EDMONTON – No matter how much a team soars past expectations, even doing things others thought impossible, no NHL season ever ends in defeat without sorrow and some regret.
The Vancouver Canucks weren’t even supposed to make the Stanley Cup tournament this season, but they won two playoff rounds and were a game away from advancing to the conference finals for just the fourth time in the franchise’s 50 years.
When their remarkable season, made more extraordinary by the summer of COVID-19, finally ended Friday with a 3-0 Game 7 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, the regret was that there was just nothing left for skaters to draw on to help goalie Thatcher Demko.
Demko’s arrival in the playoffs this week, with starter Jacob Markstrom injured and the Canucks down 3-1 and facing elimination, was the most incredible plot twist of Vancouver’s amazing six-week adventure in Edmonton.
In three starts, Demko’s first action since the league shut down in March, he stopped 123 Vegas shots and allowed only two goals – and still that was not enough to carry his teammates past the Golden Knights.
“It obviously hurts,” Canucks coach Travis Green said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys that are upset right now. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. The Stanley Cup is hard to win. It should hurt when you lose.
“Not many times you go into a playoffs with 10 guys playing their first playoff game and you win a Stanley Cup. You’ve got to go through … and learn. You’ve got to fall, got to get up. You’ve got to fall, get up and learn how hard it is. This was a good experience for our guys and we’ll be a lot better for it.
“I don’t think many people thought we’d be a goal away from going to the semi-finals. What our team has gone through, the mental part, physical part, it will help our group. It will help our group next year. It will help us in five years.”
Playoff rookies Elias Pettersson, 21, and Quinn Hughes, 20, — at the end, both still blocking shots at their empty-net after Knights’ defenceman Shea Theodore finally snaked a shot through a sea of players and past Demko with 6:08 remaining – admirably handled playoff intensity and pressure and look like they’ll be superstars in this league.
Captain Bo Horvat had an inspired tournament, scoring 10 goals. Winger J.T. Miller led nightly, the Canucks defended better than most people thought they could and both Markstrom and Demko, of course, were outstanding. The stage never looked too big for the Canucks.
The team just needs to be better, deeper at forward and stronger on defence, and faster still.
“I think right across the board, right through our lineup, I think there’s a lot of things to be proud of,” veteran forward Brandon Sutter said. “For the guys who experienced it for the first time, their battle level, compete level – some of them being only 21, 20 years old – showed a lot. I think we can all be pretty proud of the way we played.
“You never know when your opportunities are going to come to get a chance to win a Cup. I think this year was just awesome, just awesome, to get back in the fight. We can be proud of what we did, but it still gives you a bit of a bitter taste, too. It just makes you hungrier for another chance.”
Friday’s sour power play will linger long on Canuck palates.
A strength of the team all season, it failed miserably in Game 7 when the lack of strength and shots at five-on-five made the power play the most plausible means of an unlikely victory for the Canucks.
But they managed only two shots in 11 minutes of advantages, which included a five-minute power play that began late in the second period when Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct for a check to the head of Vancouver forward Tyler Motte.
Shots were 36-14 for Vegas, which got empty-net goals from Alex Tuch and Paul Stastny. The only time any team in Canucks history registered fewer shots in a playoff game, Vancouver beat San Jose in the 2011 Western Conference Final — because its power play pumped in three goals against the Sharks.
On Friday, the Canucks’ power play unit didn’t come close to scoring against the Knights.
That’s something Canucks players will remember in the autumn months before another NHL season begins.
The team, of course, will be different whenever it plays next.
Markstrom, winger Tyler Toffoli and heart-and-soul defenceman Chris Tanev, a career Canuck, are eligible for unrestricted free agency — and its almost impossible for Vancouver to re-sign all three during the flat-cap crisis.
But with its young core, made smarter and tougher from its time in Edmonton, the Canucks’ success this summer may yet be only a preview of even brighter times ahead.
“From the puck drop [against] Minnesota (in the qualifying round) to the end of the game today, we battled hard,” Tanev said. “Very valuable for all the young guys who are extraordinary players. It’s a tremendous experience for them to get to taste the playoffs and play three rounds. And you know how hard it is when you lose like this, so those guys will be ready to go next year.”
At the end of his first season as captain, Horvat said: “It’s been a heckuva year in a lot of ways. I couldn’t be prouder of our guys the way they handled themselves on and off the ice. We played a lot of good hockey. (Vegas has) a really good team over there and we took them to seven games. We shouldn’t hang our heads; we should learn from it. We’re going to learn from it. We all said it in the room already: ‘We can’t wait to get back next year and prove ourselves again.’”
JONES: Gary Bettman sings praises for Edmonton as Hub City – Edmonton Sun
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“I think we need a better sense of when we’re going to get to normalcy before we can commit to any dates.
“As it relates to the World Juniors, I think part of the announcement was an indication from the Oilers organization was what they learned from working with us helped make them a better candidate and a more viable candidate for the world juniors and to whatever extent we can be helpful to making the world junior championships a success, we would of course be willing to do that.
“The cooperation and the expertise we got from the organization that you have here in Edmonton was a critical element in making the logistics of this work and in making this building work as everybody envisioned it could because it’s world class, state-of-the-art. We’re grateful of that support and anything we can do to replay it, you know we will.”
The session that included Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly who Bettman maintained to be the man who actively headed the entire operation, went on for more than an hour. It included a endless parade of reporters asking about next season and Bettman and Daly taking turns on answering them that they had no idea.
“Anything that anybody suggests or reads or writes or commentates about next season is nothing more than speculation,” said Bettman.
“Dec. 1 has always been a notional date. I will not be surprised if it slips into later December. It could slip into January. There’s still too much we don’t know.
“Nobody can tell me whether or not the border between Canada and the United States is going to be open by a date certain. Nobody can tell me what the state of COVID-19 is going to be. Nobody can tell me whether we can have either socially distanced or occupied buildings,” said Bettman.
He did say his intention is still to play a full 82-game schedule, plus playoffs.
One thing for sure, Gary Bettman and the NHL have so far come out of this looking brlliant.
And just for fun, because Bettman has come to have a sense of humor about it, maybe he should get Chief Content Officer Steve Mayer to put on some canned crowd noise of the fans booing, just to make it feel normal when he presents the Cup.
Bryson DeChambeau wins U.S. Open for first career major victory – Sportsnet.ca
MAMARONECK, N.Y. — What was supposed to be a typical U.S. Open produced a most unconventional champion.
Bryson DeChambeau was not the least bit concerned by the narrow fairways or the ankle-deep rough that shape Winged Foot into historically the toughest of all U.S. Opens. With his extra 40 pounds of muscle and mass, he wanted to pound it into submission with his driver, even if his errant shots were buried in deep grass.
That’s how he plays the game. And for skeptics who said that wouldn’t work in a U.S. Open at Winged Foot, just look at that shiny silver trophy he kissed, and the record score he posted Sunday in a six-shot victory.
This victory was as much about validating his out-of-the-box approach to the royal and ancient game.
“One hundred per cent, no doubt,” DeChambeau said. “For me, it’s about the journey of can I executive every shot more repeatable than everybody else. I was able to do that this week. That’s why I won by six.”
Part of this course’s fame is the “Massacre of Winged Foot” in 1974 when the winning score was 7-over par.
This was a massacre, all right.
DeChambeau rolled in a 7-foot par putt and thrust those powerful arms in the air when he capped off a 3-under 67 on a course that didn’t allow another round under par. Two shots behind Matthew Wolff at the start of a chilly September afternoon, he caught him in four holes, passed him in five and pulled away along the back nine.
From the fairway. From the rough. It didn’t matter.
“I don’t really know what to say because that’s just the complete opposite of what you think a U.S. Open champion does” Rory McIlroy said. “Look, he’s found a way to do it. Whether that’s good or bad for the game, I don’t know, but it’s just not the way I saw this golf course being played or this tournament being played.”
Call him a mad scientist in a tam o’shanter cap. Call him a game-changer in golf.
Any description now starts with U.S. Open champion.
Taylor Pendrith of Richmond Hill, Ont., was the top Canadian following a 70 that left him 10 over, good for 23rd spot. Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., struggled to an 80, finishing at 19 over.
Wolff, trying to become the first player since Francis Ouimet in 1913 to win the U.S. Open in his debut, closed with a 75. He made a 10-foot eagle putt on the par-5 ninth to stay within one shot. That was his only hole under par. Wolff finished at even-par 280, a score that would have won four of the previous five U.S. Opens at Winged Foot.
It didn’t stand a chance in this one.
“You can’t take Bryson out because obviously he won, but shooting even par for four rounds at Winged Foot is pretty exceptional,” Wolff said.
That describes DeChambeau this week. It was a breathtaking performance, four rounds at par or better, the first player to manage that at Winged Foot.
His victory really began last October, when he closed out his 2019 season in Las Vegas and said with a mischievous grin, “I’m going to come back next year and look like a different person.” He added 40 pounds through intense workout and a diet of 6,000 calories a day.
The COVID-19 pandemic shut down golf for three months, leading to the U.S. Open being postponed from June to September. It also gave DeChambeau more time to execute his plan of swinging faster and harder, stretching the limits.
His work ethnic borders on insanity, and the eve of the final round was no exception. Unhappy with how he played Saturday, hitting only three fairways, DeChambeau had the lights turned on so he could stay on the range well past 8 p.m., pounding driver, searching for the right swing. Temperatures were in the 40s. He was in a short-sleeve shirt.
He didn’t find fairways, but he seemed to miss in the right spots. That was key for a player who hit only six fairways on Sunday, 23 out of 56 for the week.
Skepticism turned into admiration, with a healthy dose of disbelief.
“It’s a game we’ve never really seen before,” said Harris English, who shot 73 and finished fourth.
Louis Oosthuizen birdied the 18th to finish alone in third.
“I don’t think they can set it up for him, to be honest,” Oosthuizen said. “I don’t know what they can do really, because he’s hitting it so far. He’s so strong out of the rough. And he’s probably one of the best putters out there, which a week that he really putts well, you’re going to have a lot of trouble.”
In six U.S. Opens at Winged Foot among 894 competitors, DeChambeau is only the third to finish a tournament under par. His 6-under 274 was the lowest score, and no one saw it coming this week.
Wolff, the 21-year-old Californian who can drive it past DeChambeau with a lower flight and more roll in the fairway, gave him a good run in his quest to become the youngest U.S. Open champion since Bobby Jones in 1923.
The U.S. Open was still up for grabs for a fleeting moment around the turn. DeChambeau and Wolff each got out of position on the eighth hole and made bogey. DeChambeau was at 3 under, one shot ahead of Wolff. Ahead of them, Oosthuizen and Xander Schauffele were lurking at even par.
Still to play was the back nine, where so much has gone wrong at Winged Foot over the years.
Not this time.
DeChambeau and Wolff blasted drives down the fairway on the par-5 ninth. DeChambeau rolled in a 40-foot eagle putt with perfect pace. Wolff, who had pitching wedge for his second shot, matched his eagle with a 10-foot putt.
Just like that it was a two-man race.
And then it was a one-man show.
Wolff’s tee shot on the par-3 10th rolled left into the thick collar of the bunker, a spot so precarious he had to stand in the deep bunker and grip halfway down the steel shaft of his sand wedge. He chipped 10 feet by the hole for a bogey to fall two shots behind.
From the fairway on the 11th, however, Wolff hit wedge that was chunky and went into the right rough, and he had to scramble for par instead of setting up a reasonable birdie chance. DeChambeau from the right rough came up short, but he used putter from off the green for birdie from 15 feet away.
With a three-shot lead, DeChambeau kept blasting away as if he were chasing, not leading, just like he said he would. He saved par from the left rough on the 14th and a perfect pitch from deep grass behind the green. He downed another protein shake walking down the 15th, marching along to a major title that affirms his position in the game as a pioneer.
Imagine the USGA, which has been studying the impact on distance, getting together for a debriefing after this performance. What would they say?
“He’s hitting it forever,” DeChambeau said with a laugh.
The last laugh.
Final Preview: Novak Djokovic, Diego Schwartzman Chase Career Milestones In Rome – ATP Tour
When Novak Djokovic and Diego Schwartzman meet for the fifth time in their ATP Head2Head series (Djokovic leads 4-0) in Monday’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia final, both players will not only be fighting for the Rome trophy, but also a personal milestone.
Following the completion of his second Career Golden Masters at the Western & Southern Open last month, Djokovic is the joint Masters 1000 titles leader alongside fellow 35-time champion Rafael Nadal. The Rome final presents Djokovic with an opportunity to overtake his rival by lifting a 36th trophy at the level.
Most ATP Masters 1000 Titles
On the other side of the net, Schwartzman is one win away from cracking the Top 10 in the FedEx ATP Rankings for the first time in his career. The Argentine can achieve the feat by defeating Djokovic for the first time to claim his maiden Masters 1000 trophy.
Djokovic has dropped just one set en route to his 10th final in the Italian capital, improving his match record to 30-1 this year. The 33-year-old has been tested throughout the week in each of his three most recent clashes in Rome.
Djokovic played an 87-minute set against Filip Krajinovic in the third round, survived a three-set quarter-final battle against Dominik Koepfer and saved two set points in the first set of his semi-final clash against Casper Ruud. The Serbian has consistently produced his best level under pressure to close in on a fifth trophy at the Foro Italico.
Djokovic’s victory against Ruud improved his semi-final record in Rome to 10-1, but the Serbian has not fared as well in championship matches at the Masters 1000 event. Djokovic owns a 4-5 record in Rome finals, which includes losses in his past three championship matches (2016-’17, ’19).
An opportunity to overtake Nadal and make further history in Rome are huge motivational factors for the World No. 1. The four-time champion is still as ambitious as he was the first time he arrived at the tournament, where he has enjoyed consistent success since 2007. Djokovic has reached the quarter-finals or better in each of his 14 appearances at the Foro Italico.
“The 1000 Masters events are as important as it gets on the Tour,” said Djokovic. “These are the events where I want to perform my best other than Grand Slams and the [Nitto ATP Finals]… Finals at such big events mean a lot even after 15 years [of] being on the Tour. I still am as motivated to get my hands on the trophy. This is what I work for as much as anybody else, really, on the Tour.”
Standing between Djokovic and the Masters 1000 titles record is a first-time finalist at the level: Diego Schwartzman. Djokovic enters the contest with a 4-0 ATP Head2Head record against the 28-year-old, but will be well aware of the threat the Argentine poses. The pair met in the semi-finals at this event last year, with Djokovic eventually prevailing in three sets after two hours and 31 minutes.
Djokovic will face an opponent with peak confidence levels on Centrale. Schwartzman dropped just one set en route to the quarter-finals, where he earned his first victory in 10 matches against nine-time champion Rafael Nadal. Schwartzman described the straight-sets win as his “best match ever” and his final opponent was equally impressed.
“Diego played the match of his life [against Nadal]… He was so impressive,” said Djokovic. “And that proves that anything is possible, even [against] Nadal who is probably the toughest challenge in our sport, playing Nadal on clay. But he managed to win in straight sets, so that proves his quality.”
The opportunity to enter the Top 10 for the first time and lift the biggest title of his career with a single victory perhaps makes Monday’s final the biggest match of Schwartzman’s career. The World No. 15 is prepared to push himself to the limit to realise two dreams at the Masters 1000 tournament.
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“I have two dreams tomorrow. One is winning a tournament like this and the second one: be Top 10,” said Schwartzman. “Both are there tomorrow on court against Novak. I know it’s very difficult. I almost need to play more than my 100 per cent.
“I don’t want to say impossible, because it’s not impossible. I know can beat him. But it’s going to be very difficult. But the chances are there tomorrow… I’m going to do everything to be more than my 100 per cent tomorrow on court.”
After his victory against Nadal, Schwartzman was able to maintain his level and earn another milestone win just 24 hours later on Centrale. The Argentine trailed by a break on three occasions in the deciding set of his semi-final clash against Denis Shapovalov, but fought back to claim a memorable final-set tie-break win after three hours and 15 minutes.
“At the end, maybe the third set we were playing for many things: for the final, for the Top 10, for the match… The nerves were there. It was difficult,” said Schwartzman.
“But I think I took my chances when he was thinking about [the] win and nothing else, when he was serving for the match and [a] break up in the third.”
Having already ended a winless streak against Nadal, Schwartzman will now attempt to do the same against Djokovic. The rewards for victory in Rome are clear to both men. But who will be able to take their chance on Monday and place their name in the history books?
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