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Surrey’s Panesar shoots for trip to 2024 Paris Olympics with Canadian field hockey team

In Newton, national men’s squad trains for Pan Am Games
Surrey-raised field hockey player Balraj Panesar at the Commonwealth Games in 2022. Panesar will play for Team Canada at the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, starting Oct. 25. (Contributed photo: Yan Huckendubler/Field Hockey Canada)

A park in Newton is where Canada’s men’s national field hockey team is now preparing for the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, starting later this month.

Tamanawis is considered home turf for the team’s many Metro Vancouver-area players, especially Balraj Panesar, the lone Surrey-raised athlete on the 16-man roster, announced Sept. 26 by Field Hockey Canada.

Panesar, 27, is a veteran midfielder with 85 caps (games) to his credit with Team Canada, which would earn a trip to the 2024 Paris Olympic Games with a gold medal in Santiago.

This fall Panesar is in Birmingham, England, studying for a law degree and playing with the Beeston club team in nearby Nottingham.

“It’s quite a strong league here, one of the strongest in the world,” Panesar reported in a WhatsApp call. “Hockey is quite significant here, and it’s normal to see people walking around with hockey sticks and their hockey bags on the street here.”

Of course that’s field hockey, not the game on ice.

No stranger to travel, Panesar will soon fly home from the U.K. to train with the national team for a few days before jetting off to Chile to play at the Pan Am Games.

Both the men’s and women’s teams qualified to rep Canada in Santiago with their bronze-medal performances at the Pan American Cup in January 2022.

The men’s national team, aka Red Caribou, looks to upgrade their silver medal from Lima 2019 into gold, as they have come second to Argentina at the last three Pan American Games. The squad includes seven players from Lima 2019 and 10 who competed at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Panesar was left off the team that played in Japan during the COVID-delayed Summer Olympics in 2021.

“Brandon (Pereira, fellow Surreyite) was listed as an alternate for Tokyo, a travelling reserve, and my brother (Sukhi) made the team,” Panesar recalled. “I was full-on cut, which was tough, a tough week. I got hit in the face with a ball and then I got cut (from the team) a few days later, so that was a double-whammy, with a fractured jaw.”

His older sibling Sukhi, a veteran of the national team since 2010, won’t be travelling to Santiago.

“I think unofficially he’s moved on with his life and is busy trying to develop his career outside of hockey now,” Panesar explained. “He’s been taking a break for about a year and a half now, since he’s last touched a stick.”

In 2014 the younger Panesar made his senior-team debut in New Zealand and now plays for a Canadian squad currently ranked second in the Pan American region, 16th in the world.

In Santiago, field hockey games will be played for 10 days starting Oct. 25. The eight men’s teams are split into two pools, with Team Canada in with the U.S., Brazil and Trinidad & Tobago. The other pool includes host Chile, Argentina, Mexico and Peru.

“This is a big (tournament) for all teams involved, including the lower-ranked ones, and they’re meaningful games,” Panesar noted.

“If we don’t win gold we can still qualify for the Olympics later, in January, but obviously our goal is to win at the Pan American Games,” he added. “It’s not going to be easy, and I feel this is our best chance. Certainly getting past the U.S. in the pool will be a big one and they’re definitely a very strong team. They beat us in the last Pan Am Cup so we’ll be looking for some payback. Then later we’d have to face Chile or Argentina from the other pool, I’d assume. We’re just taking it one game at a time.”

• RELATED: Canada’s 2 ‘significantly underfunded’ field hockey teams shoot for 2024 Olympics.

Back on June 30, Panesar was among event planners when Canada’s two national teams hosted a golf tournament and dinner at Tsawwassen Springs Golf Course, to raise funds for their possible trips to the Paris Olympics in 2024. The programs are “significantly underfunded,” Panesar wrote to potential donors in an email leading up to the fundraiser.

This week, he said the event was a success in more ways than one.

“It was fantastic, a great turnout and nice weather,” Panesar recalled. “I think we had around 120 golfers, maybe more, and a lot of people just came in the evening as well, for the dinner and banquet at the clubhouse.

“In the end I think the profit was around $17,000 or 18,000, split 50/50 with the women, and it was our first year doing it,” he added. “Above all, it wasn’t even about the fundraising, it was about connecting with the community. We have so many athletes on the men’s and women’s teams who go to UBC and play there, and at UVIC. We’re looking forward to doing it again because that’s something we want to do every year.”

Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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