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Nick Ritchie finally scores his first as the Leafs get the jump on the Blue Jackets – Toronto Star

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In the understated words of Nick Ritchie: “It had been a while.”

On a night of highlight plays from Michael Bunting and Jack Campbell, and a scoring streak continuing for Auston Matthews, it finally happened for Ritchie.

It took 27 games and 40 shots but the $2.5-million-a-year free-agent signing finally got his first goal with the Maple Leafs in Toronto’s 5-4 win Tuesday night over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“It felt good, helping the team, scoring a goal at home, and a win after a couple of losses,” Ritchie said. “It had been a while. Two months. A lot of games. As long of a (drought) as I’ve had in hockey. Feels good to get one. Hopefully I can build some confidence.”

The crowd was particularly supportive when public address announcer Mike Ross announced it was Ritchie’s “first goal as a Maple Leaf” and his teammates seemed happier than Ritchie.

“That’s almost better than scoring, seeing how much your team cares,” he said. “We have a tight team and everyone gets excited for little things.”

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Ritchie had proven himself as a goal scorer, with 15 last year in a shortened season in Boston. He wondered sometimes why he was having trouble scoring in Toronto.

“It’s not an easy league to score in,” he said. “You have to get lucky, too. I had a couple of good chances the last little while. I just had to stay with it. I knew eventually it would finally go in for me.”

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said he predicted Ritchie would score Tuesday, but admitted he’s been predicting it would be Ritchie’s night for a while.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Keefe said. “I started calling it, then I stopped. It was his birthday the other day. But in the coach’s room before the game, I called it. I thought it would be on the power play.

“I can’t take a lot of credit for it, because I’ve been calling it and calling it. I did feel strongly that today was going to be the day. He’s been very quietly putting up points in the past five games. You could see it coming. He’s had good chances. I’m thrilled for him.”

About the game: Ritchie’s goal, the team’s offence and the play of Alex Steeves and Kristians Rubins. both of whom got into their first NHL games. was about all Keefe liked about the game. But it was a fun one to watch.

Matthews ended the night with two goals and an assist, Morgan Rielly had four assists, William Nylander had a goal and an assist and John Tavares also scored in a game in which the outcome never felt in doubt despite a late-game push by the Blue Jackets.

Olivier Bjorkstrand scored twice for Columbus. Sean Kuraly and Max Domi scored late for Columbus — Domi with one second left — to make the result look more flattering for the Jackets than the game really was.

“I didn’t like much about the game in any period,” Keefe said. “We found ways to strike offensively, whether it was on the power play (Nylander, Tavares) or off the rush (Matthews, twice) but, in terms of how we like to play, I don’t think there was a lot to like about the game.

“I’m happy the third period caught up to us, because it should have. Not a good game for us, but a good result. Needed to get back on the right side of it.”

Getting rest: Keefe thought the team was simply tired. They’d been out west for three games, came home for one, and then went back west for two, so it felt like a long trip. Plus the roster was in flux.

Mitch Marner missed his third game with a shoulder injury, suffered in practice Friday. Rasmus Sandin was out with the effects of knee-on-knee injury suffered Sunday in Winnipeg. Travis Dermott, too, was sidelined with a shoulder issue. And Jason Spezza missed the first-game of a six-game suspension for his knee to the head of Winnipeg’s Neal Pionk, whose knee injured Sandin.

“We’re a tired group that needs time,” said Keefe, who gave his team Wednesday off. “We’re a team that needs to regroup itself.”

Quick start: Nylander, Matthews and Ritchie got the Maple Leafs off to a 3-0 lead in a first period they dominated. The led the shot-clock 18-9 after 20 minutes.

Nylander scored on the power play, and Matthews made it 2-0 on a nice feed from Michael Bunting who, with a defenceman draped all over him, pulled off a between-the-legs pass to Matthews, who had an easy tap-in to extend his goals streak to seven straight games. Tavares and Matthews scored seven seconds apart in the final two minutes of the middle frame.

Matthews is on a tear, with 10 goals in his last seven games and 17 on the season. He has rejoined the conversation for the Rocket Richard Trophy, putting himself within striking distance of NHL goal leaders Leon Draisaitl and Alex Ovechkin, who had 21 and 20 as the games began Tuesday.

The new guys: Steeves and Rubins are feel-good stories.

Rubins, who is on Latvia’s short list of potential Olympians, is 23 and worked his way up the Leafs system. Undrafted out of the Medicine Hat Tigers, he started with the Newfoundland Growlers in 2018. He’s six-foot-five and cuts an imposing figure on the blue line.

“Dream come true, just a special night for me,” he said, after being paired with Timothy Liljegren and going minus-1 in 13 minutes and 40 seconds.

Steeves was a standout at Notre Dame last year who kept up his scoring ways with the Marlies, despite missing camp with an injury. Steeves had seven goals in 12 games with the Marlies.

“It was super special, really happy we got the win,” said Steeves, who was minus-1 while playing 8:28. “It was a tangible goal of mine to play for the Leafs this year. I didn’t really have a set date. To get the call this early was special. It wasn’t something I was really thinking about, but I just knew I wanted to get here.”

Roster notes: Veteran defenceman Alex Biega was also among the call-ups, as insurance, due to the litany of injuries. He was scratched for Tuesday’s game … Forward Joey Anderson was returned to the Marlies … Jake Muzzin left the game briefly in the first period after taking a shot off his foot.

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Montreal Canadiens place Alex Belzile on waivers, plus other injury updates – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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The Montreal Canadiens have placed forward Alex Belzile on waivers on Monday.

The forward will be assigned to the Laval Rocket should he clear waivers. The 31-year-old was pointless in 11 games this season with the Canadiens. He has four goals and seven assists in 16 AHL games this season.

The team also provided several injury updates, as the new Vice President of Communications Chantal Machabée briefed the media before head coach Dominique Ducharme answered questions.

Joel Edmundson is back from Montreal after being in Manitoba and away from the team. There is no timeline on his return, and the same goes with Carey Price.

Jake Allen will undergo an MRI, while Paul Byron and Tyler Toffoli are nearing a return.

Cayden Primeau will start against the Arizona Coyotes on Monday afternoon. Laurent Dauphin and Josh Anderson also draw back in the lineup. Michael Pezzetta will be a healthy scratch.

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Updates regarding the Canadiens' roster – NHL.com

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GLENDALE – The Canadiens announced the following roster moves on Monday morning.

SHOP: Caufield Blue Socks

Forwards Rafael Harvey-Pinard and Jesse Ylonen were assigned to the Laval Rocket.

Meanwhile, defenseman Gianni Fairbrother has joined the Rocket and returned to training, having completed his period of isolation required by the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol.

The Canadiens will face the Coyotes in Arizona on Monday, January 17.

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Novak Djokovic could be barred from French Open if unvaccinated – CBC.ca

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Novak Djokovic returned home Monday after being thwarted from defending his Australian Open title only to face a new predicament: He could be barred from the French Open this year, too, if he’s still not vaccinated against COVID-19.

A plane carrying the No. 1-ranked player touched down in his native Serbia, closing at least the first chapter in a dizzying drama that has resonance in the world of elite sports, Australia’s pandemic politics and the polarized debate over the coronavirus shots.

A handful of fans waving the Serbian flag greeted him at Belgrade’s airport. Djokovic has an almost iconic status in Serbia, and many there felt he was poorly treated by Australia.

But his troubles may not be over yet: He could be barred from the French Open this year, under a new law intended to exclude the unvaccinated from stadiums and other public places. Much could change between now and the start of the Grand Slam tournament in late May, but that raised the spectre the recent saga in Australia would be not just a blip but an ongoing challenge for the athlete, who is increasingly being held up as a hero by the anti-vaccine movement.

A member of the French Parliament, Christophe Castaner, said the new law will apply to anyone who wants to play in the French Open — a reversal of earlier plans to create a “bubble” around the tournament.

“To do your job, to come for pleasure or leisure, to practice a sport, it will be necessary to present a vaccine. This will be valid for people who live in France but also for foreigners who come to our country for vacation or for a major sports competition,” Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu told BFM television on Monday.

But some details of the law are still being hashed out, including how it will deal with people who have recently recovered from COVID-19, as Djokovic has. The question is how recent the infection must be to qualify for an exemption to vaccination rules. France’s sports ministry said Monday once the law is in place, there will be no exceptions until further notice.

WATCH | Djokovic deported from Australia after losing final appeal:

Novak Djokovic deported from Australia after losing final appeal

18 hours ago

Duration 2:01

Top-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic has been deported from Australia after losing his final appeal to not have his visa revoked, meaning he could not compete in the Australian Open. Djokovic’s lack of COVID-19 vaccination has galvanized tennis fans, Australians and become a rallying cry for anti-vaxxers. 2:01

Djokovic is also the defending champion at Wimbledon, which begins in late June. But so far, England has allowed exemptions from various coronavirus regulations for visiting athletes, if they remain at their accommodation when not competing or training. The U.S. Tennis Association, which runs the U.S. Open, has said it will follow government rules on vaccination status.

It’s also not clear when Djokovic could head back to Australia. Deportation can lead to a three-year ban on returning to the country, although that can be waived, depending on the circumstances.

For now, a warm welcome awaits Djokovic, who has overwhelming support in his native Serbia where his closest family lives. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has accused the Australian government of “harassing” the top-ranked tennis star and urged him to return home.

Novak Djokovic plays a forehand during a practice session ahead of the 2022 Australian Open in Melbourne on Friday. A court upheld a decision by the immigration minister to cancel the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds. (Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Denied entry to Australia

“God bless you Novak,” read one of the banners held by the fans at the airport as he was whisked through the passport control and customs and then driven by his brother Djordje to his apartment in Belgrade.

The official Tanjug news agency reported that Djokovic’s mother, Dijana, said her son will remain in Belgrade in the coming days and won’t make statements for the media.

WATCH | Djokovic says his agent made error on Australia entry form:

Novak Djokovic blames human error for inaccurate travel declaration

5 days ago

Duration 1:52

Novak Djokovic says human error is to blame for an inaccurate travel declaration form that claimed the tennis champion hadn’t travelled for two weeks before arriving in Australia for an upcoming tournament in Melbourne. 1:52

Djokovic’s Australian saga began when he was granted an exemption to strict vaccination rules by two medical panels and the tournament organizer in order to play in the Australian Open because he had recently recovered from COVID-19. He received a visa to enter the country through an automated process. But upon arrival, border officials said the exemption was not valid and moved to deport him.

The initial news that the star had been granted the exemption sparked anger in Australia, where strict lockdowns in cities and curbs on international travel have been employed to try to control the spread of the coronavirus since the pandemic began.

More than 95 per cent of all top 100 men and women tennis players in their tours’ respective rankings are vaccinated. At least two other men – American Tennys Sandgren and Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert — skipped the Australian Open due to vaccine requirements.

In the end, Australian authorities revoked Djokovic’s visa, saying his presence could stir up anti-vaccine sentiment and kicking him out was necessary to keep Australians safe. He was deported Sunday, a day before the tournament got underway in Melbourne.

Djokovic has won nine titles there previously. He had hoped this year to secure his 21st Grand Slam singles trophy, breaking the record he shares with rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most in the history of men’s tennis. Federer is not playing while recovering from injury, but Nadal is competing.

WATCH | Canadians to watch at Australian Open:

Canadians to watch at the 2022 Australian Open

3 days ago

Duration 3:17

CBC Sports’ Vivek Jacob walks through the Canadian tennis stars you should be watching as they gear up to compete in the 2022 Australian Open 3:17

As the legal battle played out in Australia, Djokovic acknowledged he had attended an interview in Belgrade in December with journalists from L’Equipe newspaper after testing positive for the coronavirus. He later described this “an error” of judgment.

Asked if Djokovic would face any penalties for flouting his isolation while being infected when he returns to Serbia, Serbian officials said he would not because the country is not in a state of emergency.

Djokovic is a national hero in Serbia, whose president had called the court hearing in Australia “a farce with a lot of lies.”

“Novak, welcome home, you know that we all support you here,” said Snezana Jankovic, a Belgrade resident. “They can take away your visa, but they cannot take away your Serbian pride.”

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