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Canada Basketball’s chance to shine on world stage put on hold – Sportsnet.ca

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The list of Canadian Olympic athletes that will be affected by what appears certain to be a postponement of the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo is long, their biographies varied.

You have elite athletes struggling to keep their window open for another year and youngsters fighting to push their way through.

In the bigger picture, the 2020 Games were positioned to be a memorable sports moment for Canada, with the Olympic team likely to be the country’s largest contingent of athletes ever thanks in part to a record nine team-sport entries having already qualified, with more on the cusp.

But if we’re going to pour one out for our Olympians who have had dreams delayed with the news the Canadian Olympic Committee wasn’t going to send a team to Japan even if the International Olympic Committee was determined to plow ahead – although it now appears that even the IOC has seen the light and is thought to be working on a plan to postpone already — can we save a little extra for the Canadian basketball contingent?

What was looking like a summer like no other is now inevitably and sensibly being overtaken by far greater concerns as sports bodies and governments grapple with the fallout from COVID-19, the pandemic that has brought the world largely to its knees for the moment.

“We don’t know when it will be safe to be in a community again, physically, and when that happens we’ll get going again,” said Canada Basketball chief executive officer Glen Grunwald. “Things are changing on a daily basis, we just have to be prepared for however the situation unfolds and do what’s right.”

The timing is tough, there is no denying it.

On both the men’s and women’s side there seemed to be the possibility of a real breakthrough for Canada in what is the glamour event among team sports at the Summer Games.

It has been so long coming.

The Canadian women’s team, which has been marching steadily up the hill since winning a last-chance qualifying to crack the field in London in 2012, seemed to be peaking, coming off quarter-finals appearances during the last two Olympics.

Over the years the team has kept replenishing itself under head coach Lisa Thomaidis, somehow getting younger and more experienced at the same time while adding length and athleticism.

They punched their ticket to Japan by going 3-0 against top competition in Belgium in February and were rolling into Tokyo ranked fourth in the world – the best ever for a Canadian team in any sport other than hockey. A podium finish was in the plan.

On the men’s side things were a little more uncertain – Canada would have had to win its Olympic qualifying tournament in Victoria in June – but the hopes were just as high and arguably equally as justified.

After one Olympic appearance in 32 years and none in 20 years – even as basketball was gaining more and more traction across the country and Canadians were making a bigger name for themselves in the NBA – this was supposed to be the year everything came together.

Lacking a large swath of their 20-plus pool of NBA players, Canada fell short of qualifying for the Olympics at the World Cup in China last year but from that disappointment came a great opportunity.

Community support rallied to fund a successful Canadian bid to host the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Victoria, a six-team event Canada would have to win to advance to Tokyo.

The prospect of playing at home and the lure of the Olympics seemed to resonate.

One by one Canada’s NBA players committed months in advance, with national team general manager Rowan Barrett nudging, beginning with Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets and including the likes of emerging star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma City Thunder, third-year wing Dillon Brooks of the Memphis Grizzlies and on down the line.

Optimism was growing that Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors was waiting until the end of the NBA season to state his plan to play.

Meanwhile, fans were making plans to be in Victoria in force with organizers predicting a sellout. Hotels were tight as CanBall junkies were building summer plans around watching the most important international basketball played in Canada since the 1994 FIBA World Cup.

It doesn’t take much imagination to picture a who’s who of Canadian basketball, past and present, gathering for a coming out party.

It’s all up in the air now. Shortly after the COC made its decision to not send athletes to Tokyo, Canada Basketball came out in support of the move, even as FIBA gently urged the IOC to postpone the games.

With momentum building towards a postponement it’s a matter of when, not if, the final decision is made on the OQT.

“We’re just waiting for the dominoes to fall,” said Grunwald. “The tournament itself is based upon the Olympics and we’re waiting on the Olympics to make their decision. I’m still very hopeful that we’ll host it here in Canada in Victoria, but the timing of it is obviously up in the air. There’s nothing more to say about it than that.”

Grunwald is confident that if the Games are postponed to 2021, Victoria can still be a viable host for the OQT event although there are too many variables in play to go much further than that.

“The spirit of this has been wonderful,” said Grunwald. “The folks in Victoria aren’t doing it for any other reason than to help their community build a basketball legacy there and help Canada qualify for the Olympics.

“They’re sticking with us and we remain hopeful that it’s all going to happen, that the Olympics will figure out the right time to hold it and it will be a great experience for everyone.”

The delay could create other wrinkles. Is Raptors head coach Nick Nurse under contract to coach the national team through 2020 or through the Olympics, which now could be in 2021? And could the disruption to the NBA season crowd the 2020-21 season – there has been talk of a Christmas-to-August season next year to accommodate a late finish to the suspended 2019-2020 campaign — to the point where he might not be available for an early summer qualifying event?

Again, more unknowns, but Grunwald seemed less concerned on that front.

“I think Nick still wants to coach the team and we want him to coach the team,” he said. “It’s just a matter of the timelines and all that stuff, I don’t see any issues there.”

If there is a positive it’s that Canada’s pool of players could be even deeper. Contract issues that made veterans Tristan Thompson and Kelly Olynyk doubtful for playing in the qualifying tournament this summer should be resolved by 2021 and Dwight Powell should be healthy after a season-ending Achilles injury ruined his chances this year. Meanwhile, Canada’s young core of NBA talent should be that much further along on their development curve.

This was supposed to be the summer that Canada Basketball shone brightest internationally.

Now, thanks to the ultimate plot twist, everyone will have to wait.

That much, at least, we’re used to.

“All the athletes are in the same position and we have to do the best for all,” said Grunwald. “Now’s the time to be smart about it and take our time and get it right.”

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Edmonton Oiler Leon Draisaitl hit hard on all fronts by COVID-19 – Edmonton Sun

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If there is a poster boy for the impact COVID-19 is having on National Hockey League players, it might be Leon Draisaitl.

He is feeling the brunt of it this crisis on all sides, perhaps more than any other player in the league.

His home country is the fifth hardest hit on the planet, behind only the US, China, Italy and Spain. His family, like the rest of Germany, is in total lockdown in a nation that’s ground to a halt.

And even though hockey is pretty low on the depth chart of things to be worried about right now, he is taking the worst of it on that front, too.

When the NHL shutdown hit, he was roaring down the backstretch of the best campaign of his life, chasing down the triple crown of Hart, Art Ross and Ted Lindsay trophies while leading his Edmonton Oilers to the playoffs for just the second time in 14 years.

Normally it’s good to be Leon Draisaitl, but it’s been a tough month.

“Obviously we don’t know yet what’s going to happen in all the professional leagues,” said the Oilers centre, speaking on a video conference call with reporters Monday. “If we don’t get to play the playoffs it’s obviously frustrating, but I think the health of people at this time is more important. I think they’ve made the right decision so far.”

While Canada watches its number of confirmed cases rise every day, it’s been a gradual, upward trend rather than the dramatic spikes they’re having in Europe, where social distancing measures came too late to slow the attack.

Canada has just over 7,000 confirmed cases and 67 deaths, while Germany, with just over double the population, has 64,000 cases and 560 deaths.

“It’s obviously concerning,” said the 24-year-old. “My family is doing what they’re supposed to, they’re staying in. So far everyone is healthy. I hope that it stays that way back home. They’re doing what they’re supposed to do.”

Draisaitl admits he gave some thought to being with his family during this crisis, or bringing them here, but decided it was best for everyone to hole up where they are and wait this thing out.

“It definitely crossed my mind, but I don’t think it makes much sense for me to go there right now, especially since it’s worse over there than it is over here. I think I’m in a good place here right now, so I made the decision to stay.”

It’s where Draisaitl, and every other hockey fan in Edmonton, wait to see if he and the Oilers will get a chance to finish what they started.

“Just stay positive, stick with it,” he told fans. “Just like we are. We all want to get back to playing as soon as possible. Right now, there are more important things in the world going on and we have to accept that.”

With no real end to the global pandemic in site, it’s really tough to predict when, or if, the NHL will start up again. It’s the IF part that’s hard to accept right now. But even the insiders admit everything is up in the air and nobody knows where or when any of it is going to land.

“It’s tough for me to say. Obviously we get updates and that kind of stuff, but there is not really much for us to know. I think we all hope we’re going to get back to playing as soon as possible, but you never know what’s going to happen. That’s not up to us.

“It’s not an ideal situation for any of the players, but once a decision is made there will be some clarity. If it is hopefully going back to playing, then it will be very exciting. Everyone will be fired up to play again.”

So he will continue to work out the best he can, build puzzles and play with the dog while waiting, like the rest of us, to see how this real life disaster movie ends.

He’s tried watching some of the old hockey broadcasts, designed to help people through their NHL withdrawals, but he finds they have the opposite effect on him.

“I’ve watched a few sitting on the couch,” he said. “I watched Game 5 against San Jose a couple of years ago and to be honest it’s little bit of a tease. You start to miss it even more.

“Sometimes it’s better watching Friends than hockey.”

Follow me on twitter.com/rob_tychkowski
rtychkowski@postmedia.com

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The Olympics and Paralympics have new dates – Canadian Cycling Magazine

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The spread of COVID-19 has rapidly turned into a global pandemic and events have been called off throughout the world. As gatherings of all sizes have been cancelled or rescheduled, the future of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, one of the year’s biggest gatherings, has been a hot topic of discussion. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japan initially announced they would make a decision about the future of the Games by April.

RELATED: Live blog: How coronavirus is affecting cycling right now

Unsatisfied with the announcement, and unwilling to put the health and safety of athletes at risk, the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee announced the country would not participate in the Games if they were to take place in 2020. Other nations such as Australia and Brazil quickly followed suit, pulling out of the Olympics and urging the IOC to make a decision on the postponement of the 2020 Games.

RELATED: Canada won’t send athletes to 2020 Olympics in Tokyo

On Mar. 24, Japan’s Prime Minister officially announced the postponement of the Games. The IOC and Japanese government agreed that the Olympic flame will stay in Japan, as a “beacon of hope”. It was also agreed that the Games will keep the name Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.

RELATED: Tokyo 2020 Olympics officially postponed

New dates

On Mar. 30, the IOC announced the new dates for the event. The Olympics will run from July 24 to Aug. 8, 2021 and the Paralympics will take place between Aug. 24 and Sept. 5, 2021.

“I am confident that, working together with the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the Japanese Government and all our stakeholders, we can master this unprecedented challenge,” says IOC president Thomas Bach. “Humankind currently finds itself in a dark tunnel. These Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 can be a light at the end of this tunnel.”

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Tavares thinking of New York friends ‘right in the fire’ of COVID-19 crisis – Sportsnet.ca

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In his 11th year as an NHLer, John Tavares grasps the importance of each spring that passes without a deep playoff run. You only get so many chances.

Yet even as the COVID-19 pandemic puts another shot at realizing his Stanley Cup dreams in jeopardy, Tavares has taken a Zen approach to the indefinite pause on league action and life as we used to know it.

The Toronto Maple Leafs captain has savoured the unexpected extra time he’s had to help his wife Aryne care for their six-month-old baby, Jace, reading books on parenthood and opting for Nexflix’s new Babies docuseries over Tiger King — a “mindboggling” show Aryne has been streaming.

“Enjoying time with my son. Having that time with him has been fantastic,” Tavares said Monday, on an NHL-run Zoom conference Monday alongside Brady Tkachuk, Dylan Larkin and Zdeno Chara. (Tavares joked that the only reason he joined the call was to steal training tips from Chara.)

Tavares has poured time into his passion for cooking, and weather in his High Park neighbourhood on the west side of Toronto has been warm enough to fire up the barbecue.

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Yes, he’s been keeping fit with the training equipment he keeps at his house — a few dumbbells and kettle bells, some resistance bands, and a bicycle — but with a return to action more likely months than weeks in the future, there will be plenty time to ramp back up into game shape.

“I think with the uncertainty, it’s a good time to kind of disconnect and relax as well,” Tavares, 29, explained. “We are fortunate with in the world we do live in, in terms of the social aspect and technology and the ability to stay in touch and communicate with loved ones.”

This week, Tavares’s thoughts are with New York, his home for nine years. A Navy hospital ship with 1,000 beds arrived Monday in New York City as the number of deaths in the state from the outbreak has climbed above 1,200.

Tavares made a point to send well wishes to Islanders fans, staff and former teammates who are quarantined in a much more dangerous city.

“I know a few people that are really right in the fire of it and seeing kind of how it’s spreading and really making the impact that it is in New York,” Tavares said.

“I really hope everyone there is staying safe and following all the health recommendations, doing everything they can to stay healthy and to slow the spread and help all the people that are on the front line doing everything they can to keep everyone safe and taking a lot of risk themselves.”

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It should go without saying that squeezing in more hockey playoffs falls a distant second to a world on alert. Tavares will be 30 when 2020-21 kicks off, and at the time of the pause, his Leafs were on a collision course for what could be an enticing Round 1 series versus the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“In Toronto, we certainly miss playing in front of our fans and going to Scotiabank Arena and competing to play in the playoffs and the opportunity that we had in front of us,” Tavares said.

“It’s a real special thing to be a Maple Leaf — and we never take that for granted and certainly miss it — but more importantly for everyone to stay safe and healthy and continue to follow all the recommendations from the experts and from the local authorities.

“From what I’ve seen, people have been really good in my area understanding that. We’re all here to support each other, help each other and do the best we can to get this back to normal as quickly as possible.”

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