With the Euro Hockey League Final Four tournament at HGC just days away, we chatted to the men at the centre of the home club’s attempt to be crowned champions of Europe in front of their loyal fans – coach Dirk Loots and influential midfielder Rob Short.
HGC coach Dirk Loots has only been in the position of team coach for a matter of months, stepping in to replace former RC Polo man Jorge Dabanch midway through the season. The former Dutch international player quickly reconnected with his one-time playing partner Rob Short, the brilliant Canadian international midfielder who, at the age of 38, continues to be a hugely influential and commanding on field presence.
With Loots calling the shots from the side and Short leading by example on the field, HGC are now within touching distance of the Alain Danet Trophy. At KO16 Bloemendaal, the team overcame strong challenges from Ireland’s Glenanne and newly-crowned English champions Beeston HC, with Short producing Man of the Match displays in both victories to ensure that HGC’s dream stayed well and truly alive.
In an interview with EHLHOCKEY.TV, the two men talk about the build-up to the event and the growing excitement within a HGC team that is fully focussed on winning the EHL. Rob Short – who alongside HGC team-mate and countryman Ken Pereira holds the international appearance record for Canada – also discusses his love of the EHL as well as his plans to become a coach when his playing days are over.
The complete interview can be found below, with more information about the Euro Hockey League and EuroHockey Club Champions Cup Final Four tournaments being available at www.ehlhockey.tv .
Euro Hockey League: Hi Dirk and Rob, thanks for talking to us! Can you tell us how the HGC team preparations are going ahead of EHL Final Four?
Dirk Loots: “It’s going really well. We finished the league four weeks ago, so it has been a long preparation. We gave the team got one and a half weeks off after the league finished to get fresh again. That’s exactly what happened and from there on we’ve trained well and played a few matches. Now it’s a matter of details and then we’re off. We can’t wait.”
Rob Short: “Yes, it’s going great. Although it’s been a long month our team has found the right balance between rest – both mentally and physically – and training. We are fit, sharp, focussed and ready for the challenge.”
EHL: So Dirk, what is the general mood of the squad and the coaching team ahead of the event? Do you have any injury concerns or unavailable players?
DL: “The mood is very good. For the players and the coaching staff, the Final Four event being played at our own club is quite possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s exciting to work towards such an event. Furthermore, it’s an opportunity to end a difficult season on a high, which is important both for now and for the future. As for injuries, Lucas Vila has been injured for many months, so he will definitely not be there.”
EHL: Is there an element of excitement about playing the tournament on home soil? Do you feel it gives you an advantage, or add extra pressure?
DL: “As I said, of course it is exciting to prepare for this event on home soil. Personally I don’t feel any extra pressure, only more spirit and that to me is an advantage. As a sportsman, what can be more exciting than that?”
RS: “Playing at our home club HGC can only give us more confidence. The pressure is high for all teams. So having your home fans behind us will push the team further and the pressure of the moment becomes alleviated by that support. We are all looking forward to seeing the mass of 'HGC blue" in the stands, with everyone rooting for us. I was so happy when I heard HGC had won the bid for the Final Four. It is a huge advantage for us to play at home. We have the best field in Europe and we are very used to it. HGC has been a difficult team to beat at home for years.”
EHL: Dirk, it is quite an achievement to reach the EHL Semi Finals in your first spell as coach with the club. Are you enjoying the role?
DL: “Yes, I enjoy it very much. In daily life I train and coach sustainable high performance in business life, and obviously there are lots of similarities with sport. Furthermore, I am a former player of HGC and well connected in the hockey and the sports world. When HGC asked me, I was very keen on taking on the challenge. Reaching the Final Four is a great team performance and I am really looking forward to the coming weekend.”
EHL: Obviously you know Oranje Zwart very well from your clashes in the Hoofdklasse. What are your thoughts about playing such a familiar opponent in a European Semi Final?
DL: “It’s not just a normal game, it’s the Semi-Final of the EHL. And, I know it’s a cliché, but anything can happen in such a match. During the Hoofdklasse season good and bad luck usually even out. With a match like this, it doesn’t work that way. In the end, I think the team that wants it most, will win.”
RS: “Playing against Oranje Zwart is a nice opportunity. They are a great team with great players but we believe our team is also very strong and we line up nicely against them. We have lost twice to them this year but of course we have learned from our mistakes. We have not had our best season as a club but we have an incredible opportunity front of us to make something special of the season. OZ is also thinking the same thing of course as they didn't qualify for EHL next year and did poorly in the Hoofdklasse Play-Offs. Both teams will be very motivated and prepared so I really am looking forward to a great battle.”
EHL: Rob, you have had a long and illustrious career as a player, yet this is your first season in the Euro Hockey League. Have you enjoyed playing in the competition and where would winning the EHL rank in your list of achievements?
RS: “I love the EHL. The atmosphere in Bloemendaal was absolutely incredible. Many people from many different countries all around Europe enjoyed the sport in its finest form. I believe there was close to 5000 people, if not more, which was a huge success. Although I believe it’s important to play events in other countries I must say I am glad the final is in Holland. At HGC there will be a lot of supporters and the atmosphere will be just as good as Bloemendaal. Although this is my first and last EHL, win or lose I will always remember it fondly. One day I hope I have a chance to coach in this great hockey event. While I don't like to look forward past the Semi-Final if we could win this event it will rank highly as one of my greatest achievements. I try not to compare my great moments with Canada or HGC but I will say that winning the EHL and hoisting the trophy at HGC with the boys would be a dream come true.”
EHL: What are your thoughts about the Euro Hockey League competition itself? Do you feel that it has had a positive impact on the sport?
RS: “EHL has done a great job in promoting the sport of hockey. Many people in Canada do not have access to high-level matches, so with the EHL website they are getting a chance to watch live hockey online. I have heard from a lot of people who are staying up to watch games in the middle of the night. Hockey is a great game to watch and for smaller countries it is important to have an event such as the EHL where they can learn, enjoy and see how the game is played by the best in the world. For me knowing that people in Canada are getting a chance to see the games and highlights is the biggest impact the EHL is having on the sport.”
EHL: We recently discussed your incredible career with Hari Kant, your former Canadian team-mate. He jokingly said that you had at least another ten years in you! Your thoughts?!
RS: “Ten years?! Hari, I sure wish I could play for another ten. Honestly I believe, although most people will tell me it’s impossible, that I could play for another five years. My body feels great, I am as fit as the others and I still have the same passion and enjoyment every time I step on the field whether it’s for Canada or for HGC in the Hoofdklasse and the EHL. I just take each year one year a time. I don't say anything yet about retiring but who knows when the time will feel right. I just attended the Johan Cruyff Institute of Sport in Amsterdam where I did a year long Masters in International Coaching. I love this game so much that I know when I do in fact retire I will want to stay heavily involved. Through my studies this year I have realized that my passion for the sport will be channelled into coaching. So, although the time for retiring from playing is coming soon, hockey lovers won't be able to get rid of me for a while yet as I will be on the sidelines long after hanging up the stick!”
EHL: So Dirk, can you tell us what is it like to work with a true professional like Rob?
DL: “It’s great. I played alongside him and we always got along really well, both on and off the field. I guess we liked each other’s mentality. It’s amazing that he is still playing at this level; I have great respect for that. Now I get to be his coach and we still have the same connection.”
EHL: Finally, can we expect the HGC fans to party through the night if you guys win the title?
DL: “An easy question. They will party all night if we win the title, and we will join them.”
RS: “Yes, the party at HGC would be epic! Both our team and our fans would enjoy a few beers together and it would promise to be a great night. If we win it I expect that the party amongst our team will continue for days.”
Source: Euro Hockey League website
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