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Six years of harsh reality be damned, the Maple Leafs are sticking to their plan – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – Stay the course. Stick to the plan.

We’re painfully close. Closer than it appears.

In the wake of their sixth consecutive opening-round postseason defeat, the Toronto Maple Leafs will septuple down on the Shanaplan, the blueprint.

They have seen enough progress within this sad string of playoff disappointments to not only believe in their strategy but believe harder. Six years of harsh reality be damned.

“Certainly, as we look forward to next year, there’s always going to be new faces. That being said, we will not be making changes just simply for the sake of saying that we made changes,” said Brendan Shanahan, entering the eighth year of his reign and still hunting Round 2.

“In spite of the fact that we were not able to finish Tampa off in Game 6 and Game 7, I saw a different team and a different approach.”

There is no whiff that the off-ice approach, at least publicly, will alter.

History will dictate whether Leaf Nation is rewarded for this regime’s loyalty and belief or foiled by stubbornness and hubris — and left with a diminished pool of picks and prospects.

During the club’s locker cleanout Tuesday, Shanahan gave Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe a firm endorsement for 2022-23.

Dubas not only backed Keefe but said the idea of dialing up experienced free agents Barry Trotz and Peter DeBoer hadn’t crossed his mind.

“I only think Sheldon is going to continue to get better,” Dubas said. “And I think when we speak of Sheldon in 10, 15 years from now, it’ll be in the same way that you [speak about] those two great coaches. And I think that’ll be played out here in Toronto.”

On the surface, no one is lighting a fire under anyone.

Maybe that’s just smart PR.

What would be troubling, though, is this: Maybe it’s complacency.

The air of disappointment, the vows to dig deeper, the sombre tones as the Leafs packed their belongings for the summer… it all felt so familiar. Just part of the cycle.

“As much as winning can bring people together,” Shanahan said, “learning how to deal with the heartbreak and devastation of falling short, depending on what kind of relationship you have, can bring you closer as well.”

What if, for these regular-season superstars, Round 2 has become the new Stanley Cup, the way RFA has become the new UFA?

“I don’t think playing in any passionate hockey market will allow for comfort to seep into a group,” Shanahan defended.

Thing is, plenty of supporters seem content with giving this another go, essentially, as is. Run it back. Hope the Maple Leafs are 100 per cent healthy again, that they draw an easier opponent, and that next time they will have learned their lesson for real.

I threw up a Twitter poll Monday to gauge whom the fans would like to see pay for another long golf season, and 66.9 per cent of 27,200 voters are happy to run this core back with minor changes on the fringes.

While his actions this summer will speak louder, Dubas says he is still content with allocating an inordinate percentage of his cap space to four forwards (Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander) and an offensively gifted defenceman (Morgan Rielly).

Even after losing multiple do-or-die games to organizations that invested more in goaltending, defence and bottom-six depth.

“The contracts to those players that you’re referencing, I think they’re providing us great value in the way that they’re producing, in the way that they continue to evolve as they go through their contract. So, I don’t regret those at all,” said Dubas, ready to go money-balling for 2023’s David Kämpf and Michael Bunting.

“It’s the reality in the league right now that you’re probably not going to be able to spend as much as you want on those depth pieces. And you’re really going to have to do a great job of finding value, whether that’s someone that’s coming off injury, someone that hasn’t been given great opportunity, [or] someone coming off a bad year that you see something in.”

In a game of goal-line reviews and phantom high-sticks, the Maple Leafs believe they are simply “one shot away,” as captain John Tavares put it.

No need for major surgery.

Just a few more bargain-bin gems, a couple extra hours in the gym. A few less careless penalties, convert on a couple more power-plays.

“We’re slowly understanding the way we need to play,” William Nylander said.

“There’s significant buy-in here, which I don’t think you get everywhere.” Jason Spezza added. “We need more just — that stubbornness of not accepting to lose a game. It’s in the room. It definitely is in the room. These guys, they’re learning how hard it is.”

So are Shanahan and Dubas.

The brass will do their best to sell steady veteran Mark Giordano on the Spezza salary program. They’ll explore a Jack Campbell extension but also alternatives in the goalie market. The fringe forwards will be juggled and a few let loose.

But to hear the decision-makers tell it, mostly what the Maple Leafs need is a seventh playoff shot.

That should do the trick.

And they’ve done a shrewd enough of a sell job to get one.

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Late fumble costs Tiger-Cats in Elks win on Canada Day – TSN

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HAMILTON — Tre Ford was in his happy place Friday in Hamilton.

The Edmonton Elks quarterback got a win in his first career CFL start 30 minutes down the Queen Elizabeth Highway from his hometown of Niagara Falls, Ont.

The Elks came from behind to beat the Tiger-Cats 29-25 in front of 20,233 at Tim Hortons Field.

“To come back to Hamilton and have all my family watching me get that first start and that first win has been fantastic,” Ford said.

Among Ford’s supporters were his wife, parents, sister, sister-in-law and mother-in-law, his high school football coach from A.N. Myer Secondary, his University of Waterloo head coach Chris Bertoia, eight of his former university teammates and more friends.

Ford was shaky at times as the Elks trailed by 13 points early in the second half.

But the 2021 winner of the Hec Crighton Trophy winner that goes to the most outstanding Canadian university football player threw a game-tying touchdown pass to Kenny Lawler early in the fourth quarter.

The winning play for the Elks (1-3) arrived with 1:38 remaining when defensive back Scott Hutter tackled Hamilton quarterback Dane Evans and knocked the ball loose.

Jalen Collins recovered for a 14-yard touchdown.

“I saw him tackle him and thought, ‘please punch the ball out,” Collins said. “All we needed was an opportunity to close the game out. We were fighting all night. It was ugly.”

The winless Tiger-Cats opened a season with four straight losses for the first time since 2017 when they started 0-8.

“I want to apologize to all the guys. I put both home losses on me,” Evans said. “I just have to take care of it, and we win the game.”

Evans was 20-for-31 in passing for 197 yards and a touchdown throw. He was intercepted twice.

Ford’s numbers didn’t sparkle, although he did rush for 61 yards on six carries. The 24-year-old competed 15 of 26 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown. He was intercepted once.

Edmonton’s defence helped out with interceptions by Sheldon Brady and Matthew Thomas, as well as the pivotal late-game recovered fumble by Collins.

“A big shout out to the defence,” Ford said. “They won us that game. They made what, three or four turnovers? They did super well.

“I have room for improvement. I’m not going to complain because we did win. But I’m going to hit the film room to see what I can critique and where I can get better.”

Hamilton went after the rookie with various blitzes in the first half.
“My legs are going to open things up for my arm,” Ford said.

Ford credited teammate and quarterback Nick Arbuckle, who started in Edmonton’s three losses this season, for advising him during the game on defensive reads.

“He’s been like that since day one, even though we’re competitors for the position,” Ford said.

He admitted to early jitters as Hamilton led 16-6 after the first quarter and 19-9 at halftime.

“I always get nervous for the first play of every game,” Ford said. “I think it’s a good thing because it means I care and that I want to win.”

Evans hit Steven Dunbar for a 21-yard strike, and Lawrence Woods returned a kickoff of 72 yards for Hamilton’s first-half touchdowns.

Edmonton’s Kai Locksley scored on a one-yard plunge.

Elks kicker Sergio Castillo made two of his three field-goal attempts, while Hamilton counterpart Michael Domagala nailed his three and gave the Ticats at lead with a 33-yarder with 3:10 remaining in the game

“We’re not good enough right now,” Hamilton head coach Orlondo Steinauer said. “We’re not executing at the level which needs to happen. We’re just not making those plays we need to make.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 1, 2022.

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

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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 – Sportsnet.ca

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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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