Indoor Pan American Cups: It’s Anyone’s Game

by Sarah Juggins, for PAHF

Content Courtesy of PAHF

The 2021 Indoor Pan American Cup for men and women are taking place at the end of June and excitement is mounting ahead of the event.

Three men’s teams and five women’s teams will head to Spring City, Pa. to contest both the title and the right to represent the Pan American continent at the FIH Indoor Hockey World Cup in Belgium next year.

In the men’s competition, Canada, Argentina and USA will be facing each other in a double round-robin, followed by a Final. The participating women’s nations are USA, Argentina, Canada, Uruguay and Guyana and their competition is a single round-robin, followed by classifications matches..

As with all hockey competitions, preparations for this year’s event have been disrupted and sporadic, so athletes and coaches are understandably apprehensive about how they all perform at the competition.

John de Souza is lead coach for the Canada men’s team. He explained the challenges facing the teams: ‘The Canadian team will not get very much training time. The team will be together for a total of 52 hours, which is not enough time to play international matches let alone a World Cup Qualifier. The team will have no match practice so has little room for error in its planning to avoid injury.’

Like many other nations, Canada has been in lockdown for the past months and this has had an impact on the athletes’ ability to use gym and training facilities. A selection camp was held on May 1, government exemptions for the athletes to get together were obtained and the team will be centralized for the period immediately leading up to the tournament.

With many athletes involved in the outdoor hockey team heading to Tokyo for the Olympics, the coach is understandably feeling the pressure. He remains upbeat however, about his team’s ability to be successful.

Another upbeat person heading to Spring City is one of the USA’s longest-serving athletes. Pat Harris is a long-serving athlete with his national team. Harris had racked up a multitude of caps for USA both indoor and outdoor.  He also knows what it is like to play at an Indoor World Cup, having competed at both the 2003 Indoor World Cup in Leipzig and the 2011 event in Poznan, Poland. Despite all that experience, the athlete has his concerns about a lack of preparation.

‘The preparations for the tournament have been very limited. Most of us have not played indoors since last winter, while a small group of US-based players has been training domestically for the last month. The entire team will meet a few weeks prior to the tournament. Not Ideal, but I'm sure other teams are dealing the similar preparation challenges.’

While USA men are the lowest ranked men’s team at the event, this is the year that anything could happen. Both Argentina and Canada will lose some athletes to the outdoor team. For Harris, the prospect of representing USA at a World Cup is hugely exciting. ‘It would be an amazing achievement to get back to an Indoor World Cup. To be able to compete at the highest stage against the world's best would be an awesome opportunity.

‘But the challenge is a steep one. I'm sure Canada and Argentina will also have strong teams, so every game will be challenging.’

Alison Lee has represented both the Canada women’s indoor and outdoor national teams since 2013 and, like Harris, has experienced an Indoor World Cup (Leipzig 2015). She echoes many of de Souza’s points: ‘Our preparation leading into this event has not been ideal. Heading into the original tournament date in March of 2020 we had just come off a training tour in Belarus and were able to play some of the European teams as they prepared for the European Championships. We felt extremely prepared heading into last March, this year it is quite a different story.

‘We have had to deal with a lot of restrictions from our government which did not allow teams to train unless they were going to the Olympics, so it took a long time for us to get an exemption to be allowed to train. In spite of all that, we will be ready and raring to get back on the court! it’s never an easy battle, there are a bunch of solid teams coming out of Pan Am, but we are looking forward to getting back to international competition and we will be fighting for that spot at the World Cup.’

Uruguay is a nation with a decent history of indoor hockey at the Pan Am Cup. The South American team finished in second place at their debut in 2010, finished fourth in 2014 and third in 2017.

One of the newest members of the bronze medal-winning team from 2017 was Constanza Barrandeguy. Four years later and she is excited at the prospect of pitting her talents against the likes of USA, Canada and Argentina.

‘We are training six days a week for two hours each day. We couldn’t start training as early as we wanted, so our coach decided this was the best way to get a good, intensive preparation in place.

‘All the players love representing Uruguay and we consider this a very special tournament because we are finally returning to international competition after all the suspended games. We are a team that puts a lot of emphasis on human values, we are very strong in that respect. Also, we are convinced that we want to qualify for the Indoor World Cup, so those two values – respecting each other and the opposition, combined with a determination to win – those are the things I see as real strengths to the Uruguay side.’

Barrandeguy is in no doubt about the strength of the opponents but she is adamant that Uruguay has a game plan that suits them. ‘We need to play all the teams the same way. There may be some changes to the tactical and strategic aspects but it doesn’t matter who we play against, we will be playing our game, and playing our way.’

In talking to players and coaches as the teams prepare for the Pan Am Indoor Hockey Championships there is no doubt that, following 18 months of upheaval and disruption, this could be one of the most open tournaments ever played. This is point highlighted by John de Souza: ‘It's really difficult to say how we will fare at this tournament given the lack of training and match play. I do know that we will be competitive and will play an exciting brand of indoor hockey.

‘I think this is going to be a very competitive tournament and that all the teams will be underprepared. I think the team that can find chemistry and executes their game plans the best will be the successful teams.’

From talking to the coaches and players, it is also obvious that there is a real deep passion for this version of the game. For Alison Lee, who both coaches and plays the game, it offers skills and tactics that make the indoor format so exciting but also enhances the outdoor game.

‘Indoor hockey teaches valuable skills that can be transferred across the various formats,’ she said. ‘I have been able to bring a lot of what I learned playing indoor to my outdoor game. The indoor game is very quick and can change on the turn of a dime, so mentally it is super important to be able to stay "tuned in" to the game for the full 40 minutes because one lapse can change the game.

‘The different tools, and strategies, and tactics used across all the different formats bring a different perspective to how we play 11 v 11 outdoor.  I think playing the sport across different formats is extremely valuable. It equips us with tools that we can use across all different formats and elevates the entire game of hockey.’