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Canada faces uphill battle after field hockey loss to Kiwis at Commonwealth Games

Canada's hopes of a medal in men's field hockey at the Commonwealth Games all but melted away under searing sunshine Friday as New Zealand romped to a 6-2 win in the tournament opener for both teams.

The Canadian men, ranked 11th in the world, had targeted the game against the ninth-ranked Black Sticks. Only two teams from each of the two pools advance and Canada's group includes top-ranked Australia, which has won gold since the sport was introduced to the games in 1998.

"It makes this tournament really tough for us," said Canada coach Paul Bundy. "We have to then go ahead and win two games and try and get a result against the No. 1-ranked country in the world to get into that crossover game for a medal."

Dane Lett, Nic Woods, Kane Russell, Stephen Jenness, Hugo Inglis and George Muir scored for New Zealand. Gordon Johnston and James Kirkpatrick replied for Canada

The crowd at the Gold Coast Hockey Centre baked under the midday sun, protected by a sea on sunscreen and a variety of hats in a venue devoid of shade. Rock music pumped through the speakers during breaks in the action.

Both coaches substituted players at an NHL pace in a bid to keep them fresh. 

The game slipped away in the third quarter when New Zealand, up 1-0, scored four unanswered goals.

"Out of the four quarters definitely one stuck out as quite poor," said Canadian captain Scott Tupper. "If you have a poor 10-12 minutes against a very good team, it shows up on the scoreboard."

Canada pulled two back in the fourth before the Kiwis added an insurance goal.

The two teams have history.

Canada qualified for the Rio Olympics by defeating the Black Sticks in a dramatic 8-7 shootout in July 2015 in the semifinal of the FIH World League in Buenos Aires. The nail-biting shootout took more than 25 minutes to complete — a marathon considering the attacking player has just eight seconds to score.

The Canadians tied New Zealand 1-1 when they met at the 2016 Azlan Shah Cup.

"You'd almost say Canada's our bogey team. We struggle against them," said New Zealand's Russell. "But if we put a good performance in and finish our chances, we were always going to have a good shot."

The Kiwis had a 10-4 edge in penalty corners Friday and scored on three of them. Canada goalie Antoni Kindler did his part with a variety of saves but New Zealand showed it has a deep toolbox when it comes to set piece.

Each penalty corner was introduced by a dramatic snippet of music to heighten the moment.

"Credit to them. They took their chances really well," said Canadian veteran Mark Pearson. "We hit a post early and we had a couple of half-chances that against a good team like that you've got to take.

"It's just frustrating that we let ourselves down there with a sloppy patch in the third quarter."

The Canadians had 54 per cent possession but failed to unlock the New Zealand defence. Both of their goals came on penalty corners.

Canada's experience — the team's average age is 27.5 and cap count is 114 — did not help the cause Friday. The roster features 11 returning players from Rio, where the team went 0-4-1.

The Canadian men have produced some good results since then, defeating sixth-ranked India last June at the 2017 Hockey World League semifinals in London to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. It marked Canada's first win over India in a major competition since the 1998 World Cup.

The Canadians may not have shown their best but they showed their heart under the midday sun Friday. Johnston hopped off the pitch after taking a shot to the leg, kicking out in frustration when he got to the bench. But the 25-year-old from Vancouver returned to score Canada's final goal.

"All the Canadian guys have a good amount of grit in them. They're really tough," said Bundy, a South African native. "I think they get it from ice hockey and some other sports ... The guys are hard-working, they're really really tough and you need to (be) because it's a tough game when it's played at speed."

New Zealand won silver at the games in 2002 and bronze in 2010. Canada's best finish was sixth, in 2002 and 2014.

The Canadian women lost their opener 1-0 to Australia on Thursday.

The Canadian men play No. 23 Scotland on Saturday before facing No. 1 Australia and No. 15 South Africa. The other pool features No. 6 India, No. 7 England, No. 12 Malaysia, No. 13 Pakistan and No. 24 Wales. 

After the games, the Canadian men turn their attention to the World Cup that kicks off Nov. 28 in India.


Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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