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Canada's vaccine rules mean Red Sox pitcher Tanner Houck won't face the Blue Jays, but that's only part of the story – The Globe and Mail

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Boston Red Sox pitcher Tanner Houck looks on during the second inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park on April 21.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

In that one-way-mirror approach that Americans bring to anything happening outside their own borders, the story of the Toronto Blue Jays and vaccination restrictions is missing a key detail.

Yes, non-resident baseball players who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 cannot travel to Canada to play games. That part is front and centre.

What’s missing is that this isn’t some sort of northern socialist conspiracy. This regulation applies the other way, as well. Just as any non-Canadian entering Canada must be fully up-to-date on their shots, any non-American citizen entering the United States must abide by the same rule. But you won’t read that in the sportiest U.S. sports outlets. It messes up a simple ‘Us vs. Them’ narrative.

It’s almost as though the Jays should have gone out and got one utility player who loves personal freedom so that they could say, “Look. Us too, man.”

This story has been simmering for a while, but it will properly hit the headlines on Monday. That’s when Boston arrives in Toronto for a road swing.

How many Red Sox are fans of Antonin Scalia and his originalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution? And what would the Founders have said about vaccines (aside from ‘What’s a vaccine?’)?

We don’t know yet, but it might be more than a few.

One that we know is starter Tanner Houck. He was outed last week when the Jays were in New England. Knowing Houck won’t be able to travel, the Red Sox decided to make him available over the weekend out of the bullpen.

“I’m excited for it,” Houck told reporters. “And you know I’ve always said, anything I can do to help the team win.”

Well, not anything.

However many Red Sox are missing, it will be a story. It will continue being a story for the next few weeks as various teams make their 2022 international debut. It will become a story again if the Jays make the playoffs. And it will probably be a story next year when Canada decides it prefers its visitors vaccinated for all time.

We have reached the point in the pandemic where its primary cultural function is giving people who like to argue something to argue about. Sports is a handy cudgel.

On the one hand, sports is obsessively observed by lots of normal people – fans, broadcasters, reporters – who require some amount of friction for their trouble. Every once in a while, something has to happen that creates in you an irrepressible urge to yell at a screen.

Maybe Tanner Houck’s choices are giving you that right now. Or, conversely, maybe the people who are angry at Tanner Houck are giving it to you instead. Either way, vaccinations are doing their job. They are providing additional incentive to watch the Jays-Red Sox this week. Had Houck played in the series in Toronto, his scheduled start would have been Tuesday.

On the other hand, there are the pros. They don’t want to talk about vaccines. They don’t care any more. It’s doubtful many of them ever did. The ones who do care only care in that Aaron Rodgers way of caring – that they believe their nervous system is superhuman and that were you, a regular shmoe, to bathe in their blood, you might live forever.

This tension – the people who would like to make a thing out of vaccines vs. people who are sick of hearing about it – reflects what’s going on in society.

We’ve talked a lot recently about professional athletes leading the societal conversation. For those who thought it would be all social justice all the time, this is the unintended consequence.

If you encourage famous people to pop off on topics they aren’t expert in (including regular life), they are eventually going to do it in ways you don’t like.

You’ll notice the sports split is not along right-left lines. It’s class-based. The players are their own social class. Excepting a few initial outbursts, they’ve stuck together on this one (and on just about everything else). The players who are vaccinated don’t call out the ones who aren’t. In fact, they’ll go out of their way to defend them. Most of all, they’d prefer never to talk about it.

It’s only some of the rest of us – the lower, non-playing sporting classes – who get exercised about it.

As with cross-border rules, that key detail is also missing from this conversation.

How would it work if you or I decided that we were going to stop travelling for our jobs because we didn’t want to follow public health guidelines? You or I would be fired.

If we walked into our boss’s office and started monologuing about alternative medicine, we’d have to finish that speech in the parking lot after security chucked us out on our head.

In baseball (and every other sport), tolerance of your vaccination status is entirely dependent on your talent. Is your talent great enough to outweigh the inconvenience to your employer? If so, the rules don’t apply to you.

That’s the real story here – that some of us are ‘free’ to do whatever the hell we want, and most of us aren’t. That’s too troubling an idea to tackle in the Sports pages, so what we get is ‘How’s Tanner Houck gonna feel if Boston gets blown out on Tuesday and ends up missing the playoffs by one game?’ instead.

Some day, someone will write a great book about how we all got snookered into believing that a bunch of kajillionaires were just like us, and had our best interests at heart. So much so, that we should be listening to them and following their example. Forget about your fellow regular people. Listen to the man in spandex instead.

But for now, we can satisfy ourselves knowing if there’s any general good coming out of this particular example of noblesse un-oblige, at least it’s helping the many needy billionaires who own baseball teams in Canada.

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Hockey’s Battle Of Alberta Is Back And As Entertaining As Ever – FiveThirtyEight

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The path to the Stanley Cup is going through one of hockey’s signature rivalries this spring, with the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers squaring off in the NHL’s Western Conference semifinals. (The Flames took Game 1 in a wild 9-6 shootout on Wednesday night; Game 2 is Friday night in Calgary.) Not only will the series determine who carries the banner for all of Canada in hopes of ending its painful 29-year Cup drought,<a class="espn-footnote-link" data-footnote-id="1" href="https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/hockeys-battle-of-alberta-is-back-and-as-entertaining-as-ever/#fn-1" data-footnote-content="

Before the Montreal Canadiens in 1993, Edmonton and Calgary were the second- and third-most recent Canadian teams to win it all (in 1990 and 1989, respectively).

“>1 but it represents a fierce clash between provincial neighbors with almost as much history, and hostility, on the ice as off.

So with the help of our Elo ratings, let’s take a tour through the history of the rivalry, tracing the rise and fall — and rise again — of Western Canada’s most bitter foes.

Though the two franchises started out at the same time, they took very different paths to what would eventually become an iconic rivalry. The Oilers first played in 1972 as a charter member of the upstart World Hockey Association and were known at the time as the Alberta Oilers, under an early plan (which never materialized) to split home games between Edmonton and Calgary.<a class="espn-footnote-link" data-footnote-id="2" href="https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/hockeys-battle-of-alberta-is-back-and-as-entertaining-as-ever/#fn-2" data-footnote-content="

After the WHA’s initial Calgary franchise (the Broncos) ran into funding problems and moved to Cleveland before playing a single game in Alberta.

“>2 Rooting itself explicitly in Edmonton — and changing to a more familiar name — starting in 1973, the team still found little success in the WHA … until it bought the rights to a skinny 17-year-old prospect named Wayne Gretzky. With Gretzky leading the way as a rookie in 1978-79, Edmonton nearly won the WHA’s last Avco Cup title, and his Oilers were absorbed into the NHL when the leagues merged in 1979.

Meanwhile, the Flames were born in 1972 as well, beginning their NHL life in the unconventional hockey market of Atlanta. Though largely forgotten now, the Atlanta Flames had some pretty good seasons in the mid-to-late 1970s — and in a certain sense, they can be seen as an early audition for the NHL’s later, more successful forays into the American South. But when financial losses mounted for Flames ownership in 1980, the team was sold to Canadian investors and moved northwest. Thus it came to be that the NHL had two Alberta-based franchises, destined to battle across the deep cultural divide that has always separated Edmontonians from Calgarians.

The conflict was fierce from the start, with one of the most penalty-filled games in the history of the rivalry taking place in just the second Edmonton-Calgary game ever. The teams avoided playoff confrontation early in their time as neighbors — until 1983 and 1984, that is, as the Oilers eliminated the Flames en route to the Stanley Cup final both years. (Game 7 of the 1984 division finals was a particularly wild affair, with Calgary taking a 4-3 lead midway through before Edmonton scored four unanswered goals to advance — a stepping stone on the path to the Oilers’ first Cup.) While the two teams had been on the same level in Elo at the beginning of the 1980s, the emergence of Gretzky and Edmonton’s high-scoring offense gave the Oilers a dynasty — and a clear edge in the Battle of Alberta by the middle of the decade.

But things got more competitive as the Flames began building a strong talent base of their own. Calgary improved from minus-3 in goal differential in 1984 to plus-61 in 1985 on the strength of the NHL’s second-best offense, trailing only Edmonton. And when the two teams matched up again in the playoffs in 1986, Oilers defenseman Steve Smith scored an infamous own-goal in Game 7 — accidentally banking the puck off netminder Grant Fuhr’s skate on a pass from behind the net — providing Calgary the margin to finally beat their rivals in the division finals. (The Flames would go on to lose to Montreal in an all-Canadian Cup final.)

That was a rare miscue for Edmonton: It marked the only time from 1984 through 1988 that the Oilers didn’t win the Cup. As much as Calgary improved over the course of the ’80s, Edmonton usually was a step ahead; even when the Flames finished a franchise-best No. 2 in Elo in 1987-88, the Oilers were No. 1. But Gretzky’s shocking departure for Los Angeles in August 1988 changed the rivalry — and the Flames seized on the opportunity to surpass their rivals, closing out the decade with the franchise’s first (and, for now, only) Stanley Cup triumph.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Oilers bounced back from their post-Gretzky downturn to begin the 1990s, capitalizing on their former captain’s own first-round win (with the L.A. Kings) over Calgary to then sweep Los Angeles in the following round and ultimately win yet another Cup. For those counting, that meant either Edmonton or Calgary had won four consecutive championships and six of the previous seven. The Battle of Alberta was effectively the battle to control the entire NHL.

But little did the teams know that would be the last Cup for either franchise in three decades and counting. As the economics of the NHL shifted during the 1990s to favor higher-payroll teams — and, relatedly, the American dollar — the Flames and Oilers fell behind. From 1992-93 through 2002-03, the teams combined to win only two playoff series: Edmonton’s pair of improbable seven-game victories over No. 2 seeds in 1997 (the Dallas Stars) and 1998 (the Colorado Avalanche). But while Oilers goalie Curtis “Cujo” Joseph was brilliant in both upsets, the decade as a whole was a time of decline and mediocrity in Alberta.

That trend carried over into the 2000s at first, reaching its nadir when neither team made the playoffs at all in 2001-02 — the first time that was true in the rivalry’s history. But each franchise was due for a moment of excitement, however brief.

The Flames had their turn first, improving by nearly 20 points in the standings under former (and, incidentally, current) coach Darryl Sutter in 2003-04. Hall of Fame winger Jarome Iginla finally had the goaltending help — in the form of Miikka Kiprusoff — to power a deep postseason run, and Calgary even held a 3-2 lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Cup final before losing a double-OT heartbreaker at home in Game 6 and another tight contest in Game 7.

After a lockout torpedoed the entire 2004-05 season — and radically changed the economics of the league yet again — Edmonton went on a run of its own behind the standout play of defenseman Chris Pronger and journeyman goalie Dwayne Roloson (a former Flame!). Falling behind three-games-to-one against the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2006 Stanley Cup final, the Oilers rallied to force a Game 7, though they lost on the road to match their rivals’ fate from two years earlier.

The Battle of Alberta had seen both of its competitors come close to winning championships in the mid-2000s. But instead of serving as the prelude to another era of 1980s-style dominance, those Cup final runs were mostly a mirage. Edmonton would miss each of the next 10 postseasons, and Calgary failed to muster another series win for nearly as long.

Which brings us to the current era of the rivalry. The Flames have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the league since the mid-2010s, bouncing between decent seasons and bad ones across multiple coaches and an influx of younger talent such as Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm. The Oilers spent most of the 2010s squandering draft picks, making horrible transactions or generally wasting their chances to build around the once-in-a-generation talent of Connor McDavid.

And yet, both franchises have been on the rise recently. Calgary was one of the NHL’s best teams throughout the 2021-22 regular season, with a deep roster, plenty of star power and a rock-solid goalie in Jacob Markstrom. Edmonton received its typical 1-2 superstar punch from McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but the Oilers also finished the regular season as the best stretch-run team in the league according to Elo. Along those lines, both clubs were among the top three in goal differential over the second half of the schedule. These teams were in good form for their first playoff meeting since 1991, despite both requiring seven games to dispatch lower-seeded opponents in Round 1, and that showed with 15 total goals in Game 1.

After Calgary’s win, our model gives the Flames a 69 percent chance of winning the series and moving on to the Western Conference final. But if the history between these teams is any indication, anything can happen from here on out. In many ways, this series has been decades in the making — and not just because of the cartoonish, 1980s-style scoreline of the opener. While Alberta is no longer the center of the hockey universe it once was, the path to the Stanley Cup will still run through the province. And that means this rivalry is officially back as one of hockey’s best.

Check out our latest NHL predictions.

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Oilers’ Nurse named finalist for King Clancy Trophy alongside Getzlaf and Subban – Sportsnet.ca

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Edmonton Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse has been named as one of the finalists for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL player who “best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.”

Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks and P.K. Subban of the New Jersey Devils are the other two finalists who were announced Friday.

The winner will be announced on June 7 and chosen by a committee of senior NHL executives, led by commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

Nurse has served as an ambassador for Free Play for Kids — providing marginalized children the ability to play sports in a safe, accessible and inclusive environment — and Right To Play — protecting, educating and empowering kids to rise above adversity through sports. He created the Darnell Nurse Excellence Scholarship last year partnering with his old high school, St. Thomas More Catholic Secondary School, to award a pair of scholarships to students pursuing post-secondary education.

Getzlaf called it a career at the end of the regular season after 17 years with Anaheim including the past 12 as Ducks’ captain. He helped found the “Anaheim Ducks Learn to Play powered by Ryan Getzlaf” providing first-time hockey players the opportunity to get on the ice and receive equipment for free. Getzlaf has also provided 9,500 kids with a complimentary first-time full set of equipment for completing a Learn to Play program and signing up for in-house league play. He has also raised more than $4.25 million over the past decade through the Getzlaf Golf Shootout to benefit CureDuchenne, which aims to save the lives of children affected by the muscular dystrophy disease.

Subban, who is a four-time finalist, launched the P.K. Subban Foundation in 2014, made a $10-million pledge to the Montreal’s Children’s Hospital in 2015 plus donations for Ukrainian cancer patients who have been displaced due to the ongoing war in their country. He also serves as the co-chair of the NHL’s Player Inclusion Committee.

Former Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne won the award last season.

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Elks release quarterback Jones – TSN

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The Cardale Jones era with the Edmonton Elks isn’t going to happen after all.

The team announced the release of the former Ohio State National Championship-winning quarterback on Friday among a series of transactions.

Offensive lineman Chris Gangarossa was placed on the retired list, while wide receiver Michael Walker was placed on the suspended list.

Running back Sherman Badie was added to the active roster.

Jones, 29, was signed by the team on Apr. 26 on the same day the Elks released his former teammate, QB J.T. Barrett.

The Cleveland native appeared in one NFL game for the Buffalo Bills in 2016 and later played the 2020 season with the DC Defenders of the XFL after having spent time on the roster of the Los Angeles Chargers and the practice roster of the Seattle Seahawks.

Elks training camp continues through the next week with the team’s first preseason game scheduled for May 27 against the Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

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