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Olympics-Ice hockey-No medals for U.S. or Canada after quarter-final flops

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Canada and the United States, once hot favourites to battle for men’s ice hockey gold at the Beijing Winter Olympics, will watch on television or from the stands after quarter-final disasters sent them crashing out of the competition.

Action at the National Indoor Stadium on Wednesday began with a stunning upset and ended late in the evening with a surprise.

Slovakia started the day by pulling off the shock of the Olympic tournament when they beat the U.S. team 3-2 in a shootout to reach the last four for just the second time.

The day ended with Canada, gold medal winners in two of the last three Olympics, shut out 2-0 by Sweden in a rematch of the 2014 Sochi final.

In between, defending gold medallists the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) eased past Games debutantes Denmark 3-1 and Finland thumped Switzerland 5-1.

The ROC will now face off against the Swedes, while Friday’s other semi-final will see Finland try to end Slovakia’s storybook run.

The dual North American exit is not nearly as shocking as it would have been had the National Hockey League not decided to pull out of the Beijing Games after a COVID-19 surge forced the postponement of over 100 NHL games.

Before the pandemic robbed Beijing of the world’s best players, Canada and the U.S. had been expected to arrive in China with glittering rosters packed from top to bottom with NHL All-Stars ready to go for gold.

But with rosters quickly cobbled together from colleges and European and minor leagues, for the first time since the 2006 Turin Olympics there will be no North American teams in the last four and the medal hunt.

Canada’s hopes were dashed when Lucas Wallmark broke open a scoreless contest midway through the third period, fighting off a defender and ripping a wrist shot past Matt Tomkins.

With Canada pulling Tomkins in favour of an extra-attacker, Anton Lander scored into an empty net to seal the victory.

“It was a game we didn’t give up much,” said Lander. “Small plays make a difference and today we were on the lucky side.

“We believed and kept working harder, harder and harder and sooner or later the puck is going to bounce with you.”

‘I CAN’T WAIT TO PLAY’

After dropping their opening two contests, Slovakia turned it up a couple of gears in brushing aside 2018 Pyeongchang Games silver medallists Germany in the qualification round then upending the United States.

Slovakia has been led by 17-year-old Juraj Slafkovsky, who has had a sensational Olympics, topping the goal scoring table with five, including the opener against the Americans.

But it was Peter Cehlarik, the only skater to score in a nail-biting shootout who would clinch the win after overtime ended with the game deadlocked at 2-2.

After Cehlarik scored, the U.S. had one last chance to extend the shootout, but captain Andy Miele could not beat netminder Patrik Rybar and the Slovakia bench erupted in wild celebration.

Unbeaten in group play, the United States looked headed for the semi-finals in regulation, leading 2-1 entering the final minute. But Slovakia had pulled Rybar for an extra attacker and were rewarded with the equaliser by Marek Hrivik with just 44 seconds left to force overtime.

As half of the former Czechoslovakia, Slovakia was represented in several appearances on the Olympic podium. As an independent nation, it reached the semi-finals at the 2010 Vancouver Games but failed to medal, losing to Finland in the bronze match.

“It happened 12-years ago and now again I can’t wait to play in the semi-finals,” said Slafkovsky. “I was watching this but I was six years old and had to go to school or kindergarten.”

Finland notched first-period goals two minutes apart from Miro Aaltonen and Mikko Lehtonen and never let the overmatched Swiss back into the contest, with Marko Anttila, Iiro Pakarinen and Teemu Hartikainen also finding the back of the net.

The ROC have yet to get their attack into full gear but saw off gritty Denmark with a goal in each period.

Nikita Nesterov, Vadim Shipachyov and Vyacheslav Voinov scored for the ROC, while Frans Nielsen kept Denmark from being shut out.

(Reporting by Steve Keating, additional reporting Amy Tennery; Editing by Ken Ferris, Himani Sarkar and Bill Berkrot)

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This Battle of Alberta won’t be like the past, but the emotion will be unmatched – Sportsnet.ca

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EDMONTON  — It’s been 31 years, so long that a generation really only knows the Battle of Alberta in snap shots from Hockey Night in Canada videos. 

Gretzky down the wing on Vernon. Smith, in off of Fuhr. Fleury break dancing across the Northlands Coliseum logo. Dave Brown, startin’ the lawn mower on Jim Kyte. 

Glen Sather, alternately cheering an OT goal in Calgary and issuing a hand gesture to Flames fans that would have garnered him a healthy fine today. 

We’re here to tell you: societal norms dictate that the old Battle of Alberta will never be re-lived. This can not be that. 

But although we might know what we’re NOT going to see when the Calgary Flames hook up with the Edmonton Oilers starting on Wednesday night, you never know what you might see in a matchup set to consume this prairie province for the first time since 1991. A grudge match that — in its best days — was as good a rivalry as the National Hockey League has seen in all its many years. 

“You always knew going into it that there was going to be bloodshed, and it was going to be some of your own,” former Oilers (and Flames) defenceman Steve Smith said in my book, The Battle of Alberta. “It was real then. There were going to be fights and you were expected to be part of fights and physical hockey.” 

“They were big, strong, physical,” added Edmonton defenceman Jeff Beukeboom. “They were dirty. Just like us,”  

The sheer violence does not exist anymore, and for that the NHL is a better place. But the emotion that has gone missing with that violence? 

That, we’d like to surgically implant back into the game, like a ligament from a cadaver that could put the hop back in the step of a league where too many players are buddy-buddy, asking how the wife and kids are rather than putting a glove in their opponent’s face. 

It was that emotion that fuelled the high-octane dragster that was The Battle. 

Emotion that would drive Doug Risebrough to slink into the penalty box with an Oilers jersey purloined from the latest Pier 6 brawl, and slice it into ribbons with his skates. Emotion injected into a practice from Flames head coach Bob Johnson, who dressed a Junior A goalie in an Oilers jersey so his players could feel the thrill of blowing pucks past a Grant Fuhr lookalike. 

“That’s the thing we’re missing in the game today. Emotion,” said former Flames goalie Mike Vernon. “Those games had so much emotion, and there was a price that had to be paid. Like the time Dave Brown fought Stu Grimson. Grimmer sat in the penalty box for 10 minutes with a broken face. 

“You want to see real? That’s real.” 

Emotion from players who knew, this wasn’t going to be a normal game. And if I play like it is, I won’t survive it. 

“I had no problem [expletive] cuttin’ your eye out. Wouldn’t have bothered me a bit,” said Theoren Fleury, a small man who cut a big swath through the Battle. “Hey – you’re trying to [expletive] kill me? This was survival. It was that unpredictability that allowed me to have the room that I had.”

On a macro level, Edmonton and Calgary have always been contesting each other.

They fought over who would get the first Canadian Pacific Railway terminal (Calgary), way back in the 1800s. They argued over who would be designated the provincial capital, or lay claim to the University of Alberta in the early 1900s (Edmonton, and Edmonton). 

Today the contest has been mostly won by the city that is simply 300 kilometres closer to the rest of the world than its rival. Calgary is the Dallas to Edmonton’s Houston, where the oil patch is concerned, an industry orchestrated by the white collars in the South, but serviced and operated by blue collars up North. 

But where all this has impacted the sports scene is this: Anecdotally, more people born in Edmonton continue to live in Edmonton, while Calgary has become a city more rich in people from elsewhere; Edmonton is a city you leave, whereas Calgary has become somewhere people come to, with allegiances to other teams in tow.

That assessment is subjective, sure, but it’s backed up by the fact the Oilers tend to post better media numbers than the Flames do, whether it’s radio, TV or print. There is simply more local interest in Edmonton’s team than Calgary’s, a phenomenon that will be invisible to the naked eye these next two weeks. 

When the original Battle began however, there was no question who was the big brother, and who was the little one. 

Edmonton had joined the NHL from the old World Hockey Association in 1979, and the Flames arrived from Atlanta a year later. Soon, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey et al. were clearly a group the Flames could not match, or catch up to via the draft. So the Flames, with former University of Wisconsin coach Bob Johnson behind their bench, built a team using older college grads like Joe Nieuwendyk, Joe Mullen, Joel Otto, Jamie Macoun and Gary Suter.

In the end, the Flames only won one of five playoff meetings between the two, but they played the Boston Red Sox to Edmonton’s New York Yankees, or Don Cherry’s Boston Bruins to the 70’s Habs that were Edmonton. 

“Ali needed Frazier,” Messier once said. “That top opponent that pushes, and challenges, and makes you better.” 

As the two teams ready for a meeting beginning Wednesday night in Calgary, that old Saddledome is perhaps the only visual that will provide a similar look, outside the familiar jerseys of each team. The landscape is unfamiliar, with teams full of players who have never faced each other in a post-season series. 

Two teams who once combined for 780 goals in a season settled for 576 this season. And penalty minutes? 

Forget about it… 

In 2022 however, there are some similarities. Connor McDavid will play the part of Wayne Gretzky, while the Elias Lindholm line will lend depth and execution the way Johnson’s old Flames would attack Edmonton using his oft-referenced — but never actually seen — “Seven Point Plan” to beat the Oilers. 

Today Matthew Tkachuk is the spoon that stirs the emotional bouillabaisse, whereas before it was Esa Tikkanen or Neil Sheehy, the Flames defenceman and Gretzky-pesterer whose refusal to fight anyone on Edmonton wound the Oilers up like a top. 

When it’s done, all we can hope for is some lasting memories, some players who might not tee it up together the way they may have a summer ago, and two organizations that see each other as they once did — as the in-division hurdle that had to be jumped on the way to a Stanley Cup. 

“All the most important, most memorable team meetings we ever had were held in that dressing room in Calgary,” Craig MacTavish once said. “We were the best two teams in the NHL of that day, and we would meet very early in the playoffs. 

“They were absolute wars,” he added. “A pleasure to be a part of, in hindsight.” 

We leave you with this anecdote, from Beukeboom. 

“I think it was a pre-season game,” he began. “I was going up ice and got two-handed on the back of the legs by Fleury. Whack! I remember a pile-up in the corner one day, after Simmer (Craig Simpson) had taken out their goalie, and Fleury was running his mouth. ‘You guys suck. You can’t skate, you big [expletive].’ So now we’re in the pile in the corner, and he’s on top of me. But, we come out of it together, and now he’s saying, ‘It’s OK. I’ve got you. No problem.’ Like, now he’s being a nice guy.” 

So, what did Beukeboom do? Exactly what Fleury would have done, had the shoe been on the other foot 

“I suckered him. Cut him open for stitches,” he said. “It was one of the few times [head coach] John Muckler paid me a compliment.” 

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Barkov, Bergeron, Lindholm named as Selke Trophy finalists – Sportsnet.ca

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The Calgary FlamesElias Lindholm joined fellow centres Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers and Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins as one of three finalists named for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, the NHL announced Tuesday.

The award, which is given “to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of
the game,” is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, with the top three vote-getters listed as finalists.

Lindholm, 27, has never won the award, but posted a plus-61 rating that was second only in the league to teammate Johnny Gaudreau’s plus-64. The Swedish centre was the fifth-best in the league at faceoffs, with a 52.9 per cent success rate in 1,592 attempts.

Barkov, who won the Selke last year, led the Panthers to the Presidents’ Trophy this season with the league’s best record. The 26-year-old from Finland posted a career-best 57 per cent success rate in faceoffs and led his team’s forwards in average ice time (20:18) for the fifth straight year. His plus-36 was fourth best in the league amongst forwards.

Bergeron, who may retire this off-season, has won the Selke four times in his 19-year career, which is tied with former Montreal Canadiens great Bob Gainey for the most in NHL history. The 36-year-old from L’Ancienne-Lorette, Que., has been a finalist for the Selke 11 times and led the league this season for the seventh time in his career in faceoff wins, with a success rate of 61.9 per cent.

The NHL plans on revealing its 2022 award winners during the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final.

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England to host 2025 Women’s Rugby World Cup

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World Rugby (WR) has named England as the host nation for the 2025 Women’s Rugby World Cup.

In addition, WR also unanimously approved Australia as hosts for the men’s World Cup in 2027 and the women’s in 2029 with the United States (US) hosting the men’s tournament for the first time in 2031 and the women’s in 2033.

WR is hoping to generate US$1 billion from the World Cup in 2031 as it seeks to tap into the US’ vast sporting culture and commercial potential.

“The USA is the golden nugget everyone wants to get a hold of. It’s the world’s biggest sporting market,” said WR chairperson, Sir Bill Beaumont.

2031 and 2033 World Cups have 25 or so venue bids on the table from all over the country. WR delegates have already been shown around the Denver Bronco’s impressive Empower Field home. One possibility could see the tournament start in the west of the country and gradually move east. There is also the possibility of using localized pools, where each group plays in a different part of the country before congregating for its grand finish.

The whole process is expected to cost in the region of US$500 million and has already received bipartisan support, alongside the seal of approval from President Joe Biden, who wrote a letter to Sir Beaumont promising regulatory support and infrastructural guarantees.

In the US, there have been many attempts to crack the market, but none have yet succeeded. However, the continued presence of rugby in the Olympics, the growing footprint of Major League Rugby (MLR) and an acceptance of where things went wrong in the past, means there is optimism around the next decade.

The US men’s team faces one of the biggest games in their history in June when they have their two-legged playoff against Chile for a spot in the 2023 Rugby World Cup scheduled to take place in France from the 8th of September to the 28th of October 2023.

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