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Scotties’ final four teams ready to rock

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MOOSE JAW, Sask. – It’s crunch time at the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

Ontario’s Rachel Homan, Team Wild Card’s Jennifer Jones, Manitoba’s Kerri Einarson and Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville have all booked their spots in this weekend’s Page Playoffs at Mosaic Place.

There was a slew of storylines this week at the Scotties. Robyn Silvernagle’s hometown Saskatchewan squad gave fans plenty to cheer about early on before gassing out in the championship round. The defending champs led by Chelsea Carey also fell short of expectations while New Brunswick’s Andrea Crawford broke a Scotties record, scoring a seven-point end against top-ranked Manitoba in the round robin.

None of that really matters anymore, however, as the final four all go back to square one to determine the 2020 Canadian champion.

There are no surprises with this group. Einarson, Jones and Homan are ranked second, third and fourth respectively in Canada and are all in the top 10 in the world. McCarville would be, too, if not for her light schedule playing way up north in Thunder Bay, Ont.

TSN.ca takes a deeper look at that the matchups which features two pairs of provincial rivals going head-to-head.

Page Playoff 1 vs. 2 Game – Manitoba vs. Team Wild Card

Saturday at 7pm ET on TSN 1/3/4 or streaming on TSN.ca, the TSN App and TSN Direct

MB Scotties Record: 9-2
WC Scotties Record: 9-2

It will be the Battle of Manitoba in the Page 1 vs. 2 game as Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones, representing Team Wild Card this week, takes on Gimli’s Kerri Einarson, who is wearing the Buffalo for the third time in her career.

Jones has a career 23-10 record against Einarson with her most recent victory against the provincial rival coming Friday afternoon (12-7 in just eight ends) in championship pool play. The 2014 Olympic gold medalist might have the advantage all-time, but Einarson has taken nine of their past dozen matchups.

That stat might not mean much given how well Jones is playing this week. After beating Tracy Fleury in the Wild Card game last week, Team Jones dropped their opener to Ontario’s Rachel Homan before reeling off nine straight, including four extra end games. They lost their final championship round game to Northern Ontario Friday night.

“It was little bit of an emotional rollercoaster. We lost our first game [in the main draw] and now lost our last game. Maybe we can get on a bit of a winning streak again,” Jones said.

Last year in Sydney, N.S., Jones missed the playoffs for the first time in her career. The 45-year-old says they feel much more comfortable this year, especially when it comes to the ice.

“We didn’t love the ice last year and that kind of got us,” said Jones. “We struggled a lot with draw weight and this year we feel the ice has been a lot more consistent and we’re more in love with the ice so that’s helped us a lot.”

A Canadian title this weekend would be No. 7 for Jones, passing Nova Scotia’s Colleen Jones for most all-time.

“We were anticipating having to beat the top teams coming in,” said Jones. “It’s kind of played out the way we thought it would so we know we’re going to have to play great in order to win this thing.”

On the other side of the sheet will be Einarson’s squad of third Val Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard and lead Brianne Meuilleur, who are in their second year as a foursome after creating a super team of former skips. Einarson lost to Jones in the 2018 final in Penticton, B.C., as a skip for a different team.

The team out of the Gimli Curling Club are playing in their first Canadian championship as a foursome after losing in the Wild Card game in 2019. It’s been an up-and-down week in Moose Jaw for Einarson and company.

Manitoba came into the week as the top seed thanks to a 49-18 record and two wins on the WCT. They won their first four games in Moose Jaw before ending up on the wrong side of Scotties history during a game against New Brunswick. Manitoba allowed seven in a wild seventh, the most points scored in a single end in the history of the Canadian women’s curling championship.

“What seven?” Einarson joked with reporters Thursday night after clinching a playoff spot, seemingly putting that memory to bed.

Einarson says they’ve worked really hard to reach 1 vs. 2 page playoff

Kerri Einarson says she’s very happy to be in the 1 vs. 2 page playoff and owes a lot of her success this week to her great teammates.

“You have to be able to shrug a loss off and move forward. That’s what creates the best teams in the world. As long as you can toss that one and move forward and come out focused,” Einarson said Friday.

The last day of championship round play was an interesting one, too. Manitoba allowed two scores of four in a 12-7 loss to Team Wild Card before turning things about and beating Ontario in the evening draw.

As the No. 1 seed, Manitoba will have hammer in the first end against Jones’ Wild Card team.

Page Playoff 3 vs. 4 Game – Ontario vs. Northern Ontario

Saturday at 2pm ET on TSN 1/4/5 or streaming on TSN.ca, the TSN App and TSN Direct

NO Scotties Record: 8-3
ON Scotties Record: 9-2

It’s safe to say Rachel Homan has had Krista McCarville’s number over the years.

Since 2011 the two Ontario skips have played each other 15 times, with Homan taking 14 of those games, including a convincing 9-4 victory in Moose Jaw earlier this week.

Some of those wins have came in the Scotties playoffs as well, with Homan eliminating McCarville in the 2017 semi-final and the 2019 Page 3 vs. 4. McCarville’s only win came in late 2016 at a Grand Slam event.

“It always comes down to the last rock when we play them,” said Homan. “We know they’re going to be wanting that just as bad as we are, so we have to come out and play our best game.”

Homan is in the playoff hunt once again as the 30-year-old pursues a fourth national championship. The rink out of the Ottawa Curling Club dropped a heartbreaker in the final last year against Chelsea Carey.

“Whether you’re playing the 3-4 or 1-2, we’re all playing close to the same amount of games to get through this. If you can get that momentum rolling it looks good for you,” said Homan.

Dating back to 2010 when she finished third, this will be McCarville’s fifth straight appearance in the Scotties playoffs. It’s an impressive feat given that you simply don’t see the school teacher on the World Curling Tour or Grand Slam circuit very often due to family and work commitments as well as travel constraints given the team’s northern home base.

McCarville says a lighter schedule may not help when it comes to getting used to arena ice but can be beneficial in other ways.

“Just coming to the event we’re fresh and we’re excited and we’re ready,” she said. “I think if we travelled a lot maybe we wouldn’t feel that way. Just being [in] the playoffs, we’re super excited. We’re fired up to be playing on that Scotties ice because we don’t get to do this all the time.”

Third Kendra Lilly says it might be a slight advantage given that other top-calibre teams don’t know their game plan as well.

“I think some of those other teams would know [what] each of those teams are going to do when they hammer or when they’re up one with [hammer]. Us, we’re kind of like a sneak attack – they don’t know what we’re going to be doing – we’d like to use it to our advantage,” said Lilly. “It is a benefit. We had really great ice at provincials to help us get on that arena ice. We don’t play on arena ice as much.”

Including the Scotties, the Thunder Bay foursome of McCarville, Lilly, second Ashley Sippala and lead Jen Gates have played in five events this season and hold a record of 29-6.

McCarville admits the image of winning her first Scotties title and wearing Team Canada colours at next year’s event in her hometown of Thunder Bay does start to creep into her mind at this point in the week.

McCarville knows anything can happen in the playoffs

Krista McCarville says it was a big positive to finish with a win and knows anything can happen when it comes to the page playoffs where they’ll face Rachel Homan and team Ontario.

“There’s always those thoughts, but there’s still three really big wins we need to go there and so we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” said McCarville. “One game at a time, just keep on plucking along and that’s what we’ve been doing the last couple days so we’re pretty happy with it.”

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Bitterness replaces business as lockout grinds Major League Baseball to a halt – Toronto Sun

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“The shutdown is a dramatic measure, regardless of the timing,” MLBPA president Tony Clark said

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After an unprecedented spending spree by billionaire owners to millionaire players in recent weeks, the chains are on Major League Baseball.

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Who knows what awaits, but most are expecting a long, drawn-out winter of rhetoric and futile negotiations possibly putting the start of the 2022 season in peril.

As the clock struck midnight on Wednesday, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred did the expected and issued a lockout of players, triggering pro baseball’s first work stoppage since 1994.

Even as owners handed out more than $1.4 billion in future contracts this off-season, last-ditch talks between the league and the Major League Baseball Players Association created zero traction.

Given the laughable attempt at negotiations — and given all the money tossed around in recent days — it’s impossible for the average fan to pick a side in this dispute. And expect the bitterness from both parties to escalate the closer we move towards spring training.

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Choosing such a hard line in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic and within a sport that has had multi-layered challenges over the past number of years will be difficult to stomach for fans already disillusioned with the game.

And with negotiations broken and the lockout chains in place, both the league and the players are already launched in the blame game of the opposite side.

Claiming he was “forced” to impose the lockout, Manfred said in a letter “to the fans” that from the outset the MLBPA has been unwilling to compromise or collaborate.

And thus began what we’d expect to be months of bitterness before any hope of a settlement is reached.

“Simply put, we believe that an off-season lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season,” Manfred wrote. “We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time.

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“This defensive lockout was necessary because the Players Association’s vision for (MLB) would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive.”

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Manfred said that imposing the lockout now gives both sides the opportunity to reach labour peace in time for the season to begin on time in late March. Naturally, the union dismissed that narrative.

“The shutdown is a dramatic measure, regardless of the timing,” MLBPA president Tony Clark said in a statement. “It was the owners’ choice, plain and simple, specifically calculated to pressure players into relinquishing rights and benefits and abandoning good-faith bargaining proposals.”

The effects of the lockout will be felt immediately.

All dealings between teams and players — including offers to free agents and trade talks — are on hold. The annual Winter Meetings, which encompasses a wide variety of league and player business and was scheduled to be held in Orlando next week has been scrapped.

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And as of Thursday, players are forbidden to show up at team facilities for workouts.

It will affect teams across baseball in different ways, including Canada’s lone team, the Toronto Blue Jays, which had been riding the momentum of a positive off-season. Jays general manager Ross Atkins was active in free agent and trade talks and the team spent more than US$250 million in free agent deals and contract extensions since the season ended in early October.

As well, the team’s state-of-the-art training facility in Dunedin, Fla., a significant asset used by many players for off-season development, is effectively off limits.

Though both sides are talking in the tone and language of any work stoppage, the bitterness is evident. There were three reported meetings this week in Texas, the last of which lasted just seven minutes.

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Realistically, there is indeed time for a deal to get done, albeit no visible middle ground that will get a deal done. Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training sites on Feb. 14 — which now seems highly unlikely — and the sense is the start of the season can be salvaged if agreement is reached by March 1.

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The issues are many, ranging from restrictions on free agency, to players accusations that too many teams in the league are “tanking” to accumulate better draft picks, to talks of an expanded playoff format.

The players association certainly seems determined to dig in its heels.

“These tactics are not new,” MLBPA president Clark said in his statement. “We have been here before and players have risen to the occasion time and again. We will do so again here.

“We remain determined to return to the field under the terms of a negotiated agreement that is fair to all parties.”

There’s plenty of ground to cover before that happens, clearly. And given the tenor of dealings between the league and union over the past couple of years, the unwillingness to play ball at the negotiating table is risking the prospect of playing ball in stadiums across the league.

rlongley@postmedia.com

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China opposes 'politicization of sports' after WTA suspends tournaments over Peng Shuai – The Globe and Mail

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Peng Shuai of China serves at the China Open tennis tournament in Beijing in 2017. The head of the women’s professional tennis tour announced Wednesday that all WTA tournaments would be suspended in China because of concerns about the safety of Peng Shuai.Andy Wong/The Associated Press

China declared opposition to “politicization of sports” on Thursday, after the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) suspended tournaments in the country following star player Peng Shuai’s accusations of sexual assault against a former vice premier.

Unconvinced by Peng’s public appearances since the scandal first broke a month ago, the WTA said it wants assurances of Peng’s well-being and has called for an investigation into the accusations levelled by the former world number one doubles player against former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli.

It also cited concerns over the safety of other players.

The stance taken by the WTA comes at a sensitive time for China, as Beijing is preparing to host the Winter Olympics next February, and global rights groups and others have called for a boycott in protest against China’s human rights record.

When asked about the matter at a regular briefing, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin did not directly comment on the WTA’s move but said China “opposes the politicisation of sports.”

The International Olympic Committee said in a statement on Thursday that it had held a second video call with Peng, having held the first late last month.

“We share the same concern as many other people and organisations about the wellbeing and safety of Peng Shuai. This is why, just yesterday, an IOC team held another video call with her,” the IOC said.

Beijing has remained largely silent over the scandal and authorities have blocked discussions of the topic on China’s heavily-censored internet.

Instead, the Global Times newspaper, a nationalistic English-language tabloid, published by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily, took aim at the WTA in an editorial on Thursday, accusing it of “bringing politics into women’s tennis” and of being a “lever of Western public opinion”.

The editorial, posted on the newspaper’s account on Twitter account – which is not available in China – called the WTA “betrayers of the Olympic spirit” and said that “some forces in the West are instigating a boycott against the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.”

The U.S.-headquartered tour’s decision to walk away from one of its biggest markets was applauded by many leading figures in the tennis world but could cost the WTA hundreds of millions of dollars in broadcasting and sponsorship revenue.

Peng’s whereabouts became a matter of international concern following a nearly three-week public absence after she publically accused Zhang in a social media message posted in early November.

Neither Zhang, who retired in 2018, nor the Chinese government have commented on Peng’s allegation.

Peng did appear in mid-November at a dinner with friends and a children’s tennis tournament in Beijing, photographs and videos published by Chinese state media and by the tournament’s organisers showed.

On Nov. 21, IOC President Thomas Bach had a 30-minute video call with Peng, who competed at three Olympics, during which she told him she was safe.

But WTA chief executive Steve Simon, who said the decision to suspend tournaments in China had the full support of the WTA Board of Directors, said they were not convinced all was well with Peng.

The Global Times’ editor-in-chief Hu Xijin used his personal Twitter account on Thursday to accuse the WTA of “coercing” Peng to “support the West’s attack” on China.

Serving as de facto messengers to the outside world, Hu and other Global Times reporters were among the first to publish images and videos of Peng’s appearances earlier this month.

The Global Times also cited a statement from the Chinese Tennis Association saying that it would defend its rights, and warning that the WTA should bear the legal consequences. The CTA did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

Calls to the organisers of the China Open tournament went unanswered.

Searches on the topic of the WTA’s suspension yielded no results on China’s Twitter-like Weibo on Thursday, and at least one post seen by Reuters that criticised the WTA’s move was later deleted.

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Maple Leafs stay hot, thump Avalanche 8-3 for 15th victory in 17 games – TSN

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TORONTO — The Maple Leafs knew there were plenty of built-in excuses.

Just back from a California road trip, the jet lag had yet to lift, bodies were tired, and it had been more than a week and a half since the luxury of a day off — all with one of the NHL’s hottest teams waiting on deck.

None of it mattered.

Auston Matthews scored three times to register the fourth hat trick of his career as the scorching Leafs thumped the Colorado Avalanche 8-3 on Wednesday night.

John Tavares added a goal and two assists for Toronto (17-6-1), while William Nylander scored and set up another. Jack Campbell made 28 saves.

“Really good effort from everybody,” Matthews said. “Playing a really good team with a lot of really dangerous players, you know that they’re gonna get their push and they’re gonna get their opportunities.

“All 20 guys out there did a really good job.”

Jason Spezza, Travis Dermott and Pierre Engvall had the other goals for the Leafs, who have won five straight and are 15-2-0 over their last 17 to take over top spot in the NHL’s overall standings. Michael Bunting added three assists, while Mitch Marner and Alexander Kerfoot chipped in with two each.

“Good preparation coming in, good mindset,” Tavares said. “Good energy, especially coming off the West Coast trip.”

Nazem Kari, with two, and Samuel Girard replied for Colorado (11-7-1). Jonas Johansson stopped 33 shots as the Avalanche lost for the second time in their last three contests after winning six in a row.

“The energy in the room was that it’d be easy to make an excuse right now,” Dermott said. “But tonight was a game that I think we could really show our character.”

Colorado star Nathan MacKinnon, who had two assists, returned after missing eight games with a lower-body injury, while Kadri suited up at Scotiabank Arena as a visitor for the second time since being traded to the Mile High City in July 2019.

The Avalanche announced shortly before the game No. 1 goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper-body injury) — named as Wednesday’s starter by head coach Jared Bednar following the morning skate — was unavailable.

“That was not the issue,” Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “The issue was we just didn’t play good enough.”

That did mean, however, University of Toronto netminder Jett Alexander dressed as Johansson’s emergency backup for warmups. But the 22-year-old from Bloomfield, Ont., remained in the locker-room area until third-stringer Justus Annunen arrived to witness the carnage up close in the second period.

“I don’t think it was an 8-3 game if we’re being honest,” said Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe, whose team built a 3-0 lead in the first. “We played against a really good team that had some adversity.

“That makes the game feel a lot different than it really was.”

Coming off a trip that saw them sweep the New York Islanders and all three California teams, the Leafs went up 1-0 at 4:31 of the opening period when Tavares delicately fed a pass ahead to Nylander, who ripped his 10th goal of the season.

Toronto went up 2-0 at 7:57 when Spezza tapped home his fifth after the Colorado netminder could only get a piece of Nick Ritchie‘s shot.

The Leafs went up by three at 14:24 when Matthews — minus his trademark moustache following a shave for charity — took a feed from Marner and went between the legs and back against the grain to roof his team-leading 11th goal, and fourth in as many games.

“He’s such a special player,” Dermott said. “When he’s hot like this, you just want to put the puck … not even on his tape.

“You put it on his backhand — he’ll make magic out of that.”

Colorado got on the board with 1.2 seconds left in the period when Girard blasted a one-timer past Campbell for his second.

The NHL’s second star in November after going 9-2-0 with a league-leading .959 save percentage, the Leafs goaltender made a number of big stops early in the second period.

But the Avalanche finally broke through to make it 3-2 at 11:57 when Kadri — the league’s third star last month thanks to 21 points in 10 games — swept his eighth past Campbell.

The Leafs got that one back just 47 seconds later when Dermott’s fluttering one-timer beat Johansson upstairs for his first.

Campbell then made terrific saves on Logan O’Connor and Alex Newhook in quick succession before Tavares slipped his own rebound through Johansson for his 11th to match Matthews and push Toronto’s lead back to three at 5-2.

But Matthews retook top spot on the Leafs’ stats page when he collected a pass from Marner in tight and outwaited Johansson for his 12th just 46 seconds into third.

The reigning Maurice (Rocket) Richard Trophy winner then fired his third of the night at 8:41 on a shot that beat the Colorado netminder shortside to continue the onslaught before Engvall and Kadri rounded out the scoring.

“Those first two goals, really good sequences by that line,” Keefe said of the Bunting-Matthews-Marner trio. “Just unbelievable passes by Mitch Marner in both cases.

“On the third one, (Matthews) gets it alone. That’s a pretty good shot … kisses the post.”

Added Campbell: “Auston being Auston. Just spectacular.”

Fans around Scotiabank Arena chanted Matthews’ name after hats rained down on the ice following his hat-trick snipe.

“It definitely gives you chills down your spine,” he said. “It’s just a really special place to play.

“It’s fun when the crowd gets going like that and you play as well we did tonight.”

Notes: The 21 goals the Leafs have scored over their last four games equals the team’s October total. … Kadri’s second goal was the 200th of his career. … Bunting stretched his point streak to five games (two goals, seven assists) to tie Detroit’s Moritz Seider for a longest by a rookie this season. … The Avalanche visit Montreal on Thursday before heading to Ottawa on Saturday. … The Leafs play in Minnesota on Saturday and Winnipeg on Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2021.

___

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