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Canadian men’s team turning heads on historic World Cup qualifying run – Sportsnet.ca

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Former Canada coach Stephen Hart startled a few friends recently with his assessment of the current Canadian men’s team.

“I had said a few nights before with a group of friends that I thought Canada was the best team in CONCACAF, in terms of depth, in attack, in midfield,” Hart said. “They kind of looked at me with a funny look. But I honestly thought that.”

On Tuesday, before a loud, proud and cold crowd of 44,212 at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium, John Herdman’s team proved Hart right.

Canada’s 2-1 win over Mexico, coupled with the Americans’ 1-1 tie earlier in the day in Jamaica and Canada’s 1-0 victory over Costa Rica four days earlier in Edmonton, moved the unbeaten Canadians (4-0-4) into first place in the final round of World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF with six games remaining.

Come March, the top three countries will represent North and Central America and the Caribbean in Qatar next year. The fourth-place team will take part in an intercontinental playoff to see who joins them.

Canada’s overall record in Qatar 2022 qualifying improved to 10-0-4 with a 44-6 edge in goals. And like the Olympic champion Canadian women, the men — ranked 48th in the world and on the climb — are turning heads and inspiring support.

Tuesday’s triumph was Canada’s first over Mexico since the 2000 Gold Cup quarterfinals. The Canadian men have now taken four of a possible six points against ninth-ranked Mexico in this qualifying round, having held the CONCACAF powerhouse to a 1-1 tie last month in the hostile ground of Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium.

“After the game in Azteca, that’s what made me think this team has such a good balance,” said Hart, how coach of the Canadian Premier League’s HFX Wanderers FC. “Of course I was elated they won the game (Tuesday) but they won the game in a fairly comfortable manner, in my view of it.”

Added former Canadian international Nick Dasovic: “You’re not top of CONCACAF after eight games if you’re not quality. You can get luck at some stages but this team is the real deal. The depth is amazing.

“I mean you’d have to say the ’86 (World Cup) team was the best (Canadian men’s) team up to now. I mean, obviously I didn’t play in that one. I was a kid (18) at the time. But this is by far the best group of players we’ve had assembled without any shadow of a doubt for this national program.

“And they’re all buying in. They’re all playing for the jersey. They’re all playing for the country. It’s pretty amazing.”

Still, there is work to be done, as Herdman told his team Tuesday after it celebrated going atop the standings and (according to www.transfermarkt.com) leading all teams in world football with 55 goals this calendar year. Not to mention captain Atiba Hutchinson’s record-setting 90th cap and Cyle Larin tying Dwayne De Rosario for the most international “A” goals (22) among Canadian men.

“There was a lot of celebration” Herdman told The Canadian Press on Wednesday. “But at the end of it, I had some sobering words — that we’ve got 10 weeks to stay focused, to do the right things. Because we’ve got six more battles. And there will be battles. This isn’t over.

“You’ve seen how tight it is at the top. Only three are going to go through. And it’s going to go right to the wire. So we have to stay ready — and humble. And the lads, you could see their eyes focus back in. They know we’ve got some big steps ahead to take.”

An emotionally drained Herdman — “I was absolutely knackered” — boarded a plane Wednesday morning to return to B.C. But he was still beaming.

“I just saw Milan (Borjan) in the (hotel) lobby and he just said ‘I could wake up in Canada every day,”’ Herdman said of his starting goalkeeper, who is an icon in Serbia where he plays for Red Star Belgrade. “The feeling’s unreal for these guys. Kids are asking for autographs. And he said ‘Never has this happened before.’

“And that’s all I ever wanted. I just wanted to feel the love and get the country believing that we’re a football country.”

One can argue the Canadian men did it in the most Canadian of settings, with defender Sam Adekugbe memorably throwing himself into a snowbank during the celebrations that followed Larin’s opening goal.

Only two points separate Canada (4-0-4, 16 points) and fourth-place Panama (4-2-2, 14 points). The U.S. (4-1-3, 15 points) stands second and Mexico (4-2-2, 14 points) third. But perhaps most importantly, the top four are beginning to get separation on fifth-place Costa Rica (2-3-3, nine points).

Canada has a home game against the 13th-ranked U.S. sandwiched around visits to No. 68 Honduras and No. 65 El Salvador in late January, early February before finishing in March with games at No. 45 Costa Rica and No. 69 Panama with a home match against No. 59 Jamaica in-between.

Whatever happens, the Canadian men — like their female counterparts — are growing the sport.

“I think the country now has seen what football can do, what football is about for this country,” said Pa-Modou Kah, a former Norwegian international who coaches Pacific FC of the Canadian Premier League.

With Hutchinson and other players not available for all qualifying matches, the load fell on other players both on and off the field. Herdman credits Borjan, Jonathan Osorio, Maxime Crepeau, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Samuel Piette, Doneil Henry, Richie Laryea and Junior Hoilett as the leadership group that helped change the Canadian men’s outlook.

“You can 100 per cent see that everybody’s bought in,” said Dasovic, a Canada Soccer Hall of Famer who won 63 caps between 1992 and 2004.

Henry sent a clear message that it was going to be a difficult night for the visitors, sending Napoli winger Hirving Lozano flying through the air in a crunching aerial challenge less than a minute into Tuesday’s game.

With Canada Soccer — with the help of Mother Nature — having done what it could to make the Mexicans uncomfortable, Herdman told his players the game would come down to who could bring the intensity for the full 90 minutes.

“I thought Doneil set the tone for what was going to happen. It became a war on the benches (which both received yellow cards). It became a war on the field,” said Herdman. “And the fans came with us.”

The Canadians’ recent performances, coupled with the club success of players like Davies (Bayern Munich), Jonathan David (Lille) and Hutchinson and Larin (Besiktas), have also made wearing the Maple Leaf attractive.

Stephen Eustaquio, Steven Vitoria and Ike Ugbo were among those in Herdman’s matchday squad Tuesday that chose to wear the Maple Leaf over another crest.

“Players want to jump on this ship. They want to get involved with this country,” said Dasovic.

Herdman and Canada Soccer have also revamped the way the national teams are treated.

“When I played — most of my career as a national team player — it was what it was,” said Dasovic, who is coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps under-19 side. “You weren’t getting charter flights, you weren’t getting first-class. It happened once in a blue moon when they got us some passes. Things like that.

“You knew you were going to be sitting in seat 32B or you’re going to be trapped against the washroom or whatever.”

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Leafs lose in shootout after three-goal comeback led by Jason Spezza – Pension Plan Puppets

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It certainly could’ve been worse. After falling behind 0-3 i the first half of the game, the Toronto Maple Leafs mounted a second period comeback against the Minnesota Wild only to lose in a shootout. Jason Spezza scored twice and added an assist for a three-point night. Morgan Rielly finished with a Mitch Marner hat trick (three assists), and Auston Matthews scored as well in the loss. Jack Campbell stopped 37 of 40 in the loss, very similar to his counterpart Cam Talbot, who gave up three on 42 shots.

Usually the Leafs have fallen apart when falling behind early, for example the Penguins game from earlier in the season, but credit to them they fought back and tied the game all before the third period. Spezza was obviously huge in that, but all of Matthews, Tavares, Nylander, and Rielly brought their A-game. They showed fight, which is promising.

The fact that the win-o-meter swung the Leafs way at all after the 0-3 goal, that’s impressive to say the Leafs. You win some and you lose some, at the very least the Leafs got a point, didn’t lose the game in real hockey, and continue their strong form.

First Period

With Marner out of the lineup, Simmonds jumped up to the top line with Matthews and Bunting. That line had a lot of fun below the goal line and in the corners, but it was pretty clear Matthews wasn’t going to play as much as the other two. True to that form, after the Leafs got an offensive zone faceoff, Matthews jumped out on the left wing with Tavares and Nylander. After seeing the third line the shift before, that trio was, uh, notably better.

Rielly got high-sticked midway through the period, sending the Leafs to the power play. The opening faceoff was scuffled a bit, but the puck somehow got to Matthews in the slot. His clapper got parried away by Talbot’s blocker. The power play had some trouble making passes as Rielly left the puck behind him once, and then Tavares sent it to the wrong spot when going back to the point.

0-1

Holl bobbles a puck at the defensive blue line and the Wild take advantage with the first goal of the game scored by Jordan Greenway.

After One

Not a markedly bad period for the Leafs, but Jack Campbell had to make three or four really big saves off the rush and in front. He looked sharp in the first period, very positionally sound and dialed in. Shot attempts were 14-16, but the Leafs only had 33% of the expected goals.

Second Period

After Rielly went to the box for cross checking, the Leafs got a power play. Matthews had another chance on his own rebound but couldn’t get all of it on the second shot against Talbot’s left pad.

0-2

Another goal for the Wild against Muzzin-Holl, this one was on the penalty kill with Kaše in the box. Zuccarello sent a pass to the slot and the puck ricocheted off Holl skate and in.

Now a penalty to Dermott after Sandin stepped up at the line and the Wild got through on transition.

0-3

Another one, this one from Marcus Foligno off a faceoff. Two bad bounces, first off a clear from Brodie, then off a shot block from Matthews.

The Leafs were now chasing the puck and feeling outnumbered at all points on the ice. At this point, Keefe finally put Nylander with Matthews.

Nylander, who had been the best player on the Leafs to this point, had a brilliant drive past Goligoski. He went around the outside, but Talbot stretched the pad and made an incredible save.

1-3

Spezza! Another weird bounce as Spezza scores from an impossible angle (beyond what he tries in practice) as the puck bounces off the back of Talbot’s head an in to put the Leafs on the board.

That goal seemed to give the Leafs some more life. Well, either that or the Leafs were looking a lot more dangerous anytime Nylander was on the ice.

Tavares, Nylander, and Matthews had yet another big chance in front of the net. Matthews deftly tipped a point shot from Rielly for Tavares to jam away at the puck in front of the net. Nylander dove into the pile to get the rebound with Matthews following up for the third time, but Talbot collapsed and didn’t open a hole for the puck to slip through. Jordie Benn took a penalty on the play, leading to…

2-3

Spezza with his second on the power play from the bumper position! Assists to Matthews and Rielly, with Nylander creating a great screen in front.

A new-look third line nearly scored again as Simmonds was hooked by Goligoski otherwise he would’ve tied it. Good pass from Ritchie at the side of the net to get the puck to the Scarborough legend.

3-3

And in the final minute of the period, Matthews ties the game on the power play! A third point for Spezza as he gets the primary assist. Also getting his third point: Morgan Rielly!

After Two

These screenshots are courtesy of Katya. Here is the Leafs shot map after the 0-3 goal and then the shot map after the 3-3 game. Safe to say the blob got better. In terms of who was getting those chance, it was Nylander, Tavares, a big gap, and then Kerfoot and the rest. Safe to say that second line is pretty dominant at the moment. In all situations, Matthews was the top Leaf in chances, so he’s at least getting it done when it matters most.

Third Period

Rielly and Eriksson-Ek both held each other’s sticks, but only Rielly got the penalty. Then on the penalty kill faceoff, Kämpf gets called for a high-sticking penalty. Muzzin, Holl, and Kerfoot were out to kill the penalty in front of Campbell, who made one very good save on Zuccarello. In the dying seconds of the 5-on-3, Campbell lost his stick while trying to spin around and stop a shot on the far side. He didn’t have to formally make a save but it was very stressful as Rielly eventually got out of the box, got to the puck first, and cleared it away. Credit to the trio for killing the whole 1:48 of the 5-on-3 on the road.

The Leafs ran lots of lines in the second two periods, but one that I especially liked was Spezza with Matthews and Bunting. Even if they can’t run it for the whole game, it created some good chances when together.

I’d like to disagree with Omar, Dermott went full Dermott there.

In the final 30 seconds of regulation, Foligno drove the net and ran all the way through Campbell. The Leafs cleared the puck despite there being no call for goalie interference at all. Keefe was yelling at the refs afterwards and rightfully so as Campbell was both in his crease and hit in the head. What more do you need to make that call? For it to have happened 40 minutes sooner?

Overtime

Matthews, Nylander, and Rielly to start. Kaprizov had the first chance, but shot the puck very high and wide. Brodin caught the Leafs on a line change, but he kicked the puck forward and Campbell cleared the puck into the bench.

Tavares had a chance a minute and a half in. Bunting nearly got a rebound on a second shot from Muzzin. Campbell made a good poke check going the other way on Fiala just before that play.

Kaprizov had another chance, but Nylander tied him up and stopped the shot. Going the other way, Nylander made a nice pass to Matthews behind him, Rielly followed up and nearly beat Talbot under the blocker.

With Engvall, Tavares, and Sandin on the ice Dumba had a point shot, but Campbell came across and made the save.

Spezza nearly got his hat trick, but he got slashed hard on the hands and had to go to the room to check on his right arm/left hand. Brodin got called for slashing and the Leafs went to the power play for less than a minute. Wild fans didn’t like it, but I’m sure they wouldn’t have liked that goalie interference call either.

Nylander nearly scored twice on the power play, but nothing doing as a shootout was needed. The Leafs big four was clearly exhausted as they didn’t move much on the power play.

Shootout

  1. Zuccarello scores on Campbell (0-1)
  2. Kaše stopped by Talbot
  3. Fiala stopped by Campbell!
  4. Matthews scores! (1-1)
  5. Kaprizov scores on Campbell (1-2)
  6. Nylander stopped by Talbot

Leafs lose.

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Moulding opens up about meeting with Team Bottcher that led to dismissal from team – CBC.ca

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Darren Moulding had seen signs of fracture within Team Bottcher well before things came to a head for the reigning national men’s champions this week.

A group text about a sponsorship request led to an in-person team meeting at the Edmonton home of lead Karrick Martin on Friday evening. Moulding was joined at the sitdown by Martin, skip Brendan Bottcher and second Brad Thiessen.

“When I showed up, I walked in the door and they basically just told me I was cut,” Moulding said.

Team Bottcher issued a statement later Friday night confirming Moulding’s departure. The release added he’d be “taking time away from the game for personal reasons,” something Moulding described on Twitter as a “complete BS statement.”

For a team that’s ranked sixth in the world and will soon wear the Maple Leaf at the Tim Hortons Brier, the mid-season move — even after a disappointing showing at Canada’s Olympic trials — came as a major surprise.

The team said it planned to name a new teammate at a later date. Bottcher said he’d have no further comment until a media availability Monday, which was later rescheduled for Sunday afternoon via a Curling Canada conference call.

Moulding, reached by The Canadian Press at his home in Lacombe, Alta., said ripples within the team started to reach a higher level when coach Don Bartlett joined them at the Brier for the first time in 2020.

Further division came last season in Calgary, said Moulding, who battled a significant back injury in the curling bubble. It was there, he said, that he challenged Bottcher on issues that he felt were important to him and his teammates.

“I kind of stuck up for them,” Moulding said. “Starting there, basically he was unwilling to make it right and do what needed to be done to fix the problem and I wouldn’t back down. So he just decided he’d had enough of me.”

Moulding said he wanted a better business structure within the team and basically “took the bullet” for trying to get some transparency.

“That went over like a lead balloon,” he said. “Brendan doesn’t like that. If he can’t control everything all the time, then he’s going to need to find somebody that just lets him do it. It’ll be interesting to see who can handle that.”

Specifics on team revenue and split percentages from prize payouts were not available.

‘If I’m part of the team I want it to be equal share’

“If I’m part of the team I want it to be equal share,” Moulding said. “That means not just monetarily but also in having a say in how we do things and being able to see how we do things and having transparency. So it’s definitely a business issue.

“It was never indicated to me that it was a performance issue. At the trials, obviously Brendan struggled there. Everybody saw the games on TV. They know what happened.”

Bottcher, who won a world junior title in 2012, was 3-5 to settle for a fifth-place tie in round-robin play at SaskTel Centre, coming well short of the playoff cut.

Moulding said he called the team meeting after Bottcher “kind of freaked out on me” in a reply to his group text. He described the skip as someone who was typically “very defensive,” who could get “upset and emotional.”

“He’d be lashing out at me for no reason and not making very much sense,” Moulding said. “The other two guys just sit there. They don’t say anything. They’ve been curling with him for a long time and I think they know that if they say something, they’re afraid to get cut, which is sad because they’re both really good players.

“They don’t deserve that. I wish that they could find a little bit of courage and stick up for themselves a little bit but they aren’t made the same way I am.”

Moulding was initially hoping to find out why the skip was upset. Instead the meeting focused on reasons why he was out.

“I asked why and Brendan just said that I’ve said hurtful things about Don and him, which I disagree [with], but I just told the truth about a couple things that I saw happening in the team that I didn’t like,” he said.

“I had to stick to my morals and my values and I wouldn’t let him off the hook. Sometimes telling the truth gets you in trouble, but it doesn’t mean that it’s the wrong thing to do.”

Moulding later updated his Twitter profile bio to read: “Proud Dad, Free Agent Curler.”

An accompanying picture of the members of Team Bottcher was changed to a sunset over a lake.

‘I’m healthy, happy and I’ll play any time’

“I can assure you that I’m healthy, happy and I’ll play any time,” Moulding said. “I don’t have any personal reasons that prevent me from curling. So that [statement] was unfair because that can affect my curling career. They’re allowed to cut me. It sucks, the timing sucks. They could have just said, ‘We want a new player, you’re done.’

“It’s not exactly nice but to misrepresent my status after five years of basically giving everything I could to the team, I just felt I deserved a little bit better than that. But people do things in their own way.”

The Bottcher foursome reached three Brier finals before finally breaking through last season. The team will defend its title this March in Lethbridge, Alta.

Moulding said the team provided some additional “fairly petty” reasons to him for making the switch.

One was that he was “cranky” at times in the bubble. Another was that they didn’t like that he called for a hog-line official in a game against the Netherlands at the world championship, Moulding said.

“They brought Marc Kennedy in to play fifth but they didn’t tell me about it,” he said. “I found out much the same way I found out about getting cut — by surprise. So that was a problem.

“But in that situation [in the bubble], being injured, I would have really appreciated a little bit of support.”

The four players spent four full seasons together and appeared to be a strong unit with solid on-ice chemistry.

“I’d say what you saw out there was real,” Moulding said. “We really were that close. I would say that since Don came on, we really got worse that way. But it was just enabling Brendan. I think that’s the major thing.”

Bottcher was the only team member scheduled to appear on Sunday’s conference call.

Interview requests for Bartlett, Thiessen and Martin were made through the federation on Saturday but it wasn’t immediately clear if they would be made available.

After getting a chance to absorb the news overnight and into Saturday, Moulding said he’s happy with how he has handled everything and wouldn’t change a thing.

While sad he won’t get to defend his Brier title, Moulding said he’s excited about the future and is hopeful that he’ll compete at a high level sometime soon.

“For the first three years together, it was wonderful,” Moulding said. “It ran its course. But I would reflect back on it as a positive time in my life.”

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Fan throws jersey on ice as listless Canucks lose to Penguins – Sportsnet.ca

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VANCOUVER — Jake Guentzel scored a second-period hat trick and added an assist as the Pittsburgh Penguins downed the Canucks 4-1 in Vancouver on Saturday.

Two of the left-winger’s goals came on the power play after the Canucks saw three players sent to the penalty box in quick succession.

Sidney Crosby had a goal and a pair of assists and Kris Letang registered three helpers as the Pens improved to 11-8-5 on the season.

Rookie Vasily Podkolzin replied for the Canucks (8-15-2), whose modest two-game win streak was snapped.

Surrey, B.C., native Tristan Jarry had 22 saves for Pittsburgh as he made his first-ever start in Vancouver. At the other end of the ice, Thatcher Demko stopped 40-of-44 shots.

It’s the second time in 11 days that the visitors beat the Canucks, coming after the Penguins took a 4-1 decision in Pittsburgh on Nov. 24.

The Canucks got a prime opportunity to cut into the deficit with less than three minutes left on the clock as John Marino was called for interference.

Vancouver pulled Demko in favour of an extra attacker, but the home side struggled to maintain possession, eliciting boos from the crowd.

Chants of “fire Benning!” also echoed through the stadium late in the game, referring to Canucks general manager Jim Benning. A blue Canucks jersey flew on to the ice during a stoppage in play with 1.6 seconds left on the game clock.

Crosby gave the Pens a three-goal lead 11:15 into the third, tapping in a long bomb from Letang.

It was the third goal of the season for the Pittsburgh captain, who missed 13 games with injury and illness.

After a scoreless first period, the Penguins’ offence erupted in the second. Pittsburgh outshot the Canucks 22-5 across the period, with Guentzel scoring three goals in the process.

Guentzel put the visitors on the board just 2:19 into the frame with a blast from inside the faceoff circle. Demko initially appeared to make the stop but the puck hit Oliver Ekman-Larsson in front of the net and bounced in past the goalie.

The goal extended Guentzel’s point streak to 12 games. He has 16 points (10 goals, six assists) across the stretch.

The Canucks replied at the 6:18 mark when Podkolzin, stationed in the middle of the slot, sent a deflection in off Jarry’s shoulder for his fifth goal of the year.

Trouble began brewing for Vancouver midway through the period when defenceman Tyler Myers was sent to the box for closing his hand on the puck.

Thirty seconds into the infraction, Tyler Motte was clocked for cross checking Kris Letang and joined Myers in the box. Defenceman Tucker Poolman made the duo a trio 20 seconds later when he sent the puck over the glass for the Canucks’ third straight penalty.

Guentzel was quick to capitalize on the open ice, blasting a shot over Demko’s shoulder 17:13 into the second period.

He added another tally — his 13th goal of the season — 70 seconds later with a shot from high in the slot that hit defenceman Luke Schenn’s back side and ricocheted in past Demko to give Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead.

It was the fourth regular-season hat trick of Guentzel’s career. He’s also scored two in the playoffs.

Pittsburgh was 2 for 6 with the man advantage Saturday, while Vancouver went scoreless on three power plays.

The Canucks will continue a six-game homestand on Monday when they host the L.A. Kings. The Penguins will face the Kraken in Seattle the same night.

NOTES: The Canucks came into the game with the worst penalty kill in the league (64.5 per cent). .. Guentzel has scored in each of Pittsburgh’s 13 road games. ? Vancouver is 3-7-1 at home this season.

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