Bhubaneswar: The Champions Trophy is regarded as the third most important hockey tournament after Olympics and the World Cup, but almost all the eight participating teams in the ongoing edition here have fielded relatively young squads to "develop" their bench strength for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
World champions and five-time reigning title holders Australia, Olympic champions Germany, world number two the Netherlands and Belgium among others have brought quite a few youngsters, who are part of the junior squad, for the elite eight-nation tournament.
In fact, hosts India, who have booked a direct ticket to Rio by winning the Asian Games gold after a hiatus of 16 years, too are taking this event as their first build up to 2016 Olympics.
"The Olympics is two years away and we have recently qualified for Rio. So no doubt we are taking the Champions Trophy as a build-up. It is the right time to start our preparations. Not just us, other teams are also considering this tournament to develop their team for the Olympics," India's High Performance Director Roelant Oltmans said.
Hurt by retirements and injuries to some key players like Jamie Dwyer, Mark Knowles and Kieren Govers, world champions Australia also fielded a young side for the event.
The Kookaburras are also going through a transition phase post Ric Charlesworth's era and current coach Graham Reid summed it up perfectly when he said that a high-profile tournament like the Champions Trophy is the perfect platform to give junior players a taste of high-level hockey ahead of the Rio Games.
"The idea for the next 12 months is to provide our players with opportunities. The injuries to Dwyer, Knowles, Govers have given us the opportunity to bring younger guys and give them more matches at the highest level," Reid told PTI.
"Four or five of the guys are brand new. The younger guys will understand what international hockey is all about. They all played junior World Cup but this is their first senior tournament. We are trying to develop broader base of players in the next 12 months."
Reid, however, said even though most of the teams have experimented with their squads but it is serious business for every competing nation. "The Champions Trophy is always important. It is a fantastic opportunity for the world's best teams to play and that can never be underestimated," said the former defender, who was part of Australia's silver medal winning in 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Reigning Olympic champions Germany coach Markus Weise too agreed with his counterparts from other nations participating in the Champions Trophy. "It (Champions Trophy) belongs to our plan towards Rio. It's good to have 30-33 people competing for places in the squad. If you always nominate the same 18 players, it doesn't help you increase your bench strength," he said.
The Netherlands newly-appointed coach Max Caldas aired the same opinion. "We have had four new caps in our first match. It is a great chance for them to play in India, a hockey country. The Champions Trophy is a part of our preparation for Rio. But it's a tournament in itself and as a team you would like to perform as well," Caldas said.
England coach Bobby Crutchley also said the Champions Trophy is part of the team's development process, but stressed that it doesn't mean they are here to just make up numbers.
"We have got a couple of new guys who haven't experienced this and so this obviously a great thing for them. It's a development process for us," he said.
"But it's a top tournament and all the teams will definitely like to win it. But there will be a few people trying few new things (lead upto to Rio). " Fast improving Belgium, who are currently ranked fourth in the world, coach Jeroen Delmee was also looking at the Champions Trophy to kick start their preparations for the Hero World League, the qualifying tournament for the World Cup.
"Obviously it is a moment to try out new things. For us it is a big tournament to prepare our team for the World League. Why just we? A lot of countries are doing the same," he said.