Oak Bay grad on the road to Rio

National men’s field hockey forward James Kirkpatrick Olympic-bound

Oak Bay High grad James Kirkpatrick has high hopes for the national team this winter.

Oak Bay High grad James Kirkpatrick has high hopes for the national team this winter.

James Kirkpatrick recalls that surreal moment on field in Buenos Aires when all thoughts of cost for long-distance calling went out the window.

Across the red ranks of the Canadian national men’s field hockey team, phones came out as the realization set in – they were going to the Games. The Oak Bay High grad was on pitch when, after 15 rounds of sudden-death shootout, Canada earned a berth at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

“You work so hard and then it all comes to fruition in that moment; it was pretty incredible,” Kirkpatrick said in a phone interview from Vancouver. “Lots of phone calls home … a few tears. It was pretty special.”

They knew after that June defeat of New Zealand that, barring a host of unreal upsets, they were Olympics-bound. The Canadian men competed in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but missed London in 2012 after a loss at the 2011 Pan Am Games.

“We’d played them 10 times the previous year and hadn’t beaten them yet,” said Kirkpatrick, a forward with the men’s national team. “Everyone put together a crazy solid effort.”

With several weeks of R&R after the Pan Am Games, they’re now in crazy solid training.

“We missed the London Olympics, which was pretty disappointing, so things are starting to ramp up now. Come the new year we’re going to be insanely busy,” said Kirkpatrick, a former UVic Vike field hockey player, as was his mother. “We’re in a pretty heavy block (of training) at the moment.”

Training commitments are to the point Kirkpatrick takes distance education courses while living in Vancouver where the team is centred. He’s shifted from chemistry to biology as a major.

“I was doing the shuttle back and forth taking the ferry every week,” he said with the harried chuckle of an Island commuter. “It was just too much.”

“We’re on field three times a week right now as the national team group then three times in the weight room and then club training as well,” he said.

“The biggest obstacle right now between us and doing well is securing funds.”

The team plans to head to South Africa for a training tour in January, where a host of high-calibre teams will train.

“All the good teams are so far away, it’s hard to get quality games,” he said. “We need 50 good quality opposition games to go to the Olympics and be there not just for the experience but to do well.”

They’ll start on those top-notch face-offs with the International Hockey Federation World League Final from Nov. 27 to Dec. 6 in Raipur, India.

The tournament includes seven of the top eight teams in the world and Canada, now ranked 13th.

Canada opens the tournament Nov. 28 against Great Britain, then face Belgium Nov. 29 and Australia Dec. 1 to close round-robin play.

Follow the team’s road to Rio online at facebook.com/CanadianMensNationalFieldHockeyTeam/.