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How Team Canada stacks up heading into the world juniors’ opener on Boxing Day – The Globe and Mail

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GOALTENDING

Olivier Rodrigue looked like the odds-on favourite to be Canada’s No. 1 netminder back in the summer, but the country’s crease landscape changed drastically this fall. Nico Daws of the Guelph Storm and Joel Hofer of the Portland Winterhawks were outstanding through the first three months of the season to force their way into the conversation at selection camp. Daws, who had never realistically been on Hockey Canada’s radar before 2019-20, has a record of 13-3-4 and leads the Ontario Hockey League with a 2.06 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage. Hofer, who has also never played for Canada, is 20-4-2 with a WHL-leading 1.81 GAA and the league’s second-best save percentage at .937. Sporting a 15-6-0 mark, a 2.79 GAA and a .907 save percentage with the QMJHL’s Moncton Wildcats, Rodrigue also made the team — the only goalie of the five invited to the national team’s summer camp to get the nod — but it appears either Daws or Hofer will get the call to start the tournament.

TOP NHL DRAFT PROSPECTS

Alexis Lafrenière of the QMJHL’s Rimouski Océanic has been projected as the No. 1 pick at the 2020 NHL draft for some time, but Quinton Byfield of the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves is closing the gap. And that’s great news for Canada. The 13th forward on last year’s team that finished a disappointing sixth on home soil, the 18-year-old Lafrenière will be counted on to lead his country offensively up front and provide leadership in the locker room as one of five returning players. A hulking centre with speed to burn and soft hands, the 17-year-old Byfield is expected to play out of position on the wing, but this could be the moment he introduces himself to a wider audience on the international stage.

THE HUNTER FACTOR

Despite their dominance in junior hockey, Dale and Mark Hunter’s international résumé are incredibly thin. Dale Hunter is getting his first crack at coaching the world junior team after leading Canada to gold at an under-18 tournament in 2013. Mark Hunter, the former assistant general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, is the focal point of Canada’s brain trust as the country looks to rebound after a disappointing sixth-place showing in Vancouver and Victoria. The Hunters have won four OHL titles and two Memorial Cups with the London Knights, but will that success translate to the national team?

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RED, WHITE … AND GREEN

Canada is set to ice a younger roster than usual at a tournament that often features 19-year-old players. Lafrenière and Byfield will be counted on up front, while Jamie Drysdale — another projected top-10 pick at the 2020 NHL draft — is set to become just the seventh 17-year-old to play defence for Canada at the world juniors. Lafrenière, Joe Veleno, Barrett Hayton, Jared McIsaac and Ty Smith are back from last year’s squad, but this group is greener than many past iterations.

EARLY TESTS

Getting bounced in last year’s quarter-finals at the hands of Finland, which would go onto win gold, means that Canada will have to hit the ground running in Ostrava and Trinec. The Canadians thumped Denmark 14-0 in the 2019 tournament opener, but face that tough test against the Americans on Boxing Day before a meeting with Russia just 48 hours later. “Where we finished last year and the schedule we’re presented, it is what it is, so let’s be ready to play,” Hockey Canada head scout Brad McEwen said. “I don’t have any doubt we’ll be excited and the coaches will put us in a good spot.”

SHOOTOUT ACUMEN

Canada had failed to score in its past nine shootout attempts at the world juniors before Max Comtois also missed the mark on a penalty shot in last year’s quarters. The Canadians know it’s been one of their Achilles heels, but will do everything possible to be ready if the scenario presents itself in the medal round. “It’s part of the game,” Dale Hunter said. “It’s [something] you can practise.”

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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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(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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