If his job is on the line, and it might be as he enters his eighth season as president of the Maple Leafs, Brendan Shanahan doesn’t show it.
It’s the first day of competition at the Tokyo Paralympic Games, and Canada’s wasting no time clinching spots on the podium.
Racing in the velodrome and in the pool, two Canadian athletes secured the country’s first medals of the Games on Wednesday.
It was track cyclist Keely Shaw who earned the first one, a bronze in the women’s C4 3,000-metre individual pursuit. The 27-year-old athlete — originally from Midale, Sask., now in Saskatoon — was making her Paralympic debut and won her race in three minutes 48.342 seconds.
WATCH | CBC Sports’ Jacqueline Doorey recaps Day 1 of the Tokyo Paralympics:
Then, decorated swimmer Aurélie Rivard won a bronze of her own in the S10 50-metre freestyle final. The Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Que., native entered the race as the defending champion, having earned gold — plus three other medals — in Rio 2016.
Her race time of 28.11 seconds added a sixth Paralympic medal to her growing list of accomplishments.
WATCH | Track cyclist Keely Shaw races to Canada’s first medal of Tokyo Paralympics:
WATCH | Swimming star Aurélie Rivard claims bronze at Tokyo Aquatics Centre:
Here’s a quick a look at what you might have missed on Wednesday in Tokyo:
Multiple Canadian teams competed in their opening matches on Wednesday, resulting in a pair of losses and one victory.
The women’s goalball team fell 5-1 to the Russian Paralympic Committee, while the men’s wheelchair rugby team also dropped its opener to Great Britain.
Emma Reinke of St. Thomas, Ont., ensured Canada didn’t stay scoreless in goalball — a sport contested by visually impaired athletes — and recorded a point for the team in her Paralympic debut.
And Zak Madell of Okotoks, Alta., scored an impressive 31 tries in wheelchair rugby — but the persistent Brits stayed ahead, beating Canada 50-47.
It was the women’s wheelchair basketball team that pulled out a win on the court, battling at the Ariake Arena in a close game also against Great Britain.
The Canadians shot into the lead during the second half and stayed ahead to trump their opponent 73-54. Kady Dandeneau of Pender Island, B.C., was responsible for nearly half of Canada’s points, scoring 32 of them herself.
The first gold medal of the Paralympic Games came on the track at the Izu Velodrome. Paige Greco of Australia cycled to first place and overlapped her fellow competitor in her Paralympic debut.
The athlete beamed and shook her fist at the end of the race, having clocked a world-record time in the event at three minutes 50.815 seconds.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Sarah Storey earned her 15th Paralympic gold medal in the C5 3,000-metre individual pursuit. She set a new world record and Paralympic record with her stellar performance — a time of 3:27.057.
The win is also her fourth consecutive in the event. Her first-ever Paralympic gold medal came at her first Games in 1992, where Storey won a total of five medals at the age of 14.
Both Canada’s oldest and youngest athletes competed in Tokyo on Wednesday. Wheelchair fencer Sylvie Morel — who hit the scene in 2000 as Canada’s first Paralympian in the sport — returned to competition at the age of 64, making her debut in women’s sabre.
And Nicholas Bennett, 17, made a splash in the pool for his debut, placing sixth in his qualifying heat of the men’s S14 100-metre butterfly. While he didn’t advance from his heat, the teenager broke his own Canadian record in a time of 58.38 seconds.
TORONTO — Kevin Cash rolls his eyes when told about all the second-guessing Charlie Montoyo gets in the Toronto Blue Jays discourse, knowing well that anyone looking to solve a baseball problem can find an easy answer in pointing fingers at the manager.
The relentless scrutiny can be a lot to take.
“Correct, that’s fair,” says the Tampa Bay Rays skip, the reigning American League manager of the year. “You’ve got to have a really strong support group, where you can have some of those venting conversations. But when three o’clock rolls around and the guys start filtering into the clubhouse, you’ve got to find that consistency that you show day in and day out.”
The ability to remain on even-keel no matter the circumstance is, to Cash, what’s been most impressive about the way Montoyo, his former bench coach, has stewarded the Blue Jays through the pandemic, and the two seasons of franchise displacement it caused.
“Charlie should be manager of the year,” says Cash. “I mean, what he has gone through over a two-year period, it’s pretty remarkable. It’s a special group over there but he has helped keep that group together and unified it with all the B.S. that has taken place because of the travel and inconsistencies.
“Look at the uncertainty that all those players, certainly Charlie and the staff, but ultimately all the players faced. You’ve got three home ballparks, you’re getting booed half the time because when we played them in Dunedin, we’ve got fans there, in Buffalo, you’ve got New York Yankees fans there — that’s not how you draw it up. And the way that team has shown over the last two years the ability to just wipe that off and be very, very good is a testament to the players, but also Charlie.”
That viewpoint from a rival dugout runs contrary to the daily griping about Montoyo within the larger Blue Jays conversation, with venomous posts questioning each call he makes and blaming him for each failure.
Now, debating different approaches to key strategic moments is part of baseball’s beauty, because ballgames can be won and lost in so many different ways. Analytics have transformed the traditional discussion by replacing long held pieces of conventional wisdom — like platoon advantage above all else, sacrificing a runner to second base or constantly trying to steal bases — with real data that can be used to develop more insightful planning.
As an unintended consequence, too much data has essentially created a new conventional wisdom that relies solely on stats-based decision-making and wholly discounts gut-feel, with decisions that buck the numbers immediately excoriated. In truth, a balance between the two approaches is best in which the objective information is weighed against a subjective sense of what players may be feeling or going through at a given time.
For instance, Montoyo’s decision last week to use Corey Dickerson at leadoff to not disrupt the rhythm of Marcus Semien, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Bo Bichette batting two, three and four didn’t make much sense on an analytical front. But the Blue Jays factored in the rhythm the three of them had at that point, didn’t want to alter their timing and prep process by moving them up in the order and really like Bichette in an RBI spot. So, they decided for a short period, there was more value in maintaining all of that rather than adjusting the lineup just so Dickerson wouldn’t potentially be in the leadoff spot at a key time late in the game.
Or take last Saturday, when Montoyo stuck with a shaky Hyun Jin Ryu to try and escape a bases-loaded jam in the third inning, rather than go to a warmed Ross Stripling. Ryan McKenna then ripped a cutter up for a two-run double that put the Baltimore Orioles up 7-3, leading to the usual finger-pointing.
Lost in the vitriol was that Montoyo was consistent in showing trust for one of his aces, desperate for innings in the first game of a doubleheader and that if Ryu executes the cutter down he’s probably out of the inning with a double play.
That doesn’t make the decisions right, it doesn’t make them wrong. But judging them strictly based on outcome and ignoring nuance isn’t fair, either. There are many variables in each call the public isn’t aware of and pivotal is that a team’s players understand why things happen the way they do so the public discourse doesn’t penetrate their bubble.
The Rays and Cash have made that a priority.
“Our guys are so good, so bought in and so willing to remove the game last night from the next one,” he says. “Over time, we’ve gotten more of that buy-in because winning helps. But there were three and four years of decisions that we made early on that were challenging not only to the fanbase, but also to the players in there. We owed it to the players to sit them down and say, this is what we’re thinking. We pride ourselves so much on communicating with them and trying to get ahead of and out front of those decisions before they happen.”
The Blue Jays, similarly, have excelled at preventing one game from carrying over to the next. Last year, they shook off not knowing where they would play their home games until the morning of opening day and calling triple-A Sahlen Field in Buffalo home to win a wild card. This season, they began at their spring home in Dunedin, Fla., moved to Buffalo and finally to Toronto. They’ve shaken off gutting bullpen losses, an offensive dry spell that threatened their season and key injuries to contend for a wild card in a four-team deep American League East.
Full credit goes for that goes to the players. Some of it should go to the manager, too.
“They play with a looseness. They don’t play with any panic. They’re having fun in the dugout,” Cash says of where he sees Montoyo’s impact on the Blue Jays. “Granted, you score 47 runs in Baltimore, everybody’s going to have fun. But they’ve shown that consistently all year long, even when we were in Dunedin and we swept them (May 21-24). You saw frustration like, all right, we’re pissed we’re losing, which you should be. But it wasn’t demoralizing to where everybody was hanging their head. That’s where Charlie is special because he’s pretty darn consistent. I know he was helpful for me. I admired and strived to be the level of consistent he showed day in and day out while he was here, and tried to take some of those things from him.”
That’s high praise from one of the better managers in the game, which doesn’t mean Montoyo’s decisions, the moves made and those not, are immune from debate or criticism. That’s part of the territory and part of the fun. But, maybe the game doesn’t need to turn into a referendum on his merits, because there’s more than meets the eye, too.
The BC Lions will recognize and honour survivors of Canada’s residential school system at a game later this month — “a dream come true,” according to the founder of the Orange Shirt movement.
Provincial government officials and First Nations leaders gathered at BC Place on Thursday to announce plans for the event, which will see the Lions and the visiting Saskatchewan Roughriders wearing orange tape for their CFL game on Sept. 24.
Lions vice-president George Chayka said the club will welcome 350 residential school survivors at the game.
The club also announced it would donate $20,000 to the Orange Shirt Society.
Phyllis Webstad, a residential school survivor who founded the Orange Shirt Society, said she is thrilled to have the Lions jump on board.
“This partnership here is a dream come true for me,” she said.
“It’s a dream come true for me to have survivors and their families honoured at the Sept. 24 game.”
Melanie Mark, Minister of Tourism and Sport, helmed the announcement and thanked the team and its sponsors for getting involved.
“This partnership is an example of paddling together on the path to reconciliation,” she said.
Chayka said the partnership is a perfect fit. He said he knew he had to do something when he heard the news in late May of the unmarked graves found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
“One of the pillars of our brand is to help build better communities,” he said.
The team also unveiled a First Nations version of its logo, designed by an Indigenous B.C. artist. The logo will be on 10,000 T-shirts handed out at the Sept. 24 game.
Premier John Horgan, also on hand at the announcement, described the partnership between the Lions and the Orange Shirt Society as “a step in the right direction.”
Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir spoke, as well, talking about the partnerships forged across Canada in the wake of her announcement on May 27 of the discovery of the unmarked graves.
“I stand here today strong because of the immense support that both I and our community has received since May 27,” she said.
“It brought all of us, as a community and a nation, together in a good way.”
Webstad said it will be nice to gather on Sept. 24 with hundreds of other survivors at BC Place to cheer on the Lions.
“It’s good to do that,” she said.
“We can’t always be crying.”
If his job is on the line, and it might be as he enters his eighth season as president of the Maple Leafs, Brendan Shanahan doesn’t show it.
Like fans, like his aging mother, like those who live and die with the Leafs, the new hockey season can’t start soon enough for him. He’s ready and he’s not looking back. This is how he chooses to operate. This is the only way he knows. Going forward, straight ahead, the way he played the game.
He understands the market and the fan base. And he can’t wait to see what comes next.
“I’ve felt pressure from Day 1 on the job,” Shanahan said in a lengthy, wide-ranging interview in his Bay Street office. “I welcome pressure.
“There’s never been a time in any job I’ve ever had where I didn’t feel pressure. I’m attracted to jobs with pressure. I don’t think I’d like to have a job without pressure and urgency. You can look back now, three-four years ago, when we were building things up, you felt that urgency every day. I still feel it. It’s part of the job.”
This is really unlike any time in Maple Leafs history. This team with talent has yet to experience any kind of playoff success under Shanahan. There have been next to no fans in the Scotiabank Arena in 18 months. The level of angst and anger and cynicism within hockey’s largest and most rabid fan base from afar is at an all-time high, which by itself represents some kind of all-time low. There are questions and then more questions about the Leafs and Shanahan understands the frustration, feels it himself, says his players have never been more determined after the playoff collapse against the Montreal Canadiens.
“We haven’t gotten over the hump and we understand that,” said Shanahan. “And I sympathize with our fans. For the last year and a half, you go into an arena and there are no fans, no positive feedback from people attending games, it’s an empty feeling. You can feed off that sometimes. We only get our feedback through media and social media. And that can be damaging.
“This is our world. If you want to talk about the Leafs or politics or cooking or gardening or anything, you’re not getting a balanced conversation. It’s difficult not to walk away and feel bad (after that). I think our players are hopeful and optimistic that we will have our fans back. I think everybody feels, whether you’re a player or a fan or an owner or you work in management, it’s something you need right now. The way we’re getting our information, there is just not enough one-on-one contact since the pandemic.
“The feeling the fans have exists within our players and our dressing room. There is an anger, even at themselves, and anger might be the wrong word, but there is a sort of determination to get the job done. That’s what I feel heading into camp.”
The external pressure isn’t just on Shanahan — it’s on general manager Kyle Dubas as well and on his chosen coach, Sheldon Keefe. Partly by circumstance and partly by the strangling economics of COVID-19, the Leafs have been boxed in salary-wise since the pandemic began. Whatever plans Dubas might have had after signing Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander long-term, the $40 Million Four, were frozen by a stagnant salary cap.
“Right before the league shut down in 2020, there was a general managers’ meeting and the prediction at the time was, the salary cap was going to go up $4-to-$6 million that year and the following year, with a new television contract coming in, the cap was expected to go up even more,” said Shanahan. “Suddenly the pandemic happens and all of us had to make new plans. Every team had to pivot in some way. Every team had to make decisions it probably wouldn’t have had to make had it not happened, but that’s sports. You come up with a plan, things change, you change your plans.
“We’re happy that (big four) were locked up. We believe in those players. We feel we’re fortunate to have them. I’ve watched the development of the players, Mitch killing penalties, Auston’s two-way game. It’s not just those four guys. I’ve seen our team do a lot of things (since Keefe took over) that historically winning teams need to do.
“We need to improve. The important thing is that those things that Sheldon demanded from them get better. Even though it didn’t get results in Games 5-6-7 against Montreal, those are vital team-building blocks. Look at Mitch. He became an elite defensive player and still finished Top 5 in scoring. Auston led the league in goals and plays a great all-around game. They can be strong players and still be among the top offensive players.
“What we can’t do is get frustrated now. We can’t discard the plan. We can’t go on our own as individuals. We have to continue on this course and I think the players are absolutely driven to get this done here in Toronto.”
Of all the players who have taken heat in the off-season, none have been singled out as much as Marner, the first Leaf forward to be voted a first-team all-star since Frank Mahovlich in 1963. He is among the most talented and most ostracized of all Toronto players. And that bothers Shanahan.
“I look at a guy like Mitch, who from the moment he could put on skates, he was saying he wanted to be a Maple Leaf,” said Shanahan. “He’s a great teammate, a great two-way player, is an elite all-star who will likely be an Olympian, and all he wants to do is deliver here in Toronto.
“Yeah, he’s disappointed and frustrated. We all are. That reflects the mood of the entire team.”
If Shanahan was a fan of Dubas when he hired him eight years ago and promoted him to GM three seasons back, he is more of a fan today.
“I’ve witnessed his growth from the day he got here,” said Shanahan. “I’ve been with him a long time. I’m privy to information every day, watching him grow and evolve, watching how he views the game. In the beginning, people wanted to put him in a certain little box, as someone who only saw the game through numbers, but I can tell you he is as much of a pure hockey guy as you will find.”
There is little indication from the inside that Dubas’ job is on the line this season, which would be the narrative from outside the offices of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
Shanahan is also a large fan of the work Keefe does as coach. He thinks the public will have a better view of Keefe’s work after watching the upcoming documentary All or Nothing. The indications are that Keefe is one of the stars of the show. “I think people will see what a great young coach he is.”
So with a great top-heavy roster, a great GM, a great coach, maybe a great team president, how is it the Leafs have yet to win a playoff series under Shanahan, then Dubas, now Keefe. This won’t, necessarily, be an easy season in Toronto. The Leafs return to the Atlantic Division, which includes the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, the perennial contending Boston Bruins, the emerging Florida Panthers and the finalists from Montreal.
“I think that’s something we welcome,” said Shanahan. “If you want to be an elite team, you have to beat elite teams. I don’t think it’s productive to look back (at overtime games) and see what didn’t happen. We can’t do that. We can’t get sucked in or drawn into that. We can’t be excuse-making. But at the same time, we can’t be so emotional.
“I think emotion is great. I think emotional decisions are not.”
When he talks about the Leafs, Shanahan likes to reference the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs and teams that had historically long runs without championships. One of his daughters was born in Boston during the NHL lockout as the Red Sox were about to win the World Series. The feeling of that time, sporting-wise, has never left him.
“I don’t want to make this about me but I was born in 1969,” he said. “You’ve seen a Stanley Cup here. I haven’t. There’s a whole generation of people who haven’t won here. I get the feeling. I get the angst. I also truly believe in staying focused on the task at hand and not losing your grip on that.
“We know the ultimate judgment for this team will come in the playoffs. But we have to know and understand that the playoffs start with a great off-season, with a great training camp, with a great regular season. If we take our eyes off that today, we will be in trouble in the future.”
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