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?
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.
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.”
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.”
Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.
Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.
Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.
Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.
He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.
Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.
“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.
“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”
Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.
The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.
Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.
Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.
Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.
A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.
Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.
Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.
Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.
If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.
Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.
When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.
Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.
Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.
“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.
“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”
After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.
Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.
“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.
“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.
“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”
Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.
“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.
“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”
For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.
“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.
“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)