The last thing you want to happen in an exhibition game between top rookie prospects? For one of your top prospects to go out with injury.
TOKYO — Sporting white pants, a blue jean jacket and black ballcap, decathlon champion Damian Warner proudly waved the Maple Leaf as he entered the Olympic Stadium as Canadian flag-bearer.
The image was a fitting one to wrap up a very successful Olympics for Canadian athletes, who made 24 trips to the podium while staying clear of COIVD-19 complications.
Track cyclist Kelsey Mitchell sent the Canadians out on a high note, winning gold in the women’s sprint competition.
That gave Canada seven gold, six silver and 11 bronze medals in Tokyo. Those numbers are significant.
The 24 total medals set a new standard for Canada in a non-boycotted Olympics, while the seven gold tied the nation’s output at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
The only time Canada took home more hardware was in the 1984 Los Angeles Games when Canadian athletes won 10 gold and 44 total medals. Those games were boycotted by 14 Eastern Bloc countries, including the Soviet Union and East Germany.
Canada finished 11th both in the official medal standings and the overall medal count.
The United States won three gold medals on the final day of competition to pass China for the top spot in the medal standings. The U.S. finished with 39 golds to China’s 38.
The overall medal race wasn’t even close. The Americans finished with 112, with China well in the distance at 88.
No doubt sweating up a storm in the muggy 32 C conditions, Warner — who entered 45th out of 206 countries — was sandwiched between Qatar and Gabon as flag-bearers formed a large circle on the infield.
Volunteers held flags for countries that did not have athletes present at the ceremony. Many athletes left Japan shortly after their respective competitions.
Warner was later joined by about 120 Canadian athletes, coaches and support staff who marched in the parade.
The ceremony, with its jazzy soundtrack, had a more celebratory feel than the muted and rather sombre opening ceremony over two weeks earlier.
Athletes danced, hugged and took pictures as festive music filled the 48,000-seat venue.
Earlier, Mitchell capped Canada’s Games in an emphatic fashion. The 27-year-old from Sherwood, Park., Alta., beat Ukraine’s Olena Starikova in two straight heats to capture the women’s sprint title.
She won the first race by 0.061 seconds and the second race by 0.064.
Not bad, for someone who only picked up the sport four years ago. Driving a truck as a municipal worker, the former varsity soccer player was looking for a way to get back into competitive sport.
“I hadn’t ridden a track bike before, I’d ridden a bike as a kid but nothing since,” Mitchell said.
“I had dreamt of going to the Olympics, and in the back of my mind you want to go and you want to win. So to have a gold medal, it’s pretty surreal.”
She is the second Canadian woman to win track cycling gold in an individual event following Lori-Ann Muenzer’s sprint gold in 2004.
Mitchell and Muenzer met four years ago, just after Cycling Canada had first approached Mitchell about joining their team. Mitchell’s aunt was in Muenzer’s spin class and suggested she take part to meet the former Olympian.
“I went up and introduced myself and I said, ‘I want to try track cycling and I want to go to the Olympics,’ and she was probably like, ‘Who the hell is this girl?'” said Mitchell. “But she was super nice and was like, ‘Oh, that’s awesome.’
“It was a long time ago. It feels like it was a really long time ago, but I guess it was only four years.”
Elsewhere at the velodrome, Calgary’s Allison Beveridge finished ninth in the women’s omnium.
The only other event featuring Canadians on the final day was the men’s marathon, where simply finishing the race was no mean feat. Thirty men in the field of 106 didn’t finish.
Ben Preisner was the top Canadian, finishing 46th in his Games debut. Calgary’s Trevor Hofbauer was 48th, while Cam Levins, of Black Creek, B.C., hung with the lead group through the first half of the race, but faded over the final 10 kilometres to finish 72nd in 2:28.43.
“I really wanted to finish out of respect for a guy like Tristan Woodfine (who qualified but wasn’t selected for the team),” Levins said. “I felt like it was only right to finish this race, and only three of us got to go. And so, yeah, I think that’s kind of what motivated me to stay in.
“It’s hard to call yourself an Olympic athlete if you can’t even finish the race … so, wanting to do my best to get through it no matter how slow or tough the second half was.”
Marathon legend Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, the defending champion and world record-holder, pulled away over the final 10 kilometres to win gold.
Overall, Team Canada has plenty of reasons to be thrilled with its performance in Tokyo. Warner in the decathlon, the women’s soccer team, Andre De Grasse in the men’s 200 metres and women’s eight rowing crew captured Olympic titles in high-profile events.
Mitchell, swimmer Maggie Mac Neil and weightlifter Maude Charron also topped the podium as Canada’s women Olympians once again made up the vast majority of the medals.
Swimmer Penny Oleksiak won three medals in Tokyo to become Canada’s most decorated Olympian with seven career medals, while De Grasse won three to give him six overall, the most all-time among Canadian men.
But where there is Olympic ecstasy, Olympic agony is rarely far behind. Canada also had its share of close calls and disappointments.
Cyclist Michael Woods finished just off the podium in the men’s road race on the first day medals were awarded at the Games. Two-time Olympic champion trampoline gymnast Rosie MacLennan, the women’s 4×400 relay team, weightlifter Boady Santavy, divers Meaghan Benfeito and Caeli McKay, artistic gymnast Ellie Black and even Oleksiak — in two separate races — were among those with fourth-place finishes.
Meanwhile, Canada came up empty in golf and tennis, two sports in which the nation is becoming a power.
“No point or second was ever easily taken from Team Canada,” chef de mission Marnie McBean said.
“We saw there is a knife-edge difference between brilliance and breakdown. It takes bravery to believe in one when you know when you are risking the other.”
Canada’s successes were made more remarkable, however, considering they came with Tokyo in a state of emergency due to a rise on COVID-19 cases. Athletes also had to battle oppressive heat and humidity throughout the Games.
The Canadian Olympic Committee said none of its delegation had tested positive for the virus as of Sunday.
“One of our key goals was to come to Tokyo and to return to Canada COVID-free,” COC chief executive officer David Shoemaker said.
“We’ve approached this as critical for our protection, critical for our performance goals and critical for the protection of our hosts here in Japan.
“We’ve come this far with zero COVID cases among the 840 athletes, coaches, staff and volunteers in the Team Canada delegation.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 8, 2021.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Michael Woods as a track cyclist. In fact, he is a road cyclist.
The three-run homer launched by Teoscar Hernandez in the fourth inning provided the Blue Jays with enough runs to defeat the Minnesota Twins on Saturday in Toronto, and the blast pushed him past Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for the team lead in RBI.
The 6-2 victory also restored the Blue Jays (83-65) to the second wild-card spot in the American League by a half-game over the New York Yankees.
The Yankees (83-66) were thumped 11-3 at home by Cleveland. The Boston Red Sox (85-65) held on to the top wild-card spot with a 9-3 win over the Baltimore Orioles.
Hernandez has 106 RBI, two more than Guerrero, who has an outside chance at the AL triple crown. He’s first in batting average (.318) and homers (46), and now fourth in RBI, eight behind Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez.
The 28-year-old Hernandez credits work on his mental game as the reason for his productive and consistent season. He’s not only been reliable at the plate but also in the outfield.
“He’s been the best hitter on a lot of teams,” Blue Jays starter Steven Matz said of Hernandez. “He’s easy to overlook with how good this lineup is. He’s been amazing.”
Canadian swimmer Penny Oleksiak, a seven-time Olympic medallist, was among 14,722 at the Rogers Centre. She threw out the ceremonial first pitch and tossed a strike.
The Twins appeared headed for a ninth straight win in Toronto dating back Aug. 17, 2017. They led 2-0 after the first inning on a two-run homer to right field by former Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson, who also belted a solo shot in Minnesota’s series-opening win Friday.
But Matz settled down after Donaldson’s homer Saturday to retire 16 of the next 17 Twins.
Matz has benefitted from the highest average of run support in Major League Baseball this season at 8.07 a game. He’s won his last four decisions. His 13th win matched Hyun Jin Ryu for the team lead.
“To be in a hole like that, you just want to make good pitches and put up zeroes,” Matz said.
“I just wanted to keep it close and wait for the bats to come alive.”
The bats perked up in the fourth. Minnesota rookie starter Bailey Ober (2-3) took a no-hitter into the inning. The home side got to Ober the second time through the Blue Jays’ order.
Marcus Semien led off the fourth with a solo shot to left field to become only the fifth second baseman in MLB history to hit 40 or more homers in a season.
Yesterday: 31st birthday<br>Today: 40th homer of the season<br><br>Not a bad weekend, huh? 🥳 <a href=”https://t.co/uaSwpoBN6f”>pic.twitter.com/uaSwpoBN6f</a>
Guerrero then walked, and Bo Bichette singled to centre. Hernandez lifted a first-pitch slider high into the sky that barely cleared the left-field fence for his 28th homer and a two-run advantage.
“I knew I hit it good, but just a little high,” he said.
Ober and OUT 💪<br><br>💣 <a href=”https://twitter.com/TeoscarH?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@TeoscarH</a> 💣 <a href=”https://t.co/9HaQgApXkQ”>pic.twitter.com/9HaQgApXkQ</a>
Toronto padded its lead in the seventh when Twins reliever Jovani Moran loaded the bases with walks to Alejandro Kirk, George Springer and Guerrero. Kyle Barraclough replaced Moran and was greeted with a two-run single to left from Bichette.
Bo adds mo’ 🙌 <a href=”https://t.co/E9JULud582″>pic.twitter.com/E9JULud582</a>
A two-out walk to Donaldson followed by a single to centre from Miguel Sano ended Matz’s day after 96 pitches and five and two-thirds innings of work.
Blue Jays reliever Trevor Richards finished off the sixth for Matz. Tim Mayza generated a one-two-three seventh inning and struck out Nick Gordon to begin the eighth.
Righty Adam Cimber finished off the eighth, aided by a brilliant play from Bichette. He went deep in the hole to his right to throw out Donaldson.
The last thing you want to happen in an exhibition game between top rookie prospects? For one of your top prospects to go out with injury.
That’s what happened with Dmitri Samorukov and the Edmonton Oilers in Edmonton’s 4-3 prospect game win over the Calgary Flames on Saturday night.
Early in the first period, after a couple on-ice collisions, Samorukov left the game. It was an ominous moment, all the more so because Samorukov’s season was cut short last year due a shoulder injury. He had just been cleared one week ago to return to the ice from injury. He had been the talk of the first few days of the Oilers rookie camp, impressing team insiders with his great skating and big body.
Winger Xavier Bourgault also took a nasty hit-from-behind into the boards late in the game, missing the final three minutes of the game.
There was no word on the extent of the Samorukov and Bourgault’s injuries at the time we published this post.
Samorukov is part of Edmonton’s Big Boyz Brigade on defence, Edmonton’s group of young and hulking d-man prospects , all of them well over six feet tall.
The group also includes Philip Broberg, Michael Kesselring, Markus Niemelainen, Filip Berglund, Phil Kemp and Vincent Desharnais. They should form the Bakersfield defence this year.
Kemp, Broberg, Niemelainen, Berglund and Kesselring all played in the rookie game.
Each of the Big Boyz Brigade got stronger as the game went on. The Oilers rookies came back from a 3-1 first period deficit to win.
Here are brief reports on each of the Big Boyz Brigade, with my account limited because I was unable to go over video to review the key plays.
Kesselring: He got beat to a rebound on one goal against and failed to block a shot on another. But as the game went on, he got stronger, playing on a pairing with Markus Niemelainen. Kesselring got his feet going and made a number of strong plays, winning, moving and shooting the puck.
Niemelainen: He reminded me a bit of Kris Russell in this one (though a much bigger version of Russell), in that he’s fast on his skates and defensive minded. He also won the puck a few times in his zone and was only able to dump it out, as opposed to making a good pass to get it out. But, overall, got the job done on defence, though he failed to cut out a pass on one goal against and was slow to his man in front of the Edmonton net on another.
Kemp: He scored two bad angle goals, one through a screen and one on a deflection, but he scored them because he jumped into the attack and put the puck at the net. What’s not to like? He did get beat down the wing on one dangerous Flames rush in the first. But he also jumped up a few times to pinch and keep the puck in the Calgary end. This was the best I’ve seen him as an Oilers prospect. After Samorukov went out, he paired up with veteran Yanni Kaldis, who made a few nice passes for assists on the power play.
Broberg: He looked bad on one early goal against, wandering behind the net, and taking himself out of position to stop a slot pass, which eventually ended up in the net. Other than that, though, Broberg played well. He skated miles and skated fast. He was Edmonton’s top d-man on the power play, making a number of good passes and even better pinches in that role. A super solid 2021-22 debut for the Oilers.
Berglund: He looked much, much, much better here than he had when I last saw him play in Sweden in the fall, when he was playing hurt. He too had a bad moment in the first, getting caught in the n-zone on a Calgary rush and goal. But he was Edmonton’s steadiest d-man in this game, shutting down the attack, moving the puck, invariably in position. It looks like he and Broberg will form Edmonton’s top partnership in Bakersfield to start the year.
EDMONTON — The defence turned the tide for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday.
DeAundre Alford and Adam Bighill recorded defensive touchdowns as the league-leading Blue Bombers fought their way past the Edmonton Elks 37-22.
“Our defence, scoring two touchdowns for us, that is absolutely amazing when they are able to create turnovers like that and capitalize on them with points on the board,” said Winnipeg running back Andrew Harris.
“Our defence has been our backbone. They really flexed when we needed them to.”
Alford had two touchdowns in the contest.
“I think this is the best defence in the CFL and that we put everybody on notice that we are going to play fast and physical,” he said. “That we are going to do whatever it takes to win.”
The Blue Bombers (6-1) have won four games in a row while the Elks (2-4) have lost two straight and fell to 0-4 at home this season.
Elks quarterback Taylor Cornelius went 19 for 33 and passed for 243 yards with three interceptions in his CFL debut as he replaced Trevor Harris, who was placed on the six-game injured list with a neck injury.
“I thought he played really poised,” said Elks head coach Jaime Elizondo. “Listen, for having one day of practice, I thought he came out and showed some things that were really, really encouraging and I thought the guys responded really well to him.
“He didn’t get flustered. I know he’s going to be hard on himself with the mistakes he made. But those interceptions were a credit to the defence, they had some good breaks on the ball.”
Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros went 19 of 24 passing for 252 yards, a TD and an interception.
Winnipeg got off to a blazing start by scoring on its first drive, going 80 yards in nine plays, capped off by a 12-yard touchdown pass from Collaros to Darvin Adams.
The Blue Bombers doubled their lead on their next drive as Nic Demski ploughed his way through several defenders for a 21-yard rushing major to make it 14-0.
Edmonton got back into the game midway through the second thanks to a Christian Rector fumble recovery on the Bombers’ nine-yard-line, leading to a James Wilder Jr. touchdown run.
Winnipeg kicker Ali Mourtada missed a 28-yard field goal attempt before Edmonton’s Sean Whyte nailed a three-pointer from 44 yards out to make it 15-10 at the mid-mark.
Edmonton surged into the lead early in the third quarter with an unconverted 19-yard TD run by Wilder.
However the Bombers regained the lead as Alford picked off Cornelius and took it back 22 yards for the touchdown. A two-point convert made it 23-16 for Winnipeg.
Whyte responded with a 32-yard field goal before Mourtada missed his third field goal attempt of the game from 44 yards.
The Bombers defence did it again late in the third as Cornelius fumbled deep in his own end, leading to a three-yard scoop and score by Bighill.
After Whyte kicked a 19-yard field goal, Winnipeg put the game away with a one-yard TD plunge by Sean McGuire.
Both teams have a bye next week. The Elks’ next game will be in Ottawa on Sept. 28, while the Bombers will be in B.C. on Oct. 1. Winnipeg and Edmonton will then play each other again in a home-and-home series.
Notes: Two highly anticipated players made their Elks debuts: offensive lineman SirVincent Rogers and linebacker Derrick Moncrief… Winnipeg was trying its third place-kicker of the season with Mourtada making his CFL debut, relegating rookie Marc Liegghio to punting duties.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2021.
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