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FIFA wraps up visits to 2026 World Cup candidate cities with Toronto – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — A FIFA delegation wrapped up its visits to candidate cities for the 2026 World Cup with a stop in Toronto on Monday, having already seen Canadian soccer at its snowy best in Edmonton.

“I commented at the time that it was very chilly but a very warm atmosphere,” Colin Smith, FIFA’s chief tournaments and events officer, said of Edmonton where his group witnessed the Canadian men defeat CONCACAF powerhouse Mexico 2-1 last Tuesday before an announced crowd of 44,212 at Commonwealth Stadium.

“To have the passion of the crowd in these conditions was simply fantastic. And that shows the support that there is for soccer, football as I call it, in Canada.”

There were also kind words for Toronto — the other Canadian candidate city — at a lunchtime news conference high atop the Hotel X, just a stone’s thrown away from BMO Field.

Victor Montagliani, a Vancouver native who doubles as CONCACAF president and FIFA vice-president, called the Toronto pitch — which included a presentation by MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum — “very thorough and excellent.”

“I thought their presentation exemplified not only the nuts and bolts of what’s required? but also showed in terms of what I call the software, not just the hardware — the diversity of the city, what football has meant to the city historically. What football is in this city,” said Montagliani.

“Football has been here for a long time. And obviously in terms of being at the sharp end of the game, it’s gone to another level over the last, I’d say, 10 years at least,” he added.

Added Toronto Mayor John Tory: “We are all in to bring the FIFA World Cup to Toronto in 2026.”

The FIFA delegation has now visited 22 cities encompassing 23 venues with the two Canadian cities plus Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York/New Jersey, Orlando, Philadelphia, the San Francisco Bay area, Seattle and Washington, D.C. in the U.S., and Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey in Mexico.

The 2026 tournament has been expanded to 48 teams, up from 32, with 80 games in total. The initial plan from the bid committee called for Canada and Mexico to host 10 games each with the U.S. hosting 60, including all games from the quarterfinals on.

While the number of host cities was initially pegged at 16, Smith said the final number has not been defined.

“We’ll wrap up these visits and then we’ll decide what’s the most appropriate number that we need to host the tournament,” he said.

The host city selection process is expected to be finalized in April.

Montreal was also a Canadian candidate city but withdrew in July. That followed a decision by the provincial government to withdraw its support, citing cost overruns that would have been difficult to justify to taxpayers.

B.C. Premier John Horgan subsequently said his province was prepared to “entertain” the possibility of hosting games in Vancouver. Horgan said Montreal’s decision to step away creates “a real opportunity for Vancouver.”

Asked about Vancouver’s status, Montagliani was noncommittal.

“I know that the premier of British Columbia had expressed some interest and that’s great,” he said. “But right now we’re dealing with the players we have, not the players that are not on the team.”

Smith reiterated that FIFA was working with the original cities that remain on board. “That’s absolutely the focus,” he said.

Vancouver’s B.C. Place Stadium was a major part of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, hosting nine matches including the final. But the FIFA timeline seems not to favour a late bid.

The candidate city site visits cover venue management, infrastructure and sustainability as well as commercial, legal and legacy matters. They also include inspections of stadiums, training facilities and potential FIFA fan festival venues.

The FIFA delegation visited BMO Field after Monday’s news conference. If chosen, the lakefront stadium would be fitted with temporary seating to bring it up to the FIFA minimum capacity of 45,000.

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Mark Scheifele completes hat trick to lead Jets over Devils – Sportsnet.ca

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WINNIPEG — Mark Scheifele had a hat trick to snap a personal seven-game goalless skid and led the Winnipeg Jets to an 8-4 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night.

Scheifele earned his fourth career hat trick on Friday night to lead the Winnipeg Jets to an 8-4 victory over the New Jersey Devils at the Canada Life Centre on Friday night.

“We had a tough stretch of hockey,” Scheifele said. “We weren’t happy with our game. But when you do the right things over and over, do the simple things, good things happen. I think tonight was just an example of that.”

Scheifele completed the hat trick when he scored on a one-timer on a pass from captain Blake Wheeler at the 9:36 mark of the third period to give Winnipeg a 7-4 lead. Wheeler assisted on two of Scheifele’s three goals as the Jets’ offence came alive after a lengthy dry spell.

“We were able to get some rest, we were able to get fresh legs and you guys saw that tonight, a lot of guys had a little more pop in their step,” said Scheifele. “Having that much time off is huge after having the amount of games we’ve played in such a short time. We used that to our advantage.”

Nikolaj Ehlers also broke out of a five-game goalless streak with two of his own for Winnipeg (11-8-4), while Kristian Vesalainen, Josh Morrissey and Adam Lowry also scored. Goalie Connor Hellebuyck made 33 saves for the win.

“It (two goals) obviously means a lot,” Ehlers said. “You want to help the team any way you can and a lot of the guys were able to get a point on a goal.

“Scoring points is fun, there’s no secret to that. But I think, overall, we played a game that gave us a chance to win and we deserve it.”

Nico Hischier and Ryan Graves both scored to give New Jersey (9-8-4) a 4-3 lead by the 1:16 mark of the second period. Jack Hughes and Damon Severson had first-period goals.

“Obviously good since we won the game, but it should have never gotten to that,” Ehlers said. “I think after 3-0, we stopped playing and gave them time and space to make their plays.”

Devils goalie Jonathan Bernier, who made 26 saves on 32 shots, was replaced by Mackenzie Blackwood to start the third period. Blackwood stopped 6-of-8 shots.

After blowing a 3-0 lead, the Jets took a 6-4 lead into the third period.

“We were down 3-0, we battled back hard,” said Devils coach Lindy Ruff. “The first eight minutes (of the second period) was just all us. Did some fatigue hit us? Yes.

“It’s always frustrating to work that hard and not be able to complete the deal ? We had all kinds of opportunities to keep coming back but we didn’t complete the deal.”

After Hischier and Graves gave New Jersey its brief lead, Ehlers tied the score at 4-4 with his second goal of the game at the 10:39 mark of the second period. Andrew Copp, with his 100th career helper, assisted on the goal.

“We have to clean up our D-zone,” Hischier said. “There’s no way in this league you’re going to win hockey games when you get scored on that many times, and that’s what happened today. So, we definitely got to clean up.”

Winnipeg will play host to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday, the same day the Winnipeg Blue Bombers host the West Final versus the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Wheeler is scheduled to play his 1,000th NHL game on Sunday,

The Devils return home to host the Ottawa Senators on Monday.

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Sheldon Keefe on the Mitch Marner-Jake Muzzin incident in practice: "Our team is really close and that kind of stuff will be shaken off really quickly" – Maple Leafs Hotstove – Maple Leafs Hot Stove

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After practice on Friday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the injury status of Mitch Marner, Ilya Mikheyev, Ondrej Kase, and Joe Woll as well as the challenge ahead against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night.


Mitch Marner left early after a collision with Jake Muzzin. Any concern he might not be able to play?

Keefe: It’s precautionary. We will see how he is in the morning. It is not looking like anything serious at this point. He is going to travel and prepare to play. We will see how he is in the morning.

After the collision, Marner and Muzzin had words at the bench, and it seemed a little heated. What is your perspective on that? Are you glad to see competitors going at it? Do you check in to make sure it is all good?

Keefe: I was told that there was a little bit of an exchange right before I came out here, but especially with those two guys, I don’t worry about that kind of stuff at all. Things happen out there, whether it is in practice or games. Our team is really close and that kind of stuff will be shaken off really quickly.

What has allowed Rasmus Sandin to become an everyday guy and someone you move up on the power play?

Keefe: First of all, the power play and he is ability to contribute on that is a big part of it. He has a unique skill set in that regard when you look at the group that we have. Those same skills that allow him to play on the power play is also unique to our D group in terms of breaking the puck out and helping us move through the neutral zone and at the offensive blue line.

Those things really help him stay in. Those are important intangibles that he brings to the lineup when he is in. The other part of it is just the maturity that he has shown as a young player even since he came in with the Marlies. All of that is part of it.

He is still, just like the other guys, in a competition here for a spot and for his ice time. He has to continue to stay on top of that. We believe in him. He has played very well for us. But you talk about him being an every day player — and he has only sat one game to this point — but like Liljegren, Dermott, and Justin Holl, all of those guys who have sat games while healthy have to be at their best every day.

That is the biggest challenge in the NHL — to do that. Part of that for us is making sure we keep him healthy, fresh, and at the point where he can be at his best more often than not.

Are you happy with the “next man up” mentality and that you have the depth to deal with any unforeseen injuries and bumps and bruises?

Keefe: For sure. We have been talking about it. We have seven defensemen, so that has contributed. We have won games with each of them in. You don’t spend too much time worrying about it. Just like everything else that is out of your control, if you are wasting your time thinking about that, you are taking away time from worrying about the things you can control.

We do like our depth. Whether it is the seventh defenseman who has played, or whether it is Joey Anderson, Kyle Clifford, or Joe Woll that have come in, they have all come in at times when we have needed help and have done the job. More importantly, the rest of our group that is playing has just picked up the group.

Will Ondrej Kase play tomorrow night?

Keefe: Kase got through practice today. It was very positive. It looks like he is trending towards a return here. He is going to travel with the group. We are going to travel out to Minnesota, see how he is in the morning, and take it from there.

What have your early looks at the Wild told you about the difficulty of the matchup?

Keefe: Even throughout last season as well, they have really established themselves as a very difficult team to play against. They are very structured and play extremely hard. They are big and strong and hungry around the net.

There are lots of really good traits that are easy to pick out about their team because it is so deliberate and obvious — especially when you look at how they are around the net.  Our ability to protect our net, keep pucks away from there, and keep bodies away from there are really important.

We’re looking to play through pressure. They are a team that plays very hard. The play very well particularly on home ice.  Just like we had to prep for Colorado the other night, we have a lot of respect for the opponent. We will just have to make sure we are prepared.

How many games do you think Petr Mrazek will play with the Marlies?

Keefe: I think we will take it one at a time. The Marlies were supposed to play tomorrow night, but that has been postponed. He will play on Sunday, and we will take it from there.

Will Ilya Mikheyev come on the trip with you?

Keefe: Yeah, Miky is going to travel with us, too. It is really nice to see him taking those steps. Part of it is the conditioning piece and getting back out on the ice and being around more than just an open sheet of ice. Having lots of guys out there is part of making your way back.

The other piece is just being with your teammates again. He has been injured a lot, as injured players tend to be. We have been trying to get him into our meetings and such in the last little while. Coming on the road now is a big part of that, too.

Is Joe Woll going to get a start this weekend?

Keefe: I think we are going to bring three goaltenders. With Joe, just like the others who are a little banged up, we are just going to have to see how they respond in the morning tomorrow and take it from there.

Is there another level to the Matthews-Marner chemistry, or is it just sort of picking up where they left off?

Keefe: I like to think that two players like that, especially at their age, there is room to grow there still — room to grow in their chemistry and in their games individually. I don’t think we would say they have maxed out their potential in any regard, especially with players with that drive that they have paired with the talent and competitiveness. I wouldn’t limit those guys at all. It is certainly nice to see them connecting. You can’t leave out the fact that Bunting has really contributed well to that line as well.

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McDavid overtakes Crosby as Canada's king of the ice – The Globe and Mail

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Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Mike Matheson tries to check Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Dec. 1.Perry Nelson/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

It is not that we did not know this before, but this week Connor McDavid made it eminently clear that he has surpassed Sidney Crosby to become the best Canadian on hockey’s landscape.

This is not a swipe at the Penguins’ venerable captain because he has delivered so many thrills in 17 years as the sport’s marquee player. It is more a recognition that McDavid has elevated the level of his game to a place where it is no longer arguable.

McDavid had a goal and three assists in Edmonton’s 5-2 victory over Pittsburgh on Wednesday. He was on the ice each time the Oilers scored, which made him plus-five for the night. Crosby had a mostly quiet-to-difficult evening: he had an assist but ended up minus-four. We can say with certainty that has rarely if ever happened to him.

“He’s just so good at creating something from nothing,” Crosby said of McDavid, who has risen from heir-apparent to unrivalled. “There is not a lot of danger and all of a sudden he’s on a 2-on-1 or he’s got a fast break. It’s a pretty small margin for error.”

McDavid skates so fast and handles the puck so adroitly that he almost plays at video-game speed. He defies how much anyone can dominate the game in an era in which players are bigger and quicker and stronger than they have ever been.

McDavid set up Zach Hyman for Edmonton’s first goal on its first shot. He then slipped another perfect pass to the former Maple Leaf on a 2 on 1 for the Oilers’ second. Later he put a puck right on Evan Bouchard’s stick for an easy tap-in during another 2 on 1. Then he scored an empty-netter with a little more than two minutes remaining to leave no doubt about the outcome.

On that play, McDavid preferred to pass to Hyman for what would have been his first career hat trick but Hyman waved him off at the last second because he could not free himself of a defender.

“I was trying to get him the puck,” McDavid said. “I almost felt guilty putting it in the net.”

Earlier, Hyman had one wiped out by an offsides penalty on Kailer Yamamoto.

“I don’t think about it too much,” Hyman said of getting his first three-goal game. He has scored two a dozen times. “I think eventually it will happen.”

McDavid had 15 goals and 40 points in 21 outings as he headed into Friday night’s clash with the Kraken in Seattle. As remarkable as those numbers are, he was only second in the NHL in scoring. His teammate Leon Draisaitl had 20 goals and 41 points.

Edmonton is 16-5 and jostling with the Calgary Flames for first place atop the Pacific Division. The Oilers’ start is their best since 1984, when Wayne Gretzky helped them burst from the gate to 12-0-3.

Naysayers will complain that Edmonton is really just a two-man team. I don’t recall if hockey fans said the same thing about Crosby and Mario Lemieux early on in Pittsburgh, or if anyone said, “Yes, but how good would the Blackhawks be without Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane?”

The difference, of course, is that the Oilers have only won a playoff series once in McDavid’s six seasons, and the franchise won its most recent Stanley Cup in 1990. Edmonton needs to make a long playoff run to turn some doubters into believers.

In that way the Oilers are not unlike the Maple Leafs. At this point, what Toronto accomplishes in the regular season barely matters. Despite the Leafs’ record, nobody will toss them bouquets until they prove their worth in the postseason. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2004.

McDavid is 24 and entering his prime now. Draisaitl is 26 and doing the same. Between them they have 81 points in 21 games. That is Gretzky-esque and Messier-like in a harder time for anyone to shine so brightly.

Crosby said this week that McDavid is playing at such a high level that it is hard to believe that he can find an even higher one.

“I think he’s done that,” Crosby said. “That’s the most impressive part about it.”

The Oilers have struggled to find any consistency in recent seasons. But their roster is much stronger now.

Hyman has a dozen goals and 17 points. Jesse Puljujarvi has seven goals and also has 17 points. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has scored just twice but has 20 points. Mikko Koskinen is 12-2 in the net. Edmonton beat Pittsburgh with Darnell Nurse, Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci all out with injuries. It lost its top four guys on the blueline in four games and still went 3-1. On Wednesday, it dressed four defencemen who had played a combined 74 games in the NHL.

Imagine how Toronto would fare without Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, T.J. Brodie and Rasmus Sandin. Probably not too well.

The Oilers were outshot by Pittsburgh 26-13 in the first two periods but went into the final 20 minutes with the score tied 2-2. Then they blew the Penguins away. They scored four times on 21 shots against Tristan Jarry, who had allowed three goals on 175 shots in the previous six games.

This is no longer a one- or two-trick-pony team.

“We kind of held on for the first 40 minutes,” McDavid said. “We kind of worked our way through the game, capitalized on our chances and got some timely saves.”

There will undoubtedly be some ups and downs over 82 games. But the Oilers have been more than good enough so far.

McDavid and Crosby have faced one another only eight times. In those games, Edmonton’s captain has four goals and 10 assists. Crosby has scored twice and assisted on five others.

On Wednesday night, McDavid won the opening faceoff against Crosby. He has worked hard to improve in that area. He remembered the first time he lined up across from Crosby in the faceoff circle as a rookie.

“I was all excited and ready for the faceoff and he flicked it away from me before I even knew it,” McDavid said. “I never even had a chance.”

Time flies, and so does Connor McDavid.

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