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Canucks getting Jacob Markstrom at his best when they need it most –



VANCOUVER – Four weeks after turning a three-goal lead into their most embarrassing night of the season by disintegrating and letting the Pittsburgh Penguins pour in five goals in the final 14 minutes, the Vancouver Canucks took a conservative approach in the rematch with Evgeni Malkin’s team on Saturday.

They did not allow the Penguins a first-period shot.

Malkin finished with one point instead of five, and the Canucks beat the Penguins 4-1 at Rogers Arena. Those two things were directly related.

But the story underlying both continued to be goalie Jacob Markstrom, who made 28 saves in his seventh straight start. Six of those have come since Canucks backup Thatcher Demko suffered a concussion from friendly fire during practice.

When the Canucks have needed Markstrom the most, the goalie has played his best stretch of the season.

Vancouver is only 3-4 in those seven games, but it’s possible the Canucks wouldn’t have won any had Markstrom not been in supreme form. He has stopped 216 of 234 shots for a save percentage of .923.

And he is doing this after an emotionally-agonizing autumn when Markstrom’s father lost his battle with cancer back in Sweden.

“I don’t think he ever really got in a rhythm just with the way his year has gone,” Canucks coach Travis Green said. “Unfortunately, with what happened to him, he has left the team a few times and that probably has derailed him from getting into a rhythm a bit. He’s definitely in one right now.”

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Veteran centre Jay Beagle said: “This guy, he battles so hard in practice. He works hard off the ice. He’s just a true pro; I only have good things to say about him and his game. It’s hard for anyone, obviously, to be in and out of the lineup. You do get rolling once you play some consecutive games. There is a certain thing where rhythm makes a big difference. He’s playing more now and looking like himself. He’s won us a lot of games.”

The Canucks have won two games this homestand when it seemed possible a few days ago they’d win none.

The team was teetering towards a full-blown crisis when it opened with a 3-1 loss on Tuesday against the Montreal Canadiens, the Canucks’ fourth defeat in five games.

But the Canucks won 5-4 in overtime Thursday against the Vegas Golden Knights, who they had beaten only once since the National Hockey League opened an outlet in Nevada, and on Saturday managed their win against a Pittsburgh team that was 7-1 in its previous eight games.

You just never know with these Canucks.

“Of course that last game (in Pittsburgh) was in the back of our heads,” centre Elias Pettersson said after scoring for the fourth time in four games. “We didn’t want to think about it too much, but we used it as fuel tonight.”

After a shotless opening 10 minutes, the Penguins must have gotten bored because they started taking penalties to get the game going.

Starting with a high-sticking double-minor to Dominik Simon at 12:24, the Penguins took eight minutes in penalties in a span of 87 seconds, leaving the Canucks with a two-minute five-on-three and an uninterrupted power play of 4:36.

By the time the Penguins’ penalty box was empty, the Canucks led 2-0.

After an opening goal by J.T. Miller was wiped out by a coach’s challenge — Quinn Hughes put himself offside 62 seconds before Miller scored at 14:05 — Jake Virtanen’s one-timer at 15:10 was as beyond doubt as it was beyond Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray’s catching glove.

Miller doubled the lead at 17:00 with a second power-play goal, a deft, top-shelf redirection of Oscar Fantenberg’s shot-pass to the high slot.

The Canucks did not allow a shot on goal in the first period, marking the first time since 2002 that the Penguins did not test the opposition goalie at least once during a 20-minute frame.

Markstrom required that 20 minutes of rest in order to play the second period, when the Penguins had two more power plays and outshot the Canucks 20-6.

Jake Guentzel guided a rebound into the net from Jared McCann’s power-play blast to halve the Canucks lead to 2-1 at 15:28.

But the Canucks, who collapsed when the Penguins leaned on them late in that dismal 8-6 loss on Nov. 27, displayed impressive resilience by answering just 44 seconds later when Pettersson roofed a Tyler Myers rebound after getting free from Penguins defenceman Marcus Pettersson (no relation).

Three of Elias Pettersson’s last four goals have been greasy. The 21-year-old is learning to play in hard areas.

“If I was accepting, like, being stamped out, boxed out, I wouldn’t be able to score that goal,” he said. “So I’m always trying to be hard on myself and work hard.”

“I think he’s evolving,” Green said. “He’s a very bright, young player. He listens. In hard games, he knows he’s got to go to hard areas, and he is. All the top players in the league, they play in those types of games and they go to hard areas.”

Brock Boeser made it 4-1 with 5:29 remaining, intercepting a Pittsburgh clearance before working a give-and-go with Pettersson.

“We did a lot of good things and it was nice to get the win,” Beagle said. “But we’ve got to continue to build here. We’ve got to be better. We can’t be satisfied with 14 shots (and) Marky standing on his head.”

Well, the goalie-standing-on-his-head part is pretty good.

The Canucks finish their pre-Christmas homestand Monday against the Edmonton Oilers.

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Penny Oleksiak back to lead Canada in Tokyo pool



Penny Oleksiak, the first Canadian to win four medals at a Summer Olympics, will lead a Canadian swimming team eager to build on their efforts in Rio de Janeiro at next month’s Tokyo Games.

Swimming Canada unveiled a 26-member squad (16 women, 10 men) on Thursday that is a mix of experience and youth that officials hope is capable of improving on the six medals won in Rio, the country’s best haul in the pool since the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

“I think the mix of veteran leaders and new faces is awesome,” said Kylie Masse, a bronze medallist in the 100 metres backstroke in Rio and one of 10 returning Olympians. “That’s kind of how sport works, there are always older and younger athletes, and it’s a great dynamic to have.”

Leading the charge at the 2016 Rio Games was Oleksiak, who became Canada’s youngest Olympic champion winning gold in the 100m freestyle as a 16-year-old, while also grabbing silver in the 100m butterfly and two relay bronze.

The stage is set for a new star to emerge in Tokyo in 14-year-old Summer McIntosh, who edged Oleksiak in the 200m freestyle at the trials and breezed to victory in the 800m free.

At the other end of the experience and age spectrum is 37-year-old Brent Hayden, who came out of retirement to earn a spot on his fourth Olympic team, becoming the oldest Canadian Olympic swimmer in history.

Bronze medallist in the 100m freestyle at the 2012 London Olympics, Hayden clinched his spot with a win in the 50m freestyle at the Canadian trials that wrapped up on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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Sinclair to lead Canadian women’s team in her fourth Olympics



Christine Sinclair, the all-time international goal-scoring record holder, was named to her fourth Olympic squad on Wednesday and will headline a Canadian roster at the Tokyo Games that features a mix of veterans and youth.

Led by Sinclair, whose 186 goals for her country are the most by a female or male soccer player worldwide, Canada won medals at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and was the only nation to make the podium in both competitions.

“I am looking forward to doing whatever I can to help take this team back to the podium and make history again,” said Canadian captain Sinclair. “Our team is in a good spot, we are excited, we are hungry and we are ready to go.”

The 18-player roster features 12 members of the squad that competed at the 2016 Rio Games while a quintet including Vanessa Gilles, Jayde Riviere, Julia Grosso, Adriana Leon, and Evelyne Viens will be making their Olympic debuts.

Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan travelled to Rio in 2016 as an alternate.

Canada will kick off their Tokyo 2020 journey when they face Japan on July 21 and continue Group E play against Chile on July 24 and Britain on July 27.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)

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



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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