HAMILTON — In all, a success. It wasn’t perfect, but the new iteration of the Canadian men’s senior national team more than got the job done against the Dominican Republic in World Cup Qualifying on Friday night.
They thumped the visitors 95-75 in a win that had its bumps in the early going, but in the end was just what everyone expected going in: a team with some elite NBA talent supported by polished pros elsewhere in the lineup is tough for anyone to handle.
Canada was led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who topped all scorers with 32 points and added five rebounds and five assists, as the Oklahoma City Thunder star helped his team blow the game open with a 15-point fourth quarter. His cousin, Nickeil Alexander-Walker of the Utah Jazz, added 17 points, while the Detroit Pistons’ Kelly Olynyk added 17 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Dallas Mavericks big man Dwight Powell contributed nine points on 4-of-5 shooting, while adding six rebounds and setting an endless supply of ball screens for Canada’s guards.
The win improved Canada to 5-0 in Group C play in the first stage of qualifying. They complete the stage on Monday when they travel to play Virgin Islands, who are last in the group. Whatever the outcome there — Canada won by 48 without the benefit of their NBA talent when they played in February — Canada is assured to advance to the second stage and, barring a sudden turn of fortune, are well-positioned to advance to the FIBA World Cup of Basketball in the Philippines and Japan.
But the result was in some way secondary as the game was the first test of the senior men’s team’s plan to establish a summer core of 14 players. That plan involves their top talent committing to play for Canada this summer and the next two after in order to build cohesion on their way to what they hope will be their first Olympic appearance since the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
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The difference was evident before the ball went up as Canada introduced its starting lineup — featuring four NBAers to the delight of a sold-out lower-bowl crowd of approximately 6,000 at FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton, Ont. No one received a bigger cheer than Gilgeous-Alexander, who played high school basketball in the city before leaving for the United States.
“It was so fun,” said Gilgeous-Alexander, who got the crowd on its feet early with a left-handed dunk, a first-time event for the right-hander, apparently. “Just knowing that all the people that have seen me grow from when I was like, in high school, were there seeing me play today. Something I can’t describe and then it went just how I wanted to coming in.”
Indeed, Canada had more NBA players on the bench watching (not all members of the summer core were able to play this summer, but as part of their commitment are expected to be part of training camps and team events) than the Dominican, who counted none in their lineup.
Needless to say, they had no one to match Gilgeous-Alexander, who was as impressive as possible in making his first on-court appearance with the men’s team, a performance that bodes well for the future, but also signalled his emerging status as one of the best guards Canada has ever had.
“He’s up there with the best of them for sure,” said national team veteran Olynyk, who is in his second decade with the program. “It’s a privilege to play with a guy like that. We’ve had a lot of them coming through this program now. He’s not alone. It’s fun to play with him, fun to watch, fun to witness. I think everybody here got a treat tonight.
“His IQ is high. He knows the game, sees the game, is unselfish,” Olynyk continued. He gets off the ball, gets it back, takes his spots when they’re there. He really knows how to play in the flow of the game. That’s something that’s kind of lost sometimes. He’s really good at it. Obviously, he’s a high-level player, super skilled on both ends of the floor. He changes the game, like you saw there in the third quarter. He just changed the game for us.”
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Canada’s talent advantage showed early on. After a sloppy start for Canada, they got their first separation from a scrappy DR squad with a 7-0 spur that featured a put back by Olynyk, a spectacular block on a dunk attempt by Kyle Alexander (a European pro with NBA experience), two free throws by Gilgeous-Alexander, and a three by Alexander-Walker. Another triple at the buzzer by Alexander-Walker — who had nine points in the quarter — gave Canada a 21-16 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The visitors continued to push and led 31-30 with 5:48 to play in the half and had the game tied 35-35 with 3:09 to play before Canada finished on an 11-1 run, punctuated by a tip-in at the buzzer by Gilgeous-Alexander before the teams jogged off to their respective dressing rooms.
Canada’s talent edge began to show even more clearly in the third quarter. First Olynyk and Powell combined on few high-low passing plays that resulted in Powell dunks. Then Gilgeous-Alexander began doing what he does best in the NBA — using his low dribble and long strides to get the ball into the paint, where he finished or drew fouls. Sufficiently warmed up, he stepped into a triple in transition to extend Canada’s led to 21 with 2:57 left in the third. Two more triples by Alexander put Canada up by 28 late in the period as Canada led 76-48 to start the fourth quarter.
Canada was never seriously threatened after that and the highlight of the period was when 7-foot- 4 Zach Edey of Purdue University — the only college player named to Canada’s summer core — subbed in to make his senior men’s team debut, much to the delight of the crowd who were squarely behind the Toronto-born big man. The 20-year-old got himself on the board with a pair of free throws for his first points with the senior team.
Canada finishes preliminary round undefeated, top of group with win over Finland at world juniors – CBC Sports
Ridly Greig was a little banged up after helping Canada to a big win at the world junior hockey championship on Monday.
Not only did the Ottawa Senators’ prospect score and contribute an assist in the 6-3 victory over Finland, he blocked some big shots when the Canadians ran into third-period penalty trouble.
“Whatever it takes to win, whatever it takes to do anything for the boys or kind of get some momentum, I’m going to do it,” Greig said. “Whether it’s stand in front of a slap shot, I’m going to do it.”
The Finns got their second stretch of five-on-three hockey with less than five minutes left on the clock when William Dufour joined Ethan Del Mastro in the penalty box.
Finland pulled goalie Leevi Merilainen just as Del Mastro’s penalty expired and with the extra man Roby Jarventie put a puck in off the glove of Canadian goalie Dylan Garand to make it 5-3.
Dufour sealed the score at 6-3 with an empty-net strike 18:13 into the third.
The Finns had a prime opportunity to eat into Canada’s lead with a minute-long two-man advantage midway through the final period.
Donovan Sebrango was sent to the box for high-sticking and less than a minute later, teammate Will Cuylee was tossed from the game for a knee-on-knee hit.
Canada weathered being down two men, then chewed through the four remaining minutes of the major penalty without conceding a goal.
WATCH | Bedard, McTavish lead Canada past Finland:
“I thought our penalty kill was elite today, so many guys blocking shots. And that’s a great sign for a team that’s trying to win something,” said Canada’s captain Mason McTavish, who had a goal and two assists in the win.
“Finland, they’re a great team. I think they were 3-0 coming into this, their power play is ridiculous. So the fact that our PK stood up there with one of the best power plays in the tournament is huge for us.”
Connor Bedard scored and contributed an assist for Canada (4-0-0), while Dufour, Brennan Othmann and Tyson Foerester also found the back of the net. Olen Zellweger tallied three assists.
Joakim Kemell scored and contributed an assist for Finland (3-1-0) and Samuel Helenius rounded out the scoring.
Canada’s Garand made 22 saves and Merilainen stopped 31 of 36 shots for the Finns.
The result was an important one for Canada, who finished the preliminary round atop Group A. They’ll face Group B’s Switzerland (1-3-0) in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.
Switzerland clinched its spot in the quarter-finals earlier on Monday with a 3-2 win over Austria (0-0-4).
Finland was disappointed with Monday’s result, said head coach Antti Pennanen.
“It was OK but it wasn’t enough. And we were angry after the game, that’s for sure,” he said.
A big goal early in the third whittled the Finns’ deficit to 5-2.
Canada called for a coach’s challenge, arguing that the puck had gone off the netting before falling back to the ice ahead of the goal.
“The guys on the ice are generally the ones who can tell you what’s going on,” said head coach Dave Cameron. “My players were 100 per cent sure it went in [to the net]. So you trust your players.”
After an extended video review, officials determined the goal was good. The Canadians did not receive a delay-of-game penalty because officials said the review was “inconclusive.”
The Canadians dominated the middle frame, outshooting the Finns 20-5 and taking a 5-1 lead.
McTavish gave his country its second power-play goal of the game 16:17 into the period after Finland’s Rubin Rafkin was called for interference.
WATCH | Johnson scores highlight-reel goal:
Zellweger sent the Anaheim Ducks’ prospect a pass from inside the blue line and McTavish uncorked a one-timer that flew over Merilainen’s shoulder stick side.
Thirty-one seconds into the second, Canada went up 4-1 after the Finnish goalie bobbled a shot by Joshua Roy.
Greig slid in on one knee to put the rebound in the back of the net with his third goal of the tournament.
Canada went into the first intermission up 3-1 after a late Finland goal.
A knot of players battled for the puck behind the Canadian net and Finland’s Kalle Vasisanen came up with it. He sent a pass to Helenius at the high hash marks and the L.A. Kings’ prospect got a shot up and over Garland’s shoulder with 57 seconds left in the period.
Bedard put away his third goal of the tournament in memorable fashion 17:19 into the first.
Canada was penned in its own zone for an extended period, but the 17-year-old phenom showed no signs of exhaustion when he collected a cross-ice pass from McTavish at the blue line and sped into the faceoff circle.
He then ripped a blistering shot past Merilainen, pinging the puck off the inside of the crossbar to make it 3-0.
Greig’s shot ricocheted off Merilainen’s pad but Foerester was in position to poke the rebound in from the top of the crease as he slid past the net.
Finland got off to a strong start, outshooting the host nation 4-0 across the first five minutes of the game.
It was Canada that opened the scoring, though, 6:21 into the first.
Defenceman Zellweger fired a long bomb from inside the blue line and Othmann batted it in past Merilainen.
The play was reviewed for a potential high stick but the goal — Othmann’s second of the tournament — was determined to be good after officials reviewed the video.
Reigning champion Americans also undefeated
The preliminary round wrapped Monday night with Group B’s Sweden (3-1-0) registering a 4-2 victory over Germany (2-2-0).
Sweden will battle Latvia (1-2-1) in the quarter-finals on Wednesday while Germany will face Finland.
The reigning champion Americans (4-0-0) also went undefeated in round-robin action and will play Czechia (1-2-1), the country commonly known as the Czech Republic, in the quarter-finals.
The semifinals are scheduled for Friday and the medal games will go Saturday.
Three Stars from Day 6 of WJC: Bergmanis steals the show in Latvia’s historical win – Sportsnet.ca
In a slate of games featuring the likes of Sweden, Finland and the United States, the showstopper of Day 6 at the World Juniors was Latvia.
The tiny country notched its first ever win in WJC preliminary round play and by the same token hopped over Czechia and Slovakia into third place in Group A.
Latvian captain Ralf Bergmanis scored a hat trick and his team downed Czechia 5-3. They will play a World Juniors quarterfinal game for the first time in the country’s history.
Needless to say, the young men in burgundy were quite thrilled.
Finland had no pity for Slovakia and continued their solid run in the tournament with a 9-3 win. The Young Lions were 5-for-7 on the power play, sending their next opponents Canada a message to stay disciplined for their final preliminary round game on Monday.
Slovakia saw their chances to play a quarterfinal game crumble before their eyes in the next game. Sitting in the stands, Slovak players held their heads in their hands as Bergmanis scored his third goal from across the ice into an empty net.
The Americans outpaced Sweden for most of their battle for first place in Group B. Goaltending woes allowed the Junior Crowns to hope for a comeback but the red, white and blue weathered the late storm to clinch a 3-2 win.
The Swedes will play Germany on Monday and the winner will end the preliminary round in second place.
Here is a look at the top performances from Day 6 of the World Juniors:
3rd star: Matt Coronato, USA
Coronato’s scoring ability is more than evident. If you give an inch, he’ll take a mile.
The five-foot-10 winger added two goals to his World Juniors tally and helped the Americans finish atop Group B. Coronato is now tied with his country-mate Carter Mazur as the tournament’s second-leading goalscorer with four.
The Calgary Flames’ 13th overall selection in the 2021 NHL Draft showed his eye for goal with his second marker of the night. Off a Swedish turnover, Coronato bagged the eventual game-winner with a sniper’s goal.
Coronato notched his first goal of the game in the second period when he pounced on a rebound from a shot by Logan Cooley. The soon-to-be Harvard sophomore made Sweden goalie Jesper Wallsted look bad by lodging the puck under his blocker and into the net.
2nd star: Kasper Simontaival, Finland
There’s no shame in being opportunistic, especially if it earns you points in return. Simontaival did exactly that to bridge the gap between the Finns and Slovaks. The winger finished the game with three points (two goals, one assist) including one assist on the power play.
The LA Kings third-rounder in 2020 stood by the slot and pounced on a rebound to give Finland a power-play goal 34 seconds into the second period. The goal was later given to Roni Hirvonen, who had touched the puck last.
Both players also combined in the first period, this time Hirvonen found Simontaival in the slot for the goal.
Simontaival notched his second goal of the game in the third period when he was, once again, in front of the net. He redirected Aatu Raty’s pass in the back of the net and gave Finland an 8-3 lead.
The 20-year-old even screened goalie Tomas Bolo for Finland’s ninth goal of the game courtesy of Kasper Puutio. Bottom line, sticking around dangerous areas is paying off for the five-foot-nine winger.
1st star: Ralfs Bergmanis, Latvia
Captain Latvia came through for the motherland. Charles and Nikolaj Boyle from Brooklyn’s 99th precinct would be proud.
Bergmanis opened his tournament account and finished the game as the hat trick hero, lifting his country into the knockout round.
Bergmanis completed his hat trick in an empty net, from behind his own net. A rink-long shot sealed his team’s victory, as the disillusioned Slovak players watched their elimination from the stands.
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Latvia took a first-period lead and right as Czechia attempted the comeback with an equalizing goal in the second, the University of Vermont commit got to work. Bergmanis regained Latvia’s lead when his shot from the point in traffic found the back of the net.
Bergmanis then gave his country a two-goal lead on the power play. From the point, the blueliner broke Frantisek Nemec’s ankles before beating Czech netminder Jan Bednar with a wrister.
The 20-year-old is still undrafted but he sure made a lot of eyes look his way in one of the biggest games in Latvian junior hockey history.
Blue Jays activate Springer from IL, designate Zimmer for assignment – Sportsnet.ca
The Toronto Blue Jays have activated outfielder George Springer from the 10-day injured list ahead of Monday’s series opener against the Baltimore Orioles.
Outfielder Bradley Zimmer was designated for assignment in a corresponding move.
Springer has been on the IL with right elbow inflammation since Aug. 5. Interim manager John Schneider has previously said Springer is expected to slot in as the designated hitter once activated to allow the injury to continue to heal.
When healthy, Springer has made a major impact from the lead-off spot for the Blue Jays. In 89 games he has hit .251/.331/.464 with 18 home runs and 49 RBI, good enough to earn a selection to this year’s all-star game.
Zimmer was never able to make an impact beyond as a defensive replacement this season and his role was further limited by the addition of free-agent Jackie Bradley Jr. last week. The 29-year-old Zimmer was brought in to provide some depth as a left-handed bat and appeared in 77 games, hitting .105/.209/.237.
The Blue Jays outfield, now healthy, consists of Springer, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez and Bradley, Jr., with Whit Merrifield and Cavan Biggio available as platoon options.
Yusei Kikuchi will be on the mound when the Blue Jays host the Orioles in the first of three games Monday night. You can watch the game on Sportsnet and SN NOW beginning at 7:07 p.m. ET.
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