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Burrows’ passion, experience, messaging helping Canadiens improve power play –



It was a 45-minute breath of fresh air, with the words flowing out of Alexandre Burrows clearly and deliberately.

The 39-year-old’s Zoom press conference provided a perfect explanation for why he was taken off the Laval Rocket bench, after just one year in the AHL, and promoted to replace Montreal Canadiens associate coach Kirk Muller on Feb. 24.

It was one thing for general manager Marc Bergevin to repeat on that day that both Dominique Ducharme (taking over as head coach for Claude Julien) and Burrows would offer new voices to a Canadiens team in need of them, but it was another to hear Ducharme’s voice for ourselves over the last couple of weeks and to finally, on Tuesday, get a sample of what the players are experiencing beyond what we see on the ice with Burrows.

It is there where he bounces from drill to drill with the energy of a 10-year-old who just chugged six Pixie Sticks, but it was in some backroom of Rogers Arena, with the Canadiens’ makeshift backdrop behind him, that Burrows gave us a glimpse of the serious and measured guy who’s also spending his time crafting power-play schemes and conducting video tutorials off-ice.

He spoke for a long time, but made it clear within seconds why he was the precise person chosen to join Ducharme’s bench. He told us what this opportunity means to him as a lifelong Canadiens fan who caught a lot of flak from his Vancouver Canucks teammates for never losing his allegiance to the team of his childhood, the team he would ritually watch play the early games while the Canucks were preparing to play the late ones.

But Burrows also talked about how the last season in Laval prepared him for this and how 998 NHL games (regular season and post-season combined) gave him all the insight he needed to make this transition. He then shared how long-time Canucks assistant coach Newell Brown inspired the mentality he’s brought to reviving a Canadiens power play that struggled immensely under Muller but is suddenly clicking under his guidance.

“He was always open,” Burrows said. “You could talk to him, share ideas, plans. We could comment on some stuff, so it was really working as a group.

“He always had a plan, made sure it was clear, and there weren’t any grey areas. And there’s plans on the breakouts, on the in-zone, on 5-on-3s, 4-on-3s, faceoffs, so it made it easier for players to play instead of always think, so it kind of became second nature going on the power play.”

That’s what it’s looked like for one unit of Montreal’s power play since Burrows took over.

It seems the plan has been crystal clear to Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Tomas Tatar, Brendan Gallagher, Corey Perry and Jeff Petry, and they’re executing as though it’s engrained.

Now Burrows has to get the other unit going. The one with Jonathan Drouin and Shea Weber rotating from the top of the point to the flank, with Nick Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli switching off with each other in the bumper position, and with Josh Anderson in front of the net.

It’s a unit filled with cerebral players in Drouin, Suzuki and Toffoli — crafty playmakers not unlike Henrik and Daniel Sedin, with whom Burrows enjoyed the greatest success of his career.

When asked how he could lend some of what the Sedins did so successfully to this trio of bright Canadiens, Burrows pointed to simplicity.

“I think we don’t have to force plays,” he said. “Even with the twins, they were efficient by being the experts at simple plays… It wasn’t always the crazy, between-the-legs saucer pass and back door and tic-tac-toes. The way they had success was by keeping it simple over and over and becoming experts at that. It comes down with execution.

“It comes down with knowing where teammates are going to be on the ice, because the game is so fast now [that] if you take that extra second to hope that, or you’re wishing or holding onto the puck for an extra second to find a lane or find a guy and hoping that the guy’s going to be there, it’s going to be too late and you’ll be breaking out once again. So, we try to keep it clear, simple, efficient and direct.”

But the challenge with that is avoiding being predictable.

The Canadiens have been particularly predictable on this unit — certainly in the way they break into the zone and attempt to set things up from there, but mostly with Weber’s shot being habitually overused. It’s part of the reason Weber’s got just two power-play goals this season despite producing 102 over his previous 15 seasons in the NHL.

When Burrows was asked if it was time for the Canadiens to remove Weber from the power play and opt for someone more mobile in his place — Alexander Romanov wasn’t specifically brought up, but he’d be a logical choice for such an assignment — he explained why he wasn’t going to do that.

“Shea’s got one of the best shots in the league or the best one-timer I’ve seen,” Burrows said. “He’s a weapon, for sure, on your unit. Team’s PKs are going to shadow him as much as they can so they don’t let that shot come out. For me, I have different [formations] and Shea, when he’s on the flank, I’d love to see him tee it off every time he has a chance. If we’re able to tee it up for him, that would be a great play. If he’s at the top and we have Jo on the flank, it’s different looks.

“But sometimes he might be a decoy and we’ll run another play knowing that they’re going to shadow him. A lot goes into it. I’m not worried about Shea. I know how he prepares, I know how he cares about this team. He’s the ultimate captain, I’ve seen only good things about him so far — the way he acts and conducts himself, the way he cares about his teammates, the way he cares about [how] the team does, so I’m not worried about him at all.

“But as we move forward, we’ll need him to shoot that puck and we’ll need to find for him or create lanes for him to let that shot go because it’s one of the best weapons in the league.”

When asked what this unit, presumed to be the top unit by this reporter, can borrow from the one that’s actually clicking, Burrows revealed much more about what he’s trying to establish with both units.

“I think for both units we’ve kept it pretty simple since Day 1,” Burrows said. “We have a different plan, and we have this wolf-pack mentality that we can strike from anywhere. We can strike from the low plays, we can strike from shots from the top, we can shoot from the flanks, we converge towards rebounds, and that’s the way I see it.

“I know both units can do the job and we’ll keep getting better. It’s a work in progress, it’s going to take some time. You look around the league, the best units have been together for four, five, six years of the same guys in the same spots doing the right things over and over. That’s how I got taught to play the game. I think if we can be direct, keep it simple and efficient, that’s how we’re going to have some success when the game’s on the line and we need a big power-play goal late in the game or it’s playoff hockey and the game’s on the line and we need to score a goal.

“If we keep the same mentality, I think the odds are on our side that we’ll be able to shine when the light’s the brightest.”

Burrows said it with passion and conviction and communicated it directly, which is at the heart of why he was given this job.

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In ever-evolving NBA, Raptors’ length and athleticism opens doors on defence –



Under head coach Nick Nurse, the Toronto Raptors have always worked to stay abreast of league trends, or even push the envelope on what might be next.

As an assistant coach, Nurse received a considerable amount of credit for overseeing an effort to inject more spacing, ball movement and player movement into an offensive approach that had grown too reliant on DeMar DeRozan’s mid-range isolations. The result was a team-record 59-win season in 2017-18. Nurse also had his fingerprints on the “bench mob” – the high-tempo, aggressive defence-first group that was a big part of the Raptors’ regular-season success.

Since becoming head coach in 2019-19, Nurse’s defensive focus has been more apparent, with the Raptors embracing liberal switching on the perimeter as well as a growing reliance on zone defences – tactics that were less common across the league than they quickly became.

But basketball’s pace of change hasn’t stalled. You can only pay so much attention to games that don’t matter, but it’s hard not to notice that in pre-season play the Golden State Warriors are putting up an astounding 55 three-point shots a game. Four other teams – Sacramento, Denver, Utah and Oklahoma City are averaging 45 three-point attempts.

For context the only teams in league history to average 45 three-point shots a game were the 2018-19 and 2019-20 Houston Rockets, with James Harden at his gun-slinging peak. A decade ago NBA teams averaged 20 three-point attempts a game. Last season it was 34 and still climbing apparently.

“I don’t know if any of us sat here at some point and said the amount of threes are going to be double … or whatever the number is,” said Nurse. “… It does evolve pretty quickly though.”

Given the value of those shots, a team that wants to be effective defensively must have a plan to discourage them being taken, or at least make them more difficult.

One of the benefits of a roster rounded out with so many players in the six-foot-six to six-foot-nine range – the Raptors only have four players in training camp shorter – is the pressure they can put on perimeter shooters.

The Raptors got a taste of it last season, when six-foot-nine Chris Boucher led the NBA with .84 blocked three-pointers a game and was ranked fourth in the league in the percentage that opponents shot when he was the closest defender. Pascal Siakam ranked second in the league in the number of three-pointers contested after leading that category in 2019-20.

As a whole, the Raptors weren’t especially good at defending the three-point line – opponents shot 37.9 per cent from deep, which was above league average and ranked them 24th overall – but given the range of mitigating circumstances they faced last season it’s probably not something to dwell on. The Raptors led the NBA in that category in 2019-20 when the set a franchise record for winning percentage.

This is a different team with plenty of new faces, but maybe having a roster full of athletic, agile guys in the mould of Boucher and Siakam could pay dividends in a league where it looks like more teams are going to be hoisting threes than ever before.

Raptors rookie Dalano Banton has certainly had the importance of getting to three-point shooters impressed upon him in his weeks-old NBA career, and as a nimble six-foot-nine guard, he can play the part.

“Shot contesting is one of our pillars that we go off of on defence as well as pressuring the ball so guys don’t get easy shots so, running them off the line,” said Banton after practice Friday. “In this league guys make shots and they make it at a high clip so I feel like just doing the best you can to run out at every shot that gets put up by the other team is big for us and being in our defensive stance, just showing length and just discouraging them from making plays they’d make if we weren’t in our right spots.

“…Just being in the right spot is just the biggest part of the battle and showing your hands. Once you’re there, it puts your whole team in a better position to play defence.”

Selling out on three-point shooters takes trust. Actually blocking a shot is rare and smart teams and players will look to pump fake on careless closeouts and look for a side-step three, a chance to penetrate the paint for layups, generate kick-outs to open shooters or simply swing the ball to take advantage of a scrambling defence.

It’s not enough to run at a shooter, it has to be done properly.

“Just playing the game the way you practice — running guys off lines and the next guy helping and making the next play,” says Banton. “So, it’s just about the offence having to make the next play, not giving them that shot or that layup, having to make them make that extra pass. The guy behind you is gonna help, we’re all playing defence in one line together so we’re all trying to work in a tandem and move where we have to move and rotate to the right spots.”

It’s music to Nurse’s ears. The goal of his scheme, he says, it to challenge every shot, everywhere.

“It’s kind of icing on the cake when we get a block [on a three-pointer],” he said. “I think I’m really more concerned that we’re making a heavy contest. Obviously the block is the heaviest of all contests. We just want to make sure we make it contested. It goes to hustle and hard play: You’ve got to keep playing the whole possession. Sometimes you’ve got to fire out, fire out, fire out.

“Every now and then you get put in rotations and some teams are really good in making you do it. But you’ve got to do it. That’s just an effort and hustle thing that we want the heavy contest. Chris [Boucher] has certainly got a knack, incredible timing on that stuff. I’m not sure it’s teachable or transferable … What we teach and what we drill every day is heavy contesting.”

Changing times call for changing measures – and maybe a lot of long, athletic guys flying around at the three-point line like never before.

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Blue Bombers beat Elks to clinch playoff spot – TSN



EDMONTON — Zach Collaros threw two touchdown passes as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Edmonton Elks 26-16 on Friday night to become the first CFL team to clinch a playoff berth.

Winnipeg (9-1) captured its seventh straight victory and improved to 7-0 within the West Division. Collaros finished 15-of-24 passing for 210 yards with an interception to remain the CFL’s passing leader (2,565 yards) but is also tops in TD passes with 15.

This marks the fifth straight season that Winnipeg, the defending Grey Cup champion, has made the playoffs.

Edmonton (2-7) suffered its fifth straight loss and dropped to 0-5 at home this season.

Edmonton’s defence forced a safety at 9:31 of the first quarter, then came up big five minutes later as Trumaine Washington intercepted Collaros in the end zone. The Bombers closed out the opening quarter with a 37-yard Ali Mourtada field goal.

The Elks responded with Sean Whyte’s 34-yard field goal at 11:22 of the second.

Winnipeg took the lead with three minutes left in the first half as a 47-yard completion to Kenny Lawler set up Collaros’s five-yard TD strike to Andrew Harris. But Harris appeared to suffer an injury to his right knee and did not return as Brady Oliveira finished up with 105 yards rushing on 16 carries.

Whyte kicked a 25-yard field cut Winnipeg’s half-time lead to 10-8.

Mourtada converted from 27 and a career-high 43 yards to start the third. Edmonton tied it 16-16 on Taylor Cornelius’s 11-yard TD toss to Shai Ross. Backup quarterback Dakota Prukop added the two-point convert.

Rookie Cornelius got the start as incumbent Trevor Harris was a healthy scratch.

Moments after Elks defender Aaron Grymes couldn’t hang on to an easy interception opportunity, Collaros hit Rasheed Bailey on a 48-yard completion before finding him on a five-yard scoring strike six minutes into the fourth.

Mourtada cemented the win with a 23-yard field goal with 50 seconds remaining.

Winnipeg hosts the B.C. Lions next Saturday while Edmonton has a bye week before returning home against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Oct. 29.

NOTES: Harris being sidelined while healthy has led to speculation the Elks are actively shopping their veteran quarterback on the trade front… Lawler returned to the lineup after being suspended by Winnipeg for its last game for an impaired driving arrest… The actual attendance appeared to be far beneath the announced 24,276 fans.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 15, 2021.

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With a timely home run, Carlos Correa delivers Game 1 of ALCS to Astros –



HOUSTON — Carlos Correa paused a few seconds at the plate, tapping the spot on his wrist where a watch would be, after hitting a tie-breaking home run in the seventh inning that propelled the Houston Astros over the Boston Red Sox 5-4 Friday night in the AL Championship Series opener.

“It’s my time,” he screamed before trotting around the bases.

That it is.

And if his time with the Astros runs out at the end of this season, the star shortstop sure is making this an October to remember.

Correa teamed with Jose Altuve to do just enough to overcome the heroics of Kike Hernandez, who starred with his bat and glove for the wild-card Red Sox.

Altuve tied the game with a two-run shot in the sixth before Correa connected off losing pitcher Hansel Robles with two outs in the seventh to put the Astros ahead 4-3.

Correa, who has been with the Astros since being selected first overall in 2012, becomes a free agent at season’s end and it seems likely that he won’t remain in Houston.

Correa has a history of big hits for Houston that includes 18 postseason home runs, several of them in key, late situations.

“Playoff time, baby,” Correa said.

“We want to be in the spotlight,” he said. “We want to be in the moment.”

Hernandez, who won a World Series with the Dodgers last year, homered twice among his four hits and likely saved multiple runs with two terrific catches.

His second homer came off closer Ryan Pressly to start the ninth and cut the lead to 5-4. But Pressly retired the next three batters to get the save.

Game 2 is Saturday in Houston.

Ahead 4-3, the Astros loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth when Hirokazu Sawamura plunked Martin Maldonado. Houston added some insurance when Yuli Gurriel slid in just before the tag to score on a sacrifice fly by Altuve that made it 5-3, beating a terrific throw by Hernandez.

Hernandez has been red hot for the Red Sox this October, with 13 hits in his last four games to set an MLB record for most hits in a four-game span in one postseason. He passed Billy Hatcher (1999), Marquis Grissom (1995), Hideki Matsui (2004) and Randy Arozarena (2020), who all had 11.

“Enrique is en fuego,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said.

Chas McCormick singled with one out in the sixth before Altuve became the fourth player in MLB history to hit at least 20 postseason homers with his shot to left-center off Tanner Houck that tied it at 3.

Hernandez opened a three-run third with his soaring homer to centre field to tie it at 1-all.

Xander Bogaerts walked with one out and Rafael Devers singled. J.D. Martinez hit a grounder to Altuve for what should have been a routine play. But the ball grazed his glove and rolled between his legs to allow Martinez to reach and Bogaerts to score to put Boston up 2-1.

Hunter Renfroe then hit an RBI double to left field to extend it to 3-1 before Houston’s two brightest stars came through late.

“Experience matters,” Correa said.

Altuve and Correa, connecting again for a team trying to reach the World Series for the second time in three years. The Astros also won the championship in 2017, a crown tainted by the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

Both teams leaned heavily on their bullpens after both Boston starter Chris Sale and Houston’s Framber Valdez were chased in the third.

Ryne Stanek got the last out of the seventh for the win.

“We stay in the moment. You win, you turn the page, you prepare for tomorrow. You lose, you turn the page, you prepare for tomorrow,” Cora said.

“We lost the first three games of the season to Baltimore, and we felt like Game 4 against Tampa was the season, to be honest with you. We’ve been living like this for a while, so we’ll be ready for tomorrow,” he said.

Sale, who was tagged for five runs in one inning in his previous start against Tampa Bay in the AL Division Series, permitted five hits and a run in 2 2/3 innings Friday. Valdez gave up six hits and three runs — two earned — while also getting just eight outs.

The Astros led 1-0 after Altuve scored on a sacrifice fly by Yordan Alvarez in the first.

For the next few innings it looked like it wouldn’t be the Astros’ night.

Houston loaded the bases with one out in the second, but Altuve struck out before Sale escaped the jam with a huge assist from Hernandez in center field. Hernandez, whose MLB debut came when he subbed for Altuve late in a game in 2014, sprinted to rob Michael Brantley with a diving catch in shallow center to end the inning.

The Astros had runners at first and second with two outs in the fifth when Hernandez struck again. He made a back-handed grab in right-center on a ball hit by Kyle Tucker to leave them empty-handed once more.

Hernandez even seemed surprised he made the grab, contorting his face into a shocked look after the ball hit his glove.


Boston’s Nathan Eovaldi (1-0, 2.61 ERA) will have a homecoming of sorts Saturday when he starts opposite rookie Luis Garcia (0-0, 16.88). Eovaldi grew up in the Houston suburb of Alvin, also home to Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, and visited the Astrodome and Minute Maid Park often growing up.

“It’s definitely one of my favorite ballparks to pitch in,” Eovaldi said.

Saturday will be his third start this postseason. He struck out eight in 5 1/3 innings and got the win in the wild-card victory over the Yankees. He also started Game 3 of the ALDS but did not factor in the decision in a 6-4 Red Sox win.

Garcia struggled in a Game 3 start in the division series, permitting five runs in just 2 2/3 innings of a 12-6 loss.

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