Spencer Knight, chosen by the Florida Panthers with the No. 13 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, has waited an entire year for another opportunity to represent the United States at the IIHF World Junior Championship.
This time, he’s expected to play a larger role for his country after not playing one minute in seven games as the third goalie in the rotation during a second-place finish at the 2019 World Junior Championship in Vancouver.
The 2020 WJC begins Thursday and runs through Jan. 5 at Ostravar Arena and Werk Arena in Czech Republic. The Group B bracket includes Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Russia and the United States.
“I learned a lot in Vancouver,” Knight said. “It was a huge stage with how much the tournament means to people. Just being in the locker room and knowing how much it takes to really get that far, getting all the way to the championship game, was great. Making sure you have all the little details in order are so important. Every practice, every game, just paying attention to the small things and then it begins to build.”
Knight has done his part to ensure the little things haven’t kept him down this season as a freshman for Boston College in Hockey East.
“He’s a student, very Type A, and knows his game better than anybody,” Boston College goaltending coach Mike Ayers said. “But what I find amazing about him is his ability to maintain his feet as long as he does. That’s pretty special because that’s hard to teach. His efficiency around the crease is good. He’s waiting for the shooter to shoot or make a decision, and his patience, drive and work ethic are top notch.”
Knight said the experience he gained at the 2019 WJC was great and has motivated him in his first college season. He’s 11-4-0 with a 1.73 goals-against average, .940 save percentage and four shutouts in 15 games.
Though Knight is expected to take on more of a leadership role as one of five returning players from the 2019 WJC, he’ll receive plenty of competition in goal from Isaiah Saville (Vegas Golden Knights) of the University of Nebraska Omaha in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and Dustin Wolf (Calgary Flames) of Everett in the Western Hockey League.
U.S. general manager John Vanbiesbrouck confirmed all three goalies will be part of the final 23-player roster in Czech Republic.
“I think you have to be respectful of each other but if we all compete to the best of our ability and make each other better, at the end of the day, whoever plays, that’s how the team improves,” Knight said. “We’re going to have the best goalie in net and whether that’s me, [Wolf], or Isaiah, we’re going to support each other. If everyone is pushing for that net, that’s a good thing and makes us all better.”
Knight (6-foot-3, 192 pounds) has started every game for Boston College while proving an ability to overcome adversity. After allowing six goals on 26 shots in a 6-2 loss to Providence on Oct. 25, Knight allowed 10 goals in his next 10 games (9-1-0).
“That game against Providence was probably the worst game he’s played,” Ayers said. “When I asked him what he wanted to do with the film, since we normally go through it, he said, ‘You know what, let’s just put that one away.’
“I actually thought it was a great way for him to just turn the page and from that point I think we found some things within his game that needed to get better, worked on that and he started to get more confident with those changes.”
Knight begins each game with good energy, which he said was key to his turnaround.
“I think you need to make sure you have energy entering the game right away and from the puck drop,” he said. “You want to be into it and be more on top of it, just really focus and dial it in. That’s kind of what I’ve changed from the beginning of the year.”
Vanbiesbrouck has been impressed with Knight’s ability and the experience he brings to the 2020 WJC.
“He had a time there where he struggled but overcame his own adversity, got back on the horse again for Boston College,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “People expect a lot out of him and he’s a first-round pick of the Florida Panthers, so with that comes a different set of expectations.
“But I don’t think that’ll affect Spencer because one of his best assets is between his ears. He’s a very sound thinker, has a good approach to the game. I can see that in him and believe he’s ready for this.”
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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)