All eyes are on the Canadian national men’s and women’s programs as they focus on their Olympic journey. For the Men’s National Team, this means cutting their teeth at one of the world’s toughest tests: The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup at the end of March in Ipoh, Malaysia.
For head coach Paul Bundy, this tournament is about refining the process and preparing the team for their important qualification events later this year. The team will return to Malaysia in the summer to play their first stage of Olympic qualifier.
Bundy thinks acclimatizing to the environment will be an important step in the right direction.
“This is an ideal opportunity to prepare for the World Series Final,” he said. “Not only will this tournament get us ready to play in the heat, it’s also top-level competition.”
Canada attends the tournament for the first time since 2016. The other teams in the field are host country, Malaysia; world number five India; and South Africa, Japan and Korea.
Canada’s opening match is against Korea, a game Bundy said will be a great starting point for the Canadian squad which has been training in the cold weather since the new year.
“Korea is good. They are always very fit and athletic,” Bundy said. “We’re actually playing them in a warm-up game before the event so it will be a great start for us.”
Australia and New Zealand have had a strangle-hold on the gold medals at this tournament since 2011 but with neither team in the field this year, the tournament title is truly up-for-grabs.
With the new FIH pro league in action, some of the top teams could no longer fit Azlan Shah into their competition schedule. Bundy said that no matter the competition, this will be a tough test for the Canadian squad.
One thing they’ll have to get used to is the intensity and pressure of playing in front of a wild crowd.
“Playing in Malaysia is amazing,” he said. “They have arguably the most exciting fans and venues in the world. Malaysians love their hockey and have a big, passionate fan base.”
Follow along as Canada takes on Azlan Shah in their season-long journey to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games.
Canada Men’s Squad