David Eng led Canada in an opening game loss on Thursday. Photo by Matthew Murnaghan/Canadian Paralympic Committee

Canada’s men’s wheelchair basketball team battles hard despite loss

Flag bearer David Eng and rookie Nik Goncin among few bright spots in opening game

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – David Eng and Nik Goncin played their hearts out in Canada’s men’s wheelchair basketball opener against Spain Thursday at the Paralympic Games ‑­ no matter how far they fell behind.

Spain went ahead early and never looked back en route to an 80-46 win.

“There’s a lot of heart, and all of us Canadians have a lot of heart,” said Eng courtside at the Carioca Arena. “It’s the same thing for us. We don’t back down, no matter what the score is. We just keep going and going and keep our heads high.”

Rookie Goncin shared Eng’s philosophy.

“That’s kind of our team,” Goncin said. “We have like a blue collar team. We’re not going to beat any team by 30 points, we’re going to beat them by five to 10 and it’s going to be just by grinding. It’s not going to be anything flashy.”

Co-captain Eng was just one day removed from a night to remember.

He led the Canadian Paralympic team into Maracana stadium during the opening ceremonies as the country’s flag bearer. It is the Montreal native’s fourth Paralympic games and he was humble about the privilege.

“Being flag bearer is a great honour and I really appreciated that,” he said. “But when it was over I had to focus and be able to play this game today.”

Goncin said that Eng was more excited than he let on.

“He was ecstatic,” Goncin said. “That’s not even a good enough word to describe how he was acting. He was super pumped.

“We walked right behind him and everyone saw us come into the stadium. I’m not really a sentimental guy, but you could honestly feel the energy in the building.”

The pair led Canada’s offence in the opening match.

Eng scored a team high 12 points while Goncin added six and collected seven rebounds. However, as a team, the Canadians could never get it together, shooting just 26 per cent from the floor.

Goncin played well, especially considering that it was his first game in a Paralympics.

“I think [Goncin] came out really strong and channeled his energy really well,” Eng said. “I know (Thursday) morning he told me he was really nervous and stuff, but he came out and he played really good.”

Goncin is only 24 and in his Paralympic debut he started and logged the fifth most minutes on the team, despite dealing with pregame jitters.

“I hated that it was in the evening because I had all day to think about it,” the Regina resident said. “I struggled to sleep last night just thinking about it. I kind of calmed down after we had practice this afternoon and kind of got some energy out. Obviously, I didn’t recuperate as well as I wanted to because we didn’t play as well as we wanted to.”

They way the Goncin handled his first Games didn’t get by his veteran teammate.

“I think Nik did a great job to be able to channel his jitters and to put them in a positive way.”

The Canadian men continue with the preliminary round on Friday against Netherlands (0-1) at 6 pm local time (5 pm ET.)