After unfortunate round-robin results, Canada’s wheelchair rugby team can draw numerous positives from their Tokyo experience.
The Canucks topped France 57-49 on the back of a strong performance from Zak Madell and company.
Although fifth place was not the result the Canadian team wanted or expected coming into the tournament, the group laid it all on the line, and coach Dave Willsie had nothing but admiration for his squad.
‘’The guys brought it and played so well. I can’t be [prouder] … this is honest, heartfelt admiration for everybody,” said coach Willsie, postgame.
Canada played a terrific mistake-free contest producing their first game with no turnovers this tournament.
France did everything it could, constantly fluctuating their defensive strategy on the Canadians, switching from a deep defensive pattern to a frontcourt defence simultaneously throughout the match.
The Canadians had an answer for it all, putting the ball in the hands of their star Zak Madell for a majority of the game, and it was apparent the supporting cast was feeding off that strategy.
Similar to the game against the Americans, Michael Whitehead and Madell were able to combine for 39 tries, one-off their 40 against the USA. Throughout the game, France would key in on Madell, double-teaming him and sometimes triple-teaming him, but that didn’t seem to stifle the 27-year-old at all as he put up another lopsided 31 tries.
Shayne Smith had an excellent game after not seeing any action in the first two contests. He emerged as the much-needed third option with seven tries.
Coming into this tournament, Canada had medal hopes and rightfully so, after their disappointing 52-50 loss to Japan in the Bronze medal match at the 2016 Rio games. They switched up strategies hiring two rookie coaches in Patrick Côté and David Willsie, and it seemed to work.
After sweeping away the competition in every Paralympic qualification match, things were looking up for the team. It was ultimately their pool draw that sealed their fate.
The red and white were put in group B, which consisted of two of the top three teams in the tournament, USA and Great Britain. Although they can still hang their hat on a solid Games, the team did not use their unfortunate draw as an excuse postgame.
“They hate it, it was obvious, we were in the toughest pool, we know we should be vying for a medal,” said Willsie. “We took it upon ourselves.
“We have a lot of men in that change room, they wanted to make a statement in this last game, and that’s what we did. We stuck it to France. It wasn’t even close, and we are elite, even though we don’t have a medal to show for it.”