A Paralympic Preview: Wheelchair Rugby

With the Paralympic Games rapidly approaching, Report On Rio will preview every event that has a Canadian team competing in Brazil — featuring past results, schedules, rosters, and expectations

Zak Madell up against Team USA in Wheelchair Rugby action in August, 2015.
Zak Madell up against Team USA in Wheelchair Rugby action in August, 2015.

Fans will have a lengthy wait before they can enjoy one of the most highly anticipated events in the 2016 Paralympic Games in wheelchair rugby, which kicks off on September 14th.

The fast-paced sport is a physical battle that tests the athleticism and power of every athlete on the court and pushes the men and women who compete to the brink. Team Canada enters the tournament as the number four ranked team in the world according to the international rankings that were released June, but were declared the top team as recently as November 2015. While the squad is one of the more experienced groups in the tournament — with four team members playing in their fifth Paralympic Games — it is headlined by 22-year-old offensive maestro Zach Madell.

Madell burst onto the wheelchair rugby scene in 2012 in London where he helped lead the Canadians to the gold medal match as a teenager. The Edmonton, Alb. native put up 11 scores in the loss to Australia and despite the loss, was a big part in Canada’s eagerness to look forward to the 2016 Games.

The team will be in tough against a competitive field and division that includes the host nation Brazil, fifth ranked Great Britain and London 2012 gold medalists and number two ranked Australia. If they can move past round robin play, the top seeded United States and third ranked Japan will likely be waiting in the medal rounds.

Canada has medalled in the last three Paralympics (silver in London, bronze in Beijing and silver in Athens), but have yet to strike gold in the sport they invented in 1976. With a deep roster and creative offensive schemes outlined by head coach Kevin Orr, they will most certainly be in the hunt for a gold medal in Rio.

Here are the members of the Canadian Wheelchair Rugby team:

Miranda Biletski (Regina, Sask.)

Cody Caldwell (Peterborough, Ont.)

Ian Chan * (Richmond, B.C.)

Patrice Dagenais (C) * (Embrun, Ont.)

Byron Green (Courtenay, B.C.)

Trevor Hirschfield (C) * (Parksville, B.C.)

Fabien Lavoie * (Quebec City, Que.)

Zak Madell * (Okotoks, Alta.)

Travis Murao * (Richmond, B.C.)

Patrice Simard * (Quebec City, Que.)

Mike Whitehead * (Windsor, Ont.)

David Willsie * (Dorchester, Ont.)

*denotes past Paralympic Games experience

The fun begins on September 14 against the 19th ranked Brazilians in what should be a hostile environment at Carioca Arena. The matches against Great Britain and Australia will follow and the knockout stages are marked for September 17 and 18.

Photo Credit: Canadian Paralympic Committee

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