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Even at 43, there’s no surprise Zdeno Chara has more to give – Sportsnet.ca

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Out of the grey winter’s sky fell a bomb.

Zdeno Chara has signed with the Washington Capitals.”

For real?

So unique are the man’s talents, so indistinguishable was he from the bedrock of the Boston Bruins, that even in this age of salary caps and free-flowing player movement it seemed slightly implausible.

That’s not logical thinking, of course, not at the precipice of a season where Joe Thornton is a Maple Leaf, Mikko Koivu is a Blue Jacket and Alex Pietrangelo is a Golden Knight. Not in a time where Henrik Lundqvist would have been standing in the Capitals crease absent the shocking discovery of an ailment that requires open-heart surgery.

But how you felt when you first heard Wednesday afternoon’s Chara news says something about the towering defenceman and his immense standing in Boston.

Incredibly, he played parts of eight NHL seasons in Long Island and Ottawa before even arriving in Boston as a free agent in July 2006. The Senators chose to keep Wade Redden over Chara that summer and almost immediately came to regret it.

There has never been a player quite like ‘Big Z’ in the history of the league.

So large at six-foot-nine, 250 pounds, that he has special dispensation to carry a stick a few inches longer than the NHL-mandated maximum and so unmatched in the ways he can use it.

In his peak years, Chara was as feared as any of his peers and rarely ever had to throw a punch. He produced points, killed penalties and was a matchup nightmare for anyone trying to come down the left side of the ice. He gained a reputation as being a fierce competitor in opposing dressing rooms and played a massive role in changing the culture inside the home one at TD Garden.

Chara was the consummate Bruin for 14 seasons, wearing the captain’s ‘C’ for each of the 1,173 regular-season and playoff games he appeared in for the organization. That included the Stanley Cup victory in 2011 and two other trips to the final, the most recent of which in 2019 featured a spine-tingling standing ovation before Game 5 when Chara played despite suffering a broken jaw.

No wonder his Instagram sendoff was so heartfelt and included the line “I will always be a Bruin. I will always love Boston.”

No wonder so many former teammates rushed to fill their own feeds with tributes. Tom Brady, who left New England for Tampa this season, even commented on Chara’s post by saying “Best of luck to you Zee” and tagged it with a couple ‘100’ and ‘heart’ emojis.

Fourteen years is a long time in life. It’s an eternity in pro sports.

As for why business ultimately forced a separation that few saw coming, well, that’s a story we’ve seen play out time and again. The summer’s return-to-play was not particularly kind to Chara’s game and the organization felt it was time for him to step aside and make way for others behind him. But even at age 43, Chara did not share that view.

There doesn’t seem to be any bad feelings about the way things went down — Chara said he respected the Bruins’ decision — but it’s worth noting that he’s ended up with a rival in the realigned East Division and the teams are scheduled to meet eight times in the next four months.

Chara’s arrival in Washington set off a wave of excitement. The Capitals have a new coach in Peter Laviolette, plus all the familiar offensive weapons, and are trying to win another championship before their window of contention slams shut. It’s the ideal destination for someone in Chara’s skates.

And it’s telling that more than half of the teams in the league inquired about his services while he remained unsigned deep into December. Chara is joining the Capitals on a contract paying him $795,000 and even if there are questions about his foot speed and doubts about how many minutes he can handle it’s difficult to imagine him not delivering excess value.

We’re talking about a fitness fanatic famous for biking Tour de France stages and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro during the off-season. A player who has been dragging teammates into the battle for more than two decades and skated with a broken jaw 18 months ago.

A guy who very easily could have done the safe thing and retired when he found out the Bruins were moving in another direction and instead chose to play on.

Viewed in totality, the surprise wasn’t so much that Chara is coming back for another NHL season. It’s that the Bruins are choosing to let him finish a Hall of Fame career somewhere else.

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Sinclair to lead Canadian women’s team in her fourth Olympics

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Christine Sinclair, the all-time international goal-scoring record holder, was named to her fourth Olympic squad on Wednesday and will headline a Canadian roster at the Tokyo Games that features a mix of veterans and youth.

Led by Sinclair, whose 186 goals for her country are the most by a female or male soccer player worldwide, Canada won medals at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and was the only nation to make the podium in both competitions.

“I am looking forward to doing whatever I can to help take this team back to the podium and make history again,” said Canadian captain Sinclair. “Our team is in a good spot, we are excited, we are hungry and we are ready to go.”

The 18-player roster features 12 members of the squad that competed at the 2016 Rio Games while a quintet including Vanessa Gilles, Jayde Riviere, Julia Grosso, Adriana Leon, and Evelyne Viens will be making their Olympic debuts.

Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan travelled to Rio in 2016 as an alternate.

Canada will kick off their Tokyo 2020 journey when they face Japan on July 21 and continue Group E play against Chile on July 24 and Britain on July 27.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)

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Which of the Canadians Picked in the 2021 NFL Draft Will Thrive This Season?

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It was a good NFL Draft for Canadian players in 2021.

Some four stars from north of the border were selected by NFL franchises in the free agency pick ‘em, and that is tied as the highest number of Canadians drafted in the 85-year history of the event.

Of course, the hope is that these young talents are more than just filler and roster depth, but can any of the quartet make the breakthrough into the big time?

Here’s a look at which of the NFL’s newest Canadian additions can shine in 2021/22.

Jevon Holland

The defensive back was the number 36 pick in the Draft by the Miami Dolphins, who beat off a number of rivals in the hunt for the Coquitlam native.

A versatile defender, Holland is a former Jim Thorpe Award semi-finalist thanks to his exploits in the NCAA back in 2019 with the University of Oregon.

He sat out the 2020 campaign, but representatives from dozens of NFL teams were in town to watch Holland go through his paces at the Oregon Pro Day.

The 21-year-old is following in the footsteps of his father Robert, who turned out for the Detroit Lions, and he is expected to force his way into the starting line-up at the Dolphins. And, who knows, maybe Holland could go all the way in his first season, with Miami priced at +2500 in the Super Bowl 2022 American football odds.

Benjamin St-Juste

When you’re six foot three, 205 pounds and still able to run 40 yards in 4.51 seconds, it goes without saying that you have the physical credentials to succeed in the NFL.

Benjamin St-Juste is the man that can, and he will bolster the roster at a Washington Football Team that will be looking to improve upon their playoff showing in 2020.

The 23-year-old may only have been a third-round pick, but he comes with a burgeoning reputation thanks to a successful time at the University of Minnesota. An All-Big Ten special mention in 2019, more than 50 NFL recruitment personnel attended the college’s pro day – largely to catch a glimpse of St-Juste going through his paces.

Both Brian Gutekunst and Jon Robinson made the trip but, in the end, it was Washington who snapped up the powerhouse from the Draft.

Chuba Hubbard

The third Canadian to be drafted in 2021 was Chuba Hubbard, who became the first Canadian running back to be selected from the Draft in 25 years.

It’s the Carolina Panthers who have taken a chance on the 22-year-old and with his credentials, you can see why. Hubbard finished eighth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in 2019 after a stellar campaign – he served up 2,094 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, an NCAA best. He was named the Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

While running backs are not the hottest of properties in the Draft, Hubbard provably has the talent to cross into the end zone with regularity – the Panthers might just have got their hands on an unheralded gem here.

With these three Canadians taking the step up to the NFL, the future of the sport north of the border looks in safe hands.

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Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s

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Andy Murray‘s grasscourt return was cut short in brutal fashion at Queen’s Club as Italian top seed Matteo Berrettini dished out a 6-3 6-3 defeat to the former world number one on Thursday.

The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.

Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.

Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.

Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.

He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.

Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.

Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.

“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.

“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”

Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.

(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)

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