It’s been a long road to get to this point in the Canadian National team system. Here’s the reason behind our climb back up the international rankings, and why we believe that this may be a prolonged stay.
The Big Chief is the number one reason for Canada’s resurgence. Ask any member of the National team about the rise in the past two years, and he is the first person they’ll give credit to.
When he took the team in 2006, what he got was an aging team that was the result of a disjointed system. Although the team peaked finishing 11th at the 2006 World Championships, the 2007 World League was the end of the road for many longtime National team members. Since then, Coach Hoag has worked endlessly to bring this team back where it was.
He has a direct hand in all National teams (Senior A, Senior B, and Junior) from personally picking each member of every team, to attending practices of all three teams, Hoag has a direct impact on all is players. He hasn’t created a team; he’s created a system.
He has knowledge of all the players within his system, as well as of many who are on the outside. His ability to foster younger players has helped bridge the quickly bridge the gap, bringing younger players like Gord Perrin and Justin Duff to Arkas to train the whole year underneath him. Duff getting signed to help Belgorod win the Russian Superleague is a testament to our Coach’s ability to bring the best in his players.
There’s a reason that the volleyball mecca of Poland came calling to Coach Hoag before they hired Andrea Anastasi. He is without a doubt one of the best coaches in the world.
I hate to point the finger at any one player, whether it’s for good or for bad, but this one needs to be said. It isn’t the fact so much that he’s an absolute monster of a player who was also graced with some serious athletic ability, it’s also his go-to attitude and passion that leads this team. Canada hasn’t had that go-to player since Paul Duerden. Yes, I know was not that long ago, but thank goodness for that. While Gavin doesn’t have the early credentials that Duerden does (making the National team as a 17 year is something we may never see again), he’s well on his way to having his named revered around the world like Duerden did for so many years.
Our star right side’s year this year playing for Iskra Odintsovo of the Russian Superleague was (hopefully) hugely beneficial for his game. If you can look past all the club corruption and drama, not the mention the fact that he still has yet to be paid for most of his time there, playing in arguably the best league in the world, against the world’s top players is a huge step up from playing in Korea where the league is, well short. He also had the added bonus of actually playing his position on the right side this year, compared to the last few in Korea where he was actually playing on the left. Finally, not having to see 75 sets in a match has helped not burn out Schmitt.
While having the point machine that is Gavin is a great asset to a team, the rest of the team is just as crucial. Not only do we have a consistent high quality among all positions, the depth of each one is serious.
With a blend of old and new on the court, the team is as dynamic as ever. The veteran of Steve Brinkman paired the youth and physicality of Adam Simac and Justin Duff provides us with three solid guys down the middle.
With Dustin Schneider once healthy again, we have two setters who are not only interchangeable, but also compliment each other very well. His speed and incredible ability to run an offense is been proven to be world class. His set location is second to none, and while he may be 5’11 (maybe), his ability to position himself flawlessly while blocking has certainly made up for it. Along with Josh Howatson’s calm demeanor when delivering the ball, his cannon of a serve, and solid block have made the team interchangeable.
On the outside, with the quick up bringing of Gord Perrin, Coach Hoag has the pleasant dilemma who to pick between him and Toon Van Lankvelt. It looks like Hoag has given Perrin the nod to take the P2 spot behind Captain Fred Winters, Toon proved his was an equal asset when he stepped in for an ill Perrin at the Olympic Qualifier last year. With Dallas Soonias and Louis-Pierre Mainville as the alternate right sides, we have two guys who have been known to put up some serious numbers, while at the same time know how to build a fairly good block.
Bridging the Gap
While Coach Hoag does have a huge impact on the younger players within the program, a huge part of that credit has to go to the veteran players on the team. Four players, Dan Lewis, Steve Brinkman, Fred Winters, and Louis-Pierre Mainville remain from the 2006 World Championships team, and don’t think for a second that they haven’t had a huge impact on players like Gavin, Josh Howatson, Dustin Schneider, Dallas Soonias and Toon Van Lankvelt in the early years of the 2012 Olympic-quad. Canada’s win over Serbia on pool play at the 2010 World Championships was a blip on the radar of hopefully things to come with this team, and those players were the ones behind it all. We are seeing it once against with the younger players in the program now, with Dustin Schneider and Louis-Pierre training at the Full-Time Training Center, providing veteran leadership to players just out of the CIS.
The up and coming youth
Not only has the team been building for now, we’re also building for the future. In 2012, we saw graduate one of the most impressive classes in CIS history, and they’re itching to take the helm of our Senior A team.
Guys like Blair Bann and Ciaran Mcgovern have already tasted World League, stepping up huge in Finland last year. Other players like Jason De Rocco, Graham Vigrass, Rudy Verhoeff, and Nick Hoag are all on the cusp of making a serious run at a spot on the top 12.
Our National B team is loaded with talent as well, the monster pair from TWU of Lucas Van Berkel and Dan Jansen Van Doorn, and former TWU star, and little brother of Josh, Marc Howatson. They took a 4th at the 2011 FISU Games, with many of the players on that roster still with the team ready to make a run this year.
Keep on eye out for Nick Hoag and Rudy Verhoeff to make a serious impact soon. The youngest Hoag has some serious potential to be one of the top players around, while Verhoeff has the ability to play any of the three front row positions.