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Controversial barrel celebration wasn't a shot at Canada, says U.S. junior coach – CBC.ca

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Anytime Canada and U.S. square off in any sporting event, the stakes are high. But when world junior hockey gold is on the line, the intensity increases.

Tuesday night’s world junior gold-medal game was no different. In the leadup to the game, U.S. forward, Trevor Zegras made a bold claim that Canada hadn’t been tested in the world juniors yet. Those words were not well received before the game, but the Anaheim Ducks prospect helped back the claim up as the U.S. defeated Canada 2-0 in the final, with Zegras scoring the second goal and assisting on the first.

After the game, however, controversy stirred. U.S. players and coaches were posing for a team picture with the trophy and its gold medals when a barrel was brought out with a Canadian logo. According to Zegras, the barrel is something they did throughout the tournament.

“We pretty much had a barrel for each team we were playing,” Zegras said in his post-game interview. “Each game we just wanted to get to the next barrel. Today was our last barrel. We threw the Canada sign up there, [put] it on the ice and took our picture. It was kind of our thing this tournament.”

WATCH | U.S defeats Canada to win world junior gold:

American star Trevor Zegras scored early in the second period to give the United States a 2-0 lead at the world junior hockey championship. 1:00

Zegras added the barrel was symbolic as it was about “getting to the next barrel, not looking too far ahead, only looking to that game, the next opponent.” 

Although the barrel was not well received by Canadians, U.S. head coach, Nate Leaman explained the meaning of the barrel and the story that comes with it.

“It’s a story that when I was an assistant coach [with the USA at world juniors] in 2007, that [head coach] Ron Rolston brought to our team,” Leaman said.

“About crossing the heart of the Sahara Desert, crossing a terrain that’s 500 miles long, that over 1,300 people had perished and the only way that they could figure to cross this part of the Sahara Desert was to put barrels out so that when you got to one barrel, the only thing you could see was the next barrel on the horizon. I shared the story with the guys before the tournament, and let them know that we’re not going to talk about the gold medal. All we’re talking about is going one barrel at a time.”

Leaman went to Twitter after his press conference to further add that it was not meant to be disrespectful to Canada or anyone. Instead, it was a rallying cry for the U.S. team to remain focused on the task ahead.

“We took a selfie in the locker room around the barrel after every win,” Leaman added. “Every one of our wins, we have our team around the barrel in the locker room. … (Tonight) they got into the emotion of the celebration, they wanted to get the barrel on the ice. No disrespect to anyone, especially Canada, who played a great game today and obviously had a great team. it’s not disrespectful to them. I’m sure every team had something in the tournament that they rallied around, and ours was the barrel.”

With the win over Canada on Tuesday, the U.S. has now won five world junior gold medals. The win also gave the Americans its fourth consecutive victory over Canada in a world junior final, having earned wins in 2004, 2010, 2017 and 2021.

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George Springer perfect fit for Toronto Blue Jays' long-term plan starting to take shape – TSN

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TORONTO — Picture this: An organization that has a reputation as a developmental machine and can regularly churn out big league players, but one that also has the money and resources to keep those homegrown stars around with lucrative, long-term contracts, as well as supplement the roster each and every off-season.

A drafting-and-developing track record and deep pockets is the most powerful combination in sports, and it’s one that the Toronto Blue Jays are suddenly flexing to the surprise of some.

This was always the plan.

Take a handful of years to put the developmental processes in place, build a base of young talent, tear down and discard high-priced veterans, then build it back up, being careful to also time it all up perfectly.

The building started last year with an $80-million investment in Hyun-Jin Ryu.

It was fully expected to continue this winter, and the Jays were fortunate that their top target all along, George Springer, had mutual interest.

‘This guy just fits with exactly what they need’: Mitchell feels Springer, Jays a great match

TSN Blue Jays reporter Scott Mitchell discusses what stood out to him from George Springer at his introductory news conference, and what’s next for the Jays who still have holes to fill on their roster.

With the payroll now approaching $140 million for 2021, it won’t end with Springer, either, but the latest big step in Jays president/CEO Mark Shapiro’s plan was finally wearing Blue Jays colours Wednesday during his introductory presser.

There’s no secret what lured Springer from Houston to Toronto, even with the Connecticut native’s hometown New York Mets making a pitch: Money and the opportunity to win.

“When you have a young, talented group that’s already in place, it’s obviously very, very attractive because you know what they could potentially do,” Springer said.

Expectations are now sky-high for the Jays and it’ll be that way for the foreseeable future.

The Toronto Blue Jays are no longer a little brother in the American League East and they’re no longer a rebuilding team just happy to have an intriguing core of kids, either.

Year in, year out from this point forward, the expectation and goal for this ballclub every spring is World Series or bust.

There are no “good stepping stones” or silver medals coming off an above .500 season, albeit a shortened one, and then proceeding to hand out the largest contract in franchise history to push that forward.

While far from the last piece to the puzzle, Springer could be the final core lineup building block if things go smoothly, and the fit has been obvious for a long, long time.

“Our attraction to George Springer was several years ago where it began,” GM Ross Atkins explained. “I think any executive in baseball that has watched George play for some time would love to talk about how he’d fit onto your team. And when you start to think about the middle of the diamond and centre field, that being the best player on your team, that’s really exciting to think about. It is a very good fit. George’s impact on both sides of the ball, the defender he’s been, the offensive player he’s been, the base-running capability.”

A perfect fit on the field and in the clubhouse, it was clear from the start of free agency who the target was.

The big question was whether they could convince Springer they were the right partner and get a deal done.

Despite the obvious need in centre field and the exciting power/speed combo, there are intangibles Springer brings that this Blue Jays clubhouse simply did not have before.

“Dependability, reliability, consistency, and then fit,” Shapiro said. “Ross has talked a lot about we had certain attributes and characteristics and skillsets that we were looking for and George was the guy that was clearly a good fit for this team, for this city, for this country, and for [where] we are right now. His experience will add a certain level of wisdom to our players. He’s been places where our guys haven’t been yet and he knows how to handle those environments.”

Objectively, Springer has been named to three all-star games, garnered MVP votes in three separate seasons and has been a well above average hitter statistically in each of his seven big-league seasons.

The track record of health and consistency is one you’re willing to commit to.

Digging even deeper, the 31-year-old has a career .883 OPS on the road compared to .819 at home — goodbye trash-can narrative — and the right-handed hitter handles righties (.834 OPS) just as well as lefties (.899 OPS).

He’s also crushed to the tune of a .358/.453/.604 slash line in 15 career games inside hitter-friendly Rogers Centre.

There really isn’t a red flag in the profile at this point.

So where does the plan go from here?

In the short term, over the next handful of weeks leading into spring training, the goal is to add to the starting rotation, the clear roster need at this point.

Trevor Bauer has finally been crossed off the board as the budget gets tighter, but there’s still room to improve, according to Shapiro.

“We’ve got some flexibility, but the bulk of our heavy lifting is done,” Shapiro said. “There’s still opportunities for Ross and our baseball operations group to be creative in what they do.”

A trade is the most likely route to finding a top-of-the-rotation starter, but there still seems to be ways to add a James Paxton, Jake Odorizzi or Taijuan Walker, especially if they’re open to one-year deals once the calendar flips to February.

The more intriguing question, perhaps, is what’s the next step of this long-term plan?

There are more planned budget increases coming and the expectation is a franchise record payroll is on the horizon, which will exceed the $165 million or so spent a few years ago.

“That plan is that we’ll continue to win and as we win the revenues will increase and where those dollars go, I think, there’s no limit to what this market can be — it’s a behemoth,” Shapiro said.

With a cornerstone player added to the outfield and a deep group of homegrown kids either already patrolling the infield or on their way, the next building block is likely to be that elusive ace that each and every eventual World Series winner has to go out and find.

The significant amount of money coming off the books after the season combined with another payroll bump will have Atkins fishing in the big boy pond once again.

One name to consider next winter is Noah Syndergaard, an arm we already highlighted here as a target.

Another scenario to consider is giving an already much-improved Jays team the first half of the 2021 schedule to show they’re ready and then go out in July and use that prospect pipeline to acquire whatever ace happens to hit the trade market.

Since it’s already been a winning off-season for the Jays’ front office, there’s no reason to deviate from the plan now.

It’s one that seems to be coming together at the right pace.

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Canucks’ Elias Pettersson appears to rediscover confidence after slow start – Sportsnet.ca

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VANCOUVER – Since eight games weren’t enough to judge and write off Elias Pettersson’s season, one game is a preposterously small sample in which to conclude that the worst is over and the Vancouver Canucks’ best forward is back.

But Wednesday, for the first time in 2021, Pettersson looked like the confident, driven offensive star who burst upon the National Hockey League two-and-a-half years ago.

It wasn’t just that the 22-year-old had a goal and assist, matching his output from the previous eight games, in the Canucks’ 5-1 win against the Ottawa Senators. It was that Pettersson had nine shot attempts, hitting a post and a crossbar as well as scoring. It was that he made one goal possible with a strong defensive play in the neutral zone, and on another play bowled over Evgenii Dadonov when the Senators winger came to deliver a hit.

It was this 200-foot game, this so-what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it swagger, that Pettersson was missing as well as the points during the Canucks’ false start to the 56-game season.

“I think when Petey is on top of his game, you actually see a high compete level,” Canucks coach Travis Green said after his team inched back towards .500 — a minimal threshold it can attain if it completes a three-game sweep against last-place Ottawa on Thursday at Rogers Arena. “We didn’t have exhibition (games); sometimes it takes a little time to get your engine running as hot as it needs to.

“I think we saw glimpses of it tonight out of that line. But you’re right, when he’s engaged and on top of his game, you do see good things come out of other areas of his game that maybe don’t have anything to do with offence. And really, that’s part of winning hockey. All your players have to have that in them if you’re going to win.”

Pettersson and linemates J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser generated three second-period goals after the Canucks barely survived the first when they needed 22 saves from goalie Thatcher Demko to maintain an early 1-1 tie.

The only forward who has struggled as much to meet expectations as Pettersson, Miller scored his first two goals of the season six minutes apart in the middle period as the Canucks blew the game open.

Miller said he thought the third period was his line’s best this season although remarkable grinder, Tyler Motte, scored the only Vancouver goal — his fifth in nine games.

“We’re relied upon to put points up and produce for our team,” Miller said. “We’re relied on to work hard and create momentum for our team. Typically, when we work hard, the ice opens up like it did in the third period. We need to be better at the start of the game. I mean, I guess it’s nice to produce a little bit but at the same time, our standards are higher than a couple of open nets (goals).”

Miller has said it took him years in the NHL to figure how to be the player he has become. Pettersson is starting only his third season.

What wisdom would Miller offer his linemate?

“Just worry about his game,” he said. “There’s a lot of outside noise comes in here all the time and he has to answer about how he’s not good enough or whatever it is. He is our best player. I’m not worried about him at all. We know what makes him a good player and we have complete faith that he’s going to play well for us coming up.”

Miller’s definition of “all the time” probably differs from reporters’ as Pettersson is available to the media only for a few minutes on Zoom two or three times a week.

He didn’t go more than two games without a point of all last season, but has already endured a five-game scoring famine this season. He looked tentative in some games, hesitant to shoot. At times, he looked at war with the puck, struggling to control it. And he wasn’t engaged physically and defensively like he was Wednesday.

“I think frustration comes when we’re not winning games,” Pettersson said. “I think everybody in the locker room wants to win, win badly. Our confidence is good, both for me, and the team. (We) are believing each other, so just build on these two games.

“There’s always pressure. And I’m the guy to put the most pressure on me. I always want to play good. I’ll be honest, my first couple of games haven’t been the way I wanted to play. I think today was definitely a step in the right direction, but me and our line definitely have a lot more to give.”

The Canucks top players will have to give more because the team can’t ask for any more than what its bottom-six forwards have given. And through two wins against the Senators, by an aggregate score of 12-2, they can’t ask anything more of Demko.

His 42-save performance Wednesday was even more impressive than Monday’s 7-1 romp, not only because the Canucks were so poor in front of him in the first period, but because he backed up one excellent performance with a great one.

Two games are not a fluke. Demko has elevated his play and looks suddenly like the goalie whose spectacular playoff cameo last summer made starter Jacob Markstrom a little more expendable.

“The way things are kind of going, one game at a time isn’t going to be good enough,” Demko said. “We’ve got to start stringing something together.”

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Blue Jays likely not done adding after trading for Steven Matz from Mets – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – Before the acquisition of lefty Steven Matz from the New York Mets for minor-league right-handers Sean Reid-Foley, Yennsy Diaz and Josh Winckowski, a quick look at FanGraphs’ projections for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2021 may have been somewhat surprising.

At a collective 15.8 WAR, their pitching staff ranked seventh in the majors, ahead of well-regarded clubs like the Nationals, Rays, Atlanta and Cleveland, among others.

Projections, of course, guarantee nothing, but as an objective measure of how teams stack up, that certainly isn’t a standing that matches perception.

Promising as that sounds, the current list also demonstrates the gap between them and the pitching staffs of the New York Yankees (23.3) and Chicago White Sox (17.5), and the narrow margin between them and the Twins (15.7), Red Sox (15.3), Rays (15.0), Angels (14.7), Cleveland (14.6) and Athletics (14.3).

Matz alone isn’t going to address that, which is why you can expect more to come from the Blue Jays on the pitching front.

Still, with mid-90s stuff and a strike-throwing track record, Matz is an intriguing upside play, picked up for two down-roster relievers clinging to their 40-man roster spots plus a farmhand passed over in the Rule 5 draft, at a reasonable salary of $5.2 million.

He comes with some volatility, to be sure, especially after shoulder soreness landed him on the injured list during a dreadful 2020, when he posted a 9.68 ERA in 30 innings over nine games, six starts, and allowed an alarming 14 home runs.

There’s opportunity, too, as he’s been mostly sinker/changeup in recent years, and one school of thought is for him to resume using the four-seamer he dropped two years ago and throw his curveball – a pitch he’s said to have been emphasizing and made gains with this winter – more often.

That’s yet another project for pitching coach Pete Walker, who has a strong track record of helping pitchers rebound. His work with Robbie Ray after his acquisition from Arizona at the trade deadline helped convince the lefty to return on an $8-million, one-year deal, and the Blue Jays will be looking for Matz to enjoy a similar resurgence.

As things stand, the 29-year-old selected in the second round of the 2009 draft is set to join a prospective rotation fronted by Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ray, Nate Pearson and Tanner Roark. Ross Stripling and Tyler Chatwood can both start or deliver bulk from the bullpen. Thomas Hatch, Trent Thornton (returning from Tommy John), Anthony Kay, Julian Merryweather, T.J. Zeuch and Patrick Murphy supply depth at triple-A that will be needed to cope with the inevitable attrition caused by the transition from 60 to 162 games Major League Baseball plans this summer.

Speaking to reporters before the Matz trade, GM Ross Atkins said the Blue Jays will add more depth through minor-league deals, but added that, “we’re at the point now where if we were to acquire two major pieces, it would require likely subtracting from our roster.”

“Not for financial reasons, but just because of opportunity reasons,” he continued, “wanting guys like Julian Merryweather to have a really good shot at being a big part of this team. Jordan Romano obviously proved himself to be a part of that, and Ryan Borucki as well. At some point, you start to run out of the opportunity for growth and for development for guys that we really do believe in.”

Matz makes it one major piece and, speculatively, the Blue Jays could move Roark to free up both the opportunity Atkins mentioned, and perhaps some money, as well.

As things stand, they have about $130 million in commitments in place for 2021, with another roughly $10 million due for pre-arbitration players. A No. 2-3 type starter would be ideal to further stabilize the starting staff.

Roark is due $12 million and reallocating his rotation spot and salary is one path to more rotation impact. Moving one of the team’s four everyday outfielders is another.

Either way, the Blue Jays aren’t done, even after a frenetic 10 days of roster reshaping that has not only spiked their projections on the position player side, but also intriguingly raised the objective outlook on their pitching staff, too.

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