A Canadian team already short on game reps ahead of the world junior men’s hockey championship in Edmonton must recalibrate yet again with the cancellation of one of its two pre-tournament games.
Wednesday’s exhibition game against Russia is the only time Canada, limited to intrasquad games so far, will play against anyone other than themselves before the host country’s Boxing Day opener against Germany.
Canada’s pre-tournament game Monday against Sweden at Rogers Place came off the schedule.
Coming out of a mandatory four-day quarantine for all countries upon arrival in Canada, two Swedish staff members had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.
Both of Sweden’s pre-tournament games were cancelled. Quarantine for a portion of that team was extended to Monday.
The majority of the German team remains in isolation until Thursday. Germany’s pre-tournament games were also called off because eight players tested positive.
So Canada is certainly not the only country in the 10-team tournament Dec. 25 to Jan. 5 with preparation that’s been fits and starts.
In the interests of defending the gold medal, Canada’s dearth of real games is no small matter when the players’ seasons, or lack thereof, and an abbreviated selection camp are also taken into account.
COVID-19: Hinshaw confident World Junior Hockey Championships can go ahead safely
Canada’s players were confined to their hotel rooms for 14 days in the middle of selection camp in Red Deer, Alta., because two tested positive for the virus.
Four exhibition games against university-team players were cancelled. Two intrasquad matches before quarantine and another two after is the sum total of Canada’s game action to date.
Facing a real foe forges on-ice chemistry and nails down which defensive pairings and line combinations work well together.
“Our practices have been great, but nothing can replace a game,” Canadian assistant coach Michael Dyck acknowledged.
“There’s situations in a game that you’re only going to see in games and not in practices. We try to simulate as much as we can, but we certainly miss playing games.”
Canada’s coaching staff will also have less goaltending data that selection-camp and pre-tournament games normally provide in terms of who should be the tournament starter.
That’s of particular importance for the host country in the 2021 under-20 men’s championship because Taylor Gauthier, Devon Levi and Dyland Garand haven’t played in the tournament previously.
Going further back, 20 of Canada’s 25 players haven’t played a real game in months.
Both the Ontario and Western major junior leagues postponed the start of their 2020-21 seasons until 2021 because of the pandemic.
“You just want to get back to playing games (when) you’ve been off for so long, I think eight months or so,” said forward Connor McMichael of Ajax, Ont.
“So we’re looking forward to playing a game, but we knew there could be difficulties coming into this.
“You’ve just got to deal with what’s put in front of you. We’re just focused on Wednesday now and we’re excited.”
Depending on the COVID-19 situation and restrictions in their respective countries, the number of games players from other countries have under their belts this season varies greatly.
Russian defenceman Semyon Chistyakov, for example, has played 28 KHL games with Omsk.
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Canada gets its first real measure of itself Wednesday against the Russians before opening the tournament against a German opponent that might also consider itself a bit of a mystery.
“There’s been a lot of adjustments we’ve had to make since we started this journey,” Dyck said.
“I really like the way we’ve handled it. Even without playing a game, we’re going to get stronger and we’re going to get tighter as a group. I really like the way the guys have handled the instability up to this point.”
A practice instead of a game Monday is preferable to more time holed up in hotel rooms. Canada must make the most of ice time it gets ahead of the tournament, Dyck said.
“What’s in our control is our level of preparation, work ethic and intensity,” he said. “That goes not only for the players, but for the coaching staff as well.”
© 2020 The Canadian Press
Maple Leafs benefiting from Marner’s new shooting mentality – Sportsnet.ca
For three winters now, pass-first Mitchell Marner has vowed to adopt a shooter’s brain, knowing full well that becoming a double threat would keep goalies guessing and the Toronto Maple Leafs winning.
“You’ve got to respect both the shot and the pass option,” goaltender Frederik Andersen explains. “The better you can be at both, the more it’s going to help you.”
Sounds simple enough.
But on a night when your team has coughed up 2-0 and 3-1 leads on the road, when the game is tied, and the tide has turned, and your centreman plants one on your tape with under eight minutes left… you still gotta bury the sucker.
Which is precisely what Marner did Tuesday in Calgary, drifting into a quiet space in the high slot, pounding a one-timer past Jacob Markstrom, and delivering Toronto its sixth nail-biting victory in eight games.
“I’ve really been working on that shot with Matts. If I can try to find that shot more, I know Matts can find me there,” said Marner.
For years now, Auston Matthews and Marner have routinely been the final two Leafs to glide off the ice during pre-game skate, using every last second of warm-up to feed each other one-timers until the buzzer sounds, the lights dim, and the music stops.
“It’s just trying to get it off my stick quickly and on to the net, for a chance on net, for a rebound or something,” Marner said. “I’m trying to get more of a shot mentality in there, trying to be more of a threat. It was a great dish by Matty, and that’s a big goal.”
Marner’s strike completed an eight-point swing in the North Division standings in favour of the Leafs over the Flames in the rivals’ first two-game miniseries.
Marner’s fifth multi-point effort and second game-winner also vaulted the winger into a tie with Connor McDavid for the NHL points lead with 12.
Critics may be quick to point out that Marner has a league-high two empty-netters or that his 31.3 per cent shooting percentage is unsustainable. Fair. But there is little doubt Marner has embarked on a mission to make his impact felt after a disappointing experience in the 2020 post-season bubble.
“A real differentiator for the true great players, the truly elite players of the league: they’re not satisfied,” coach Sheldon Keefe said. “When you see Mitch Marner, John Tavares, Auston Matthews, William Nylander out on the ice every day, practising and working on different things and spending their off-season trying to add different layers to the game, if you’re a player that is not at their level, there’s no excuses.”
Instrumental to both the Leafs’ top power-play and penalty-kill units, Marner has seen his average ice time climb to 23:33, tops among all NHL forwards.
In effort to convert his muffin to a missile, Marner has bulked up his body and stiffened his stick flex. He’s also tried to rethink his options when he gets within striking distance.
“The last two years I’ve been trying to work on it. I feel like it’s a mentality thing,” Marner said. “I feel like I really want to try and make an extra play most of the time, but this year around, trying to be more of a threat. More of a guy that can be a more consistent shooter on net, kind of change things up on goalies — and that’s what I did tonight.”
Andersen faces Marner’s shot daily in practice and believes it’s an “underrated” weapon, noting that placement can trump power.
“He’s good at picking spots and being pretty elusive and tricky about where he’s going to go,” Andersen said. “He wants to be more than an incredible passer and playmaker. I know he wants to add to his game, and I think he’s done that throughout the years I’ve played with him.”
Much of the juicy morning chatter around the Leafs’ 4-3 win will be about Jake Muzzin flipping the game puck into Matthew Tkachuk’s logo at the buzzer and Tkachuk blowing a gasket in response to the unwelcome souvenir.
But Muzzin’s take-that gesture would not have been possible had the Maple Leafs not received contributions from their bottom six — taxi-squad graduate Travis Boyd notched his first as a Leaf, and Wayne Simmonds is now running a two-game goal train — or a double dose of the Matthews-Marner connection.
“It just looks like he’s flying,” Morgan Rielly says of Marner. “I know he’s pretty motivated, and he’s in a good place right now. He’s just having fun with it, and it’s great to be around him at the rink when he’s feeling like that.”
New Leafs T.J. Brodie and Zach Bogosian have both had their eyes opened by Marner’s elite ability to make reads and contribute defensively.
“So, he’s the total package,” Bogosian says.
Even higher praise for Marner came from Leafs president Brendan Shanahan when addressing the club’s season-ticket holders in a Leafs Nation Network interview earlier this month.
“He’s got an energy that the players all love. He laughs at himself. He’s self-deprecating, but he’s also very serious about his job and the pressure that he puts on himself,” Shanahan said.
“He just cares. He cares a lot. This is a guy that I hope plays his entire career in Toronto. And if he does, I have no doubt he will bring us success. And I have no doubt that he’s going to have a statue outside of the arena one day.”
Schilling requests to be removed from HOF ballot going forward
Curt Schilling wants nothing more to do with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
The longtime major-league pitcher shared a letter on his Facebook Tuesday night, requesting his removal from Hall of Fame ballots going forward.
“I can say at this point I am mentally done,” Schilling wrote. “I know math and I know trends and I know I will not attain the 75% threshold for induction.”
Schilling missed out on induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame for the ninth straight year after receiving 71.1% of the vote. He received more votes than any other eligible player but still fell 16 votes shy of enshrinement.
“I wanted to reiterate this final point. I will not participate in the final year of voting,” he said. “I am requesting to be removed from the ballot. I’ll defer to the veterans committee and men whose opinions actually matter and who are in a position to actually judge a player. I don’t think I’m a Hall of Famer as I’ve often stated but if former players think I am then I’ll accept that with honor.”
Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the board for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, said Schilling’s request would be considered at their next meeting.
Since retiring after the 2007 season, the six-time All-Star has come under fire for his political views. In 2016, Schilling was fired from his position as an analyst for ESPN after making anti-transgender remarks on social media. Prior to that, he had been suspended for comparing radical Muslims to Nazis on Twitter.
Across 20 seasons between the Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, Baltimore Orioles, and Houston Astros, Schilling compiled a 216-146 record with a 3.46 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 8.6 K/9.
Source: – theScore
Oilers still looking for complete effort after swapping comebacks with Jets – Sportsnet.ca
EDMONTON — They haven’t won back-to-back games yet this season, which tells us that the Edmonton Oilers simply haven’t found their game yet in 2021.
Get a lead? No problem. Hold on to it? Problem.
Two games at Winnipeg. Two third-period leads. Two points to show for it — and it took a wild comeback to pull that off.
“You put yourself in a good position and you can’t waste those,” admitted Darnell Nurse.
Getting those road leads is worth something, isn’t it? Is the glass half full, or half empty, Connor McDavid?
“Not sure what it was,” McDavid said, when asked what the issue is with holding leads. “Same type of story as the other night. I thought we did a good job most of the 40 minutes and then in the third period we kind of just let it get away. We were able to battle back the other night, but not tonight. It’s frustrating.”
Three Jets goals in 3:27 turned a 3-2 Oilers lead into a 5-3 deficit. This, after a few chances — by Zack Kassian in particular — had been wasted that would have extended the Edmonton lead to two goals.
Seven games into his season, Kassian doesn’t have a goal yet. We applaud the plethora of scoring chances he is creating — that’s more than some guys can say. But Kassian is missing the net on too many Grade A chances. He’s a vet who has to figure out how to bear down and help his team get through a tough stretch.
Here are a few more observations on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in Winnipeg:
Minus Too Many
Here’s the deal on Oilers defenceman Tyson Barrie: He’s dangerous at both ends of the ice.
The problem is, so far this season he’s only been dangerous in one end — the defensive zone — and isn’t scaring anyone with his work on offence. Barrie has two assists in his first eight games as an Oiler and has been taken off the top power play unit. Meanwhile, after an even night against Winnipeg he is now six below par.
We get it — plus-minus is an antiquated stat. But minus-6 just eight games into a season? That’s not good enough for a guy who came here to play an important role.
“Well yeah, you’ve got to do both sides of it,” said head coach Dave Tippett when asked about Barrie’s game. “His game has got to be some good puck moving, some creative play at the offensive blue line. There’s been glimpses of it, but not enough of it.”
Barrie left his check alone on Nikolai Ehlers’ goal, the first of three straight in the third period for Winnipeg. It was a straight two-on-two, and then Ehlers was wide open for a pass from Paul Stastny.
Barrie simply blew the assignment.
You can deal with those defensive deficiencies when the points are flowing at the other end. But they’re not — Barrie’s game as advertised has yet to arrive in Edmonton.
Or, if you listen to Leafs fans, perhaps it has…
Bad to Better
It’s funny: The Oilers felt great about erasing a 3-2 deficit and winning on a last-second goal Sunday. Now it is the Jets who are satisfied, having broken open the game in the third and grabbed the two points.
Neither team played a full 60 minutes in either game. But the one that gets the points always sees the positives, as Edmonton did on Sunday.
“Our mentality is just staying in the battle and knowing we’re better than that,” said Ehlers. “That first period wasn’t good. Bucky (Connor Hellebuyck) gave us a chance to stay in the game and we got the two points, We’re happy with that, will probably take the day off tomorrow and look forward to the next game.”
Meanwhile, Edmonton will search for some positives, heading home from a 2-2 road trip for a pair against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“We did play some good hockey for long stretches,” Nurse said, “but we put ourselves in good position going to third and you have to find a way to get the next one or get momentum going your way. When we gave up the first one, we kind of just let it pile on more and more.
“There’s things in our game that we can build off of, but when we put ourselves in that position we have to find a way to close it out. You put yourself in a good position and you can’t waste those.”
Tippett did contemplate a time out after McDavid scored with 1:50 to play, pulling the Oilers to within one.
“Yes, we were,” he said. “But if you take a time out then, they’ve got to play that whole 1:50. We wanted to get 30 seconds (out of another line), so we’d (call a time out) and play them the last 1:20. If you take your time out then you’ve got to play them for two full minutes. That’s a lot of time at the end of a game.”
The Jets ended up scoring into an empty net, with the McDavid unit on the ice. Two late comebacks, alas, was too much for Tippett to ask for.
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