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Einarson downs Jones in Battle of Manitoba to reach Scotties final –



A team made up entirely of former skips is a win away from a Canadian women’s curling championship.

Manitoba’s Kerri Einarson downed the Jennifer Jones wild-card team 6-4 on Saturday in an all-Manitoba playoff between the top two seeds.

Einarson’s Gimli Curling Club foursome earned an express ticket to Sunday evening’s championship game.

Six-time champion Jones from Winnipeg needs to beat Ontario’s Rachel Homan in the afternoon semifinal to gain a rematch with Einarson for the title.

Einarson, third Val Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard and lead Briane Meilleur all skipped different teams in 2017-18 before joining forces.

Einarson was on her game Saturday night in Moose Jaw, Sask., shooting 94 per cent.

She’s posted 90-plus percentages in four of her last five games.

“I’m just in the zone,” the skip said. “Not thinking about anything else, but just making those shots.

“I’ve just been feeling really comfortable out there. Feeling the flow and smelling the ice. When you just step out onto the ice, you just get this feeling and it feels really good.”

If the 32-year-old from Selkirk can replicate that feeling Sunday, her team will be a formidable foe for the semifinal winner.

“There’s a few things we could sharpen up on, but Kerri played unreal,” Sweeting said. “She’s been on a roll. It was incredible to watch out there. She lets it go and you know she’s making a good one.

“If anything, just keep her rolling.”

High stakes final

The Scotties Tournament of Hearts winner represents Canada at next month’s world championship in Prince George, B.C., and returns to next year’s Hearts in Thunder Bay, Ont., as Team Canada.

A berth in the 2021 Olympic trials also goes to the winner, as well as $105,000 of the $300,000 prize purse.

Three of the four on Einarson’s team have previous experience in Hearts finals with different rinks.

Einarson’s wild-card team lost to Jones in the 2018 finale. Birchard was Jones’s third that year substituting for regular vice Kaitlyn Lawes, who was playing mixed doubles in the Winter Olympics.

Sweeting skipped Alberta to back-to-back silver medals in 2014 and 2015. She lost to Jones in Moose Jaw in 2015.

“I’m grateful for the experience,” Sweeting said. “It’s also been pretty heartbreaking, so going to definitely leave everything I can out there.”

Manitoba scored deuces in the sixth and eighth against Jones ends to lead 5-3.

Einarson held Jones to a single point in the ninth to be up one coming home with last-rock advantage.

The Manitoba skip made her hit and roll for the win in the 10th.

Einarson skimmed her last stone of the eighth past a guard to tap for two.

‘They would just make a perfect shot’

She executed another tough tap in the sixth with her shooter just hanging onto the eight-foot rings for a second point.

“We would make one miss an end and they would just make a perfect shot,” Jones said. “We couldn’t get a deuce going. We had deuces set up and we just couldn’t capitalize on them.

“Hopefully we’ll capitalize on them tomorrow.”

Homan eliminated Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville 9-5 in Saturday’s playoff between the third and fourth seeds.

WATCH | Homan scores a triple with incredible raise double takeout:

Ontario’s Rachel Homan scores 3 in the 9th end with an amazing raise double takeout, goes on to beat Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville 9-5. 1:05

The first-team all-stars announced Saturday were Homan, Sweeting, Birchard and Ontario lead Lisa Weagle.

Einarson, Ontario third Emma Miskew and second Joanne Courtney and Team Canada lead Rachel Brown were named second-team all-stars.

Also, Curling Canada and TSN announced an extension of their broadcast rights contract for another eight years.

The agreement kicks in for the 2020-21 season through to 2027-28.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2020.

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Sheldon Keefe after a 5-4 win over Columbus: "It is not a good game for us, but it is a good result" – Maple Leafs Hot Stove



Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs post game

Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s 5-4 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets that improved the Leafs’ record to 18-7-2 on the season.

On the team’s performance:

We found ways to strike offensively, whether it was on the power play or on quick chances off the rush, but in terms of how we like to play and how we have played, I don’t think there was a lot to like about the game tonight in any of the periods. I am kind of happy, frankly, that the third period catches up to us because it probably should have.

It is not a good game for us, but it is a good result, obviously. We get back on the good side of it. It is a funny game to play, too, for our guys given we had such big leads at different times. It is all a part of it.

What it tells me, honestly: We are a tired group that needs time. Coming back from California and ending up out in Minnesota and Winnipeg, coming back late at four in the morning the next day… I feel like our team still needs to regroup itself. We are going to take a day off to do that tomorrow.

On Nick Ritchie scoring his first of the season:

Love it. It has been a long time coming. I said to him on the bench that I can’t take a lot of credit because I have been calling it for quite a while now that tonight was going to be the night, but I did feel quite strongly today was going to be the day for him.

He is very quietly playing well here. Coming into tonight, he had four points in his last five games. You could just see it coming. He has had some really good chances. I am thrilled for him, and the team is thrilled for him as well.

On when he began to call Ritchie’s first goal each night:

It has been a while. I started. I stopped. It was his birthday the other day, and we called it that day. In the coach’s room before the game… I thought it was going to be on the power play, though. I am glad it worked out the way it did. It is a good goal for him and a good goal for the team.

On Jason Spezza’s six-game suspension despite his sterling reputation around the league:

Everybody in this room and everybody in the game knows the character and integrity that Jason Spezza has and has played with his entire career. We do and always will support him. Obviously, he is going to weigh his options that he has in this process.

From our perspective, I think it is important that we press on here. I think that is all we can do. That’s what we did tonight. I liked that we came out, played, and got our win without him. That is what we need to continue to do; not make excuses or point fingers.

We will continue to press on and Jason will go through his process.

On the play of Alex Steeves and Kristians Rubins in their NHL debuts:

I thought those guys gave us good shifts. I liked their game. I am going to have to watch some of the details back. In terms of the confidence they both showed with the puck, I liked that.

For the first game for them especially, it is a strange situation.  I guess you can look at it either way — maybe you have less time to think about it, or whatever — but there were no practices even with the team. In Steeves’ case, in particular, he wasn’t in our camp and didn’t know any of our guys. The guys don’t know him. He was just kind of dropped in here.

I thought [Steeves] played with confidence and his game got better throughout. He has some good details to his game. He is a smart guy. He plays with a good conscience out on the ice. I thought it was a good game for both of those guys.

On Auston Matthews’ scoring heater:

Not much surprises me anymore. I don’t think it should surprise anybody what he is capable of. That is the calibre of player that he is.

Obviously, the first goal is a pretty high-end play by Bunting to get that puck to him. That was great to see. He works to get to that spot to score and be there for that goal, and then he gets one down the wing.

Those are the kinds of pucks that haven’t gone in for him this season, so it was great to see that. When those kinds of plays start falling for him, it is obviously great. He is building great momentum here.

On Wayne Simmonds’ fit on the Matthews line:

I don’t know if I ended up juggling it at all. I was happy with how it was going. Obviously, we built the lead early, so there was a lot more reason to just continue managing the bench the way I was — kind of keeping guys rolling. I didn’t feel the need to necessarily change it.

Simmer has worked hard. He has played good hockey for us. It was a good chance tonight with how the game went to get him more consistent reps there and get more time. I thought he did a good job.

On whether Steeves and Rubins will stick around with the team:

We are going to take a day off tomorrow and regroup ourselves. There has been a lot going on around here between injuries and suspensions. We will take our time and see where the roster is at and where the injured guys are at. Obviously, some are going to be long term, but Dermott is making great progress here. We will have to see where he is at.

I know some of our guys are going to skate tomorrow — nobody who played tonight, but some of the guys like Dermott are going to skate. We will have to see where we are at and where the roster is at.

I have kind of lost track with it, to be honest. They just let me know who is eligible tonight and we put the lineup together. We will regroup, obviously. We have a very good team coming here on Thursday that we have to get ready for.

On Bunting’s contributions on the Matthews line:

He has been great. He is gaining more and more confidence in himself and in his role playing with Auston. The line hasn’t had Mitch here now for a few games. For him to make a play as he did is going to help his confidence all the more.

He himself — take the chemistry with Auston and playing on that line away — is just playing good hockey. He is playing with lots of urgency and lots of competitiveness. He keeps finding ways to generate offense and get points. We are feeling good about his game.

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Australia joins US diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics – Al Jazeera English



Prime Minister Scott Morrison cites China’s unwillingness to talk to government officials, and alleged rights abuses for decision.

Australia will not send officials to the Winter Olympics in Beijing, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday, joining a US diplomatic boycott of the event and risking a further souring of relations with China.

The United States announced its boycott on Monday, citing China’s human rights “atrocities”, fuelling anger in China, which warned of “resolute countermeasures” in response.

Morrison said Wednesday’s decision came because of Australia’s struggles to reopen diplomatic channels with China to discuss alleged human rights abuses in the far western region of Xinjiang and Beijing’s moves against Australian imports.

“Australian government officials (will), therefore, not be going to China for those games. Australian athletes will, though,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney.

The formal boycott risks further straining Australia’s relations with China, its largest trading partner, which soured after Canberra introduced foreign interference laws, banned Huawei Technologies from its 5G broadband network, and called for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19. A recent decision to acquire nuclear-powered submarines under the AUKUS pact has added to the tension.

Beijing had responded with tariffs on Australian commodities such as barley, beef, coal and wine.

Morrison said on Wednesday that his government was very happy to talk to China about their differences.

“There’s been no obstacle to that occurring on our side, but the Chinese government has consistently not accepted those opportunities for us to meet about these issues,” he said.

Morrison said any further trade disruptions would be “completely and utterly unacceptable”.

The Winter Olympics begin in February next year. The Australian Olympic Committee said the diplomatic boycott will have no effect on the expected 40 Australian athletes who are set to compete.

Andrew Woodward, a former media adviser to the Sydney Olympics, told Al Jazeera that no one wanted to see a “boycott of the Olympics from an athletic point of view”.

“Think of how the world came together for the Tokyo Olympics earlier this year and the joy that brought many, many people,” he said. “Certainly there are many human rights issues in China to address but on the whole it is better to keep the sport and politics separate here.”

China responded furiously to Canberra’s move, saying no Australian officials had been invited to the Olympics and “no one would care about whether they come or not”.

“The Australian politicians’ political posturing and hyping for their own political interest have no impact whatsoever on the successful Beijing Olympic Games, ” said Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry.

He added that Australia was “blindly following certain countries in their steps to confuse right and wrong without a bottom line”.

Other US allies have been slow to commit to joining the boycott.

The United Kingdom is considering approving limited government attendance at the event in the Chinese capital that would stop short of a full diplomatic boycott, the Telegraph newspaper said on Wednesday.

An outright ban on ministerial and diplomatic representation at the Winter games remains a possibility, it added.

Japan is considering not sending cabinet members to games, too, the Sankei Shimbun daily said on Wednesday, citing unidentified government sources.

In South Korea, however, an aide to President Moon Jae-in told the Yonhap news agency that Seoul is not considering a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics.

New Zealand earlier said its government representatives would not attend, citing the coronavirus pandemic.

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Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jason Spezza suspended six games for kneeing infraction – ESPN



NEW YORK — Toronto Maple Leafs forward Jason Spezza was suspended for six games without pay by the NHL on Tuesday for kneeing Winnipeg Jets defenseman Neal Pionk.

In the third period of Sunday’s game between the Jets and Maple Leafs, Pionk had a knee-on-knee hit on Toronto’s Rasmus Sandin. Sandin skated off the ice after the hit on his right knee. Pionk received a two-game suspension for that hit on Monday.

After the hit on Sandin, Spezza drove his left knee into the face of Pionk, who was without a stick and on his knees trying to clear a puck.

A source told ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski on Tuesday night that Spezza will appeal the league’s decision. If he loses the appeal, Spezza would forfeit $22,500 in salary under the players’ labor deal. The money would be sent to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

Pionk is a valued piece on their back line for the Jets and will be missed. Through 24 games this season, he is averaging 22:08 time on ice, and has chipped in with two goals and 16 points.

Spezza, though in a different role up front for Toronto, will also be missed as the Maple Leafs battle for first place in the Atlantic Division with the Florida Panthers.

In 26 games, the veteran has seven goals and 11 points, playing largely in a fourth-line role. The 38-year-old Spezza is averaging 11:58 time on the ice.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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