By Martin Boyce
For the first time, Eastern Ontario has four Nepean Nighthawks-driven teams competing at the Field Hockey Canada National Championships from July 18-25 in Surrey, B.C.
After sending only an under-15 boys’ team the past 2 years, having entries in all youth divisions (under-18 and U15 boys and girls) is a huge step forward for the sport locally, says Nighthawks director of player development Sandeep Chopra, who founded the Nepean club 9 years ago.
“Because of the success of our programs, it gives way more kids in our region a chance to have a high-performance experience,” highlights Chopra, who – get this one, Ottawa sports parents – held provincial program tryouts in the nation’s capital this season, also a first.
“Kids are registering, which is great, but the parents are really involved, and the community fabric has become really really strong lately,” adds Chopra. “From doing things like nationals where we have to get together and raise money, everyone comes together.”
With the rapid rise of the sport locally, the club had to limit the number of player spaces available this season due to a lack of available field time, encouraging talks of developing new field hockey-first training grounds.
“We’re limited only by the capacity of the facilities now,” Chopra explains. “If we get a world-class field hockey facility, somewhere in Nepean, then the sky will be the limit. A couple thousand players would not be out of the possibilities.”
During the Nighthawks’ 8th-annual Junior Hockey Fest from June 16-18, Nepean had a team playing in every time slot throughout the weekend two side-by-side pitches at Nepean Sportsplex’s Minto Field.
Clubs from Chelsea, Gatineau and the GTA all participated in the Junior Fest and say they feel it is important for all field hockey clubs to get behind one another’s efforts.
“[Chopra]’s been our biggest supporter,” says Sanjay D’Silva, of the Canadian Field Hockey and Cultural Club in Mississauga, who welcomed eight Nepean teams to their own early-June tournament. “I think it’s more like a family. All the of the clubs should feel that way. We should be a family because with that comes relationships, and encouraging the youngsters, and promoting the game.”
The Nighthawks were eager to chase some national hardware on the west coast, but regardless of result, being there already shows just how far the sport has come locally.
“It really is an incredible thing that’s happening here and I don’t think any other sport can say they’ve had the rate of growth that we have,” suggests Chopra. “The number of people that are involved in the Ottawa area – it’s really a dream come true for us.”