RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Canada’s wheelchair rugby team has a chance to go 3-0 in the pool phase if they can play their game like they did on Thursday against Great Britain.
Zak Madell, Canada’s leading scorer, is confident in winning the group if they repeat their performance on Friday.
“We need to do a lot of what we just executed on the court,” he said. “Just makes sure that everyone is filling their roles and putting in the work. It’s a team sport, nobody has to do the heavy lifting. Everyone is carrying their own loads and knows their role out there.
“As long as we study some game film tonight and figure out what we need to be doing, we should be good to go for tomorrow.”
Canada, ranked fourth in the world, is set to take on the number two Australian team, one day after the fifth ranked Brits took them to overtime in a tremendous 50-49 thriller.
As the time ticked down in overtime, Madell had the ball with under :30 to go. He wheeled around the court, as he did all game, trying to find a way to penetrate the British defence. When it looked like the game was headed for another overtime period, he passed the ball to a streaking Trevor Hirschfield who scored the winning goal with 0.7 seconds left.
Madell was grateful his co-captain was there to bail him out.
“Trevor Hirschfield, our captain, came to the rescue as usual for me,” said Madell, after the game in the Carioca Arena. “I was tied up in the corner with the ball, Mike Whitehead was on the other side of the key which would have been a real tough pass for me, and the outcome was our captain doing what he does best: saves the day. “
The late game dramatics were not exclusive to overtime either.
With the game tied at the end of the fourth quarter, Great Britain had the ball and was driving hard. As the clock ticked down under 10 seconds, it appeared that the British were about to win the game. The attacker’s wheels were inches away from scoring when the shot clock buzzed, and Canada gained possession so they could take it to overtime.
“We saw the clock was running down and we had to put on some pressure,” said Madell. “I was just trying to make a hit at the last second to slow him down that little bit.
“I got lucky I didn’t get called on a penalty, and he made a smart play by trying to toss himself out of his chair to draw the call. Luckily for us the refs were on my side and the fact that they didn’t score was huge for us.”
The game seesawed back and forth all afternoon as both teams took turns holding the lead by multiple goals and watched as the other clawed back.
“We were just trying to stay composed in situations like that,” said Hirschfield. “We know that the game can switch back and forth pretty fast. We were only down three or four at one point and we know that it is a long game. It’s pretty easy to get upset when you’re down but we have to stay composed in those situations.”
Canada won its opening match of the Paralympics on Wednesday, 62-48 against the host nation Brazil. Madell also led Canada in scoring with 38.
Friday’s game against Australia will be a rematch of the London Paralympic gold medal game, when the Aussies handed Canada the silver and left with the gold.