Boucher enjoyed the healthiest season of his career last year, playing in 80 games after failing to clear more than 62 in each of the last two seasons. However, he saw his production decline slightly from a career year in 2020-21, shooting under 30% from 3 while playing just over 20 minutes per game.
Still, Boucher boasts a valuable skillset for a modern big, combining elite shot-blocking and rebounding to go along with an ability to stretch the floor. In 2020-21, he averaged 13.6 points while shooting 51.4% from the field and 38.3% from 3 on nearly 4 attempts per game.
Boucher had a brief stint on the Warriors to start his NBA career before Toronto signed him to a two-way contract in 2018. He’s been with the Raptors ever since, completing the second leg of a 2-year, $13.5 million deal last season.
Boucher got a late start in basketball and then tore his ACL late in his senior season at Oregon, so while entering just his sixth NBA season, he will be turning 30 in January.
Series preview: Blue Jays head into crucial set against surging Guardians – Sportsnet.ca
We may be in the dog days of August but the American League wild-card race is intensifying to the point where every series carries weight for contending teams.
Here is a look at the Guardians-Blue Jays series.
Friday, 7:07 p.m. ET: Cleveland RHP Cal Quantrill (8-5, 3.88 ERA) vs. Toronto RHP Jose Berrios (8-4, 5.19 ERA)
Saturday, 3:07 p.m. ET: Cleveland RHP Triston McKenzie (8-8, 3.16 ERA) vs. TBA
Sunday, 1:37 p.m. ET: Cleveland RHP Shane Bieber (7-6, 3.21 ERA) vs. TBA
(All games on Sportsnet)
Latest on the Blue Jays
The Blue Jays (60-50) currently sit atop the AL wild-card standings with a half-game lead over the Mariners and a two-game lead over the third-place Tampa Bay Rays.
The Blue Jays are coming off a 3-5 road trip through Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Baltimore. You could make the argument that Toronto got lucky when Wednesday’s game in Baltimore was rained out, given the weather prevented an opportunity to be swept in three games by the surging Orioles.
The Blue Jays’ record against teams above .500 stands at 29-38 and that will need to improve in a hurry. Following the set against Cleveland, Toronto will host the Orioles for three games and then head to Yankee Stadium for a four-game series.
It’s fair to say this is an important stretch for a Blue Jays club that lost outfielder George Springer, starter Ross Stripling and reliever Tim Mayza to the injured list on the recent road trip.
Latest on the Guardians
The AL Central-leading Guardians (59-52) arrive in Toronto fresh off a sweep of the Detroit Tigers and have won eight of their last 11 games.
In recent years, the Guardians have typically been buoyed by their pitching staff. That area has been a struggle for the team for parts of this season,but it looks to be rounding into form.
Each of the three starters Cleveland will throw at the Blue Jays — Cal Quantrill, Triston McKenzie and Shane Bieber — is coming off a dominant, scoreless outing. Since the all-star break, the right-handed trio has combined for a 3.48 ERA over 12 starts.
Reliever James Karinchak won’t make the trip to Toronto due to Canadian vaccination requirements.
Home sweet home
Blue Jays right-hander Jose Berrios was slated to start Wednesday’s game but because it was postponed, he’ll now take the mound on Friday. That might actually work out in his favour.
Berrios has been the author of some weird splits this season:
— In 11 starts at home, he sports a 3.23 ERA with 70 strikeouts across 64 innings.
— In 11 starts on the road, Berrios has posted a whopping 7.50 ERA with just 37 strikeouts over 54 innings.
There are times a pitcher’s bloated ERA can be explained away as the result of one or two bad outings. That’s not the case for Berrios, though.
The veteran has allowed at least five earned runs in six of his road starts. That includes his only outing against the Guardians this season — a May 5 contest in which he allowed six runs on eight hits over 4.2 innings.
The pitchers set to follow Berrios and toe the rubber in Saturday and Sunday’s games have yet to be announced by the Blue Jays.
Remember all that hullabaloo about whether Whit Merrifield would get a COVID-19 vaccine and be allowed to travel to Toronto?
Well, shortly after he was acquired at the trade deadline by the Blue Jays, the utility player indicated that he did in fact get vaccinated. This series will feature his first home game with his new club.
Merrifield is hitting .286 (6-for-21) while playing mostly in centrefield since his trade from the Kansas City Royals.
In 15 career games at Rogers Centre, he sports a .263/.364/.421 slash line with two homers and three doubles.
This series will also mark a homecoming of sorts for a pair of Guardians players: Quantrill, of Port Hope, Ont., and first baseman Josh Naylor, a native of Mississauga, Ont.
This is Naylor’s fourth year in the major leagues and third with the Guardians, but the 25-year-old has yet to take the field for a major-league game at Rogers Centre. Quantrill, meanwhile, made his lone MLB start at Rogers Centre in 2019 when he was a member of the San Diego Padres.
Showcasing ‘super-elite’ shot, Bedard continues to amaze in early WJC performance – Sportsnet.ca
EDMONTON — Really, Canada’s first two games at the 2022 World Junior Championship could not have been more different. The only common threads were the end result and Connor Bedard.
Canada’s opener was a tense affair with a Latvian squad that refused to go away. Its second contest, a stomping of Slovakia, was over before the first period was in the books. Step 1 in each victory, though, was a shot from Bedard less than eight minutes into the night to open the scoring. On Tuesday, it was a patented drag-and-snap beauty. Wednesday night, he finished off a wonderful give-and-go with captain Mason McTavish, taking just half a beat when the puck came back to him to make sure it ended up in the net.
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Wherever Bedard goes, it’s the same story: Goals get scored and jaws hit the floor over the way this projected first-overall pick — who turned 17 less than a month ago — fires pucks.
“His shot is just super-elite,” says Brennan Othmann, who played on Bedard’s line to finish up the win over Slovakia. “We all talk about it all the time. I know a lot of guys with good shots, but that guy can really shoot the puck.”
Indeed, there’s no debating what this North Vancouver kid’s super power is. And while there’s obviously a gift-from-the-heavens element to any phenom’s game, there’s also the on-the-ground reality of what it takes to perfect it. Whether in his backyard or on the ice, Bedard has been flinging pucks ever since he could hold a stick.
“It’s something I enjoy,” he said just before the tournament. “If you ask any kid what he wants to work on it’s not skating, it’s shooting pucks.”
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Born in 2005, Bedard is basically the same age as composite hockey sticks. His weapon is extra-whippy and he uses an elongated shaft that — whether he’s wearing Team Canada’s colours or that of his Western Hockey League club, the Regina Pats — allows him to swirl the puck around way out from his body before he decides whether to let it go from the outer reaches or, in a flash, suck it back in and let fly from whatever angle he feels gives him the best chance to befuddle the goalie.
The results are getting a little ridiculous. In 11 games for Canada over two World Under-18 Championships, Bedard has 13 goals. This is now his second attempt at the 2022 World Junior Championship after the original event was cancelled four days into the competition at Christmastime. Bedard, at basically 16-and-a-half years old, scored four goals in two games then. Tack two more on now and he’s got six in four outings. It’s by no means a perfect comparison, but just for quick-and-dirty reference, here’s how some other super-duper stars from this century fared at the first world junior tournament they played in: Connor McDavid, one goal in seven games; Auston Matthews, one goal in five games; Sidney Crosby, two goals in six games; Alex Ovechkin, six goals in six games.
[brightcove videoID=6286825336001 playerID=2540680026001 height=360 width=640]
So, if you wanted to get slightly silly about it, you could point out that Bedard is even outpacing Ovechkin, a player who has a realistic shot at finishing his career as the NHL’s all-time leading goal-scorer. Sure, comparisons to active legends are inherently exuberant, but just follow Bedard’s lead and have fun with it.
“It’s pretty crazy,” he says when asked about hearing his name mentioned with the likes of McDavid and Crosby. “I haven’t played a game in the NHL or even finished a full second year of junior, so it’s wild and whenever I hear that it’s definitely an honour.”
Anybody projecting Bedard to be in that class — and you don’t have to be the tin foil hat-type to do it — knows it takes more than one signature attribute to scale those heights. The more people see Bedard play, the more they realize there are layers to his game. When he’s not the triggerman, his vision and passing ability make him a more-than-capable set-up guy. What’s more, despite falling well short of six-feet, he’s in no way afraid to mix it up. Bedard is a stout 181 pounds, meaning he’s got a very different body type than the teenage featherweights the likes of Patrick Kane or Johnny Gaudreau would have been. During a pre-tournament game versus Sweden, Bedard got tangled up with forward Ake Stakkestad for an extended stretch in the Swedish crease. Near the end of the first period against Slovakia, the entire bench seemed to be jawing at him before a neutral-zone face-off. While understanding the best place for him is on the ice, not in the box, Bedard didn’t cower from anything, visibly giving it back to people verbally and standing his ground with anyone who poked or prodded him.
“When you’re that good of a player and that talked about, players are going to want to get under your skin,” says Canadian defenceman Donovan Sebrango. “He loves it and that’s what I love about him. He’s a special player. I don’t think you can really find a weakness to his game and he’s 17 years old.”
Perhaps most horrifying for opponents right now is the fact Bedard and McTavish have hit it off like a house on fire. With two games in the books, McTavish woke up Friday morning as the tournament scoring leader thanks to a 4-4-8 line, while Bedard has a pair of assists to go with his two goals. Canada, which had the day off Friday, will likely get its stiffest preliminary-round tests in its final two contests of this stage on Saturday versus Czechia and Monday against Finland. Guess which Canadian players will be the focus of pre-game meeting for those clubs.
“On the ice, no one can really stop them right now,” Sebrango said of McTavish and Bedard. “Their chemistry on and off the ice; they act like brothers. I don’t know if anybody can stop them.”
Andreescu eliminated from National Bank Open after loss to teenager Zheng – Sportsnet.ca
TORONTO — Canada’s Bianca Andreescu lost to China’s Zheng Qinwen 7-5, 5-7, 6-2, as she was eliminated from the National Bank Open on Thursday.
Andreescu, from nearby Mississauga, Ont., was the last Canadian playing in the women’s tennis tournament.
Felix Auger-Aliassime is the only Canadian left in the men’s event in his hometown of Montreal.
Zheng will play Karolína Plíšková of the Czech Republic on Friday in the WTA tournament’s quarterfinal.
It was the first time the 53rd ranked Andreescu had played world No. 51 Zheng.
Andreescu won the 2019 edition of the event when it was last held in Toronto, earning the victory after all-time great Serena Williams retired from the match due to injury.
Trailing 5-4 in the first set, Andreescu dropped a volley well out of Zheng’s reach to go up 40-0 in the match’s 10th game. The smart play drew loud cheers from the partisan crowd at Sobeys Stadium and then Andreescu’s first ace of the match tied the set 5-5.
The crowd included Toronto Blue Jays infielders Santiago Espinal and Bo Bichette as well as Olympic sprinter Andre De Grasse.
A Zheng ace made it 6-5 and then, after a lengthy rally, the Chinese player used an overhead smash to win the set 7-5.
Andreescu made the most of her home court advantage, egging the crowd on after critical points in the second set.
She pumped her fist and yelled after Zheng’s return on game point was well past the baseline. Then Andreescu threw her hands up, encouraging fans to cheer when Zheng’s return was long on set point.
That momentum did not carry into the third set, with Andreescu quickly falling behind 3-1.
Although Andreescu won a game point, earning her chants of “Let’s go Bi-bi!” she gave up three break points as Zheng took a 4-2 lead. A hard forehand smash to the opposite court by Zheng added to that advantage.
Zheng put the match away on a double break point when Andreescu charged the net and the 19-year-old Chinese player put the ball deep but in.
World No. 1 Iga Swiatek of Poland was stunned by Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 earlier in the day. The unseeded Haddad Maia had already upset 13th-seeded Leylah Fernandez of Laval, Que., on Wednesday.
Haddad Maia will face the winner of the Round of 16 match between Belinda Bencic and Garbine Muguruza in a quarterfinal on Friday.
Serving was an issue for Swiatek with nine double faults to Haddad Maia’s one. The top-ranked player from Poland said that the swirling gusts in the bowl-shaped stadium were an issue for her.
“Right now it’s hard to say if it was more her game or the wind that really messed up my first set,” said Swiatek, who was playing Haddad Maia for the first time. “I think she just used the conditions better than me.
“When she was playing with the wind she was playing really strong balls and sometimes I was late for them.”
The wind was also a factor in Coco Gauff’s win in the afternoon. The American moved on to the quarterfinals with an entertaining and error-filled 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (4) win over Aryna Sabalenka.
Both players struggled with the conditions at Sobeys Stadium, with Sabalenka committing 18 double faults and Gauff hitting into 15. Sabalenka had 42 unforced errors overall, while Gauff had 32.
Gauff will face Romania’s Simona Halep in the quarterfinals. Halep, a two-time Canadian Open champion, defeated Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann 6-2, 7-5 to begin the day’s slate of matches at Centre Court.
Later, seventh seed Jessica Pegula of the United States came back from a set down to defeat defending champion Camila Giorgi of Italy 3-6, 6-0, 7-5.
Pegula saved match point to tie the third set 5-5, then broke to take the lead on Giorgi’s sixth double fault of the match. Pegula served to love in the final game to move on to the quarterfinals.
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