When Nick Richardson tells people that he’s a member of the United States Junior National men’s field hockey team, they usually offer him congratulations. Then they ask the inevitable question.

Did you say men’s field hockey?

“All the time,” Richardson, a Readfield native, said. “That’s something I’ve been getting ever since I started playing.”

So, when Richardson and his Team USA teammates compete in the Pan American Junior Championships, beginning May 20 in Toronto, they’re making a social statement as much as an athletic one. Guys not only play field hockey, the excel at the sport.

According to the mostpopularsports.net website, field hockey has 2 billion fans, making it the third most popular sport in the world, behind soccer and cricket.

“It’s only really the U.S. where it’s a girls sport,” Richardson said.

A midfielder, Richardson and Team USA will play three games in pool play, against Puerto Rico, Argentina, and Trinidad and Tobago. After that, the team is guaranteed three games in the championship rounds. The tournament winner and runner-up are guaranteed spots in the world junior world cup in December in New Delhi, India.

A 2013 Kents Hill School graduate, Richardson is finishing up his sophomore year at St. Anselm in Goffstown, New Hampshire. He fell in love with field hockey when he was a child, hanging around as his father, Randy Richardson, coached the Kents Hill team.

“I picked up a stick on the sidelines at Kents Hill when my dad was coaching and I was hooked,” Richardson said.

Once he reached high school, rules barring boys from competing in field hockey alongside girls forced Richardson to find a team. He found the Cape Ann Field Hockey Club, a Boston club that featured a men’s field hockey team. If you’re serious about wanting to become a better field hockey player, Pothier said to Richardson, we’ll get you good enough to play with the guys.

Along with his time with Cape Ann, Richardson worked with coaches at USA Field Hockey’s East Coast High Performance Center in Pennsylvania, where he met many of his teammates on the national junior team. It’s small, this American male field hockey community. The high performance center in Pennsylvania is one of three in the country, with the other two on the West coast.

“The guys I’m playing with, I’ve known since I got involved,” Richardson said. “Us three (centers) are basically the small feeder program for the national team. It’s slowly growing, emphasis on the slow.”

The game played by men is the exact same game played by women, Richardson said. Unlike ice hockey and lacrosse, which has different rules for the sexes, or basketball, which women play with a smaller ball, field hockey is field hockey, no matter the gender on the pitch. The game played by Richardson and his teammates is faster, obviously, and men strike the ball harder, but the rules don’t change. It’s about skill, not force.

“If you’re skillful, you have an advantage rather than if you’re big and strong,” Richardson said. “I’m not ashamed to say I’ve been knocked on my (butt) by girls who were better stick handlers than me.”

While still in high school, Richardson went to South Africa to train and play field hockey. As a freshman at St. Anselm, he was a student assistant coach with the college’s team. Richardson took 2015 off from school before his sophomore year to play and coach in Melbourne, Australia.

“They (Australia) have a very strong men’s team. They have very strong hockey,” Richardson said.

Richardson’s goal is to help make Team USA stronger. At 20, this is his last year of eligibility at the junior level. In the long term, Richardson hopes to make the Olympic team in 2020. In the short term, it’s help Team USA qualify for the junior world cup with a strong showing in Toronto. In April, the women’s national junior team qualified for the world championships. Richardson thinks a big component of his sport’s growth is for the men to qualify, too.

“If we qualify, it would really bring publicity to the guys side. It would get interest up and start scrubbing away the ignorance that field hockey is just a girls sport,” Richardson said.

Until then, the question is still going to be asked of Richardson, over and over. Did you say men’s field hockey?

You’re darn right he did.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

<URL destination=””>[email protected]

</URL>Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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