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Leafs’ Dubas goes ‘above and beyond’ in support of Mikheyev after scary injury

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WINNIPEG — Imagine for a second how Ilya Mikheyev must have felt.

The sheer panic and terror that would come with having an artery and tendons in your right wrist severed by a skate blade. But also the fear and loneliness that would set in after surgery when you woke up in hospital, in a foreign country, several thousand kilometres from your closest family and friends.

That’s why Mikheyev’s camp is so grateful for the way Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas handled his freak accident last Friday night in New Jersey. Dubas went to great lengths to ensure Mikheyev was as comfortable as possible from the moment he left Prudential Center in an ambulance, to when he landed back in Toronto on Monday afternoon.

“Kyle went above and beyond his duty,” Dan Milstein, the player’s agent, told Sportsnet in an interview.

That included not only spending the better part of three days keeping him company in hospital, but also going out to personally buy him clothes and other personal effects, according to Milstein.

When asked why he chose to stay behind with the player, Dubas credited his wife Shannon for the idea. They spoke in the aftermath of Friday’s incident — which saw Mikheyev lose a frightening amount of blood after being cut by Jesper Bratt’s skate — and Dubas’s wife pointed out that if roles were reversed and it was their son going through something similar in Russia, that they’d want every assurance he was being properly cared for.

So the second-year Leafs GM cancelled a scouting trip, cleared his calendar and joined assistant athletic trainer Jon Geller at the New Jersey hospital two nights after Christmas.

Once Mikheyev came out of surgery and got some rest, they filled the hours watching sports together. That included Russia’s 6-0 win over Canada at the world junior tournament and the Leafs’ 5-4 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday night.

Dubas said they probably watched more soccer than hockey, too.

Mikheyev is still getting comfortable with the English language — he understands more than he’s able to speak — and was really starting to find his footing near the midway point of his first NHL season. He had been elevated to the top-six on a line with John Tavares for that game in New Jersey and scored his eighth goal and 23rd point before having his night ended abruptly.

The 25-year-old is now pain-free and in remarkably good spirits, according to Milstein, despite being given a strict 90-day period of recovery where he’s not allowed to put pressure on his right hand while the tendons heal. That will keep him from being able to grip a stick or shoot a puck until near the end of March.

“I would imagine on the 91st (day) you might see him on the ice,” said Milstein.

He’s been joined in Toronto by parents Natalia and Andrey, who arrived Sunday for a pre-planned three-week visit where they intended to watch him play a live NHL game for the first time. His girlfriend Kristina has also returned from Russia after spending time there over the holidays.

Mikheyev was delivered back into their care Monday after being discharged from hospital and flying back with Dubas and Geller. The Leafs maintained regular communication with the family throughout the surgery and everything that came afterwards.

It was a happy homecoming for the man affectionately known by fans as “Soup” or “Souperman” because of an interview he did earlier this season where he said that was the thing he missed most about home. His NHL experience has been overwhelmingly positive despite the challenges in front of him. He’s already garnered a cult following within the Leafs fanbase, too.

“He’s still in the pinch-me mode,” said Milstein. “He loves it, he enjoys every moment of it. He feels that Toronto is his second home.”

The agent has KHL free agents currently drawing significant NHL interest for next season and has made sure they’re all aware of the humanity the Leafs exhibited with Mikheyev, telling them: “You should know how Toronto took care of this particular accident.”

Milstein has done a lot of busiess with the Leafs organization, dating back to Lou Lamoriello’s time running the front office.

He had clients Nikita Zaitsev and Igor Ozhiganov leave the KHL to sign in Toronto, negotiated a seven-year extension for Zaitsev with Lamoriello and then saw Dubas honour the player’s subsequent trade request by dealing him to Ottawa last July.

What Milstein appreciates most about doing business with them is the personal touches. The Leafs have senior director of player evaluation Jim Paliafito on the ground in Russia throughout the year and make a concerted effort to build relationships with players and their families through multiple face-to-face visits.

The way Dubas handled the Mikheyev situation took it to another level.

“I’ve been saying this since long ago: The Maple Leafs as an organization, the way they recruit is almost like college recruiting,” said Milstein. “Many (other) teams would say ‘Yeah, well they can afford to do it.’

“But caring for somebody and treating people like this doesn’t cost any money. Showing support, showing you care, is about a lot more than money.”

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Time check! Khabib Nurmagomedov, Justin Gaethje will fight at UFC 254 around 4:15 p.m. ET today – MMA Mania

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We are just hours away from one of the biggest lightweight battles in recent UFC history as undefeated champion Khabib Nurmagomedov meets interim titleholder Justin Gaethje for the undisputed belt this afternoon (Sat., Oct. 24, 2020) at UFC 254 live on ESPN+ PPV from inside Flash Forum on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi.

Nurmagomedov, who is currently 12-0 in UFC competition, is hoping to push his overall MMA record to 29-0 with a win over “Highlight.” It won’t be easy, though, even for a dominant champion like Khabib. That’s because “Eagle” will be competing for the first time in over 13 months, the first time without his father by his side, and the first time in front of no fans. It will be a shock to say the least, but one that Nurmagomedov should be able to handle.

Gaethje, who destroyed Tony Ferguson this past May to claim the interim strap, is hoping to pull off the biggest upset in recent UFC history. The “Most Violent Man in the Sport” has all the ingredients to take it to Khabib and give him his toughest test to date, but it’s all going to come down to whether or not Gaethje can keep his back off the cage and feet on the ground. If he can do that and utilize his elite collegiate wrestling background then maybe Gaethje can actually pull it off.

It will be a lightweight title fight for the ages, but when exactly should fight fans expect Khabib and Gaethje to step inside of the cage on a loaded PPV card smack dab in the middle of the day?

With five other fights taking place on the PPV main card starting at 2:00 p.m. ET, Khabib vs. Gaethje is likely to begin sometime around 4:30 p.m. ET. The co-main event will showcase a middleweight scrap between former UFC champion Robert Whittaker and rising contender Jared Cannonier, which could very well end in spectacular fashion early. Mix in a heavyweight class between Alexander Volkov and Walt Harris, as well as a rematch between light heavyweight finishers Magomed Ankalaev and Ion Cutelaba, and UFC 254 might move along quicker than anticipated.

If things run early/late Mania will be sure to provide an updated start time for today’s Khabib vs. Gaethje main event.

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 254 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 11:00 a.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN+/ESPN2 at 12 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN+.

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Dodgers rake in any count, and other takeaways from their Game 3 win – theScore

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The Los Angeles Dodgers retook control of the World Series on Friday, besting the Tampa Bay Rays 6-2 in Game 3 behind a brilliant effort from Walker Buehler and more timely hitting from their potent lineup en route to a 2-1 series lead. Here are a few takeaways from their Game 3 victory.

Dodgers hitters excel in any count

The Dodgers’ preposterously deep and star-studded lineup excels in so many ways. No team, for instance, hit for more power than Los Angeles during the abbreviated 2020 regular season. No team made quality contact at a higher rate, either. And no team did a better job hitting with two strikes.

Highest weighted-on base average (wOBA) with two strikes, 2020

TeamwOBA
LAD.271
SF.268
ATL.253
SD.252
NYY.250

(Courtesy: Baseball Savant)

The club’s collective knack for two-strike hitting has been on display throughout the postseason – half of Mookie Betts’ hits through Game 2 of the World Series came in two-strike counts, as did Cody Bellinger’s go-ahead home run in Game 7 of the NLCS – but never more so than in Friday’s victory.

Of the Dodgers’ 10 hits in Game 3, all but three came with two strikes, including all four of their most impactful hits by win probability added: Justin Turner’s solo shot off Charlie Morton in the first; Max Muncy’s two-run single in the third; Betts’ run-scoring single in the fourth; and Austin Barnes’ unexpected, lead-padding homer off John Curtiss in the sixth. The bulk of that damage was done off Morton, who allowed just one run through his first three postseason starts, and, more germanely, held hitters to a .170/.207/.284 line in two-strike counts this year.

Ultimately, Game 3 further evinced how difficult the Dodgers’ lineup is to navigate for opposing pitchers, not only due to its abundance of All-Stars and former MVPs, but because the team’s hitters, almost to a man, are comfortable hitting while behind in the count. Even with two strikes on them, they refuse to expand the zone, continuing to get off quality swings and produce.

Turner gets his moment

No player embodies the Dodgers’ ongoing futility in October like Clayton Kershaw. But Justin Turner, their venerable third baseman, has also been around for most of the recent heartbreak. And just like Kershaw had his moment in Game 1, and his memory to savor should the Dodgers finally end their championship drought this year, Turner has made his mark, too, following a 2-for-5, two-run effort highlighted by that first-inning homer, which tied him with Duke Snider for the most (11) in Dodgers postseason history.

Prior to Friday, Turner’s postseason had been somewhat of a disappointment. Through his first 14 contests, the Dodgers’ No. 3 hitter in each of those games had slashed just .216/.328/.353, a far cry from his robust regular-season numbers. Meanwhile, Turner had recorded a negative win probability added in all but four games, a byproduct of his struggles during run-scoring opportunities. To date, he’s hitting just .118 with runners in scoring position this postseason, and the veteran has driven in only three runs in 17 such at-bats.

Suddenly, however, Turner’s postseason is no longer a disappointment. He’s now poised, should the Dodgers pull this off, to be one of the heroes, which would be well deserved considering how important the 35-year-old has been to this powerhouse franchise.

Arozarena struggling with offspeed diet

Until the ninth inning of Game 3, the Dodgers had all but silenced Randy Arozarena, the rookie phenom who hit .382/.433/.855 with seven home runs through the first three rounds of the postseason. Much of that damage came off fastballs, and he’s generally experienced far more success against fastballs than any other pitch type throughout his nascent career.

So the Dodgers decided to feed the prodigious 25-year-old a steady diet of offspeed and breaking pitches. Through the first two games of the World Series, as Arozarena notched just one measly infield single in six at-bats (albeit with three walks), fastballs accounted for less than a quarter of the pitches he saw.

SplitFB%wOBA
WC + LDS + LCS41.5%.513
WS Gms 1+224.1%.281

That approach continued to pay dividends for the Dodgers in Game 3. Walker Buehler’s fastball is electric, but he threw Arozarena just four heaters over three plate appearances (and only two inside the strike zone), resulting in a three-pitch strikeout, a flyout to deep center, and another strikeout. And that fourth-inning flyout, which rocketed off Arozarena’s bat at 100.5 miles per hour and produced an expected batting average of .760, came off a fastball.

Yet, with two outs in the ninth inning and a four-run lead, deposed closer Kenley Jansen deviated from the plan that had been so effective to that point in the series, throwing Arozarena six straight fastballs while trying to secure the game’s final out. He failed.

Jansen opted to just let it eat, as he does – nine out of every 10 pitches Jansen throws is some kind of fastball, either a cutter or a sinker – and got burned for it, serving up a poorly located 3-2 cutter that Arozarena deposited into the left-field seats for his record-tying eighth postseason home run. It was also the game’s hardest-hit ball, with an exit velocity of 111.3 mph.

And as disheartening as it might’ve been for Jansen, it was an instructive at-bat for Los Angeles. Not only did it validate the Dodgers’ game plan and reinforce how untenable it is to throw Arozarena fastballs in the zone right now, but it also illustrated why Jansen is a poor matchup for the burgeoning star. His one-dimensional repertoire makes him particularly vulnerable against Arozarena, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts should avoid using him in high-leverage spots for the remainder of the series if the outfielder is due up.

Bold strategy, Dave

The vulnerability of the Dodgers’ bullpen looms large over this series. As such, it was a bit curious to see Roberts use three of his most trusted relievers – Jansen, hard-throwing rookie Brusdar Graterol, and ground-ball extraordinaire Blake Treinen – to close out a somewhat lopsided game, potentially limiting their availability (and/or reducing their effectiveness) over the next couple of games.

On one hand, neither Graterol nor Treinen had pitched since the NLCS finale, and Jansen hadn’t appeared since Game 6 of that series, so they were overdue for some work. However, one or more of them could now be asked to pitch on three consecutive days after not doing that during the regular season, which generally seems ill-advised, especially with the three-batter rule in place.

This may end up being a non-issue, but if any of those three falter over the next couple of days, it’ll be hard not to look back at Game 3 and wonder why, say, Victor Gonzalez, Jake McGee, and/or Dylan Floro weren’t asked to handle the late innings with the Dodgers staked to a comfortable lead.

Jonah Birenbaum is theScore’s senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.

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Javier Mendez theorizes Justin Gaethje ‘second-biggest threat’ to Khabib Nurmagomedov after Conor McGregor – MMA Fighting

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Khabib Nurmagomedov faces a dangerous opponent this weekend, but the biggest challenge to his lightweight supremacy may already be in his rear-view mirror.

That’s how head coach Javier Mendez sees it, at least until he gets to see Nurmagomedov actually defend his title against Justin Gaethje this Saturday at UFC 254. Until then, any threat measurement is strictly theoretical and with that being the case, Mendez still considers Conor McGregor to have been Nurmagomedov’s toughest test yet.

“I thought when I looked at [Gaethje], I was thinking probably the second biggest threat [to Nurmagomedov] because I still to this day believe Conor was,” Mendez said at a media day in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. “And the reason why I believe Conor was is because of that precision striking. But Justin could easily prove me wrong and prove to be the toughest test we’ve ever had. We’ve yet to see that. But I know we’ve already seen Conor and that’s why I would say Conor.

“If you think about it, who’s won a round against Khabib? Conor. And whose given Khabib a tough time—The first round, he took Conor down, but how much damage did Khabib give him? No, Conor was very good there, so I have to give it to Conor for that. I haven’t seen Justin. Obviously, if I’ve seen Justin already and we fought him already and we are victorious like I’m hoping, then I can tell you 100 percent he was the toughest. Right now, I think in theory he’s number two.”

Nurmagomedov successfully defended his lightweight title against McGregor at UFC 229 in October 2018, an event that stands as the most successful pay-per-view in UFC history. Despite McGregor becoming the first UFC fighter to take a round from Nurmagomedov, it was “The Eagle” that triumphed via neck crank submission in round four.

Mendez admitted that up until recently he hadn’t focused too much on Gaethje’s exploits. It wasn’t until Gaethje’s one-sided win over Tony Ferguson this past May that Mendez really took notice.

“Long story short, I didn’t really pay attention to him until he dismantled Tony,” Mendez wrote. “Because now he was real, now he’s in front of us. So then I paid attention and I saw how great he actually is and what a challenge he is. That’s when I really paid attention.”

Pundits have pointed to Gaethje’s striking, inhuman endurance, and grappling defense as factors to consider when picking him for a potential upset. “The Highlight” has only lost twice in 24 pro bouts and 19 of his victories have come by way of knockout.

Gaethje himself has suggested that he needs to keep the fight standing and in the center of the octagon otherwise he’s “screwed,” but Mendez isn’t convinced that it will be that simple. Based on what he knows about Gaethje now, he doesn’t expect that anything Nurmagomedov does will break Gaethje’s will.

“Absolutely not,” Mendez said. “That guy ain’t quitting for nothing. That guy’s a true warrior. He ain’t quitting. You’ve got to kill him to stop that guy. Both of those guys. No, it goes in the middle, it goes on the cage, he’s fighting, he’s giving it all. You’ve seen what type of person he is. You’ve seen what kind of great warrior he is, you’ve seen the mentality he has. How can you not love him? You have to respect him. If you don’t love him, you have to respect him.

“Obviously, my job is I’m Khabib’s coach and I love him and I want him to win and we’re doing everything we can, but Justin is as incredible as they come in every department. Mental, physical, how he approaches the fight game, how he acts, he’s great everywhere.”

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