(Richmond, BC) -- Thanks to a whole lot of grit and a little bit of luck, Team Canada will advance to the medal rounds at the 2012 Canada Cup International Wheelchair Rugby Tournament. Canada will play at 7 pm tonight against Japan in the semi-finals at the Richmond Olympic Oval.
The drama began this morning when Japan upset #1-ranked USA with a 56-55 victory. Japan is only the second country in the history of the sport to have beaten the USA in a sanctioned event. The USA’s loss ends their six-year winning streak.
In order for Canada to advance to the semi-finals, they would have had to win against Belgium and Australia had to win against Sweden. Both games came down to the wire. Belgium – lead by 2010 World Wheelchair Rugby Championship All Star Lars Mertens – came out with a strong press that forced several Canadian turnovers. Canada was down by as much as six points at one point in the game.
Thanks to the cheers of the sold-out crowd of fans and students from Gilmore Elementary, plus the well-rounded line of Fabien Lavoie, Ian Chan, Patrice Dagenais and Trevor Hirschfield, Canada worked their way back in the game.
With only 1:30 to go, Canada was down by one. A quick steal by Fabien Lavoie, however, tied up the game for the first time since the first half. Canada scored, then used their tough defense to force a 12-second violation on Belgium. With 8 seconds to go, Canada scored to go up by one point and win the game.
After the game, Head Coach Kevin Orr praised his team’s mental toughness while also acknowledging they had a lot to work on.
“At this high level, even the smallest errors can cost you,” he said. “This wasn’t our best game, but we were able to dig deep both mentally and physically to come back and get the victory.”
Orr also praised the development of the sport of wheelchair rugby in general.
“The top teams are all gunning for one another,” he said. “It’s a great day for the sport when you can have so many close games and so many upsets. Wheelchair rugby is growing by leaps and bounds.”
On the other court, Canada’s fate was saved by “Battman.” Australia and Sweden traded leads for the entire game, with big men Ryley “Battman” Batt and Tobias Sandberg going head to head. Though Australia at one point lead by 5, Sweden came storming back in the final seconds to challenge the Australians and get the game within one point. Luckily for the Canadians, the Australians held on to win, ensuring both their own and Canada’s place in the semi-finals.
Both semi-final games will take place at 7 pm at the Richmond Olympic Oval. Japan will play Canada and the USA will play Australia. Winners of both games will advance to the gold medal match tomorrow at 2 pm.
For more information, including French translation, game stats, photos and recaps, please visit www.canadacupwcrugby.com.
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ABOUT CANADA CUP:
The Canada Cup International Wheelchair Rugby Tournament is the most elite wheelchair rugby event after the World Championships and Paralympics. Since 2004, it has been hosted biannually by BC Wheelchair Sports Association. The 2012 Canada Cup will be held from June 21 - 23 at the Richmond Olympic Oval and will feature all eight teams competing at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. As the last stop before the London, the stakes will be particularly high this year as teams battle for the mental edge. For more information, please visit www.canadacupwcrugby.com.
ABOUT WHEELCHAIR RUGBY: Wheelchair rugby is a team sport for male and female athletes with a physical disability that affects at least three limbs. This physically demanding full-contact team sport is played indoors on a hardwood basketball court between two teams of four players. It is a unique sport that combines some elements of basketball, handball, and ice hockey. Wheelchair rugby was created in Canada in 1977 by a group of athletes with a disability in Manitoba and was originally known as “murderball.”