With less than three weeks to the start of the Pan American Junior Championships in Toronto, Canada on May 20, the National u-21 men’s Hockey Team is presently in the final stages of preparation.
According to a release from the Guyana Hockey Board (GHB) President Phillip Fernandes the team has been preparing for over one year under the guidance of National Men’s Coach Robert Fernandes and is optimistic of a good showing at the Pan American event.
Coach Fernandes, the release stated, was pleased with the effort and progress made by the players in the past several months although he indicated that their still needs to be some improvement in certain aspects of the game stated the release.
The release also stated that the coach will “focus on set pieces and defensive structure in the final weeks of preparation along with exposing the players to match practices.”
The coach also praised physical trainer Barrington Brown who has been working with the team for the past four months and whom he credits for the team’s high fitness level, said the release.
“This will factor heavily in a tournament such as this, especially when they face big hockey nations that are likely to put pressure on the Guyanese for long spells during the match.
“Several players on the squad have gained valuable international experience having competed in the Pan American Challenge in Peru last year where Guyana turned in several fine performances narrowly missing out a podium finish,” the release pointed out.
Among the more experienced players will be 19-year-old hockey phenomenon Aroydy Branford who is currently playing hockey in the United Kingdom and will join the team one week before the trip and while a great deal of expectation will be placed on the shoulders of Branford, Fernandes indicated that his absence has made room for other players to step up during training matches and play more influential roles in the team.
There has been however one setback.
“One possible setback in the team’s participation has been a clash in the schedule of the tournament with CXC examinations. The GHB however, has been receiving kind support from the Ministry of Education in arranging for three players to write their exams at the University of Toronto, thus enabling them to participate in the tournament.
“Three of the team’s key starting players are affected by this scheduling and while their academics remain everyone’s priority, it would indeed be a shame for them to lose the opportunity to compete in the once in a lifetime event,” stated the release.
This will be Guyana’s fourth appearance at this competition with its best ever finish being 6th place in 1988 where the team narrowly missed the semi-finals and, according to Philip Fernandes, this current team is as well prepared as any he has ever seen out of Guyana.
Fernandes disclosed that the team has been training together as a squad for a longer time than in the past and for the first time, there are several players who have already had international competition experience.
Fernandes was high in praise of the management team whom he says has already showed their competence by solid results in the recent past with the senior men’s team.
Guyana will compete in pool B with Canada, Chile and Mexico while Pool A comprises of Argentina, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and the USA. Argentina is the strong favourite having never lost the championship in all of its ten years while Canada and Chile have the next best records of medal finishes.
Guyana makes its opening appearance against Chile on May 20th then face Mexico on 21st and Canada on 23rd. The tournament runs from May 20 – 28 with all matches being played at the University of Toronto.