Canada ready to play host for WBSC Group B qualifier

Nathan Reiter/Daily Herald The coaches from all six teams at the WBSC Men’s Softball World Cup Group B qualifier pose for a photo at the Art Hauser Centre.

The anticipation is palpable for Team Canada as they prepare for the 2024 WBSC Men’s Softball World Cup Group B qualifier in Prince Albert, starting on Wednesday.

Canada head coach John Stuart says he has been ready to go since he arrived in Prince Albert.

“We got here yesterday afternoon and for some reason I thought we’re playing tonight, so I was all excited. Not realizing that yesterday was still Monday, not Tuesday, but yeah we can’t wait to get going. The sooner the better and yeah just a bunch of new guys on the team, so we’re very excited to get underway.”

Prince Albert will host the Group B qualifiers before hosting the World Cup in 2025. As the host team for 2025, Canada will be in the tournament regardless of how they finish this week.

The field for Group B consists of Argentina, Canada, Hong Kong, Israel, New Zealand and Singapore. The qualifier will consist of round robin play with the top four teams qualifying for the playoff bracket. The top two teams will play against each other with the winner automatically qualifying for 2025.

The loser of the 1 vs 2 game will play the winner of the third and fourth ranked teams for the second available spot in 2025.

Entering the tournament with a guaranteed bid into 2025, Canada is still looking to succeed this week. Canadian captain Justin Schofield, who hails from Grand Pre, Nova Scotia, says there is still major importance to the games for the Canadian squad.

“Number one is we don’t want our rankings to drop. The rankings affect the schedule. The rankings affect men’s softballs now in the World Games, which are going to take place in China next summer. As of right now, the top six teams are the ones that are being invited. We don’t want to let our ranking drop because that’s a major event for men’s softball. Maybe the most major event for men’s softball (as it is) putting it on the platform for a potential Olympic sport someday.”

With some players being unavailable for the qualifier, Canada will see five new players join the team in Prince Albert. Dallas Kipfer (Kitchener, Ont.), Jeff Lyons (Glencoe, Ont.), Mason McKay (Tavistock, Ont.) Steven Normand (Calgary, Alberta) and Tyler Randerson (New Hamburg, Ont.) will look to make an impact on the tournament.

Stuart says he is looking forward to seeing what the new additions will bring to the table.

“A lot of our veteran players, just with the ISC schedule, were unavailable. We had a chance to bring in quite a few first-time young guys and even older guys that had never been in the mix before into Saskatoon last week to have a tryout process play in the tournament. For me and as a coaching staff, we’re really excited to see some of these guys that have never put their maple leaf on their chest before. It’s going to be interesting to see how everything pans out and we’ll see how guys progress throughout the week.”

Schofield, who was a member of the 2022 WBSC Men’s Softball World Cup roster, says he was encouraging the entire roster to make the most of the opportunity to represent the maple leaf.

“The biggest message I had yesterday when we had a meeting was that it’s really important to embrace putting this jersey on. I made this team for the first time at 27 and two years later was cut at 29. I made it again at 32 and here I am at 34 so my biggest thing was to explain to them that you never know when you’re going to get this opportunity again. It doesn’t matter if you’re 20 years old, if you’re 42 years old, there’s no guarantees.”

Entering the tournament, Canada sits third in the WBSC World Rankings. Argentina currently holds the top spot, Hong Kong is ranked at 24, Israel at 16, New Zealand at 10 and Singapore at 11.

Even sitting towards the top of the rankings, Stuart says Canada will have to play well against all teams in the tournament.

“Argentina and New Zealand are always at the top of the heap for sure. We don’t know much about Singapore, Hong Kong or Israel but we expect them to put up a great fight and we’re not taking anything for granted. I’ve preached that with the players we do not take anyone for granted. We can’t just focus on Argentina and New Zealand but they’re our top competition.”

Competing on the world stage, Canada will need to pay attention to the little details to find success in a tight game. Stuart says his team needs to play well on the offensive side of the ball to earn a spot in the playoff bracket.

“In our last couple of events we finished second, our pitching has been there, our hitting has not been there. We have to have four, five or six guys going every game, not one or two, and that’s going to be the key to success this year is how our batting lineup pans out and does the little things right, moving runners and doing anything to get on base.”

Canada kicks off the Group B qualifier against Hong Kong at 6 p.m.