Friday, April 24, 2009

Hockey takes her across the globe

Malinda Hapuarachchi has been to many places to play field hockey but isn’t sure where her next stop will be as she awaits word on whether she’ll receive carding money this season. Photo by Blair A.J. Shier

Dan Plouffe by Dan Plouffe

It might not be the number one sport in her hometown, but that hasn’t kept OrlĂ©ans’ Malinda Hapuarachchi from finding many places in other parts of the world where field hockey is a big-time show.
One such highlight was competing for Canada at the 2007 indoor World Cup in Austria. The 25-year-old also plays with the outdoor national team – all of which was achieved from very humble beginnings.
“I really didn’t want to play basketball because I was terrible at it and wasn’t too keen on only doing cross-country running in the fall, so I started playing field hockey,” explains the Cairine Wilson Secondary School grad. “I just decided to try this random sport and it ended up being a big part of my life.”
Hapuarachchi went on to play for five years at the University of Toronto and racked up award after award, including multiple Ontario Most Valuable Player honours. The next stop on the defender’s path was a four-month stop in Holland to play for a club in the southern town of Breda.
“Field hockey in the Netherlands is like ice hockey here,” Hapuarachchi says of the country that is a frequent world champion. “It was very much engrained in their culture.”
Hapuarachchi’s club alone had six astro-turf pitches and 2,000 members. From young children to seniors in their seventies, they would play games all day on Saturdays, and then watch field hockey on TV after their match.
Hapuarachchi didn’t play in the Dutch premier league, but was still set up with a billet family from the club, and coached several youth teams to earn money while there.
She was able to communicate with her players no problem since they learned English in school from a young age, but the language barrier made Hapuarachchi homesick occasionally.
“At times I was ready to come home, but I knew this would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she says. “The level of hockey in Holland – you can’t even compare it to Canada.”
Hapuarachchi is now working on her master’s degree in biomechanics at Kingston’s Queen’s University and travels almost every weekend to Toronto to train with other Ontario-based players who are part of the national team’s high-performance program.
But where Hapuarachchi will go next is kind of up in the air at the moment. Last year, she had a “development card” (half the money full-time amateur athletes receive from the government) but is waiting to hear if she’ll be chosen for carding this year.
“I’m kind of in limbo right now,” says Hapuarachchi, who attended a recent national team training camp in Vancouver and then achieved the benchmarks necessary during fitness testing on Easter weekend in Toronto. “It’s really hard to say because I don’t know what the coach is thinking.”
If Hapuarachchi is picked for carding, she’d likely go to B.C. for close to two months this summer – where most national team players are based. She’s also considered moving there full-time since it’s possible to train outdoors almost all year-round, unlike Ontario.
One benefit of added time inside is that Hapuarachchi has become one of the top Canadian players indoors – she was named MVP of March’s indoor nationals in Calgary.
However, the game played in gymnasiums doesn’t have as high a profile as the outdoor version, so it’s possible Hapuarachchi may only study part-time – even though she’d probably like to get her doctorate in the future – so that she can focus more of her efforts on reaching the international level.
“I’m turning 26 this summer, so I don’t have a ton of years left at the high-performance level,” Hapuarachchi says. “I’ll continue with the national team program as far as it takes me – whether it’s for two or three years, I’ll do it for as long as I can and as long as they want me.”

Malaysia out to prove rankings wrong

IF world rankings tell the truth, then Malaysia can forget about even making the semi-finals of the Asia Cup in Kuantan on May 9-16.

But fortunately for Malaysia, rankings don't matter when there is a desire to win, as Egypt proved when they held New Zealand and India in the Azlan Shah Cup. Malaysia were also impressive in Ipoh, as they only lost to India, albeit twice.
Malaysia, ranked 15th in the world, have been grouped with World No 5 South Korea, No 11 Japan and No 41 Sri Lanka.
Group B has Pakistan (No 8), India (No 10), China (No 16) and Bangladesh (No 34).
"Sri Lanka and Japan are the two teams we need to beat for a spot in the semi-finals. However, that does not mean we will give South Korea an easy time in our opening encounter," said MHF deputy president Nur Azmi Ahmad.
South Korea are the only Asian team in the Champions Trophy and in December, they will play against Australia, England, Spain, Germany and Netherlands.
"Although the Koreans are in a league of their own, we learnt much about them during our recent tour where we played against their club sides who house a majority of their internationals.
"The feedback was positive, and the opening encounter between Malaysia and South Korea should not be missed by fans in Kuantan," said Azmi.
Malaysia have invited 28-year-old Jiwa Mohan who has 243 caps, to re-join national training.
"Jiwa has been actively playing in the Australian League after he left the national team to concentrate on his work Down Under.
"He has never had any problems with fitness before and should have no problems fitting back into the team. But his appearance depends on his leave application. If all is OK, then he will play in a friendly against Pakistan on May 3, and I am sure he will be able to perform," said Nur Azmi.

PJCC set high target

PETALING Jaya City Council (PJCC) have set themselves the lofty target of knocking out Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS) in the semi-finals of the Malaysia Hockey League.

PJCC coach Paul Raj will bank on his three speedy forwards to take a winning cushion into the return leg when they meet in the first leg today.
BJSS, who have seven League and four Overall titles, have been routing their opponents. They thrashed PJCC 5-1 in the league.
"The league encounter ended inside 10 minutes as we were not prepared for their swift counters, but the boys have learnt their lesson and will be gunning for a win tomorrow (today)," said Paul.
The coach will be banking on 16-year-olds Manraj Singh (five goals), Ahmad Kafeel (seven goals) and Harmesh Singh (six goals) to do the damage against BJSS.
"My three forwards are all 16, but have shown good understanding, especially in the later stages of the League and the quarter-finals.
"I will be banking on the trio, as well as my penalty corner flickers Jasdev Singh and Faiz Zuki," said Paul.
The other semi-final is between Bandar Penawar Sports School and Tenaga Nasional, and the odds favour a more mature BPSS who finished second in Division Two.
Tenaga have been erratic this year, and if they do not take a good cushion in the first leg at their own turf, it will be difficult to subdue BPSS at their den in Bandar Penawar.
TODAY (S-Final 1st legs): Tenaga Nasional v Bandar Penawar Sports School (KLHA Stadium, 5pm); Bukit Jalil Sports School v Petaling Jaya CC (National Hockey Stadium, 7.30pm).