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Finland to give Canada toughest test yet at World Juniors – TSN

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A generous schedule helped Canada both find its game legs and win three straight to start the world junior hockey championship in Edmonton.

Time’s up for the host country to develop chemistry and hone its systems.

Canada faces Finland on Thursday in a meeting of 3-0 teams in Pool A.

Top seed in their pool and a favourable quarterfinal matchup is at stake. The loser will face a tough quarterfinal opponent from a deep Pool B.

The top four teams in each pool advanced to Saturday’s quarterfinals. Monday’s semifinals are followed by Tuesday’s medal games.

“It’s going to be good to get that game in against Finland and kind of feel out what the rest of the tournament is going to be like,” Canadian defenceman Kaiden Guhle said Wednesday.

“It’ll be a good test for us for sure.”

Arguably in the easier of the two pools, Canada faced lower-ranked countries to open the tournament.

The defending champions thrashed Switzerland 10-0 and short-staffed Germany 16-2, and wasn’t tested much defensively by Slovakia until the third period in a 3-1 win.

The hosts have outscored their opposition 29-3 and outshot it a combined 119-48.

“The last couple games it’s been us really taking it to them and the other teams sitting back and just defending,” Canadian forward Cole Perfetti said.

“It’s going to be good for us heading into the medal rounds to play a team like Finland to get us prepared, to tune up on the defensive side of the game, which we haven’t had to work on as much the last couple games.”

Canada had Wednesday off while Finland blanked Slovakia 6-0.

The Finns are also cruising into the New Year’s Eve matchup against Canada, although with a less gaudy 15-4 goal differential over three games.

“Of course it’s going to be a tough game for us,” Finnish head coach Antti Pennanen said. “They have a lot of good players and are a well-coached team also.

“It’s going to be a big challenge, but I think we’ll be ready for that.”

The majority of Canada’s players hadn’t participated in meaningful games in months before arrival in Edmonton because the COVID-19 pandemic shut down their leagues in March.

Exhibition games against university teams were cancelled after a pair of players tested positive and the entire team underwent a 14-day quarantine midway through Canada’s selection camp.

Short on games as a team, Canada had the luxury of feeling its way into the tournament against weaker opponents.

“Every game so far has been a stepping stone to get us to the top of our game. We’re just improving every single game,” Canadian co-captain and scoring leader Dylan Cozens said.

“To have Finland here as our last game of the round robin, it’s big. They want to take first place. We want to take first place too. It’s going to be a battle.”

Guhle feels Canada has forged an identity since a 1-0 pre-tournament win over Russia.

“Our forecheck is very tough to play against,” the defenceman said. “I think we’re very resilient and very relentless.

“I think we’re just a big, fast team that makes it tough on the other team to play against.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 30, 2020.

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Penny Oleksiak back to lead Canada in Tokyo pool

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Penny Oleksiak, the first Canadian to win four medals at a Summer Olympics, will lead a Canadian swimming team eager to build on their efforts in Rio de Janeiro at next month’s Tokyo Games.

Swimming Canada unveiled a 26-member squad (16 women, 10 men) on Thursday that is a mix of experience and youth that officials hope is capable of improving on the six medals won in Rio, the country’s best haul in the pool since the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

“I think the mix of veteran leaders and new faces is awesome,” said Kylie Masse, a bronze medallist in the 100 metres backstroke in Rio and one of 10 returning Olympians. “That’s kind of how sport works, there are always older and younger athletes, and it’s a great dynamic to have.”

Leading the charge at the 2016 Rio Games was Oleksiak, who became Canada’s youngest Olympic champion winning gold in the 100m freestyle as a 16-year-old, while also grabbing silver in the 100m butterfly and two relay bronze.

The stage is set for a new star to emerge in Tokyo in 14-year-old Summer McIntosh, who edged Oleksiak in the 200m freestyle at the trials and breezed to victory in the 800m free.

At the other end of the experience and age spectrum is 37-year-old Brent Hayden, who came out of retirement to earn a spot on his fourth Olympic team, becoming the oldest Canadian Olympic swimmer in history.

Bronze medallist in the 100m freestyle at the 2012 London Olympics, Hayden clinched his spot with a win in the 50m freestyle at the Canadian trials that wrapped up on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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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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