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3 things learned at Day 5 of World Juniors –



Day 5 results

United States 7, Czech Republic 0

Canada 10, Switzerland 0

Russia 7, Austria 1

What we learned on Day 5

Checking line fuels United States

The line of center John Farinacci (Arizona Coyotes), left wing Brett Berard (New York Rangers) and right wing Bobby Brink (Philadelphia Flyers) has been a pleasant surprise for the United States during its consecutive shutout wins.

The energy line, which started a game together for the first time in an 11-0 win against Austria on Saturday, was in top form in a 7-0 victory against the Czech Republic on Tuesday. Brink scored two goals, Berard had an assist and two shots on goal, and Farinacci had three shots and won nine of 13 face-offs for the United States (2-0-0-1, six points).

“Farinacci wins draws, Berard hunts down pucks and Brink is gritty — and when Brinker is gritty, he’s really effective,” United States coach Nate Leaman said. “They’re a good forechecking line but can get to a lot of pucks, and when they have the puck, they’ve done a good job keeping it simple and attacking the net.

“They’re not scared and that’s probably an attribute I missed in the beginning; they’re fearless. They pay the price and I like the karma of that line right now.”

In addition to creating offense, Berard, Farinacci and Brink have provided toughness down low and in the trenches for the U.S., which clinched a berth in the quarterfinals by defeating the Czech Republic.

“I think we just try and keep it simple,” Brink said. “We’re not going to try to complicate things and know that we’re all fast and hard-working. We’ll get in on the forecheck, and I think that we’ve just been playing to each other’s strengths and not trying to be something that we’re not. That’s helped us be really successful.”

Canada’s Byfield showing maturity

Quinton Byfield (Los Angeles Kings) said scoring his first two goals for Canada at the World Junior Championship was a big relief.

Byfield, the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, entered Canada’s game against Switzerland on Tuesday having scored no goals in nine career WJC games. He scored six points (two goals, four assists) in a 10-0 win and is third in tournament scoring with seven points (two goals, five assists) in three games.

“Not playing hockey for 8-9 months (due to the coronavirus) … it affects you a little bit and I just had to ease myself back into it,” Byfield said. “I finally found my footing and am just enjoying it. Everything just kind of happened (Tuesday). I think me and [forward Jakob Pelletier] had a good connection on some goals; we were getting the bounces.”

The line of Jack Quinn (Buffalo Sabres), Byfield and Pelletier (Calgary Flames) combined for 11 points (four goals, seven assists) against Switzerland.

Byfield was the youngest player on Canada’s roster when it won the tournament last year and is again the youngest player on this year’s roster.

Despite his age, Canada coach Andre Tourigny said the 18-year-old center has proven to be a great student of the game.

“He’s really coachable and he wants to do what’s right,” Tourigny said. “It started right from the get-go in Red Deer (Alberta) at selection camp. I told every returning player that I’d be hard on them and demand more from them than any other. Right from the first practice, I was on [Byfield] in a sense of demanding a lot, and he responded well. He paid attention when we asked certain things — managing the puck in a different way and making some adjustments on the defensive side of the puck.

“He’s a more mature man than last year, is easier to coach and really receptive. I think last year as a 17-year-old, it can be a tough situation. But even if he’s the youngest guy in the team this year, he’s really easy to coach.”

Matthews tweets Zegras

Trevor Zegras (Anaheim Ducks) is gaining quite the following as the leading goal-scorer at the World Junior Championship.

The United States forward, who scored five points (two goals, three assists) in the 7-0 win against the Czech Republic, has even impressed a few former U.S. National Junior Team standouts, including Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, who congratulated the 19-year-old on his effort via his Twitter account on Tuesday with a simple message: ‘zegras niceeeeee with it.’

Tweet from @AM34: zegras niceeeeee with it 🇺🇸😤

“That’s pretty cool,” said Zegras, the tournament scoring leader with 10 points (five goals, five assists), said when told of Matthews’ tweet. “I know a bunch of guys in our locker room look up to him and obviously what he’s done for USA Hockey, so that’s definitely pretty cool and something I’ll remember for a while.”

Matthews scored 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 12 WJC games (2015-16). He led the tournament with seven goals to help the United States to a third-place finish in 2016.

Zegras also is tied for second with Doug Weight (1991) on the U.S. all-time list with 14 career assists in eight WJC games. Weight scored 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) in seven games at the 1991 WJC. Forward Jordan Schroeder (2008-10) ranks first with 20 career assists in 19 games.

“That goes to show that I’m playing with some really good players, because without a goal-scorer on the other end of the line … it’s my job,” Zegras said. “I’m playing with some very good players and they’re putting the puck in the back of the net from me.”

On tap for Day 6

All games on NHL Network in U.S., TSN and RDS in Canada

Slovakia vs. Finland (2 p.m. ET ) — Finland (2-0-0-0; six points) needs a win to keep pace with Canada (3-0-0-0; nine points) for the top seed in Group A. Finland has been led offensively by captain Anton Lundell (Florida Panthers), who has three points (two goals, one assist) and averaged 16:42 in ice time in two games. Defensively, Ville Heinola (Winnipeg Jets) leads Finland in average ice time (24:20) and Topi Niemela (Toronto Maple Leafs) leads the team in scoring with four points (one goal, three assists). Slovakia (1-0-1-1, four points) lost 4-3 in overtime to Germany on Monday.

Germany vs. Switzerland (6 p.m. ET) — Germany captain Tim Stuetzle (Ottawa Senators) scored two goals and had an assist in an overtime win against Slovakia on Monday and has five points (three goals, two assists) in three tournament games. The 18-year-old has averaged 26:24 of ice time for Germany (0-1-0-2, two points), which has had to use the same nine forwards and five defensemen in its three Group A games because several players were in quarantine. Germany’s best finish at the WJC was fifth in 1981 (as West Germany). Switzerland (0-0-0-3, 0 points) is last in Group A and has been outscored 15-1.

Sweden vs. Russia (9:30 p.m. ET) — Russia (2-0-0-1, six points) can clinch first place in Group B with a victory but may be without forward Yegor Chinakhov (Columbus Blue Jackets), who is doubtful after sustaining a lower-body injury in the first period of a 7-1 win against Austria on Tuesday. Sweden (2-0-0-0, six points) defeated Austria 4-0 on Monday to extend its winning streak in the preliminary round to 54 games. That streak includes 47 wins in regulation, three in overtime and four in shootouts. Sweden’s most recent preliminary-round loss was 3-2 in overtime to the United States on Dec. 31, 2006. Sweden will play the United States (2-0-0-1, six points) on Thursday.

Quick links

World Junior Championship predictions

Group A preview

Group B preview

World Junior Championship rosters

Tournament schedule

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Semien addition helps Blue Jays’ defence, raises team’s offensive ceiling –



TORONTO — A week and a half ago, the Toronto Blue Jays had almost nothing to show for their off-season. Now that they’ve added Tyler Chatwood, Kirby Yates, George Springer and Marcus Semien this roster suddenly looks much different — and much better — than before

Bringing Semien in on a one-year, $18-million deal strengthens the Blue Jays’ infield and their batting order. While more work remains on the pitching staff, the team’s offensive depth looks better than it has in years following the addition of Semien, who finished third in AL MVP voting in 2019. The Blue Jays’ lineup now projects to be among baseball’s most prolific, but this most recent deal brings with it other repercussions worth discussing.

With Semien now the leading candidate for second base at-bats, Cavan Biggio likely becomes the team’s primary third baseman. On paper that works, but there’s no need to be overly rigid about those roles in January, and the Blue Jays do value versatility highly. It’d be a surprise if the Blue Jays limit Semien and Biggio to those spots all year.

On defence Semien remains an above-average defensive shortstop, according to FanGraphs (UZR/150 of 6.4 in 2018, 5.0 in 2019, 4.8 in 2020). When he’s playing second base, the skills that allow him to handle shortstop — a strong arm, good footwork and field awareness, for instance — will be highly transferable. In those moments, the Blue Jays will essentially have two shortstops up the middle. But should Bo Bichette need any time off, Semien can slot in easily at the only position he played from 2015-20.

One way or another, this addition should help the Blue Jays’ run prevention, one of the main goals for the front office this winter. At the same time, it does appear to complicate Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s path to regular starts at third. After an off-season of dedicated workouts Guerrero Jr.’s Instagram bio reads ‘Blue Jays 3B,’ and it stands to reason that the team will ensure he gets reps there in spring training, but with Biggio, Bichette and Semien in place, Guerrero Jr. more likely projects as the team’s first baseman.

With that in mind, the team’s batting order could look like this on any given day:

CF: George Springer (R)
SS: Bo Bichette (R)
1B: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (R)
RF: Teoscar Hernandez (R)
LF: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (R)
3B: Cavan Biggio (L)
2B: Marcus Semien (R)
DH: Randal Grichuk (R) / Rowdy Tellez (L)
C: Danny Jansen (R)

Of course that’s just one possible structure among many, and teams rarely stick with one lineup for long in today’s game, but it illustrates the offensive depth this team now possesses. Some days, Rowdy Tellez (.886 OPS in 2020) might be on the bench. Other days it might be Randal Grichuk (12 HR, .793 OPS). At some point, Alejandro Kirk will get a chance to contribute, too.

Speaking of the Blue Jays’ bench, adding Semien might also allow for some creativity. Since Semien can handle shortstop, there’s less of a pressing need to roster Santiago Espinal which creates an opportunity to carry another bench bat or reliever.

With the addition of Semien, the Blue Jays now have the fourth-best projected offence in baseball behind only the Dodgers, Yankees and Astros. And if Semien is the guy he’s been for most of his career — a roughly league-average hitter with 15-homer power — that would certainly help. But there’s further upside here, too, as he showed by hitting 33 home runs with an .892 OPS in 2019.

Even this past season, there were flashes of that offensive potential. After a slow start in 2020, Semien had a .772 OPS from Aug. 8 through the end of the regular season then posted a 1.151 OPS with two home runs in the playoffs. If the Blue Jays get that version of Semien, their lineup gets much deeper.

From an organizational standpoint, he doesn’t become a core piece in the way Springer did. But while the Blue Jays’ outfield is devoid of top prospects, Jordan Groshans and Austin Martin lessen the need for long-term help on the infield. If a need exists in a year’s time, the Blue Jays could bring Semien back or even obtain a draft pick for extending him a qualifying offer — something the A’s did not do.

All of that’s a discussion for much later, though. Right now, the Blue Jays are a much better team with a deep lineup and an improved defence. They could certainly use more pitching, and there’s reason to believe their work isn’t done on that front, but the addition of Semien represents significant progress for a team that’s suddenly making a habit of big moves.

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Schilling: Take me off HOF ballot – TSN



Curt Schilling is asking for his name to be removed from the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for his 10th and final year of Baseball Writers’ Association of America voting eligibility.

“I will not participate in the final year of voting. I am requesting to be removed from the ballot. I’ll defer to the veterans committee and men whose opinions actually matter and who are in a position to actually judge a player,” he wrote on Facebook Tuesday.

“I’m now somehow in a conversation with two men who cheated, and instead of being accountable they chose to destroy others lives to protect their lie. I will always have one thing they will forever chase. A legacy,” he wrote of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, who will also enter their final year of Hall of Fame eligibility in 2022.

Click here to read Schilling’s full Facebook post.

Schilling missed being elected to Cooperstown this year by 16 votes. No players were elected to the class of 2021 as Bonds, Clemens and every other player on the ballot came up short of the required 75 per cent threshold.

Over 20 big league seasons, he compiled a record of 216-146, a 3.46 ERA, led the league in wins twice, was elected to six All-Star Teams, won three World Series titles and was named World Series MVP in 2001 after allowing a total of four earned runs in three separate starts. Schilling also owns a career bWAR of 79.5, which is higher than Brooks Robinson, Derek Jeter, Tony Gwynn and John Smoltz.

But then there’s the other side of Schilling, the side that has pushed voters away in recent years with inflammatory political commentary and accusations of Islamophobia, racism and transphobia. Schilling was first suspended from his job at ESPN for an anti-Muslim tweet and later fired for transphobic comments made on Facebook. He also defended the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Twitter on Jan. 6, however that came after ballots were due from members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. According to Forbes, numerous BBWAA members asked to amend their ballots following the tweet.

The Hall of Fame has yet to publicly responded to Schilling’s request.

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Blue Jays Rumors: Infielder Marcus Semien signs with Toronto – Bluebird Banter



According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan and confirmed by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slussler, and others, free agent shortstop Marcus Semien has signed a one-year, $18 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Semien, 29, was drafted by the White Sox in the 6th round of the 2011 amateur draft and made his major league debut with Chicago in September 2013. After the 2014 season he was shipped to the Oakland Athletics in the Jeff Samardzija deal. While he mostly played at third base for the White Sox, Semien has been the A’s starting shortstop. He finished third in the AL MVP race in 2019, batting .285/.369/.522 with 33 homers and 92 RBI and playing in every single game. He doesn’t just bring an average-to-compelling bat—Semien was also named as a “finalist” for the 2019 Gold Glove award for American League shortstops.

His numbers in the shortened 2020 season were more in line with his career numbers, but the optimist in me believes that the numbers from later in the season is closer to who he is now than his numbers he put up during his slow start last year. If Semien thinks it’s worth betting on himself in signing this one-year deal, I think it’s worth betting on him.

According to both TSN’s Scott Mitchell and retired infielder Carlos Baerga, the Jays expect to station Semien at second base, which may just be what they are saying now while they give Vladimir Guerrero Jr. another try at the hot corner at spring training. This move does not necessarily affect Biggio’s place in the lineup, as he can rotate around the diamond to spell other players.

Although the one-year deal obviously means that the Semien would qualify for free agency after this season, the Blue Jays can opt to extend a qualifying offer to him as the Athletics failed to do so before his declaration of free agency this offseason.

Before this signing can become official, Semien will need to pass a physical and the Blue Jays will need to open up a spot on the 40-man roster.

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