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Maple Leafs’ Jason Spezza has sights set on returning for 18th season –



TORONTO — There’s a reason why Jason Spezza’s resurgent season with the Maple Leafs hasn’t taken on the feel of a farewell tour.

The man in the middle of it isn’t preparing to say goodbye.

In fact, with his role evolving since Sheldon Keefe took over as Toronto’s head coach, Spezza is already prepared to say that he intends to return for an 18th NHL season next fall.

“Yeah, I think so,” he said Monday. “If I can contribute down the stretch and the team has success, I don’t see why not.”

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There’s been a seamless fit here for both player and team — despite a rocky start that saw former coach Mike Babcock scratch Spezza on opening night — and the 36-year-old has more than held up his end of the bargain while playing for the league-minimum $700,000.

Getting production on that kind of contract is essential for a capped-out team like the Leafs, who will need to be creative around the margins while paying more than $40-million to four forwards. And that doesn’t even factor in the intangible qualities brought by a veteran voice whose become immensely popular in the dressing room.

On Spezza’s goal against the Anaheim Ducks last week, Mitch Marner said: “The bench blew up. If there’s any video footage or anything of our bench, I’m sure every guy was jumping around going wild. It’s like we all keep saying: ‘That’s just vintage Spezza coming back out to play right now.”’

Spezza wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when he chose his hometown team from a list of interested suitors on July 1, but he’s managed to whittle out a utility role that sees him jump between the third and fourth lines. He’s played 31 of 33 games since Keefe took over — both scratches were on the tail end of a back-to-back — after sitting 10 of the first 23 games under Babcock.

We are just emerging from the grinding dog days of the season and, if anything, Spezza seems to be making an even bigger impact now than earlier on. He scored that highlight-reel goal Marner raved about while playing a season-high 15:34 during Friday’s win over Anaheim and then followed it up with a strong performance in Montreal on Saturday while lining up as the third-line centre between Kyle Clifford and Kasperi Kapanen.

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“I liked it. I think he’s skating really well,” said Keefe. “He’s got a lot of speed coming through the middle of the ice.”

And he’s having fun, too, which is probably why Spezza hasn’t found himself taking in the sights and sounds a little more closely throughout the year or thinking to himself: ‘Hey, what if this is the last time I’ll play in this rink?’

“Not at all, to be honest,” he said. “I’m just enjoying coming to the rink every day, trying to get better day to day. … I can’t say I’ve been too nostalgic at all, kind of going in and out of places.

“I hope to have a good year and keep going.”

Players like him are an endangered species in a league that is pushing ever younger.

At age 36, Spezza’s already the sixth-oldest forward in the NHL — behind Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Justin Williams, Mikko Koivu and Ilya Kovalchuk. One trait they all share is they’re each a former first-round pick who has found a way to adapt and hang on to a job.

That, and the chance to chase a Stanley Cup with his boyhood team, is what really drove Spezza through the early part of this season. The former No. 2 overall pick and 90-point star is grateful for the chance to keep chasing the dream so long after he first started living it.

“I love the intensity of it, I love the challenge of trying to get ready, I love the challenge of being 36 and trying to reinvent myself a little bit,” Spezza said during training camp. “I like hanging out with the guys, the banter in the room, the practices. I don’t know if I’m a little bit crazy, but I like the grind of it.

“I kind of appreciate the grind.”

That enthusiasm hasn’t faded more than two-thirds of the way into another season.

The Leafs are enjoying favourable possession and expected-goal rates with Spezza on the ice, and have received some offensive pop off his stick, too. He already sits at nine goals — more than he scored in his final two seasons with the Dallas Stars.

“I feel good. Like I felt good last year down the stretch, too,” said Spezza. “I’m excited to play this time of year.”

Based on how this is playing out, there’s already a pretty strong case for keeping him in Toronto for another one.

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Blue Jays blank Royals as Manoah makes marvellous Rogers Centre debut –



TORONTO — The Blue Jays celebrated a second win in two starts in their Rogers Centre return thanks to co-starring performances from rookie pitcher Alex Manoah and centre fielder George Springer.

Manoah tossed seven shutout innings while Springer smashed home runs in his first two at-bats in Toronto’s 4-0 victory against the Kansas City Royals on Saturday. The Blue Jays arrived back home in Toronto on Friday after 22 months away because of the Covid-19 pandemic, playing home games in Buffalo and Dunedin, Fla.

Manoah made a return of sorts, too. He injured himself two weeks ago, slipping on the rain-soaked steps of the Blue Jays dugout in Buffalo. He suffered a right-back contusion. He yielded only a pair of singles in his 89-pitch outing.

“It kind of got me pretty good,” Manoah said when asked about his fall. “It was a long couple of weeks, and I’m just so happy and so grateful to be back on that mound.

“Body felt really good; everything felt good. I was able to throw a lot of strikes and get the boys a win.”

The 23-year-old Manoah (3-1) knew he would be keyed up for his first Rogers Centre start. So he attempted to control his adrenaline with deep breaths. He didn’t have the velocity he exhibited earlier in the season.

However, he still managed four strikeouts and retired 16 Royals in a row between Ryan O’Hearn’s one-out single in the second inning and Hunter Dozier’s two-out base hit in the seventh.

“We thought he was going to be rusty,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoya said. “But he was throwing strikes.

“This kid didn’t have his best stuff, and he still can get you out.”

If Manoah can continue to chip in as he did on Saturday, the Blue Jays should have a scary starting rotation with their top four pitchers, led by Robbie Ray, Hyun Jin Ryu and newcomer Jose Berrios. The latter was acquired from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for shortstop/outfielder Austin Martin and right-handed pitcher Simeon Woods Richardson on Friday.

Berrios, scheduled to start for the Twins on Friday, was expected to arrive at Rogers Centre on Saturday evening. Montoyo plans to start his new pitcher in the series finale on Sunday afternoon if he deems himself ready.

“I’ll be waiting here for him,” Montoyo said in his post-game remarks.

The Blue Jays also had to wait for Springer to make an impact this summer. The free agent signed a six-year, $150-million US contract with Toronto last January. But a right-quadricep strain limited his playing time earlier this season.

He found his form in July. His first-pitch leadoff homer down the left-field line, for his 40th career leadoff round-tripper, and his third-inning two-run blast were his 10th and 11th home runs of the year. He now has gone 19-for-49 (.388) in his last 13 games with six doubles, six homers and 10 RBI.

“Obviously, this is where I wanted to play,” said Springer, who has reached base 50 times in his 34 outings in 2021. “This is home. For us to have a chance to come back here, to play in front of the fans, the atmosphere has been unbelievable the last couple of games. It’s exciting.”

After Manoah departed, the Blue Jays received some substantial relief pitching from lefty Ryan Borucki and Adam Cimber. Borucki got the first two outs in the eighth inning, while Cimber closed down the Royals (45-58) with four straight strikeouts to end the game.

The Blue Jays (53-48) have won three in a row and four of their last five.

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Toronto's Penny Oleksiak makes history as Canada swims to bronze in medley relay – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News



Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

Published Saturday, July 31, 2021 10:23PM EDT

Last Updated Saturday, July 31, 2021 10:23PM EDT

TOKYO — Canada’s women capped Olympic swimming with a bronze medal in the medley relay Sunday and produced a historic seventh career medal for Penny Oleksiak.

Kylie Masse of LaSalle, Ont., Sydney Pickrem of Clearwater, Fla., Maggie Mac Neil of London, Ont., and Toronto’s Oleksiak touched in 3:52.60, a Canadian record.

Australia took gold with an Olympic-record 3:51.60. The Americans were close behind, finishing second in 3:51.73.

Oleksiak swam the anchor freestyle leg into the history books as the most decorated Olympian in Canadian history. The 21-year-old surpassed speedskater Cindy Klassen and speedskater-cyclist Clara Hughes at six medals apiece.

“Knowing that I have the best girls in the world to race with, I pretty much had a medal in the back of my mind the whole race,” Oleksiak said. “I’m racing with three of the best swimmers in the world, so why should I worry?”

The achievement says a lot about Oleksiak’s depth of talent, said Marnie McBean, Canada’s chef de mission.

“Winning one medal is hard, and multiple at one Games is all about the ability to reset and focus. Winning multiple medals at multiple Games — that is a battle against so much more,” McBean, a three-time Olympian, said in a statement.

“The notion of repeating and the burden of expectations, internally and externally, can be so disruptive. Penny figured out how to thrive all while being an amazing role model to young Canadians.”

Masse led Canada off in backstroke followed by Pickrem’s breaststroke leg and Mac Neil in butterfly.

As Mac Neil hung the medal around Oleksiak’s neck during the medal ceremony, Masse applauded and Pickrem shimmied in celebration.

“Most decorated,” they chorused during post-ceremony interviews with reporters.

Oleksiak, Mac Neil and Masse claimed their third medals at the Tokyo Aquatic Centre.

Mac Neil, 21, also captured 100-metre butterfly gold. She and Oleksiak took silver in the 4 x 100 freestyle relay on the first day of finals, so Mac Neil leaves Tokyo with a complete set.

The COVID-19 pandemic kept Canada’s swim team out of the water for large chunks of the last 15 months. Mac Neil said that didn’t stop the swimmers from challenging the world in Tokyo.

“We’ve had one of the strictest lockdowns in the entire world, so it was just putting in the training that we’ve doing for the last 15 months in and showing the world what we have,” Mac Neil said.

Masse, 25, earned a pair of silver in backstroke. Oleksiak, who revealed Sunday she’d been dealing with an ongoing back injury, also claimed bronze in the 200-metre freestyle.

The women’s swim team amassed six medals in Tokyo to equal its Rio count of five years ago.

Taylor Ruck of Kelowna, B.C., Pickrem, Mac Neil and Toronto’s Kayla Sanchez posted the fastest qualification time in Friday’s heats to give Canada a middle lane Sunday.

The medley relay medal was Canada’s first since 1988 and fourth in the 61-year Olympic history of race. Canadian women were bronze medallists in 1976, 1984 and ’88.

Oleksiak won 100-freestyle gold, 100-butterfly silver and anchored Canada to a pair of freestyle relay bronze medals at age 16 in Rio.

Heats, semifinals, finals and relays added up to 10 races over nine days for Oleksiak in Tokyo, where she added a pair of relay medals and the 200 free bronze to her total.

Canada’s men’s team finished seventh in the medley relay just minutes after the women left the pool Sunday.

Markus Thormeyer (backstroke), Gabe Mastromatteo (breaststroke), Joshua Liendo (butterfly) and Yuri Kisil (freestyle) finished in 3:32.42.

The U.S. took gold in the men’s event with a world record 3:26.78. Great Britain came second and Italy captured bronze.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 31, 2021.

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Kylie Masse won her second medal of the Summer Olympics – Sports –



Make it an even dozen medals for Canada and a second for swimmer Kylie Masse at the Tokyo Olympics.

Masse won her second silver, finishing just behind Australian Kaylee McKeown in the women’s 200 metre backstroke.

She also won silver in the 100 backstroke.

Masse went out fast and led for much of the race. But, McKeown put on a strong kick over the final 25 metres to touch just ahead of Masse.

McKeown won in two minutes, 4.68 seconds, 74 one-hundredths ahead of Masse.

Masse’s time of 2:05.42 established a Canadian record in the event.

Kelowna-born Taylor Ruck was sixth in 2:08.24.

Masse joins Maggie Mac Neil and Penny Oleksiak as double medalists at the Olympics.

Canada has a good chance for one final medal in the pool Saturday evening in the women’s 4×100 metre medley.

The team, which included Ruck, finished with the best time in their semi-final earlier in the day.

The roster for the team could change for the final.

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