VANCOUVER — The West Coast was getting soaked Monday, but one of the biggest torrents was the flow of Vancouver Canucks players returning from abroad for another extraordinary National Hockey League season. They just don’t know yet if any of their 56 games will actually be at home.
There is a lot of fine print to the NHL’s return-to-play agreement with its players. But the blaring headline in Canada is: Where will they play?
With the American border still closed indefinitely and domestic travel advisories growing stricter, the Canucks and other teams in the all-Canadian North Division are still in discussion with provincial and federal health authorities for permission to play games home and away.
In British Columbia, hockey proved a tough sell last spring when the NHL was negotiating for sites to stage its Stanley Cup playoffs. Vancouver was in as the Western Conference bubble city until the league found health officials in Alberta more compliant.
But Canucks general manager Jim Benning remains hopeful this time ahead of more critical discussions this week.
“It’s exciting because with this Canadian division, every game is going to have a playoff feel to it,” Benning told Sportsnet. “Those games against Canadian teams are always exciting and the way the schedule is set up, where you play a team two or three times, it’s almost like a mini-playoff series. And when you look at those Canadian teams, every team has a couple of those high-end superstars. I think it’s going to be fun for the fans to watch.”
But it will be a lot less fun for the Canucks — and harder to win those mini-playoff series — if they need to play their “home” games in Edmonton.
“We’re working with the provincial government and federal government to work out any concerns and questions that they have so we are able to play our games out of Vancouver,” Benning said. “With the rules that we have in place for the players, the safety protocols, the players getting tested every day… they’re doing everything they can to be safe for themselves and the communities we fly into. Hopefully, that’s enough to get the confidence of the provincial people and we get to play in our home rink.”
Benning declined to say anything more about where-to-play discussions with the government. Clearly, it is a sensitive issue.
Anyone in Vancouver can get on an airplane and fly to another NHL city in Canada.
They are subject, of course, to provincial health guidelines in each jurisdiction. In Manitoba, this means domestic air passengers arriving from east of the province are subject to quarantine. The Ontario government announced Monday a full lockdown starting Dec. 26.
But airports are open, airlines are running and in most places visitors arriving by air from another Canadian city can make their way to a hotel, go out for a meal or at least takeout, and shop at whichever stores are open.
Certainly, you are allowed to explore the city. Wander around beautiful old Montreal, stroll by the Parliament buildings or Rideau Canal in Ottawa, watch the ice build on the North Saskatchewan River in downtown Edmonton. And you can do all this without anybody testing you for COVID-19.
Yes, there are health screenings, questionnaires, and a temperature check before you board your commercial flight, on which you may be wedged into a middle seat between strangers for several hours. You must wear a mask. But nobody is sticking a swab up your nose in order to travel.
The NHL and its players have agreed on more stringent travel guidelines.
On the road, players will be allowed to leave their hotel for walks and fresh air, but cannot enter a retail establishment. There will be no dining out, no shopping. All meals will be taken at their hotels, and air travel will be exclusively on chartered aircraft, essentially giving teams full control over their isolated environments while in transit. Players won’t be walking through crowded concourses or standing elbow to elbow with other travellers at the baggage carousel before lining up for taxis or waiting for their Uber.
And amid all this, unlike the rest of us, players will be tested and monitored constantly for COVID-19.
It is worth remembering that the league conducted an entire, expanded Stanley Cup playoff last summer in Toronto and Edmonton without a single COVID-19 case arising from 33,174 tests conducted on players and team personnel.
Granted, this tournament was carried out in hugely restrictive bubbles that players are unlikely to ever again submit to, and occurred before the monstrous second wave of this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic thundered ashore.
But there should be little doubt about the NHL’s ability to create a work environment that is far safer than that of nearly any other workforce, nor of the willingness of players to adhere to guidelines.
There are obstacles, protocols to negotiate, of course. But it seems the biggest challenge for governments is optical.
You and I may be able to fly about the country even if provincial authorities recommend against it. But how will it look to have NHL teams jetting around for games when non-essential travel is being discouraged?
Would it be easier for the Canucks to be granted approval for home games in Vancouver had a team of Kelowna beer-leaguers not ignorantly travelled in November to a tournament in Alberta, presumably doing beer-league things before and after games, and bringing a big shipment of coronavirus back to B.C.? Possibly.
That trip of fools brought an uncharacteristically blunt rebuke from the province’s chief medical officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, who said: “There’s a hockey team in the Interior that travelled to Alberta and has come back and now there are dozens of people who are infected and it has spread in the community. We need to stop right now to protect our communities and our families and our health care workers.”
Nobody would argue that. But to equate the risks generated by a travelling beer-league team to what the NHL is trying to do is not only unfair, but absurd.
For most of us awaiting vaccination, one of the safest places to be in Canada this winter would be with an NHL team. But they’re not letting in outsiders. They’re too careful for that.
Canada coach John Herdman disputes Croatian counterpart's account of skipped post-match handshake – The Globe and Mail
Canada coach John Herdman is disputing his Croatian counterpart’s account of why there was no handshake after their World Cup game.
Herdman had antagonized the Croatian camp with a heated postgame message to his players after Canada’s opening 1-0 loss to Belgium at the soccer showcase. Asked in a pitch-side interview what he had said in a postgame huddle to his players, Herdman replied: “I told them they belong here and we’re going to go and eff – Croatia. That’s as simple as it gets.”
That prompted a stern lecture from Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic on the need for respect. And after Croatia beat the Canadians 4-1 Sunday, Dalic was asked if he had a chance to shake hands with Herdman following the final whistle.
“I did not see the other head coach after the match,” he said through an interpreter. “When I lose I always congratulate the winner. He was not there and that’s his way of doing things. He’s obviously mad. He is a good coach. He is a high-quality professional. But it will take some time for him to learn some things.”
Herdman, whose postgame news conference preceded Dalic’s on Sunday, disputed that account Wednesday when asked about it.
“Look, we shook hands before the game. So that happened,” he said. “At the end of the game, the usual process – no different than [with Belgium coach] Roberto Martinez. You shake hands with the coach, then you go shake hands with the referee.
“When I turned round, [Dalic] was already off down the touchline, which is his right to do. He’s celebrating. He’s just beaten Canada. It was a big celebration for him. He was off and I couldn’t get to shake his hand. I went into the field, shook the ref’s hand, shook players’ hands. And didn’t get to see him.
“That moment’s gone. We’re into process now – team huddle, see your fans, flash interviews, calm yourself down so you don’t say anything and move on.”
Argentina coast past Poland 2-0 to top World Cup Group C – Al Jazeera English
Second-half goals from Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez cap a return to form for the South American giants.
Argentina coasted past Poland in a 2-0 victory on Wednesday night to top Group C and confirm their place in the last 16 of the World Cup, signalling a return to form for the South American giants after a poor start to this year’s tournament.
Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez’s second-half goals capped a dominant display by coach Lionel Scaloni’s charges at Stadium 974 – which was packed to the rafters with tens of thousands of raucous Argentinian supporters – to set up a clash with Australia on Saturday.
After a goalless first 45 minutes, Mac Allister got on the end of Nahuel Molina’s cross just one minute into the second period and, despite making weak contact, he saw his shot creep over the line with Polish keeper Wojciech Szczesny beaten.
The second goal was the result of patient buildup play which saw Argentina shift the ball around before Enzo Fernandez made a defence-splitting pass for Julian Alvarez, who found space in the box and smashed it into the top corner to effectively kill the game in the 67th minute.
Poland were lifeless throughout but managed to also squeeze through to the knockout phase on goal difference at the expense of Mexico, who beat Saudi Arabia 2-1 in Group C’s other match.
They will meet defending champions France in the last 16 on Sunday.
Messi misses from the penalty spot
The first half’s defining moment came in the 39th minute when Argentina captain and talisman Lionel Messi failed to convert from the penalty spot on his record-breaking 22nd World Cup match, one more than the late Diego Maradona managed for La Albiceleste.
Poland were up in arms when Argentina were awarded the penalty after a VAR check for a foul on Messi when Szczesny’s glove brushed his face as the Paris St Germain forward rose up for a header at the far post.
But Szczesny was up to the task and despite the Argentina fans raising the decibel levels inside the arena, he kept his composure and guessed correctly, diving to his left and using one hand to swat aside Messi’s effort.
Not to be deterred, Messi never stopped surging forward and he was a menace to Poland all throughout the game with his dribbling ability and vision.
His glittering performance stood in stark contrast to that of Poland’s star striker Robert Lewandowski, who was deprived of service and virtually anonymous for the duration of the match.
Messi, 35, has admitted this will likely be his last World Cup outing while Lewandoski, 34, has said he is unsure if he will make it to the 2026 edition in North America but would like to do so.
Maple Leafs extend win streak to five games as Marner enters record book – Sportsnet.ca
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In The News for Dec. 1: Canada gains on U.S. in permanent resident race – EverythingGP
Canada coach John Herdman disputes Croatian counterpart's account of skipped post-match handshake – The Globe and Mail
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