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Hunter waited a long time to coach Canada — and he wants more – Toronto Sun

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Dale Hunter finally got to be a part of the world junior roller coaster ride.

He wants more of it.

“Oh, yeah,” the Canadian coach said after a dramatic 6-4 tournament-opening victory over the United States Thursday in Ostrava. “Right now, a lead’s never safe. I’ll tell you that. Whoever has the break and buries at the right time (wins).”

Hunter made the right call when he put Alexis Lafreniere on the ice after the Americans rallied to tie it late. The Quebec league star played the hero role.

But one of Hunter’s two London Knights on the team, sniper Connor McMichael, scored Canada’s first goal of the tournament.

“It was awesome to see him get his first world junior win,” the Capitals first-rounder said. “It was a dream to play in a game like that. I hope we can keep it rolling.”

Canada picked Dale Hunter to be its coach for his track record as the third-winningest coach in OHL history. But it was also because of his calm demeanour behind the bench, something he didn’t always display in his 19-year NHL career.

It was evident the Canadian players were anxious early, but they figured it out in time to storm back and, eventually, gutted out an emotional victory.

“It’s nice playing a game,” Hunter said. “We’ve been playing exhibitions and practising. The kids just wanted to play. It’s not just our kids. It’s every team. They’re eager. They’re kids and they want to play meaningful games. (The first two — Czech-Russia and Canada-U.S.), they were.”

MATCHING UP: Scott Sandelin has been entrusted to keep USA Hockey’s record streak of four straight world junior medals alive. Starting 0-1, it will be a major achievement to finish on top of a difficult pool now. The 55-year-old Minnesotan matched wits with Hunter Thursday and will test himself against Russian kingpin Valeri Bragin Sunday. “They’re great coaches,” Sandelin said. “For me, I probably don’t consider that yet. I’m honoured to be the coach of this team and be a part of this tournament. It’ll be fun to learn some things from the way do things, too, within a game.” Sandelin need not sell himself short. He’s on a tremendous run at one of the better programs in the U.S. college ranks. His Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs have won the past two NCAA titles and three in the last decade.

PLAYING COY: On Thursday morning, Dale Hunter wouldn’t reveal his starting goaltender. He went with Guelph Storm goalie Nico Daws in the opener, but hasn’t even talk much about them on an individual basis. “Our goalies have been sharp through the whole process,” he said. “It’s not an easy choice, which is a good thing. They deserve to be here. They played well and you have to give the kids credit because they’re battlers. That’s what you want in this type of competition.” In other words, be ready. The No. 1 goaltender title was up for grabs all season and that’s how Daws became a candidate in the first place. Only the Canadian goaltenders went on the ice in the morning. The rest of the team didn’t skate. It paid off. Canada won and the Americans, who did use their ice time, lost.

SEASON OF GIVING: Every Canadian player opened one Christmas present on Wednesday. “We handed out gifts (as a team),” defenceman Ty Smith, the New Jersey prospect and Spokane Chiefs captain, said. “You didn’t buy one for a certain guy. You just bought a gift and you picked one, so you get what you get. I ended up with a bag of snacks, which was pretty good.” Smith, as a returning player, is one of the ties that bind Canada’s blue line. He played on the team last year. He and big Kevin Bahl are both Devils prospects and he even has a long-time connection the Senators first-rounder Jacob Bernard-Docker, the only U.S. college player on the Canadian team. “We played together in the Brick (atom invitational summer) tournament when we were nine or 10,” the Lloydminster, Sask., native recalled. Their team lost in the semifinal to Toronto Pro, which featured Canadian teammate Akil Thomas. “He was the tournament MVP,” Smith said with a grin. “We’ve heard it a few times (the last few weeks).”

CROWD ADVANTAGE: Though Canada’s pre-tournament games were played largely in front of nobody, the atmosphere at Ostravar Arena on Boxing Day — if sustained — will make for an energetic and electric tournament. The attendance for two premiere games — Czech-Russia and Canada-U.S. — was at near capacity and it was a loud and knowledgeable gathering. The Czechs, obviously, have the most support but Canada is well-represented, too. There are hundreds of Canadians who made the trip, many in large travel groups, to cheer the red-and-white and sample the Czech culture the next two weeks. There wasn’t a lot of rooting for the Americans, who, like the Russians, will have to generate their own momentum here.

rpyette@postmedia.com

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LeBron Saves Team USA in Thrilling Exhibition Against South Sudan at O2 Arena

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LONDON — In what could have been one of the most monumental upsets in international basketball history, Team USA narrowly escaped with a 101-100 victory over a spirited South Sudan team at the O2 Arena in London on Saturday night. This exhibition match, serving as a tune-up for the 2024 Olympics, showcased the rapid rise of South Sudanese basketball and the indomitable spirit of the American team led by LeBron James.

The atmosphere at the O2 Arena was electric, with fans witnessing a game that turned out to be far more competitive than expected. South Sudan, a team composed largely of refugees and players from the diaspora, pushed the heavily favored Americans to their limits.

First Half Highlights:

  • South Sudan came out firing on all cylinders, building a surprising 16-point lead in the second quarter.
  • Team USA struggled with their three-point shooting, missing 12 of their first 13 attempts from beyond the arc.

Despite the odds, South Sudan’s players, many of whom have overcome significant personal and professional challenges, played with remarkable cohesion and determination. Their performance was a testament to the rapid progress the team has made under the guidance of former NBA star Luol Deng.

With the game hanging in the balance, LeBron James demonstrated why he remains one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Benched at the start of the third quarter, James returned to the floor with a determination that was palpable.

Key Moments:

  • Third Quarter: Anthony Davis’ defensive prowess helped shrink the deficit. LeBron’s return brought stability and focus back to Team USA.
  • Final Minute: With just 20 seconds left, JT Thor of South Sudan scored over LeBron, giving his team a one-point lead.
  • Game-Winning Shot: LeBron drove to the basket, scoring the decisive layup with eight seconds remaining.

South Sudan’s journey to this point has been nothing short of inspirational. The country gained independence from Sudan in 2011, and the basketball program, still in its infancy, has quickly become a source of national pride.

Notable Contributions:

  • Carlik Jones: Delivered a triple-double with 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists.
  • Wenyen Gabriel: LeBron’s former teammate with the Lakers, contributed 11 points.
  • Marial Shayok: Led South Sudan with 24 points.

The team’s formation and rise have been spearheaded by Luol Deng, who played a pivotal role in recruiting and funding the program. His efforts have culminated in South Sudan qualifying for the Olympics, marking a historic achievement for the young nation.

Stephen Curry: “Wild game. They played really intense. It was nice to see how we responded. LeBron with a great finish down the stretch.”

Steve Kerr: “The whole team was embarrassed at halftime. We were challenged today, and it was good for us to feel that now. This was a reminder that we need to bring our best every game.”

Luol Deng: Expressed immense pride in his team’s performance, emphasizing the significance of their journey and the obstacles they have overcome.

This exhibition game was more than just a pre-Olympic warm-up. It highlighted the potential for underdog stories in sports and underscored the global reach and impact of basketball. Team USA, despite the narrow escape, was reminded of the importance of every game and the challenges that lie ahead.

South Sudan, on the other hand, has cemented its place on the international stage, showcasing that with determination and the right support, even the newest teams can compete with the best in the world.

As both teams prepare for the Olympics, this game at the O2 Arena will be remembered not only for its thrilling finish but also for the remarkable stories of resilience and ambition that played out on the court.

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UFC Vegas 94: Amanda Lemos vs. Virna Jandiroba – Main Event Recap

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In a thrilling main event at UFC Vegas 94, strawweights Amanda Lemos and Virna Jandiroba faced off on Saturday night. After an evenly matched first round, Jandiroba secured a dramatic submission victory in the second round, just moments before the bell.

Fight Summary:

  • First Round: The opening round was highly competitive, with both fighters showcasing their skills and maintaining a close contest.
  • Second Round: In the final seconds of the second round, Jandiroba managed to secure a submission, forcing Lemos to tap out. The win marks an impressive fourth consecutive victory for Jandiroba.

Post-Fight Remarks:

  • In her post-fight interview inside the Octagon, Jandiroba confidently called out UFC President Dana White, declaring, “Dana, I’m the next one. Dana, I’m your next champion.”

Future Implications:

  • With this victory, Jandiroba has positioned herself as a strong contender for the strawweight title. Tatiana Suarez, who was the rightful next contender for Weili Zhang, has been sidelined due to an injury. Jandiroba’s current four-fight win streak and her dominant performance at UFC Vegas 94 make a compelling case for her title shot.

Stay tuned for more updates as the UFC strawweight division continues to evolve, and see if Virna Jandiroba will indeed become the next challenger for the championship belt.

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Jake Paul vs. Mike Perry: Fight Night Updates

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Jake Paul is back in the ring, and he’s promising fireworks as he takes on former UFC star Mike Perry at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. The fight will be broadcast live on DAZN. Originally, Paul was set to fight Mike Tyson, but Perry stepped in after Tyson suffered an injury.

Fight Details:

Jake Paul (9-1, 6 KOs)

  • Paul is coming off a first-round TKO of Ryan Bourland in March.
  • He has promised that Perry won’t survive the second round.
  • Paul is more experienced in boxing but still relatively new to the sport.

Mike Perry (0-1)

  • Perry, known as “Platinum,” brings over a decade of fighting experience, mainly in MMA and bare-knuckle fighting.
  • He believes Paul is still green in the fight business and intends to use his experience to pull off an upset.

Main Event:
Jake Paul vs. Mike Perry

Live Updates: Follow DAZN for all the live updates, results, and highlights from the Paul vs. Perry pay-per-view main card.

Main Card Results:

Amanda Serrano def. Stevie Morgan via TKO

  • Round 2, 0:38
    • Watch the finish

Lucas Bahdi def. H20 Sylve via knockout

  • Round 6, 2:27
    • Watch the finish

Corey Marksman def. Tony Aguilar via majority decision

  • Scores: 76-76, 77-75, 78-74

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. def. Uriah Hall via unanimous decision

  • Scores: 59-55, 59-55, 58-56
    • Recap

Stay tuned for the main event updates and see if Jake Paul can deliver on his promise of another highlight reel knockout or if Mike Perry will teach him a lesson and pull off a major upset.

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