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Maple Leafs look to Raptors for a sense of direction

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Maple Leafs look to Raptors

Kyle Dubas, seen here on Feb. 6, 2020, believes there are lessons the Maple Leafs, who have fallen short in postseason the past three years, can learn from that.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

In the joy that followed Toronto’s basketball team capturing its first NBA title, the years of disappointment that preceded it have largely faded from public memory.

There were plenty of questions asked and criticism hurled as the Raptors were eliminated from the playoffs five successive years, three times by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Kyle Dubas believes there are lessons the Maple Leafs, who have fallen short in postseason the past three years, can learn from that.

“I hear a lot, ‘Why can’t they be like the Raptors?’” the general manager of Toronto’s NHL team said last week during a lengthy media scrum at the club’s practice facility. “I think it is a great story for us to tell our players and learn from.

“If you go back three or four years, what we are going through now are similar things to what the Raptors were going through and the questions asked about them.

“[Their victory] was years in the making and I think they have the scars to show it. Once you go through it you can lean on them at times and really develop your identity. It would be great if we could just flip the switch and roll along and reach our potential, but it is never linear like that.”

The Raptors won a team-record 14th consecutive game on Saturday and will likely be among the highest seeds when the NBA playoffs commence in mid-April. The Maple Leafs currently hold one of the postseason slots afforded to the top three teams in the Eastern Conference standings, but are girded for a struggle. Should they fall in the standings, there are three teams with more points battling for the conference’s two wild-card berths.

They came out of the weekend as well as could be expected, beating Anaheim in overtime at home on Friday and losing in extra time to the Canadiens in Montreal on Saturday. They collected three of four points in back-to-back games behind backup goalie Jack Campbell.

They were only 4-6-4 playing back to back this season before that. Campbell stopped 28 of 30 shots and has looked more confident in the net than Michael Hutchinson, who served as Frederik Andersen’s stand-in before he suffered a neck injury a week ago against the Florida Panthers.

Andersen, whose 24 wins is tied for the second-most among all NHL goalies, took some shots at practice on Friday, but was deemed not healthy enough to start. It is unknown whether he will return against the Arizona Coyotes at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday. The Coyotes, who play Monday night in Montreal, have won only three of their past 13 and have fallen off the pace in the tightly bunched Pacific Division.

Toronto continues to play without top defenceman Morgan Rielly, whose broken foot could keep him out to the end of the regular season. Fellow blueliner Cody Ceci hurt an ankle against Florida in the same game as Andersen, and is not expected back for at least a month.

Dubas scoffed when he could have used those injuries, and a multitude of others, as an excuse last week. He pointed out that the Maple Leafs’ 20-9-4 record since Sheldon Keefe took over as head coach ranks in the upper third of the league.

A strong Dallas contingent comes to town on Thursday before Toronto hits the road to play Ottawa, Buffalo and Pittsburgh, and then returns to home ice to play the Penguins again on Feb. 20.

“I think as an organization we have to able to endure and accept that this is a severe test,” Dubas said. “We are not in a great spot, but it is an opportunity for our guys to grow. I don’t fear it; I am excited about it.

“I know there is some consternation about it … but I look at it as one of the best opportunities we have had my whole time. I do have a strong belief in the group and I do think it is capable of great things.”

Dubas has been general manager for two seasons. The team is better now than when he took over, but fans are getting restless. Toronto hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967 and has been ousted from the playoffs in the first round in each of the past three years.

The city’s hockey team is held to a higher standard than the Raptors, but there are similarities when you look at the trajectory of the two clubs, which are both owned by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

“One of my favourite parts of working here is the amount that people care. You grow a really strong appreciation for how passionate [they] are in this marketplace. It is an early test for myself and our staff that we have to be patient and keep the long game in mind always.

“It is about being able to go through the crucible and endure that and come out the other side.”

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Hockey Canada's strategy of deflecting serves no one but its disgraced leadership – The Globe and Mail

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Witnesses Scott Smith, Hockey Canada President and Chief Operating Officer, left, and Hockey Canada Chief Financial Officer Brian Cairo, appear at the standing committee on Canadian Heritage in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 27, 2022.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

A while back, I had a job in a movie theatre. The theatre at the foot of an atrium in an open-plan tower. We plebs could look up at the offices and hallways above, where the corporation’s big wigs worked.

The biggest wig in our world would often lean over a balcony and stare down at us, like a gargoyle in pinstripes. If you were caught loafing, a call would be made and you’d hear about it.

One day, there was a commotion from several floors above – a lot of screaming and banging. The biggest wig had been fired. His reaction was to go back to his office and barricade himself inside it.

The banging was security kicking in the door. The screaming was him being dragged to the elevators. It was a different time.

But the lesson therein is timeless. Nobody likes being canned. But people in charge take it particularly hard.

Right now, 2½ months into Hockey Canada’s sex-abuse scandal, we’re at the barricade stage.

In any other country, this would be over now. Through a combination of popular outrage and political panic, the Hockey Canada edifice would have been burned to the ground.

But in this country we continue to believe shame will do the job for us. That the people in charge of this world-class gong show will get the message and slink off home.

But Hockey Canada’s leadership is not operating on Canadian rules. They’re pulling from the American handbook on how to survive a scandal. Shamelessness is a prerequisite.

Their first job was deflecting.

In terms of an absolute defence, the deflecting’s gone about as well as a guy trying to push off bullets by waving his hands around. But it bought time. The men in charge knew they could count on Ottawa to a) quickly promise to take decisive action and b) take absolutely forever to decide what that decisive action looks like.

Deflecting has another virtue – it dilutes outrage. No matter how awful, people can only read about a story for so long without becoming bored. And there’s always a fresh outrage to divert us.

This week, Hockey Canada hired someone to head an investigation into the workings of Hockey Canada. You could’ve written out this person’s CV long before the name was made public – retired judge, history of public service, member of the new Family Compact, etc.

Finding people is not hard. There are a whole bunch of them out there twiddling their thumbs, itching for someone to stick a microphone in front of them.

But after two months of withering pressure, Hockey Canada is just now figuring out who will set up the Slack group to discuss how to begin discussing their problems. Let me guess that if they’d been bleeding cash instead, organizing some sort of working committee would have taken two hours.

But this is how you do it, American-style. Pretend it’s a live broadcast with screen time to fill before commercials – stretch. Continue talking about nothing. Don’t stop speaking. It’s the silence that kills.

While you’re stretching, keep your eye on the horizon. That’s where the sports are. If you can make it to sports, you might be okay. The same people who wanted your head paraded in the town square yesterday might be distracted by a waving flag.

On Tuesday, the world junior hockey championship begins in Edmonton. Over the weekend, there will be a barrage of publicity about the tournament that launched a thousand official denials. We’ll rehash the particulars of this ugly affair and assess where we’re at. This column is part of that.

By Tuesday, the usual outlets will be talking about hockey. How’s Canada’s top line measuring up? Where’s the United States at? Whither the Olympic team?

This is how you erect a modern, media barricade.

Having seen a million of these things go down in recent years, you know you’re not going to talk your way out of your problem.

Bottom-line: You were in positions of authority at a public institution when something abhorrent happened. The integrity of that institution cannot be maintained if you continue to lead it.

This is obvious. But in our rush to definitively nail someone, anyone, we have skidded past the obvious. Now we’re all deep in the weeds, hacking away.

Uncovering the minutiae about who said what to whom at what board meeting may absorb reporters and politicians, but it only serves Hockey Canada’s current leadership.

While we’re Inspector Clouseau-ing this thing, we’re also avoiding the clear end point. The longer we spend doing that, the more likely it is that these fish all get off the hook.

This was the goal all along. Deflect, get to the world juniors, hope that Team Canada wins and that everyone is too exhausted by the end of it to keep taking pops at you. By the time your judge wraps up his report – let me guess ‘Mistakes were made but there is a clear plan forward’ – maybe you’ll have successfully run your gauntlet.

It’s not a plan, as such. As with Hockey Canada’s in-camera board meetings, nobody’s written it down. It’s instinctive process based on observation. In scandals as in sports, the mission is getting through today.

It’s not going to work. That’s also obvious. No matter what the eventual report says, it will reignite outrage.

The names of the players involved in the two alleged assaults will come out, probably during the NHL season. That will reignite outrage.

At any moment, the alleged victims could make fulsome public declarations. That will reignite outrage.

Any way you go, the outrage is going to leak out again. The only way to contain it is to blow this down to the foundations. Eventually, everyone’s going to realize that.

Really, all that’s being decided now is how you want to get to the elevators – walking under your own power, or being dragged there screaming by the rest of Canada.

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Rafael Nadal announces he will not be playing at the Canadian Open

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Montreal, Canada- 22 Grand Slam champion, Rafael Nadal, has announced that he will not be playing at the Canadian Open which kicks off this weekend.

Nadal cited that the reason to abandon the Canadian Open was a result of an abundance of caution regarding injury concerns.

“From the vacation days and my subsequent return to training, everything has gone well these weeks. Four days ago, I also started training my serve and yesterday, after training, I had a little discomfort that was still there today.

We have decided not to travel to Montreal and continue with the training sessions without forcing ourselves. I sincerely thank the tournament director, Eugene, and his entire team for the understanding and support they have always shown me, and today was no exception.

I hope to play again in Montreal, a tournament that I love and that I have won five times in front of an audience that has always welcomed me with great affection. I have no choice but to be prudent at this point and think about health,” said the Spaniard.

Last month, Nadal was forced to withdraw from his Wimbledon semifinal against Nick Kyrgios due to an abdominal injury.

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic has also withdrawn from the Canadian Open as his status as unvaccinated against COVID-19 means he cannot enter the country.

Djokovic is also unlikely to play at the US Open after organizers said they would respect the American government rules over travel for unvaccinated players as the United States (US) requires non-citizens to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter.

“Per the Grand Slam Rule Book, all eligible players are automatically entered into the men’s and women’s singles main draw fields based on ranking 42 days prior to the first Monday of the event.

The US Open does not have a vaccination mandate in place for players, but it will respect the US government’s position regarding travel into the country for unvaccinated non-US citizens,” read a statement from the US Open which is set to take place in New York from the 29th of August to the 11th of September, 2022.

Nevertheless, Novak Djokovic will be joining Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray to play for Team Europe in the Laver Cup.

The event, which pits six European players against six from Team World over three days, will take place in London between 23 and 25 September 2022.

“It’s the only (event) where you play in a team with guys you are normally competing against. To be joining Rafa, Roger and Andy, three of my biggest all-time rivals, it’s going to be a truly unique moment in the history of our sport,” said Djokovic.

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Canada beats Sweden to claim gold in Hlinka Gretzky Cup – Sportsnet.ca

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RED DEER, Alta. — Canada scored early and often and also stayed out of the penalty box en route to a 4-1 victory over Sweden in the gold-medal final of the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.

Tanner Howe, Ethan Gauthier, Calum Ritchie and Brayden Yager scored for the Canadians, who held period leads of 2-1 and 3-1 at the Peavey Mart Centrium on Saturday. Riley Heidt also chipped in with two assists for the champions.

Hugo Pettersson scored for Sweden, who were outshot 36-26. Each team received eight minutes in penalties.

Canada had beaten Sweden 3-0 on Aug. 3.

“Three weeks ago, we put this roster together and I felt right away this was a tight group,” said head coach Stephane Julien. “It’s not easy when you have this much talent, but everyone accepted their role and I’m so happy for them.”

The win is Canada’s first gold medal since 2018, the last time this tournament was held in Canada.

“I’m so happy for this group,” added Julien. “They haven’t had it easy in their careers the last two years with the pandemic, but now they have this, a gold medal and something they are going to remember for the rest of their career.”

Canada advanced to the final with a 4-1 win over Finland, while Sweden defeated Czechia 6-2. Finland beat Czechia 3-1 in Saturday’s bronze-medal final.

The Hlinka Gretzky Cup will shift to Europe in 2023, returning to Breclav and Piestany, Czechia for the first time since 2021. 

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