So I leave first thing Friday morning for what can only be described as a Canadian HOTSPOT, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. We’re having our Canadian National Goalball Championships out there this year and they start on Friday night.
It’s weird for me. This is my third Canadian Championships and you’d think by now I wouldn’t get nervous over these things anymore but I’ve never been as nervous about a tournament as I am for this one.
At my first Canadian Championships in Charlottetown, PEI there wasn’t much expected of me. I was just the new guy there to get some experience and learn and I’d get minutes where ever the game situation permitted. I played well for an 18 year old kid playing against 30 year old men and came out feeling pretty good about my performance and our team one the tournament which was even better. I knew going in to that tournament that there was no pressure on me because I was just the young guy and when it came down to crunch time, the veterans would be starting and I wouldn’t be expected to carry the load.
Last year should have been the one where I felt the most pressure. Our starting left winger retired which meant all of a sudden I had to play every game. Also, up until then I had been playing center and being groomed to take over for our current center when he retires in a few years. Now we had no left wingers and so I was immediately changed in to a left-winger and asked to change my game. Also, that tournament was going to be held in Sudbury, Ontario which meant it was on home soil and we had won 6 strait National titles and no one wanted to see that streak end on our own soil.
In the meantime, Canada’s second highest scorer had moved to Quebec and joined with Canada’s top scorer and Quebec was easily favoured to load up the big truck, drive it right in to Ontario and take the title from us. Again though, I felt no pressure. It was odd. But I still felt like I was the young guy and there was no one, and I mean NO ONE that expected us to beat Quebec, or Alberta for that matter that year. We had an inexperienced left winger who’d never played there before and had only been to two mens tournaments total at any position. I had family in Sudbury and I can specifically remember one of them telling me after our first game and Quebec’s first game that his money was on Quebec to win the entire tournament. He sure wasn’t alone as everyone had picked Quebec to win and watching them play when we arrived, it was hard to see how they wouldn’t.
We managed to squeak by Alberta, 2-1, in a semi-final and put us in to the Championship game against Quebec. I can remember warming up for that game with the stands full and just saying “I do not belong here, yet.”. The vets on our team were great in just trying to keep me calm making sure I knew I didn’t have to do anything spectacular… just do what I’d been doing all tournament long. We had played Quebec already in the round robin and while they jumped up on us 3-0 in the first half, we manged to claw back in and tie them 3-3 thanks to some ballsy plays by our right winger and some mistakes on their end. It was hard to keep the nerves calm though. The year before I knew I wouldn’t even see the court in the Championship as a rookie so there was nothing to worry about. This year was different.
We started that game and both teams played an outstanding first half and the half ended still knotted at 0-0 and both teams had sunk in to a rhythm. I had been struck in the chest hard with the first shot of the game and blocked it and at that point realized that I was now in to the game and I could hang with these guys. I had nowhere near the same skill level as them but I knew I wouldn’t be outworked. We started the second half and immediately got scored on on a penalty shot. Our captain tied it up 2 shots later knowing that it was his fault we’d been scored on. A few minutes later he scored again to put us up 2-1 and we just grunted out the last 3 minutes to claim our 7th and most unlikely National title in the streak. It was an unreal feeling.
I was later that month named to the Canadian National team which was a great honour for me but I’ll get to that later.
This year, the man that had moved to Quebec has since moved here to play with us making us the overwhelming favourites to win again in Saskatoon. He gives us that much more offensive power. Thing is… there’s no pressure like being the favourite and not getting it done. We went in last year with nothing to lose. Everyone had counted us out so you just go in and play your game. This year everyone is gunning for us. Also, our streak of 7 strait National Championships started in Saskatoon so it would be nice to come back after 8 years and keep it going there.
Plus, this year is an Olympic year and the National team gets re-selected and it will be largely based on performance from this tournament. Last year I had no idea that I was even being considered and this year I know that there’s me and one other guy gunning for the last spot on the team and he looked really good in our last tournament in Montreal. So, on top of feeling pressure for our team to perform, i have a bit of pressure on myself to have a good showing to make sure I’m on that flight to Athens for the Olympics.
Also, with having such a good year last year our Ontario team has put some more responsibilites on me since I showed I can handle it and I need to show that I’m ready for that.
So while our team has gotten significantly better over the last year with my improvement and the addition of Dean from Quebec, it almost feels like there is more pressure to perform because if we don’t come out with Gold this year there’s going to be a lot of “What the hell happened?” coming our way afterwards… and no one wants that.
Well this hole post has been nothing but typing what’s on my mind… but that’s what a blog is I suppose. I’m sure most of you stopped reading after the second paragraph anyway. I got 4 days to get myself ready for this because than it’s crunch time and if you’re not ready to go, someone else will be and you get run right over.
I’ll be sure to let you know when I get home how it all went.