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.
Blue Jays have key decisions to make in coming days as post-season nears – Sportsnet.ca
TORONTO — Just one year after losing 95 games, the Blue Jays are back in the playoffs despite never playing a game in their home ballpark. Sure, they got some assistance when MLB expanded the post-season, but every team had that opportunity and not all of them made the most of it.
It’s an accomplishment to savour — and also an opportunity to seize. The playoffs are notoriously unpredictable, after all, and that’ll be especially true in a year that begins with a best-of-three series. It’s a good time to be an underdog.
Now that the Blue Jays have clinched, they have four days to prepare for their next test, but the last three regular season games are significant in themselves. In theory, the Blue Jays could pass the Yankees and overtake the No. 5 seed in the American League. And if nothing else, these last few games will inform roster moves and playing time decisions for the wild-card round that begins Tuesday.
Here’s a look at what’s at stake for the Blue Jays between now and Sunday afternoon’s regular season finale…
What can Pearson offer in the playoffs?
In theory, Nate Pearson has the pitches to become an important high-leverage arm for the Blue Jays, but translating that potential to results with limited time to spare is another matter. That adds significance to his late-season appearances as the Blue Jays consider how to use him in the playoffs.
“I wouldn’t mind using him in high-leverage, but he could also open for us if we need him,” manager Charlie Montoyo said after officially activating Pearson Thursday.
Either way, it stands to reason Pearson will be on the Blue Jays’ playoff roster as long as he makes it through his upcoming tune-up session healthy.
Can anyone else return from the injured list?
Along with Pearson, Jordan Romano (finger), Julian Merryweather (elbow) and Rowdy Tellez (knee) are each working their way back from injuries as well. All would be big additions, and the coming weekend offers a perfect chance to get some reps in at game speed, yet it’d be a surprise if any of those three see game action against the Orioles.
Romano, who will throw a bullpen session Friday, may be furthest along of those three. And while the Blue Jays were set on seeing Pearson in a regular season game, Romano doesn’t have a new role to get used to, so he doesn’t necessarily have to pitch in a game over the weekend to be a candidate for a playoff roster spot.
As Montoyo said, “They’re different cases.”
How does Shoemaker look?
In his first start back after missing a month with a lat strain, Matt Shoemaker pitched well against the Yankees, holding them to one run over three innings of work. He did walk two in the second inning, but was otherwise effective on a night his fastball topped out at 96 m.p.h.
On Saturday, he’ll have the chance to build off that start and strengthen his bid to start Game 3 of the playoffs should there be one. After throwing 54 pitches in his first start back, it’s reasonable to assume Shoemaker could be stretched to 70 against the Orioles this weekend. If all goes well, he could earn himself a playoff rotation spot.
“If we can stretch him out enough, he’ll be in the conversation for sure,” Montoyo said. “You can count on that.”
The alternative to Shoemaker would likely be Robbie Ray, but the Blue Jays might also like the idea of having Ray available in relief earlier in the series, especially if they play Tampa Bay. Against a lineup including left-handed hitters like Brandon Lowe, Yoshi Tsutsugo, Kevin Kiermaier, Joey Wendle and Nate Lowe, Ray has the potential to be a difference maker.
How much can they expect from Kirk?
The Blue Jays promoted Alejandro Kirk because they wanted offence, and he has delivered so far, making consistently hard contact while putting together quality at-bats against big-league pitching. At this rate, Kirk is likely to get at-bats in the wild-card round, but he could cement his case for regular playing time with a strong final weekend.
Of course, Danny Jansen reminded the Blue Jays of his own offensive ability with a four-hit game including two home runs Wednesday, but Kirk could also factor in at designated hitter. For example, if left-hander Blake Snell starts Game 1 for the Rays, the Blue Jays might prefer to have Travis Shaw, a left-handed hitter, on the bench. That would mean Vladimir Guerrero Jr. starts at first and leaves the DH spot open, potentially for Kirk, who has shown the ability to hit high-velocity pitchers like Snell and Tyler Glasnow.
When it comes to determining playing time for their catchers, all kinds of variables are in play — who do pitchers prefer throwing to? Does the schedule include a day game after a night game? Is Tellez an option at DH? — but the better Kirk hits down the stretch, the more options he gives the Blue Jays.
Either way, rostering a third catcher such as Caleb Joseph or Reese McGuire would allow Montoyo to use Kirk as a pinch hitter without having to worry. Otherwise, the Blue Jays would be an injury away from losing their DH.
“That’s never easy because if someone gets hurt it becomes a National League game,” Montoyo said.
Who pitches Sunday?
At this point, Tanner Roark lines up as the likely starter for Sunday’s season finale — a game that will likely have no bearing on the standings. With that in mind, the Blue Jays face a decision. Do they save Roark for the playoffs or let him contribute by soaking up some innings for the rest of the staff?
Considering Roark recently expressed frustration with the short leash starters often find themselves on, he might embrace the opportunity to pitch seven or eight innings.
“Just because the computers are saying something different — I hate it,” he said after a game earlier this month. “I’m old school. They signed me here for a reason, to not go three, four innings and throw only a certain amount of pitches. I throw a lot of pitches. I try to go as deep as I can.”
Soon, Roark may get his chance. The conversation would be different if Roark were pitching better, yet with a 7.01 ERA and 14 home runs allowed in just 43.2 innings, it’s hard to imagine him pitching high-leverage innings in the wild-card round. But by saving the rest of the staff on Sunday, he could still contribute and potentially re-join the active roster for the ALDS should the Blue Jays advance.
Halep opens with Sorribes Tormo, Serena set for rematch – WTA Tennis
PARIS, France – 2018 champion Simona Halep will begin her quest for her second Coupe Suzanne Lenglen against Sara Sorribes Tormo, while Serena Williams faces a familiar foe in the first round of the French Open.
The draw for the last Grand Slam of 2020 was released today, featuring several mouth-watering first-round clashes and plenty of potential landmines for seeded players.
Top seed Halep will seek to build on her momentum after winning two clay titles in the buildup to Paris, lifting the Prague trophy and achieving her career first triumph in Rome last week. Halep is in the same quarter of the draw as No.5 seed Kiki Bertens, who opens against Ukraine’s Katarina Zavatska. The Romanian could face No.25 Amanda Anisimova in the third round, though an unseeded Jil Teichmann could derail those plans.
Elsewhere in Halep and Bertens’ top quarter, last year’s finalist Marketa Vondrousova, the No.15 seed, will take on 19-year-old Iga Swiatek, while No.9 seed Johanna Konta faces off against teen phenom Coco Gauff in the first round.
Karolina Pliskova, the No.2 seed, anchors the bottom quarter of the draw, and begins her Roland Garros campaign against a qualifier. A potential clash with former champion Jelena Ostapenko could be looming in the second round, should both players advance. The winner could get a third round match against former finalist Sloane Stephens, the No.29 seed who starts against Vitalia Diatchenko.
No.7 seed Petra Kvitova landed in the same quarter as fellow Czech player Pliskova, and will take on home hope Oceane Dodin in her first match. No.31 seed Magda Linette is a potential third round opponent, though the Polish player will have to get through the rising Canadian Leylah Fernandez in the first round.
No.18 seed Angelique Kerber was also drawn into this quarter, as she resumes her quest to complete the career Slam with a victory at Roland Garros. She is on a possible third-round collision course with former US Open finalist Madison Keys, the No.12 seed.
Elina Svitolina leads a stacked quarter highlighted by US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka and 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams. The No.3 seed herself will open against Varvara Gracheva, a rising Russian player who impressed with a run to the US Open third round in her Grand Slam debut. Svitolina could meet No.27 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova in the third round.
For the second tournament in a row, No.6 seed Serena will face Kristie Ahn in the first round as she kicks off her quest for an all-time record tying 24th Grand Slam crown. Should she advance, Serena could get another US Open rematch with Tsvetana Pironkova in the second round.
But the deja vu wouldn’t be over yet, as Serena could see familiar foe Azarenka as early as the round of 16, in a rematch of the pair’s electrifying US Open semifinal. Azarenka herself will start her French Open campaign against Danka Kovinic, and could face an unseeded Venus Williams in the second round.
To make things even more interesting, No.17 seed Anett Kontaveit, No.16 Elise Mertens and No.23 Yulia Putintseva have also landed in Svitolina, Serena and Azarenka’s quarter, ready to spring a potential upset.
No.4 seed Sofia Kenin tops a quarter of on-the-rise stars as she seeks to lift her second Grand Slam title. The Australian Open champion will face Liudmila Samsonova in the first round, with a potential third-round clash against No.26 Donna Vekic awaiting should both players advance.
No.8 seed Aryna Sabalenka and No.11 Garbine Muguruza have also been drawn into Kenin’s quarter and are on a Round of 16 collision course. They’ll have to get through their opening matches, with former champion Muguruza taking on Tamara Zidansek in the first round and Sabalenka starting against Jessica Pegula.
Two of the most in-form players of the year also make an appearance in this section, as No.30 seed Ons Jabeur and No.21 Jennifer Brady look to make their mark at Roland Garros. Jabeur, who became the first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam at the Australian Open, will take on Zarina Diyas in the first round, and could advance to face Muguruza in the third. Lexington champion Brady will start against a qualifier, and could meet Sabalenka in the third round herself.
To view the full draw, visit rolandgarros.com.
Jays win and clinch a playoff spot – Bluebird Banter
That was a nice game. A fun one for those of us who miss the idea of a pitcher going late into a game.
Hyun Jin Ryu went 7 innings, allowed 5 hits, 2 walks (1 short of his season high) with 4 strikeouts. He only really had trouble once, in the sixth inning, he allowed back-to-back singles to Luke Voit and Aaron Hicks, to start the inning, then he got Giancarlo Stanton to strikeout, Gleyber Torres to fly out and Gio Urshela to ground out.
Ryu gave up just one extra base hit, a Urshela double. And there were few hard hit outs.
Anthony Bass came in for the eighth and had all sorts of trouble, giving up a hit and 3 walks while getting just 2 outs. And one of the outs was on a very nice play by Vladimir Guerrero, going a long way towards second to get the ball and then making a nice throw get the fielder’s choice at second base. They came close to a double play, Bass (unusual for a Jays’ pitcher this season) got to first base in plenty of time, but Bo Bichette’s throw was just a bit late.
Rafael Dolis came in with the bases loaded and pinch-hitter Gary Sanchez up. Sanchez took a pitch high, but the ump called it a strike, then chased a pitch that bounce, then barely avoided a pitch inside off the plate. He should have let it hit him. Then Sanchez hit one to the wall in center field that Randal Grichuk got to and made a nice catch. Five feet further and the Yankees would have been in front.
Dolis, who hasn’t pitched in a few days, didn’t look all that sharp, but he got Aaron Judge to strikeout (on a full count) to start the ninth.
On offense, it was the big boy’s night. Vladimir Guerrero was 3 for 4, with a home run in the second inning and Alejandro Kirk had a 2-run double in the sixth.
In between we had back-to-back doubles from Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette to get our other run, in the third inning.
With 10 hits, maybe we should have scored more. Vlad had the 3 hits and Grichuk had 2. Everyone else had a hit excepting Teoscar Hernandez (0 for 3, walk, 2 strikeouts) and Danny Jansen (0 for 3, 2 strikeouts, after the two home run day yesterday). Then DJ LeMahieu struck out. But Voit tapped one up the third base line for an infield single. Thankfully Aaron Hicks chased strike three and the party was on.
Jays of the Day: Ryu (.386 WPA), Dolis (.125), Vlad (.133) and I’m giving one to Kirk (.067) just because it is near the end of the season and I don’t want to have a lot of these sitting around gathering dust all winter.
Suckage: No one had the number, but I’m giving one to Bass (-.077) for making me sweat.
We had 600 comments into the game thread. EMK19 led us to the playoff clinching win!
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