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Manitoba allows Jets to play home game in province this season –



The NHL’s one-time-only, all-Canadian division has cleared its final hurdle.

Next stop, puck drop.

The Manitoba government said Friday it will allow the Winnipeg Jets to play home games during the COVID-19 pandemic, joining Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia in giving the NHL’s plan to resume action north of the border this season the thumbs up.

Manitoba announced a minor modification to current public health orders, allowing professional hockey games to be played.

The approval came the same day the Dallas Stars closed their facility after six players and two staff members tested positive for COVID-19. The Columbus Blue Jackets, meanwhile, said Friday a number of players didn’t practise “out of an abundance of caution and in accordance with NHL Covid-19 protocols.”

Due to border restrictions related to non-essential travel and the current 14-day quarantine, Canada’s seven franchises will only play against each other in the newly-minted North Division this season, which begins Wednesday, instead of crossing into the United States. The same goes for the first two rounds of the playoffs.

There will be no fans present for games in Canadian NHL arenas, at least to start the schedule, while players and team staff have to adhere to a number of protocols when on the road — which include being restricted to the hotel and rink.

Players are being tested daily for the novel coronavirus during training camp. That will continue for at least the first four weeks of the regular season, but there is still increased risk when compared to the tightly-controlled bubbles the NHL employed to resume the 2019-20 campaign in Toronto and Edmonton this summer.

Ontario sport minister Lisa MacLeod announced Thursday the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs were good to host games in 2021, posting on Twitter: “This approval was granted after close scrutiny of the rigorous health and safety protocols that will be adopted to keep players, staff and our communities safe from the spread of COVID-19.”

The other three provinces had previously given consent, although Quebec Premier Francois Legault had to reiterate earlier this week the Canadiens would be permitted to play in Montreal despite his government instituting a curfew from Saturday through Feb. 8 in hopes of curbing the spread of COVID-19.

“The people from the Canadiens have had long discussions with public health,” Legault said Wednesday. “I think Quebecers want … to see hockey games.

“It’s done completely safely, and they have the means to pay for that safety.”

And while NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Dec. 24 the league believed it had an agreement in place to hold games in Canada, none of the five provinces in question — which each had to sign off — provided formal confirmation until Dec. 31.

Alberta released a statement to The Canadian Press on New Year’s Eve saying it had greenlighted games for the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers six days earlier, while Manitoba and B.C. both indicated their jurisdictions were still holding discussions.

B.C. eventually gave its blessing Sunday, Quebec followed suit Monday and Ontario did the same Thursday before Manitoba rounded things out Friday.

The federal government previously gave the start of training camps the go-ahead and also the waived its 14-day quarantine rule under “national interest grounds” in favour of a modified plan for players and team staff returning to the country.

The Leafs and Canadiens open the shortened 56-game season Wednesday at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena before the Oilers host the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place later that evening. The Jets begin their schedule by welcoming the Flames the following night at Bell MTS Place, while Ottawa gets started Jan. 15 at Canadian Tire Centre against Toronto.

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Player grades: McDavid's brilliance not quite enough as Edmonton Oilers drop a tight one in T.O. – Edmonton Journal



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#56 Kailer Yamamoto, 7. Robbed by Andersen in the early going off a great Draisaitl feed, though if he could have found the upper half of the net it likely would have been a different story. Was all over the puck again, winning an important shorthanded puck battle against Morgan Rielly to feed the disc into Draisaitl’s territory and earn his fifth point of the young season. Had a few other chances of his own but failed to hit the target. Blocked 4 shots at the other end, which is to say 3 more than all the other forwards combined. Has been like a dog on a bone around the puck all season.

#63 Tyler Ennis, 6. His standout moment was a great stretch pass to send Puljujarvi in on a breakaway. A couple of shots of his own. Drew a penalty.

#74 Ethan Bear, 6. A solid night on the back end, though his ice time was down a tad at 18:12. Earned an assist, firing a point shot that McDavid was able to deflect home from the slot. 3 hits and some decent puck movement.

#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 7. A key part of the dominant McDavid unit, which had the puck on a string for much of the night. Earned an assist with a good puck recovery and pass that led to the McDavid tally early in the third. Involved in 5 Oilers Grade A chances and was clean at the other end, unless you want to consider a lost battle at centre ice that led to Marner’s empty netter with under a second on the clock. Played 22:39 but an unusual 0:00 on the penalty kill, which in retrospect may have been a mistake.

#97 Connor McDavid, 8.Best player on the ice for either team. Had one early issue when he was caught puckwatching as Wayne Simmonds swooped in for an early chance, but more than made up for that by later contributing to 11 (eleven) of Edmonton’s 17 chances on the night, with 7 of those Grade A shots coming off his own stick. Indeed his 7 shots were 3 more than any other player on either team. Burst around the defence for one close in jam shot and a behind-the-back rebound. Robbed by a superb Andersen glove grab when he pounced on Koekkoek’s rebound that had the Oilers’ ace smiling in disbelief. Hammered a one-timer from centre slot that the  Leafs netminder rejected, Oilers’ best powerplay chance of the night. Scored the 2-2 goal on a superb mid-air deflection. 9/17=53% on the dot. Edmonton dominated the shot clock to the tune of 16-4 during his 19 minutes at 5v5.

Recently at the Cult of Hockey

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Follow me on Twitter @BruceMcCurdy

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Jets trading Laine, Roslovic to Blue Jackets for Dubois in blockbuster –



Two teams with disgruntled superstars have completed one of the more significant blockbusters in recent NHL history.

On Saturday morning, the Winnipeg Jets traded star winger Patrik Laine and centre Jack Roslovic to the Columbus Blue Jackets for star centre Pierre-Luc Dubois and a third-round pick in 2022. Laine, Roslovic and Dubois had all requested a trade in recent months.

“Pierre-Luc has been an important part of our team the past four seasons, but this was the right time for both parties to move in a different direction,” said Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen in a statement. “Strengthening our lineup offensively has been a priority for us and the additions of Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic accomplish just that.”

It’s no exaggeration to say this trade will define these franchises for years to come. In Laine, the Blue Jackets get a perennial 40-goal scorer still coming into his prime while Dubois gives the Jets one of the best one-two punches down the middle behind Mark Scheifele.

The 22-year-old Dubois requested a trade shortly after signing a two-year, $10-million bridge contract just days before the season started and teams have been aggressive in their pursuit of him. Trade negotiations hit a fever pitch on Friday after Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella benched Dubois in Thursday’s overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens were some of the other teams who pitched trade offers to Blue Jackets GM Kekalainen.

In Dubois, the Jets get a six-foot-three centre with smooth hands and a nose for the net. Originally drafted third overall in 2016, Dubois has yet to hit his prime but still managed to score at least 48 points in each of his first three NHL seasons. His best season came in 2018-19, when he had 27 goals and 61 points.

Laine, also 22, had a long contract negotiation before the 2019-20 season and then found himself playing much of the season on the second line. Entering this season, the final year on his current contract, Laine’s representatives floated the idea that a change of scenery might be mutually beneficial.

When a trade didn’t come together during the off-season, Laine reported to the Jets and had a massive performance in the season opener, scoring twice – including the overtime winner – and adding an assist. Since breaking into the league in 2016-17, only eight players have more than Laine’s 140 goals.

Laine and Dubois were the second and third picks, respectively, in the 2016 NHL Draft. The Jets will retain 26 per cent of Laine’s contract to balance the money with Dubois’s salary.

Roslovic, 23, was a restricted free agent who agreed to a two-year contract with the Blue Jackets on Saturday. A native of Columbus, Roslovic returns home seeking a bigger opportunity after not being able to crack the top-two lines in Winnipeg over the past two-and-a-half seasons.

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Buffalo hopes rising as Bills turn back clock – The Globe and Mail



Buffalo Bills fans leave Bills Stadium as a mascot waves a flag after an NFL divisional round football game against the Baltimore Ravens on Jan. 16, 2021, in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Adrian Kraus/The Associated Press

On Saturday morning, Terry and Kim Pegula will board the Bills’ charter flight to Kansas City, he with lucky socks and her with cookies she baked for players and coaches. This has become a routine for the couple who own Buffalo’s beloved football franchise.

Terry has worn the same argyle socks every game day since Nov. 29 and since then the Bills have won eight straight. Kim started baking on Sunday mornings to burn off nervous energy, posting pictures on social media. Since this is Buffalo, hundreds of others began to do the same, sending her photos of their own pregame Oreo truffles, Snickerdoodles and white chocolate blondies.

This is something you have to understand about Bills fans. There is almost nothing they won’t do to celebrate their team, even leaping onto flaming folding tables after drinking too much beer.

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The devotion is born from a few things. Buffalo exudes the closeness of a small town, and is also a place where sports teams have mostly failed. The Bills last won a league championship in 1965 when they were in the old American Football League. Does that count? The Sabres have been in the NHL a half-century but haven’t won a Stanley Cup. Buffalo was also home to an NBA team that never won there or in the other two cities to which it has moved.

So it is understandable that the city and the NFL team’s followers – they call themselves the Bills Mafia – are delirious. With a victory over Kansas City on Sunday night, they will be the nearest they have been to winning a Super Bowl since January, 1994, when they lost a fourth consecutive NFL championship game. Most infamously when the field-goal kicker missed what would have been the game-winner with eight seconds left.

Buffalo Bills fans celebrate a touchdown during a game against the New York Jets, in Clarence, N.Y., on Sept. 13, 2020.

Libby March/The New York Times News Service

The Pegulas, who also own the Sabres, two professional lacrosse teams and an American Hockey League franchise, have lived in Buffalo since 1993 and bought the Bills in October, 2014. Kim was installed as their president.

“When you own a team, there is no manual,” she says cheerfully. “What we were taking on was completely unknown. We owned the Sabres, but with the NFL we were elevated to such a bigger stage.”

The season had already begun, so for the first year she went to games and tried to learn the inner workings of the league. She has since taken a more active approach, even sitting in on the pre-draft interview the team conducted with its star quarterback, Josh Allen.

Ms. Pegula has spent the past two weeks making plans in the event the Bills reach the Super Bowl. It has heightened her anxiety. All she wants is for Sunday’s game to be over, and for the city to be rocking afterward.

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The Bills Mafia formed in 2011, when three friends started a fan club as a joke. There are legions of followers now, but since this is Buffalo, they are no ordinary fans.

When quarterback Josh Allen’s grandmother died late last year, they raised $675,000 and donated it to a children’s hospital in her name. A week ago, when Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson suffered a concussion during a loss to the Bills, one Mafia member started a movement to donate to a charity of Jackson’s choice. Almost $500,000 has already been raised.

Dan Kanopski, the fellow who chipped in the first $25, says if he hadn’t done it someone else would have. He lives in Niagara Falls, and lost his job last year as part of the fallout from COVID-19.

“For the last year, the shining light for me has been the Bills,” Kanopski says.

Win or lose, Bills fans are irrepressible. Wolf Blitzer, the CNN anchor, grew up in Buffalo. On Jan. 6, the night of the elections in Georgia, he opened a segment with, “This just in. Go Bills!” Last week, he appeared on a Buffalo sports radio talk show and talked about the perils of being a fan.

“We have known some winning, but we have known a lot of losing, too,” he said.

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Dan Mitchell grew up Buffalo, but has lived in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the past 26 years. He recalls having his heart ripped out by the Bills when he was a kid. And later as an adult, too.

Last year after a few drinks he started a Bills fan podcast that now has more than 11,000 subscribers.

“No matter how hard the Bills are performing, my PTSD from them kicks in and I wonder when everything is going to go down the drain,” he says. “This is the culmination of everything I wanted this team to be. It’s a swan song of my fantasy.”

Greg Tranter was eight years old when he went to his first Bills game on Oct. 24, 1965. As he and his father watched from Row 28 in Section 14 at War Memorial Stadium, Jack Kemp threw two touchdowns and Wray Carlton ran for two others in a 31-13 romp over the Denver Broncos.

Buffalo Bills program.

Courtesy of Buffalo History Museum

The youngster went home with a bobblehead and a program that day, his romance with the team under way. He is 64 now and has been a Bills season-ticket holder since 1984, even though he’s lived in Boston the past 35 years.

In that time he’s missed three home games – one when his mother had cancer surgery, another when his wife had pneumonia, and the last for an important business meeting.

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A former insurance executive, Tranter donated more than 100,000 Bills artifacts he had collected since childhood to the Buffalo History Museum, for which he serves as president of the board of managers. An appraiser estimated the items’ combined value at more than US$1-million.

It includes the bobblehead and $4.50 ticket stub from that first game, the helmet that Scott Norwood wore when he missed the 47-yard field goal that would have won Super Bowl XXV, a box of Doug Flutie Flakes, a garden gnome, hand puppets, a snow blower and lapel pins shaped like footballs that Secret Service agents wore during the 1996 presidential campaign while protecting Kemp, the vice-presidential nominee to Robert Dole.

Tranter has programs from every Bills game played dating from their inaugural campaign in 1960 in the AFL and says he caused a ruckus watching from home this season as the Bills won 15 of 18 games.

“I am so excited, I am just blown away,” he says.

Tranter has been to every Bills Super Bowl, and he and three friends have tickets to the game on Feb. 7 in Tampa.They bought them early, without knowing if the Bills will be there, just in case.

If the Bills lose on Sunday, Tranter says he will probably sell his ticket, which cost him upward of US$7,000. The matchup he dreams about is Buffalo against Tampa Bay.

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“If we beat Tom Brady, it would make up for 20 years of misery,” Tranter says.

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