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Maple Leafs Blue vs White game to be televised – Pension Plan Puppets

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Today the Maple Leafs announced that the scrimmage game set for Saturday night will be televised.

The game will be on both TSN and Sportsnet at 7 p.m. on Saturday, January 9. The expectation is that the main Leafs group at camp will be split up and augmented by the second group like they did for a more informal scrimmage this week.

They’ve got a guy you may have heard of, Joe Bowen, to call the game. And while it’s aired on television, it’s being produced by the Leafs and MLSE. Cheryl Pounder will do the colour, she is a former Olympian and CWHL player, and she has done colour on CBC’s coverage of the Olympics.

Also joining them will be the Marlies regular broadcast crew of Todd Crocker and Bob McGill as ice-level analysts. The Maple Leafs presenters Danielle Emanuele and Scott Willats will be around for pregame and intermission. Jayna Hefford, Chair of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association will be a guest. She has done intermission analysis for women’s tournaments in the past and is very insightful, so here’s hoping they get her thoughts on the game and the PWHPA

No information is available yet on which channels will carry the game.

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Canadiens cruise past Canucks 5-2 and pull into first place in Canadian Division – Montreal Gazette

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The Canadiens’ depth continues to be factor as veteran Corey Perry came off the taxi squad and scored in his first game as a Canadien to give Montreal a 2-0 lead in the second period.

Montreal caught a break when Canucks defenceman Olli Juolevi hit a post and Jesperi Kotkaniemi blocked a shot by Hoglander to start a 3-on-1, which ended wth Perry’s goal.

Tyler Toffoli, who fired wide on an open net on a feed from Perry earlier in the period, picked up an assist on the Perry goal. That gave him five goals and three assists in the Vancouver series.

Nick Suzuki, who was the player the Columbus Blue Jackets coveted when the Canadiens expressed an interest in acquiring Pierre-Luc Dubois, showed why Marc Bergevin was reluctant to make the trade. Suzuki opened the scoring with a quick shot on a pass from Brett Kulak, who picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and led the rush. It was Suzuki’s second goal of the season and he has a point in each of the Canadiens’ six games.

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Stanley Johnson turns the tides as Toronto’s defense recovers against the Miami Heat – Raptors Republic

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The game, as so many Toronto Raptors games do this season, was drifting out of reach like a released helium balloon. The Raptors had allowed the Miami Heat to fight back into the game during the third quarter, as Toronto’s previous offensive fluidity froze stiff and solid. The Raptors couldn’t break inside the arc. They came to rely on difficult shots. Sometimes they went in, as Chris Boucher hit a triple, then OG Anunoby a late-clock, side-step one of his own. Norman Powell hit a one-legged 18-foot (!) floater.

Such heroics kept the Heat at bay. But if Toronto couldn’t find a way to score against Miami’s zone, then they weren’t going to win the game. When the fourth quarter started, Andre Iguodala and Kendrick Nunn began to heat up for Miami, and the game seemed eerily similar to the first Toronto-Miami game, one in which the Raptors led for much of the game before eventually sputtering before the finish line.

Then Stanley Johnson made his mark.

First he hit a moonwalk triple as he slid back to the right corner and received a pass from the driving Terence Davis. It had been the first instance of paint penetration in what felt like hours; the Raptors had endured yet another stretch of three-plus minutes scoring in the third quarter that allowed the Heat to tie the game at 61-apiece, making this their fourth game of the season with such an ignominious stretch. Yet Johnson’s triple put the Raptors ahead by 11. Even more than that, it was Toronto’s first shot out of a solid offensive possession in the half-court for some time.

Johnson didn’t stop there. A minute later he saw Chris Boucher cutting along the baseline and knifed a pass through the zone for the dunk. To my eyes, it was one of the only baskets Toronto scored all game off a cut. Johnson wasn’t all that impressed with himself and explained it to me in simple terms.

They’re looking at the people they’re guarding or looking at the ball,” explained Johnson. “So Chris makes a cut, two people looking at the ball, I can throw it right between them.”

“That’s what we’re supposed to be doing. It’s not really difficult to beat a 2-3 zone. I think all of us have played against it our whole lives, but we got to stick to the script and do what we are supposed to do.”

A minute after that, Johnson caught the ball in the middle of the zone. That position had been Toronto’s only chance at good offense against the Heat’s zone throughout the night, and Johnson took advantage. He took one dribble, sucking in the wing defender, and immediately pivoted to hit Anunoby for an open triple, one of the five he hit on the night. Johnson only finished with three points and three assist, but his contributions came at a key point in the game, only a few nights after Toronto folded in a similar situation.

Toronto put the game away as the stars did the last of the heavy lifting. Anunoby flew for a dunk (an alley-oop, in fact, assisted by Jonson); Siakam took a charge; VanVleet stole the ball for a pick-six layup. But it was Johnson who held the team up in the moment when it seemed they may flounder.

Of course, Johnson may have kept the Raptors afloat offensively for one brief stretch, but the team as a whole was a mirror image of itself defensively. Entering the game, Nick Nurse was as curt and forthright as he has ever been with media members.

Normally you can walk out of there and say at least we were putting an effort out there,” said Nurse. “It’s too bad because I think we played really hard for about six or seven straight games. We were building and building and building and building, and it kind of culminated with that defensive effort against Dallas. And then there was just nothing there the other night. It’s hard to explain. It just happens.

But it’s unacceptable.”

Norman Powell said after the game that it constituted one of the two or three proper bouts of criticism Nurse gives per year. And, according to Powell, it was “definitely warranted.”

To the team’s credit, they responded to Nurse’s public prodding. Siakam played his best defensive game of the season. He played with effort and attention to detail, and with his physical gifts and incredible mind on the defensive end, he is able to stop almost any matchup. He switched freely from guards to bigs, and Toronto was all the better for it.

Siakam wasn’t alone. Aron Baynes played his best game of the season. He bullied Bam Adebayo on the defensive end and grabbed available rebounds with both hands. He finished with two blocks, six boards, and a made triple, as Toronto won his minutes by a solid five points. OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet returned to their brilliant defensive ways. In general, the team was itself again.

If you’re counting at home, Toronto now has two statement wins over good teams in the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat. Yes, ignore the fact that both teams were down approximately half the rotation. But the Raptors are rapidly becoming themselves again. And at 6-9 in the standings, the Raptors are only two games out of fifth place in the East.

The bad vibes that haunted Toronto’s early season may not be over, but it’s clear that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, if we aren’t already there. You can credit Stanley Johnson’s steady and timely play against the Heat as a key reason why the Raptors prevailed in this one, but so too has his solidification in the roster been a key reason why the Raptors may now be out of the tunnel.

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Hank Aaron, model of baseball consistency, made showing up for work a heroic gesture – The Globe and Mail

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Atlanta Braves’ Hank Aaron eyes the flight of the ball after hitting his 715th career homer in a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Atlanta on April 8, 1974.

The Associated Press

In the first of what would become a volume’s worth of hagiographical profiles written about him in Sports Illustrated, the scene is set with Hank Aaron arriving at spring training. It was 1956. Mr. Aaron was 22.

Mr. Aaron sauntered – the magazine’s word, not mine – up to the plate. He’d borrowed a bat from a teammate. He took no practice cuts. He stepped in and knocked the first three pitches out of the park.

Then he turned to no one in particular and said, “Ol’ Hank is ready.”

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No ballplayer in history was more ready for his moment than Henry Louis (Hank) Aaron. He didn’t just singlehandedly pulp the record books. He wasn’t just the best right-handed hitter in baseball history.

What made Mr. Aaron special was that he did those things while a good chunk of the paying public rooted against him, many in the ugliest terms imaginable. He turned the simple act of showing up for work each day into a heroic gesture.

Mr. Aaron’s family announced on Friday that he’d died. No cause of death was released. He was 86.

Just two weeks ago, reporters were on hand as he got the coronavirus vaccine. It was Mr. Aaron’s hope that seeing him get the shot would encourage other Black Americans to do likewise.

“I feel quite proud of myself for doing something like this,” Mr. Aaron told the Associated Press. “It’s just a small thing that can help zillions of people in this country.”

For the majority of his major-league career, the most remarkable thing about Mr. Aaron was how a player this good could be so unremarkable.

He wasn’t a preener or a showboat. He wasn’t a big, imposing man, or especially fast. When people talked about his superpower, it was his wrists. He had unusually large wrists, allowing him to throw the bat forward like a spinning airplane propeller.

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Like many others in his generation, Mr. Aaron came up poor in the Deep South. He taught himself to hit cross-handed – left hand over right. Because he couldn’t afford a bat or a ball, he honed his ability hitting bottle caps with whittled-down sticks.

Mr. Aaron began his pro career as a teenager in the Negro Leagues, five years after Jackie Robinson had broken Major League Baseball’s colour barrier.

He would later recall a team meal at a diner in Washington. After they’d finished, the waitstaff took their plates into the back and shattered them.

Atlanta Braves employees place flowers next to a portrait of Mr. Aaron outside Truist Park, in Atlanta on Jan. 22, 2021.

John Bazemore/The Associated Press

“If dogs had eaten off those plates, they’d have washed them,” Mr. Aaron said.

After a year, he signed with the Milwaukee (later Atlanta) Braves.

Mr. Aaron was not a name-up-in-neon performer. He didn’t put up circus numbers. His calling card was consistency. He had no good years or bad years. He had Hank Aaron-type years, every year.

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How consistent was he? Mr. Aaron got most-valuable-player votes in 19 consecutive seasons.

How underrated was he? Despite setting the all-time career marks in runs batted in, extra-base hits and total bases, he was only named MVP once.

Because the Braves weren’t nearly as great as he was, Mr. Aaron didn’t bob to the surface of the American imagination until he was 37 years old. That’s when he began closing in on Babe Ruth’s all-time home-run record.

Mr. Aaron hit his 600th homer in April, 1971. He wouldn’t pass the Babe’s mark – 714 – for nearly three seasons.

During that time, Mr. Aaron became the most famous, the most discussed and the most resented athlete in America.

The racial abuse he faced was medieval. He had to hire an assistant to sort his correspondence – a few fan notes and a great mountain of hate mail.

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The bile of his often anonymous persecutors was so overflowing, they started sending death threats to his assistant as well, because she was Jewish.

Some of the threats were so detailed the FBI advised Mr. Aaron to hire a bodyguard. For security reasons, he couldn’t stay in the same hotels as his teammates. He spent some nights bunking alone in empty ballparks. His children required their own protective details.

Mr. Aaron never showed much interest in Mr. Ruth’s record while he was reeling it in, but he refused to be cowed for going to work every night.

“It wasn’t just playing against Babe Ruth,” teammate Dusty Baker said later. “He was playing against parts of America.”

He hit his 713th homer on the second-to-last day of the 1973 season. That extended the chase another six excruciating months. During that time, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote his obituary, just in case.

Mr. Aaron broke the record on April 8, 1974 – the fourth game of the season. He drove the second pitch of an at-bat just over the left-field fence into the bullpen.

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The man who surrendered the hit, Los Angeles Dodgers starter Al Downing, had a long and laurelled career. But in that moment, Mr. Downing realized he’d become the answer to an obscure piece of bar trivia.

“If you don’t want to give up home runs,” Mr. Downing shrugged. “Don’t pitch.”

Most baseball fans can recall from memory Mr. Aaron’s loping run around the bases. His parents met him at the plate. Only once he’d laid his eyes on them did he seem excited.

Les Motes and his two-year-old daughter Mahalia leave flowers near the spot where a ball hit for a home run by Mr. Aaron, clearing the wall to break Babe Ruth’s career home run record in 1974.

John Bazemore/The Associated Press

Interviewed a short while later, Mr. Aaron appeared to take little joy in his achievement. The best he could come up with was, “Thank God, it’s over.”

Mr. Aaron played two more years, but his career effectively ended that night. He’d dragged baseball – some of it unwillingly – from one era into the next.

In retirement, Mr. Aaron became one of the game’s wise men. A consensus became to form around him – that he was the professional’s idea of how a professional ballplayer ought to comport himself.

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He worked for years in the front office of the Atlanta Braves. He lent his name to charitable causes, especially those involving children. He owned an eponymous string of car dealerships.

Eventually, Barry Bonds – aided by more than bottle-cap practice – overtook Mr. Aaron’s career home-run mark of 755. This was in the teeth of the steroid era. Everyone knew what was going on, but no one could figure out what to do about it.

Mr. Aaron wasn’t there the night Mr. Bonds broke his record, but he did pre-tape a video tribute.

Mr. Aaron – a man who’d built his legend on the simple rule of showing up and doing a day’s work for a day’s pay – never bad-mouthed Mr. Bonds. He also never made much of a secret of what he thought of his approach to the game.

Long after he’d finished playing, Mr. Aaron kept the hate mail he’d received during the pursuit of Mr. Ruth’s mark. He would show it to startled friends, and occasionally sit with it alone in his attic.

“We have moved in the right direction, and there have been improvements, but we still have a long ways to go in this country,” Mr. Aaron told an interviewer in 2014. “The bigger difference is that back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.”

Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, the quiet, unassuming slugger who broke Babe Ruth’s supposedly unbreakable record for most home runs in a career and battled racism in the process, died on Friday at age 86. Reuters

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