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In front of a proud football city, the chase for the Grey Cup takes centre stage – Sportsnet.ca

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HAMILTON — For one day, CFL fans can forget about the trouble in Toronto, the lack of sizzle on offence and the wobbly direction of their beloved league.

The power of Grey Cup Sunday can make one put aside the harsh realities for three hours – especially when the home team is on the field in a proud football city such as Hamilton, forever linked to its Tiger-Cats in good times and bad.

“Sixty minutes of tough football played in a great environment – Hamilton-style football,” Winnipeg coach Mike O’Shea, who knows a thing or two about Steeltown, said when asked what he expects in the 108th Grey Cup – featuring his Blue Bombers and the Tiger-Cats. “We probably play the same brand. Good defences, offences that can get after it, big plays.

“It’s going to be a great setting. To me, it’s the biggest single-day sporting event in Canada every single year. It’s celebrated across the country. It’s important to people from one coast to another. I love that part. It’s awesome.”

After a one-year absence because of COVID-19, the Grey Cup is back in Hamilton for the first time since 1996 – and once again, much of the pre-game talk has been about the league’s issues.

O’Shea, a fan favourite in Hamilton before becoming a public enemy when he signed down the QEW with the hated Argonauts not once but twice, was here in 1996 as a linebacker for the Doug Flutie-led powerhouse Toronto team. The Argos’ appearance in a nearby title tilt did next to nothing to help ticket sales for a league experiencing plenty of turmoil – albeit not with the on-field product like this year.

The league sold heavily discounted tickets in the week leading up to the game to avoid the embarrassment of empty seats. Toronto Mayor John Tory, then the volunteer CFL commissioner, has told of how Tim Hortons provided the league with extra funds to ensure players’ game cheques would clear.

But despite all that, it was a magical night. In a heavy snowstorm at the old Ivor Wynne Stadium, the Argos beat Edmonton 43-37 – a game considered one of the best Grey Cups ever.

Now, we finally have another Showdown in Steeltown – at the seven-year-old Tim Hortons Field, on the same grounds as Ivor Wynne – and the Black and Gold have a chance to break the longest current Grey Cup drought in the CFL, dating back to 1999.

“I think it’s going to be a great game. Two great organizations going at it,” said Bombers quarterback and CFL most outstanding player Zach Collaros, also a former Ticat. “Really happy for the league, really happy for the country. Having the year off and being able to pull this off this year, it’s been an amazing season. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Collaros has experienced highs and lows in the Hammer. He made his mark as a CFL quarterback here with three strong seasons from 2014-16, and started the first game at the new stadium in ’14.

But Collaros lost his job after an 0-8 start in 2017 and was traded to Saskatchewan the following year.

Then, in the 2019 season opener in Hamilton – a game heavily overshadowed by the Toronto Raptors winning the NBA title that same night – Collaros suffered a concussion on a controversial head hit by current Ticats linebacker Simoni Lawrence.

Cody Fajardo took over for an injured Collaros before a fairy-tale story emerged – a trade to Toronto and then another deal to Winnipeg before the playoffs, where the Blue Bombers went on the road for two wins before upsetting the Ticats 33-12 in the Grey Cup.

“I try not to be too dramatic and sentimental, especially before a game,” Collaros said. “(On Saturday), I just felt like I was walking out to practice three or four years ago or whenever that was and it was windy (like it often is at Tim Hortons Field). It’s like, ‘Damn, I’ve got to throw in that wind today.’ I guess it’s good for me that I’ve played in something like that if that’s what it’s going to be (Sunday). But I’m really trying to stay focused on the task at hand. All those things about our careers, we can reflect on down the road.”

It’s a reverse scenario of 2019, when coach Orlondo Steinauer’s Ticats came in as favourites after finishing the season 15-3 and had the league’s MOP in receiver Brandon Banks.

But while Winnipeg had this year’s MOP and was the dominant team all season, it must deal with a hostile, sellout crowd urged to all wear black.

“It’s going to be us against the East Coast here a little bit, but we’re ready for it,” Winnipeg star running back Andrew Harris said.

Dane Evans, the Ticats’ starting quarterback after a 16-for-16 performance in relief of Jeremiah Masoli last week in the East final in Toronto, is 7-1 as a starter at home – with the lone loss in his first try.

“We’re comfortable here. We love this stadium,” Evans said. “We got lucky the Grey Cup was here this year and we found a way into it. It certainly wasn’t handed to us, by any means. That’s part of what we talked about in the meeting – there is going to be some advantage there.”

Added defensive back Tunde Akelede, who will be playing in his fourth straight Grey Cup: “We get a lot of energy off them and they really support us. It’s nice to have this game here and to be able to win in front of our fans would be huge.”

To do that, they’ll have to find a way to hand O’Shea his first loss in a Grey Cup. The North Bay, Ont., native is 5-0 in the big game (three as a player, one as an assistant coach, one as a head coach).

The Ticats also won’t have run-stuffer Ted Laurent, who underwent a procedure for appendicitis on Friday – though he was at the stadium Saturday for meetings, providing an emotional lift for his team.

Come Sunday, they’ll get another boost from 24,000 or so in Tiger Town.

The scene should be sensational – and loyal CFL fans, in the midst of a challenging stretch, sure deserve something to savour.

“With it being a home game for Hamilton, it will certainly be loud,” Collaros said. “We’ve been practising different snap counts. We’ll be ready for anything. I think it’s an amazing week for the CFL and I’m just really happy for the fans they get to celebrate the season.”

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TRAIKOS: The NHL apparently wants McDavid and the Oilers to miss the playoffs – Toronto Sun

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Edmonton’s playoff hopes took a serious hit on Thursday, with the 13th-place team losing 6-0 to Florida. It was the Oilers’ seventh straight loss — and their 13th loss in the past 15 games — and it put them six points back of San Jose for the final Wild Card spot in the West.

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The team needs Evander Kane more than ever, as well as an upgrade in net and possibly a new voice behind the bench.

Based on what lies ahead, it could also use a ventilator.

On Wednesday, the league released its revised schedule for all the games that had been postponed due to COVID-19. Mostly, the NHL’s schedule makers just crammed a bunch of games (95 in total) during the three-week window that was originally blocked off for the Olympic break.

Now, there is no break. And for the Oilers, who play their final 46 games over 98 days — roughly a game every other day for the next three months — there’s little chance to take even the slightest of breaths.

Seriously, what did Connor McDavid ever do to Gary Bettman to get him so angry? Edmonton’s path to the post-season is not just an uphill climb — it’s now also littered with potholes, as well as several back-to-backs and a couple of insane stretches where they will play three games in four nights.

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Even if they manage to survive this gauntlet and sneak into the playoffs, what’s the point if they won’t have anything left in the tank?

Of course, it’s not just Edmonton that will be challenged in the weeks ahead.

Every team got a bunch of games dumped on their lap next month. Winnipeg now has 10 games in 17 days, while Montreal will play eight games in 15 days.

All it means is that February, which typically represented the dog days of the calendar might now be the most pivotal month on the schedule.

Depth is going to be tested like never before. You better have a backup goalie, because you’re going to need him. And you better have a fourth line that plays more than six minutes a night.

For Edmonton, this could be just a little problematic.

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The Oilers don’t have a backup goalie. These days, they don’t even have a No. 1 that they trust. As for spreading the minutes around, Oilers’ defenceman Darnell Nurse is averaging the second-most ice time of any player in the NHL, while Leon Draisaitl and McDavid are logging more minutes than any other forward.

With the team chasing the pack — and playing from behind in most games — there’s little chance that their ice time will be decreased. If anything, it’s probably going to be going up, especially if Dave Tippett is still coaching.

After all, the Oilers can’t afford to have another losing month. They can barely afford to have another losing week.

With so many games scheduled in so few days, the playoff picture is coming into focus faster than ever. By the end of the month, we should have a clear indication of where teams stand heading into the March 21 trade deadline.

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That is, if any teams are left standing by then.

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*****

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

Record: 24-10-3, 51 points (3rd in Atlantic)

Games rescheduled: 9

The result: From Jan. 31 to Feb. 27, Toronto plays 12 games in 29 days. But that is still less than the 14 games they played in the month of November.

What it means: The Leafs got off real easy. They now have two back-to-backs scheduled, but one is a home-and-home against Devils — meaning both teams will be at a disadvantage — and the other features the 10th-place Blue Jackets and the last-place Canadiens If anything, this could be Toronto’s chance to put points in the bank.

OTTAWA SENATORS

Record: 11-20-2, 24 points (9th in Atlantic)

Games rescheduled: 15

The result: The Senators’ schedule looks completely different. They now have 10 new games in February — including two that were originally scheduled for April and got moved up. Too bad fans won’t be allowed in the building for most of those games.

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What it means: Though Ottawa is probably not going to make the playoffs, there had been talk that the Senators would be playing games in May. That didn’t happen. But there are 16 games in April, at a time when the 31st overall team could be playing meaningless hockey.

MONTREAL CANADIENS

Record: 8-25-6, 22 points (10th in Atlantic)

Games rescheduled: 12

The result: During a three-week span in February, Montreal will play eight games in 15 days. All but one of those games is at home, which might not be a good thing based on how the team has been playing.

What it means: Not a whole lot. It’s a pity the NHL even bothered to reschedule Montreal’s games. All it does is delay the inevitable.

CALGARY FLAMES

Record: 18-11-6, 42 points (5th in Pacific)

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Games rescheduled: 10

The result: The revised schedule includes three back-to-backs in February and increases the number of games they’ll play in the month from four to 11. But Calgary also gets seven straight games at home.

What it means: Compared to the teams they’re jockeying with for playoff positions, the Flames got off relatively easy. Their toughest stretch is a back-to-back against Vegas and Toronto. But they are book-ended with games against Arizona and the New York Islanders, which should allow Calgary to breathe while others might be running out of breath.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Record: 18-18-3, 39 points (6th in Pacific)

Games rescheduled: 7

The result: Vancouver will play six of the seven rescheduled games during what was supposed to be the Olympic break (Feb. 7 to 22). All but one of those games are at home. Consider it payback for what the league put the Canucks through a year ago.

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What it means: If you were hoping the Canucks had a shot at grabbing a wild card spot, you’re probably feeling optimistic right now. Sure, they still have to win those games. But considering that the team is 10-3-1 since Bruce Boudreau stepped behind the bench, would it surprise anyone if Vancouver ends up with the most points out of the Canadian teams out West?

EDMONTON OILERS

Record: 18-16-2, 38 points (7th in Pacific)

Games rescheduled: 9

The result: Someone in the league office does not appear to be an Oilers fan. How else do you explain that Edmonton now comes out of the All-Star Game (in which Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are both attending) and immediately plays eight games in 13 days? Or that the team twice plays three games in four nights?

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What it means: Kiss those playoffs goodbye! Seriously, this schedule is going to reveal what the Oilers are made of. This has already been a difficult season for McDavid and Draisaitl, who are feeling the pressure like never before. Now, they have to chase a playoff spot while running on fumes, with the team staring down a five-game road swing at the end of February against Tampa Bay, Florida, Carolina, Philadelphia and Chicago.

WINNIPEG JETS

Record: 17-13-6, 40 points (5th in Central)

Games rescheduled: 9

The result: From Feb. 11 to Feb. 21, Winnipeg plays seven games in 11 days.

What it means: After playing six times in the past four weeks, the Jets are going to be busy in February. There are now 12 games scheduled, with 11 of them coming in the final three weeks of the month. The team will pretty much be playing every other night — or every night, considering there are three back-to-backs also scheduled. And because six of those games are against divisional rivals, this should be a make-or-break month for Winnipeg.

mtraikos@postmedia.com

twitter.com/Michael_Trakos

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Bombers sign All-Star OT Bryant – TSN

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The two-time defending Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers re-signed another cornerstone player on Friday, inking All-Star offensive tackle Stanley Bryant to a one-year contract. 

The 35-year-old was selected as the CFL’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman for a third time in his career this season in addition to being named to his sixth All-Star team.

The Bombers also signed All-Star linebacker Adam Bighill as well as starting quarterback and Most Outstanding Player Zach Collaros to extensions this week. 

Bryant had played in 103 consecutive games for the Bombers since arriving in Winnipeg in 2015 before that streak came to an end in November. 

The East Carolina product also won a Grey Cup with the Calgary Stampeders in 2014. 

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Soccer-Brazil to stop unvaccinated footballers playing in top leagues

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The Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) said on Friday players must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to take part in this year’s league championship,

The CBF said it was in constant contact with health bodies and had sent an updated list of requirements to member clubs.

“One of these is the obligation to present a full vaccination certificate against COVID-19 to the CBF’s Medical Commission,” it said in a statement.

The top four national divisions kick off in the second week of April.

Brazil coach Tite has said he was not selecting Atletico Madrid defender Renan Lodi for his squad for upcoming World Cup qualifiers because he was not fully vaccinated.

The issue of athletes’ stance on vaccines has dominated sports headlines recently after tennis player Novak Djokovic, who is unvaccinated, was deported ahead of the Australian Open.

 

(Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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