It seems like Canada’s road to gold at the world junior men’s hockey championship often runs through Russia, given each country’s hockey pedigree.
The two rivals square off in Monday’s semifinal in Edmonton for the right to play for gold Tuesday.
Canada has beaten Russia in a final three times over the last decade, but a semifinal clash has been rarer in that span.
The last time the two hockey powers met in a world junior semifinal was also in Alberta back in 2012, when Russia edged the host country 6-5 in Calgary before falling to Sweden in the championship game.
Finland and the United States meet in Monday’s other semifinal.
Half a dozen Canadians and three Russians on this year’s rosters faced each other in the 2020 gold medal game in Ostrava, Czech Republic.
Russia led 3-1 with just over 11 minutes to play in Ostrava. Canada scored three unanswered goals and held on for the win through a wild last three minutes.
Defenceman Jamie Drysdale, who is among Canada’s second-year players, expects some emotional carryover from last year’s final.
WATCH | Canada moves on to semis at world juniors:
“One hundred per cent I think there will be carryover,” Drysdale said. “We played each other in the final last year.
“We want to maintain where we’re at and we obviously want to come out on top. In saying that, they’re going to feel they have something to prove.”
The Canadian and Russian head coaches this year — Andre Tourigny and Igor Larionov respectively — were assistants in Ostrava.
Canada edged Russia 1-0 in a pre-tournament game Dec. 23.
Canada scoring first and early in every game has been the difference in the host country’s 5-0 record at this championship. Depth of talent and speed up front is its calling card.
Different style of play
Hockey Hall of Famer Larionov has Russia (3-1-1) playing a different style in Edmonton than it did under Valeri Bragin last year, according to Tourigny.
“It’s day and night. Different style, different philosophy, different objective in their game,” the Canadian coach said. “They like to possess the puck, they regroup a lot, they have a good stretch on their breakout.
“They’re still really stingy defensively. They are strong on pucks, they’re fast.”
Blanked 2-0 by the Czechs to start the preliminary round, Russia pulled out an overtime win over the Swedes in Pool B and put in a workmanlike effort to beat Germany 2-1 in the quarterfinal.
Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Mikhail Abramov returns to Russia’s lineup after serving a one-game suspension Saturday for slew-footing.
Canadian forward Alex Newhook of St. John’s, N.L., remains questionable for the semifinal after sitting out the quarterfinal with an upper-body injury.
Goaltender Yaroslav Askarov is one of Russia’s second-year players, but didn’t start the 2020 final.
The No. 11 pick in October’s NHL draft by the Nashville Predators has faced more rubber in the tournament than Canadian counterpart Devon Levi (110 shots to 90).
Levi sparkled more in his quarterfinal, however, with a 29-save shutout against the Czechs. Askarov stopped 18 of 19 shots from Germany.
Canada is attempting to win back-to-back world junior crowns for the first time since 2008-09, which capped a run of five straight titles.
“I think we all know what’s at stake,” returning forward Connor McMichael said. “We’re all excited.
“You’ve just got to keep control of your nerves and stay loose and play your own game. If we do that and stick to our systems, we’ll be fine. You don’t want to overthink about it too much.”
Raptors’ defensive progress undone in frustrating follow-up vs. Pacers – Sportsnet.ca
TORONTO — The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “frustrated” as “feeling discouragement, anger, and annoyance because of unresolved problems or unfulfilled goals, desires, or needs.”
An alternate definition may also be this quote from Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse after his team fell to the Indiana Pacers Monday night, 129-114.
“It was hard to play anything, all they did was parade to the free-throw line. … You can’t play defence when every time they touch the ball it’s a foul.”
Just a day after coming away with one of their best victories of the season, beating this same Pacers team 107-102 thanks largely to a complete defensive effort, the Raptors came out on the second night of their back-to-back set with Indiana looking like a shadow of the team from Sunday afternoon.
Heading into Monday’s contest there was optimism that the Raptors might be able to build off their win from Sunday to take it to the Pacers once again. A notion that grew when word came that Kyle Lowry would be returning to the lineup after a two-game absence.
Instead, however, Toronto got jumped on by Indiana as the Pacers enjoyed a 51.3-per cent shooting night and even managed to score 70 by the end of the first half, when they shot 59.1 per cent from the floor.
“I would say I don’t think we were sliding our feet enough or guarding or containing the ball as good as we did last night,” said VanVleet of the defensive difficulties the Raptors encountered in the first half. “We didn’t make the extra rotation and we kicked their butts yesterday and they played like it tonight.”
As Nurse saw it, however, it was more of an issue of the Raptors’ offensive process — or lack thereof — that was the true culprit of the team’s issues.
“Our shot selection choices in the first half put us in a bind on defence,” said Nurse. “I think we were surprising ourselves with some of those shots and early drives into nothing and that hurt us in transition defensively.”
Added Norman Powell, who was responsible for some of those head-scratching early shots that Nurse was talking about: “We were taking quick shots early in the shot clock. Even turnovers, before we could even set up a play. Fueled their offence, they didn’t get back not expecting a shot. I took one or two of those in the first half. We’ve just got to do a better job of staying composed and running through our sets and getting good looks so we can set up our defence.”
The poor offence leading to even worse defence was only one-half of the story, however — literally.
In the second half Toronto played much better defensively, using an effective zone for many stretches. Or at least it would’ve been effective had it not been for what appeared to be the true source of Nurse and the Raptors’ frustration Monday evening: The whistle.
In total in the game, the Pacers took 45 free-throw attempts to just 27 the Raptors took, with the Pacers taking 17 alone in the fourth quarter.
It was a noticeably tight whistle for the Raptors Monday and it allowed Indiana to weather the loss of all-star forward Domantas Sabonis — who exited the game with a knee injury just before the end of the first quarter — thanks to a big night from Malcolm Brogdon — who scored a career-best 36 points — and Myles Turner.
Both Brogdon and Turner took 12 free-throw attempts each in the second half of Monday’s game and, essentially, all of the work the Raptors were doing was being erased by these two guys constantly stopping the game and earning points at the charity stripe.
By the end of the game, frustration with the officials spilled over and Lowry, who was largely ineffective in his return, scoring 12 points on 2-for-11 shooting, got ejected and Nurse was seen verbally lambasting the officials.
“There were some critical ones,” Nurse said of missed calls from the officials. “There were a couple missed goaltends, there was a time when it was about an even game or two-point game and Chris [Boucher] dove on the floor for a ball and I called timeout while he had it and the referee just completely ignored it and then they ended up getting the ball back, getting free throws, then getting a rebounding foul, then getting more free throws on that one.
“…They called the foul every time they drove in the second half. So it wasn’t very physical at all, they weren’t letting us play very much.”
To add to this point, VanVleet, doing his best to be as diplomatic as possible so as not to get fined, mentioned how tough it was, in general, for the Raptors to play with the whistle being as tight as it was.
“I don’t know the rules on what it takes to get fined and I’m certainly learning that I don’t know the rules of the game as well as I thought I did,” said VanVleet. “So, it’s tough. It’s very tough. There are nights when the whistle goes your way and there’s nights when it doesn’t. But I think for me, personally — I can’t speak for any of the other guys — tonight I was just disappointed in the relationship and the back and forth that was going on between the players and the officials.
“So I can’t speak to any calls or things that I would like to go in different ways, but I will say that getting a warning seven, eight minutes left in the first quarter that we were talking too much and complaining too much, that sets a hard precedent for the rest of the two hours that we’ve gotta spend in the arena. So, I don’t want to single those guys out, I don’t want to single any plays out but it is very, very difficult to play that way.
“…You’ve gotta take it in stride, the referees certainly weren’t the reason why we lost but it definitely adds a different element to the game in that sometimes it’s kinda hard to overcome — especially on a back-to-back like that.”
As VanVleet pointed out, the officials weren’t the reason why the Raptors weren’t able to come away with a victory Monday, but the frustration with them is understandable as the free-throw disparity between Toronto and Indiana was glaring. And given the fact that a win would’ve pulled the Raptors within just one victory from being .500 again for the first time since they were 0-0, the feeling of discouragement, anger, and annoyance makes a lot of sense.
Smith weighs lineup changes after 7-1 loss – TSN
It appears changes could be coming to the Ottawa Senators lineup after a 7-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night.
The Senators, who dropped to 1-4-1 on the early season, are winless since defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs in their opening game on Jan. 15 and have been outscored 17-5 over their past three games.
“We got some guys that maybe are taking for granted positions in the National Hockey League,” Senators head coach D.J. Smith said. “We’ve got to find the right combination and we’ve got to give some other guys opportunity to see if they want to play a little harder than some of the guys that are playing now.”
Smith added that he considered pulling Matt Murray after the second period for a second straight start, but elected to keep the off-season addition in net. Murray allowed seven goals on 35 shots, including three on 14 shots in the third period.
“Certainly he didn’t have a very good game, but he’s got to work through it and find a way to battle for us there,” Smith said of Murray. “He’s no different than any other player and he’s got to find his groove here.”
Murray has a 1-3-1 record this season with a .862 save percentage and a 4.47 goals-against average. Backup Marcus Hogberg, who got his first start of the season on Saturday, is 0-1 with a .875 save percentage and a 3.80 GAA.
The Senators, who sit last in the North Division with three points, will face the Canucks again on Wednesday and Thursday before heading to Edmonton to continue their current road trip.
Conor McGregor and the problem with being the man who has everything – MMA Fighting
In hindsight, Conor McGregor’s most recent legacy-building moment may have been the worst thing that could have happened for him.
Twelve months ago, McGregor was back. “The Notorious” had been sidelined for 14 months, with a humbling loss to rival Khabib Nurmagomedov followed by a year of McGregor ending up in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Smashing a cell phone in Miami. Punching a man in an Irish pub. And before all that, an accusation of sexual assault in Dublin, which resurfaced this past week in the form of a civil claim, along with new alleged details.
McGregor also teased a retirement in March 2019 (the second such time he’d done so), a stunt that didn’t feel remotely permanent. It was obvious McGregor needed something big to regain the faith of the masses, but what?
A second Nurmagomedov fight wasn’t happening, and a trilogy bout with Nate Diaz was stuck in limbo. Eventually, McGregor was handed a favorable matchup with the popular Donald Cerrone, an all-time great who was also a non-factor in the contenders’ rankings. No matter, McGregor made the most of the opportunity, blowing Cerrone out of the water in 40 seconds at UFC 246 and restarting the “What will Conor do next?” news cycle.
On Saturday at UFC 257, McGregor was back again, this time getting a chance to replay one of his old hits. What better way to show that he was never gone than to once more vanquish Dustin Poirier, a former featherweight rival who now stands as one of the best lightweights in the world? This was McGregor’s chance to say, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
That wasn’t the case, however. Poirier completely outclassed McGregor, making brilliant use of his wrestling and low kicks in round one to wear the former two-division champ down before flurrying in round two and leaving McGregor flat on his back in perfect position to become the next big meme. McGregor has lost before, but for the first time in his UFC career, it didn’t just look like he’d ran into a superior opponent or a difficult style matchup; no, it looked like his best days had passed.
How did we get here? Let’s look at the Cerrone matchup again. With respect to “Cowboy,” one of the best to never win a UFC title and someone who could probably compete until he’s 50 if he wanted to, he entered the matchup with McGregor as a potential showcase opponent. Cerrone was coming off of back-to-back lopsided losses to Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje, and while there’s no shame in that, it wasn’t expected he’d last long against McGregor either.
The booking was considered such a layup for McGregor that Cerrone had to suffer the indignity of actually having to respond to critics suggesting that he was going to take a dive for McGregor and the UFC. Cerrone’s ensuing loss only opened the door for more criticism, much of it coming from talking head pundits that are barely qualified to analyze rec league soccer, much less the highest level of combat sports. But I digress.
It was everything McGregor wanted. A highlight-reel win over a known property. The chance to rehabilitate his image with a respectful buildup and an appreciative opponent. He even hugged Cerrone’s grandmother afterward.
It was too perfect, and exactly the sort of thing that could make one overlook the fact that McGregor’s game wasn’t any different and that Cerrone was his first win since November 2016. Nothing had changed for McGregor other than the fact that he bit the bullet and signed on for another UFC fight.
He was still a multi-millionaire, still beloved by countless fans, still a shining star in Dana White’s eye even as their public confrontations became more frequent. If this was supposed to be the turning of a page for McGregor, the words sounded too familiar.
If Cerrone was the right man to welcome McGregor back last year, then Poirier was exactly the wrong man to welcome him back this year. “The Diamond” did nothing but sharpen his edges since first fighting McGregor in 2014, moving up to the loaded lightweight division and dominating the competition outside of a blip against Michael Johnson. McGregor was a former lightweight titleholder, but his actual achievements at 155 pounds paled in comparison to Poirier’s.
So when Poirier had his chance for revenge, he put on one of the best performances of his career while McGregor wilted. It looked exactly like what it was on paper, one fighter who had scraped his way to an interim title one win at a time versus a fighter who had done a brilliant job of maneuvering himself into position to win a second undisputed title. There’s a difference.
White wasn’t wrong when he said at Saturday’s post-fight press conference that McGregor has grown complacent. He’s the highest-paid athlete in MMA. He was chilling on a yacht in Abu Dhabi while the rest of the fighters were whittling away their time at a hotel. He was able to bring his family with him to Fight Island while a fighter like Dan Hooker wouldn’t see his for another few weeks due to strict COVID-19 safety measures in his native New Zealand.
In the grand scheme of things, there is simply no consequence to McGregor losing anymore outside of a little public humiliation. And that’s nothing that a few seven-figure checks can’t fix. How can one maintain the edge they once had when they were literally fighting to put food on their table and now have reached the level of success and comfort that McGregor has? We can’t blame McGregor’s shortcomings completely on his affluence, as there are plenty of other athletes and fighters (including Poirier) who have only elevated their games as their bank accounts have increased. It’s not an excuse. It’s a weakness, and it’s costing him in the cage.
They say that good living is the best revenge. It certainly isn’t the best motivation. So while McGregor can be content with the incredible financial security he’s created for himself and his family for generations, he may also have to accept that his days as a legitimate UFC contender are behind him.
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