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Raptors send strong message to Siakam with benching – TSN

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TORONTO – There were 25.6 seconds on the clock when Pascal Siakam picked up his sixth and final foul in Tuesday’s contest – a disappointing 100-93 loss to the rival Philadelphia 76ers, which dropped the Raptors to 0-3 on the young season.
 
The expectation for a player that fouls out of a game, and isn’t ejected, is to spend the duration on the bench with his team. Visibly, and understandably, frustrated by the defeat – and the part he played in it – Siakam left the court and walked straight to the locker room.
 
“I didn’t see that,” head coach Nick Nurse said afterwards. “I’m sure I will hear about it. I’ll address it when I get back in the locker room. I’m sure he was frustrated. He had a difficult night at the offensive end, and obviously he fouled out. I’m sure he was frustrated.”
 
When Nurse and Toronto’s front office conferred on Wednesday, they determined that the aforementioned incident warranted disciplinary action. Early on Thursday, they told Siakam that they planned to hold him out of the team’s game against New York later that evening. His teammates learned the news at morning shoot shortly after.
 
“It was a disciplinary thing for an internal matter and that’s the decision we went with tonight,” Nurse said, following the Raptors’ first win of the campaign – a 100-83 victory over the Knicks.
 
Siakam was on the bench, rooting his team on in street clothes. Technically, he was listed as active. It wasn’t a suspension, so the missed game won’t cost him any money. It does send a message, though, and it’s a strong one.
 
According to sources close to Siakam, “Pascal accepted the action [the team] chose to take,” but he was obviously disappointed not to be out there with his teammates.
 
After spending the abbreviated off-season working to bounce-back from his uninspiring performance in the bubble, Siakam has struggled to start the new campaign, most notably late in games. He hit just one of his four shots in the fourth quarter of the loss to Philly, and committed a couple of crucial turnovers, as the Raptors squandered their lead, which was once as large as 14 points. Five of his six fouls came over the final seven minutes and most of them were entirely avoidable.
 
His frustration seemed to be with himself, more than anything else, and the Raptors can appreciate that – everybody was frustrated, and they should have been frustrated, but clearly the team felt he should have channelled his emotion differently and done a better job of keeping his composure.
 
The message they’re sending to the 26-year-old – a rising star and young leader with the club – as well as to everybody else on the team, is that more is expected of them in those high-pressure situations.
 
“Just a certain way we want to do things, and everybody’s got to be a part of that,” Nurse said. “[It’s] as simple as that.”
 
“I don’t think anybody’s happy to see him not play, but that was the decision that came down, so you roll with it,” said Fred VanVleet. “We’re all in this together and everybody makes mistakes.”
 
“This is something that’s not gonna linger around us. P was great. He was great, he handled it very well, he was a great energy for us on the bench tonight even though he wasn’t playing, and we can’t wait to get him back out there with us.”
 
The expectation is that Siakam will be back in the lineup when Toronto visits the Pelicans on Saturday.
 
The Raptors didn’t miss Siakam much on Thursday, but that said more about the Knicks than it did about them. Toronto’s league-worst offence continued to underwhelm, shooting just 41 per cent from the field and 32 per cent from three-point range. However, New York went an abysmal 3-for-36 from long distance and was simply outmatched in the fourth quarter, when VanVleet and Kyle Lowry put the game away.
 
Earlier on Thursday, recently acquired centre Alex Len – who impressed with 11 points in 13 minutes off the bench against the Knicks – alluded to some tension that’s been building up in the Raptors’ locker room. Nurse called it “seriousness” more than tension. Whatever you call it, three straight losses – compiled with the developing Siakam situation – had clearly taken a toll on a team that’s become accustomed to winning.
 
“Losing three in a row anytime in a season is not acceptable around here and I think a lot of guys are fired up,” said VanVleet, who scored a game-high 25 points on New Year’s Eve. “There’s a core group here and we know what each other’s thinking at all times, but sometimes things just need to be said out loud. So I think guys said enough is enough and it was time to get a win. Some things were addressed, and not that that’s the reason why we won, but I think it was just time.”
 
The hope for the Raptors, going into 2021, is that this win – even one with an obvious caveat, coming against the Knicks – can ease some of that tension, take that weight off their shoulders, and help jumpstart their season.

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George Armstrong, Maple Leafs legend and long-time captain, dead at 90 – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — George Armstrong, who captained the Toronto Maple Leafs to four Stanley Cups in the ’60s and wore the blue and white his entire career, has died.

He was 90.

The Maple Leafs confirmed the death Sunday on Twitter.

Armstrong played a record 1,187 games with 296 goals and 417 assists over 21 seasons for the Leafs, including 13 seasons as team captain. The right-winger added another 26 goals and 34 assists in 110 playoff games.

Known as the Chief, Armstrong was one of the first players of Indigenous descent to play professional hockey.

Armstrong was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975. Some 41 years later, Armstrong was voted No. 12 on the franchise’s list of 100 greatest Maple Leafs in its centennial season.

“George is part of the very fabric of the Toronto Maple Leaf organization and will be deeply missed,” Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said in a statement. “A proud yet humble man, he loved being a Maple Leaf but never sought the spotlight even though no player played more games for Toronto or captained the team longer. Always one to celebrate his teammates rather than himself, George couldn’t even bring himself to deliver his speech the day he was immortalized on Legends Row.”

A young Armstrong met Syl Apps when the Maple Leafs star came to his bantam team’s annual banquet. Armstrong would go on to wear No. 10, the first Leaf to do so after the retirement of talismanic Cup-winning captain Apps.

Armstrong would also become one of a select number of Leafs honoured with a banner at Scotiabank Arena and his number was officially retired in October 2016 at the team’s centennial anniversary home opener.

In 2015, Armstrong and Apps were added to the Leafs’ Legends Row.

The Leafs released a statement on Sunday with the words from Armstrong’s unread speech that night.

“Hockey is a great game and I love it. I am part of a fading generation that you will never have again. Every one of us is one of a kind, that will never be repeated. To all of my friends and acquaintances, thank you for your advice and direction, that helped make me who I am today ? a very, very happy person.”

After hanging up his skates in 1971, Armstrong coached the Toronto Marlboros to Memorial Cup victories in 1972-73 and 1974-75 before accepting a scouting position with the Quebec Nordiques in 1978.

He spent nine years with Quebec before returning to the Toronto fold as assistant general manager and scout in 1988. Armstrong served as interim coach for the final 47 games of the 1988-89 season after John Brophy was fired after an 11-20-2 start.

The next year, Armstrong returned to his role as a scout for the Leafs.

Armstrong scored 20 goals four times during his career but was better known for his leadership and work ethic, helping restore the franchise’s winning touch. A smart player and talented backchecker, he worked the angles to get the best shot at his opponent and formed a formidable penalty-killing tandem with Dave Keon.

A humble man, Armstrong was quick to deflect praise. He credited his players for his Memorial Cup wins as coach.

“It wasn’t because I was a great coach, it was because I had some great players,” he said in a 1989 interview, listing off the likes of the Howe brothers, John Tonelli, Mark Napier and Mike Palmateer.

And he offered a typical response when inducted into the Leaside Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.

“I don’t know whether I deserve it or not but I sure am happy to get it,” said Armstrong, who lived in several areas of the city before making Leaside his Toronto home.

Born in Bowland’s Bay, Ont., to an Irish father and an Iroquois mother, a young Armstrong honed his hockey skills in Falconbridge near the Sudbury nickel mines where his father worked.

The Boston Bruins were interested but Armstrong waited until the Leafs put him on their protected list while he was playing with the Copper Cliff Jr. Redmen of the NOHA in 1946-47. After winning the Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy as the OHA’s leading scorer with Stratford next season, the Leafs sent him to their main junior affiliate, the Toronto Marlboros.

He was elevated to the senior Marlies for the 1949 Allan Cup playoffs and helped the team win the title over Calgary the next year.

It was during the Allan Cup tournament, specifically a visit to the Stoney Indian Reserve in Alberta, that he got his nickname. When the band heard of Armstrong’s ancestral background, they made him an honorary member with the name “Chief Shoot-the-Puck” and presented him with a ceremonial headdress.

It was a different era and “The Chief” nickname stuck. Armstrong, who was proud of his mother’s heritage, would become the first player of Indigenous descent to score in the NHL.

He spent most of two seasons in Pittsburgh with the Leafs’ American Hockey League farm team before making the big league. He made his NHL debut in December 1949 and became a full-time member of the Leafs in time for the start of the 1952-53 season.

“It looks as if he’s going to be here for quite a long time the way he handled that puck,” legendary broadcaster Foster Hewitt said after Armstrong scored his first NHL goal in a 3-2 win over Montreal.

Taking a pass from future Hall of Famer Max Bentley, Armstrong beat defenceman Butch Bouchard and beat goaltender Gerry McNeil.

“I did a little war dance that night and I think everybody in Maple Leaf Gardens was pretty happy about it as well,” Armstrong recalled 15 years later.

Toronto owner and GM Conn Smythe named Armstrong his captain before the 1957-58 season. Smythe would later call Armstrong “the best captain, as a captain, the Leafs have ever had.”

The Leafs won the Stanley Cup in 1962, the first of three straight championships.

Armstrong was 36 when the veteran Leafs won the franchise’s last championship in 1967. His insurance empty-net goal with 47 seconds remaining in the clinching 3-1 Game 6 win proved to be the final goal of the Original Six era.

The six-foot-one, 204-pounder played a few more seasons, but suffered a knee injury during the 1969-70 campaign that forced him to retire. Armstrong was convinced to come back for the 1970-71 season before quitting for good at age 40.

At the time, Armstrong had played more seasons and more games as a Maple Leaf than any other player, and was second in career points.

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After UFC 257 triumph, Dustin Poirier guarantees ‘I won’t be fighting Michael Chandler’ next – MMA Fighting

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The easiest matchup to make after UFC 257 appeared to be Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler, after both emerged from Saturday’s pay-per-view event with impressive knockout victories.

But Poirier doesn’t believe they’re in the same category, and he’s not keen on fighting the former Bellator champ after stopping Conor McGregor in the pay-per-view headliner.

“I can guarantee I won’t be fighting Michael Chandler,” Poirier told reporters, including MMA Fighting, at the UFC 257 post-fight press conference. “They can do whatever they want with the division. I don’t really care. If something makes sense, then we’ll do it.”

UFC 257 was initially framed by UFC President Dana White as something of an audition for the top lightweights, with Poirier vs. McGregor and Chandler vs. Dan Hooker competing to impress current UFC lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Chandler certainly did his part, stopping Hooker in the first round with a ferocious display of striking. But with Nurmagomedov looking less and less likely to reverse a decision to retire from the sport, Poirier thinks he should be considered the champ.

Of course, Poirier doesn’t actually hold the belt. But he should be fighting for it very soon, and if the UFC is doing things the way he believes they should be done, he said, then the person standing across from him next will be someone who’s earned the opportunity.

“I’ve just been putting in work,” he said. “That’s why I’m sitting here feeling like I can talk about it, because I’ve been in the division and the UFC for a long time, fighting the best of the best of the best.

“No disrespect to [Chandler], he seems like a good husband, a good father, he speaks well, has a lot of respect, carries himself very well. It’s not a knock against him. It’s just my feelings toward the division and the sport. I lost to Khabib, I came out and put on a ‘Fight of the Year’ for you guys, got my hand raised against a top-five opponent after that. Then I come in there and Khabib doesn’t want to come back, then I knock out one of the biggest fights you can get. I knock this guy out, too.

“Khabib reiterates he doesn’t want to fight any more – dude, I’m the champ. I’m not going to fight, some – and like I said, respect to Chandler – a new guy to the UFC who just beat a guy that’s coming off a loss that I just beat for the belt. That’s not exciting to me.”

This past June, Poirier bested Hooker by decision to rebound after a loss to Nurmagomedov in a title-unifier. A candidate more appealing to him was Charles Oliveira, who’s won his past eight fights and most recently outpointed ex-interim champ Tony Ferguson in a commanding performance.

“I think he has more [of a case for the title shot],” Poirier said. “I’ve been watching that guy for 10 years in the UFC, two different weight classes. He’s fought the best of the best, over and over again. And, he’s been knocked down and gotten up, and he’s proven what MMA and perseverance is. I respect that. Not that I don’t respect Michael Chandler. I just think there’s more work for him to do than beat a guy I just beat.”

Oliveira was one of two names broached for the title shot, the other being Justin Gaethje, who, like Poirier, lost a bid to unify the belts. Before that, however, Gaethje was stopped by “The Diamond” in a brutal bout.

Asked whether Oliveira or Gaethje had a better claim to the title shot, Poirier chose the Brazilian.

“Just because he’s never had the opportunity,” Poirier said. “Gaethje just came out here and got beat, as I did. Not a knock on Gaethje, but he lost. I think Oliviera, probably, or let them fight to see who gets it.”

Poirier will ultimately see what the UFC has in store for him after getting some rest and relaxation. He put a huge feather in his cap by beating McGregor, the UFC’s biggest box office star and a former two-division champion. The next fight he takes has to be one he can justify as a veteran who’s earned his keep.

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UFC 257 results: Biggest winners, loser for ‘McGregor vs Poirier 2’ on Fight Island – MMA Mania

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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) staged its first pay-per-view (PPV) offering of 2021 with UFC 257 going down inside Etihad Arena on “Fight Island” yesterday (Sat., Jan. 23) in Abu Dhabi. In the main event of the evening, Dustin Poirier stunned Conor McGregor by stopping him via strikes in the second round (see it again here). In the co-headlining act, Michael Chandler made an explosive UFC debut by knocking out Dan Hooker in the very first round (recap here).

Biggest Winner: Dustin Poirier

Poirier got some much-desired revenge against McGregor by stopping him via strikes in the second round in a highly-impressive showing. In doing so, Poirier tied the series up at one a piece, which means he likely set himself up for another big pay day should a trilogy fight come around. For now, “The Diamond” put himself in great position to fight for what one can only assume will be the soon-to-be vacated Lightweight strap since Khabib Nurmagomedov doesn’t seem to have any plans to fight anytime soon, if ever again. It is without a doubt Poirier’s biggest win, which can only be outdone if he claims the official 155-pound strap in his next outing.

Runner Up: Michael Chandler

Chandler silenced all of the naysayers and critics who said he didn’t have what it takes to hang with the big boys of UFC by absolutely obliterating Dan Hooker in the very first round, putting the entire Lightweight division on notice. The former Bellator MMA 155-pound champion took his time early on, waiting for the right opportunity to unload his power. And he did just that halfway through the opening frame, tagging “The Hangman” with a sneaky left hook that floored him. From there, the wrestling powerhouse pounced on Hooker and unleashed a series of strikes that forced the stoppage. In taking out Hooker in that fashion, Chandler did something Al Iaquinta, Poirier and Felder couldn’t do. He also went home with an extra $50K in his pockets. A great debut all the way around.

Biggest Loser: Conor McGregor

McGregor’s highly-anticipated comeback didn’t pan out the way he would have hoped, losing to Poirier via technical knockout (TKO). While “Notorious” did look good early on, Poirier made the adjustments and the calf kicks were just too much for “Notorious,” who eventually wound up on the receiving end of “The Diamond’s” devastating strikes. The loss is McGregor’s second in last two outings, with his lone win during that span coming against Donald Cerrone at Welterweight. Is “Notorious” done? Highly-unlikely. He will, however, have to go back to the drawing board and figure out what his next move is. Thankfully for the fiery Irishman he has several options as the promotion’s biggest star. Still, the loss — which is the first KO/TKO of his career — will be a tough one for him to swallow and there is no telling where his mind will be in the coming weeks.

For complete UFC 257 results and coverage click here.

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