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Hutchinson shines, Marner scores OT winner as Leafs beat Senators – Toronto Sun

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On a night that Michael Hutchinson continued to get his swagger back, Kasperi Kapanen’s took a hit.

While Hutchinson was doing his part to help the Maple Leafs beat the Ottawa Senators in overtime on Saturday night, Kapanen watched from the press box, a healthy scratch for what coach Sheldon Keefe called “internal accountability.”

Keefe refused to elaborate on Kapanen’s benching, saying the player would address the issue with media on Monday after the Leafs’ day off on Sunday.

“It’s a one-time thing,” Keefe said. “You guys will get a chance to talk to Kappy on Monday.

“We had chatted about it (Friday) a little bit and then made our decision. I wanted to sleep on it, we talked with Kappy (Saturday) morning and made a decision and went from there.”

Speculation was that Kapanen — whose name has popped up in trade rumours with the NHL’s deadline on Feb. 24 looming — was late for practice on Friday or missed a team meeting. It was the first game of the 2019-20 season that Kapanen did not play.

It was intriguing that the Leafs were willing to let the issue linger until Monday, rather than have Kapanen address it on Saturday night.

Still, good on Keefe for putting the team ahead of the player.

As it turned out, the Leafs managed okay without Kapanen, getting a power-play goal from Mitch Marner at 3:54 of the extra period to beat the Senators 2-1 before a crowd of 19,406.

In winning for the third time in three games since the bye week ended, the Leafs moved back into third place in the Atlantic Division with 63 points, two up on the Florida Panthers. The Panthers will be in Toronto for a rather large match against the Leafs on Monday night.

Hutchinson made 24 saves, winning his fourth start in a row and perhaps putting to rest the idea that GM Kyle Dubas needs to upgrade the position behind No. 1 goalie Frederik Andersen.

“Sharp, confident, we had breakdowns and he was there when they had a couple looks,” Keefe said of Hutchinson. “He was at the top of his crease, he was confident, he was aggressive. He just looked like he was out there to win the game for us and that’s what you want to see.”

Hutchinson had a couple of rough outings in relief of Andersen in January, but has not lost a start since the end of November. He was awarded the Raptors basketball in the post-game celebration in the dressing room.

“I feel like I’ve been positive all year, even at the start when things weren’t going well,” Hutchinson said. “Just kept working hard. Now that bounces are going our way a little bit and the team is playing great, we have a lot of confidence and our whole team has that swagger back.”

With Kapanen out, Keefe moved Jason Spezza to the wing on the third line with centre Pierre Engvall and Andreas Johnsson, and inserted Dmytro Timashov into the lineup to play on the fourth line with Frederik Gauthier and Trevor Moore.

After defenceman Mark Borowiecki gave the Senators a 1-0 lead at 6:08 of the second period when his shot from the point got past a screened Hutchinson, the Leafs netminder made top-notch saves on Chris Tierney and Brady Tkachuk.

Spezza, in his first game on the Leafs side of the Battle of Ontario, used his patented shot to tie the game during a Toronto power play at 10:41. Spezza took a pass from Rasmus Sandin and ripped a shot over the left shoulder of Sens goalie Craig Anderson, who barely flinched.

The goal was Spezza’s eighth of the season in 40 games, equalling his output in each of the past two seasons with Dallas, when he played in 78 games and 76 games respectively.

Spezza acknowledged that playing in Toronto has lived up to his expectations (though we would add Spezza might have felt differently until Nov. 20, the day Mike Babcock was fired and Keefe took over).

“I really appreciate the Original Six, the history behind it, the nostalgia of Saturday night games,” Spezza said. “I enjoy that. Just the fact that we’re a team trying to establish ourselves and become a real contender has been exciting for me, it gives you a purpose and it gives you a role and it has been enjoyable so far.”

LOOSE LEAFS

Marner on his one-timer from the slot: “I don’t think anyone really thinks I’m going to shoot that. Luckily, it went in.” … William Nylander’s second five-game goal-scoring streak of the season came to an end … Leafs captain John Tavares had the fan base wringing its hands when he departed the game for a chunk of the first period. Later, Tavares said it was an ankle issue and that he was fine … Spezza has been hearing for years that he should use his lethal shot more often. “My whole life I’ve been told I’ve got to shoot the puck more,” Spezza said. “You take what’s there.” … Defenceman Travis Dermott missed the game with an illness and was replaced by Martin Marincin on a pair with Tyson Barrie … This was Auston Matthews’ take on Spezza’s shot: “I find it’s really deceptive. He can look you off, make a pass or fake like he’s passing and shoot it. He has that long stick and he just snaps it really well. It’s pretty impressive.” … Anderson had a fine evening for Ottawa, stopping 34 Leafs shots.

tkoshan@postmedia.com

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How the NBA’s restart plan impacts the Toronto Raptors – TSN

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TORONTO – By Thursday afternoon, the NBA should have the framework in place to restart the 2019-20 season at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida later this summer.

With a conference call scheduled for 12:30 p.m. ET, the board of governors is expected to vote on and approve the league’s proposed plan, according to multiple reports.

The details, as per ESPN and The Athletic, are as follows:

– 22 teams would be included: the 16 teams that occupied a playoff spot when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the season to be put on hold on March 11, as well as the six teams that were within six games of the eighth seed in their respective conferences – Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio and Phoenix in the West and Washington in the East.

– Each team would play eight regular-season games, with games targeted to begin on July 31.

– If the ninth-place team finishes the regular season within four games of the eighth seed in their conference, they will compete in a play-in tournament to decide which club qualifies for the playoffs. The team in ninth would have to eliminate the eighth seed twice in order to advance.

– Outside of a potential play-in tournament to decide eighth place, the playoff seeding and competition structure is expected to remain status quo: separate East and West brackets, seven-games series’ and no reseeding.

Of course, the health and safety protocols that will need to be implemented to mitigate risk and protect players, coaches and team personnel on site are far more important than these logistical or formatting particulars. While some of those details have already been reported – daily testing, social distancing guidelines off the court, no guests permitted on the Disney campus until the playoffs, etc. – many are still being negotiated between the league and the players association.

The virus is in charge, roadblocks remain and plans could still change. On a conference call with the NBA’s head coaches a few weeks ago, commissioner Adam Silver insisted that he’s not afraid to move the timeline of a return or even pull the plug on it altogether in a scenario where it’s deemed unsafe to move forward.

However, for the first time since the league closed its doors nearly three months ago, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Barring an unforeseen development, basketball is coming back.

What does that mean for the reigning champion Toronto Raptors? First and foremost, they’ll get a chance to defend their title. They’ll also have an opportunity to finish what they started back in October.

“It’s going to mean a lot,” said Raptors all-star Pascal Siakam, who spoke to the Toronto media via conference call on Wednesday afternoon. “Obviously, you don’t want your season to just go to waste. There’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears go into the whole season, working hard. I think particularly for us with injuries and everything that we’ve been through, trying to get healthy all season, working really hard as a team, and beating the odds each and every game, obviously we don’t want to see it end like that. So, we want to be able to play and continue to move forward and hopefully that can happen. We’re excited about attacking another title.”

When play resumes, Toronto will reclaim its record of 46-18 – which, as a refresher, ranks second in the Eastern Conference, 6.5 games behind first-place Milwaukee and 3.0 games ahead of third-place Boston. The Raptors are one of four teams to have already clinched a playoff spot, joining the aforementioned Bucks and Celtics, as well as the Lakers.

It’s expected that teams will reconvene in their home cities in early July before beginning training camp at Disney later in the month. The Raptors will almost certainly go straight to Orlando to simplify the process and maximize training time.

Roughly half the team is currently in Toronto, with the other half scattered throughout the United States. The NBA believes it has government support from both the U.S. and Canada and league officials have assured players they will be permitted to travel between countries when they need to, sources confirm.

They will need to follow quarantine protocol each time they cross the border, though. With that in mind, it makes more sense for the players and personnel that are in Toronto to meet the others in the U.S. and quarantine there for 14 days before camp than it would for those in the U.S. to come back to Canada and have to quarantine twice.

Teams are hoping to get at least two-to-three weeks of training camp in before playing meaningful games, knowing it’s going to take time for everybody to get back in shape.

It’s been more than 12 weeks since the Raptors last played a game. Until recently, many players hadn’t stepped foot in a gym. For most of that time they were limited to riding stationary bikes and lifting weights at home, going for runs outside or, in some cases, taking shots by themselves on a portable hoop. These are things that every team has had to deal with during the layoff.

Unlike some of the lower-seeded clubs, who will be jockeying for position in the standings once the regular season resumes, the Raptors have the luxury of easing their way back in. That could be critical, especially for a veteran group.

Making up a 6.5 game difference in eight contests to catch Milwaukee for first place is almost impossible, but holding off Boston and locking up second remains important. It’s still advantageous to face Brooklyn (currently a half game up on the Magic for seventh place) or Orlando in Round 1, as opposed to Indiana or Philadelphia (note: the Nets haven’t officially ruled their injured stars – Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant – out but their returns sound unlikely).

Still, as the ninth-oldest team in the NBA and one with aspirations of returning to The Finals, you have to imagine that the Raptors’ top priority will be getting everybody back up to speed, keeping their prominent players healthy and preparing for the playoffs. That was their approach well before a global pandemic forced them into a long layoff.

What could work in the team’s favour, even if it takes them some extra time to get those older bodies revved up again, are their chemistry, style of play and basketball IQ.

Their core has been together for years – they won a championship together – and they didn’t make any major changes at the trade deadline, so there’s a familiarity there that other teams might not have. As teams shake off rust, conventional wisdom suggests that offences could suffer, at least initially. Toronto’s strength is on the defensive end and it’s predicated on the vision and overall intellect of older players like Kyle Lowry or Marc Gasol.

It may take time to get your shot or your legs back, but your mind will still be ticking. As one of the smartest teams in the association, the Raptors should have that advantage.

“I think we have a great group of guys, people that actually genuinely care about each other,” Siakam said. “Most of the group, we [workout in] L.A. [during the off-season], we do different things. I feel like there’s chemistry there. We’ve been playing [together] for a while, we [won a] championship together, things you don’t really forget. And if anything was lost we’ll find it back.”

Another silver lining for the Raptors – one of the NBA’s most banged-up teams over the first 64 games of the regular season – is that they should be well rested. Gasol, who may have been overworked coming off a full year of basketball and was battling a lingering hamstring issue, has had several months to heal. Guys like Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell, who had accumulated a myriad of bumps and bruises over the course of a long regular season, will come in fresh.

That applies to every team, of course, but few dealt with the volume of injuries Toronto did. The Raptors only had their full roster available twice and not since their fifth game of the campaign, which was more than eight months ago. Theoretically, no team should benefit more from the hiatus, unless Irving and Durant are able to return for Brooklyn.

If the Raptors can go all the way again they’ll have to play until October. That would mean spending more than three months in the NBA’s bubble, or “campus-like” environment.

“It’s going to be tough. I’ve been [in one place] for so long, l lose track of time, I don’t even know what year it is,” Siakam said, speaking for most people these days. “I don’t know what’s going on, to be honest.”

For guys that are used to the travel of a busy NBA schedule, it’s going to be strange to be in one spot. If you’re lucky enough to be one of the teams that go deep into the playoffs, it will be weird to live in a singular hotel room for so long. It’s going to be hard to be away from home, to play in an arena without fans or to avoid giving your teammates high fives.

Whatever comes next will be bizarre, but assuming it can be done safely, the return of basketball is something to look forward to.​
 

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NFL players respond to Brees' remark that anthem protests are 'disrespecting' flag – theScore

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Warning: Story contains coarse language

Drew Brees‘ comments on players kneeling in protest during the U.S. national anthem quickly drew criticism from other NFL players on Wednesday.

In 2016, the New Orleans Saints quarterback said he agreed with Colin Kaepernick’s message in protesting police brutality and racial injustice, but not his method. Asked in an interview Wednesday about the potential of players kneeling during the anthem when the NFL returns, Brees said, “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.”

Stars from around the league, including Brees’ teammate Michael Thomas, weighed in via Twitter on the quarterback’s remarks.

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Felicia Spencer reflects on fast track to UFC title fight: ‘I’ve earned my spot here’ – MMA Fighting

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On Saturday, Felicia Spencer competes in her first pay-per-view main event. It won’t be the first time she’s squared off with a woman considered to be one of the greatest of all-time.

When Spencer fought Cris Cyborg this past summer, the Brazilian star was one fight removed from her first loss in 13 years. The bout carried considerable weight, not only because of the scrutiny Cyborg was facing following a stunning setback against Amanda Nunes, but because it would also provide insight into how far along Spencer was as a featherweight prospect.

Though Spencer lost a unanimous decision, she earned praise for going the distance with the more experienced Cyborg and bounced back from that loss with a first-round TKO of Zarah Fairn in February. That win moved Spencer to the top of the contender rankings and next for her is a shot at Nunes’s championship at UFC 250 at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas.

Spencer learned a lot from the 15 minutes she spent battling Cyborg and she’s bringing that to the octagon with her as she attempts to be more than just another name in the legendary run that Nunes is currently on.

“I definitely see the resemblance,” Spencer told MMA Fighting, in regards to the hype surrounding the Cyborg and Nunes fights. “[The Cyborg fight] did feel like a title fight and I think even some of the commentators made comments about it being a title fight or a five-round fight, something like that was said during the actual event. Media, even afterwards, were like, ‘losing to the champion’ or mentioned that it was five rounds and I had to remind them it wasn’t a championship fight, it was only three rounds.

“I think that the experience just adds to the repertoire. I’ve been through some of the buildup and now it’s actually a little bit less because of the restrictions with media and stuff. It’s less invasive, less stuff going on. I feel like I was so lucky and happy to be given the opportunity to have such a high placement on the card last summer with Cyborg, having the big stage, and now it’s kind of all happening again but this time in the main event, which was super unexpected at first because we were third down initially and then co-main and now we’re the main. I just kind of take the news and then move on. My number one focus is just beating Amanda and then everything that comes after will come after and I’ll enjoy it then.”

Spencer has had plenty to celebrate already. Aside from booking the Nunes fight, the 29-year-old was married in December. Her husband Todd Coppinger, also a fighter, competed for the first time as a pro in February after dealing with injuries for the past two years. He won by first-round knockout.

Coppinger wasn’t cornered by Spencer as she instead watched from the seats, describing herself as “jittery” and grateful to be in the background on fight night for once. Just five years ago, Spencer made her own pro debut with Invicta FC, rattling off six straight wins to start her career capped off by a submission of Pam Sorenson that won her a vacant featherweight title. Less than two years later, she’s fighting for UFC gold.

The rapid ascent is not lost on Spencer.

“Especially since I turned pro, but even before then, the opportunities just escalate quickly,” Spencer said. “My amateur career started off slow, it was really tough to get fights, then all of a sudden I had a few wins and I got called to Vegas to fight in the Tuff-N-Uff tournament, which was a huge deal and such a big thing back then. And then Invicta.

“Really, every year I look back it’s milestones. People are just saying the same thing, ‘Wow, it’s crazy, you’ve done this and this, it’s a crazy year.’ Yeah, every year I look back and it’s a crazy year so it’s kind of the same as usual. The opportunities are incredible and mind-blowing but I feel like this every year, so we’ll see what happens next year.”

Felicia Spencer attacks Zarah Fairn from a dominant position at a UFC Fight Night in Norfolk, Va., on Feb. 29, 2020
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Born in Montreal and raised in Florida, Spencer looks forward to taking the UFC belt on a tour of both Canada and the United States should she defeat Nunes. Spencer is the first Canadian to challenge for a UFC title since Georges St-Pierre returned from retirement and beat middleweight champion Michael Bisping in November 2017.

It’s an opportunity that Spencer was confident she would get after defeating Fairn, though she’s aware that the more established Megan Anderson — who knocked out Norma Dumont Viana the same night as Spencer’s win over Fairn — was in consideration as well. Spencer submitted Anderson in May 2019 and wouldn’t be surprised if they rematch somewhere down the road.

“It was definitely presented after like it could be [Anderson] too, that both were being considered,” Spencer said. “I honestly figured that I would get the first call and if they wanted to make it happen, it would happen. If I didn’t get the first call then so be it. Just the way that they positioned us [with Spencer in the co-main event] on the card also — not that they wanted me to win and not her — but in the situation that happened where we both had great performances, it seemed like I would be the first one. I know Megan and I will probably fight again in the future.”

Spencer is aware she’s still not a household name and that there are fans viewing her as little more than a mandatory challenger for Nunes. When she steps into the octagon at UFC 250, it will be just her 10th pro appearance. Add to that the fact that her fight with Nunes had to be rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic throwing the UFC schedule into disarray and their hasn’t been much time to properly build up their bout.

Regardless of how many are watching and how some may choose to view her contender credentials, Spencer is proud of the hill she’s climbed to get here. And if she has to keep climbing to earn respect, she’s ready to dig in.

“I’ve earned my spot here,” Spencer said. “I understand where people come from especially if they’re not following the sport. I understand the division that I’m in is different and unique. All I stress about is what I can control, which is putting on a great performance and making people want to see me fight. That’s what I always try to do.

“Two out of the three fights I’ve had so far in the UFC have been first-round finishes. The other one was a decision that a lot of people were happy with as far as my performance, other people weren’t, but whatever. All I can do is put my best foot forward and hope the people want to see me again. If not, I’ll keep winning and take my spot.”

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