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Jack Campbell, Maple Leafs pass Keefe’s test with flying colours –



The Toronto Maple Leafs were riding the high Monday night from a second consecutive third-period comeback victory when head coach Sheldon Keefe strolled into the dressing room with some quick congratulations and an immediate challenge.

“We got one game to take care of here,” Keefe addressed the group, before they hopped a late-night jet to New Jersey for the back half of their home-and-home set.

“We know we’re still looking to put together a complete effort. We haven’t done it here for quite a while. Might as well start off the second half of the season, Game 42, by doing that just before the break.”

If Keefe were the teacher handing out one final pop quiz before Reading Week, his Maple Leafs were a class full of prized pupils acing that sucker with time to spare, snatching their knapsacks, and beelining it to the beach. (Or, in the case of all-stars Auston Matthews and Jack Campbell, the desert.)

Toronto dusted the Devils 7-1 – easy, like dirt off your shoulder.

The canyon separating the Cup-contending Leafs and the lottery-loitering, goalie-deprived Devils was so evident Tuesday that a young boy looked at the score bug on the television during the second period and asked: “Isn’t it just bullying at this point, Dad?”

Since a disengaged Leafs group dug itself a 4-2 deficit through two periods Monday, it erupted for 10 — yes, 10 — unanswered goals against the same foe.

Uncle already.

“Because you’re playing the same opponent for the second time here in back-to-back nights, we were trying to have some continuation of the third period from the [Monday] night in terms of taking the will away a little bit of your opponent,” Keefe said.

“All four lines just relentless on the puck at both ends, and Soupy came up big when he had to,” Matthews added. “It’s just a testament to our resiliency and just making sure that we get the job done for a full 60 minutes.”

For as hard as us critics try to hover a magnifying glass over the local heroes’ weaknesses and amplify their poor efforts, it’s worth zooming out and considering what these players have accomplished in the two weeks since their “soft and purposeless” loss to the Rangers — the closest thing resembling mild controversy in this predominantly cruise-control regular season.

By embarrassing New Jersey on its own sheet and summoning the boo birds at Prudential Center, the Maple Leafs extended their win streak to five games. Over this span, they have doubled their opposition by a total score of 26-13.

This is without dressing their best defender, Jake Muzzin, who is nursing a concussion. On the back of the most uneven fortnight of goaltending they’ve received all season.

“Tonight, I think, was a prime example of us just being at our best,” Mitch Marner evaluated.

Marner is playing as fun and dangerous as Johnny Knoxville drunk with the safety off. He scored twice Tuesday, to extend his career-best goal streak to seven — a run that ties linemate Matthews for the longest on the team this year.

“He’s so deceptive. So, he when he’s got the puck, I think a lot of people kind of anticipate him passing it,” Matthews said of his wingman. “I mean, you’ve seen it the last couple games, him being able to beat the goaltender clean. He’s got a great shot. It might need to get a little more juice on it, but he’s definitely really accurate.”

Hanging four goals in 48 hours on Jersey, Matthews himself has leapt right back in the Rocket race with 29 goals.

Michael Bunting and Pierre Engvall have already set career highs in goals and points, respectively.

David Kämpf has quintupled his goal output from last season, and Ilya Mikheyev tied his (seven) in a dozen games played.

The team is scoring just for kicks at this point, and evidently having a hoot doing it:

“That is about as good as we could ask the game to go,” Keefe said. “You take control early. You build a big lead. You can use your bench and play your top guys less and play your depth guys more. You’re comfortable, and you just kind of ride out the clock into the break.”

Campbell bounces back

Keefe and Campbell made each other look brilliant Tuesday.

Faced with the first meaningful starting goalie decision of the season, the head coach smartly went with the cold hand.

Brilliant before Christmas, the self-critical Campbell had posted a dismal .853 save percentage in a six-game January run that hit its low point Monday, when he spotted New Jersey three goals in the game’s opening nine minutes.

“It’s not like I was beating myself up like the old days, but there were obviously a few starts recently that I just didn’t like, and no excuses about it,” said Campbell, following a tidy, 31-save bounce-back win. “It’s important. It’s a humbling game.”

This start was originally earmarked for Petr Mrazek. But after the backup salvaged a W Monday, Keefe elected to give Campbell another shot, allowing him to wash the sour taste from his mouth before heading to Vegas.

Campbell was hoping to play but allowed that “Petr deserved to play tonight” and left the decision to Keefe.

“I’m grateful Coach put me back in and gave me the chance to move on past that game last night,” Campbell said.

“When I found that I was playing today, it felt like a playoff game. I was ready to go and just excited to get out there and compete with the guys.”

Composed and controlled, Campbell made stellar stops on a couple of early defensive breakdowns that allowed his skaters to seize the night and break the weaker team’s will.

“Outstanding” is the word Keefe used.

“In a game like this, where we score so much, you tend to overlook the goaltending part of it. That’s the Jack that’s played, really, all season for us like that,” Keefe raved.

“I love the way that he battled and responded tonight. Frankly, not a surprise — because he’s a guy that is a competitor. He wanted to get back in the net here tonight.”

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Late fumble costs Tiger-Cats in Elks win on Canada Day – TSN



HAMILTON — Tre Ford was in his happy place Friday in Hamilton.

The Edmonton Elks quarterback got a win in his first career CFL start 30 minutes down the Queen Elizabeth Highway from his hometown of Niagara Falls, Ont.

The Elks came from behind to beat the Tiger-Cats 29-25 in front of 20,233 at Tim Hortons Field.

“To come back to Hamilton and have all my family watching me get that first start and that first win has been fantastic,” Ford said.

Among Ford’s supporters were his wife, parents, sister, sister-in-law and mother-in-law, his high school football coach from A.N. Myer Secondary, his University of Waterloo head coach Chris Bertoia, eight of his former university teammates and more friends.

Ford was shaky at times as the Elks trailed by 13 points early in the second half.

But the 2021 winner of the Hec Crighton Trophy winner that goes to the most outstanding Canadian university football player threw a game-tying touchdown pass to Kenny Lawler early in the fourth quarter.

The winning play for the Elks (1-3) arrived with 1:38 remaining when defensive back Scott Hutter tackled Hamilton quarterback Dane Evans and knocked the ball loose.

Jalen Collins recovered for a 14-yard touchdown.

“I saw him tackle him and thought, ‘please punch the ball out,” Collins said. “All we needed was an opportunity to close the game out. We were fighting all night. It was ugly.”

The winless Tiger-Cats opened a season with four straight losses for the first time since 2017 when they started 0-8.

“I want to apologize to all the guys. I put both home losses on me,” Evans said. “I just have to take care of it, and we win the game.”

Evans was 20-for-31 in passing for 197 yards and a touchdown throw. He was intercepted twice.

Ford’s numbers didn’t sparkle, although he did rush for 61 yards on six carries. The 24-year-old competed 15 of 26 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown. He was intercepted once.

Edmonton’s defence helped out with interceptions by Sheldon Brady and Matthew Thomas, as well as the pivotal late-game recovered fumble by Collins.

“A big shout out to the defence,” Ford said. “They won us that game. They made what, three or four turnovers? They did super well.

“I have room for improvement. I’m not going to complain because we did win. But I’m going to hit the film room to see what I can critique and where I can get better.”

Hamilton went after the rookie with various blitzes in the first half.
“My legs are going to open things up for my arm,” Ford said.

Ford credited teammate and quarterback Nick Arbuckle, who started in Edmonton’s three losses this season, for advising him during the game on defensive reads.

“He’s been like that since day one, even though we’re competitors for the position,” Ford said.

He admitted to early jitters as Hamilton led 16-6 after the first quarter and 19-9 at halftime.

“I always get nervous for the first play of every game,” Ford said. “I think it’s a good thing because it means I care and that I want to win.”

Evans hit Steven Dunbar for a 21-yard strike, and Lawrence Woods returned a kickoff of 72 yards for Hamilton’s first-half touchdowns.

Edmonton’s Kai Locksley scored on a one-yard plunge.

Elks kicker Sergio Castillo made two of his three field-goal attempts, while Hamilton counterpart Michael Domagala nailed his three and gave the Ticats at lead with a 33-yarder with 3:10 remaining in the game

“We’re not good enough right now,” Hamilton head coach Orlondo Steinauer said. “We’re not executing at the level which needs to happen. We’re just not making those plays we need to make.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 1, 2022.

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Raptors sign forward Otto Porter Jr. to 2-year deal: reports –



The Toronto Raptors have signed forward Otto Porter Jr., who was a key member of the Golden State Warriors’ NBA championship team.

The two-year deal was first reported by Yahoo Sports, and confirmed to The Canadian Press by a source close to negotiations.

The 29-year-old Porter averaged 8.2 points per game this past season. He’s a tenacious defender and solid long-range shooter, with a career average of 39.8 per cent from behind the arc.

Porter was selected third overall by Washington in the 2013 draft, and played the first six seasons of his career there before being traded to Chicago in 2019. Orlando then acquired him at the 2021 trade deadline, and he signed with the Warriors in the 2021 off-season.

The Raptors have been busy since free agency opened at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday, signing Canadian forward Chris Boucher to a three-year deal, and signing veteran forward Thaddeus Young to a multi-year contract extension.

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Blue Jays’ bats assist bullpen, carry the day in comfortable win over Rays –



TORONTO – The Blue Jays may have discovered the solution to their bullpen issues: score nine runs a game.

Sustainable? Maybe not, but the Blue Jays are hitting at their best right now, with an MLB-leading 170 runs scored in June to go along with 50 home runs last month. Wearing their red jerseys in front of a sellout Canada Day crowd of 44,445 Friday, some of that offensive output carried into July with a festive 9-2 win over the visiting Tampa Bay Rays.

“It was so special,” said starter Jose Berrios. “I’ve heard a lot about this day, but being here and pitching today was very emotional. I know a lot of Canadians enjoy it and want to be at the ballpark on a day like today.”

“It was amazing, to say the least,” added Cavan Biggio, who reached base four times Friday. “In 2020 and 2021 we definitely missed this place. Now we’re finally back and we’re experiencing that energy that we’ve all been looking forward to on a nightly basis.”

A Lourdes Gurriel Jr. home run put the finishing touch on this one, but the Blue Jays also hit six doubles, five of which came off Rays starter Corey Kluber in a five-run third inning. A three-run sixth created necessary breathing room for the Blue Jays, who were able to rest most of their high-leverage relievers on a day Berrios was not at his sharpest.

With three hits, including his fifth home run of the season, Gurriel Jr. helped drive the Blue Jays’ offence. But don’t overlook Biggio, who walked twice while also hitting two doubles on a day his season on-base percentage climbed to .385.

“Today was great,” Biggio said. “Just hit after hit. A good pitcher, a good experienced guy on the mound, but we had a plan and we were able to execute it.”

Even before a pitch was thrown, Blue Jays fans had plenty to cheer about Friday. The recently retired Russell Martin was honoured with a memorable video narrated by former teammate Jose Bautista and personal messages from the likes of former Jays manager John Gibbons and fellow Canadian Joey Votto.

As the video tributes played in centre field, most Blue Jays players watched from the dugout. The fans also responded warmly to Martin, who later threw out the ceremonial first pitch to another athletic catcher who wears No. 55: Gabriel Moreno.

“Unbelievable career,” Biggio said of Martin. “What stands out to me the most is he played 14 years in the majors and made the playoffs 10 times. That’s what this game’s all about: it’s about winning.”

As for Berrios, he was effective enough, allowing two runs on eight hits over the course of five innings. He worked in and out of trouble, though, stranding nine runners, including both of the batters he walked.

While his fastball averaged 93.6 m.p.h., the Rays weren’t often fooled by the right-hander, who generated eight swinging strikes on 98 total pitches. Still, the Blue Jays will take that from Berrios, especially considering he had allowed 14 earned runs over the course of his previous two starts.

“He’s better than what he did today,” Montoyo said. “He was missing by a little bit and that made him throw even more pitches and work harder …  at the end of the day, he did the job.”

But realistically, the Blue Jays would have been in a tough spot without so much help from their offence. Adam Cimber was presumed unavailable after pitching three days in a row, and David Phelps was likely off limits given that he’d just pitched in four of five. This was not an ideal day for the Blue Jays to try preserving a one- or two-run lead.

Thanks to their lineup, they didn’t have to. With the exception of one inning from Trent Thornton, the Blue Jays were able to avoid their high-leverage relievers, putting them in a relatively strong position entering Saturday’s double-header. 

“If our pitching gives us a chance, our offence is going to go and that’s exactly what happened,” Montoyo said. “We should be better tomorrow because of that.”

Sergio Romo made his Blue Jays debut with a clean inning seventh inning that featured two strikeouts and Max Castillo pitched the final two innings without incident as Toronto improved to 44-33 on the season while increasing their lead over the Rays to 3.5 games.

All told, this was pretty close to how the Blue Jays would have drawn it up. And end of the day, they’re in Toronto again, playing at home on Canada Day for the first time since 2019. In case any doubt remained as to the day’s significance, an impromptu rendition of O Canada broke out in the stands as the Blue Jays closed out the win. Soon after the fans finished singing, the players completed their 9-2 win.

“The energy and pride that this country embodies was definitely on full display,” Biggio said.

Or, as Montoyo put it: “You could tell the happiness about it.”

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