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Disciplined Finns frustrated USA, aim to repeat feat against Canada in World Juniors semifinal – TSN

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TSN reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes on Team Canada, which held a media availability at its hotel on Friday ahead of Saturday’s semifinal against Finland. 

Team USA seemed stunned. After scoring 17 goals in four preliminary round games, the Americans were shut out 1-0 by Finland in the quarter-finals. 

“It’s tough to take in right now,” said American sniper Cole Caufield moments after the buzzer sounded. “I didn’t think we gave it our best game. I don’t think we brought our ‘A’ game. We didn’t create enough the whole game.”

Finland could sense the American annoyance building as the minutes drained from Thursday’s elimination encounter. 

“After the second period it was easy to see they were frustrated,” said Finnish defenceman Toni Utunen, “and they started to play a little by themselves so it was good for us.”

Team USA head coach Scott Sandelin summed it up. 

“They played to their identity,” the Minnesota-Duluth bench boss said, “which we knew would be a hard game. We didn’t do enough offensively, we didn’t create a lot of time there, a lot of one and dones and not a lot of second chances and, obviously, they got the big power-play goal.”​

“It was a tight game,” said Finnish coach Raimo Helminen, “but the game was in our hands almost the whole game. That’s what I felt on the bench. We worked hard, big time. They couldn’t get into the middle. They didn’t get too many chances. Our players were so together. They gave out almost nothing.”

“We played so well together and as a group,” said Winnipeg Jets prospect Ville Heinola. “That was our strength.”

This is what Team Canada is up against on Saturday in the semifinals. The Finns are deep, disciplined, patient and talented. 

“A very good team,” observed Canada assistant coach Mitch Love. “A team that had an excellent hockey game yesterday. A team that doesn’t give you a lot so we got our work cut out for us. We expect their best and we have to be at our best.”

Canada’s scorching power play, leading the tournament with a 44 per cent success rate, will face a formidable roadblock in Finland’s second ranked penalty kill (86 per cent).

“They’re on top of you,” said Love, “just like their five-on-five game, so we’re going to have to be ready to make plays quickly.”

Finland is a team with a capital T and very comfortable against a North American opponent. 

“Canada plays pretty similar to USA,” noted Heinola, “so we don’t have to change anything, we can play just like that game.”

Finland also appears to be getting stronger. Just like last year, they finished third in the group stage, but panic never set in. It’s all about peaking at the right time.  

“Our first couple games, not our best,” said defenceman Lassi Thomson, an Ottawa Senators prospect who serves as captain, “but now we had a good game against USA so we’re going to play good next game and win a couple more.”

“We have more there,” vowed Heinola. “We played well, but we can play more. We can play more as a team. And sometimes we lose pucks when we’re in a bad position, but we can fix that.”

After frustrating USA, feisty Finns look to do the same to Canada

After frustrating the United States in the quarter-finals, Finland says they’re looking to do the same in the semi-finals to a Canadian team that plays a similar style to the Americans. The Finns also expect Canada’s returnees to be motivated to atone for last year’s overtime loss in the quarters.

With a tight, structured affair expected, Canada will rely even more on the game-breaking ability of Alexis Lafreniere, who didn’t seem to miss a beat in his return from injury on Thursday. He scored a goal on the power play and also picked up an assist on the opening goal. 

But there is actually one tweak the coaching staff wants to see in the Rimouski left winger’s game. 

“He’s an unselfish player and we’d like to see him shoot more sometimes,” coach Dale Hunter told TSN’s Tessa Bonhomme after Thursday’s win. 

“He’s probably more of a pass-first guy,” said Love. “He had a few looks, especially on the power play where he released the puck coming down that flank, and he scored on one of them and hopefully that brings some more confidence into his game.”

Even Barrett Hayton, who has seen Lafreniere assist on three of his five goals here, wouldn’t mind if his linemate kept the rock every now and then. 

“You see his playmaking skills, but you saw last game he has a pretty elite release,” Canada’s captain said, “so definitely shooting the puck little bit more wouldn’t hurt.”

What’s crazy is how quickly Lafreniere, who has 23 goals in 32 QMJHL games this season, silenced any concern about his left-knee injury (bone bruise and muscle strain). Is he really 100 per cent? 

“I believe so,” said Love. “He looked it. His first shift he had a pretty nice hit so it looks like his body’s physically there.”

“It felt really good,” Lafreniere said nonchalantly after the game. “It’s fun to be back and be with the boys.”

“He’s a star,” said Lethbridge forward Dylan Cozens. “He’s unbelievable. Every time he has the puck, he’s got his head up and he’s looking to make a play. He’s a threat.”

Lafreniere insists he never once considered leaving Ostrava. 

“I was scared a little bit, but it was good recovery with the docs,” he said. “My knee twisted a little bit and I went down. It was scary a bit at the start, but after I felt good.” 

Lafreniere looks no worse for wear as Canada pummels Slovakia in quarters

After what looked like a devastating knee injury to top player Alexis Lafreniere, the surging Canadians have now won three straight. Lafreniere looked great in his return as nearly everything went right for Canada in the win, except for the loss of Nolan Foote, who was ejected from the game in the first minute for what was deemed a hit to the head. Was the ejection warranted? TSN’s World Juniors panel weighs in.

A reliable defensive stalwart for Team Canada, Jacob Bernard-Docker has worked hard to improve his shot over the last year. 

“Just shooting a lot in the cage and working on forearm strength,” the University of North Dakota defenceman explained. “It’s always something I’m trying to get better at.”

Bernard-Docker is also spending time watching video of elite shooters he admires regardless of position. 

“I know he’s a forward, but Auston Matthews is the one guy who comes to mind,” he said. “You look at him and he just pulls the puck like no one else in the league, it’s pretty fun to watch.”

Bernard-Docker, who has three goals in 17 NCAA games this season, showed off a slick move in the quarter-finals against Slovakia firing home his first World Juniors goal. 

“I saw the winger sliding out a bit so just tried to change the angle a bit and had a screen in front,” he recalled. 

Hunter liked what he saw from the Senators prospect and the rest of his blueliners, who combined for five points against the Slovaks. 

“Our D were getting pucks through and that’s a key,” Hunter said. “Every team blocks so many shots and we did a good job of moving along the line and getting shots through.”

Canada d-man Bernard-Docker improves shot by studying Leafs’ Matthews

Jacob Bernard-Docker scored his first goal of the World Juniors in Canada’s quarterfinal game against Slovakia on Thursday. He spoke to TSN’s Mark Masters to explain how he’s been working on his shot and said he takes inspiration from Auston Matthews.

Rasmus Sandin left Sweden’s final preliminary-round game after getting slashed on the left wrist. Again, in the quarter-finals, the defenceman took a hack to the same sore spot and was sent to the room prematurely.

Is he playing through pain right now? 

“Yeah, a little, maybe, but it’s not too bad, it’s getting better,” the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect said.  

Does Sandin feel like the Czechs were targeting him? 

“I’m not trying to think about it too much,” he said. “I don’t know if they’re trying to hit my wrist or not. I’m trying to focus on my stuff.”

“It says what kind of character he has,” said coach Tomas Monten. “He wants to play.”

Sandin plays a top-pair role for the Swedes with teammate David Gustafsson, a Jets prospect, calling him the best defenceman in the tournament. 

They will lean on Sandin heavily in the semifinals against Russia.

“The Russians have a good individual team,” Sandin noted, “they got some really good individual players. We got a really good team. We’ve come together really well as a group.”

Playing through pain, Sandin believes Sweden’s team can beat Russia’s individuals

Rasmus Sandin has continued to compete for Team Sweden in the World Juniors despite dealing with a wrist injury. When asked if he believes opponents have been targeting his wrist, Sandin said he’s not worried about it and only focused on what he can improve.

What message did the Leafs give Sandin when they loaned him from the AHL to Team Sweden?

“They pretty much said, ‘Good luck. Go win silver,'” Sandin said with a chuckle. “That was pretty much it. But, I don’t want to listen to that too much.”

It was Marlies GM Laurence Gilman​ and the Marlies coaching staff, who offered the tongue-in-cheek parting shot. 

“This is one of the times I’m going to try to not listen to my coaches,” said Sandin with a laugh. 

Sandin said he hasn’t had much contact with folks back home since arriving at the World Juniors although he is still exchanging messages with William Nylander. 

Sandin on message from Leafs management: ‘Go win silver’

Leafs defenceman Rasmus Sandin spoke to TSN’s Mark Masters to share his thoughts on Toronto’s fantastic play as of late and an interesting message he received from the team’s management as he headed overseas to take part in the World Juniors.

Nils Höglander​ is putting on a show at the World Juniors. The Vancouver Canucks prospect leads the tournament in scoring with 10 points and he pulled off the lacrosse move in the opening game, one of his five goals. 

What stands out the most? 

“His creativity in the offensive zone,” said Gustafsson. “I mean, sometimes I just give him the puck and just watch, just stand by and watch him doing what he does best.”

“He’s so fun to watch,” marvelled Sandin. “To see his goals, his moves in small areas out on the ice is surreal to see.”

In the quarter-finals, Höglander​ scored the opening goal against the host Czechs and then put his finger to his lips.

“He’s got kind of his own swagger,” said Sandin. “He’s a little bit different. He might not be a typical Swede, but he’s a guy you like to have on your team. He can do it all. He can do a lacrosse goal as everyone saw this tournament. He can dangle, he can hit, he can skate. He’s a huge addition for our team.”

“He can do whatever he wants to,” said Gustafsson with a smile. “He has confidence in it and he’s a skilled player.”

‘Might not be a typical Swede’: Hoglander showing off skill and swagger

Sweden’s Nils Hoglander has put on a show at the World Juniors, showcasing unorthodox, high-skill techniques and gaining the attention of many who have watched the tournament with his flamboyant personality. His teammates Rasmus Sandin and David Gustafsson shared their thoughts on Hoglander’s game.

Is Utunen ready to break Canadian hearts again? 

“Yeah,” he said. “I’m excited for tomorrow.”

Last year, Utunen scored the overtime winner against Canada in the World Junior quarter-finals in Vancouver. He beat fellow Canucks prospect Mikey DiPietro and silenced the sellout crowd. 

“It was a huge goal and I hope to see something similar tomorrow,” he said with a smile. 

Utunen still has the puck he used to score that goal. He keeps it in a safe spot in his dad’s house. And sometimes he’ll watch the video of that magical moment. What goes through his mind? 

“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s hard to explain that feeling, what happens after the goal.”

It was a special moment for Utunen and not just because the magnitude of the game. The fact is Utunen simply doesn’t score much. He has just one goal in 71 career games with Tappara Tampere in the SM-liiga. 

Utunen, however, did score two goals against Canada back on July 31 in the World Junior Showcase in Plymouth. 

What’s the deal? Does he only score against Canada? 

“Yeah, I guess so,” he said with a laugh. “Last four goals, three of them were against Canada.”

So, he’s feeling good going into this one?

“Yep,” he said with a grin. 

Canucks prospect Utunen rarely scores…unless he’s playing Canada

Toni Utunen isn’t known for his scoring, but when he does score, it seems to be at Canada’s expense. The Canucks prospect broke Canadian hearts at last year’s tournament with his overtime-winner, and also netted a pair against Canada at the World Junior Summer Showcase in July. Ahead of the semi-finals, the Finnish defenceman jokes about his success against the red and white.

Team Canada did not hold a practice on Friday, with only backup Nico Daws and Dawson Mercer skating. It was the first time the team stayed off the ice since Christmas Eve. 

A morning skate is set for at 11 a.m. (5 a.m. ET) on Saturday at Ostravar Arena.

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The complete Maple Leafs prospect rankings, autumn 2020 edition – The Athletic

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With the NHL draft and free agency (mostly) finished, the Maple Leafs prospect pool looks far different than it did even a few months ago.

A once thin pool now has another key piece acquired through trade and 12 new players added through this year’s draft. The theme that ran through the draft for the Leafs has all but become the identity for their prospect pool: tons of skill, not a lot of size and an emphasis on European players who are already playing their 2020-21 seasons.

But where do all these new prospects stand within the organization?

Like Leafs prospect ranking OG Scott Wheeler and his previous lists, I’ve included players aged 22 or younger right now.

But I’ve broken from Wheeler’s tradition to not only include players who are signed to NHL contracts or whose rights have not expired, but also players on AHL contracts. I’m doing so because of what I’m calling The Rubins Rule™: in 2018-19, Kristians…

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Mirtle: Ilya Mikheyev is signed. What that means for the Maple Leafs and the cap – The Athletic

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That picture at the top of this story is interesting.

That’s Ilya Mikheyev sitting between Alexander Burkov and Alexander Krylov a few weeks ago at a KHL game in Balashikha Arena. Burkov is the governor of Omsk region, a heavy hitter in Mikheyev’s hometown. And Krylov is the owner of Avangard Omsk, Mikheyev’s former KHL team, where he was a superstar until the Leafs signed him away last spring.

The pressure on Mikheyev to go back home, to star for his former team again, was immense. The team wanted him, and it lobbied for that over the past little while. The pay would have been substantial — likely several times the two-year, $1.645 million a season deal he signed with the Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, avoiding arbitration.

That, more than anything, speaks to Mikheyev’s mindset here.

It explains why he filed for arbitration, even though doing so meant locking in at a relatively low salary for two more years.

It…

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World Series Takeaways: Betts proves he’s an offensive threat in Game 1 – Sportsnet.ca

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If only it were always this easy. The Dodgers’ best starter pitched like an ace and their best position player looked like an MVP.

As for the Rays, their flamethrower struggled to throw strikes and their breakout post-season star was held hitless.

After an 8-3 win over the Rays, the Dodgers now hold a 1-0 World Series lead. Here are some takeaways from the series opener…

Watch every game of the 2020 World Series between the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers on Sportsnet and SN Now.

Not bad for a guy who can’t pitch in the playoffs

Three batters into Game 1, Clayton Kershaw found himself in a precarious position. Thanks to a Yandy Diaz single and a walk to Randy Arozarena, the Rays had two on with just one out against a pitcher who has often struggled in October.

But Kershaw escaped the first with a strikeout and a groundout, and from that point on he looked like the guy who posted a 2.16 ERA this season. After some early troubles commanding his slider, that pitch became a weapon for Kershaw, who used it to induce 11 swinging strikes. Those whiffs contributed to eight strikeouts for Kershaw and the only run he allowed came on a Kevin Kiermaier solo homer.

Inning by inning, Kershaw pushed back against the notion that he’s ineffective in October. More importantly, his team’s now three wins away from winning it all. And after throwing just 78 pitches in Game 1, he should be well rested for his next appearance.

Betts at his best

To this point in the post-season, Mookie Betts‘ most memorable contributions have come with the glove. He’s been hitting well enough – .311/.407/.444 through 12 games – but nothing he’s done at the plate compares to the series of memorable catches he made in the NLCS.

On Tuesday, Betts showed off the rest of his skillset. With the Dodgers leading 2-0, he led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a walk before stealing second and third. Then, when Max Muncy hit a grounder to first, Betts broke for the plate, challenging Diaz’s arm and narrowly beating the throw.

The very next inning, Betts led off again, this time with his first home run of the post-season. In the span of those two at-bats, the 28-year-old showed why he’s such a dynamic offensive threat.

It’s because of that ability that the Dodgers acquired him from Boston and promptly signed him to a 12-year extension last off-season. The Red Sox may have payroll flexibility, but the Dodgers have one of the game’s best players and he’s doing it all when it counts the most.

A study in depth

The best teams have stars, of course. But as the Dodgers and Rays can both attest, depth is just as important as star power. In Game 1 of the World Series, it was the Dodgers who showcased their depth in especially memorable fashion.

Consider these examples and decide for yourself which one is most remarkable:

AJ Pollock, who tied Betts for the team lead with 16 home runs this season, was not in the starting lineup. Sure, he had an .881 OPS during the regular season, and would be hitting toward the top of most batting orders, but for the Dodgers that’s not quite enough to crack the starting nine.

Kike Hernandez, who has a lifetime .820 OPS against lefties, is perhaps most valuable when he doesn’t start. On days he’s available off the bench, manager Dave Roberts just has to wait for a left-handed reliever to enter the game before deploying Hernandez. On Tuesday, that led to a pinch-hit RBI single for Hernandez against Ryan Yarbrough.

Cody Bellinger, who won the MVP last year and hit a game-winning home run in the Dodgers’ most recent game, was batting sixth in Roberts’ lineup. Again, just so many elite hitters to choose from. And again, Bellinger homered. Only this time he celebrated more cautiously after dislocating his shoulder in the series clincher over Atlanta.

A rough debut for Glasnow

Sometimes, the Rays are accused of tinkering too much with their pitching staff. Rarely do they veer far in the other direction.

Yet in Game 1 on Tuesday, Rays manager Kevin Cash showed plenty of faith in Tyler Glasnow, sticking with him for 112 pitches – the most by any Rays pitcher in more than two years. This time, despite a blazing fastball that helped the 27-year-old generate eight strikeouts, he struggled. The patient Dodgers lineup worked six walks against Glasnow on their way to six earned runs in just 4.1 innings.

Next time around, Cash won’t leave him out there as long, but the Rays will need Glasnow again if they’re going to rebound from this loss and win the series.

Keeping the powder dry for Game 2

It took five games out of a possible five for the Rays to beat the Yankees and seven games out of a possible seven for them to beat the Astros. To say the last couple of weeks have taxed their bullpen heavily would be an understatement.

With that in mind, there’s a potential silver lining to the Game 1 loss for Tampa Bay. Because the Dodgers took a big lead early, Cash didn’t use Diego Castillo, Nick Anderson or Pete Fairbanks, which means all three are candidates to pitch in Game 2 when Blake Snell’s slated to start.

Of course the same logic holds true for the Dodgers, as Kenley Jansen, Brusdar Graterol and Blake Treinen all got the night off too.

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