Three minutes in and Belgium already had the first lead of the Men’s Hockey World Cup. It wasn’t an ideal start for Team Canada. According to veteran midfielder, Mark Pearson, the team’s response was really solid.
“We had to feel our way into the game, we did a great job responding early and playing good defense for the rest of the game,” he said. “Belgium has one of the best forward lines in the world and between Toni (Kindler) and the other guys back there, we did a good job keeping them out.”
Canada recovered well and held over half the early possession despite being unable to make attacking forays. Coming into the tournament, Bundy said that Canada is playing their best team defense of the year and it showed in this game. The defensive core of Johnston, Tupper alongside the midfield protection of Sukhi Panesar and Gabe Ho-Garcia did well to keep Belgium at bay.
Canada’s Head Coach, Paul Bundy said the team cleaned up their act after the first quarter and started to believe in themselves and their game plan.
“We knew we were going to have to soak up a lot of pressure against Belgium,” Bundy said. “We played some really gritty defense and then got on the attack and had a much better second half.”
Canadian goalkeeper, Antoni Kindler, was sensational between the pipes for all 60 minutes. Save after save, especially in the first half, kept Canada in the match and kept Belgium increasingly frustrated.
“Obviously we’re disappointed with the final result,” Kindler said. “But these are the types of games we want to be in. We were strong in our own half, we were compact, we defended well. We showed that we can compete with the best teams in the world.”
The Belgium Red Lions took a 2-0 lead into the half with momentum. After a stingy third quarter from the Kindler and the Canadian defense, the Red Caribou mounted an attack of their own. Canada earned two penalty corners in the span of minutes and made good on the second one.
With Scott Tupper and Gordon Johnston lined up at the top of the D, Pearson injected the ball. The Johnston, who took the previous PC drag flick, pulled a cheeky drop pass to Tupper who fired the ball on net. Off a deflection, Pearson knocked the ball down to the goal line and banged it in. Pearson potted a goal eight years ago at the 2010 World Cup and is already back on the score sheet here in 2018.
The striker turned midfielder, Pearson, said it was special to notch a goal in Canada’s opening match but he was quick to shift the focus to the team effort and the upcoming matches.
“It’s obviously special to score at the World Cup, but this tournament is far from over for us,” Pearson said. “We know we belong here and we’re really excited for what’s to come.”
Bundy echoed Pearson’s sentiments and said that with the solid second half came a belief that the team can truly compete against any team in the world.
“I told the guys just to enjoy the moment. Once those early nerves were gone, we cleaned up and we were more organized and started playing our game.”
Despite not being able to secure any points from today’s match, Canada has momentum on their side after an action-packed fourth quarter and a 60-minute display of terrific team defense against a quality opponent. Canada will take on Commonwealth rival, South Africa in a huge Pool C matchup on Sunday December 2 at 3:30am PDT (6:30am EDT).
All photos: Yan Huckendubler