So, that’s what a $6.1-million smile looks like.
TORONTO — Call Michael Bunting “a greasy rat” and he’ll grin. It’s because he must have had an excellent night.
Such was the case for Bunting when he scored a hat trick in the Maple Leafs’ 4-0 preseason win over the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday. It was teammate Kurtis Gabriel who interrupted Bunting’s intermission interview with the compliment, and while Bunting admits Gabriel “scared me a bit” jumping in with the comment, it was the type of praise Bunting appreciates.
“I think that’s the way I get into a game is getting the other team after me or to get in their head,” Bunting said after practice on Thursday. “I feel like that’s when I’m playing my best. When they’re chasing after me and not worried about the game that helps us out so I don’t mind playing that role.”
Neither does coach Sheldon Keefe.
“One thing I know about Michael Bunting is he usually leaves the game as one of the most hated players on the ice,” Keefe said. “I’ve come to expect that from him in terms of reactions that he gets from other teams. But I think that’s a positive thing; he’s not out there to make friends, he’s out there to score goals and help this team win and he make some apologies about how he goes about it. I like that about him.”
Keefe has more experience watching Bunting than most, and is familiar with the unconventional path he took to the NHL.
Growing up in Scarborough, Ontario, Bunting didn’t get recruited to any of the Greater Toronto Area’s elite squads and cut his teeth playing high school hockey. He finally earned one season with the AAA Don Mills Flyers’ U-18 team in 2012, and then was drafted 160th overall by the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds in the 2013 Ontario Hockey League’s Priority Selection.
It was in the Soo that Bunting met then-general manager Kyle Dubas (now GM of the Leafs) and Keefe, who was the Greyhounds’ head coach. Bunting parlayed a strong rookie season in the OHL (42 points in 48 games) into being selected by the Arizona Coyotes in the fourth-round, 117th overall, in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
And then Bunting’s real work began.
The now 26-year-old would bounce around the American Hockey League for the next four years, not making his NHL debut until December 2018. He appeared in five games for the Coyotes and was sent back to the AHL, where he remained under another recall in March 2021.
Back in the NHL, Bunting never left. He tallied 10 goals in 21 games for Arizona to finish the season and became a coveted unrestricted free agent in July. Weighing multiple offers from interested parties, Bunting ultimately decided to sign a two-year, $1.9 million deal with the club he cheered for as a kid – and gave Toronto a hometown discount to boot.
“I was a late bloomer,” Bunting said. “The road I took to get here isn’t the normal one that everybody takes so I take pride in that and I [embrace] it every day that you can’t take this thing for granted, it can go just as fast as it can come. You appreciate it a little bit more [because] it did take a little bit for me to get here, it has been a grind.”
Wayne Simmonds, who also grew up in Scarborough a few years ahead of Bunting, can appreciate his path to success more than most.
“Scarborough sticks together,” Simmonds said. “We had a lot of time to chat [since meeting in training camp] and [compare] our life’s paths. Like how we grew up playing and both of us played double A. He didn’t get to junior until he was 18 and I didn’t play junior until I was 18 as well. So what we went through as young kids playing hockey was the same and we have a pretty strong bond because of that.”
Just like Simmonds before him, Bunting is ready to make his mark on the NHL. Keefe slotted him onto a line with John Tavares and William Nylander to start training camp last week, and Bunting has tallied four goals in two preseason games thus far. And he hasn’t used exhibition as an excuse to go easy on the opposition, hence Gabriel’s approval of his pestering.
“He certainly is a guy that makes no friends on the ice, and that’s part of what makes him who he is,” Keefe said. “Just in terms of the hunger and the competitiveness he has around the net, [it’s] because he’s always looking to get an edge on you. I’m really happy that he’s gotten the results that he’s gotten here in the first two games. It allows his confidence to grow, allows him to settle in here with us.”
When Zach Hyman left the Leafs for Edmonton in free agency last July, there was plenty of concern about who would take his place as a top-six left winger in Toronto. Bunting isn’t the same player as Hyman, but his skill set is something the Leafs are lacking. And Bunting has used all resources available to him in trying to perfect it.
Back in Arizona, Bunting picked the brain of former head coach Rick Tocchet on how to toe the line between skill player and general annoyance. Tocchet played more than 1,100 NHL games and scored 952 points doing just that. In stature, Tocchet was larger in stature (6-foot, 214 pounds) than Bunting (5-foot-11, 196 pounds), but he was happy to share tricks of the trade with a fellow Scarborough offspring.
“I think he was a little tougher than me,” Bunting said of Tocchet. “But he’s not afraid to mix it up, and we would talk about that and he would give me advice about how [to] play on the edge and be able to put it in the net as well because he was able to put up numbers.”
So far, Bunting has been able to do exactly that in the NHL. Granted it’s still early in the Leafs’ exhibition schedule, and critics are quick to point out Bunting’s sample size last season was too small to really judge him on. But Bunting is used to being doubted – it’s helped create the player he is. And that’s everything the Leafs are looking for.
“I know the history of Bunts…he’s just got a chip on his shoulder, in terms of how he’s how he’s come up through the hockey ranks,” Keefe said. “He plays with a lot to prove every night and he’s out there to try to make the best of every opportunity he can and I like those qualities about him. That’s what I think makes you believe a player like him always has a chance, and here he is in the NHL. Those are the kind of guys you don’t want to bet against.”
CLEVELAND (AP) — Baker Mayfield had the best seat in the house to watch the Browns’ backups deliver.
Case Keenum stepped in for an injured Mayfield and made the most of his first start in two years, third-string back D’Ernest Johnson rushed for 146 yards and Cleveland overcame a short week and a long list of injuries to beat the Denver Broncos 17-14 on Thursday night.
Keenum didn’t put up impressive stats (21 of 33 for 199 yards), but threw a touchdown pass and did enough — as did Cleveland’s maligned defense — to get the Browns (4-3) a much-needed victory.
They survived without Mayfield, who sat out with a shoulder injury and could miss more time.
“Unfortunately, some people are going to get hurt,” Keenum said after his first win since 2019. “At the same time, you love other young guys getting chances.”
Johnson, playing because stars Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt were both out with calf injuries, had the best game of his young career. He scored on a 4-yard run in the first half and picked up 52 yards on seven carries as the Browns chewed up the final 5:17 after the Broncos pulled within three.
Once he reached the end zone, Johnson wasn’t sure how to react.
“It’s unexplainable,” he said. “I wanted to celebrate but I didn’t know what to do. It’s been a long journey.”
The Broncos couldn’t stop Johnson and now they can’t stop losing, either.
“The last drive was very frustrating,” Denver coach Vic Fangio said. “We loaded up against the run and we couldn’t stop them.”
Afterward, Johnson, who worked on a fishing boat when he wasn’t drafted, got doused with water by his teammates in a raucous locker room celebration.
Johnson couldn’t believe that NBA superstar LeBron James tweeted about him in the game’s final minutes.
“LeBron?” he said. “Man, that’s my favorite basketball player. LeBron? That’s amazing. That means a lot. Wow!”
Denver quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw a pair of TD passes and gutted it out while playing with foot and quadriceps injuries. He finished 23 of 33 for 187 yards with one interception.
The Broncos (3-4) dropped their fourth straight game, and maybe as importantly, lost star linebacker Von Miller to a sprained ankle. The eight-time Pro Bowler missed all of 2020 with a dislodged ankle tendon.
Miller got hurt late in the first half when he banged legs with teammate Dre’Mont Jones while rushing Keenum.
Mayfield, who has been playing with a torn labrum, also has a broken bone in his non-throwing shoulder but believes he can continue to play with it, a person familiar with the quarterback’s health told the Associated Press.
Mayfield hopes the injury improves enough in coming days days that he can play against Pittsburgh on Oct. 31, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
The fourth-year QB revealed the break in his humerus bone — which runs from his shoulder to elbow — to Fox during the network’s pregame show.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski did not get into any specifics about Mayfield’s injury, but said it was “too far away” to know if the QB will be back next week.
Until he’s ready, Keenum showed he can keep the Browns going forward.
So did Johnson, an unlikely hero.
“A guy like him, who the locker room loves and everybody loves — a great young family and just a good overall person,” Keenum said. “To come in here and having an incredible night like that and make some big time plays for us on a national stage, very pumped for him. It was exciting.”
After Bridgewater’s 8-yard TD pass to Melvin Gordon brought the Broncos within 10-7 in the third quarter, Keenum directed a 13-play, 75-yard drive he capped with a 1-yard scoring pass to fullback Johnny Stanton IV.
Keenum made the biggest play on the drive, converting a fourth-and-3 play with a 5-yard scramble to Denver’s 1.
The 33-year-old, who last started for Washington two years ago, was excited about the opportunity to play, saying Wednesday he was “built for this” and Keenum showed he’s more than capable of filling in.
Browns receiver Jarvis Landry had five catches for 37 yards in his first action since missing four games with a sprained knee. He was activated a few hours before the opening kick.
OBJ JUST OK
Odell Beckham Jr. had a forgettable night.
The Cleveland star receiver, who didn’t practice this week due to a shoulder injury, had a drop, got called for an illegal formation and was briefly out of the game after banging his shoulder — all in the first half.
Beckham bounced back with two receptions in the third quarter.
Broncos: ILB Micha Kiser (groin) left in the first quarter. Denver was already thin at linebacker after placing Alexander Johnson and Andre Mintze on injured reserve earlier this week.
Browns: WR Donovan People-Jones suffered a groin injury during pregame warmups and didn’t play. … CB Denzel Ward injured his left hamstring in the fourth quarter. … Cleveland was also missing starting RT Jack Conklin, who missed his second straight game with a knee injury.
Broncos: Host Washington on Oct. 31.
Browns: A much-welcomed extra few days off to heal before facing rival Pittsburgh on Halloween.
More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
LOS ANGELES — Chris Taylor hit three homers and drove in six runs as the Los Angeles Dodgers broke loose at the plate to beat Atlanta 11-2 on Thursday, cutting the Braves’ lead to 3-2 in the best-of-seven NL Championship Series.
AJ Pollock had two home runs and four RBIs for the defending champion Dodgers, who have won seven straight postseason elimination games dating to last season. They also trailed 0-2 and 1-3 against Atlanta in the NLCS last year before rallying to win three straight at a neutral site in Texas.
“We needed to make a statement,” Taylor said. “They put it on us yesterday. We had to respond.”
Game 6 is Saturday back in Atlanta, where the Braves get two more chances to clinch their first trip to the World Series since 1999.
After mustering just four hits during a 9-2 loss in Game 4 that pushed them to the brink of elimination, the desperate Dodgers rapped out eight hits by the third inning off Max Fried. They finished with 17, a club record for a postseason game, and also equaled a postseason franchise mark with five home runs.
The Dodgers got to Fried with four consecutive hits in the second. Pollock hit a tying homer and Taylor drove the first pitch he saw to left field, putting Los Angeles in front for good, 3-2.
Starting in place of injured Justin Turner at third base, Taylor became the second Dodgers player with a three-homer game in the postseason. Kike Hernandez also did it in Game 5 of the 2017 NLCS against the Chicago Cubs.
“First time I’ve ever done it,” Taylor said. “It’s kind of surreal.”
Taylor had an RBI single in the third to make it 4-2. He went deep in the fifth, sending an 0-2 pitch from Chris Martin to center field and extending the lead to 6-2.
Taylor homered again in the seventh, taking Dylan Lee out to left-center before taking a curtain call in the dugout.
“I never look cool doing anything,” Taylor said.
The versatile veteran had an opportunity to match the major league mark of four home runs in a game, but struck out swinging to end the eighth.
“I was trying not to think about it,” Taylor said. “Usually I’m just trying to hit line drives.”
The mild-mannered Taylor also hit a game-winning homer in the bottom of the ninth inning against St. Louis in the NL wild-card game.
Albert Pujols wasn’t just hugging, he was hitting, too.
The 41-year-old slugger got on base three times, including a walk, and scored twice on Taylor’s homers. He got two singles for his third and fourth hits of the postseason in his second start. He had two hits in the NL Division Series against San Francisco.
Pujols has taken to greeting his much younger teammates with bear hugs in the dugout after home runs, and they kept him busy.
Los Angeles got a clutch performance from its bullpen after opener Joe Kelly allowed a two-run homer to Freddie Freeman in the first and soon exited after 28 pitches with tightness in his right biceps that will sideline him for the rest of the postseason.
Evan Phillips, Alex Vesia, Brusdar Graterol, Blake Treinen, Corey Knebel and Kenley Jansen combined to allow just three hits the rest of the way.
Phillips struck out three in 1 1/3 innings and was credited with the win.
Atlanta’s Eddie Rosario, who homered twice in his second four-hit game of the NLCS in Game 4, went 2 for 4 with a strikeout.
Pitching in his hometown, Fried gave up five runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings. The left-hander struck out three and walked two.
“I wasn’t executing on the corners like I normally do and when you leave the balls over the middle, normally damage happens,” Fried said.
In the feast-or-famine nature of the Dodgers’ offense, Cody Bellinger went 3 for 4 with a strikeout and NL batting champion Trea Turner was 3 for 4 with an RBI single in a four-run eighth capped by Pollock’s three-run homer. But Mookie Betts and Corey Seager were a combined 2 for 10.
“We’re up 3-2 and we’re going home,” Freeman said. “That’s a great position to be in. We’re going to be just fine.”
Taylor set a Dodgers postseason record with 13 total bases, most by any major leaguer in an elimination game. He became the 11th player to hit three home runs in a postseason game, a list that also includes Pujols and Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and George Brett. Babe Ruth accomplished the feat twice. Taylor became the first to do it for a team facing elimination.
Braves: OF Jorge Soler was activated after being out following his positive COVID-19 test. He struck out swinging as a pinch-hitter in the eighth.
Dodgers: Justin Turner was replaced on the NLCS roster by INF Andy Burns after straining his left hamstring while running to first in the seventh inning Wednesday. To make room on the 40-man roster, RHP Edwin Uceta was designated for assignment.
RHP Ian Anderson goes for the Braves in Game 6. RHP Max Scherzer starts for the Dodgers.
So, that’s what a $6.1-million smile looks like.
The biggest smile in the Bell Centre Thursday night was on Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s face after he scored the third goal for the Hurricanes in a 4-1 win over the Canadiens.
It was Kotkaniemi’s first point in three games this season after agreeing to a $6.1-million offer sheet from the Hurricanes that the Canadiens decided not to match and it helped Carolina improve its record to 3-0-0, while the Canadiens fell to 0-5-0.
There were no smiles on the Canadiens’ faces after the game. They have now been outscored 19-4 this season are are 1-for-19 on the power. The Canadiens went 1-for-6 against the Hurricanes with Tyler Toffoli scoring their first power-play goal of the season to cut the Hurricanes’ lead to 2-1 at 17:57 of the second period.
Kotkaniemi deflected in a shot to make it 3-1 at 9:23 of the third period and Sebastian Aho scored his second of the night into an empty net to seal the Carolina victory with 39 seconds left. The same Sebastian Aho Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin tried to get out of Carolina with a five-year, US$42.295-million offer sheet two years ago that the Hurricanes matched. Aho also had an assist.
“It’s tough right now,” the Canadiens’ Nick Suzuki said after the game. “The confidence for our group just seems to be low. There’s plays that we make all the time and we’re just not executing them. It’s definitely a tough patch. We had some of these my first (year) and even last year, these stretches. Good teams find a way to get out of it. We need to really bounce back.”
Suzuki is still looking for his first goal this season, as is every other player on the Canadiens with the exception of Jonathan Drouin (who has two), Chris Wideman and Toffoli.
“This is the NHL … it’s not easy to score goals,” said Toffoli, who led the Canadiens with 28 goals in 52 games last season. “We’re trying. We’re slowly getting there. Not necessarily time’s running out, but we got to come together and capitalize on our opportunities.”
The Canadiens appeared to take a 1-0 lead at 5:33 of the first period when Brendan Gallagher deflected in a point shot on the power play, but the goal didn’t count after a video review for goalie interference.
“It’s such a fine line,” Toffoli said about goalie interference. “I’m not here to complain. But one game it’s a goal and the next game it’s not. It’s definitely frustrating. For Gally, too, that’s how he scores his goals.
“It’s not an easy job,” Toffoli added about the video judges. “Whatever their decision was is what we had to go with and you can’t use that as an excuse. We got to find a way. It’s still early in the game and there’s no excuse for it.”
The Canadiens were outshot 33-28, but they had plenty of chances to score.
“We’re working at it as much as we can,” Josh Anderson said. “There was multiple chances there in the blue paint. We just couldn’t finish the puck. We got a goal called back. But we just got to keep grinding away. We got 20 guys in that locker room each and every night. You got to keep working at it and fight through together and once you do go on a roll from there.”
Suzuki admitted the frustration level is growing in the Canadiens’ locker room as the losses pile up without any wins.
“When everyone gets frustrated you start to get on different pages and that’s never a good thing for a hockey team,” he said. “It’s definitely really frustrating right now. Somehow we have to find a way to get that first one in. But we started the game well, some pucks just didn’t go in the net or they were right in the crease.
“It’s a team game and when a team has success all the players have success and you start having fun,” Suzuki added. “It hasn’t been fun losing all these games. We just need to find our first one and I think we can get the ball rolling and get a pile of confidence back and really help the team out.”
Kotkaniemi looks like he’s having a lot of fun with the Hurricanes. He was at left wing on the first line with fellow Finns Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, logging 12:58 of ice time with three shots and three hits to go along with his goal.
“I like his potential, for sure,” Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme said after Thursday’s morning skate when asked what he liked about Kotkaniemi during his time in Montreal. “I think at times he really showed that. Being consistent is hard for a young player and going through those ups and downs. But he’s a good kid. He’s liked by his teammates.
“I’ve said it before, I wish I could have kept working with him but I understand his situation where they put that pile of money on the table for him. He said yes. Who would have said no?”
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