If Boxing Day typically (though not this year) marks the start of the World Juniors, then New Year’s Eve represents when the tournament starts to get real.
The last day of December signals the end of the preliminary part of the preliminary round and the point when the tournament’s stakes are raised significantly.
Canada has played on Dec. 31 every tournament since 2006 save for a one-year exception for the 2018 event.
Tonight, or more precisely late this afternoon at 4 p.m., this year’s editions of Teams Canada and Finland will renew that tradition, as the last two undefeated teams meet to determine the winner of Pool A (and secure an easier quarterfinal opponent).
“There’s going to be lots of people watching from all over the country, The New Year’s Eve game is always a big one,” said Team Canada forward Dylan Cozens.
On the one hand tonight’s game is just another group game between two teams already assured of making the quarterfinals.
On the other it’s when the tournament starts to get interesting, as contenders collide and teams look to round into form ahead of the elimination games.
“It’s going to be a huge game. Without it being the New Year’s Eve game, it’s for first place,” said Cozens.
A WORLD JUNIORS TRADITION
Today’s game will be the 30th time Canada has played on Dec. 31 at the World Juniors (though some were afternoon games).
Canada has won 17 of those contests, lost 6, tied 4 and won one game in a shootout and lost one as well.
Canada’s most frequent Dec. 31 opponent, by far, is the United States with 11 matchups, many of them memorable.
At the 2012 tournament, Canada fended off a late American comeback to win 3-2 at Rexall Place.
On Dec. 31 2009, Canada scored a shootout victory over the U.S. in front of a raucous crowd in Saskatoon.
A year before, a John Tavares hat trick, including two goals in less than a minute, helped Canada overcome an early 3-0 deficit and beat the United States 7-4 in Ottawa.
“It was kind of a crazy game. And then Tavares is just took it over,” said Team Canada’s Zach Boychuk who scored in the 2008 game.
“Those are definitely the funnest ones to be a part of.”
Today’s game against Finland will be the fourth Dec. 31 meeting between the teams, tied with Sweden for second-most NYE matchups against Canada.
Last year, Canada beat the host Czech Republic team 7-2 in Ostrava on Dec. 31.
‘EXCITED I GET TO BE A PART OF THAT’
New Year’s Eve international hockey catches the attention of more than just sports fans, and has drawn audiences of more than three million Canadians.
“We’d always have people over in a normal year for New Year’s Eve,” said Canadian defenceman Kaiden Guhle of his family in Sherwood Park.
“Having Canadian hockey on is just another great time to get together.”
While there won’t be fans there, the fact the game is in Canada and remains destination viewing for millions across the country keeps the tradition alive.
It’s a spectacle Guhle and his teammates are ready to embrace ahead of what will be their toughest test of the tournament so far.
“I’m excited I get to be a part of that this year.”
Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.
Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.
Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.
Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.
He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.
Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.
“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.
“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”
Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.
The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.
Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.
Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.
Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.
A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.
Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.
Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.
Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.
If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.
Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.
When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.
Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.
Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.
“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.
“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”
After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.
Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.
“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.
“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.
“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”
Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.
“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.
“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”
For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.
“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.
“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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