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Nepean/Chelsea field hockey boys shock Europeans
Updated On: May 8, 2017
The underdog Bytown Voyageurs won a tournament while on a field hockey tour in Europe. Photo provided


By Charlie Pinkerton

A pair of neighbouring cross-province field hockey clubs joined forces last month for “the trip of a lifetime,” with 17 young boys from the Nepean Nighthawks and the Chelsea Phoenix coming together to create the Bytown Voyageurs for an Apr. 6-18 training tour of Belgium and the Netherlands.

“We travelled from one giant club to the other, training with some fantastic, unbelievable, world-class coaches,” Nighthawks founder Sandeep Chopra reports. “We wanted to simulate what a tour, or what a camp would be like at the national level in Canada, and we sure got that.”

In exhibition play, the Voyageurs took on top-level talent, including Ireland’s national under-16 team, and the U17 Oranje-Rood squad from Eindhoven, Netherlands.

“Eindhoven is kind of the science-centre for field hockey in the world,” Chopra notes. “(Oranje-Rood) are an A1 team.”

The tour culminated with a U17 tournament featuring teams from South Africa, Scotland and Germany, among others. The Bytown boys shocked the locals and won the event.

“It was a very raw, sort of classic-Canadian hockey story,” Chopra smiles. “Ragged bunch of kids train hard, come together, and produce a result.”

Zachary Coombs of the Chelsea Phoenix played goalie for the Voyageurs. His effort was highly praised by Chopra and Bytown’s head coach Peter Milkovich, a former Team Canada field hockey player and two-time Olympian in his own right.

Coombs says the reaction when his team won the tournament was mostly surprise.

“None of our team expected us to win. I was the only one keeping my hopes up,” Coombs laughs. “We had no expectation. We just thought we were going to go there and have a bunch of fun.”

The trip was the most extensive training tour that either club has undertaken and is one that’s been years in the making alongside the sport’s growth in popularity in the Ottawa area.

“We thought that at some point we needed to push their level to something beyond what we find here,” explains Chopra, whose club has produced a number of players for Canadian national boys’ teams in recent years.

Chopra and Milkovich both likened the experience to a European ice hockey team coming to Canada to experience high-level training.

“Over here, we play on a soccer field at the moment, but over there ,they play on smooth turf – a perfect turf actually,” Coombs highlights. “It was a huge shock to see that a place would have over six of them in one location.”

Back on Canadian soil, the members of the Bytown Voyageurs will likely meet as opposition come July’s National Championship in Vancouver. 

Chopra hopes tours like this become the norm for field-hockey players from the Ottawa area, which has become a hotbed for the sport in Canada.

“It was a super-intense course at a very high level,” Chopra signals. “The payoff was gigantic. The development leap for these kids was unbelievable.”

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