Alphonso Davies has already secured plenty of milestones in his short career, and the 20-year-old Bayern Munich prodigy and former Vancouver Whitecaps homegrown product just achieved another landmark moment, becoming the first North American player to be voted onto the prestigious FIFPRO World 11, as voted on by his fellow professional soccer players.
Davies joins a group of some of the top players in the world in the XI, which also included Alisson Becker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Sergio Ramos, Virgil van Dijk, Kevin de Bruyne, Thiago Alcantara, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as Bayern teammates Robert Lewandowski and Joshua Kimmich.
FIFPRO represents around 65,000 pro soccer players worldwide, and reported that the vote to decide this year’s XI was taken from 15,878 male professional players.
Davies wound up topping Bayern teammate David Alaba by 275 votes, which was the closest race in positional voting.
Davies also becomes the third-youngest player to be voted onto the FIFPRO World 11, behind French superstar Kylian Mbappe and Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt. Mark it up as yet another accolade in Davies’ remarkable rise from Whitecaps academy youngster to UEFA Champions League winner.
Frederik Andersen made 27 saves for Toronto (3-1-0) in first of 10 meetings between the North Division rivals in the abbreviated 2020-2021 season. Marner added his second of the night into an empty net with 22.6 seconds left.
Kyle Connor replied for Winnipeg (1-1-0), which got 35 stops from Connor Hellebuyck inside an empty Scotiabank Arena because of COVID-19 protocols.
The Jets were minus sniper Patrik Laine, who sat out with an upper-body injury and is listed as day-to-day.
Following an even first period that saw both teams force good saves from Hellebuyck and Andersen, the ice tilted heavily in Toronto’s favour in the second.
The Leafs got the game’s first goal at 5:28 at the tail end of a power play when Hellebuyck kicked Jake Muzzin’s point shot out to William Nylander, who quickly fed Tavares in the slot for him to bury his third of the season with the Jets goalie out of position.
Toronto, which dressed 11 forwards and seven defencemen, led 13-0 on the shot clock after that goal, and 19-1 midway through the period with the Jets appearing to be asleep at the switch. Winnipeg looked to get some momentum on a man advantage of its own later in the period, but Hellebuyck was forced to stop two short-handed chances off the stick of Ilya Mikheyev.
The Leafs were finally rewarded a second time with 1:21 left when Auston Matthews carried the puck into the offensive zone before finding Justin Holl. His one-timer hit the post behind Hellebucyk, and Marner was there to poke home his second of the year.
Toronto appeared primed to take a feel-good 2-0 lead into the intermission, but got running around in the defensive zone following a Muzzin giveaway, with Connor providing Winnipeg some life by snapping his second past Andersen with under a minute remaining on the clock.
The Leafs finished the period with a 22-5 edge in shots and 36-11 in attempts directed towards goal, but only led by the slimmest of margins on the scoreboard.
Winnipeg got an early third-period power play after Muzzin took a holding penalty, but Andersen was there at every turn _ including a great stop on Mark Scheifele that would have had the fans inside Scotiabank Arena chanting “Freddie! Freddie!” in a normal season.
The Jets continued to make their push as the period wore on, and got a power play with 5:15 left in regulation when Toronto defenceman Morgan Rielly cleared the puck over the glass for a delay-of-game infraction, but Andersen and the penalty killers did the job as the home side held on before Marner bagged the empty netter.
The Leafs rebounded from Friday’s disappointing 5-3 loss to the Senators in Ottawa with a 3-2 victory in the rematch on the same ice 24 hours later, while Winnipeg opened its season with Thursday’s 4-3 overtime victory at home against the Calgary Flames.
Next up for the Jets are three straight games against Ottawa — Tuesday and Thursday in the nation’s capital before the teams travel to Winnipeg for a Saturday tilt — as part of a gruelling stretch of six contests in nine nights that began Monday.
The Leafs host the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday and Friday before embarking on a four-game road trip through Alberta beginning Sunday.
Toronto announced before the game rookie winger Nick Robertson will miss at least four weeks with a knee injury, which forced the team to put both third-string goalie Aaron Dell and veteran forward Jason Spezza on waivers for salary cap purposes. Dell was claimed by the New Jersey Devils on Monday, while Spezza made it through and dressed against Winnipeg.
Notes: Mikko Lehtonen, who led all KHL defencemen in scoring last season, made his NHL debut for Toronto… Jets blue-liner Logan Stanley made his NHL debut for Winnipeg with Tucker Poolman still on the league’s COVID-19 list.
CLEVELAND — On their wild ride of an unforgettable, almost unimaginable 2020 season when Zoom calls, masks and contact tracing were daily fixtures, the Browns discovered two things that point to a bright future for an awakened franchise. They’ve got the right coach and the right quarterback. After years of being beaten and beaten down, the Browns have climbed back. While Sunday’s 22-17 loss in the divisional round to the Kansas City Chiefs — and Rashard Higgins’ costly fumble on a controversial play at the goal line — felt like so many other painful playoff moments and losses for the Browns and their fans, this one is different. Not an ending but a beginning. “We’ll be back,” quarterback Baker Mayfield claimed after the Browns, who won 11 games in the regular season and their first playoff game in 26 years, pushed the defending Super Bowl champions to the limit. “We aren’t done yet, and that is the best part.” Mayfield’s maturity in his third NFL season, and first working with rookie coach Kevin Stefanski, gives the Browns reason to believe they have entered a period when they should contend for years. Mayfield improved as much as any player in the league, ending any discussion about whether the Browns should commit to him long term. “He’s continued to grow as a player and as a person and as a leader,” Browns centre JC Tretter said Monday. “That’s what you need, and Baker’s growth is not yet done. He’s not a finished product and he’d be the first one to tell you that.” The Browns are expected to exercise Mayfield’s fifth-year contract option this off-season, and the team will explore an extension over the next few months with the 25-year-old quarterback who finished with 30 touchdown passes, nine interceptions and 4,030 yards in 18 games. Stefanski’s role in Mayfield’s development while guiding the Browns (12-6) through a season shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, can’t be overstated. One of his first objectives after coming to Cleveland was to connect with Mayfield, knowing the QB/coach dynamic is essential to success. Stefanski bonded with Mayfield right away and they grew tighter as the year progressed. Stefanski brought out the best in his young QB, who threw 20 TD passes and only three picks in his last 12 games. “Once he started getting comfortable with what we were doing and once I was using more concepts that he was comfortable with, he really started playing at a high level,” said Stefanski, among the leading candidates for Coach of the Year honours. “I am proud of the progress he made.” Stefanski, perhaps knowing negotiations will be upcoming, stopped short of calling Mayfield a franchise QB. “He did the things we asked him to do,” he said. “He definitely led this football team from Day 1. We have a bunch of ball games to look at with him and find out ways that he can get better, but in terms of the ‘franchise quarterback’ thing, I do not even know necessarily what that means.” It means everything for a team that went through 29 starting QBs before Mayfield arrived. Before landing Stefanski, the Browns cycled through six coaches in the past decade. But the unflappable 38-year-old Stefanski seems perfectly suited for a team with young core stars — Mayfield; defensive end Myles Garrett; running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt; left tackle Jedrick Wills; and cornerback Denzel Ward are all 25 or younger — who appear primed to make a long run together. In Cleveland, there’s hope, not hopelessness. DEFENSIVE HOLES The Browns’ defence needs an overhaul. Co-ordinator Joe Woods spent the season plugging holes after injuries to rookie safety Grant Delpit (torn Achilles tendon) and cornerback Greedy Williams (shoulder) in training camp, and run stuffer Andrew Billings’ decision to opt out due to COVID-19, costing Cleveland three projected starters. The linebacking corps needs an upgrade and end Olivier Vernon probably won’t be re-signed as a free agent. Cleveland, which normally picks at the top of the draft, has the No. 26 selection to find help. BECKHAM’S FUTURE The Browns’ emergence and playoff run happened without star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Oct. 25 in Cincinnati. While Beckham’s talent isn’t debatable, there’s no denying Mayfield played his best when Beckham wasn’t around. His $12.8 million salary for next season becomes guaranteed in March, so it may be tough for Cleveland to trade Beckham while he’s rehabbing. For now, Stefanski made it sound like he wants OBJ in his offence in 2021. “I’m excited to get him back here,” Stefanski said. “I know it was not easy for him being away from his teammates, especially as these games got bigger and into the playoffs. I know he definitely wanted to be a part of it.” OTHER BUSINESS Browns general manager Andrew Berry has some other decisions to make with several free agents, including defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, linebacker B,J. Goodson and Higgins. The 30-year-old Vernon tore an Achilles tendon in the Browns’ regular-season finale and probably won’t return. Ogunjobi’s been solid, but the Browns have depth in the middle with Billings, Sheldon Richardson and rookie Jordan Elliott. Goodson emerged as a leader in his first season with Cleveland. Then there’s Higgins, a fan favourite and go-to target for Mayfield. He had five catches for 88 yards on Sunday, but his fumble while reaching for the goal line before halftime was a major turning point in a game the Browns could have won. ___ More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL Tom Withers, The Associated Press
Welcome to our weekly tour of the NHL’s North Division. Fingers crossed that this column will live beyond this season. Do it, NHL. It’s best for everyone.
When Sheldon Keefe replaced Mike Babcock as coach of the Toronto Maple leafs less than two months into the 2019-20 NHL season, many of the things he’d say after practice and games seemed to serve as a good ol’ fashioned subtweet towards the man who held the seat before him.
Expressing care and compassion for his players and going out of his way to put them in positions to create special moments they can look back on fondly when their careers are finished, Keefe’s words often belied the actions we saw from the former Maple Leafs coach, who in many ways had a distaste for sentimentality.
No subject laid these facts bare more accurately than Jason Spezza, who Babcock chose to scratch on opening night last year, denying the veteran the opportunity to experience something special versus his former team — the visiting Ottawa Senators.
In what almost seemed like an effort to make up for the loss of that moment, Keefe started Spezza on a matinee game two days before Christmas last season, on a hunch that his four daughters would be in attendance that afternoon.
Keefe said he started Spezza because he had a feeling his girls would be in the building. Thought it could be a special moment.
As it went, Spezza scored on that opening shift. The special moment once lost, Spezza now had for his family.
Not to paint Keefe as cold in any way, but now one year later it seems we’ve learned a little bit about why the Leafs coach made a concerted effort to make members of the organization feel a certain way — and it was not to criticize or challenge a previous regime.
He’s suggested in his media appearances this season that he believes the team he inherited was, if not broken, seriously fractured. Because of this, he believed his only option in his first weeks and months on the job was to try and improve the feeling and atmosphere around the group. If not the music blaring through the speakers while the team practiced, that at least explained Keefe’s focus on accentuating the players’ strengths, not always attacking their weaknesses.
Fast-forward to now, treading lightly has not been one of Keefe’s mandates in his first full(-ish) season at the helm.
He’s not stroking egos, instead challenging his star players to show more than what they have; he’s revealed that he’s stickler for habits and details, perhaps to the extent that Babcock was; and he’s demanding more from the team’s workouts, changing the foundation in which the club’s on-ice sessions are built around. What’s also true is that as a leading voice in the conversations around roster construction and salary cap manipulation, Keefe, and by extension the Maple Leafs, appear willing to make unpopular decisions, to get blood on their hands.
On Sunday, Spezza, the same player who Keefe and the Maple Leafs management team seemed to believe was owed something for the mistreatment he received previously, was placed on waivers three games into the season, offered up for free to any team that might have interest.
Now, Toronto’s intentions weren’t to show malice, or even to cut ties. Instead, it was a move required to maximize the flexibility on a roster being restricted by the rules governing the salary cap. But regardless of why the decision was made, the reality was that the Leafs made the decision to surrender control of what remains of Spezza’s fabulous career.
Powerless to the decisions of 30 other teams, Spezza’s only defence in preserving the life he and his family chose — which was, accepting less money to settle in his hometown — was his agent desperately working the phones, asserting that his client would simply retired if claimed by another team.
Thankfully, not a single team was convinced the agent was bluffing. Spezza went unclaimed on the open market (though it’s possible that would have happened anyway), preventing an 18-year career from ending on a waiver-wire transaction. Now he’ll be in the Leafs lineup Monday night versus the Winnipeg Jets.
Leafs fans were able to breathe a sigh of relief, and so too should the team’s braintrust.
Because the opportunity that Babcock stole from Spezza would not compare to making the decision that would prevent one the game’s most respected veterans, and a former superstar in the league, from not only exiting the game the way he should, but being blindsided by the end of his playing days.
And elsewhere up north:
Montreal: Would you include Nick Suzuki or Alexander Romanov in a trade for Pierre-Luc Dubois? As much as I believe that PLD would elevate the Canadiens, reaching that next tier may be an opportunity that only exists with Suzuki and Romanov remaining in the fold. The partnership Suzuki has created with Jonathan Drouin and Josh Anderson is so exciting, while Romanov looks like a 10-year veteran on the blue line, having exceeded 22 minutes in his debut. These two players hold the key to meeting the preseason hype. That’s worth seeing through for Marc Bergevin.
But Jesperi Kotkaniemi on the other hand….
Ottawa: How can you not be encouraged by this start? Ottawa split its first two games in 10 months — against the Maple Leafs, no less — and actually came away with a plus goal differential.
And more importantly: Tim Stutzle, y’all.
That’s an unbelievable debut goal.
Toronto: Best sign through three games for the Leafs? John Tavares is flying out there.
Winnipeg: If Patrik Laine decides that his means to earn a trade out of Winnipeg is to score the lights out, we’re in for some serious entertainment. That was special, singular stuff from the Finnish sniper — on and off the ice. It’s too bad he’s already dealing with an injury, though.
Calgary: If this were a ranking of the seven Canadian teams, I would have touched on the Flames first. Just one win through two games, but massive potential shown already with Jacob Markstrom holding things down in net.
Edmonton: It’s crazy how upgrades in net just seem to escape this team. The Oilers went big-game hunting for a goalie over the summer and ended up bringing back Mike Smith. And in their desperate attempts to bring in a third goaltender with Smith on the shelf, they have dudes flying in from Austria and California over the weekend — and are therefore subject to quarantine rules — while Aaron Dell (already in Canada) is claimed by the New Jersey Devils one day later. It’s just not breaking right for the Oil in net, an area that could be the difference in making or not making the playoffs.
Vancouver: I’d be concerned, frankly. The Canucks have seemed second-best in terms of talent in both of their matchups so far this season, having faced the Oilers and Flames to this point. J.T. Miller will help in this regard, obviously, but this team has the look of one that could be overmatched on most nights.
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