SUNRISE, Fla. — I couldn’t take my eyes off Justin Holl and Travis Dermott.
And I barely noticed Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.
And I don’t understand the previous two sentences in any meaningful sporting way.
Some nights, the National Hockey League doesn’t make a whole lot of hockey sense. Some nights, two of the stars of the league can be erased by a pair of defencemen hardly anyone has heard of.
On Thursday night, in the middle of nowhere, the broken-down, under-manned, barely experienced defence of the Toronto Maple Leafs did more than their jobs. They led. They mattered. They made plays. They killed penalties. They limited their mistakes.
And the biggest thing is they won. In Florida. Holl had an empty-net goal on Toronto’s final score of the night and an assist on the first score. A two-point night for Holl. A no-point night for Barkov and Huberdeau. A pair of plus-two defencemen for the Leafs. The great Barkov line was a combined zero goals, no assists, minus-6, see you later for the Florida Panthers in what may have been the Leafs’ most important, most significant win of this season teetering on ruins.
They are four points ahead of the Panthers now in the race for one playoff position in the Atlantic Division. The Leafs have 17 games to play. Joel Quenneville’s Panthers have 18 to go. Toronto came into the state of Florida having lost to a Zamboni driver, having lost Jake Muzzin after losing Morgan Rielly, having such disarray on the back end that coach Sheldon Keefe went with seven defencemen because he wasn’t sure which six he could trust.
And he wasn’t sure — how could he be sure? — of what he would get from Holl or Dermott. Holl, the non-prospect, late-blooming, seemingly dependable defenceman. Paired with Dermott, the full-of-promise, emotional, struggling, occasionally immature talent, trying to understand that less is more. This is not the first pairing of your dreams, not Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook playing together in their primes on Quenneville’s Stanley Cup teams in Chicago.
But they played with fight and spirit and smarts and this duo somehow found a way to get the job done. Somehow. They grew an inch or two in size the other night in Tampa when they played most of the final seconds and hung on, barely, for a Leafs win against the powerful Lightning and then grew some more Thursday night at the BB&T Center, where Leafs fans come to get sunburned and celebrate. Normally, it can be just the sunburn. Thursday night, they got both.
Toronto was down 3-1 just 12:36 into the game. It looked like it was going to be one of those nights, the kind the Leafs have had too many of. And when Frederik Andersen let in a dreadful goal, the kind a Zamboni driver might stop, well, recovery didn’t seem likely.
But late in the second period, with the scored tied 3-3, the Leafs killed a penalty that gave them a certain lift heading into the third period. It’s one thing for this defensively challenged team to kill a penalty on its own. It’s another to kill one with Muzzin out for a month and Martin Marincin, a penalty-killer of some quality, in the box.
So Keefe did what he managed in Tampa on Tuesday. Late in the game, he went to, and struggled with, Holl and Dermott for the entire two minutes of a second-period power play. And after William Nylander gave Toronto its first lead of the night, 4-3 with 11 minutes to play in the third period, Keefe again went back to Holl and Dermott because, really, he had nowhere else to turn.
Again, the pair was sound and smart, and it was Holl who battled to find the puck in his end, knocked it out and watched it roll all the way down the ice and into the empty Florida goal. That was the night, the game, the win.
Barkov and Huberdeau had two shots on goal. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner 11. On the ice, you could excuse the Leafs for laughing just a little late, and mostly to themselves, after Holl’s puck rolled in, an empty-net curling out-turn of sorts. They haven’t had a lot of time to exhale and laugh this season. But the moment meant something to a team in need of more good moments.
“The boys were definitely laughing after that one,” said Dermott, talking about the goal scored by his partner.
The two played together on the Marlies championship run of two years ago. Since then, Dermott was supposed to become a difference-maker and Holl was banished by previous coach Mike Babcock to a place on Robidas Island — without the island.
For the past year and a bit, Dermott had struggled to find his confidence, to be a solid third-pair defenceman who could be trusted by his coaches.
He looked for a while liked he was regressing, as if his career wasn’t heading where it was expected to head. And now when Keefe had to find someone to rely on, someone to trust, he turned to Holl and Dermott.
For now, for this night, for Tuesday night in Tampa, he mixed and matched these two together — and maybe, waiting for Muzzin to return, waiting for Rielly to return, this makes the Leafs deeper and stronger overall.
For one night, maybe two, Holl and Dermott became difference-makers.
“Everyone,” said Zach Hyman, “is cheering for these guys. We need them. We need them now.”
Thousands of tickets still available for world junior hockey tournament in Edmonton – CBC Sports
Odd summer timing and an ongoing sexual assault scandal at Hockey Canada could be the reason thousands of tickets to the world junior championship are still available on the eve of the tournament, says an Edmonton professor.
Prof. Dan Mason, who teaches in the faculty of kinesiology, sport, and recreation at the University of Alberta, said when Canada hosts, there are usually so many fans who want to see the home team take the ice that they are willing to buy Hockey Canada’s packaged games that include teams that are not Canadian.
“So Latvia vs. Slovakia, for example, those games will be sold out as well because in order to get the tickets to watch Canada play, you have to buy a package that includes some of the other games,” he said on Friday.
“The fact that there are still Team Canada tickets available, that tells you the demand is much lower than it usually is for this kind of event.”
WATCH l World junior tournament to go ahead amidst Hockey Canada controversy:
The tournament runs from Aug. 9-20 at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
The initial 2022 championship in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., was called off Dec. 29 after just four days because of rising COVID-19 cases among players and officials, which forced game forfeitures.
The 10-country tournament will be minus Russia, barred from participating by the International Ice Hockey Federation because of that country’s invasion of Ukraine.
Around 1,500 tickets are still available for purchase on Ticketmaster to the first game between Czech Republic and Slovakia on Tuesday. About 1,300 tickets are available for the next day when Canada takes on Latvia. About 1,500 seats for the final game are also available with hundreds of other tickets to watch the 11-day tournament.
This time of year, you probably already had plans to go to the lake … or do something summer-related.— Edmonton professor Dan Mason on poor ticket sales for an August world juniors
Mason said the timing of the games could be why interest is so low. The tournament typically runs over the Christmas holidays.
“Over the past 30 years or so, TSN has built the world juniors into this holiday event that people partake in,” he said.
“I watch it with my family over the [Christmas] break though so it’s kind of become part of our holiday tradition.
“This time of year, you probably already had plans to go to the lake, go to the mountains or do something summer-related. I don’t think we’re willing to give up those plans to watch hockey.”
Many people could also be waiting for a former judge on the Supreme Court of Canada to begin independently reviewing Hockey Canada’s governance amid calls for a change of leadership.
The review comes after members of the 2018 world junior team were accused of a group sexual assault after a gala event, and after Hockey Canada reached a settlement.
“I think there’s people who weren’t sure if they would go or not, and maybe deciding not to go because of that,” Mason said.
The CEO of Explore Edmonton, which promotes tourism in the Alberta capital, said in an email the marketing organization paused its promotion of the games in response to the allegations.
“As the host city for the upcoming tournament, we continue to have discussions with Hockey Canada officials about their plans to address the need for change,” said Traci Bednard.
Mason said inflation and less disposable income could be other factors working against the tournament.
“Canada may be more focused on that player development piece than trying to sort of make money off of a tournament being held in the summer,” he said.
Nets owner Tsai backs coach, GM amid reported Durant standoff – theScore
Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai has pledged his support of the coaching staff and front office after Kevin Durant reportedly demanded that the team trade him or fire head coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks
Tsai took to Twitter on Monday, saying, “Our front office and coaching staff have my support. We will make decisions in the best interest of the Brooklyn Nets.”
Durant’s ultimatum is apparently a result of his lack of faith in the team’s direction, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported earlier Monday. The 33-year-old is firm in his stance, Charania adds.
The former MVP requested a trade at the end of June following a disappointing season that ended in a first-round exit. Little was known at the time about his reasons for the decision.
The Nets have reportedly had discussions with nearly every team in the league in hopes of getting a historic package of players and draft picks in return for Durant. Brooklyn reportedly proposed a trade with the Toronto Raptors involving Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes and talked about a deal with the Boston Celtics that would include star Jaylen Brown.
The Raptors, Celtics, and Miami Heat are seen as the most likely trade destinations for Durant, sources told Charania.
The Nets aim to take “every last asset” from their trade partner in any deal for Durant, according to Charania.
Nash, a Hall of Fame point guard, has been at the helm of the Nets for two seasons. It is his first job in professional coaching. Meanwhile, Marks has held the position of general manager since 2016 after being an assistant for the San Antonio Spurs.
Watch live for free: Leylah Fernandez vs. Storm Sanders at National Bank Open – Sportsnet.ca
Update: This stream has ended.
Canadian Leylah Fernandez begins her quest for her first National Bank Open title against qualifier Storm Sanders of Australia, under the lights in Toronto.
Fernandez, still only 19, is returning to action for the first time since suffering a fracture in her foot during the quarterfinals of the French Open on May 31.
The Laval native is the top-ranked Canadian on the WTA Tour after a headline-making run to the U.S. Open final last year.
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