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Champion rower Kathleen Heddle was one of Canada's greatest Olympians – The Globe and Mail

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Canada’s Marnie McBean, left, and Kathleen Heddle celebrate a gold-medal win at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.

TED GRANT/COC / The Canadian Press

The rowers Kathleen Heddle and Marnie McBean were known as the Dynamic Duo and the Odd Couple. After they became the first Canadians ever to win three Summer Olympic championships, they were called the Golden Girls.

Ms. Heddle, who has died at 55, six years after receiving a cancer diagnosis, was one of Canada’s greatest Olympians, a determined athlete who quietly inspired a generation of girls to take up a demanding, exhausting sport.

The two won gold medals in pairs and with the crew of eight at the 1992 Olympic regatta on the Lake of Banyoles, about 95 kilometres northeast of Barcelona, Spain. They became nationally famous four years later by winning a thrilling double sculls race on Lake Lanier outside Atlanta. That victory gave Canada its first gold medal of the Centennial Olympics and came only hours after a terrorist bomb at a downtown park killed a woman, casting a pall on the Games.

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The pair became as famous as hockey players, stopped on the street by strangers seeking autographs, wooed by sponsors and advertisers. Almost as suddenly, they returned to ordinary lives, a deliberate decision by Ms. Heddle.

“We turned down cereal boxes and a running-shoe sponsorship,” Ms. McBean said recently. “We turned down the cover of a national magazine. Kathleen said she wasn’t in it for that reason. I was: ‘We’re not?!’”

The gregarious Ms. McBean was the strategic plotter in the bow of the double sculls, while Ms. Heddle was the reserved powerhouse at stroke. Many mistook Ms. Heddle’s quiet demeanour as an expression of shyness, though her teammates insist she was merely a calm person in no need of the spotlight.

“When she chose to share what she was thinking,” Ms. McBean said, “she was sage.”

Her great success as a rower was all the more unexpected coming as it did only after she was introduced to the sport two months before her 20th birthday.

Kathleen Joan Heddle was born on Nov. 27, 1965, in the smelter city of Trail in British Columbia’s West Kootenays region. She was the fourth and youngest child born to the former Marilyn Helson Buchanan, a university-educated dietitian from Moose Jaw, and Duncan Walker Heddle, a geology engineer originally from Nelson, B.C., who did mineral exploration for Cominco Ltd. (now Teck Resources). The couple, who met on a blind date, moved the family 600 kilometres west to Vancouver before the girl’s second birthday.

At Kitsilano Secondary, Kathy, as she was known then, was active in band, travelled with her Grade 12 history class to Egypt, and played volleyball, basketball and softball.

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She enrolled at the University of British Columbia, her father’s alma mater, where she played volleyball on the junior varsity team for two seasons while also serving as team manager. She was crestfallen when told she was not good enough to make the varsity squad.

She was registering for third-year courses inside War Memorial Gymnasium on campus when a rowing coach spotted her in a lineup. Drew Harrison prowled the gym like a stable owner checking horseflesh before a claim race, seeking broad shoulders and sturdy hindquarters. The Heddles trace their lineage to the windswept Orkney archipelago off the northeastern tip of Scotland, and in Kathleen’s wide, round face and blonde hair her own mother saw “a little bit of Viking blood.” At 5-foot-11 (180 centimetres), Ms. Heddle’s V-shaped torso offered the classic physique for a rower.

She was placed with the university’s novice squad, which practised in rows of two on a barge outfitted with sliding rowing seats, riggers and oars. The coach patrolled a runway in the middle of the barge, like the commander of a slave ship. The rookies needed training before taking to the water aboard a shell large enough to hold eight rowers and a coxswain.

“Maybe after two or three weeks of that [barge training],” Ms. Heddle said in 1996, “they actually put you in an eight. It’s really tippy, and you’re getting hit in the back by the oar behind you because no one has their timing right.”

She knew she had found her calling when she could feel the shell respond as her strokes pushed through the still waters of Burnaby Lake.

“I had this feeling I could be good at it,” she said. “I guess you have an instinct that this is it, you’ve actually found the sport that’s meant for [you].”

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Her strength, flexibility, determination and aerobic capacity soon caught the attention of Canada’s national team. In her second season, she was paired with Kirsten Barnes of West Vancouver and they won the women’s coxless pair at the World University Games in Zagreb, Yugoslavia. Two months later, they represented Canada at the Pan-American Games in Indianapolis even though they were the country’s B-team, as the top squad was resting for an upcoming world championship. An early sprint by the Canadians helped them claim gold ahead of their American rivals, one of whom briefly blacked out from dehydration during the race.

Ms. McBean and Ms. Heddle racing during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

John Schults/REUTERS

After failing to make the 1988 Olympic team, Ms. Heddle completed her psychology degree while continuing to train and compete. In time, she mastered the technical aspects of the sport, combining finesse with brute strength and a focused mind to become a formidable competitor.

In the preparations before the 1992 Olympics, the national coaching staff paired her with Ms. McBean, “like an arranged marriage,” the latter said, and it was a relationship not without its difficulties. Over time, each went separately to coach Al Morrow to insist on a new partner. Instead, he convinced each in turn to stick with the plan, as he felt the strengths of each compensated for the weaknesses of the other. Besides, Ms. McBean acknowledged recently, “Kathleen was never going to get louder, and I was never going to get quiet.”

Ms. Heddle was once asked whether she considered her teammate to be a co-worker, a friend or a sister.

“We’re foremost business,” she said. “At a regatta, that’s the first thing on the list. We get along well, and we’re friends, too. That comes out more in the offseason or when we haven’t seen each other in a while. And sisters because we don’t always get along.”

At the Rotsee Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland, in July, 1991, the two were surprised to find themselves leading a race against the reigning world champions from Germany. Since it was only a semi-final and they would be wise to conserve energy for the final, Ms. McBean called for a slowing of the stroke rate. Ms. Heddle could not bring herself to do so and continued rowing at a furious pace. They would go on to win the event.

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“That race at Lucerne has always been a bit of a joke between the two of us,” Ms. Heddle once told Wendy Long of the Vancouver Sun.

A month later, on a flood-relief channel called the New Danube in Vienna, the Canadians led from the start to defeat the German pair by a boat length to became world champions. The next day, they helped the eights also win a world championship. Ms. Heddle would retire with three gold medals and two silvers at world championships.

A year later, they won their first two Olympic gold medals at a regatta in which their triumphs were overshadowed by Silken Laumann’s dramatic bronze-medal win less than three months after she suffered a devastating leg injury in a training collision on the water.

Ms. Heddle retired after the 1992 Olympics to work as a technical assistant at Vancouver Community College. She was lured back into the water by Ms. McBean. After competing as sweepers, with both hands on one oar, the two were now going to compete as scullers, each using two oars – a change in discipline.

As they crossed the finish line on Lake Lanier in 1996, a third Olympic gold medal now theirs, the two were so exhausted they were unable to exchange words. Heddle leaned back with her open right hand, which McBean grasped, as they both gasped for air.

Ms. McBean hugs Ms. Heddle after they won the gold medal in the women’s double sculls Olympic competition at Lake Lanier, Ga., on July 27, 1996.

David J. Phillip/The Associated Press

They raced again the next day in quadruple sculls with Diane O’Grady and Laryssa Biesenthal, finishing in third place to earn a bronze medal.

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At the closing ceremonies of the Atlanta Olympics, Ms. Heddle and Ms. McBean were the Canadian flag-bearers.

Ms. Heddle retired from the sport once again, while her partner continued until a back injury ended her competitive career. (Seven months ago, Ms. McBean was named Canada’s chef de mission for the pending Olympic Games in Tokyo.)

Ms. Heddle worked in sports administration and started a family. “I don’t picture myself as glamorous,” she told sports historian Fred Hume. “I want [my] accomplishments to be foremost.” While training for the Atlanta Olympics, she stored her possessions with her mother. Her haul of medals, including Olympic golds, were kept in a jumble inside an ordinary shoe box in a closet.

Ms. Heddle died on Jan. 11 at the family home in the leafy Vancouver neighbourhood of Kerrisdale. She had been diagnosed with breast and lymph node cancer followed by melanoma and brain cancer.

She leaves Mike Bryden, her husband of 20 years and a former member of Canada’s national rowing team. She also leaves their children, Lyndsey and Mac. Her death came two years less a day after her mother’s passing at age 91. Her father died in 1990. She also leaves a brother and two sisters.

Ms. Heddle was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 1994, followed three years later by induction into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. She has also been named to the UBC Sports Hall of Fame (2002) and the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame (2003), which had earlier inducted her as a member of the 1992 Olympics coxed-eights crew. In 2016, she was named to the Rowing Canada Hall of Fame, which had been established the previous year.

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Ms. Heddle was named to the Order of British Columbia in 1997. Two years later, she was awarded the prestigious Thomas Keller Medal by the International Rowing Federation for her achievements and her sportsmanship. Only two other Canadians – Ms. McBean and Ms. Laumann – have ever won the sport’s highest honour.

In October, 2019, she joined former Olympic teammates including Ms. Barnes and Ms. McBean in the women’s senior eights for rowers over the age of 50 at the Head of the Charles Regatta. The Old Gold crew from the Victoria City Rowing Club defeated 38 other crews in completing the 4.8-kilometre course on the Charles River outside Boston in 18:14.139, more than seven seconds faster than the runner-up crew. It was Ms. Heddle’s final race. She bowed out a champion.

Ms. Heddle, left, and Ms. McBean carry the Canadian flag at the closing ceremony of the 1996 Olympics.

Nick Didlick/REUTERS

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Canadiens Game Day: Dominique Ducharme trying to put his stamp on team – Montreal Gazette

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New head coach has work cut out after being thrown into deep end without a life jacket or a single practice before his first game in charge.

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Dominique Ducharme was thrown into the deep end without a life jacket as new head coach of the Canadiens.

Ducharme didn’t even have a chance to hold one full practice before his first game behind the bench, Thursday night’s 6-3 loss to the Jets in Winnipeg, one day after taking over from Claude Julien

It would have made much more sense for GM Marc Bergevin to have made the coaching move early last week when the Canadiens had a six-day break in the schedule and Ducharme would have had time to make the changes he wants to put in place.

Ducharme had a morning skate before Thursday’s game, a practice on Friday and another morning skate Saturday before the Canadiens face the Jets again Saturday night in Winnipeg (10 p.m., CBC, SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

Thursday night’s game was the first of 18 games in 34 days for the Canadiens through the end of March, so there won’t be much practice time for Ducharme. As a result, his morning skates will have to be mini practices.

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After Saturday’s morning skate, Ducharme said his morning skates won’t be as long and won’t have the same physical intensity of a practice, but there will always be a reason why they’re doing something on the ice, whether it be little details in the system or structure with and without the puck.

“Every time we’ll be going on the ice, everything we’ll do will be a reflection of something we want to work on,” Ducharme said in a video conference Saturday morning. “Something specific to the game.”

The Canadiens had a strong start to Thursday night’s game, taking a 2-0 lead in the first period and they were leading 3-1 midway through the second period before things fell apart. The Canadiens are winless in their last four games (0-2-2) and are in fourth place in the North Division with a 9-6-4 record after getting off to a 7-1-2 start to the season.

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The Calgary Flames (10-10-2) beat the Ottawa Senators 6-3 Saturday afternoon to move into a tie with the Canadiens for fourth place. The Canadiens hold three games in hand.

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When asked what he didn’t see from his team Thursday night that he’s hoping to see Saturday night, Ducharme said: “There are many things. You know when we played that first game, we had a meeting the night before. We had one morning skate to prepare. We really explained to the guys a few things that we want to focus on right from the get-go. But we had no time to practise. That’s why I didn’t mind our first half of the game.

“With everything that happened before in the last few hours before we played, I didn’t mind how we reacted at first,” Ducharme added. “But we cracked. We got a better idea of why now, the players. They didn’t understand a little bit more. Tonight I’m confident to see those things that we talked about really taking a big step on maybe four or five things that we talked about.”

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Defenceman Ben Chiarot spoke Saturday morning about Ducharme bringing a fresh, new voice to the team.

“He has a certain way that he wants us to play and a little different style and systems,” Chiarot said. “He’s just been instructing us on what he likes to see defensively first and once we get that in place then we can kind of move forward and out with the puck and what we’re doing with the puck. So it’s just been a lot of instruction on how he wants us to defend and I think that’s what you’ve been seeing the last couple of days.”

Jake Allen will be in goal for the Canadiens Saturday night. He has a 4-2-1 record with a 2.14 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage. The Canadiens were shut out in both of Allen’s regulation-time losses.

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Anderson doubtful for game

Right-winger Josh Anderson didn’t take part in the morning skate and is doubtful for Saturday night’s game after being injured late in the first period of Thursday night’s game. Anderson appeared to be slew-footed by Jets defenceman Dylan DeMelo and fell awkwardly on his back, suffering a lower-body injury.

“The chances are slim for him to be in the lineup tonight,” Ducharme said about Anderson, who has 9-3-12 totals in 19 games. “He’s still getting treatments and things like that. He’s doubtful tonight.”

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Evans ready to return

Jake Evans will take Anderson’s spot in the lineup if he can’t play after being made a healthy scratch for the first time this season on Thursday night.

“Obviously, you want to be playing every time, but I completely understood,” Evans said about Ducharme’s decision to sit him out. “The explanation I got was just a fresh start and a new way of doing things. One of the biggest things that we talked about the night before the game was just being a good teammate. So that was a big thing for me. I understood and I just wanted to work hard and get my chance to get back in the lineup.”

Evans has 2-1-3 totals and is plus-1 in 18 games while averaging 12:04 of ice time and winning 51.3 per cent of his faceoffs. The Canadiens selected him in the seventh round (207th overall) of the 2014 NHL Draft.

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“To be honest, I think my approach every game is to play like it could be my last and if I have a bad game I could be out and never get that opportunity again,” the 24-year-old Evans said. “So it’s never really been about who’s coming up behind me or who could be taking my spot. It’s about me and not throwing away an opportunity like this.”

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Coaching differences

Evans was asked about the personality differences between the 60-year-old Julien and and the 47-year-old Ducharme as coaches.

“I think they were both great,” he said. “Claude’s been giving me a lot of opportunity and it was great to have him. I guess sometimes you just need a fresh face. Dom’s been a very vocal guy and I think he’s talked with everyone a few times so far. So that’s been good to get that feedback.”

Ducharme, who joined the Canadiens as an assistant coach before the 2018-19 season, has made a point to talk with all his players one-on-one since taking over as head coach.

“I’m trying to talk to 24 guys every day and sometimes it’s just asking how he is and it takes five seconds, 10 seconds,” he said. “Sometimes it’s about the game, it’s about details, it’s about the last game, it’s about progression, many things. We have a way of playing together that we’re putting in place. Within that, every individual here, there’s a reason they’re NHL players and we want them to bring those strengths to our team. But within our structure or our philosophy.”

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Working with Armia

There are games when Joel Armia looks like he should be a star in the NHL and other nights when the 6-foot-3, 212-pound right-winger is the Invisible Man.

You have to wonder if the 27-year-old realizes how good he could be. There’s a reason why the Buffalo Sabres selected him in the first round (16th overall) of the 2011 NHL Draft. He’s the complete package of size, speed, skill and shot. With his size, it’s too bad he doesn’t have a little bit of Brendan Gallagher or Paul Byron in him when it comes to compete level.

Armia scored the first two goals in Thursday night’s game, his first points in seven games since missing seven games with a concussion. Armia has 4-3-7 totals in 12 games.

“Army’s got world-class qualities as a player,” Ducharme said. “You guys saw him … he’s got good size, his skill sets are really, really good. It’s about being consistent and we started working together, me and him. There’s a few things in his game that when he’s consistent doing and when he’s going to do that every time then it’s going to reflect on being that good night in and night out.”

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Weber and Chiarot struggling

After a good start to the season, captain Shea Weber and Chiarot have been struggling as the team’s No. 1 defence pair.

Weber and Chiarot were both minus-2 in Thursday night’s game. Weber has been a minus player in seven of the last eight games and is a team-worst minus-2 for the season, while Chiarot is minus-1.

“I think when we’re defending hard, being hard to play against, moving the puck quick up to the forwards, I think that’s when we’re at our best,” Chiarot said. “Obviously, when the team’s not doing well it’s a reflection of everybody. It’s not one pair, or one line, or one guy. It’s everyone needs to be better when the team’s not winning and me and Shea are no different in that aspect.

“I think at this point it’s so important playing every other day you can’t be reflecting or feeling sorry for yourself on the losses,” Chiarot added. “You have to move forward and you have to be positive. Move forward to the next game and not be carrying the last game with you, especially after a couple of losses. It can weigh you down and slow you down. I think what’s important for our group right now is moving on and just focusing on the next game and not thinking about what’s happened over the last 10 days, two weeks, and remain positive and come out and just play like we know we can because we know we have a good team.”

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The lines

Here’s how the forward lines and defence pairings are expected to look for the Canadiens Saturday night if Anderson doesn’t play:

Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Drouin – Suzuki – Toffoli
Lehkonen – Kotkaniemi – Armia
Byron – Evans – Perry

Chiarot – Weber
Edmundson – Petry
Kulak – Romanov

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What’s next?

The Canadiens will fly back to Montreal on Sunday afternoon and have an 11 a.m. practice scheduled for Monday at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard.

The Canadiens will play their next three games at the Bell Centre. The Ottawa Senators will be the visitors on Tuesday (7 p.m., TSN2, TSN5, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM), followed by two games against the Jets on Thursday (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) and Saturday (7 p.m., SNE, SNW, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

The Canadiens have a 3-5-0 record at the Bell Centre this season.

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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    Canadiens Notebook: Jake Allen will be in goal for Habs Saturday night

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Toronto Maple Leafs' Auston Matthews still considered day-to-day with hand/wrist injury – TSN

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Auston Matthews skated for about 35 minutes this morning in Edmonton, but didn’t shoot the puck. Toronto’s top-line centre will miss tonight’s game and is still considered day-to-day with a hand/wrist injury.  

“It’s not new for us,” said head coach Sheldon Keefe. “We’ve already played a game without Auston and against the Oilers.”

With Matthews sidelined, the Leafs beat the Oilers 4-2 on Jan. 22 in Toronto. 

“We just played hard,” Keefe recalled. “We were resilient. Our power play was good for us. You know, everybody just steps up and plays a little bit more and a little bit better. Whether we had Auston or not that was going to be a requirement in a game like this here tonight with an Edmonton team that’s playing very well and is very confident.”

The Oilers have won 11 of 13 games. The hot streak started with an overtime victory against the Leafs on Jan. 30.   

“They’re a team that’s firing right now,” said defenceman Jake Muzzin, who returns to the Leafs lineup after missing two games with a facial fracture. “They’ve got good goaltending, the defence is playing well and the stars are playing hard so it’s going to be a challenge.”

When Matthews was out in that game last month, John Tavares and Mitch Marner were reunited and that will be the case again tonight with Joe Thornton slotting in on left wing. 

“Just three really good players,” Keefe said. “Putting John and Mitch together, they got a lot of history, have played together well. They’ve done it this season and done it in previous seasons. And having Joe available today will give our whole group a boost.”

Thornton missed the last two games with a lower-body injury. 

Matthews out for tonight’s game against Oilers

Auston Matthews did skate this morning but Sheldon Keefe revealed that he will not play tonight against the Oilers and is still day-to-day with a hand injury. However Joe Thornton, Jake Muzzin and Jack Campbell will all be back in the lineup.

With Matthews out, Alexander Barabanov is in line for a big opportunity. He skated with Alexander Kerfoot and William Nylander on the second line at Friday’s practice and also got reps on the power play.

“He just looks way more confident with the puck,” observed Keefe. “He’s getting out of our zone and through the neutral zone a lot better … when we look at scoring-chance generation, he’s been among the leaders for us in the last couple games so we want to look to see if he can continue to build upon that.”

The KHL import produced just two shots in his first seven games and sat as a healthy scratch for two weeks earlier this month. Barabanov has fired seven shots on net in the last two games. 

“Continued development we’re looking to see from him are in those areas where the puck comes up the wall and he has to make a play in the defensive zone,” said Keefe.

“Bears has had a great attitude the whole time,” said veteran forward Jason Spezza. “I think you’ll see him slowly adapt as the year goes along. It’s not an easy transition.”

Matthews isn’t the only key Leafs forward, who’s been playing through an injury. Zach Hyman has missed two of the last four games following some painful shot blocks off his foot. 

“It’s not easy,” Keefe acknowledged. “I know he’s been going through a lot of discomfort and has missed a little bit of time here and there, but he has been able to get through it and will be fine to play today.”

Hyman didn’t take any reps during the special teams drills yesterday at practice remaining on the bench to chat with assistant athletic therapist Jon Geller.

“We all know when he puts the jersey on he plays the same way no matter what and that’s what we’ve come to expect,” said Keefe. 

Hyman’s ability to play effectively through the pain – he logged 21 minutes and picked up an assist Wednesday – has allowed Keefe to build a third line that has the makings of a strong energy unit. Hyman skated with Pierre Engvall and Ilya Mikheyev at practice yesterday.

“It’s a lot of speed, a lot of tenacity on the puck,” Keefe said. “We like it on the road especially where match-ups are difficult … It was effective for us in Montreal.” 

The Matthews-less Leafs beat the Oilers last month thanks to two power-play goals including the game winner from Tavares. But Toronto’s power play enters this game on a cold streak having gone 0/11 in two games against Calgary this week. 

“I don’t think we’ve been as sharp and as deliberate in delivering pucks to the net,” said Spezza. “We’re playing the same teams over and over so similar to a playoff series you’re going to see teams adapt. It’s up to us to be dynamic in changing things up, but also maintaining that structure that gives you success. It’s a little bit of a tightrope where you don’t want to change too much, but you have to adapt night to night.”

Connor McDavid scored a highlight-reel goal on the power play during the Leafs last game in Edmonton. The end-to-end rush left the Leafs shaking their heads. 

“We could’ve defended it better,” Hyman said after that game. “I was the first guy up, I got to take away his speed a little bit.”

“I could push him a certain direction better,” defenceman Justin Holl said that night.

‘That’s one you shrug off’: Leafs react to McDavid’s highlight-reel goal

Connor McDavid added to his highlight reel of great goals with an end-to-end rush on the power play Saturday night. It was an incredible individual effort by the NHL’s scoring leader, but forward Zach Hyman, defenceman Justin Holl and goalie Frederik Andersen all believe they could’ve done things differently to thwart the Oilers captain. Auston Matthews likes how the team reacted after McDavid’s magical moment.

McDavid has three goals and four assists in four games against Toronto this season. What’s the key against the NHL’s points leader tonight? 

“It’s more of a five-man effort on the ice and everyone’s trying to stay above him and not give him as much space as he wants,” said Holl. “I think that’ll be a major key tonight and try to stop him before he gets going.”

​With McDavid and Leon Draisaitl anchoring different lines, Holl is guaranteed a tough match-up any time he steps on the ice tonight. Draisaitl​, the reigning Hart Trophy winner, has really beaten up on the Leafs of late with points in eight straight against Toronto (six goals and six assists in that stretch). 

“I try and look at the times I’ve had success against really any elite player in the past and it comes down to doing what I do well, which is keeping tight gaps, first and foremost,” Holl said of his preparation. “It’s easier said than done against dynamic players like this, but that’s going to be the major key for me and trying to kill plays before they begin.”

Leafs’ Holl looks to kill McDavid’s plays before they happen

Justin Holl says it has to be a team effort to shut down Connor McDavid and for him personally, he tries to keep tight gaps against top end talent and that helps him kill plays before they even begin.

Jack Campbell will be making his first start since sustaining a leg injury on Jan. 24. 

“I was looking over his shoulder on the plane yesterday, because he was watching some film, and I was laughing because on every clip he makes the save and he tapped someone that’s close to him,” said Holl. “Like, it doesn’t even matter, it could be me and I didn’t even do anything on the play, but he gives you a shin tap, which is funny. It’s fun to play in front of someone like that. He does exude positivity.” 

Campbell has made one previous appearance against the Oilers on March 26, 2019 allowing three goals, one to McDavid and two to Draisaitl, in relief.

Frederik Andersen skated again this morning and remains day-to-day with a lower-body injury. 

Mike Smith missed the previous games against the Leafs this season due to injury, but is expected to get the start tonight. His ability to handle the puck is a point of emphasis for Toronto. 

“It’s huge,” said Spezza. “Forechecking is a big strength of our group. We feel that on nights that we forecheck well we generate a lot. I’ve played with Smitty at Team Canada stuff and it’s a huge factor. He can break you out quick and leaves the other team getting frustrated and chasing so it’s important we have good dumps on him today and really try and keep the puck out of his hands because he can be like a third defenceman back there.”

Smith adding value beyond the numbers to Oilers this season

Mike Smith has been incredible for the Oilers this season, sporting a 6-0 record, and while the numbers have been off the charts for the 38 year-old, there’s another portion of his game that has brought value to the team. Ryan Rishaug reports.

The Leafs have loaned recently-acquired forward Alex Galchenyuk to the Marlies. 

“Part of our plan here is to get him playing,” Keefe explained. “It was an easy decision to keep him [in Toronto] and get him playing in an environment where he can just really look to find his game, get comfortable in our surroundings and our systems and things like that and in a place where he can find his confidence and not be so concerned about his place in the lineup.”

Defenceman Martin Marincin was also sent to the American Hockey League. Forward Kenny Agostino and defenceman Timothy Liljegren were called up to join the taxi squad.  

Galchenyuk determined to show Leafs he deserves this opportunity

After being drafted third overall by the Canadiens and posting some successful years in Montreal, which includes a 30-goal season back in 2015-16, Alex Galchenyuk has bounced around the league trying to regain his scoring touch. Now with the Leafs, his sixth NHL team, Galchenyuk is determined to show he deserves this opportunity.

Projected Leafs lines for Saturday’s game in Edmonton: 

F

Thornton – Tavares – Marner 
Barabanov – Kerfoot – Nylander 
Mikheyev – Engvall – Hyman 
Petan – Boyd – Spezza 

D

Rielly – Brodie 
Muzzin – Holl
Dermott – Bogosian 

G

Campbell 
Hutchinson ​

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Auston Matthews won't face Oilers, Alex Galchenyuk demoted – Toronto Sun

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For the second time this season, the Maple Leafs will face Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Edmonton Oilers without their own top gun, Auston Matthews.

Not good news when Saturday is the first of three games with first place in the North Division at stake. But hold off that panic button, Matthews’ nagging wrist injury is not expected to sideline him more than a game or two and Toronto already beat the Oilers 4-2 without him on the road.

And when Matthews came back last time, he went on that electrifying 16-game points streak/goal rush that helped propel the Leafs to first.

Coach Sheldon Keefe didn’t wait to make a game-time decision, pulling Matthews Saturday morning, while confirming that three other returning injured players are ready. Goalie Jack Campbell, defenceman Jake Muzzin and winger Joe Thornton are a go, with John Tavares going to Matthews’ spot on the first line between Thornton and Mitch Marner.

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The Leafs take on an Edmonton team, who are even hotter than they’ve been of late, jumping Montreal for second place and possibly passing Toronto if they sweep this series in regulation. McDavid and Draisaitl have a combined 74 points, but a couple of Leafs cautioned against overlooking the rest of the Edmonton roster.

“They have a deeper lineup than they get credit for,” defenceman Justin Holl said. “They’ve been rolling lately and everyone on the ice has been dangerous. Even from the back end, Ethan Bear has been hot. It will be a five-man unit for us and we can’t take shifts off against anyone.”

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Holl said the Leafs are well aware their lead in the North isn’t safe and a higher seeding remains a vital team objective after late season letdowns ultimately hurt the team in unfavourable playoff match-ups.

“We’re up by four points, we have a game in hand, but it’s a super-important series and we have to get off to a good start tonight.”

Also Saturday morning, the Leafs swapped a couple of Taxi Squaders with the Marlies, but one of the promoted players was not rookie winger Nick Robertson. Veteran forward Kenny Agostino and defenceman Timothy Liljegren stayed in Alberta after the farm team wrapped up a series in Calgary, while Alex Galchenyuk and defenceman Martin Marincin remained in Toronto and will possibly play in the Marlies home opener Monday against the Manitoba Moose.

Galchenyuk, whose 2012 first-round draft star has fallen considerably the past couple of years, went unclaimed while on waivers before the trade with Carolina and has never been in the AHL.

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“Part of our plan is just to get Galchenyuk playing and that would’ve been sooner if the Marlies hadn’t been out West,” Keefe said. “It’s an environment where he can look to find his game, get comfortable in our surroundings and in our systems. He can find his confidence and not be so concerned about his place in the lineup or making mistakes.”

Robertson was among a few Marlies on a near point-a-game pace through eight games, though Keefe would only say the club wanted a closer look at defenceman Liljegren, whom the coach said is not off to a great start, but could do better as a Leaf extra now that he’s played some games.

Campbell has not been in net for a month since a lower body injury, while No. 1 Frederik Andersen is on the trip, but not yet healed from his own lower body injury. As usual, Campbell has oozed positivity around the room the past few days.

“He’s amazing, a great guy on the ice and off,” Holl said. “I was looking over his shoulder on the plane yesterday and he was watching some film. I was laughing, because on every clip he makes a save, he immediately taps someone closest to him. It could be me and I didn’t even do anything on the play, but he gives you a shin tap. It’s fun to play in front of a guy like that.”

lhornby@postmedia.com

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