‘Twas the Knights before Christmas at Rogers Arena
Many seats appeared empty (Or were filled by John Cena)
The fanbase was hanging by the slimmest of threads
With visions of tanking another year in their heads
Jacob Markstrom was starting his sixth straight fixture
Since Demko is still on the injured reserve
All of the Canucks, led by Horvat the cap
Were determined that losing four-straight wasn’t hap-
And out on the ice, there arose A. Gaudette
Who chased down a dump-in and quickly shot it
Marc-Andre — The Flower — made like a brick wall
But Gaudette stuck with it and set up Roussel
Just like that, one-nothing, but the Canucks weren’t through
They added another to make it oh-two
Away down the wing, Leivo flew like a flash
And centred for Pearson and in he did cash
The Knights would respond on a Miller turnover;
He made up for the error, ‘twas the net that he drove’er
Creating a rebound for Petey to poke
To make it three-one and the arena awoke
The game took a turn in the middlest of frames
As Vegas responded with accurate aims
The Knights scored two goals amid some controversy
The refs missed a Knight boarding Leivs without mercy
They entered the third period in a tie game
And Travis Green shouted and call’d them by name
Now, Boeser! Now, Petey! Now, Miller and Tanev!
On Huggy! On Horvat! On Gaudette and Virtanen!
As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly
Came Boeser down right wing — cross-ice he did spy
Elias Pettersson along the left wing
And into the net, the puck did he fling
Yet the curse of puck management struck them once more
A turnover led to a Golden Knights’ score
That made it four-four, with four minutes to play
Was this one more Canucks lead that they’d piss away?
Late in the third, the Knights came in waves
And Markstrom came up with a big blocker save
That led to more hockey — oh what a gift!
Chris Tanev came out for an overtime shift
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work
Took a sweet sauce from Horvat and deked with a jerk
He tucked the puck under the left pad of Fleury
With a confident move — we were silly to worry
We should have predicted that Chris would deliver
A bunch of his goals are OT gamewinners
He gave us a gift like his last name was Kringle
Left ladies (and some men) wond’ring if he is single
He’s not (I am sorry), but I heard him exclaim
“Merry one-week ‘til Christmas,” after I watched this game.
- This wasn’t an amazing game by the Canucks, who were out-shot by the Knights 43-to-34, but the biggest difference was how they went to the net. The team has been satisfied of late with too many shots from the outside, but four of their five goals in this game were scored from the top of the crease.
- Or, in Antoine Roussel’s case, inside the crease. Jake Virtanen tipped in a Tyler Myers’ pass from centre, then Adam Gaudette went to work, beating everyone to the puck and chipping it on net. Fleury couldn’t handle the shot, and Gaudette got a whack at the rebound, sending it through Fleury into the crease, where Roussel was all over it like a snake on a Christmas tree.
- Tanner Pearson gave the Canucks a 2-0 lead at the very last second of the Canucks’ first power play. Myers made a nice play at the blue line to keep the puck in, then Josh Leivo’s give-and-go with Virtanen was nearly broken up. Virtanen kept the puck alive to Leivo, whose end-line pass was jammed in by Pearson, who had boxed out Nate Schmidt in front.
- The Golden Knights responded on a pretty awful turnover by J.T. Miller. He circled the zone, then made an ill-advised backhand pass at the blue line that was picked off by Reilly Smith. Miller quickly got back on defence, but got fixated on the puck and stopped moving his feet, allowing William Karlsson to slip in behind him. Smith fed Karlsson, whose shot was turned aside by Jacob Markstrom, but Miller didn’t pick up the trailer, Jonathan Marchessault, who banged in the rebound.
- Everyone makes mistakes; what matters is what you do next, and Miller made up for it by manufacturing a goal out of nothing. He picked off a Schmidt pass at the Vegas blue line, then cut into the slot past Brayden McNabb, backhanding the puck on net as he was dragged down to the ice. Fleury mishandled the shot and Pettersson made like a golfer and chipped it in for Birdie.
- That 3-1 goal wasn’t possible without an incredible save by Markstrom at the other end. He stretched out his left pad to rob Mark Stone on the doorstep, then Brock Boeser lifted Stone’s stick at the last moment to prevent him from banging in the rebound. That would have been the httpITALICS turning point of the game if there hadn’t been half a dozen more turning points to come.
- The Knights’ first line struck again midway through the second period on a nice passing play, catching the Canucks running around in their own zone. Both Quinn Hughes and Chris Tanev ended up reaching for the puck instead of marking their respective checks and, as Michael Jordan once said, “You reach, I teach.”
- Then the controversy: Nick Holden hit Leivo squarely in the numbers, throwing him hard into the boards, where Leivo appeared to hit his right knee hard. Leivo stayed down and a scrum ensued, but the referees somehow didn’t call a penalty. Call it boarding, call it checking from behind, call it interference — bottom line, it should have been called.
- Leivo was clearly upset, which is generally not a good sign — athletes know their own bodies and it seemed like he could tell something was very wrong — and his teammates echoed his upsetness. A couple people — presumably Canucks — could be heard saying, “Keep your head up,” and “I’ll take a f***ing five gamer,” presumably referring to the five-game suspension he’d receive for whatever terrible thing he would do to Holden, leaving the actual act earning the suspension up to Holden’s imagination, thereby increasing the potential terror.
- To add insult to literal injury, Holden tied the game up on the next shift, as his point shot deflected in off Bo Horvat’s skate. He should have been in the penalty box and the Rogers Arena crowd was not shy to let the refs know that.
- After the 3-3 goal, Travis Green called a crucial timeout to allow his team a chance to regroup. They were significantly better through the rest of the second period after the timeout and it may have stanched the bleeding.
- Pettersson was feeling it in this game, scoring the 3-1 goal, then adding a crossbar in the second period on a rocket of a wrist shot, then finally scoring the 4-3 goal in the third period. It was a lovely cross-ice give-and-go: Pettersson banked the puck to Boeser on the right wing, then Boeser threaded the needle back to Pettersson on the left wing, and he cradled and released the puck all in one motion.
- The Knights couldn’t be repressed, tying the game up again. After a Myers turnover on a 4-on-4, the Knights put the Canucks on the spin cycle, rotating until the Canucks’ coverage broke down and Mark Stone opened up at the back door, with Hughes and Horvat miscommunicating who was supposed to mark Stone. The man they call Stoner scored with 4:20 remaining.
- Despite the four goals against, Markstrom was fantastic all game, particularly in the third period, where he faced 19 shots on goal. His biggest save came with two minutes left, as the Golden Knights poured on the pressure on a late power play. Jay Beagle didn’t pick up Paul Stastny at the back door, but Markstrom lunged across with the blocker, turning aside what looked like a sure goal. It was the biggest robbery since Divina de Campo didn’t win Drag Race UK.
- In overtime, Horvat was looking for his first goal at home of the season, but had to settle for a gorgeous assist. Tanev rotated down from the point and shook off Max Pacioretty, then took Horvat’s lovely saucer pass, evaded Fleury’s pokecheck with a deke to the forehand, then tucked the puck under Fleury’s pad. It was the most unexpectedly slick move since Lube Man slid into a street drain on Watchmen.
- Also a great move: Tanev’s uninhibited fist-pumping celebration, which looked like it owed a debt to Adam Gaudette’s pumped-up goal celebrations. I’m all for it: the more joy and exuberance, the better, because this team could learn to let loose a little more.
Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.
Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.
Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.
Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.
He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.
Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.
“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.
“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”
Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.
The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.
Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.
Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.
Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.
A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.
Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.
Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.
Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.
If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.
Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.
When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.
Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.
Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.
“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.
“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”
After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.
Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.
“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.
“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.
“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”
Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.
“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.
“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”
For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.
“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.
“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)