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OHL announces delay to the start of the 2020-21 season –



TORONTO — The Ontario Hockey League has delayed the February start of its 2020-21 season.

The OHL announced Wednesday the season will not start on Feb. 4, the date targeted earlier this year. Players were scheduled to report to their teams in early January.

The decision follows Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s decision to put the entire province into lockdown starting Saturday as cases surge during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sport Minister Lisa MacLeod said that Ontario’s lockdown orders allow for professional and high-performance athletes to train within the province but not to compete.

“At this point we do not have any further guidance from the chief medical officer of health to allow them to return to play,” said MacLeod. “That work is ongoing.

“Right now we’re focused on getting our health-care system at a capacity where it’s not overloaded. That’s our No. 1 priority.”

MacLeod said that any decision to cancel the season would be up to the OHL. She added that the Ontario government has already announced that grants will be made available to small businesses to help them through the province-wide shutdown period and that her ministry plans to announce additional funding for sports organizations in the new year.

An added complication is that the OHL has three teams — the Erie Otters, Flint Firebirds and Saginaw Spirit — based in the United States and the border remains closed to non-essential travel until at least Jan. 21.

“Just like with MLB and the NBA, those decisions on border crossings would be made by the federal government so those are key considerations (the OHL) would have to take in,” said MacLeod.

“We would look at what return-to-play would look like and what that would mean in terms of sanitation, social distancing in the arena before they get on the ice, things like that.”

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is the only one of three Canadian major-junior hockey leagues to have started play this season. Play was suspended Dec. 1, with the league saying it hopes to return with its 12 Quebec teams playing in four markets in late January. No date has been set for the return of the QMJHL’s six teams in Atlantic Canada.

The Western Hockey League had hoped to start its season in January, but announced another delay earlier this month.

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Markstrom's shutout lifts Flames over Canucks – TSN



CALGARY — Jacob Markstrom overcame the oddness of playing against his former Vancouver Canucks teammates with a 32-save shutout for the Calgary Flames in a 3-0 win Saturday.

Sean Monahan, Dillon Dube and Matthew Tkachuk scored power-play goals in Calgary’s home-opener, which was the first NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome since March 8, 2020 for a span of 10 months and eight days.

Canada’s NHL clubs are playing in empty arenas to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“Unfortunately there’s no fans in the stands, but hopefully there’s a lot of people watching and enjoyed the win,” Markstrom said. “It’s special playing my old team too.”

Vancouver goaltender Braden Holtby stopped 32 of 35 shots in the loss.

Flames off-season acquisitions Markstrom, defenceman Chris Tanev and forward Josh Leivo faced their former club in the first of 10 meetings this season.

Markstrom played a combined 243 regular-season and playoff games for the Canucks, while Tanev spent 10 seasons and Leivo his last two in Vancouver.

“It’s weirder than I thought it was going to be,” Markstrom said. “It’s weird seeing the team you played for a long time on the other side, but I just tried to stay focused on the puck and tried to do my part.”

Both Markstrom and Tanev made life difficult for their former club. Tanev led the Flames in blocked shots with eight, including three when Calgary was short-handed.

“He’s been doing it for me every since I came to Vancouver,” Markstrom said. “It’s a great fit for him here.

“Guys love him already and they see why I loved him so much as a teammate before. I’m lucky to have him with me here in Calgary.

Calgary scored three power-play goals on six chances and held Vancouver to 0-for-4.

“I liked our game defensively five-on-five. Offensively I didn’t like our game,” Canucks coach Travis Green said. “We didn’t create enough and special teams were the difference.”

Tkachuk had time to go backhand to forehand on a Johnny Gaudreau rebound and beat Holtby’s outstretched right pad at 15:16 of the third period.

Andrew Mangiapane sent a behind-the-back backhanded feed across the high slot for Dube to rifle over Holtby’s shoulder at 16:22 of the second.

The hosts killed off a Canucks two-man advantage for 81 seconds in the opening period. Markstrom turned away three shots and Tanev blocked two attempts during it.

Tkachuk on Holtby’s left fed Monahan in the slot for a power-play goal at 8:31.

The Canucks (1-2-0) played their third road game in four nights to start the regular season. They get another chance to solve their former goaltender Monday in Calgary before returning to Vancouver.

“He played really well tonight. Not going to say he didn’t,” Canucks forward Bo Horvat said. “He stole games like that for us in previous years so we know how he can be.

“We’ve got to get in his eyes and create havoc in front of the net and we didn’t do that in front of him tonight.”

Calgary (1-0-1) has a more gentle start to its regular season with a five-day break following Monday’s rematch.

The Flames paid tribute to team president Ken King, who died March 11, and Calgary Police Service Sgt. Andrew Harnett who was killed while working New Year’s Eve.

Notes: Former Flames defenceman Travis Hamonic returned to the Saddledome wearing Canuck colours . . . Flames goaltender David Rittich dressed Saturday after sitting out the season-opener because of family issues . . . Off-season acquisition Dominik Simon made his Flames debut Saturday . . . Calgary is 9-8-3 in home openers since the turn of the century.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 16, 2021.

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Maple Leafs’ Spezza will retire if claimed on waivers, agent says –



TORONTO — Jason Spezza simply can’t see himself playing anywhere else.

The veteran centre is so entrenched with the Toronto Maple Leafs that he’d rather walk away from the sport than report to another team that claims him off the waiver wire, according to agent Rick Curran.

“He’ll simply retire,” Curran told Sportsnet on Sunday.

The Leafs placed Spezza and No. 3 goaltender Aaron Dell on waivers as part of roster maneuvering needed to create flexibility in the wake of a left knee injury to Nick Robertson. The NHL’s other 30 teams have until noon ET on Monday to put in a claim.

While Dell is likely headed elsewhere — there’ve been four claims involving goaltenders already in this young NHL season — Spezza intends to stay in Toronto no matter what happens.

The 37-year-old relishes the role he’s carved out with his hometown Leafs and holds the cards here: In the event he was claimed by another team and refused to report, he’d likely see his $700,000 contract terminated.

That would allow him to sign another deal in Toronto.

Spezza said there was “unfinished business” when he returned to the Leafs on a second straight one-year contract in October, and understood at the time that a roster move like the one that occurred Sunday was possible because of the team’s salary cap position, according to Curran.

He’s taken on a mentorship role inside the organization — skating with Robertson and other prospects at the team’s practice facility throughout the off-season — while happily embracing a depth position on the roster.

Spezza is averaging 7:44 through three games and picked up his 600th career NHL assist in the season opener. He won all 10 faceoffs he took during Saturday’s 3-2 victory in Ottawa.

“To me, it’s special to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs,” Spezza said in September. “Being a Toronto boy, it’s something that I dreamed of, and you wanted to be a part of something special.

“I didn’t take for granted any days that I got to put the jersey on.”

He may get to do that again as soon as Monday night, when the Winnipeg Jets visit Scotiabank Arena — assuming he goes unclaimed.

The Leafs’ decision to place Spezza on waivers was tied directly to the knee injury Robertson suffered in Ottawa, the extent of which will be known following an MRI on Sunday. It temporarily left Toronto with only 17 healthy skaters on the active roster, forcing the team to make additional moves in order to bring up reinforcements from the taxi squad.

Spezza, the No. 2 pick in the 2001 draft, has appeared in more than 1,200 career NHL games and remains very much in the Leafs’ plans.

They remain in his, too.

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Maple Leafs' Spezza will retire if claimed on waivers, agent says –



TORONTO — Jason Spezza will retire if another NHL team claims him off the waiver wire, according to agent Rick Curran.

The Toronto Maple Leafs put the veteran centre and No. 3 goaltender Aaron Dell on waivers Sunday as part of roster maneuvering needed to create flexibility in the wake of a knee injury to Nick Robertson.

But Spezza, playing for his hometown team on a league-minimum $700,000 contract, has no intention of continuing his career anywhere else.

“He’ll simply retire,” Curran told Sportsnet.

The 37-year-old Spezza is in his second season with the Leafs and understood this kind of roster move was possible when he signed another deal with Toronto in October, according to Curran. He’s happy to serve a depth role for the organization — helping mentor younger players while playing fourth-line minutes.

Spezza is averaging 7:44 in the first three games with one assist. He won all 10 faceoffs he took during Saturday’s 3-2 victory in Ottawa.

Robertson suffered a left knee injury against the Senators and is due to undergo an MRI on Sunday to determine the extent of the damage. That left Toronto with only 17 healthy skaters on the active roster, forcing the team to make moves in order to bring up another body from the taxi squad.

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