Canada may have been the heavy underdogs on Thursday afternoon at the Gold Coast Hockey Centre but they delivered a gutsy performance against the world number-5 Australia. Canadian coach, Giles Bonnet said there are lots of positives to take forward into the rest of the event.
“We created quality chances and got good goal scoring opportunities,” he said in an interview after the loss. “That’s encouraging to see and definitely something we will take forward.”
Bonnet’s side started the game looking a little tentative but after the teams felt each other out in the first quarter, things really started to heat up. Led by Rachel Donohoe, Hannah Haughn and Natalie Sourisseau, Canada brought the intensity and ratcheted up the attack.
Canada suffered a major blow at the 13-minute mark of the second quarter when Donohoe went down with an ankle injury, taking her out of the game. Losing a top player, especially an offensive playmaker like Donohoe is never easy. Bonnet said the team did a good job refocusing and getting themselves back in the moment.
“We were all concerned for Rachel, but it’s out of our hands and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Bonnet said. “We had to keep focused on the task at hand.”
Then with five minutes remaining in the first half, Australia struck. After a penalty corner effort wound up deflecting off of a Canadian defender’s arm, Jodie Kenny stepped up and broke the ice with a penalty stroke goal, firing the ball into the top left corner.
Trailing by one at the half, Canada stepped up the intensity and really pushed the pace in the second half. Canadian goal keeper, Kaitlyn Williams stood tall in net making several brilliant saves in the second half, keeping Canada within reach. Williams said the atmosphere was amazing on opening night at the Gold Coast Hockey Centre and it wasn’t hard to get hyped up for the game.
“Those are the type of games I look forward to the most,” she said. “Obviously we wanted a different result, but it was incredible atmosphere playing in front of a full house.”
Williams played lights out in the second half, making several clutch saves including a three-save sequence late in the game, deflecting away a flurry of Australian chances. Her performance in net allowed for the attacking unit of Steph Norlander, Brie Stairs and Sourisseau to get to work. Norlander had two terrific chances in the second half but both times, Australian keeper, Rachael Lynch was equal to the task.
Bonnet knows the team was an underdog coming into this match but he also knows a win or tie wasn’t out of the question. On top of that, the cutthroat nature of this competition means Canada needs positive results from now on out if they want a shot at the semifinals. He said they will review today’s game and take what they can into the upcoming match against Scotland.
“I think we played well enough tonight to earn at least one point, so in that end it’s frustrating. We definitely had a lot of positives in tonight’s game,” Bonnet said. “Now, it’s just about refocusing the group and getting ready to play against Scotland tomorrow.”
Williams, who put on a terrific display of goal keeping on opening night knows Canada is here to compete and is looking forward to the rest of the competition.
“I’m really proud of how the team fought and battled through today’s game. I think we were a bit of an unknown coming into the competition,” Williams said. “…but today we showed that we are here to compete. Now we have to debrief and prepare ourselves for tomorrow’s game.”
All losses count the same in the tournament record books, but this loss showed promise. Canada carried the play for a lot of the second half, they had a number of great chances and they had four penalty corners to Australia’s two. They may have been a relative unknown coming into this event, but if they continue to perform like they did tonight, they won’t be unknown for much longer.
Canada drops their opening match at the 2018 Commonwealth Games to Australia. Photos/Yan Huckendubler