Merry Christmas, kids.
In their first Next Gen game of the season, the Maple Leafs roared down the chimney and stuffed children’s stockings with a thrilling victory on Monday afternoon, beating the Carolina Hurricanes 8-6 in a wildly entertaining affair at Scotiabank Arena.
Follow the bouncing puck: The Leafs had an early 3-0 lead, gave up five goals in a row, were down 6-4 in the third period and then scored four in a row to take an improbable victory before a crowd of 19,176.
“New Year’s Eve, I think,” goaltender Frederik Andersen said when he was asked what he saw from his end as the Leafs mounted an otherwise unbelievable comeback. “Fireworks everywhere and it looked pretty. Incredible.”
A five-point night by Mitch Marner — tying his career high — was among the twinkling ornaments the Leafs put on their 11th win in 15 games under coach Sheldon Keefe.
Captain John Tavares set a team record when he had three points — two assists and a goal — in the opening five minutes 10 seconds, the quickest three points to start a game in Leafs history.
It was the Leafs’ first eight-goal game since Dec. 19, 2017, when they beat Carolina 8-1 in a similar afternoon game in Toronto.
Toronto enters the Christmas break with 44 points, entrenching them in second place in the Atlantic Division, and turkey dinner suddenly will taste a lot better on Wednesday.
Marner and Auston Matthews, playing on a line with Zach Hyman, were the catalysts as the Hurricanes’ two-goal lead evaporated.
A span of 59 seconds, starting at 11:01 of the third, sent the Leafs into the break with a cup of cheer and no lumps of coal.
Matthews made like Marner and hit No. 16 with a cross-ice spinorama pass, with Marner one-timing a shot past Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek.
At 11:54, Marner spotted Tyson Barrie in the slot and it was 6-6 when Barrie moved to his backhand to beat Mrazek.
Six seconds after the faceoff, Marner scored again. Marner’s ability to anticipate the next play has few equals in the National Hockey League, and so it was that Marner leapt from the circle, intercepted defenceman Trevor van Riemsdyk’s pass to Jake Gardiner and swept in on Mrazek, scoring on a forehand deke.
“Our adrenaline is pumping, our hearts are pumping, you’re fired up,” Marner said of the outburst. “The first one was a great pass by Matty, the second one a great play by Barrie to find that open spot and make that move. The third one I jumped through and saw their D-man have it, saw their other D-man folding out, and tried to get it. Lucky enough, I picked it off, got down the ice and was able to score.”
Lucky? We beg to differ, Mitch.
On goals by Jason Spezza, William Nylander and Tavares early in the first, the Leafs appeared to be well on their way.
But when Tavares chased starter James Reimer — the ex-Leaf was gone in favour of Mrazek after allowing three goals on seven shots — the Hurricanes recovered and took over.
Goals by Brock McGinn (shorthanded) and Martin Necas in the first period cut the Leafs lead to one heading into the intermission. Carolina picked up the theme in the second — getting three from Necas, Erik Haula and Andrei Svechnikov in a span of 64 seconds starting at 15:09 — as it took advantage of several Leafs defensive miscues to go up 5-3.
Matthews stemmed the flow at 2:35 of the third with his 24th goal; Haula scored his second at 5:58, and the air was sucked out of the building again.
But wait. Marner and Matthews took over. Pierre Engvall scored into an empty net with 1:40 remaining.
The Leafs’ comeback came 24 hours after the Toronto Raptors stunned the Dallas Mavericks, rallying from a 23-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win.
So, yes indeed, Merry Christmas from your friends at MLSE.
“Guys just believe in themselves,” Tavares said. “I think it’s huge. But I think when we move forward we know a lot of (the manner in which the Leafs won) wasn’t the recipe for the success in the long term. You have to find ways to win. It’s not always pretty.”
Keefe had no trouble peering at the victory in the bigger picture.
“We need wins, we need points,” Keefe said. “You give up the lead and the nature some of the goals (against), you don’t feel great about them.
“But we can’t forget about the good things that we did. We scored seven plus an empty netter and we had a terrific start against a very good team that we knew was going to come back.
“I think it’s part of our growth and trying to figure things out. That’s partially the reason why I didn’t call a timeout in that second period. It was a good time for our team to sort themselves out. I don’t really know in that second period that we did, but we found a way and our best players made big time plays.”
The Leafs are off until Friday night, when they take on the Devils in New Jersey.
They’re going to enjoy the break. No reason that Leafs Nation, with the way Keefe has this team going, shouldn’t either.
Sinclair to lead Canadian women’s team in her fourth Olympics
Christine Sinclair, the all-time international goal-scoring record holder, was named to her fourth Olympic squad on Wednesday and will headline a Canadian roster at the Tokyo Games that features a mix of veterans and youth.
Led by Sinclair, whose 186 goals for her country are the most by a female or male soccer player worldwide, Canada won medals at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and was the only nation to make the podium in both competitions.
“I am looking forward to doing whatever I can to help take this team back to the podium and make history again,” said Canadian captain Sinclair. “Our team is in a good spot, we are excited, we are hungry and we are ready to go.”
The 18-player roster features 12 members of the squad that competed at the 2016 Rio Games while a quintet including Vanessa Gilles, Jayde Riviere, Julia Grosso, Adriana Leon, and Evelyne Viens will be making their Olympic debuts.
Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan travelled to Rio in 2016 as an alternate.
Canada will kick off their Tokyo 2020 journey when they face Japan on July 21 and continue Group E play against Chile on July 24 and Britain on July 27.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)
Which of the Canadians Picked in the 2021 NFL Draft Will Thrive This Season?
It was a good NFL Draft for Canadian players in 2021.
Some four stars from north of the border were selected by NFL franchises in the free agency pick ‘em, and that is tied as the highest number of Canadians drafted in the 85-year history of the event.
Welcome to Miami, Jevon Holland— PFF College (@PFF_College) April 30, 2021
Of course, the hope is that these young talents are more than just filler and roster depth, but can any of the quartet make the breakthrough into the big time?
Here’s a look at which of the NFL’s newest Canadian additions can shine in 2021/22.
The defensive back was the number 36 pick in the Draft by the Miami Dolphins, who beat off a number of rivals in the hunt for the Coquitlam native.
A versatile defender, Holland is a former Jim Thorpe Award semi-finalist thanks to his exploits in the NCAA back in 2019 with the University of Oregon.
He sat out the 2020 campaign, but representatives from dozens of NFL teams were in town to watch Holland go through his paces at the Oregon Pro Day.
The 21-year-old is following in the footsteps of his father Robert, who turned out for the Detroit Lions, and he is expected to force his way into the starting line-up at the Dolphins. And, who knows, maybe Holland could go all the way in his first season, with Miami priced at +2500 in the Super Bowl 2022 American football odds.
When you’re six foot three, 205 pounds and still able to run 40 yards in 4.51 seconds, it goes without saying that you have the physical credentials to succeed in the NFL.
Benjamin St-Juste is the man that can, and he will bolster the roster at a Washington Football Team that will be looking to improve upon their playoff showing in 2020.
The 23-year-old may only have been a third-round pick, but he comes with a burgeoning reputation thanks to a successful time at the University of Minnesota. An All-Big Ten special mention in 2019, more than 50 NFL recruitment personnel attended the college’s pro day – largely to catch a glimpse of St-Juste going through his paces.
Both Brian Gutekunst and Jon Robinson made the trip but, in the end, it was Washington who snapped up the powerhouse from the Draft.
The third Canadian to be drafted in 2021 was Chuba Hubbard, who became the first Canadian running back to be selected from the Draft in 25 years.
It’s the Carolina Panthers who have taken a chance on the 22-year-old and with his credentials, you can see why. Hubbard finished eighth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in 2019 after a stellar campaign – he served up 2,094 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, an NCAA best. He was named the Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
While running backs are not the hottest of properties in the Draft, Hubbard provably has the talent to cross into the end zone with regularity – the Panthers might just have got their hands on an unheralded gem here.
With these three Canadians taking the step up to the NFL, the future of the sport north of the border looks in safe hands.
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)
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