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‘Play La Bamba, baby’: Edmonton erupts as Oilers return to final four –



The last time the Edmonton Oilers played in the Western Conference Final, Connor McDavid was all of nine years old, head coach Jay Woodcroft was a first-year video coach with the Detroit Red Wings and goalie Mike Smith was cutting his pro teeth in that noted hockey hotbed of Iowa.

Sixteen years after the Oilers’ most recent trip to the NHL’s final four — which ended with a Game 7 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup Final — Edmonton is going back to the Western Conference Final after a dramatic 5-4 overtime win in Calgary against the Flames on Thursday.

After years of playoff heartbreak and frustration for fans with the star-studded team unable to do much in the post-season, the win in Game 5 in the Battle of Alberta set off huge celebrations three hours north of the Saddledome.

The hockey community was abuzz on social media after McDavid’s OT winner.

Canadian soccer star Alphonso Davies, who grew up in Edmonton, was celebrating the victory after a rough day for the national program — which saw Canada cancel a friendly against Iran in the aftermath of major political pressure. He engaged in a little trash talk with Calgary’s Sam Adekugbe, a Canadian teammate.

It also was a special day-before-birthday present for young Ben Stelter, the Oilers’ superfan who is battling brain cancer.

The win also was a boost for a city that had negative news headlines earlier in the day when Alberta’s government invoked the province’s Police Act to force Edmonton City Council to come up with a plan in the next two weeks to tackle a spike in crime.

Now, the Oilers become Canada’s last hope to win the country’s first Stanley Cup since the Montreal Canadiens hoisted the trophy in 1993.

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Raptors sign forward Otto Porter Jr. to 2-year deal: reports –



The Toronto Raptors have signed forward Otto Porter Jr., who was a key member of the Golden State Warriors’ NBA championship team.

The two-year deal was first reported by Yahoo Sports, and confirmed to The Canadian Press by a source close to negotiations.

The 29-year-old Porter averaged 8.2 points per game this past season. He’s a tenacious defender and solid long-range shooter, with a career average of 39.8 per cent from behind the arc.

Porter was selected third overall by Washington in the 2013 draft, and played the first six seasons of his career there before being traded to Chicago in 2019. Orlando then acquired him at the 2021 trade deadline, and he signed with the Warriors in the 2021 off-season.

The Raptors have been busy since free agency opened at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday, signing Canadian forward Chris Boucher to a three-year deal, and signing veteran forward Thaddeus Young to a multi-year contract extension.

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Blue Jays’ bats assist bullpen, carry the day in comfortable win over Rays –



TORONTO – The Blue Jays may have discovered the solution to their bullpen issues: score nine runs a game.

Sustainable? Maybe not, but the Blue Jays are hitting at their best right now, with an MLB-leading 170 runs scored in June to go along with 50 home runs last month. Wearing their red jerseys in front of a sellout Canada Day crowd of 44,445 Friday, some of that offensive output carried into July with a festive 9-2 win over the visiting Tampa Bay Rays.

“It was so special,” said starter Jose Berrios. “I’ve heard a lot about this day, but being here and pitching today was very emotional. I know a lot of Canadians enjoy it and want to be at the ballpark on a day like today.”

“It was amazing, to say the least,” added Cavan Biggio, who reached base four times Friday. “In 2020 and 2021 we definitely missed this place. Now we’re finally back and we’re experiencing that energy that we’ve all been looking forward to on a nightly basis.”

A Lourdes Gurriel Jr. home run put the finishing touch on this one, but the Blue Jays also hit six doubles, five of which came off Rays starter Corey Kluber in a five-run third inning. A three-run sixth created necessary breathing room for the Blue Jays, who were able to rest most of their high-leverage relievers on a day Berrios was not at his sharpest.

With three hits, including his fifth home run of the season, Gurriel Jr. helped drive the Blue Jays’ offence. But don’t overlook Biggio, who walked twice while also hitting two doubles on a day his season on-base percentage climbed to .385.

“Today was great,” Biggio said. “Just hit after hit. A good pitcher, a good experienced guy on the mound, but we had a plan and we were able to execute it.”

Even before a pitch was thrown, Blue Jays fans had plenty to cheer about Friday. The recently retired Russell Martin was honoured with a memorable video narrated by former teammate Jose Bautista and personal messages from the likes of former Jays manager John Gibbons and fellow Canadian Joey Votto.

As the video tributes played in centre field, most Blue Jays players watched from the dugout. The fans also responded warmly to Martin, who later threw out the ceremonial first pitch to another athletic catcher who wears No. 55: Gabriel Moreno.

“Unbelievable career,” Biggio said of Martin. “What stands out to me the most is he played 14 years in the majors and made the playoffs 10 times. That’s what this game’s all about: it’s about winning.”

As for Berrios, he was effective enough, allowing two runs on eight hits over the course of five innings. He worked in and out of trouble, though, stranding nine runners, including both of the batters he walked.

While his fastball averaged 93.6 m.p.h., the Rays weren’t often fooled by the right-hander, who generated eight swinging strikes on 98 total pitches. Still, the Blue Jays will take that from Berrios, especially considering he had allowed 14 earned runs over the course of his previous two starts.

“He’s better than what he did today,” Montoyo said. “He was missing by a little bit and that made him throw even more pitches and work harder …  at the end of the day, he did the job.”

But realistically, the Blue Jays would have been in a tough spot without so much help from their offence. Adam Cimber was presumed unavailable after pitching three days in a row, and David Phelps was likely off limits given that he’d just pitched in four of five. This was not an ideal day for the Blue Jays to try preserving a one- or two-run lead.

Thanks to their lineup, they didn’t have to. With the exception of one inning from Trent Thornton, the Blue Jays were able to avoid their high-leverage relievers, putting them in a relatively strong position entering Saturday’s double-header. 

“If our pitching gives us a chance, our offence is going to go and that’s exactly what happened,” Montoyo said. “We should be better tomorrow because of that.”

Sergio Romo made his Blue Jays debut with a clean inning seventh inning that featured two strikeouts and Max Castillo pitched the final two innings without incident as Toronto improved to 44-33 on the season while increasing their lead over the Rays to 3.5 games.

All told, this was pretty close to how the Blue Jays would have drawn it up. And end of the day, they’re in Toronto again, playing at home on Canada Day for the first time since 2019. In case any doubt remained as to the day’s significance, an impromptu rendition of O Canada broke out in the stands as the Blue Jays closed out the win. Soon after the fans finished singing, the players completed their 9-2 win.

“The energy and pride that this country embodies was definitely on full display,” Biggio said.

Or, as Montoyo put it: “You could tell the happiness about it.”

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Canada’s ‘Core 14’ deliver in solid FIBA World Cup qualifying win over Dominican Republic –



HAMILTON — In all, a success. It wasn’t perfect, but the new iteration of the Canadian men’s senior national team more than got the job done against the Dominican Republic in World Cup Qualifying on Friday night. 

They thumped the visitors 95-75 in a win that had its bumps in the early going, but in the end was just what everyone expected going in: a team with some elite NBA talent supported by polished pros elsewhere in the lineup is tough for anyone to handle.

Canada was led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who topped all scorers with 32 points and added five rebounds and five assists, as the Oklahoma City Thunder star helped his team blow the game open with a 15-point fourth quarter. His cousin, Nickeil Alexander-Walker of the Utah Jazz, added 17 points, while the Detroit Pistons’ Kelly Olynyk added 17 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Dallas Mavericks big man Dwight Powell contributed nine points on 4-of-5 shooting, while adding six rebounds and setting an endless supply of ball screens for Canada’s guards.

The win improved Canada to 5-0 in Group C play in the first stage of qualifying. They complete the stage on Monday when they travel to play Virgin Islands, who are last in the group. Whatever the outcome there — Canada won by 48 without the benefit of their NBA talent when they played in February — Canada is assured to advance to the second stage and, barring a sudden turn of fortune, are well-positioned to advance to the FIBA World Cup of Basketball in the Philippines and Japan.

But the result was in some way secondary as the game was the first test of the senior men’s team’s plan to establish a summer core of 14 players. That plan involves their top talent committing to play for Canada this summer and the next two after in order to build cohesion on their way to what they hope will be their first Olympic appearance since the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

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The difference was evident before the ball went up as Canada introduced its starting lineup — featuring four NBAers to the delight of a sold-out lower-bowl crowd of approximately 6,000 at FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton, Ont. No one received a bigger cheer than Gilgeous-Alexander, who played high school basketball in the city before leaving for the United States.

“It was so fun,” said Gilgeous-Alexander, who got the crowd on its feet early with a left-handed dunk, a first-time event for the right-hander, apparently.  “Just knowing that all the people that have seen me grow from when I was like, in high school, were there seeing me play today. Something I can’t describe and then it went just how I wanted to coming in.”

Indeed, Canada had more NBA players on the bench watching (not all members of the summer core were able to play this summer, but as part of their commitment are expected to be part of training camps and team events) than the Dominican, who counted none in their lineup.

Needless to say, they had no one to match Gilgeous-Alexander, who was as impressive as possible in making his first on-court appearance with the men’s team, a performance that bodes well for the future, but also signalled his emerging status as one of the best guards Canada has ever had.

“He’s up there with the best of them for sure,” said national team veteran Olynyk, who is in his second decade with the program. “It’s a privilege to play with a guy like that. We’ve had a lot of them coming through this program now. He’s not alone. It’s fun to play with him, fun to watch, fun to witness. I think everybody here got a treat tonight.

“His IQ is high. He knows the game, sees the game, is unselfish,” Olynyk continued.  He gets off the ball, gets it back, takes his spots when they’re there. He really knows how to play in the flow of the game. That’s something that’s kind of lost sometimes. He’s really good at it. Obviously, he’s a high-level player, super skilled on both ends of the floor. He changes the game, like you saw there in the third quarter. He just changed the game for us.”

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Canada’s talent advantage showed early on. After a sloppy start for Canada, they got their first separation from a scrappy DR squad with a 7-0 spur that featured a put back by Olynyk, a spectacular block on a dunk attempt by Kyle Alexander (a European pro with NBA experience), two free throws by Gilgeous-Alexander, and a three by Alexander-Walker. Another triple at the buzzer by Alexander-Walker — who had nine points in the quarter — gave Canada a 21-16 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The visitors continued to push and led 31-30 with 5:48 to play in the half and had the game tied 35-35 with 3:09 to play before Canada finished on an 11-1 run, punctuated by a tip-in at the buzzer by Gilgeous-Alexander before the teams jogged off to their respective dressing rooms.

Canada’s talent edge began to show even more clearly in the third quarter. First Olynyk and Powell combined on few high-low passing plays that resulted in Powell dunks. Then Gilgeous-Alexander began doing what he does best in the NBA — using his low dribble and long strides to get the ball into the paint, where he finished or drew fouls. Sufficiently warmed up, he stepped into a triple in transition to extend Canada’s led to 21 with 2:57 left in the third. Two more triples by Alexander put Canada up by 28 late in the period as Canada led 76-48 to start the fourth quarter.

Canada was never seriously threatened after that and the highlight of the period was when 7-foot- 4 Zach Edey of Purdue University — the only college player named to Canada’s summer core — subbed in to make his senior men’s team debut, much to the delight of the crowd who were squarely behind the Toronto-born big man. The 20-year-old got himself on the board with a pair of free throws for his first points with the senior team.

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