fondly on those Games. In my mind it adds character, as where else in the world would you literally have monkeys in uniform patrolling the village as pest and vermin control specialists, just amazing! Overall then, I think I’ve now finally learned my lesson and no matter what the story line or media hype is leading into future tournaments, I just need to focus on what I can control, work hard and show up ready to compete and represent my country.

2) Families and Support Network Matter – This really hit home with me as I watched the “NHL Revealed” documentary on CBC last night which featured a behind the scenes look at the Sochi Olympics, following our Canadian hockey stars from the NHL to Russia. They interviewed the WAG’s, parents and friends of our Canadian Hockey Olympians who had also made the long trip to Sochi to watch the boys compete. Besides Getzlaf’s constant banter and light-hearted jabs at teammates during practice, what really stuck out was how much these uber-rich Hockey players cared about the people who had supported them and help get them where they were. It was awesome to see Drew Doughty take the time to invite and fly out his billet family that put him up when he played in the ‘O’ for 3 years with the Guelph Storm. And then there was the interaction between Carey Price and his Dad at Canada House immediately after the Gold Medal Game… Price took his medal off and with tears in his eyes put the medal around his Dad’s neck before burying his face in his Dad’s shoulder to hide his emotion from the camera. His Dad was stifling back the tears about as much as I was watching this raw emotion from a father and son. The amount of sacrifice and DRIVING it would have taken for a kid from Anaheim Lake, BC to make it to that point is staggering and the emotion on their faces said it all. Seeing how much these NHL guys care is inspiring and offers me a reminder to reach out and appreciate the people who have helped me get to where I am today.

3) Medals Matter – The last point is a somewhat difficult one to make considering I play for a team ranked 16th in the World and without realistic Olympic Medal aspirations in the near future. However it became blatantly clear after watching these games and reading the news articles and quotes from our COC and OTP brass that personal and seasons bests are not enough and that Canada wants to stand on the podium. The Canadian Luge Team found itself in 4th place, just off the podium, in 3 of 4 events and now stands in a tenuous funding position, with Own The Podium CEO Anne Merklinger reminding them that “medals matter to Canadians.” I’m torn on this issue as first off I can definitely appreciate what Merklinger says when she highlights how you can’t “ever underestimate the power and impact of an Olympic or Paralympic Medal” but at the same time there’s a certain ruthlessness to putting a federations funding on the chopping block after missing medals by only 1 one hundredths of a second, which is what happened to Walker and Smith in the Doubles Luge. On the whole however, and as a National Team athlete pushing myself to perform at the highest level and qualify for the Rio Olympics I like the direction our rhetoric has shifted, as we are no longer the apologetic pushovers on the international stage and the only country to host multiple Olympic Games without winning a Gold Medal (prior to Vancouver) and that our National Athletes across the board push themselves for podium finishes with grit, hard work and determination. This inspires me…

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FHCMNT Vancouver Viewpoint Challenge

Well there is now less than 6 weeks left until the first major tournament of the year for the Canadian Men’s National Field Hockey Team at the 23rd edition of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, Malaysia. This will be the perfect opportunity for us to test ourselves against a whole host of high quality teams including Pakistan, Malaysia, France and Korea. We are going to need to be in absolute top condition to play our up-tempo, aggressive style against these teams especially considering the unforgiving Malaysian heat and humidity. I can tell you from experience that going from the cool, crisp West Coast air to the heat and humidity in Malaysia can make you feel like you’ve just smoked 75 packets of cigarettes before a match played underwater on a pitch doubled in size. Ok maybe a little dramatic… but the critical point is that we are going to need to put in a huge amount of work over the next month and a bit to get our fitness levels where they need to be. We also know that pounding pavement alone on these cold, wet and dreary winter days here in Vancouver is about the least motivating thing on the planet and that we need to spice things up a little if we want to push ourselves to where we need to be..

Thus… Enter…

The #FHCMNT Vancouver Viewpoint Challenge

The FHCMNT will be undertaking a variety of creative workout challenges around the city in search of the best viewpoints you can find on two feet. This is an opportunity for our team to not only inspire each other to work harder on the Road to Ipoh but also to inspire our community to stay true to their New Years Resolutions and get out there and explore the most beautiful city on Earth. We encourage people to run with us / challenge us / or share their favourite running routes and staircases with us.

You  can follow our progress on the fieldhockey.ca website or better yet the check out and follow the official MNT Instagram and Twitter accounts @fhc_mnt for real time updates on our latest conquests in the GVRD!

Today we kick off the #FHCMNT #VVC with a run from the bottom to the top of UBC… starting down at the infamous Wreck Beach before charting a course for the 17th floor of Gage Tower North! Stay tuned for the pics…

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ONE TEAM…

Well this blog post is long, long overdue but the promise of 2014, the Seahawks making it to the Superbowl and a semi-intoxicated New Year’s resolution has combined to motivate me to jump back on the blogging bandwagon and discuss the year ahead.

Reflecting back on 2013 is certainly tough as although there were some small highlights including playing in front of friends, family and a surprise visit from my girlfriend on home soil in Brampton for the first time in my career at the Pan Am Cup was amazing. Also I was fortunate enough to cap off the year by being named to my first ever Pan-Am All-Star Team.

No better feeling then scoring on home soil...

No better feeling then scoring on home soil…

However success in my books is measured on the pitch and as a collective unit and our group wound up losing our two critical matches of the year in similar fashion, pulling off epic Leafs-style collapses in the second half against France at World League Round 2 and Argentina in the old Pan Am Final. Our young team struggled with the pressure of these big moments and is looking to rebound in 2014 – utilizing the tough lessons learned in these matches.

Trying my best to hold it together after the final hooter sounded...

Trying my best to hold it together after the final hooter…

Not to get emotional here but I think the Khaki-clad, sideline-psycho Jim Harbaugh said it best after his 49ers lost the NFC Championship game on Sunday, summarizing his post-game thoughts with the classic Hemingway line “A man can be destroyed, but he can’t be defeated.” This really resonated with me as I reflect back on the past year, and despite losing nearly all of our Government funding on top of those two critical matches our team is certainly far from defeated and we have a ever-increasing group of committed athletes who I am confident are prepared to work harder then they ever have in order to make our team better and this program a success both on and off the pitch. It has now been a long 5 years since I last tasted major success with this team at the 2009 Pan-Am Cup in Santiago, Chile and I for one am prepared to do whatever it takes to get back to the top of that podium in 2015.

Just yesterday our NSO, Field Hockey Canada, released their new Logo and long-term Vision for the organization and it is something that I am not only pumped about but also extremely excited to get behind. In my mind the “ONE TEAM” concept is crucial – not only within our own team – or within the organization itself – but in fact most critically for the Field Hockey community in Canada as a whole. We need your support as we move forward and I hope that we as a National Team can set a positive example and inspire people to work with us and support us under the ONE TEAM banner.

For a better idea of the direction FHC and myself plan to be heading check out this cool youtube video below… Ohh and I hope you’ll jump on board with us… 

 

 

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Never an easy task…

Well turns out defending your Pan Am Cup title in front of your friends and family on home soil is not as easy as it sounds. Despite being undefeated after two games we are less than satisfied with the 3 – 1 win against Brazil and the 2 – 2 tie against Chile last night, especially allowing them to come back from being 2 – 0 down at halftime. This draw has made our goal of winning this tournament that much more complicated and we recognize as a group that we have lots of work and fine tuning to do over the next couple of days. What was especially disappointing for me was that it appears the lessons of our France match at World League Round 2 which I discussed here have not been learned and our young group is going to take a little more seasoning before we become comfortable in the pressure matches.

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However despite all this, what is reassuring and positive for me is that never before as a member of the Canadian Team have we looked so dangerous going forward or created as many goal scoring chances and penalty corners. I know it sounds cliche and I am going to sound like your classic NHL’er in a post game interview but it has literally been incredible how snakebit we have been in front of goal and how with just a little ‘kook luck’ around the keeper we might have won these two games very convincingly. Hopefully with a little extra work in the D at training over the next couple of days we will be able to start converting these chances in the matches and make our home town fans happy!

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All in all not the ideal start to our Pan Am Cup defence, but all the boys are loving the support from back home and here in Brampton and we are still positive and looking forward to our next match against Trinidad and Tobago…

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Playing on home soil…

During my 6 year international career I have had the privilege to represent my country over 130 times and compete at the highest level across  6 continents. I have competed in two Commonwealth Games, an Olympic Games and a World Cup and yet always considered there to be one major omission from my hockey resume… The opportunity to play a meaningful tournament on home soil in front of a passionate Canadian crowd!

Certainly international test series and matches, such as the recent Brazil matches in Vancouver or the India Series in Surrey back in 2009 have always been an awesome experience and a great boost for the local hockey community but for me there is something extra special about playing tournament hockey on home soil. Winning the last edition of the Pan American Cup in Chile back in 2009 was the highlight of my hockey career to date and I still get chills thinking back or when I look back at the pictures.

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I can only imagine what the feelings would be like if we were able to carry that cup around the Cassie Campbell pitch here in Brampton in front of 2000 Canadians in 8 days time. To give you some perspective on how much this tournament means to Canadian Field Hockey players check the blog I recently wrote breaking down the diary entries from the Canadian boys who won gold on home soil at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg. I look to the successes of the past for inspiration and hope that this group of guys will be able to write their own chapter in Canadian Field Hockey history over the next week!

Overall, winning this tournament has been my sole goal since we failed to qualify for the London Games last February and the boys have put countless hours in on the pitch and in the gym to be ready for our first game tomorrow against Brazil. I for one cannot wait to suit up…

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Also please remember to check out http://www.panamhockey.org/en/home for all the tournament info and live streaming of the matches!!

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How does it feel to be the Leafs?

“Errr… Welcome to Vancouver, the temperature outside is 15 degrees and slightly overcast… please remain seated until the seatbelt sign turns off… ohhh and for those looking for an update in the hockey game the Leafs are up 4 – 1 in the 3rd period… flight attendants please prepare for cross check… “
 

These were the first words we heard after arriving back in Vancouver from Paris and the many Leafs fans on board our flight AC181 from Toronto to Vancouver were quick to burst out into cheering and applause. Little did they know that by the time we had passed the first bar in the airport the score would be 4-3, by the time we had reached the baggage carousel it would be 4 -4 and by the time I climbed into my car and turned on the radio the Bruins had scored in overtime to win Game 7. On the drive home the radio hosts were already talking about how this was one of the greatest chokes in playoff history, and the front page of the Toronto Sun the next day sums up perfectly the general sentiment in the GTA…images

The irony of the situation did not escape me and I was quick to draw parallels to our own result in Paris at the FIH World League Round 2 Tournament only 36 hours earlier where we blew a 2 – 0 first half lead against France to lose 3 – 2. It was a win and your in scenario with only the top 2 teams progressing into the next round and thus we were extremely disappointed to come away with nothing… the wounds were still very fresh…

As I watched the highlights of the Leafs collapse later that night I couldn’t help but continue to draw parallels between the two games as at both the TD Bank Garden in Boston and the Saint Germain Hockey Club in Paris the home fans had helped to propel the comeback.  Their passion and energy helped to shift the momentum in the matches and we were unable to swing it back in time to hold on to the match.

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As an athlete I hate the word Choke and I feel for those Leafs guys getting blasted by the press and their own fans. Games are a constant roller coaster of momentum and in my 7 years as a member of the Canadian Team and 2 years in the Bundesliga I have seen this roller coaster shaped in countless different ways. The mistake we made in Paris was allowing that roller coaster of momentum to shift to such a degree that you feel like there is nothing you can do about it and you are merely out there waiting for them to score…

From my experience I think that solving this scenario is super simple and does not require 10 years of experience or 200 caps to learn. You need solid basics and to win fouls in order to slow down the match, decrease the tempo, allow your own team to reset and begin slowing down the momentum shift. Scooping the ball 70 yards seems at times like the best option to relieve pressure however often the ball is merely picked up and pumped back into your own half putting yourself on the back foot again. It’s the same in ice hockey where teams holding a lead tend to just hit the red line, dump it in and then retreat, allowing teams like the Bruins an easy opportunity to start an effective breakout. Our team, like the Leafs needs to learn from this experience and recognize the reasons for failure in order to prevent losses like this in the future. Solid basics, a strong mentality and an ability to recognize and respond correctly to situations and the shifting momentum in the match is critical and provides a framework for success.

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Overall this was certainly a disappointing result and progressing to World League Round 3 would have been a huge accomplishment and reward for our hard work, however I have to keep in mind that this is a young group at the beginning of a journey and we will have more chances for glory on the Road to Rio 2016

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Big Chimping…

So me and my teammates have recently started Chimping!
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Here’s the scoop… CHIMP (CHaritable IMPact) is a website which allows donations and tax receipts to be done easily online and encourages donors to “follow” and engage with us on our journey towards the Rio Olympics. The goal is to create a community of supporters who we can interact with using our CHIMP account. Donated funds are collected through this online charitable platform and then will be redistributed to my network of charities within CHIMP. Although this is definitely a very new technology, it has been done successfully by other Canadian athletes and I used Olympic Windsurfer Nikola Girke as inspiration for my own account. During the lead up to last summer’s London Olympics Nikola utilized her CHIMP account very successfully and to date has been able to attract over 50 members to her group and redistribute over $3000 CDN to charities which were especially meaningful to her including CAN Fund, Kidsport and the CKNW Orphans Fund. Nikola was great at posting photos, comments and her goals for the Olympics and was able to challenge her network of followers to donate more should she achieve a podium / PB finish in London. We aren’t talking major cash here but how cool is it that someone can say they offered up $20 to help motivate and drive an athlete to achieve her goal at the Olympic Games.
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As an athlete this is where I recognize the value of this new technology, as no longer are we forced to solicit money selling T-Shirts to our friends and family, we can now share our goals and aspirations within our community of supporters and challenge them to CHIMP us should we achieve them. Therefore, my goal at this point is to begin building my community of supporters that I can bring along with me on my journey to the Rio Olympics. Click the link below if you’re interested in checking it out I’d love to have you on board…
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7 – 3 – 3…

That was the voting breakdown from the final round of the IOC secret ballot which determined the fates of Wrestling, Modern Pentathlon and Field Hockey for the 2020 Games. Almost as surprising to me as seeing Wrestling get dropped was the fact that Field Hockey was on such thin ice with the IOC. For two weeks last summer I watched agonizingly as the hockey competition played out on the new blue “Smurf Turf”

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in front of a packed stadium and with a football like atmosphere for both the men’s and women’s matches.

Even the most pessimistic British pundits had to admit that it was one of the most successful events of the entire Games and left me with no indication that losing Olympic status was even remotely possible. How the IOC comes to these decisions is beyond me and to be honest I am not really sure why we need to “lose” sports in general, however I can tell you reading blog entries from Canadian Wrestlers Sam Stewart and Matt Gentry that the results are devastating at all levels, from the individual Olympic level athletes, to the NOC’s and finally to all those young wrestlers who had aspirations of competing for their country at future Olympic Games. It is a complete death blow to the sport especially when the result came down so suddenly and unexpectedly and when you take into consideration just how massive and significant an event the Olympic Games have become.

No longer is it a meager collection of athletes from obscure sports, it has become a world spectacle, the giant dangling carrot that sits there motivating athletes and attainable only every 4 years. Top level success in amateur sports, especially for the smaller profile events, is now nearly solely judged on the basis of Olympic participation and performance, for better and for worse. (read this…) For the IOC to take that carrot away from so many wrestlers (364 athletes in London, not to mention the ones who had Olympic aspirations) is disappointing to say the least and the vote was a real wake-up call for me after seeing how close Field Hockey was from losing its future Olympic status. My hope is that in the future the IOC does not continue to drop these bombs on the Amateur Sports Community every four years and instead works to preserve the hopes and dreams of all young aspiring Olympians everywhere…

In memory of Olympic Wrestling, and one of the highlights of my Olympic Games watching childhood…

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Turning back the clock…

I am sitting here 35,000 feet above Winnipeg – which is fitting as you’ll see – returning home from an absolute whirlwind 5 day trip to Toronto for the wedding of one of my high school buddies. Although the amount of stamps in my passport would suggest otherwise, this was my first time to Toronto and I also used it as an opportunity to catch up with a couple old teammates from the Canadian Team in their natural habitat. The first night I caught up with Scotty Sandison, a veteran of the 2008 Olympic and 2010 World Cup Teams, a great friend and always one of my favourite guys to go on tour with. We shared some old war stories over a couple beers the first night and I talked openly about my goals and motivation for the next Olympic cycle. I mentioned to him that there was an old diary entry from the 1999 Winnipeg Pan Am Games that Andrew Griffiths wrote shortly after Canada had defeated Argentina 2-1 in the final to qualify for the Sydney Olympics that I have occasionally dug up and looked at in advance of important games or tournaments. It was the first time that I had talked about this to anyone and he suggested it would be a good thing to write about, so here goes…

I can remember reading it for the first time as a teenager, probably after yelling at my sister to get off the phone so I could start up the 56k dial up, and being completely captivated by how well Griff was able to describe his emotions and feelings after achieving the ultimate goal and qualifying for the Olympics on home soil. (Griff was a Journalism Major so that does make some sense) It really resonated and stuck with me all these years and it is something that I have gone back to and re-read time and again. Part of this has to be that this was before the era of youtube and you can’t go watch highlights of the game so Griff’s account with a few small pictures

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remains my only connection with the event.  Anyways so I’ve gone digging in Huckendublers’ FHC archives again so I can share it with you guys.

Well, the first thing I should say is that we won the gold medal – 1-0 over Argentina – and we earned ourselves a spot at the Sydney Olympics next year…
That was the easy thing to say – now I’ll try to describe the game, the celebration and the feelings – much harder to put into words.
By 6:30pm on Wednesday – the time the teams lined up for the pre-game national anthems – everyone involved had been waiting a long time for this moment. Months of anticipation and preparation and expectations, days of nerves all funneled into this one place and time.
We listened nervously through the Argentine anthem, and then O Canada began. We (the players) were facing the flag and singing, but I heard the crowd singing behind me, sounding loud and strong. I looked over my shoulder at the stands, and saw red and white hair, faces, clothes, and two thousand mouths open wide singing together. I saw my family and friends in the middle and when I turned back to the flag, I noticed my voice wavering. I couldn’t hold a note steady and the lump was definitely in my throat, tears coming into my eyes. This feeling didn’t leave through the post-anthem roar, our Team Canada huddle, not until I shook hands with the Argie centre-forward just before the whistle was about to go. Now it’s time to run hard and play hockey.
The game was quite strange in some ways – two games in one. In the first half, we controlled the ball, and the movements on the field, creating corners and chances. We definitely had the better of the game, and this led to a Ken Pereira goal from an Alan Brahmst drive up the field, somewhere in the middle of the half.
Now the second half. What a half! Argie pressure to the maximum, here they come into our half, here they come, good tackle, good save, here they come again, penalty corner, good save, whew, good tackle, release pressure for a minute, good tackle… it went like this for most of the half! What caused the change, and why did they have so much pressure? Well, the umpires changed the game significantly with 7 yellow cards, creating several man-advantage situations. We were unable to keep solid possession moving forward. The umps seemed to be keen to level the scores, but that’s a Canadian perspective!
Whatever the reason, we were definitely not out there just trying to protect a one-goal lead, but that’s the way it worked out. We protected and protected and protected – Mike Mahood stood on his head in the goal, and all of a sudden, the final whistle…
Here’s what I remember. I ripped out my shin-pads and launched them into the air. Then I ran as fast as I could across the field to the stands and the hundreds of outstretched hands. I don’t know who I met first, but I know I was screaming and smiling I launched myself into the red sea of people. I was pulled in and hugged, I hugged back, and saw my family, girlfriend and my friends. I grabbed them. The intensity of everything came down on me so thick and fast and kept coming, and the arms over my head and the shouts of Sydney and You Did It and Griff and Yeah Baby and everything else. It makes my adrenaline go even writing about it. This seemed to go on for a long time, hugging each team-mate for all the shared meaning and work, then a lap with the flag – I don’t know where all the energy came from…
After things calmed down a bit there was the podium, holding the gold medal, and more – it was all so, so good.
The tension release, winning the gold, qualifying for the Olympics, feeling the crowd’s emotion and support – all these things made the celebration… and as I think about it in the days after, more good things come to mind, and there seems to be a smile and a good feeling in every quiet minute.
Anyway, this isn’t a pulitzer-prize account, but I hope you get some sense of the excitement. For now I need a drink of water – it’s been tiring…

To me this diary entry captures perfectly everything about why I commit and sacrifice to play Field Hockey for Canada. On the surface it describes in detail our ultimate goal as a team which is to qualify for the Olympic Games. But on a deeper level it summarizes and symbolizes the motivation I get from the past accomplishments of this Team. Despite the long odds this team has remained remarkably successful and I take so much pride in that and feel privileged to wear the same shirt that Scotty, Griff, Shorty, Kenny, Bonesy, Al, Wetty, Nicki, Milko, Mahood, Peckerfish, Bubli and the list could go on. I truly feel like a member of an exclusive brotherhood and feel an obligation to continue the tradition of success and feel like I am letting not only myself but the collective community down when results slip. Therefore repeating the success of 1999 in 2013 and 2015 in Toronto is my sole objective and main motivation moving forward and I dream about being able to sit down with a gold medal around my neck and write my own Griffesque reflection on the game… oh and luckily I now also get to tweet, instagram and facebook about it…