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For Kanter, facing Raptors on Christmas Day about more than basketball – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – After 25 years the Toronto Raptors and their fans were given the distinction of hosting a coveted Christmas Day game for the first time ever.

So then, what’s that like?

Well, other than a much more dolled-up production from the Raptors’ game operations crew, and playoff-level engaged crowd – though much more jovial and a lot less nervous than the springtime buzz – it’s a lot like any other regular-season game between two top-flight opponents.

Which is to say, the Raptors’ 118-102 drubbing at the hands of the Boston Celtics Wednesday afternoon was entertaining enough until it wasn’t because of its blowout nature and still, ultimately, just another regular-season game – if you’re looking at it purely from a basketball perspective that is.

The truth is, like the holiday itself, a Christmas game means so much more than just who won or lost, or anything at all to do with the game for that matter.

As such, it’s worth asking a different question: If it’s not about the basketball on a Christmas Day game, then what is it about?

The answer to this query is not so easily unearthed, but there were bits and pieces of a resolution seen throughout Wednesday’s matinee contest.

Most notably, with 4:49 left in the first quarter when Celtics backup centre Enes Kanter checked into the game for the first time to a mostly muted reply.

Likely because he was playing for the opposition, but the tepid applause for Kanter’s arrival into the game is a bit if a shame, for if more of the sold out Scotiabank Arena crowd knew what Kanter had been through to even step foot into the country for Canada’s first-ever Christmas Day NBA game, let alone onto the court, there maybe would’ve been a standing ovation that could’ve threatened to stop the game momentarily.

After all, Kanter didn’t even know he was going to be allowed into Canada until two days ago.

Enes Kanter prior to the Boston Celtics’ Christmas Day game against the Toronto Raptors (Kishan Mistry/Sportsnet)

In a heartfelt op-ed he penned in the Globe & Mail on Monday, Kanter revealed that with help from the Canadian government, he would be able to enter the country and play on Christmas Day in Toronto.

A special moment as — because of comments Kanter has made criticizing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government’s treatment of its citizens — Kanter is a wanted man by his home country’s leader and has been threatened, bullied and even nearly kidnapped by pro-Erdogan agents when he’s left the United States, meaning he hasn’t been able to travel outside of the U.S. when his team goes abroad.

And up until Monday, Kanter’s status was still up in the air for this Christmas game.

“I didn’t know 100 per cent until the 23rd,” Kanter said before Wednesday’s game of when he knew would be able to play.

“The Celtics have been working on it since the beginning of the season,” he added. “As soon as we learned that we had a Christmas game in Toronto they just started working on it. I spoke to chief of staff for the ministry of immigration two days ago who actually said, ‘We all good.’ One of my friends reached out to [Canadian Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau’s office yesterday and they said, ‘We all good’ and told me not to worry about it and that everything’s gonna be smooth.”

Kanter hasn’t played an NBA game outside of the United States since Nov. 10, 2018 when he was a member of the New York Knicks – against the Raptors. It’s a time period that seems like years to him and, as such, to be able to play once again in Toronto on Christmas of all days meant so much more to him.

“It’s more than a game to me,” said Kanter. “It’s definitely a blessing to play on a Christmas Day, especially in Toronto, the defending champions. But it feels good to be out. It feels good to be free, it feels good to be enjoying this time with my teammates, for sure. It’s amazing.”

Later adding: “It’s not just about basketball, it’s something bigger than that. Now it’s like world leaders have got my back, now it’s like the government’s got my back. So take that Turkish government.”

Enes Kanter’s “Freedom” shoes during the Boston Celtics’ Christmas Day game against the Toronto Raptors (Kishan Mistry/Sportsnet)

This is what playing on Christmas is actually about for Kanter. Like he said, it’s so much more.

“I’m trying to use my story to tell other stories,” said Kanter. “I want to thank Canada because they are definitely like a model and taking Turkish refugees all over the world and that’s why it’s so important to give thanks to the Canadian government to Mr. Trudeau to support me, because it was really, really important.”

But you don’t have to have lived Kanter’s struggles to understand the importance and symbolism of what playing on Christmas Day means, either.

“It’s just special. To have an opportunity to have my kids see me play and to just enjoy the moment, it’s cool man,” said Kyle Lowry after the game of what it was like playing on Christmas. “It was something that took 14 years to get to, I got to it, unsuccessful, but it was a fun, great time.”

Lowry wasn’t playing for anything more than the Raptors and his family, but that doesn’t discredit the special feeling he had in regards to playing on Christmas — a time where seeing or being seen by loved ones just means that much more.

And this, to get back to the initial question at hand, is what a Christmas game is about.

Yes, Lowry’s Raptors got bombed out in what ended up being a non-competitive game, but he got to fulfill a dream of playing on the day itself and had his two precocious, rambunctious boys with him for the special occasion.

That’s not bad at all.

And sure, Kanter, had a nice game, scoring 12 points – 10 alone coming in the first half – with 11 rebounds, but the message he Sharpie’d on his Nike sneakers is another part of what the day is really about: “Freedom.”

Christmas is supposed to be a time when we celebrate humanity. Having fun watching or even playing a basketball game is part of that, and more than anything, so is the ability to enjoy whatever you do to celebrate without fear.

That’s not just what a Christmas basketball game is about, that’s what Christmas is about, period.

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Hazel Mae, Ken Rosenthal, Jon Heyman, and more reported Michael Brantley to Toronto – Awful Announcing

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Baseball transactions have often seen some unexpected people breaking news, whether that’s wetbutt23 and KatyPerrysBootyHole or Brendon Kuhn and Joey Vendetta. But Wednesday provided a remarkable reversal there, with TV host Hazel Mae and multiple U.S. baseball insiders (including Ken Rosenthal of Fox and The Athletic and Jon Heyman of MLB Network) reporting that outfielder Michael Brantley was headed to the Toronto Blue Jays before the eventual confirmation that he was instead returning to the Houston Astros (where he played last year, as shown above). Here are those initial reports:

And here are some of the later corrections and rebuttals from those who didn’t initially report that:

As noted Tuesday, baseball is a sport where local sources can sometimes break national news before the national insiders get it. But in this case, the initial reports appear to have been premature. And that led to some awkward tweets Wednesday for those who reported that the Brantley deal was done in Toronto before the actual news of that deal being done in Houston emerged.

[Photo from Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports]

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Canucks earn cathartic win over Canadiens after roller-coaster affair – Sportsnet.ca

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VANCOUVER – It was a game screaming out for fans. And a game that would have had coaches screaming.

But Vancouver Canucks coach Travis Green’s mood at least would have been helped by his team’s 6-5 shootout win Wednesday against the Montreal Canadiens.

The Canucks’ home-opener at Rogers Arena, played in front of 18,000 seats kept empty by COVID, was a mistake-filled thrill ride whose surprise ending – a Vancouver win – was desperately needed by the team that had limped home after a 1-3 road trip to start its season.

Captain Bo Horvat scored twice on the power play, as the Canucks man-advantage unit finally put some pucks in the net after a 0-for-15 start, and then beat Montreal goalie Carey Price between the pads in the fourth round of the shootout.

Vancouver, wobbling on defence with veteran Alex Edler injured and other blue-liners struggling, appeared to be headed towards its fourth straight loss when former Canuck Tyler Toffoli – who else would it be? – completed his hat trick with a deflection to give the Canadiens their first lead with only 3:49 remaining in regulation time.

But after losing a one-goal advantage four times, the Canucks displayed some resilience by making it 5-5 just 32 seconds later when Brock Boeser wired a shot from the high slot after a setup by J.T. Miller.

“It was really important,” Horvat said of a victory that was like shelter during a January gale. “We needed that win. Obviously, for standings-wise, but also for confidence. It definitely feels good to get the two points, but at the same time I think we can be better.

“We can’t be satisfied with that. We’ve just got to keep building with that, keep our confidence and come ready to play tomorrow night.”

The Canadiens, now 2-0-2 and two points clear of the Canucks in the North Division, play in Vancouver on Thursday and again Saturday.

There were some glaring faults to the Canucks performance, especially in their half of the ice.

But it was vitally important for their struggling top players to break out. Boeser matched Horvat’s two goals, Miller had three assists and defenceman Quinn Hughes had two. And although Elias Pettersson failed to register a point for a fourth straight game – double his longest “slump” from last season – he was a key part of a power play that finished 3-for-6.

And, as Horvat said, there was a huge psychological lift for a team that for the first time under Green, appeared to be slipping backwards with its surprisingly poor start.

“It definitely feels good to get finally rewarded for it,” Horvat said of a power play that was fourth in the NHL last season and expects to be at least that good again. “It was just a matter of time before one went in. Thankfully, we got it off to a good start and we just kept building from there.

“Obviously, we can’t think that’s going to be good enough. We’ve got to hold ourselves to a high standard and do it again tomorrow night.”

The power play gave the Canucks their first of four leads, scoring at 11:07 of the first with quick passing that teed up Horvat in the slot, a play that would be repeated on Horvat’s other goal early in the third.

The power play and offensive outburst, plus some timely saves by Braden Holtby in overtime, were enough to overcome the Canucks’ defensive problems.

New first-pairing defenceman Nate Schmidt conceded last weekend in Calgary that the transition from playing in Vegas has been challenging, and Travis Hamonic hasn’t looked any more comfortable than Schmidt so far in Vancouver after spending the last three seasons with the Flames.

It didn’t help Wednesday that Edler nearly stopped playing in the second period before disappearing from the bench in the third, and that rookie Jalen Chatfield was making his NHL debut for the Canucks.

Even Hughes looked suspect medically, labouring at times while being constantly targeted by the Canadiens.

The lack of cohesiveness on defence was especially evident in the second period, when the Canucks blew the lead three times on goals that were far too easy for the Canadiens.

Hamonic wandered out of position to throw a hit after Hughes had been knocked over by Joel Armia, leaving the right half of the Vancouver zone open for Toffoli to walk in on a breakaway and pick his spot over Holtby’s catching hand to tie it 1-1 at 1:37 of the middle period.

A few shifts later, Schmidt gambled and lost on an intercept in the neutral zone, giving Jeff Petry a free pass to the net. But when the Canadiens defenceman zipped the puck wide, it caromed around the boards to Tyler Motte and gave the Canucks a two-on-one.

Motte looked to pass before fooling Price with a low shot through him to restore the Vancouver lead at 4:25.

But just 62 seconds later, with Schmidt and Hamonic now paired together, the Canadiens took advantage of more poor defending and Nick Suzuki set up Toffoli for a tap-in that capped a power-play three-on-one.

The Canucks power play made it 3-2 at 11:13 when Boeser collected a rebound from his skates and scored on a quick backhand.

And still Vancouver couldn’t get out of the period with the lead. With Chatfield looking to change and caught out of position and Schmidt’s check against behind him, Tomas Tatar lasered a goalmouth pass for Brendan Gallagher to tie it again, 3-3, at 18:25.

The Canucks were ahead, then tied and eventually behind before winning. Against the Montreal Canadiens. The crowd would have loved it, faults and all.

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League fines Caps $100,000 for safety violations, as COVID-19 rattles schedule

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fines Caps

(Reuters) – The National Hockey League (NHL) fined the Washington Capitals $100,000 for violating COVID-19 protocols on Wednesday, the first financial penalty related to the novel coronavirus it has handed down.

The NHL said the fine was in response to “player violations” of protocols including “social interactions among team members who were in close contact and who were not wearing face coverings”.

Captain Alex Ovechkin, one of four Capitals players placed on the NHL’s “COVID Protocol Related Absence List” following the incident, apologized and said he would learn from the experience.

“I regret my choice to spend time together with my team mates in our hotel room and away from the locker room areas,” he said in a statement.

The other players added to the list were Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, and Ilya Samsonov. It is unclear when they will be allowed to return to the ice.

The Capitals said in a statement they had worked hard to establish a “safe environment” to allow the team to compete this season and were disappointed the players had interacted outside of approved areas.

“We accept the NHL’s decision and once again will reiterate the COVID-19 protocols in place to make sure the players are in full compliance moving forward,” they added.

While not the maximum allowable fine under NHL protocol, the hefty figure could nonetheless serve as a warning to teams playing beyond the confines of last year’s quarantined “bubble,” with the league already rescheduling a number of games due to safety concerns since the season kicked off a week ago.

After postponing Tuesday’s game between Carolina and Nashville, the league said on Wednesday the Hurricanes’ schedule was paused through at least Jan. 23, with five players on the absence list.

“As an appropriate precaution, the team’s training facilities have been closed, effective immediately, and will remain closed for players until further notice,” the NHL said in a statement.

“The Hurricanes organization has, and will continue to follow, all recommended guidelines aimed at protecting the health and safety of its players, staff and community at large.”

 

(Reporting by Amy Tennery and Rory Carroll; Editing by Lincoln Feast/Peter Rutherford)

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