For the love of the game

Laura Biggar and Camille St-Cyr celebrate Biggar’s goal against York University during a pre-season field hockey tournament game at Forbes Field in August. McGill beat York in each of the two games they played by identical 2-1 scores. / Photo: Andrew Dobrowolskyj

Focus on structure paying off for field hockey Martlets

By Jim Hynes

Montreal is a hockey town. No doubt about it. And the glory goes mostly to those warriors of the ice variety, be they Martlets, Redmen, Juniors, or Habs. But there are hockey players of another kind, albeit significantly less celebrated ones, right here at McGill. They train at ungodly hours, and spend countless others riding buses to far off games. They are the field hockey Martlets.

Unfortunately, due in large part to a shortage of suitable playing fields, these Martlets have no home games. Instead, they play their entire 13-game Ontario University Athletics (OUA) regular season on the road against seven Ontario schools. The team’s activities are almost entirely funded by the 22 players themselves. The travel budget for this year alone is more than $12,000. The team’s practices at Forbes Field, meanwhile, are held three-times a week…at 6:30 a.m., about an hour later than they usually convene for their weekend road trips. So yes, you have to really love field hockey to play on this team.

Playing for the love of the game isn’t unique to the players either. The five-person coaching staff, including co-head coaches Jean-Pierre Turpain and Laurent Fayen, are all volunteers.

“When I talk to people or the players about why I do this I always say the same thing,” said Turpain, a native of France who played competitive field hockey at that country’s club level. “I tell them that I’m giving back what was once given to me.”

Turpain, who recently retired from his job at ALCOA, joined the Martlets three years ago, at a time when the team was without a coach. The once respectable program had fallen on hard times, losing all fourteen of its games in 2006 and being outscored 83-0 in the process. The team was still winless the following year, when Fayen joined to share coaching duties, but managed to score two goals while also improving defensively.

The real turnaround started last season, when the team won its first game, tied three others and cut its goals against down to 40. The 2008 season also featured an expanded and highly experienced coaching staff whose emphasis on fundamentals is really starting to pay off this season. For their efforts and the results it brought, Turpain and Fayer were named co-recipients of the OUA field hockey Coach of the Year Award.

And, with the core of the 2008 team returning and the addition of some excellent new recruits Turpain says, the improvement continues. With three wins and a tie in six games, the team placed second at its own (and first ever) pre-season tournament at Forbes Field at the end of August, and has another win and two ties so far this regular season.

“Last year we started out by working on structure,” Turpain said of the team’s marked improvement. “We worked on defence and trained our goalies. Our defence and mid-field play got a lot stronger. Now that that part of our game has been improved, we are concentrating a bit more on our offence.”

Bolstered by a veteran group at the position, the team’s mid-field play, Turpain said, has improved enormously since he first arrived, resulting in more balls making their way up-field to the forwards.

“With the exception of two very strong teams, against whom we basically try and limit the damage, with think we can compete against everyone now,” Turpain says. “Our goal this year is to make the playoffs. And the good news is that they players are now starting to believe they can do it.”

To follow the field hockey Martlets progress, visit

To make a donation to help support the team, contact Jean-Pierre Turpain at (514) 222-2476 or