It’s been three years since the Canucks last had a five-game winning streak. It came right around the same time in the season, too.
It was the 2016-17 season and the Canucks were struggling at the Christmas break. They were 14-18-3 and third-last in the Western Conference. For a team that was still refusing to admit they were rebuilding — they had just sent multiple young assets to the Florida Panthers for Erik Gudbranson in the off-season — it wasn’t ideal.
But then the Canucks came out of the Christmas break and went on a run, rattling off six-straight wins to climb into a playoff spot. It was heady times in Vancouver. Bo Horvat helped a kid get a weiner dog! He and Sven Baertschi were starting to look like the future of the Canucks’ offence! Ryan Miller was lights out in net! Nikita Tryamkin was really big!
Alas, it didn’t last. After that six-game win streak, the Canucks won just 10 of their next 41 games, with an 8-game losing streak to end the season that crashed them down the standings and earned them the fifth-overall pick at the 2017 draft. At the very least, they got one hell of a consolation prize: Elias Pettersson.
In many ways, that six-game streak was the last hurrah of a team that needed to bottom out to admit they needed to fully rebuild. At the trade deadline, the Canucks finally shipped off a couple veterans, trading away Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen, albeit for prospects rather than draft picks, and the rebuild was on in earnest.
Fans can expect that this winning streak is indicative of the opposite: that this is a team on the rise, and that this is the first of many such winning streaks to come in 2020. Instead of the streak vaulting them to the edge of the playoffs, it has them all the way into second place in the Pacific. At the very least, they’re ending off the year and the decade in style.
I bid farewell to 2019 as I watched this game.
- The Canucks as a whole didn’t really defeat the Los Angeles Kings in their last game — Jacob Markstrom did, making a ridiculous 49 saves on 51 shots. You could tell the Canucks didn’t want a repeat of that performance, where they took over 10 minutes to record their first shot on goal, because they had a much stronger start against the Flame. Their start might not have been as good as Asafa Powell’s, but at least they left the blocks when the starter’s gun sounded this time.
- David Rittich, on the other hand, didn’t even know there was a race happening. “Big Save Dave,” as Flames fans call him, couldn’t even come up with the smallest of saves against the Canucks. Tyler Myers scored two softies early on, which was ultimately the difference in the game. I’d offer up an alternative nickname, but “Rickety Rittich” sounds way too mean.
- The opening goal came on an early power play, with the second unit going to work. Antoine Roussel, a relatively recent addition to the unit, won a board battle down low alongside Adam Gaudette, who moved the puck up to Jake Virtanen at the point. He relayed the puck to Myers, whose wrist shot Rittich never seemed to see, partly because his defenceman, T.J. Brodie, cut across his eyes right as Myers took the shot.
- Myers added another at even strength on an even softer wrist shot. Brock Boeser protected the puck brilliantly from Brodie, then found Myers at the point. There’s no excuses for Rittich on this one: Myers’ shot was unscreened and somehow ducked through Rittich’s legs like Nate Robinson.
- At the other end of the ice, Thatcher Demko got his first start since December 7th, and quickly laid to rest any concerns that he might be rusty after recovering from his concussion. At one point he even made an intentionally save with his mask, something he’s been known to do. It was a pretty good indication that he was feeling confident in his head health, if a little disconcerting.
- An undisciplined penalty by Matthew Tkachuk gave the Canucks another power play and the second unit got the start. It turned out to be a good move. First Virtanen rang a slap shot from the right faceoff circle off the post, then on a subsequent rush, Virtanen’s centring pass deflected in off Travis Hamonic’s stick for his 12th goal of the season.
- As much as it was a lucky bounce, it was also a brutal play by Rittich, who massively overplayed the initial pass with Tanner Pearson coming right up the middle. Even if it didn’t get deflected, Rittich would have left Pearson with a wide open net. Rittich was, quite understandably, pulled after Virtanen’s goal and replaced by Cam Talbot.
- Virtanen had a two-point night, giving him six points in his last seven games. He’s got a dozen goals, more than some of the biggest stars in the NHL, like Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau. At 5-on-5, he’s putting up points at a rate second only to Elias Pettersson on the Canucks. And yet, it’s things like this flyby in the neutral zone that drive a coach batty.
- The Canucks were in a good defensive position until Virtanen swooped past Mark Jankowski, just hoping to pick off a pass for a home run play. It turned an innocuous rush into a dangerous 4-on-2 for the Flames. This isn’t to pick on Virtanen, but merely to give an example of why he doesn’t always get the opportunities that some think he should, given his offensive upside.
- You could tell this just wasn’t going to be Calgary’s night when their best chance of the first period, a breakaway for Michael Frolik off an awful Canucks line change, was nullified because Milan Lucic couldn’t get out of the zone fast enough to avoid the offside call. James Neal would have skated fast enough to get out of the zone
- Speaking of Lucic, the best moment of the game was easily when the frustrated Flames decided to get scrummy with the Canucks’ fourth line. Lucic went after Tim Schaller and got a little too aggressive, at which point Schaller audibly said, “Relax, buddy! Relax!” like Lucic was an over-excited schnauzer.
Tim Schaller is every beer leaguer who has to work in the morning pic.twitter.com/IjZSPcItRb
— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion)
December 30, 2019
- The Flames got on the board on the 4-on-4 that resulted from the scrum, as Jay Beagle and T.J. Brodie got coincidental minors. Demko gave up a rare rebound on a Sean Monahan shot, and, like the Canucks at the 2015 draft, neither Quinn Hughes nor Myers picked up Rasmus Andersson.
- The Bo Horvat line played the matchup role against the Monahan line and had a strong game, combining to restore the three-goal lead in the third period. Loui Eriksson gained the zone and dropped the puck to Horvat, who sent a shot towards the net, looking for a tip. Instead, the puck landed on Tanner Pearson’s stick and he spun around and shot. Talbot, who somehow lost track of the puck and seemed to think Pearson had passed it, left half the net open for Pearson, which was more than he needed.
- Demko had a strong performance, but his save selection left something to be desired on the Flames’ second goal. He got turned around making the initial save off the rush and, instead of getting square to the puck, stretched his pad across the net with his back to the play, a technique goalie coaches call “oh god oh god help help help.” He tried to recover for Noah Hanifin’s shot from the high slot, but wound up in the “Marriage Proposal” pose, which is recommended for asking your significant other to make a lifelong commitment to you, but not so much for stopping a puck.
- That goal came with a minute left, closing the gap to two goals, but that’s as close as the Flames would come. With the Flames net empty, Alex Edler sent a dangerous pass into the middle in the defensive zone, but Horvat muscled it out of the zone, then dove out to spring Pearson on a breakaway. Pearson was blatantly hooked to the ice by Andersson, which would have been an automatic goal in lieu of a penalty shot, but Pearson scored from his knees anyway.
- That capped off a three-point night for Pearson, who has been streaky, but is one of the Canucks’ top scorers over the past couple months and is on-pace for 55 points this season. The Pearson for Gudbranson trade is a pretty nice feather in Jim Benning’s cap.
Canadian Milos Raonic advances to third round at Australian Open – TSN
MELBOURNE, Australia — Milos Raonic is heading to the third round at the Australian Open, keeping Canada’s hopes alive in singles at the season’s first Grand Slam.
The No. 32 seed from Thornhill, Ont., beat Chile’s Cristian Garin 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 on Wednesday, needing one hour 37 minutes to complete the match.
The 29-year-old Canadian served up 19 aces on his way to victory.
Raonic will face No. 6 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in the third round. Tsitsipas got a walkover into the third round at Melbourne Park when Philipp Kohlschreiber pulled out of their scheduled match because a muscle strain.
Raonic was the only Canadian to survive the opening round.
No. 13 seed Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., No. 20 Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal and Vasek Pospisil of Vancouver all lost on the men’s side, while qualifier Leylah Annie Fernandez of Laval, Que., dropped a first-round women’s match.
Top Canadian Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., didn’t play because of a knee injury.
Raonic breezed through the first round, crushing Italian lucky loser Lorenzo Giustino in straight sets in a match held over two days. Rain postponed play Monday with Raonic one game away from winning his first match since October.
The second-round match pitted Raonic, ranked 35th in the world, against the player directly below him in the rankings.
Garin, 23, has yet to make it to the third round of a Grand Slam in his career.
Raonic has been plagued by injuries in recent years, missing large portions of the second half of last season with a back issue.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2020.
Japan's women defy odds to become first Asian team to win an Olympic ice hockey gold – Olympic News – Olympics
Japan completed a fairytale run to win the women’s ice hockey title at the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games on Tuesday, coming from behind to beat defending champions Sweden 4-1 in the final.
Both sides had been unbeaten on the road to the final, but up against a team who won the last two Youth Olympic titles, the Japanese went in as underdogs.
In defying the odds they also made history by becoming the first Asian team to win gold in an Olympic ice hockey competition.
“I’m so proud and so pleased that this is the outcome of our teamwork,” said Noro Rio, who was assisted by twin sister Riri in scoring her team’s second goal. “My team really wanted to win gold today.”
Japan turned the game around in the second period as they posted eight shots on goal while Sweden had none. The line combination of Kamada Minami, Shimomukai Hina, and Ito Makoto formed a particularly potent attacking trio.
“Sweden did better in the first period, but after that we tried to fight back,” said Shimomukai, who scored two goals and assisted one. “At the beginning our team was very nervous, but we communicated more with each other.”
By the time Shimomukai added an empty net goal with less than two minutes to go, her teammates – and a packed arena backing the Japanese – celebrated the imminent triumph.
Defeat for the Swedish stung. Many left the ice sobbing, the shimmer of a silver medal around their necks providing little consolation.
“We had a great start, but lost it in the second and third period,” said Linnea Adelbertsson (SWE). “We didn’t fight enough. I don’t have any feelings left.”
Sweden captain Nicole Hall, who scored her side’s only goal in the last minute of the first period, said: “The Japanese are very fast and strong, and better than us today. It doesn’t feel good.”
In the women’s bronze medal match, Slovakia fought back from 1-0 down to beat Switzerland 2-1.
The hosts had taken the lead through Nina Harju (SUI) in the second period, before Slovakia responded with two goals scored within two minutes through Nina Hudakova (SVK) and Nikola Janekova (SVK).
Alessia Baechler (SUI), who was in the penalty box when Janekova scored the winning goal in the second period, was crestfallen.
“We had a lot of chances to score but we didn’t take our chances,” she said. “It was very close. I’m very proud of everybody and it’s so sad that we didn’t win bronze.”
Janekova said she was proud of her team after a tough game. “It was very hard for us to play this,” she said. “It was definitely worrying [that Switzerland scored first]. I have goosebumps.”
In the men’s tournament, the USA booked a place in the final after beating rivals Canada 2-1 in the semifinals.
Frank Nazar (USA) and Isaac Howard (USA) scored in the second period.
Canada surged back following Nate Danielson’s (CAN) goal early in the third period, but the USA kept them at bay.
The defending champions will meet Russia in the final on Wednesday, after they beat Finland 10-1 in their semi-final.
Larry Walker becomes second Canadian elected to Baseball Hall of Fame – Yahoo Canada Sports
After 10 years on the ballot, needing to get 75 percent of the vote or have his name eliminated from consideration, Maple Ridge, BC’s Larry Walker is heading to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
A recipient of a late wave of support similar to that of his former Montreal Expos teammate Tim Raines, Walker saw his vote totals rise very slowly, finishing with 76.6% of the vote. It has been an unbelievable rise for Walker; in 2014 this moment seemed like a long shot, as he received just 10.2% support.
Walker’s ascent up the voting leaderboard is one of the more polarizing discussions in recent Hall of Fame voting history, with his sustained excellence clouded by the environment he produced in and a lack of true top-end moments to build his case.
The Case For
Five All-Star game appearances, three batting titles, an MVP award, and a collection of counting stats that put him shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the game’s icons at his position.
Whether you believe he deserves to be in the Hall or not, there is nobody casting doubt that Walker possessed all the skills needed to build an ideal great baseball player.
Here is a sampling of his standing in the all-time counting stats:
2,160 hits (200th all time)
1,311 RBI (105th)
471 doubles (89th)
383 home runs (68th)
.313 career batting average (79th)
.400 on base percentage (55th)
.565 slugging percentage (12th)
.965 on base plus slugging (15th)
72.7 WAR (56th among position players)
He was the 40th player to record 2,000 hits, 400 doubles, 300 home runs, 1,000 runs scored, and 1,000 RBI.
He’s the only player to have exceeded a .310 batting average, 380 home runs, 1,300 RBI, .965 OPS and 471 doubles, and 230 stolen bases in career, with Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Lou Gehrig being the only players to hit the same batting milestones without adding the stolen bases.
He is one of only 20 players to win three batting titles including the truly incredible 1999 season where he finished with a .379 average, a mark no player has achieved in the 20 years since. He posted an OPS above 1.000 seven times, and never finished with an adjusted OPS+ below league average in any year since his 20 game stint as a 20-year-old rookie. Among all players with at least 8,000 at bats, Walker’s 140 wRC+ is 34th all time.
Walker’s career crown jewel season was his 1997 MVP campaign, when he hit 49 home runs while slashing .366/.425/.720.
His 72.7 WAR (per Baseball Reference) is 10th all-time among right fielders and all nine ahead of him are hall of famers, as are three of the four on the list after him.
While none of the counting stats on their own may jump out as singularly responsible for making him a sure-fire inductee, combining his elite hitting with regular gold glove consideration and 230 steals sets the template for the prototypical five-tool corner outfielder.
All of these accolades land him on lists where the only company he keeps is with legends already enshrined in baseball’s hall.
The Case Against
Ten of Walker’s 17 seasons took place in the hitter-friendly confines of Colorado’s Coors Field, a notoriously number-juicing environment that was especially generous to batters in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
Walker had 814 of his hits in Coors Field, and posted a .381/.462/.710 slash line in the building along with 154 of his home runs. His road OPS is .865, which is still quite good — better than the all around career rates of several Hall of Fame hitters — but there are voters that cannot quite get around the 300 point drop in numbers when taken out of Colorado.
Additionally, Walker was not a paragon of health throughout his career. He only played more than 140 games in a season four times, and injuries cost him 375 games between 1996 to 2004. Eight of the nine right fielders ahead of him in WAR played at least 2,400 games, while Walker appeared in just 1,988.
He also only led his team to the postseason three times in 17 years, with two of those coming in his final two seasons as a part of the St. Louis Cardinals. There are no October moments of greatness to draw upon for rosy memories, just a consistent level of being very, very good.
Walker’s worthiness for baseball’s highest honour may be up for debate, but his place in Canadian baseball, certainly isn’t.
He was the first Canadian to win an MVP award, and a nine-time winner of the Tip O’Neill award for Canada’s best baseball player. After his career he continued to pay it forward for his country, serving as the hitting coach for the national team for three World Baseball Classics, and the Pan Am Games twice.
He opened the door for Canadian baseball talent and ushered in a wave of stars from Canada that followed him into the league. Justin Morneau and Joey Votto followed in his footsteps as MVP award winners, and in the decade and a half following Walker’s retirement players from Canada made their way to the league in unprecedented numbers.
Ferguson Jenkins was the first Canadian to make the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Walker’s outsized presence in the game has ensured that he won’t be the last.
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