Sammelvuo has recently started working with the Canadian national team (Photo: Matt Stewart/Volleyball Canada)

Canada were looking for a new head coach after a difficult 2022 season at the same time that Tuomas Sammelvuo was available and interested in a new challenge after leaving the Russian national team.

The scenario made it inevitable that the two sides would see each other as exactly what they were looking for and, after just a couple of weeks of work, their union is set to officially begin between June 6-11, when the Volleyball Nations League 2023 starts for the men.

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The 47-year-old Finnish joins the Canadian national team in one of the best moments of his ten-year coaching career as he recently guided Poland’s Grupa Azoty ‘Zaksa’ Kędzierzyn-Koźle to their third-straight CEV Champions League title.

Sammelvuo has also had tremendous success ahead of the Russian national team, leading the European nation to a VNL title in 2019 and to taking the silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics, in 2021. The former player sees his new challenge with great excitement.

“I really wanted to get back to working with a national team and, when Canada contacted me, we only needed a few conversations about the project to get to an agreement,” the coach told Volleyball World. “Coaching Canada is something entirely new for me. There are some interesting young players coming into the team to join the more experienced ones and they’re all willing to work hard. The Federation is very organized and I know several people involved with it from the past. It’s a very interesting project and I’m really excited.”

From Canada’s perspective, the hiring of a coach of Sammelvuo’s caliber seems like an action to get the national team back on track after an inconsistent 2022 season. The Canadians made huge progress over the last decade, making it to back-to-back Olympics for the first time at Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, securing its first major international medal (bronze) at the 2017 FIVB World League and having consecutive top-ten finishes in 2014 (seventh) and 2018 (ninth) at the FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship.

In 2022, however, the Canadians were 15th in the VNL and 17th at the World Championship, giving a step back in their upward trajectory. For Sammelvuo, the process of regaining momentum at the international level begins with a good look inside.

“We want to build our identity as a team,” he explained. “I believe in a system that is based on the collective, but where there’s also a place for individual growth. I would like Canada to be a very strong blocking-defense team, one that fights to win every rally. Serving and passing are two areas of the game where I think we need to improve a lot. We need to find our way of playing, create a clear vision for the team and work hard to implement it.”

Sammelvuo Zaksa CEV

Sammelvuo is coming from a strong club season with Poland's Zaksa

From that standpoint, Canada’s decision to hire a coach with the background of Sammelvuo, who spent all of one year of his 30 years of playing and coaching in Europe, to set the team’s playing style might look like an intriguing one.

However, it was with another European of a similar profile at the helm, French Stéphane Antiga, that the North Americans had great success between 2017 and 2018.

“I’ll obviously have to adapt in some aspects, but the goal is that I bring my vision to add the other coaches,” he explained. “I believe volleyball is the same everywhere, there aren’t really that many differences from one region to another when we get on the court. It’s mostly with the culture and so.”

Sammelvuo couldn’t have hoped for a better place to start his Canadian adventure as the country is set to host VNL’s Pool 1 in Ottawa, where the team will face Cuba, Argentina, the United States and Germany in the opening week of the event.

The coach appreciates the opportunity of having a first interaction with the home fans, but prefers to not set goals for his first matches at the helm of the Canadian team.

“It’s great to get to start in Canada and we believe that playing at home, in front of our fans, will help the team get good results that week,” he commented. “But I’m so focused on the daily work that it’s hard to talk about targets or goals. I think that at the end of the day, we’ll get what we deserve, so, the most important thing is winning the next rally. We want to improve our position in the World Rankings (Canada are currently 15th), but we’ll be facing great competition and that’s the main challenge.”

Canada played two friendly matches against Brazil on Thursday and Friday in Gatineau and won the first of them 3-1 before falling on the second for the same score.

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