After she’d been buzzed, jostled and full-on trucked at least twice, someone tried to coax Team Canada goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens into talking about friendship.
Team USA had been out there running her over for two-plus hours in the Olympic final of women’s hockey, but weren’t they all really just great pals? What about this one on the U.S. team and that one and that other you played wherever with?
Desbiens stood there, still sweating, rubbing her gold medal in that covetous way people who’ve just won one all have – my Olympic precious.
Desbiens wanted to be helpful and go along with this line of questioning, but only vaguely. Prompted to get specific, she decided instead on the truth.
Was it hard playing against your friends?
“Not hard at all. You just have to put this jersey on,” Desbiens said. “There’s no friendship here.”
That’s how it looked there. Not ugly, but not friendly. Canada dominated for the first half and, having taken a lead, absorbed pressure for the second. It was a perfect game plan. Because it worked. If it hadn’t worked, we’d now be saying that it was a colossal failure of ambition. But that’s how these things go.
Canada won, 3-2.
Afterward, they celebrated like maniacs. Every glove and helmet thrown celebratory in the air was immediately scooped up by a small army of Chinese volunteers on skates. Canada whooped it up, Chinese volunteers circled, and the Americans stood at a non-respectful distance staring at them both.
There is a tableau that must be created after this quadrennial game, and everyone instinctively understands where and how to stand.
Next the medals. The winner beams and cries. The loser is piteous and cries. The third-place team looks startled to be there and cries.
Then they all trek through the mixed zone and do it again. Often, someone is angry. But not at this Olympics. The Americans were outclassed and they knew it. They came armed with their excuses – COVID-19, Brianna Decker’s injury in the first game here, general malaise. They’re good excuses, but they’re still excuses. If they’d won, they’d just be adversity.
Canada got the privilege of being magnanimous. Those women over there, yeah, they’re a tough team, it means something.
While Canadian defender Renata Fast was talking about what it’s like to get a gold hung around you’re neck – “Wow. This is heavy.” – U.S. captain Kendall Coyne Schofield was standing two metres from her shouting between sobs, “Women’s hockey cannot be silent!”
When Canada beats the U.S. in this tournament, the show that follows is almost as compelling as the one on the ice. There’s nothing quite like it in sport, in part because it’s so predictable. It’s as if the same two players made the final of Wimbledon every year, and they made them spend the hour afterward handcuffed together.
Mostly what exudes from these women is the sense that they don’t like each other very much, not in this context, but that they are bound together. For however long you last as a player in the American or Canadian national set-up, this game is your highest calling. It’s your professional rationale. Lose it, and nothing else you do really matters.
Canada lost the last time in the 2018 Pyeongchang Games – making it 1,460 days between meaningful wins.
This time around, women’s hockey didn’t feel like the most important event in this Olympics. It felt like the only event. If Canada could win this one, all the other near misses would be bearable.
So, mission accomplished. They beat the Americans twice. They beat everyone else up.
But this victory over the U.S. felt a little like piling on. Not at the level of players. But in terms of where they are as a country and we are in relation to them.
We might ask ourselves – is right to beat the U.S. any more?
Of course it’s right. That’s the point of coming here. But does it give us the same satisfaction?
This old rivalry – which has reached its perfected version in this smouldering enmity – is born out of the very 1970s idea that the U.S. is a little bit better than we are.
They are loud and confident. We are quiet and mousey. They have Hollywood. We have Murdoch Mysteries. They swagger around the world picking fights. We trail after them calming everyone down.
It was a great Mutt and Jeff routine for a long while. We were happy with losing most of the time because we secretly wanted to be more like them. It gave us something to aspire to. Every now and again, usually on a hockey rink, we got to win one.
The tables haven’t exactly turned, but they are radically reoriented. America’s a basket case. Who’d want to be more like that? What satisfaction is there to be taken from getting on top of someone after they’ve already wrestled themselves down on the ground?
Our proximity and interconnectedness makes it inevitable that all their worst instincts bleed over the border and infect our tendency to sober judgment. All the big fights in Canada today are America’s cultural proxy wars.
If Canada’s voting routines are any indication, most of us don’t want to be like America any more. We want to be a lot less like them.
Don’t call it a breakup. Call it a break. We can still be friends. Give us a shout in a couple of years when you’ve stopped with the attempted coups.
Early in this tournament, Canada’s Fast was asked if she ever feels pity for the other team as they’re getting their head metaphorically and repeatedly hammered into the boards.
“Not really,” Fast said. “By us playing them hard, it makes them better. They’re going to learn things.”
What do you think the U.S. learned on Thursday?
There is the obvious – that life is pain. Some of these American players can count on one hand how many times they’ve lost in the red-white-and-blue.
“I won’t forget this probably forever,” Team USA’s Amanda Kessel said afterward, but doubtfully. Like she wasn’t totally sure it had actually happened. Beyond that, there’s nothing to learn from losing at sports. The learning lesson here is the game itself. The thing considered outside its result.
One of the few nice things Canada and America still share is a love of playing together. Their sports leagues are full of Canadians, and our league is full of Americans. We remain happily intertwined through sport.
As our world views splinter, it can sometimes feel like it’s the last thing left that we have in common.
That’s what’s actually precious now. It’s a tether back to each other at some future, less zany point in history.
So we beat them and they beat us and in the end, both sides win.
At least, that’s the hope.
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Blue Jays squander another good start from Gausman as offence held in check again – Sportsnet.ca
TORONTO – This is a time for the Toronto Blue Jays to get greedy and to do that, first they’re going to have to continue the process of getting themselves right.
Settling for two of three against the similarly wayward Seattle Mariners after Wednesday night’s 5-1 loss isn’t ideal, but the dreadful Cincinnati Reds are due for a visit beginning Friday, so the opportunity to bank some wins on the current homestand is still at hand.
Capitalizing on that, of course, is easier said than done and the Blue Jays offence is still scattershot enough that nothing can be taken for granted. No one is doing consistent damage and while general manager Ross Atkins before the game went to great lengths to cap-tip the calibre of pitching his team has faced, this lineup was supposed to give even elite arm fits.
Find-a-way nights like Tuesday’s 3-0 win against the BB-throwing Logan Gilbert need to be a more regular occurrence, and against crafty left-hander Marco Gonzales on Wednesday, all they eked out was a measly Vladimir Guerrero Jr. bases-loaded walk.
Now, that walk was good process, part of Guerrero not expanding the zone, taking what’s on offer and being willing to pass the baton to cleanup man Teoscar Hernandez, who is still working to regain his timing at the plate and grounded out. But when runs are hard to come by, every little missed opportunity becomes more glaring and that’s what happened in the sixth when Gonzales alertly picked off Hernandez at second base after a one-out double.
The score was still 2-1 at the time, the Mariners opened the game up from there and the Blue Jays didn’t threaten again before a crowd of 20,472.
“This is an offence that usually we swing the bats and everybody’s fine and you can come back in a 4-1, 5-1 game. But it seems like now somebody scores four runs and it seems like 10 and that happens when your offence is struggling,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “When (plays like Hernandez getting picked off) happen, it’s magnified. Just like when a reliever comes in and gives up a run or something, it’s like oh my God. But the guys have been pitching good, it’s a close game every game.”
Gonzales largely leaned on a sinker-changeup mix, mixing in his cutter and curveball just enough to plant the options in the minds of Blue Jays hitters, en route to six innings of one-run ball. But he was also helped by 12 chase swings along with several rips at borderline pitches.
That fits a pattern Atkins acknowledged when he conceded that, “yes, we’ve chased more than we like.”
“But it’s been really good pitching and don’t want to lose sight of that,” he quickly added. “At the same time, when we are good, we’re executing our game-plan exceptionally well.”
Clearly, that’s not happening right now and it’s continuing to cause the Blue Jays to squander good starts, this time another from Kevin Gausman. While not nearly as dominant as he’s been to this point – he got only seven swinging strikes in his five innings of work – he cleverly limited damage while often getting BABIP’d.
“To be honest, a lot of those first inning hits are just good hitting on their part,” said Gausman. “I made my pitch and none of them were hit that hard, but just kind of found their holes. I just knew if I stayed there that I wasn’t going to have another inning like that. I just felt confident.”
The first inning might have been pivotal, as he escaped a bases-loaded, none-out jam by allowing only a Jesse Winker sacrifice fly and he remained unscathed until Cal Raleigh took him deep to open the fifth inning and put the Mariners up 2-1.
Hernandez’s pick off was the Blue Jays’ sixth of the season, pushing them to second most in the majors, and then Trevor Richards, extended into a second inning of work, gave up a two-out single to Adam Frazier and then a two-run homer to Ty France that effectively pushed the game out of reach.
The bullpen, still down Jordan Romano who’s day-to-day with gastrointestinal infection and Tim Mayza, on the injured list getting a second opinion to confirm that his left forearm inflammation is indeed just that, continues to face relentless pressure every night.
According to one of Baseball Reference’s leverage indexes, the Blue Jays began the day tied with Arizona for the most high-leverage relief appearances at 55. Expecting them to be perfect is unfair and too often the offence has forced them into precisely that spot.
Nonetheless, they’ll still go into the off-day at 20-18 after winning a series for the first time this month. Gausman’s performance Wednesday extended what’s been the club’s one steady strength this season, starting pitching, and that’s really been the pillar for the Blue Jays to this point.
“I feel like we have a beast-calibre guy going any given day,” said Gausman. “More than that, we have a lot of different looks that are coming at teams. From the left side (Yuseii) Kikuchi throws 97 with a split and then you got (Hyun Jin) Ryu from the left side, too, and it’s a completely different pitcher. Then there’s Jose (Berrios) and obviously (Alek) Manoah, all those guys are completely different. So I think we match up really well against a lot of lineups because of it.”
That’s an excellent starting point and it has them sixth in the American League as they approach the quarter-mark of the season. The Blue Jays will need their offence to come around to be better than that.
Undaunted by history, Flames and Oilers will craft their own Battle of Alberta legacy – Sportsnet.ca
CALGARY — A throng of media-types three times the size as normal welcomed Matthew Tkachuk and the rest of the players to the podium yesterday with questions about a rivalry they know very little about.
What they do know is they’re in the middle of something special, which Tkachuk got a hint of his very first NHL game.
“My first memory was the first game in the new rink in Edmonton,” he said. “Everybody was in their seats for warmups. I thought that was pretty crazy. As I was skating out on the ice, I don’t remember perfectly, but Gretzky and Messier were out there doing a few laps or something. I’m 18 years old, thinking, ‘I don’t think I’m ready for this.’”
A large majority of the players in this series weren’t born when the last BOA series was 31 years ago, sparking shrugs from most of them when asked about what they knew of the hockey played back then.
“Not much,” said Elias Lindholm, 28.
“It wasn’t on in Sweden, so nothing,” added Jacob Markstrom with a grin, as he was a one-year-old then.
“Just big moments in NHL history,” said Tkachuk. “I’m serious when I say I didn’t know about it until I got drafted. It’s gotten bigger the last few years with both teams playing a lot better and maybe meeting each other in playoffs, and here we are.”
Tkachuk’s brother, Brady, has been busy riling up fans in the Dome and throwing out t-shirts in support of his brother’s club. The Senators captain was also seen hoisting a child on his shoulders as part of his celebrations.
“I’m surprised his parents let him go on Brady’s shoulders,” laughed Tkachuk. “I think that was kind of a spur of the moment thing.”
Call Your Shot?
The beauty of The Battle has always been that just when you think they’re going to have a Pier 6 brawl all night long, the Flames and Oilers give us an incredible night of high-skill hockey. And just when you settle in for some buckled down, defensive hockey, you get a goalie fight or — like on a whacky Saturday night earlier this season — a 9-5 shootout.
This season, Edmonton beat Calgary 5-3 and 5-2, and the Flames won 3-1 and 9-5. Neither team won on the road.
“I think you’ve seen both sides when we played each other in the regular season,” said Connor McDavid. “You’ve seen low-scoring, tight-checking games. Obviously the last time we were in here it was a 9-5 gong show, pretty much. We want to be a checking team and that’s the brand that they want to play as well.
“I think you’ll see low-scoring nights and nights where there are a couple more goals, but I would expect it to be a pretty tight-checking series.”
Asked if he still had friends on the Oilers, Milan Lucic smiled.
“For the next however many days? No.”
Asked how he thought Edmontonians feel about Wayne Gretzky’s prediction the Flames would win, Lucic chuckled.
“I’m sure they don’t like it, but he’s just giving his expert opinion,” he said, putting an emphasis on the word expert.
Battle Goes Net Front
The Calgary Flames are the bigger team — there’s no dispute there. And if it comes down to fisticuffs, Calgary is in a better spot, with their toughness centred nearer the bottom of their lineup in Milan Lucic, Brett Ritchie, Erik Gudbranson and Nikita Zadorov, while two of Edmonton’s toughest guys are 25-miniute man Darnell Nurse and top six left winger Evander Kane.
As such, the Oilers want to make this series about speed.
“We want to be the first mover. We want to put an emphasis on speed,” said head coach Jay Woodcroft. “For us, speed trumps perfection.”
Calgary is not L.A., when it comes to size and the ability to control net fronts at either end of the ice. The Zadorov-Gudbranson pairing is vastly bigger and tougher than anything the Kings had, and up front the Flames have players like Lucic and Ritchie (if he dresses), tough players who go to the net hard.
How do the Oilers go about winning the net front battle at both ends of the ice?
“There are things that we can do defensively, and things that we can do offensively,” Woodcroft said. “Something that we talked about (Tuesday) was that the team that’s going to come out on top is the one that’s willing to pay the price. The one that’s willing to do it harder, and for longer.”
In the end, as one would expect, the challenge gets steeper as a team moves from Round 1 to 2. The Kings took Edmonton to seven games, but Calgary presents a must greater impediment.
“Yes, it’s a new challenge, a new task,” the coach said. “A complete different animal, a team that’s at the top of the Pacific Division for a reason. They do a lot of things really well. We’re gonna have our hands full.”
The phones of Flames alumni have been blowing up the last few days, sparking Joel Otto to say, “Us old guys are relevant again.”
“I think it’s important for the province. I’m a Calgarian now — lived here since the late 90’s — and understanding the passion between the two cities and how important it is to ‘one-up’ one another,” said Otto.
“They used the word hate but it’s a grudge match.”
Incidentally, the last Flames player to score an OT winner in Game 7 at home was Otto 33 years ago, which was a somewhat controversial deflection off his skate.
“I’ll tell all my grandchildren it was similar to what Johnny did,” he laughed.
“There aren’t a lot of comparisons other than it was Game 7.”
Player strike brings CFL to tipping point – CBC Sports
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.
For a third straight year, the CFL schedule has been interrupted. Players on seven of nine teams launched a strike on Sunday, when the collective bargaining agreement signed just ahead of the 2019 season expired. Elks and Stampeders players are set to join tomorrow when Alberta’s labour laws allow.
At this point, the 2022 interruption remains minor, with the only damage being delayed training camps. The first pre-season game will likely be cancelled if there’s no agreement today. The regular season, slated to begin June 9, remains salvageable — if also a little too close for comfort.
But the latest league tension only underlines the rough recent past of Canadian football. The 2020 season was cancelled when the CFL, under the guidance of commissioner Randy Ambrosie, failed to get its ducks in a row in the wake of COVID-19. Ultimately, players weren’t paid and the league is said to have lost between $60 and $80 million.
Even the 2021 campaign was postponed and shortened as a result of the virus, leading to a Grey Cup in December. Many said the level of play dropped off in 2021, as reflected in lacklustre offences and attendance concerns throughout the league. Meanwhile, the fate of the Atlantic Schooners, introduced as an expansion team ahead of the 2018 Grey Cup, remains unclear nearly four years later.
Contrast that to the Canadian Elite Basketball League. The fledgling organization, which began play in 2019, could likewise have crumbled under the pressure of the pandemic. Instead, led by former CFL player Mike Morreale, it organized a two-week Summer Series in 2020 and returned with a full slate of games in 2021. For the upcoming 2022 season, three expansion clubs will bring the team total to 10 — one more than the CFL.
For now, the CFL’s work stoppage does not appear overly contentious. The sides broke off talks over the weekend, but there’s already a mediator in place who can facilitate negotiations as soon as they’re ready to return to the table. After Ambrosie revealed the league’s latest offer on the weekend, officials from both sides have been unavailable — though Tiger-Cats players picketed outside of Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton yesterday.
While the union has mostly kept its demands quiet, earlier league proposals that included no increases to the salary cap and the complete eradication of the Canadian ratio (which requires 21 players, including seven starters, per team to be Canadian) offer a hint at their platform issues.
The only other player strike in CFL history occurred during training camp in 1974, but was settled in time for the regular season. Maybe by the time the 2022 Grey Cup rolls around in November, the current strike will be viewed as nothing more than a speed bump in a successful return-to-normal season.
But if games are missed for the third straight year, the viability of the CFL itself could be up for debate.
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