Surrey’s Tamanawis Park has been a training ground for Canada’s men’s field hockey team as it prepares to play at the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The 16-player roster includes Surrey-raised athlete Sukhpal “Sukhi” Panesar, 27, a midfielder who made his senior national team debut back in 2010.
Sukhi’s younger brother, Balraj Panesar, 25, also a midfielder, has recently trained with the national team but was left off the roster for the squad’s mid-July trip to Japan.
In a roster announcement Monday (June 28), the Panesars’ longtime friend and fellow Surrey resident, Brandon Pereira, 25, a defender, was named a non-traveling reserve by Field Hockey Canada (fieldhockey.ca).
The three have played club hockey with United Brothers over the years.
“It’s really cool to be able to play, perform and compete at the highest level with some guys I’ve grown up with, very special,” Sukhi Panesar said during a June 17 training session at Tamanawis, where head coach Pasha Gademan pushed the players for a couple hours.
“It’s always nice to be at our home field, where the three of us kind of grew up playing, and of course it’s extra special just being able to prepare for the Olympic Games.”
Added Pereira: “We’re able to train here a couple times a week, which is nice for us – not as long a drive for us, and it’s good to be in our home city.”
The Panesar brothers went to North Surrey Secondary, while Pereira was a Holy Cross school student.
Growing up, ice hockey was a passion for the Panesars, and Pereira excelled at basketball and soccer.
Their fathers got them into playing field hockey.
“As kids we’d go watch them play, and we started out in youth,” Sukhi recalled. “To be honest, I don’t know if anyone really saw us playing at this high level, it was just a fun thing to do in the summertime and a break from other sports. So we ended up playing for provincial teams and from there it took off.
“If you chatted to all the guys here today,” Sukhi added, “most of them would probably tell you field hockey was just an off-season sport for them. Field hockey, it’s usually from the home country where it’s more popular, like in India where it’s pretty popular – it’s from a dad or an uncle or something, and it’s come here and it’s becoming more popular, especially here in Surrey and places like West Van and the UBC area, and Vancouver Island as well, and also in the Toronto area.”
For the Olympics, Team Canada’s roster is filled with players from the Metro Vancouver region, including Delta-based players Brendan Guraliuk and Mark Pearson. Just two players – Ontario’s Keegan Pereira (no relation to Surrey’s Pereira) and Amsterdam-born Floris Van Son – hail from outside British Columbia.
This year’s team features eight athletes returning from the Rio 2016 roster and eight first-time Olympians.
In Tokyo, the 11-a-side field hockey action runs from July 24 to Aug. 5 at Oi Hockey Stadium.
Canada’s pool includes the top four competitors from June’s European Hockey Championship and Commonwealth rival South Africa.
Twenty months ago, in October 2019, Team Canada qualified for the 2020 Olympics by beating Ireland in a dramatic two-game series at West Vancouver’s Rutledge Field, following a sudden-death shootout.
Aside from the Panesars and Pereira, several other Team Canada athletes have played and trained at Tamanawis Park over the years.
“This used to be a soccer field here, but when they turned it into a field hockey turf in 2010, (field hockey) just took off,” Balraj Panesar said. “They have the two fields and I hear there’s plans for a third, which would be great.
“Having a third field would be great,” Sukhi added, “but if we could improve the clubhouse and expand it a little bit with changerooms and a concession, that’d be great.”
After the Olympics, the men’s national field hockey team will prepare for a World Cup qualifier in Santiago, Chile, next January.