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Canadiens’ COVID-19 issues a concern across North Division – Sportsnet.ca

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Getting nearly a week off in Montreal is something millionaire hockey players would normally jump at.

Not so in 2021.

The Edmonton Oilers were forced to spend plenty of time at the team’s hotel and on the practice ice this week when their three-game series against the Canadiens was postponed after two Montreal players were added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list.

“A lot of sitting around,” Oilers centre Leon Draisaitl said. “A lot of time with the guys.”

Edmonton arrived in Montreal on Sunday for games scheduled for Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Those plans changed drastically when Canadiens forwards Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia were placed into protocol Monday, nixing the series opener and signalling the Canadian-based North Division’s first postponement of the truncated season.

The teams’ next two games — as well as the Canadiens’ matchup with the Ottawa Senators scheduled for Sunday — were also subsequently scrapped and will be made up at a later date.

NHL players and team staff are restricted to airports, hotels and arenas when on the road this season, while life at home is basically a mirror image as the league continues to try and keep the coronavirus at bay.

“We’re lucky we had these practice days,” said Edmonton defenceman Adam Larsson, whose team arrived in Toronto on Thursday ahead of a two-game set with the Maple Leafs. “You get out of your room a little bit. Other than that, there’s not a whole lot.

“A little bit of Ping-Pong, a lot of TV shows.”

Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin told reporters Thursday one of the two players in question has a confirmed case of a COVID-19 variant. The decision to postpone was made by medical officials from the league, the NHL Players’ Association and the Canadiens.

While outbreaks and positive tests south of the border have impacted a number of NHL teams and forced schedule rejigging, the North had been relatively unscathed through the first two months of the season before the current situation in Montreal.

And it served as another warning to Canada’s other six clubs how insidious and serious — even with all the precautions — the virus remains with the variant threat and the country’s glacial vaccine rollout.

“It’s a huge reminder,” Leafs winger Zach Hyman said. “Especially with things in the U.S. opening up more and players over there getting the vaccine, we’re in a different boat in Canada. We have to be extra careful.

“Even here, things are starting to open up, the weather’s getting nicer so I’m sure there are temptations to go out. It’s even more important to stay on top of things and make sure everybody in our locker room is staying safe and wearing a mask and doing all the things we’ve been doing.”

Vancouver Canucks blue-liner Nate Schmidt said even though COVID-19 hadn’t impacted the NHL in Canada nearly as much as the U.S., a shutdown of some kind was likely inevitable.

“It’s a little bit of a ghost,” he said. “You never know when and where and how you can get it. It’s something that we’ve been very fortunate to not have to deal with a lot up here.

“A lot of teams have had to go through it. It’s no different to what we’re going through now.”

Bergevin said he expects the schedules for every Canadian team to be adjusted as a result of this week’s postponements. Montreal is currently slated to play in Ottawa on Tuesday, but the Canadiens’ practice facility will remain closed through the weekend.

“Whatever the schedule brings later on, we have to deal with that,” Edmonton head coach Dave Tippett said. “It’s unfortunate that it happened, but it wasn’t something that was unexpected.”

Winnipeg Jets forward Andrew Copp said even the most stringent precautions aren’t foolproof in the NHL’s COVID-19 era.

“The (Canadian) teams have done a pretty good job of not allowing that or doing the best that they can, obviously with a little luck,” he said. “But it was bound to happen.”

The start time for another game between the Oilers and Canadiens on Feb. 11 at the Bell Centre was pushed back an hour after Edmonton forward Jesse Puljujarvi was placed into protocol, but he was deemed eligible to resume team activities two days later.

In all, there have been 41 games postponed in the NHL, with many more rescheduled.

Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said the positive tests are a concern for the health of everyone involved, but also the season at large.

“Whether you’re missing players for certain games or games get postponed, and then they’re sandwiched into an already condensed and busy schedule, it becomes a competitive situation,” he said. “It creates some real challenges. We want to do everything we can to not put ourselves in that situation.”

As for actual games, the Oilers and Leafs will both be rested after Toronto played for just the third time in 11 nights Thursday ahead of Saturday and Monday tilts at Scotiabank Arena with first place in the North on the line.

The Leafs embarrassed the Oilers on home ice in a three-game sweep earlier this month, but Edmonton rebounded by going 7-2-0 over its next nine before arriving in Montreal last weekend. Toronto, meanwhile, is just 3-6-0 over that span and held a two point lead on the Oilers and Winnipeg Jets atop the division heading into Friday’s action.

“You obviously want to send a message,” said Draisaitl, whose team is 2-5-0 against the Leafs with their final regular-season matchups on deck. “We want to beat them and show them that we’re a good team, too.”

And that team, according to Larsson, has become a lot closer this season — including over the past week.

“We’ve spent a lot of time together,” he said. “You’re pretty much with the team the whole time on the road. It’s been good for us.”

The last week wasn’t a break the Oilers wanted or really needed, but one they were prepared for in the most unique of campaigns.

“If you’d gone through the year without any interruptions, you would have been grateful,” Tippett said. “But you probably would have been surprised. We’re just taking it as part of what this season is. It’s not a normal year.

“It’s just part of what we have to deal with.”

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Which of the Canadians Picked in the 2021 NFL Draft Will Thrive This Season?

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It was a good NFL Draft for Canadian players in 2021.

Some four stars from north of the border were selected by NFL franchises in the free agency pick ‘em, and that is tied as the highest number of Canadians drafted in the 85-year history of the event.

Of course, the hope is that these young talents are more than just filler and roster depth, but can any of the quartet make the breakthrough into the big time?

Here’s a look at which of the NFL’s newest Canadian additions can shine in 2021/22.

Jevon Holland

The defensive back was the number 36 pick in the Draft by the Miami Dolphins, who beat off a number of rivals in the hunt for the Coquitlam native.

A versatile defender, Holland is a former Jim Thorpe Award semi-finalist thanks to his exploits in the NCAA back in 2019 with the University of Oregon.

He sat out the 2020 campaign, but representatives from dozens of NFL teams were in town to watch Holland go through his paces at the Oregon Pro Day.

The 21-year-old is following in the footsteps of his father Robert, who turned out for the Detroit Lions, and he is expected to force his way into the starting line-up at the Dolphins. And, who knows, maybe Holland could go all the way in his first season, with Miami priced at +2500 in the Super Bowl 2022 American football odds.

Benjamin St-Juste

When you’re six foot three, 205 pounds and still able to run 40 yards in 4.51 seconds, it goes without saying that you have the physical credentials to succeed in the NFL.

Benjamin St-Juste is the man that can, and he will bolster the roster at a Washington Football Team that will be looking to improve upon their playoff showing in 2020.

The 23-year-old may only have been a third-round pick, but he comes with a burgeoning reputation thanks to a successful time at the University of Minnesota. An All-Big Ten special mention in 2019, more than 50 NFL recruitment personnel attended the college’s pro day – largely to catch a glimpse of St-Juste going through his paces.

Both Brian Gutekunst and Jon Robinson made the trip but, in the end, it was Washington who snapped up the powerhouse from the Draft.

Chuba Hubbard

The third Canadian to be drafted in 2021 was Chuba Hubbard, who became the first Canadian running back to be selected from the Draft in 25 years.

It’s the Carolina Panthers who have taken a chance on the 22-year-old and with his credentials, you can see why. Hubbard finished eighth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in 2019 after a stellar campaign – he served up 2,094 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, an NCAA best. He was named the Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

While running backs are not the hottest of properties in the Draft, Hubbard provably has the talent to cross into the end zone with regularity – the Panthers might just have got their hands on an unheralded gem here.

With these three Canadians taking the step up to the NFL, the future of the sport north of the border looks in safe hands.

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Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s

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Andy Murray‘s grasscourt return was cut short in brutal fashion at Queen’s Club as Italian top seed Matteo Berrettini dished out a 6-3 6-3 defeat to the former world number one on Thursday.

The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.

Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.

Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.

Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.

He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.

Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.

Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.

“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.

“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”

Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.

(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)

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Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills

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North Division

It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.

The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.

Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.

Passers

Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.

Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.

Shooting

A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.

Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.

Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.

Stick Handling

Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.

If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.

Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.

When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.

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