Canada returns to World League with victory

 TORONTO (May 18, 2012)– Fred Winters of Victoria scored the winning point in all three sets as Canada made a successful return to the FIVB World League men’s volleyball circuit on Friday before 2,900 fans at the Ricoh Coliseum.

In its first World League match in five years, the Canadians made big comebacks in the opening two sets to defeat Finland 33-31, 26-24, 25-23.

Now in its 23rd year, the World League is a 16-country intercontinental tournament that takes place every summer, reaching all corners of the planet, offering worldwide TV coverage and the biggest cash prizes in the sport.

Canada is in a tough pool with world number-one Brazil, number-four Poland – both countries are Olympic bound – and Finland which stands at number-27. Canada is at number-18.

Gavin Schmitt of Saskatoon led the Canadian offence Friday with 19 points while Winters added 16 and John Perrin of Creston, B.C., 14. Matti Hietanen led Finland with 12 points while Mikko Oivanen and Jukka Lehtonen added 10 apiece.

‘’We are really happy with the win,’’ said Canada’s head coach Glenn Hoag of Gatineau, Que. ‘’The Finns fought hard and put us in trouble. We struggled with our small game and it nearly cost us. We have a lot of young guys and they need to play at this level.’’

In an exciting first set, Canada squandered set point seven times before Winters finally ended the marathon with a service ace. Finland led by Hietanen and Oivanen started strong leading 8-3 at the first technical timeout and 16-14 at the second. However the Canadians kept chipping away at their lead and went ahead for the first time at 24-23 on an attack by Dallas Soonias.

‘’We have to start better,’’ said Winters, the Canadian team captain. “Certainly we showed that we can get a rhythm by being able to comeback which is good.’’

The second set was almost a carbon copy of the first. The Finns were firing on all cylinders early building an 8-3 lead. The Canadians again slowly caught up and eventually took a 22-21 lead when Perrin put an extra spin on a shot over the net after a great dig by Winters. Again Winters closed the set on a bullet smash.

‘’It was a close match,’’ said Finland’s captain Tuomas Sammelvuo (captain). ‘’We could have also won the first two sets. We had some attack problems but it was still almost enough to win. To lose those two sets was a bit demoralizing for us.’’

Canada made sure it didn’t play catch-up in the third leading from the start with big kills from Winters, Gavin Schmitt and Perrin. Finland though continued to fight hard and made it close in the end.

Poland played Brazil later Friday at the Ricoh Coliseum.

On Saturday, the Canadians face world number-one Brazil at 4 p.m. in a game that will be carried live on CBC-TV Finland battles world number-four Poland at 8 p.m. On Sunday, it's Finland-Brazil at 4 p.m. and Canada-Poland at 8 p.m., (Sportsnet One).