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Maple Leafs’ Dubas believes Clifford trade will make big impact

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TORONTO – Just because the Toronto Maple Leafs are in the midst of a goaltending crisis and not a sandpaper crisis does not mean that Kyle Clifford is an afterthought to Kyle Dubas’s stretch-run double splash.

Naturally, with Michael Hutchinson dropping sticks and victories, the acquisition of a better backup goalie (with term) in Jack Campbell would and should garner top billing.

But the Clifford portion of the Maple Leafs’ return for fourth-line winger Trevor Moore and a pair of third-round draft picks (one conditional) is by no means a throw-in or an afterthought.

Rather, it’s a calculated targeting of an area of need, and Dubas inferred he would’ve pulled the trigger on this deal earlier had L.A. been ready to sign off on trading Clifford.

“He’ll make a big impact here right away, knowing his personality,” Dubas said Thursday. “If you have those elements to your game that you’re physical and competitive and you have a presence to you, you have to be able to play.

“He can play — and those guys aren’t in abundance anymore. I think that’s why when they’re available, the cost is pretty high.”

As feisty and driven as Moore is, Toronto has arguably the richest well of young, bottom-six wingers in the NHL. Just look at the rapid ascension of Pierre Engvall or the potential in a future top-six wing on injured reserve in Ilya Mikheyev.

What Toronto doesn’t have enough of is players of the Clifford mold: a two-time Stanley Cup champion with 55 games of playoff experience, a nasty sort who can still pitch in offensively, and a blue-collar, stick-up-for-the-boys leader who comes stamped with the highest compliment one can earn in hockey circles — character guy.

“I mean, they didn’t bring me in to outpace Auston Matthews in goals. I know what I am. I know who I am,” Clifford said Thursday, decked out in Leafs gear for the first time.

“My five-year-old son Brody, his favourite player is Jake Muzzin, so he was ecstatic to get out here. He wanted to get on the first plane.”

Dubas’s connection to Clifford — a native of the village of Ayr, Ont., just an 80-minute drive from Toronto — runs deep. Clifford, 29, was Dubas’s first client in his player-agent days, and the left wing waited only a few hours after the trade to change his Twitter avatar to the Leafs logo.

“It’s no secret, I got a real love for this team, and it’s a childhood dream just to be able to put that jersey on,” Clifford said. “They’ve started to build something here the last couple years, and you can tell the town’s excited about it, and I’m just happy to be a part of it and do my best.

“It’s good attention. It’s good pressure. And I’m looking forward to it.”

Yes, as a pending UFA, Clifford is a rental for now — but one the GM and the club’s fans may wish to keep around.

Clifford’s edge and how it’s tailor-made for the post-season grind will be the first point of conversation. The man has racked up as many as 24 fights in a single NHL campaign (2010-11, pre-season through post-season). And even in this, a light season, Clifford has dropped the gloves as often as the entire conflict-adverse Maple Leafs roster combined (three).

Clifford arrives as far and away the club leader in career PIMs with 819 — comparatively, at age 36 and with 447 more games played, Jason Spezza is only at 570 — and singlehandedly begins to curb the Leafs’ reputation as being an easy team to play against, as far as bumps and bruises are concerned.

“He has some elements that we don’t have in abundance,” Dubas said. “Number 1 is, he’s still a player that you don’t have to hide. He doesn’t need to play two or three minutes a night.

“He’ll be able to play in the bottom end of our lineup and do those things with our group and hopefully get our team onto offence. And let our big guys come out in the offensive zone and roll from there.”

But Clifford is not just here to start and end scrums. The knuckles are certainly not the only portion of his hands that are useful. He has proven to be a valuable bottom-six contributor, albeit on a bad team.

Clifford’s Corsi is a Dubas-approved 54 per cent at even strength. His time on ice (11:41) has actually jumped this season from his career average, and he’s chipped in six goals and 14 points for the Kings this season. (Moore, 24, has just three goals and five points with a 49.5 Corsi this season.)

“He’s a warrior, he’s a competitor, he’s a winner. But he has that edge to his game, I think, any team can use,” Campbell said.

“The thing I’ve noticed, though, that not many people get to see behind the scenes, is how hard he works on like the skill part of this game. He brings even more than just the edge. He can put some points up.”

By dealing Moore and steering Kings GM Rob Blake away from his other, more valued forwards who could be dealt — Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Alexander Kerfoot — Dubas has managed to hold onto his best cards should he choose to play one in advance of the Feb. 24 deadline and land a defenceman.

That decision depends greatly, Dubas said, on the outlook for Morgan Rielly (broken foot) and his return date, which remains a mystery.

Simply put, if Reilly and his $5-million cap hit stay on LTIR for the remainder of the regular season, Dubas will be more encouraged to acquire a blue-liner of consequence. If Reilly is on the books, however, adding a top-four defenceman complicates the GM’s cap picture.

“We’re still a few weeks ahead of the deadline,” Dubas reminded. “We felt we needed to strike.”

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Andreescu eliminated from National Bank Open after loss to teenager Zheng – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — Canada’s Bianca Andreescu lost to China’s Zheng Qinwen 7-5, 5-7, 6-2, as she was eliminated from the National Bank Open on Thursday.

Andreescu, from nearby Mississauga, Ont., was the last Canadian playing in the women’s tennis tournament.

Felix Auger-Aliassime is the only Canadian left in the men’s event in his hometown of Montreal.

Zheng will play Karolína Plíšková of the Czech Republic on Friday in the WTA tournament’s quarterfinal.

It was the first time the 53rd ranked Andreescu had played world No. 51 Zheng.

Andreescu won the 2019 edition of the event when it was last held in Toronto, earning the victory after all-time great Serena Williams retired from the match due to injury.

Trailing 5-4 in the first set, Andreescu dropped a volley well out of Zheng’s reach to go up 40-0 in the match’s 10th game. The smart play drew loud cheers from the partisan crowd at Sobeys Stadium and then Andreescu’s first ace of the match tied the set 5-5.

The crowd included Toronto Blue Jays infielders Santiago Espinal and Bo Bichette as well as Olympic sprinter Andre De Grasse.

A Zheng ace made it 6-5 and then, after a lengthy rally, the Chinese player used an overhead smash to win the set 7-5.

Andreescu made the most of her home court advantage, egging the crowd on after critical points in the second set.

She pumped her fist and yelled after Zheng’s return on game point was well past the baseline. Then Andreescu threw her hands up, encouraging fans to cheer when Zheng’s return was long on set point.

That momentum did not carry into the third set, with Andreescu quickly falling behind 3-1.

Although Andreescu won a game point, earning her chants of “Let’s go Bi-bi!” she gave up three break points as Zheng took a 4-2 lead. A hard forehand smash to the opposite court by Zheng added to that advantage.

Zheng put the match away on a double break point when Andreescu charged the net and the 19-year-old Chinese player put the ball deep but in.

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek of Poland was stunned by Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 earlier in the day. The unseeded Haddad Maia had already upset 13th-seeded Leylah Fernandez of Laval, Que., on Wednesday.

Haddad Maia will face the winner of the Round of 16 match between Belinda Bencic and Garbine Muguruza in a quarterfinal on Friday.

Serving was an issue for Swiatek with nine double faults to Haddad Maia’s one. The top-ranked player from Poland said that the swirling gusts in the bowl-shaped stadium were an issue for her.

“Right now it’s hard to say if it was more her game or the wind that really messed up my first set,” said Swiatek, who was playing Haddad Maia for the first time. “I think she just used the conditions better than me.

“When she was playing with the wind she was playing really strong balls and sometimes I was late for them.”

The wind was also a factor in Coco Gauff’s win in the afternoon. The American moved on to the quarterfinals with an entertaining and error-filled 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (4) win over Aryna Sabalenka.

Both players struggled with the conditions at Sobeys Stadium, with Sabalenka committing 18 double faults and Gauff hitting into 15. Sabalenka had 42 unforced errors overall, while Gauff had 32.

Gauff will face Romania’s Simona Halep in the quarterfinals. Halep, a two-time Canadian Open champion, defeated Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann 6-2, 7-5 to begin the day’s slate of matches at Centre Court.

Later, seventh seed Jessica Pegula of the United States came back from a set down to defeat defending champion Camila Giorgi of Italy 3-6, 6-0, 7-5.

Pegula saved match point to tie the third set 5-5, then broke to take the lead on Giorgi’s sixth double fault of the match. Pegula served to love in the final game to move on to the quarterfinals.

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Quebec's Olivier Rioux, world's tallest teen, chasing hoops dream at Canada Games – Yahoo Canada Sports

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Olivier Rioux landed with a size-large exclamation point on Michael Meeks’ radar when the Canada Basketball coach opened a photo in his inbox seven years ago.

Rioux was attending a kids basketball camp in Montreal, and posed for a photo alongside then-Detroit Pistons and Canadian team centre Joel Anthony, who stands a formidable six foot nine.

“Ron Yeung (Canada Basketball’s manager of domestic development) sent me this photo of Olivier and Joel, and Olivier is about the same height, give or take an inch. Ron says, ‘This kid is nine years old,'” said Meeks.

“I was immediately on the phones, finding out who he was and what was going on and what we can do to help.”

In the years since, Rioux has sprouted to a full seven foot six. He can dunk on an NBA hoop while barely leaving his feet.

Guinness World Records recognized him as the world’s tallest teenager when he was 15 and seven foot five. If he played in the NBA now, he’d be tied with Cleveland’s Tacko Fall as the league’s tallest player.

But Rioux is playing for Quebec at the Canada Summer Games this week in Ontario’s Niagara Region with kids at least his own age, if nowhere near his size.

Quebec was scheduled to face Saskatchewan on Friday after dropping a 72-70 decision to Alberta in Thursday night’s semifinal.

Meeks, who’s at the Games to keep an eye on Canada’s young players, said he’s seen improvement in Rioux even over the past few weeks, but cautions that like any super tall player, he’s a long-term work in progress.

“People see his size and their expectations are pretty high,” said Meeks. “For me, it’s the little things like his mobility and agility, how he’s moving, how he conceptualizes the game — how much fun is he having competing and playing?

“This is important because we’re in uncharted territories with Olivier, there’s never been anybody that big at that age before. So, we’re kind of cautiously optimistic that he’s definitely moving in the right direction.”

Rioux, who’s from Anjou, a borough in east Montreal, will begin Grade 10 in the fall in Bradenton, Fla. He moved there to attend IMG Academy — a school that counts superstar tennis sisters Serena and Venus Williams among its alumni — a year ago.

“It was nice,” Rioux said of his first year away from home. “I was calling my parents almost every day, and the school year was good, my grades were up.

“Back in Montreal I used to go to school every day for at least eight hours. Now I go to school for three hours and practice in the afternoon, It’s different,” he added with a deep-voiced laugh.

He’s having fun at the Games, he said, and has taken in some of the boxing competition.

Rioux was 5-2 in kindergarten. His dad Jean-Francois is 6-8, his mom Anne is 6-2.

He first became an unsuspecting internet star at age 12, while playing at a tournament in Spain. He stood out like a maypole among the other players on the court. It caught the eye of Golden State star Steph Curry, who tweeted: “So many questions … “

Jamal Murray posed for a photo alongside him that summer. He already towered over the Denver Nuggets star guard from Kitchener, Ont.

Joey Mckitterick, who’s coached Rioux at Montreal’s AAU program Brookwood Elite since he was 12, echoed Meeks in that he’s seen huge improvement in Rioux this year, particularly as his growing has slowed and his co-ordination is catching up.

But perhaps most important is that Rioux is enjoying the game, which is key since huge expectations come with being super tall.

“I think this year you could see that he enjoyed everything about it, the basketball, the travelling, everything like that. He’s definitely falling in love with it,” Mckitterick said.

Mckitterick said part of his responsibility coaching Rioux was being a buffer between the teen and curious onlookers.

“When we travel, we could be sitting in a hotel lobby and random strangers will come up to him and ask him for a picture. It’s challenging even getting through the airport to make a flight on time because people are constantly stopping him: ‘Can I take your picture? Can you hold my baby?’ Can you do this, can you do that?

“When I met with our players at the end of the year. I told him ‘I can’t imagine being you. But the best I can do is just kind of guide you and help you and be here for you for anything you need, because I can’t put myself in your position.’ Nobody could.”

That uniqueness makes it difficult to gauge where basketball might take him.

“When you see Olivier, every three to six months he’s doing things quicker, faster, stronger, more balanced, he’s got more agility, his game is getting better, his understanding of how to impact the game is getting better,” Meeks said. “This is important, because usually taller players are a little bit slower (to develop), and he’s moving at the right rate in terms of a super tall player.

“Usually guys that stopped growing at about 6-3, 6-4, you could begin to see exactly what they’re going to be by the time they’re 16 years old. But these tall, tall players, it’s 24, 25 before it all starts coming together.”

Rioux, who likes to study the games of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic, who are both 6-11, is well-proportioned for his size and hasn’t had any major physical issues such as sore knees that can come with fast growth.

Among other NBA giants, Gheorghe Muresan is listed as the tallest ever at seven foot seven. Yao Ming and Shawn Bradley were 7-6. Canadian Sim Bhullar was 7-5, but his weight — he was listed at 360 pounds — was a limiting factor.

Canada at least has some experience with super tall players. Zach Edey, a 20-year-old from Toronto, is seven foot four. Edey made his debut with Canada’s senior men’s team in a World Cup qualifier in May. The IMG Academy product is heading into his junior season for the Purdue Boilermakers, who’ve also expressed early interest in Rioux.

“There are a lot of Division 1 schools that are very familiar with him already,” Mckitterick said. “The schools that are really focusing in on him are ones that value the size and want to use it. Because basketball has kind of gone in the direction of smaller (multi-position players), but there’s still a lot of programs that still value that size.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2022.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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McTavish puts up six points, Canada crushes Slovakia at world juniors – Sportsnet.ca

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Four goals and a pair of assists from captain Mason McTavish powered Canada to a dominant 11-1 victory over Slovakia at the world junior hockey championship Thursday. 

Brennan Othmann and Joshua Roy each scored and contributed a pair of helpers for Canada (2-0-0) while Connor Bedard, Will Cuylle, Logan Stankoven and Olen Zellweger added one of each. Zack Ostapchuk also scored. 

Matej Kaslik put away the lone goal for Slovakia (0-0-2) midway through the second period. 

Making his first start of the tournament, Canada’s Dylan Garand registered 22 saves. Tomas Bolo stopped 33 of 44 shots for Slovakia. 

The Canadians were coming off a decisive 5-2 win over Latvia on Wednesday while Slovakia dropped a 5-4 decision to Czechia on Tuesday. 

Canada will continue round-robin play against Czechia (1-0-1) on Saturday. 

With just seconds left on the game clock, Ostapchuk picked up a loose puck at the side of the net and slid it around the front, in past Bolo to seal the score at 11-1.

Roy gave Canada a 10-1 lead with less than five minutes to go on the game clock. 

William Dufour’s shot hit Bolo’s pad and Roy picked up the rebound at the top of the crease, firing it in over the netminder as he fell to the ice.

McTavish barely celebrated after giving Canada a 9-1 cushion 3:44 into the third period. 

He found space between Bolo and the post for his fourth goal of the night, a strike that tied a Canadian record for most goals in a single game at the world juniors. 

Other players who have accomplished the feat include Mario Lemieux (1984), Brayden Schenn (2011) and Maxime Comtois (2019).

McTavish completed his hat trick with 35 seconds left in the middle frame. 

Bedard took a hit in the neutral zone and sent a puck up the ice to give his teammates a two-man breakaway. Roy put a crisp pass on McTavish’s tape and the 19-year-old Anaheim Ducks prospect fired a shot past Bolo to give the Canadians an 8-1 lead. 

About a dozen hats floated to the ice. 

It was McTavish’s backhanded flick from the top of the crease 15:16 into the second that gave Canada a 7-1 cushion. 

Just 36 seconds earlier, Slovakia finally beat Garand after a battle down low. 

Kaslik got the puck and unleashed a shot that hit the goalie’s pad and the crossbar on its way into the net. 

A three-man breakaway set up McTavish’s first goal of the night 6:25 into the second. Donovan Sebrango sent him a lead pass and, handling the puck, Team Canada’s captain skated in, sending a rocket soaring past Bolo stick side to boost the lead to 6-0. 

The second period was just over a minute old when Stankoven put away Canada’s fifth goal of the night on a five-on-three. 

Kent Johnson sent a shot into Bolo’s pad and Stankoven, stationed at the side of the net, popped a shot in before the goalie could get back into position. 

Canada was 1 for 4 on the power play and Slovakia went 0 for 3.

After a slow start in Wednesday’s 5-2 win over Latvia, Canada was a force in the first period Thursday. 

The host nation took a 4-0 advantage into the first intermission after Zellweger scored with 43 seconds left in the opening frame. 

The defenceman got a shot off from the hash marks and the puck appeared to tick off another player in front of the net before pinging in off the post. 

Slovakia challenged the play for being offside but a video review determined Zellweger’s goal was good. 

A scuttled Slovakian clearing attempt set up Canada’s third strike of the night. 

Bolo tried to send the puck out from deep in his own end but Cuylle picked it up at the blue line and sent it to Othmann in the faceoff circle The New York Rangers prospect sailed a shot in past the goalie 15:57 into the game. 

Cuylle gave Canada a 2-0 lead less than three minutes earlier. 

Ridly Greig stepped out of the penalty box and chipped a pass up the boards to Cuylle, who skated in alone on a breakaway and put a quick blast through Bolo’s pads. 

Slovakia had a breakaway of its own earlier in the first, but Garand read the play perfectly and the shot thudded off of his pads to keep Canada up 1-0. 

For the second game in a row, Bedard opened the scoring for the Canadians. 

The 17-year-old Regina Pats centre dished the puck to McTavish, who sliced it back across the slot. Bedard capped the give-and-go by ripping a blistering shot past Bolo from the bottom of the faceoff circle 6:16 into the first period. 

The early game Thursday saw Finland (2-0-0) battle Czechia (1-0-1) to a 4-3 shootout win. 

“During the game, we got better and better. And that’s the most important thing,” said Finland’s head coach Antti Pennanen.

Czechia and Canada will both be off Friday before going head-to-head on Saturday. 

The Czechs know they’ll need to elevate their game for the matchup, said forward Jiri Kulich.

“We just want to keep our game,” he said. “It’s a big challenge, of course, and a big game. So we’re just going to do our best.” 

Switzerland (0-1-0) was set to battle the reigning champion Americans (1-0-0) in the final game of the day on Thursday. 

Friday will see Austria (0-1-0) face Sweden (1-0-0) and Slovakia take on Latvia (0-2-0).

NOTES: McTavish leads the tournament in scoring with eight points (four goals, four assists). … The preliminary round continues through Monday, with the quarterfinals set for Wednesday. The semifinals are scheduled for Aug. 19 and the medal games will be played on Aug. 20. … The 2022 tournament is being held in August after the original iteration was called off on Dec. 29 after just four days as rising COVID-19 cases among players and officials forced games to be forfeited.

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