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Joe Thornton playing key role in Maple Leafs' success since return – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — If Joe Thornton was the second-oldest player in another league, they wouldn’t have let him anywhere near the playing surface for his third game in four nights after a month on the sidelines nursing a fractured rib.

They’d have called it load management and deemed it a mandatory night off.

But hockey’s culture hasn’t fully come around on a practice that’s become standard operating procedure elsewhere and Thornton is above all else a hockey player. So there he was Thursday, 24 hours after playing a season-high 18:15, and wouldn’t you know it he was chiselling another entry into the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ record book.

Thornton became the oldest player in franchise history to register a three-point night during a 7-3 victory over the Ottawa Senators and he needed only the first period to do it. His inspired run alongside Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner continued with a goal and two assists before the intermission, bumping the Leafs ‘smiles per 60’ rate in the process.

“It’s a blast,” Matthews said of playing with Thornton. “He’s a buzzsaw, he never stops.”

Thornton has an enviable seat to watch two of the game’s most electrifying players, but he’s been no passenger. His movement is more economical than what you get from Marner and Matthews, tightly fixed to the area around the net in the offensive end, and it’s allowing the Leafs to put opponents in the blender.

There was skepticism, if not outright derision, when head coach Sheldon Keefe announced on the first day of training camp that Thornton would be getting top-line reps in Toronto.

Go back and dig up the takes: They ranged from “this will only be temporary” to “this is just a distraction,” without much along the lines of “this should work wonderfully” mixed in.

Except here we are more than five weeks into the season and the Leafs top the NHL with a 13-3-2 record. Were Keefe inclined, he could have easily bumped Thornton down the lineup while easing him in after a 10-game absence but instead he went back to the original plan — seeing him contribute to eight Toronto goals in nine periods against the Senators this week.

“It’s just easy to play with him,” Matthews said. “As we play more and more games and practice and get more touches with each other, the chemistry seems to get better. We just want to keep that going.”

They are generating 65 per cent of the expected goals while playing together and 88 per cent of the actual ones that have gone in the net across 85 minutes. It obviously helps to be skating with Marner, the NHL’s third-leading scorer with 27 points, not to mention its most dangerous sniper in Matthews, who has a ridiculous 16 goals to show for his 17 games.

But Thornton’s ability to win pucks back in transition and extend offensive zone shifts with possession have factored into the success, too. Plus there’s the legendary passing ability that’s already secured his eventual spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

That line set the tone in the rubber match of a three-game set with Ottawa that had been much tighter than the Leafs cared for through the first two games.

“I just thought they had a lot of motion, a lot of movement,” Keefe said. “They were very much in sync in terms of how they supported one another and how they moved the puck. And then of course just the skillset that goes with all of those elements.”

Thornton’s three points bumped his season total to eight in his first eight games with the Leafs. At 41 years and 231 days, he wiped away Carl Brewer’s Jan. 7, 1980 record for the oldest Toronto player to have that many points in a game (Brewer was 41 years, 78 days).

“It’s unbelievable, both what he brings in the locker-room and on the ice is huge for us,” said teammate William Nylander. “A lot to learn from the guy. He’s performing every night.”

Thornton could prove to be big value for a cap team this season while playing on a league-minimum $700,000 contract. Of most importance to the Leafs in the near term is how much jump he had following the painful rib injury, and how well he navigated the busy schedule upon his return.

It was clear Keefe didn’t feel the need to keep him on a pitch count. He saw 39 total shifts in the Wednesday and Thursday games.

“I felt fine,” Thornton said. “I think it’s good for me to get a bunch of games in a row like this and just kind of get my timing back. I like rolling every other night and playing lots of games so I think it’s actually going to help me.”

Hockey players are a different breed and they don’t make too many like Thornton.

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Friends and family mourn Walter Gretzky at funeral in Brantford – Toronto Star

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The world’s most renowned hockey dad, remembered for having a “love for life” and being important to the “culture of Canada” by his legendary hockey son, was laid to rest on Saturday.

Walter Gretzky’s funeral took place at St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Brantford, Ont., but was significantly scaled back from anywhere near the scope and grandeur fitting the mark he left, with capacity limited to 30 per cent due to pandemic protocols.

“I don’t think I met a prouder Canadian than my dad,” Wayne Gretzky said of his father. Dozens of community members, including throngs of youngsters donning hockey uniforms, gathered outside the church, located near the home where Gretzky raised his family.

Wayne told the sombre gathering of family and friends that his father, who suffered a brain aneurysm in the early 1990s and had a decade-long battle with Parkinson’s disease, had sustained a bad hip injury a few weeks ago.

Gretzky clung to life for 21 days, with his family sitting with him, similar to how he fought after numerous other debilitating health complications over the years. He died March 4. He was 82.

“We thought weeks ago that the end was here,” Wayne told the mourners. “He had a love for life and he didn’t want to leave.”

Wayne called his late father a remarkable man who had a “heart of gold.” He said the world would be better off if there were many more people like him.

“It’s been a tough time,” Wayne said.

He thanked the community for leaving food and sandwiches as the family waited for the worst.

Wayne told a fond story about how his father missed the birth of one of his sons, Brent, so that the two of them could attend a tournament in Whitby.

When bothered by family and friends about missing the birth of his boy, an irritated Gretzky responded, “Yes, but we got the trophy,” Wayne recounted.

“Every grandchild loved him,” Wayne said describing Walter’s close relationship to his grandchildren. “They understand how important he was, not only to our family but to the culture of Canada.”

Gretzky was remembered as a man of faith who cherished family, hockey and church. The gathering also heard how he treated everyone equally and was willing to volunteer his time and raise money for charities.

“Walter was great with kids, our kids, and all those kids he coached in minor league over the years, and those kids who came up to him for an autograph,” said Tim Dobbin, the former parish priest at St. Mark’s who presided over the funeral.

People lift hockey sticks to pay their respects across the street where Walter Gretzky's funeral service was being held in Brantford, Ont., on Saturday, March 6, 2021.

Wayne tweeted the news of his father’s death on behalf of the family late Thursday:

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“He bravely battled Parkinson’s and other health issues these last few years but he never let it get him down … He was truly the Great One and the proudest Canadian we know. We love you Dad.”

Walter Gretzky rose from humble beginnings to become the patriarch of this country’s most legendary hockey family.

Wayne honed his skills in a backyard rink that Walter built for his children and neighbourhood kids. It was dubbed “Wally Coliseum.” That’s where he taught his sons the basics of the game.

Walter was born on the family farm in Canning, Ont., in 1938, where his mom made “good, old country Polish food,” including perogies that were “second to none,” he wrote in his autobiography, “On Family, Hockey and Healing.” His father, from Russia, specialized in making wine.

Wayne Gretzky (centre) poses with the Stanley Cup with father Walter and brother Glen after the Edmonton Oilers won the Stanley Cup in Edmonton, May 19, 1984.

Walter went to work for Bell Canada as a technician after finishing school, and is reported to have lost hearing in one ear after an on-the-job injury. He stayed with the company until 1991, when he retired after 34 years.

Wayne had barely learned to walk when Walter had him out on his backyard patch of ice, teaching him to skate.

His eldest son became a child phenomenon at hockey, annually scoring hundreds of goals and skating rings around older, stronger kids.

Walter also coached two other sons. Keith Gretzky is assistant general manager of the Oilers. Brent Gretzky played 13 games in the NHL, all with Tampa Bay, and played a season in the Maple Leafs system when the top farm team was in St. John’s, N.L.

Friends recalled that Walter was also an astute coach of other boys in the Brantford minor hockey system, including former Boston Bruins tough guy Stan Jonathan.

Kids at the 2007 Wayne Gretzky international hockey tournament in Brantford knew where to go for an autograph.

In 2007, he was named to the Order of Canada, recognized for his contributions to minor hockey and support for numerous charities and non-profits, including the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

In 2010, he carried the Olympic torch hours before the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Winter Games.

That same year, an elementary school in Brantford was named in his honour.

Walter Gretzky’s wife, Phyllis, died in 2005. He leaves behind daughter Kim and sons Wayne, Keith, Glen and Brent.

With files from Star staff

Jason Miller is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering crime and justice in the Peel Region. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach him on email: jasonmiller@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @millermotionpic

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Large hits three-run homer, Jays beat Phillies – TSN

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DUNEDIN — Cullen Large belted a three-run home run to lead the Toronto Blue Jays past the Philadelphia Phillies 7-1 in exhibition baseball action Saturday.

Large’s blast anchored a five-run inning for Toronto, which finished with 10 hits in a contest that was halted in the seventh.

Kirby Snead (1-0) took the win, allowing no hits and no runs over a 1 1/3 innings. He had a strikeout while issuing two walks.

Toronto used six pitchers in the game. The Blue Jays, who’ve won two straight, face the Detroit Tigers on Sunday.

Toronto also claimed right-hander Joel Payamps off waivers from the Boston Red Sox while designating right-hander Jacob Waguespack for assignment.

Toronto claimed Payamps from Boston on Feb. 11 but the Red Sox claimed him back 11 days later. The six-foot-two, 225-pound pitcher has made four career major-league appearances, allowing three earned runs over seven innings.

Payamps was originally signed by the Colorado Rockies in 2010 and has compiled a 41-43 record and 4.15 earned-run average in 145 minor-league games.,

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2021.

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Full transcript: Wayne Gretzky eulogizes his late father Walter – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Wayne Gretzky paid tribute to his late father Walter on Saturday in a heartfelt eulogy during the Gretzky patriarch’s funeral in Brantford, Ont. Below is a complete transcript of the eulogy, as transcribed by CTVNews.ca, edited for length and clarity.

Wayne Gretzky: Obviously, with the pandemic that we’ve had, it’s been horrible for everyone throughout the world, Canada, North America. I really want to tell everyone that my dad and my sister and our family were so conscious of it and that COVID had nothing to do with the passing of my father. Unfortunately, a few weeks ago, he sustained a bad hip injury and, as I said earlier, we thought weeks ago that the end was here. He has a tremendous amount of faith. Faith like I’ve never seen, but he had a love for life and he didn’t want to leave. And we were 21 days sitting with him, and just enjoying life and we got a chance, an opportunity to tell stories.

Our grandchildren have… seen my dad after his brain aneurysm, and we were telling them all you’re thankful that you didn’t know him before his brain aneurysm because he was a lot tougher. So it’s been a tough time. I want to thank everyone in the community who dropped off food, who dropped off sandwiches, they knew we were all there for 21 days. My sister was a champ, she was beside him, each and every minute of the day. The grandkids were wonderful. My dad and mom, I know are so proud. So I thought I would tell a couple stories.

I spent the last four nights talking with my wife Janet, thinking what I was going to say and, like I usually do, I try to just kind of wing it and speak from my heart. So years ago, as everyone knows, my dad was such a huge sports fan and hockey guy, and we were playing in a hockey tournament outside of Toronto, and my dad was so proud of the fact we’re going to play against better teams than little towns in this area. On a Friday night, we were going to the tournament and my mom said, ‘No. Walter, we’re going to have this baby this weekend.’ And he said, ‘That’s OK, you can wait till we get back.’

So, Brent was born on the Saturday. We went to this tournament in Whitby, Ontario. We played against good teams like Burlington, Oshawa, Hamilton, Toronto Marlies, Nationals. We won the tournament, we got in the car and we weren’t sure if the car to get us back from Oshawa to Brantford. So we finally got back, and the next day, mom came home with Brent, people were coming by — families, friends, sisters — congratulations on the baby, and every single person would say to my dad, ‘Walter, I can’t believe you missed the birth of your son.’ So our next door neighbour Mary Rosetto came over and she was the last person to come over. She said, ‘Walter, I can’t believe you missed the birth of Brent,’ and when she walked out the door he was so mad, he stood up and grabbed the trophy and he goes, ‘Yes, but we got the trophy.’

So, as time goes on, he was so nice to all the grandchildren. Every grandchild loved him, close to each and every one of them. They understood how important he was not only to our family but to the culture of Canada. He came here, his family as an immigrant. They came here because he wanted a better life. I don’t think I’ve ever met a prouder Canadian than my dad. And all my five children are American, born in United States, and I always tell them you should be as proud of the United States as your grandfather is of Canada, because that’s how much he loves the country.

I always tell my kids there’s nothing better in life than family. My dad would come every year to our summer house. My sons Ty, Trevor, Tristan they had a hockey school and dad would come out, he’d go to the rink, sign autographs like he always does. We were playing golf one day, and he’s picking up golf balls. And I’m like, ‘We have all these golf balls, what are these golf balls for?’

And finally the next day, Ty, Trevor, and Tristan, my friend Mike and Tom, they’re in the fairway, they’re in the rough, they’re grabbing all these balls. And I finally grab them, I said, ‘You guys got to stop grabbing golf balls.’ And they’re like, ‘What do you mean? Your dad wants them for the kids.’ I said, I know he wants them for the kids, but I got to sign them for the kids.’ So I take my dad to the airport at 5 a.m., sure enough we get to the airport and there’s two big bags, and my brother Glen he runs out of the car, he’s going to get a cup of coffee, and my dad goes, ‘You’ll sign these for the kids, right?’ I’m like, ‘Oh my god.’ So there I was signing for hours, but that’s how he was.

He was a remarkable man who loved life, love family. We’d be a way better world if there was so many more people like my dad. Very special. We’re all hurting, this is a tough time. I’m so proud of the fact that so many people have reached out and given him such great tributes because he deserves it. He has a heart of gold and just wonderful. Thank you.

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