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Homers from Hernandez and Jansen key in Blue Jays’ breakthrough in win over Rays –



ST. PETERSBERG, Fla. – Matt Chapman ran into Charlie Montoyo at the hotel coffee shop before heading to Tropicana Field and the manager had a question for his third baseman. The Toronto Blue Jays needed a leadoff man with George Springer day-to-day with sprained left ankle, how would he feel about jumping up into the spot?

“I said, ‘Let’s go,’” recalled Chapman, who’d batted everywhere 2-9 in the major leagues and needed the top spot to complete the set. “I’m excited to get more ABs, try to get on base and help this team win. That’s the main focus. Shaking things up, see if we can get a little something going, that’s pretty standard in baseball if the lineup that you’re running out there right maybe isn’t having success. Change things up and see if we can get a little momentum.”

Eventually, their breakthrough came Saturday night, as Teoscar Hernandez’s go-ahead solo shot in the eighth inning opened a four-run outburst that carried the Blue Jays to a 5-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, ending a five-game losing streak.

Hernandez, moved up to third as part of the rejigged order behind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and in front of Bo Bichette, opened the eighth with a 109.3 m.p.h. laser to centre field off Ryan Thompson, his first since returning from the injured list.

The home run was also the Blue Jays’ first since Springer’s leadoff drive Tuesday at Yankee Stadium, part of a stretch of six games with one home run. Their inability to score was the prime driver of a 2-8 stretch, during which they went deep four times and plated 33 runs.

“My homer came in a good moment,” said Hernandez. “We all know that we needed a big hit like that. It came from my bat but I know it’s in there and all the guys are going to get hit keep hitting and we’re going to get on a good winning streak.”

This time, rather than following Hernandez’s breakthrough with three quick outs, they added on, with Santiago Espinal reaching on a base hit, advancing to third on a Zack Collins groundout and scoring on a Lourdes Gurriel Jr. base hit. Danny Jansen, activated from the injured list before the game along with starter Hyun Jin Ryu, then clubbed a two-run homer for a 5-1 lead.

Adam Cimber worked around a leadoff walk in the eighth while Jordan Romano, his velocity back up to season norms, nailed things down in the ninth.

Good tonic after a trying week.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Jansen. “This team can really hit. It’s still early and everybody’s just getting in the swing of things now, myself included. It’s great to be back and able to contribute.”

While the win was a collective exhale for an offence that had frustrations mount in recent days, the Blue Jays also received a lift from the performance of Ryu, who allowed one run on four hits and a walk over 4.2 innings of under-wraps work.

The left-hander’s average fastball velocity was up one m.p.h. and he topped out at 92.1, a slight boost that allowed for better separation between his changeup and curveball. More importantly, he commanded the ball much more effectively, which allowed him to keep the Rays down while the offence grinded to its outburst.

“My fastball felt like it had some life,” Ryu said through interpreter J.S. Park. “I’m pretty happy with the command and everything else. Aside from that one changeup that I gave up the home run, I was pretty happy with the way the changeup was working, too.”

That Ryu’s return from a bout of forearm inflammation was paired with that of Jansen from an oblique injury was a happy coincidence. While Jansen’s importance to the club starts with his work behind the plate, his recent work with the bat suggested he’d turned a corner offensively and his production on that front was missed, too.

Prior to the home run, he’d been hit by a pitch, walked and sent a 103 m.p.h. drive to the centre-field wall that ended as a long out. The home run was his third of the season.

“One of the things that I did in the off-season was find out really who I was (offensively) and then freedom came with that,” Jansen said before the game. “Obviously it was tough after the start going on the IL for a while, but that freedom I had in the beginning of the season, in spring training, at the end of last year figuring out who I was really helped me mentally. I’m looking to pick up where I left off with that.”

Jansen’s fly ball in the sixth was one of several near-miss drives the Blue Jays hit, which made Hernandez’s drive all the more cathartic. The all-star right-fielder has been frustrated while trying to find his timing at the plate since his return and a two-hit game, including the no-doubter, should help him get comfortable.

“Everybody knows how hard it is to hit a ball out of the park right now because of the things that they’ve been doing to the baseball. It’s obvious they changed the baseballs,” said Hernandez. “It’s been hard. But I got that one pretty good. I had a feeling that it was going to go out. You just have to keep hitting.”

That applies to Chapman, too, who sent one ball to the wall in left at 101 m.p.h. and another to right-centre at 100.8 m.p.h. and ended up with 723 feet of out as a result. That came on the heels of drive he hit to left-centre at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday that came off the bat at 106.7 m.p.h. with a launch angle 35 degrees and went 390 feet before dying by the wall.

“I haven’t hit very many balls 107 at a 35 that haven’t been homers,” said Chapman. “When I hit the ball, it was weird. Usually when you hit the ball really hard like that, it feels like it jumps off the bat. That one just felt a little weird. I know people have been saying stuff about the baseballs. I was surprised. I thought I got that one.”

Several Blue Jays have felt that way lately which is Montoyo felt his team “hit the ball better than what the scoreboard showed.” He also praised his makeshift leadoff hitter for helping set the table for others by seeing 19 pitches over five plate appearances.

“It’s not going to change my approach. I’m still obviously ready to hit when I get my pitch,” Chapman said of batting leadoff. “A little lineup shakeup right now will help the guys maybe just kind of reset a little bit. It’s not permanent, obviously, but it’ll be fun and I’m looking forward to it. Anything you can do at the major-league level that’s new is fun.”

All the more so when it ends in victory.

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This Battle of Alberta won’t be like the past, but the emotion will be unmatched –



EDMONTON  — It’s been 31 years, so long that a generation really only knows the Battle of Alberta in snap shots from Hockey Night in Canada videos. 

Gretzky down the wing on Vernon. Smith, in off of Fuhr. Fleury break dancing across the Northlands Coliseum logo. Dave Brown, startin’ the lawn mower on Jim Kyte. 

Glen Sather, alternately cheering an OT goal in Calgary and issuing a hand gesture to Flames fans that would have garnered him a healthy fine today. 

We’re here to tell you: societal norms dictate that the old Battle of Alberta will never be re-lived. This can not be that. 

But although we might know what we’re NOT going to see when the Calgary Flames hook up with the Edmonton Oilers starting on Wednesday night, you never know what you might see in a matchup set to consume this prairie province for the first time since 1991. A grudge match that — in its best days — was as good a rivalry as the National Hockey League has seen in all its many years. 

“You always knew going into it that there was going to be bloodshed, and it was going to be some of your own,” former Oilers (and Flames) defenceman Steve Smith said in my book, The Battle of Alberta. “It was real then. There were going to be fights and you were expected to be part of fights and physical hockey.” 

“They were big, strong, physical,” added Edmonton defenceman Jeff Beukeboom. “They were dirty. Just like us,”  

The sheer violence does not exist anymore, and for that the NHL is a better place. But the emotion that has gone missing with that violence? 

That, we’d like to surgically implant back into the game, like a ligament from a cadaver that could put the hop back in the step of a league where too many players are buddy-buddy, asking how the wife and kids are rather than putting a glove in their opponent’s face. 

It was that emotion that fuelled the high-octane dragster that was The Battle. 

Emotion that would drive Doug Risebrough to slink into the penalty box with an Oilers jersey purloined from the latest Pier 6 brawl, and slice it into ribbons with his skates. Emotion injected into a practice from Flames head coach Bob Johnson, who dressed a Junior A goalie in an Oilers jersey so his players could feel the thrill of blowing pucks past a Grant Fuhr lookalike. 

“That’s the thing we’re missing in the game today. Emotion,” said former Flames goalie Mike Vernon. “Those games had so much emotion, and there was a price that had to be paid. Like the time Dave Brown fought Stu Grimson. Grimmer sat in the penalty box for 10 minutes with a broken face. 

“You want to see real? That’s real.” 

Emotion from players who knew, this wasn’t going to be a normal game. And if I play like it is, I won’t survive it. 

“I had no problem [expletive] cuttin’ your eye out. Wouldn’t have bothered me a bit,” said Theoren Fleury, a small man who cut a big swath through the Battle. “Hey – you’re trying to [expletive] kill me? This was survival. It was that unpredictability that allowed me to have the room that I had.”

On a macro level, Edmonton and Calgary have always been contesting each other.

They fought over who would get the first Canadian Pacific Railway terminal (Calgary), way back in the 1800s. They argued over who would be designated the provincial capital, or lay claim to the University of Alberta in the early 1900s (Edmonton, and Edmonton). 

Today the contest has been mostly won by the city that is simply 300 kilometres closer to the rest of the world than its rival. Calgary is the Dallas to Edmonton’s Houston, where the oil patch is concerned, an industry orchestrated by the white collars in the South, but serviced and operated by blue collars up North. 

But where all this has impacted the sports scene is this: Anecdotally, more people born in Edmonton continue to live in Edmonton, while Calgary has become a city more rich in people from elsewhere; Edmonton is a city you leave, whereas Calgary has become somewhere people come to, with allegiances to other teams in tow.

That assessment is subjective, sure, but it’s backed up by the fact the Oilers tend to post better media numbers than the Flames do, whether it’s radio, TV or print. There is simply more local interest in Edmonton’s team than Calgary’s, a phenomenon that will be invisible to the naked eye these next two weeks. 

When the original Battle began however, there was no question who was the big brother, and who was the little one. 

Edmonton had joined the NHL from the old World Hockey Association in 1979, and the Flames arrived from Atlanta a year later. Soon, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey et al. were clearly a group the Flames could not match, or catch up to via the draft. So the Flames, with former University of Wisconsin coach Bob Johnson behind their bench, built a team using older college grads like Joe Nieuwendyk, Joe Mullen, Joel Otto, Jamie Macoun and Gary Suter.

In the end, the Flames only won one of five playoff meetings between the two, but they played the Boston Red Sox to Edmonton’s New York Yankees, or Don Cherry’s Boston Bruins to the 70’s Habs that were Edmonton. 

“Ali needed Frazier,” Messier once said. “That top opponent that pushes, and challenges, and makes you better.” 

As the two teams ready for a meeting beginning Wednesday night in Calgary, that old Saddledome is perhaps the only visual that will provide a similar look, outside the familiar jerseys of each team. The landscape is unfamiliar, with teams full of players who have never faced each other in a post-season series. 

Two teams who once combined for 780 goals in a season settled for 576 this season. And penalty minutes? 

Forget about it… 

In 2022 however, there are some similarities. Connor McDavid will play the part of Wayne Gretzky, while the Elias Lindholm line will lend depth and execution the way Johnson’s old Flames would attack Edmonton using his oft-referenced — but never actually seen — “Seven Point Plan” to beat the Oilers. 

Today Matthew Tkachuk is the spoon that stirs the emotional bouillabaisse, whereas before it was Esa Tikkanen or Neil Sheehy, the Flames defenceman and Gretzky-pesterer whose refusal to fight anyone on Edmonton wound the Oilers up like a top. 

When it’s done, all we can hope for is some lasting memories, some players who might not tee it up together the way they may have a summer ago, and two organizations that see each other as they once did — as the in-division hurdle that had to be jumped on the way to a Stanley Cup. 

“All the most important, most memorable team meetings we ever had were held in that dressing room in Calgary,” Craig MacTavish once said. “We were the best two teams in the NHL of that day, and we would meet very early in the playoffs. 

“They were absolute wars,” he added. “A pleasure to be a part of, in hindsight.” 

We leave you with this anecdote, from Beukeboom. 

“I think it was a pre-season game,” he began. “I was going up ice and got two-handed on the back of the legs by Fleury. Whack! I remember a pile-up in the corner one day, after Simmer (Craig Simpson) had taken out their goalie, and Fleury was running his mouth. ‘You guys suck. You can’t skate, you big [expletive].’ So now we’re in the pile in the corner, and he’s on top of me. But, we come out of it together, and now he’s saying, ‘It’s OK. I’ve got you. No problem.’ Like, now he’s being a nice guy.” 

So, what did Beukeboom do? Exactly what Fleury would have done, had the shoe been on the other foot 

“I suckered him. Cut him open for stitches,” he said. “It was one of the few times [head coach] John Muckler paid me a compliment.” 

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Barkov, Bergeron, Lindholm named as Selke Trophy finalists –



The Calgary FlamesElias Lindholm joined fellow centres Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers and Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins as one of three finalists named for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, the NHL announced Tuesday.

The award, which is given “to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of
the game,” is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, with the top three vote-getters listed as finalists.

Lindholm, 27, has never won the award, but posted a plus-61 rating that was second only in the league to teammate Johnny Gaudreau’s plus-64. The Swedish centre was the fifth-best in the league at faceoffs, with a 52.9 per cent success rate in 1,592 attempts.

Barkov, who won the Selke last year, led the Panthers to the Presidents’ Trophy this season with the league’s best record. The 26-year-old from Finland posted a career-best 57 per cent success rate in faceoffs and led his team’s forwards in average ice time (20:18) for the fifth straight year. His plus-36 was fourth best in the league amongst forwards.

Bergeron, who may retire this off-season, has won the Selke four times in his 19-year career, which is tied with former Montreal Canadiens great Bob Gainey for the most in NHL history. The 36-year-old from L’Ancienne-Lorette, Que., has been a finalist for the Selke 11 times and led the league this season for the seventh time in his career in faceoff wins, with a success rate of 61.9 per cent.

The NHL plans on revealing its 2022 award winners during the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final.

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England to host 2025 Women’s Rugby World Cup



World Rugby (WR) has named England as the host nation for the 2025 Women’s Rugby World Cup.

In addition, WR also unanimously approved Australia as hosts for the men’s World Cup in 2027 and the women’s in 2029 with the United States (US) hosting the men’s tournament for the first time in 2031 and the women’s in 2033.

WR is hoping to generate US$1 billion from the World Cup in 2031 as it seeks to tap into the US’ vast sporting culture and commercial potential.

“The USA is the golden nugget everyone wants to get a hold of. It’s the world’s biggest sporting market,” said WR chairperson, Sir Bill Beaumont.

2031 and 2033 World Cups have 25 or so venue bids on the table from all over the country. WR delegates have already been shown around the Denver Bronco’s impressive Empower Field home. One possibility could see the tournament start in the west of the country and gradually move east. There is also the possibility of using localized pools, where each group plays in a different part of the country before congregating for its grand finish.

The whole process is expected to cost in the region of US$500 million and has already received bipartisan support, alongside the seal of approval from President Joe Biden, who wrote a letter to Sir Beaumont promising regulatory support and infrastructural guarantees.

In the US, there have been many attempts to crack the market, but none have yet succeeded. However, the continued presence of rugby in the Olympics, the growing footprint of Major League Rugby (MLR) and an acceptance of where things went wrong in the past, means there is optimism around the next decade.

The US men’s team faces one of the biggest games in their history in June when they have their two-legged playoff against Chile for a spot in the 2023 Rugby World Cup scheduled to take place in France from the 8th of September to the 28th of October 2023.

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