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NHL’s top draft prospect Lafreniere staying patient amid uncertainty – Sportsnet.ca

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When he isn’t lifting weights in his parents’ garage, Alexis Lafreniere spends time playing games, watching movies and sharing meals with family.

The projected No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL draft should be on the ice battling in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs and looking forward to the biggest moment of his young career at the end of June.

But in an era of social distancing and self-isolation brought on by the crippling COVID-19 pandemic, Lafreniere’s daily routine looks a lot like those of millions of other people across North America and around the world.

“I don’t have much to do,” Lafreniere said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday. “I didn’t spend that much time with my family this year. I lived with billets. It’s good for us to spend time together.”

That’s perhaps the only silver lining for the Rimouski Oceanic’s star winger.

The Canadian Hockey League cancelled the playoffs and the Memorial Cup this week due to the novel coronavirus outbreak after previously scratching the end of the regular season.

The NHL draft, meanwhile, was scheduled for June 26 and 27 at the Bell Centre in Montreal — a short distance from the 18-year-old Lafreniere’s hometown of Saint-Eustache, Que. — but the event, along with the scouting combine in Buffalo and the league’s award show in Las Vegas, were all postponed Wednesday.

That could mean no announcement of his name to an adoring crowd, no walk across the stage, no big party.

And if he does indeed go No. 1 in an unusual draft, Lafreniere will have something else in common with Pittsburgh Penguins captain and fellow Rimouski alumni Sidney Crosby, who went first overall in a hotel ballroom in the middle of the summer following the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season.

“It would be a little bit different, but it’s still an honour to get drafted by an NHL team,” Lafreniere said before news of the draft’s postponement broke. “It’s really special.”

Lafreniere, who helped lead Canada to gold at the world junior hockey championship in January, said he’s learned to not worry about things outside his tight circle.

“I just try to focus on myself and going through it day by day,” Lafreniere said. “One important thing is to control what you can control. There’s some things that you cannot really control.

“You’ve got to stay focused on yourself and try to do your stuff.”

That includes working out a few hours a day by himself using a program set up by his off-season trainer.

“I have all the equipment that I need to get stronger and stay in shape,” Lafreniere said. “For sure it’s different, but I think I can I can get stronger even if I train at my house.”

He also lamented the abrupt end to the season — and most likely his junior career — due to the coronavirus.

“It went by really quick,” he said of his three years in the QMJHL. “I enjoyed a lot of good times, good memories with my teammates. It’s sad that you won’t get to play with these guys again.

“The most important thing is that everyone stays healthy.”

NHL Central Scouting’s top-rated North American skater, Lafreniere registered 35 goals and 112 points in just 52 games in 2019-20 despite missing nine QMJHL contests while away at the world juniors and three more due to suspension. He finished second in CHL scoring behind Ottawa 67’s centre and fellow 2020 draft prospect Marco Rossi, who racked up with 120 points in 56 games.

Lafreniere’s season started with sky-high expectations and a ridiculous offensive tear to begin the QMJHL schedule before a knee injury at the world juniors had the country holding its collective breath.

The CHL Player of the Year in 2018-19 would miss two round-robin games, but returned for the medal round and was a key contributor in Canada’s dramatic march to gold in the Czech Republic after being part of the team that finished a disappointing seventh on home soil 12 months earlier.

“It was a really big moment for me,” said the six-foot-one, 196-pound Lafreniere, who was named tournament MVP with 10 points in five games. “Growing up, you dream about it.”

Lafreniere wouldn’t bite when asked if he’s done enough to cement the No. 1 slot, but he did touch on the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators — the teams with the best odds of winning the NHL’s draft lottery based on the current standings.

“Great organization,” he said of Detroit, before adding later of Ottawa, which is less than a two-hour drive from Saint-Eustache: “It would be special. It’s a great place to play.

“We’ll see what happens.”

For now, though, all he can do is train, wait and cherish some family time.

“It’s always fun to be able to be home and spend time with them,” Lafreniere said. “It’s easier for sure that I’m with them and can stay here until everything’s done.”

That’s likely a long ways off. It also can’t come soon enough.

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Tokyo Olympics CEO hints Games could be in doubt even in 2021 – CBC.ca

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As the coronavirus spreads in Japan, the chief executive of the Tokyo Games said Friday he can’t guarantee the postponed Olympics will be staged next year — even with the long delay.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued an emergency declaration this week to battle the virus, putting the country under restrictions after it seemed it had avoided a significant outbreak.

“I don’t think anyone would be able to say if it is going to be possible to get it under control by next July or not,” Tokyo organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto said, speaking through an interpreter at a news conference conducted remotely. “We’re certainly are not in a position to give you a clear answer.”

The Olympics were postponed last month with a new opening set for July 23, 2021, followed by the Paralympics on Aug. 24.

WATCH | Damian Warner on bright side of Olympic postponement: 

Olympic bronze medallist in decathlon Damian Warner didn’t dwell on disappointment, but instead chooses to focus on getting even better for a 2021 Olympics. 1:10

Abe has been criticized for being slow to act against the coronavirus. Opposition political leaders have suggested he downplayed the severity of the virus and have said it may have been tied to wanting to hold the Olympics this year.

“We have made the decision to postpone the Games by one year,” Muto said. “So this means that all we can do is work hard to prepare for the Games. We sincerely hope that come next year mankind will manage to overcome the coronavirus crisis.”

Muto was asked if there are alternative plans to holding the Games in 2021.

“Rather than think about alternatives plans, we should put in all of our effort,” he said. “Mankind should bring together all of its technology and wisdom to work hard so they can develop treatments, medicines and vaccines.”

WATCH | Flashback to Andre De Grasse’s 2016 showdown with Usain Bolt: 

Watch highlights of Andre De Grasse and Usain Bolt battling it out and building a bromance at the Rio 2016 Olympics. 0:43

Japan has reported about 5,000 cases and 100 deaths. The country has the world’s oldest population, and COVID-19 can be especially serious for the elderly.

Muto was asked several times about the added costs of postponing, which has been estimated by Japanese media at between $2 billion and $6 billion US. He said it was too soon to know the price tag and who would pay.

He also acknowledged that Tokyo Olympic organizers had taken out insurance.

“Tokyo 2020 has taken out several insurance policies,” he said. “But whether the postponement of the Games qualifies as an event that is covered is not clear yet.”

WATCH | Simone Biles cried after learning of Olympic postponement: 

The four-time Olympic champion broke her silence on the year-long postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, appearing on NBC’s ‘Today’ show on Wednesday morning. 0:33

He was also asked about the Olympic flame, which was taken off public display this week in Fukushima prefecture. Muto had an away-from-the-microphone talk with a spokesperson before talking about the flame.

“After the Olympic torch relay was cancelled, the Olympic flame was put under the management of Tokyo 2020,” Muto said. “Obviously in the future there is a possibility it might be put on display somewhere. However, for now it is under the management of Tokyo 2020 and I’m not going to make any further comment on the issue.”

There are suggestions the International Olympic Committee is thinking of taking the flame on a world tour, hoping to use it as a symbol of the battle against the virus. However, any tour would be impossible until travel restrictions are lifted.

Taking the flame away from Japan could also upset the hosts.

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Report: MLB considering divisional realignment for 2020 season – Sportsnet.ca

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In anticipation of an abbreviated 2020 season, one of many proposals MLB is reportedly considering is a major realignment that would eliminate the traditional American and National Leagues, according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale.

“The plan would have all 30 teams returning to their spring training sites in Florida and Arizona,” Nightengale writes, “playing regular-season games only in those two states and without fans in an effort to reduce travel and minimize risks in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The divisions would be realigned based on the geography of their spring training homes.”

The clubs would first be allowed three weeks of training, adds Nightengale, including exhibition games, before opening a regular season in divisions that could look like so:

GRAPEFRUIT LEAGUE

NORTH: New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates.

SOUTH: Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles.

EAST: Washington Nationals, Houston Astros, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, Miami Marlins.

CACTUS LEAGUE

NORTHEAST: Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Oakland Athletics.

WEST: Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels.

NORTHWEST: Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals.

The most significant change for the Blue Jays would be to a move out of the AL East, along with the Yankees, to play against their Grapefruit league opponents, which could mean an easier path to the playoffs for Toronto.

Nightengale elaborated on how the post-season format could potentially look under such a format.

“Baseball, even with the realignment, could still play 12 games apiece against their new divisional opponents and six games apiece against the other teams in the state. … The DH would likely be universally implemented as well. There could still be division winners and wild-card winners, perhaps adding two more wild-card teams to each league, or a postseason tournament with all 30 teams,” he wrote.

“The winner of the Cactus League in Arizona would play the winner of the Grapefruit League in Florida for the World Series championship, utilizing the domed stadiums in late November.”

No official decision has yet been made on when the league will return, or what exactly that return will look like.

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Joe Rogan gushes for ‘psychotic’ Dana White following UFC 249 cancelation — ‘He’s a real man’ – MMA Mania

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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White was not going to let a silly little thing like a global pandemic stop him from staging mixed martial arts (MMA) events, even if it meant taking his promotion to west coast tribal grounds or remote tropical islands to bypass local and federal quarantines.

So was he a hero … or an idiot?

That depends on who you ask. For longtime color commentator Joe Rogan, still on the fence about attending when word came in that UFC 249 was canceled, White is a “real man” who deserves praise for his dogged persistence in trying to make the “Ferguson vs. Gaethje” pay-per-view (PPV) event a reality.

“He’s a psychotic driving force for the most exciting organization in the world and I don’t think the organization gets where it is without Dana White,” Rogan said on his official podcast. “I think you have to have a crazy person at the wheel. You have a guy who doesn’t give a fuck. He’s a real man. He doesn’t give a fuck, he’ll talk shit, he’ll insult people, he’ll go back with you.”

White helped convince casino magnates Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta to purchase UFC back in 2001 for a paltry $2 million — which they later sold for $4 billion — and no question his drive and longterm vision helped shape the future of combat sports. The promotion would be nothing without the fighters, obviously, and White had a couple of big breaks along the way, but his contributions to MMA cannot be overstated.

“Imagine being the president of the UFC,” Rogan continued. “Imagine having all these fights that you have to make and having all this pressure on you, and you’re also a famous guy like Dana is. Imagine being that guy. Fuck that job. President of the UFC is second only to President of the United States. Bro, he’s under ridiculous amounts of pressure.”

White is also on the hook for the $750 million check from ESPN and parent company Disney, which requires 42 live events in 2020 to cash. Expect a very busy fight schedule once the promotion gets up and running later this year, though we’re at the mercy of coronavirus as far as that timeline is concerned.

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