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2021 World Juniors highlights: USA pounces early and coasts past Sweden – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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There was a bit of confusion ahead of the final game of the World Junior Championship’s preliminary round as it seemed Sweden’s third-string goalie, Calle Clang, was going to get his first action of the tournament in the biggest game. In the end, it turned out it was a simple clerical error, and that usual starter Hugo Alnefelt would be between the pipes against the United States as both teams looked to grab first place in Group A.

Just over a minute into the contest, Sweden’s head coach may have been wishing he’d stuck with the erroneous lineup card when Drew Helleson threw a puck into the crease and had it bank off Alnefelt’s pad for a 1-0 lead. It was a harmless play that resulted in a big early hole for the Swedes.

Their task got even more difficult when Trevor Zegras flung a wobbling puck from the opposite side of the ice three minutes later. The puck fluterred over the shoulder of Alnefelt, finding a small hole in the top corner to make it a 2-0 lead, and tie Zegras with Canada’s Dylan Cozens for the goal-scoring and points lead in the tournament.

The adventures didn’t stop for the Swedish netminder after that, but fortunately the scoring did let up as the U.S. couldn’t capitalize on his sporadic play. With some stops of U.S. chances, Sweden was able get their own game going a bit. The puck finally began to see some time in USA’s end in the final third of the opening frame, and the shots were actually fairly even at the end of the period.

Two minutes into the second, the lead was extended to three. Defenceman Ryan Johnson jumped up into the play and took a pass from Zegras, firing the puck off the left arm of Alnefelt and in.

Sweden had a chance to get in on the scoring when Arvid Costmar raced in on a breakaway and got hooked. The shot was given to defenceman Victor Söderström, who made a series of great dekes to fool Spencer Knight, but one too many to handle as the puck slipped off his stick into the corner.

To punish the missed attempt, the U.S. came out and immediately made it a four-goal game after Alex Turcotte spun and fired the puck off another Alnefelt rebound into the goal, ending the Swedish starter’s night.

With the lead now insurmountable, there were a few chances for both teams in the second half of the game, but Sweden wasn’t able to find the extra gear needed to mount a comeback. The game ended by that 4-0 score, giving Team USA the top seed in Group A.

With a day off for all eight remaining teams, the United States will move on to play Slovakia in the quarter-finals on Saturday, while Sweden will get their archrival, Finland.

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The Olympics-are-getting-cancelled report, explained – CBC.ca

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This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

The Tokyo Olympics are still on (for now)

There’s a lot of talk right now about the Tokyo Olympics possibly being cancelled. If you’re confused about what exactly happened and what it means, here it is:

The British tabloid The Times reported last night that “the Japanese government has privately concluded that the Tokyo Olympics will have to be cancelled because of the coronavirus, and the focus is now on securing the Games for the city in the next available year, 2032.”

The story, written by a Tokyo-based journalist, cites only one source — a “senior member of the ruling coalition.” This person says that the latest wave of coronavirus infections, which has compelled the Japanese government to declare a state of emergency in Tokyo and other cities, has convinced officials that the Olympics are doomed. The source thinks that the defiant statements we’ve heard lately from Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga about the Games going ahead are just a way to convince the International Olympic Committee that Japan tried its best and would still make a good host in the future.

The story quickly went viral — leading to the false impression that “multiple reports” or “multiple” sources” said the Olympics were toast. To be clear, it’s still only one report, and that report cites one source.

Nevertheless, the ensuing firestorm — fuelled partly by recent speculation about the Tokyo Games being in trouble — forced the IOC, Japanese politicians, the Tokyo organizing committee and even the Canadian Olympic Committee to issue statements denying or at least downplaying the report.

The IOC’s statement referenced a “Japanese government” statement calling the “reports” (even they thought there was more than one) “categorically untrue.” The IOC added that it is “fully concentrated on and committed to the successful delivery of” the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics “this year.”

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike dismissed the report and was quoted as saying “we should submit a complaint” about it. Japanese cabinet member Manabu Sakai sounded more nuanced. He was quoted as saying there was “no truth” to the idea that a decision has been made to give up on the Olympics. But he didn’t rule it out for the future. “We will decide on whether to actually hold the event at some point,” he was quoted as saying. “But until then, the Japanese government will do what needs to be done.”

The Tokyo organizing committee presented a united front, saying all its “delivery partners” — including the Japanese and Tokyo governments, the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee — are “fully focused on hosting the Games this summer.”

How 80 per cent of people in Japan feel, according to a recent poll. (Charly Triballeau/AFP via Getty Images)

Canadian Olympic Committee CEO David Shoemaker wrote on Twitter last night that his organization “has confidence that the Games can be staged safely and successfully given what has been learned in sport over the last several months and the emphasis the IOC and Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee have placed on COVID-19 countermeasures.” In a letter to national sports organizations last night that was obtained by CBC Sports, the COC said: “We know the IOC was communicating with [Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga] as recently as today and no such signals [about cancellation] were shared.” Canadian chef de mission Marnie McBean said she’s “confident” the Games will go on.

Suga has repeatedly insisted that the show will go on. Just this week, he vowed to hold the Tokyo Olympics as “proof of human victory against the coronavirus.” IOC president Thomas Bach has also projected confidence. Hours before the report was published, he said the IOC has “no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on the 23rd of July in the Olympic stadium in Tokyo.”

Still, there’s smoke. That source quoted in the Times report isn’t the first to suggest these Olympics will not or should not happen. A much-cited recent poll in Japan found that 80 per cent of respondents favoured cancelling the Games. And can you blame them? How would you feel about tens of thousands of visitors from all corners of the earth coming to Canada this summer? It’s possible the vaccine and the arrival of warmer weather make that a less scary proposition, but who knows? The Japanese government, Tokyo organizers and the IOC could soon find themselves in the same position they were in before the Games were postponed last March — clinging to an event no one else wants to be a part of anymore.

There’s no need to rush a decision right now, especially given the higher stakes this time. Everyone involved in staging these Olympics has said another postponement is not an option. But a call will need to be made pretty soon. The Games are scheduled to open six months from tomorrow — on July 23. Last year’s announcement that they were postponed came on March 24 — two months from now.

Maybe that’s enough time for Japan and the rest of the world to turn things around. Maybe not. So a cancellation can’t be ruled out. And this time, as Bach keeps saying, “there is no Plan B.”

With rumours flying around about a possible cancellation, Jacqueline Doorey breaks down what we really know about the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games with just 6 months to go. 2:00

Hank Aaron died

In sports and in life, we tend to glorify the shooting stars. Better to burn out than to fade away, as the man said. But maybe what we really need is more Hank Aarons.

In his 23 big-league seasons, the unassuming Alabaman won only one MVP award and topped out at 47 home runs. But he hit at least 40 homers eight times, and from his age-21 through age-39 seasons he averaged 37. That’s how Hammerin’ Hank broke Babe Ruth’s revered all-time home run record in 1974 and finished his career two years later with 755. The mark has since been smashed by Barry Bonds, whose desire to be one of those shooting stars pushed him to certain pharmaceutical lengths that render his accomplishment illegitimate in the eyes of some baseball fans.

There were never any such doubts about Aaron, who broke Ruth’s record with quiet excellence and grace while enduring disgusting, racist threats. Til the day he died — today at age 86 — Aaron remained a beacon. He made his final public appearance a couple of weeks ago to say he’d received the vaccine and urge Black Americans to do the same. Atlanta, Aaron’s longtime team, said he died peacefully in his sleep. Read more about his life and career here.

Canada’s speed skaters under-promised and over-delivered

A delayed and condensed long-track season opened today in the Netherlands, where skaters are bubbled for two World Cup meets and the Feb. 11-14 world championships.

This should have been a promising season for Canada, which won nine medals — including three gold — at the world single distances championships last February in Salt Lake City. But the team cautioned us to not expect much in the Dutch bubble — it’s been close to a year since Canadians last competed, and the pandemic also curtailed their ice time. The Calgary oval where they normally train has been closed since September, forcing Canadian skaters to get their workouts in on short tracks and an outdoor oval in Alberta. A two-week training camp in northern B.C. in November was the team’s only chance to skate on a proper surface before the season.

But, to everyone’s surprise, Canada won medals in both of the medal races held today: gold in the women’s team pursuit and bronze in the men’s team pursuit. Read more about those results here.

Thirteen Canadians are competing in the Dutch bubble, including two of the country’s three gold medallists from last year’s worlds. Ivanie Blondin is the reigning world champion in the women’s mass start, and Ted-Jan Bloemen is the reigning men’s 5,000-metre world champ and 10,000m Olympic champ. Graeme Fish, who won the men’s 10,000 at last year’s worlds (Bloemen took silver) decided to skip this season.

Blondin was part of today’s women’s team pursuit victory, along with Isabelle Weidemann and Valérie Maltais. That trio took bronze in this event at last year’s worlds. Bloemen teamed with Jordan Belchos (the mass start silver medallist at last year’s worlds) and Connor Howe for the men’s bronze today.

You can watch Canadian skaters go for more medals live Saturday from 8:15-11:50 a.m ET and Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 12:40 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app. The World Cup event also leads off Saturday’s edition of Road to the Olympic Games, which you can watch from noon-6 p.m. ET on the CBC TV network and CBC Sports’ digital platforms. Read more about how Canadian skaters are approaching the bubble here.

Looking ahead…

Conor McGregor is back in the octagon Saturday night. The UFC’s biggest star has fought only five rounds since his loss to Floyd Mayweather in a boxing ring in August 2017. Khabib Nurmagomedov tapped him out in the fourth in 2018 and, a year ago, McGregor knocked out Donald Cerrone in 40 seconds. After the UFC returned from its (briefer than most) pandemic pause, McGregor couldn’t get a fight to his liking and “retired” for the third time. To no one’s surprise, he’s back and will take on Dustin Poirier, who he KO’d in the first round in 2014. McGregor is expected to beat him again, but the ultimate goal (for both McGregor and the UFC) is to lure Khabib out of retirement for what would be one of the biggest MMA bouts ever.

The Super Bowl matchup will be decided Sunday. Green Bay hosts Tampa Bay in the NFC championship game at 3:05 p.m. ET, and Kansas City hosts Buffalo for the AFC title at 6:40 p.m. ET. Quick storylines: K.C. should have reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes (concussion protocol) at quarterback after he practised for the third consecutive day today. Buffalo is looking for its first Super Bowl appearance since it lost its fourth in a row in 1994. Green Bay is trying to make it for the first time since 2010, when Aaron Rodgers won the only ring of his brilliant career. If the Buccaneers win, they’ll be the first team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium. And there will be fans. The NFL announced today that it will allow 22,000 people into Tampa’s open-air venue. 7,500 of those tickets will be set aside for vaccinated health-care workers. Read more about that here.

And finally…

Us waiting for Sunday:

(Twitter)

Things to watch and read on CBC Sports

Oral history of the Sale-Pelletier screwjob: The Canadian figure skating pair was robbed of a gold medal by corrupt judges at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. The injustice was later corrected and they got their gold, but not before the scandal became an international news story of near Kerrigan/Harding proportions — complete with Jay Leno jokes and everything. Rediscover one of the most infamous moments in Olympic history through the words of the people who lived it in this piece by Vicki Hall. You should also watch this wonderful video treatment of the saga by CBC Sports’ Steve Tzemis.  

Winter Olympic sports: In addition to the speed skating World Cup event already mentioned, this weekend’s live-streaming menu features the second of two men’s downhills on the famed (and feared) Streif course in Kitzbühel, Austria on Saturday, plus a super-G on Sunday. There’s also World Cup competition in women’s alpine skiing, luge, bobsleigh, ski cross, snowboard cross, aerials and snowboard halfpipe. See the full schedule here.

Road to the Olympic Games: Saturday’s show features speed skating, a women’s downhill, snowboard halfpipe, ski cross, bobsleigh, skeleton and a men’s downhill at Kitzbühel. Watch from noon-6 p.m. ET on the CBC TV network, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app. Sunday’s show features ski cross, bobsleigh and skeleton. Watch it from noon-2 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app or check local listing for TV times.

You’re up to speed. Get The Buzzer in your inbox every weekday by subscribing below.

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'Frayed nerves': Top Olympic official confronts grief while Canadian athletes fret over Tokyo – CBC.ca

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It has been a dizzying 24 hours in the Olympic news cycle, with thousands of athletes, coaches, government officials and reporters trying to sift through what’s fact and what’s fiction.

Are the Games going forward like the International Olympic Committee (IOC) insists? Or are they being cancelled? 

Inside her Toronto home, Marnie McBean, Canada’s chef de mission for Tokyo, was doing her best to track down information Thursday afternoon about a published report suggesting the Japanese government wants to cancel the Games. Her phone immediately started lighting up. 

“The story was first flagged to me by an athlete. I looked at the article. When you take the time to look at the original article, there was conjecture. It was someone guessing,” McBean told CBC Sports. 

McBean, a three-time Olympic champion rower, went into full information-gathering mode all while trying to calm the nerves of Canadian athletes who were tweeting and texting and phoning, fearful their Olympic dreams were dashed. 

“I wanted to make sure we were getting to athletes before they started going down a rabbit hole of fear, doubt, or sadness.” McBean said. “I knew that we wanted to and needed to get to it quickly because athletes were picking up on this. People are on frayed nerves.”

Hours after the Times of London story, Canadian Olympic Committee CEO David Shoemaker took to Twitter to issue a statement.

The committee “has confidence that the Games can be staged safely and successfully given what has been learned in sport over the last several months and the emphasis the IOC and Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee have placed on COVID-19 countermeasures,” Shoemaker wrote on Twitter.

McBean said their swift action and proactive approach was crucial during those valuable hours after the initial report.

“I was really proud of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s response to confirm what we knew — that the Games are still very much happening.”

A woman wearing a protective mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walks near a banner of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. (Eugene Hoshiko/The Associated Press)

Emotional time

It’s been an emotional couple of weeks for McBean, who on Jan. 11 lost her rowing partner and longtime friend, Kathleen Heddle, to cancer. 

Heddle and McBean won Olympic gold medals in 1992 and 1996 in the coxless pair and double sculls respectively. Heddle also earned gold with the women’s eight in 1992.

With all the craziness and unknowns around the Olympics, the postponement, this latest report and a pandemic still forcing most of the world into lockdown, Heddle’s advice has very much been on McBean’s mind. 

“Kathleen Heddle is always with me,” McBean said, beginning to cry. “And she taught me to stay focused on the things that are important and I apply that now.

“And what’s important is that athletes remain focused on what they can do and that they listen to reliable sources. Listen to the people closest to you who you can trust. And that’s what’s important. That’s what I take forward as the chef. And how we’re going to proceed with the next six months.”

The next six months will no doubt be littered with challenges for the IOC and Olympic organizing committee. Polls show Japanese residents overwhelmingly don’t want the Games. 

Only about 50 per cent of the approximately 11,000 Olympic hopeful athletes have qualified for the Games. And on Friday, Japanese health officials reported 108 deaths, a record daily high. The country has yet to start a vaccination program in the country but has a target date of late February. 

Brand-new, low-temperature freezers are seen at warehouse at a freezer supplier on Friday. Some of COVID-19 vaccine must be kept at the ultra-cold temperature of around -70 C. (Eugene Hoshiko/The Associated Press)

‘No Plan B’

Much of the rhetoric and statements issued from the COC, IOC and many other national Olympic committees in the last days have an eerily similar tone to last March, when the decision was made to postpone the Olympics for a year.

The COC made the bold move of being first to declare its athletes would not participate, citing public and athlete safety as the priority. 

IOC president Thomas Bach said then there’s “no Plan B,” meaning in the IOC’s view the Olympics are happening and that the IOC is fully committed to making it happen.  

He uttered those same words Thursday.

“A lot has changed. Everything has changed. I think everyone around the world would say there’s nothing the same in our understanding of the coronavirus,” McBean said. “We know a lot more about management and prevention. We know it’s an airborne virus. There was a lot more fear of unknowns last March. Now we understand the value of 14 days and isolation. We understand the value of masks. We know so much more.”

WATCH | Olympian DeBues-Stafford talks importance of vaccines:

Jacqueline Doorey speaks with Canadian middle distance runner Gabriela DeBues-Stafford to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine, how it can affect the Olympics, and whether athletes deserve to cut the line. 5:51

When pressed about those same public and athlete health concerns as things stand now, McBean said it is still the priority. However, she’s unwavering when it comes to whether the Olympics go ahead.

“I am confident. I think international sports federations around the world are doing everything they can to understand the virus,” she said. “Sport at its core is resilient. It’s about figuring things out. They don’t say that’s an Olympic-sized task for nothing. You don’t get to win gold medals easily. You have to figure out an Olympic-sized task.”

That’s what this continues to be. A task so immense many are skeptical it’s going to happen — or why it’s happening in the face of a pandemic that’s killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world. 

“Our athletes are just as conflicted as everyone because they are Canadians first before they are athletes. And like everyone they are doing their best to stay connected to their passion,” McBean said. 

“That’s what the Olympics have always been. The resilience of the athletes who represent the kid next door. They seem more like us and our communities. I think the Olympics athletes have rallied and have been part of their communities.”

McBean concedes it won’t be like the Games she attended, or the ones Canadians are used to watching. Under normal circumstances there are so many extracurricular activities and parties outside of the competitions. McBean knows that can’t happen this time.

“The Olympics are going to be different,” she said. “There are two parts — the competition and the Games, which is a celebration, and the parties and all the other stuff. The way they’ll happen is because they’ll be paired down to the competitions.”

“We hope to take a team of over 400 Canadian athletes to test themselves against citizens of the world and show the world a little bit of light.”

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Oilers activate forward James Neal off injured reserve – Sportsnet.ca

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The Edmonton Oilers activated veteran forward James Neal off injured reserve on Friday ahead of the team’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Neal is expected to make his season debut versus the Leafs.

The 33-year-old started the new NHL season on the COVID-19 list, but was activated off that list on Jan. 15.

The Whitby, Ont., native had 19 goals and 31 points in 55 games for the Oilers last season, 12 of those goals coming on the power play.

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