Amrit Sidhu of Abbotsford is one of the elite scorers on the national U18 men’s field hockey team

Amrit Sidhu of Abbotsford is one of the elite scorers on the national U18 men’s field hockey team

Field hockey star Sidhu ticketed for Youth Olympics in China

Amrit Sidhu and Canada's U18 men's field hockey team believe they've got a leg up on the rest of the world heading into the Youth Olympics.

Abbotsford’s Amrit Sidhu and the rest of the Canadian under-18 men’s field hockey team believe they’ve got a leg up on the rest of the world heading into the Youth Olympic Games.

And that’s because the sport itself is undergoing an extreme makeover.

Field hockey is traditionally played with 11 players per side on a soccer-style pitch. But the Youth Olympics, to be held Aug. 16-28 in Nanjing, China, will mark the major international debut for the “Hockey5s” version of the sport. As its name suggests, it’s played five-a-side, on a smaller playing surface enclosed by boards.

The changes are designed to make the sport more exciting and accessible, along the lines of how sevens rugby has expanded the popularity of the traditional 15-a-side version.

And for Canadians like Sidhu, who grew up playing ice hockey and street hockey, the new rules are awfully familiar.

“It’s kind of like ice hockey, which is good for Canada, because it’s kind of in our blood,” he said with a smile. “It’s a good version of the game for us.

“We’ve been watching some video (of other nations), and they’re not very keen on using the boards, where we’ve played ice hockey and we use them all the time. I think it’s an advantage for us.”

Sidhu, a 17-year-old forward who recently graduated from Rick Hansen Secondary, has taken quickly to Hockey5s. At the Pan American Youth Championships in Puerto Rico in February, he was Team Canada’s top scorer with 11 goals in seven games, and notched the game-winner in an 8-5 semifinal victory over the U.S. which clinched a Youth Olympics berth for Canada.

“There was a lot of controversial stuff happening in that (semifinal) game – it was really emotional,” said Sidhu, whose team ended up with a silver medal after falling 5-2 to Argentina in the final. “It was a surreal feeling to win.”

His strong Pan Am performance notwithstanding, Sidhu still had to make the Youth Olympics squad, and he was named to the roster in July after a 10-day national tryout camp in Vancouver.

“At this age, it’s something you couldn’t imagine,” enthused Sidhu, who plays for the  Burnaby Lake Field Hockey Club. “I was thinking at age 24 or 25, when I’m in my prime, I’ll be in the senior Olympics. To get there at this stage, it’s unbelievable.”

The Youth Olympics are a relatively recent International Olympic Committee initiative, with the first Youth Summer Games being staged in Singapore in 2010. They are held every two years, alternating between summer and winter events, and feature athletes in the 14-18 age bracket.

Impressively, the 75-member Canadian team for the Youth Olympics includes four Abbotsford athletes – the others are rugby sevens athlete Lauren Kerr and wrestlers Austin Gurm and Mickey Khehira.

Sidhu is thrilled that the Games are in China – he was born in Canada, but lived in Hong Kong with his family from the ages of two to five.

“I kind of remember the feelings I used to have in China – the lights, and there’s lots of excitement there,” said Sidhu, who is dusting off his very rusty Cantonese language skills. “It’ll be nice to go back and feel those good feelings again.”

Sidhu is seeking to raise $3,000 to cover his Youth Olympics costs, and tax-deductible donations can be made at http://chim.pn/1mY8Jzu.

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