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Tale of two Battles: Alberta, Florida hockey fans divided during playoffs – Sportsnet.ca

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Hours before puck drop in the first playoff Battle of Alberta in 31 years, the mayor of the city located almost equal distance between Calgary and Edmonton was asked if Red Deer is an Oilers or Flames town.

“Without sounding too wishy-washy, it’s literally split down the middle,” Mayor Ken Johnston said over the phone on Wednesday.

“We did some very unscientific surveys this week phoning some of the jersey shops trying to get a feel for who’s buying jerseys. Even they were saying there’s a slight edge to the Oilers and then another store would say there’s a slight edge to the Flames. You talk to 10 citizens, you’re going to get four Flames, four Oilers, one Winnipeg Jet and one Vancouver (fan).”

While regional rivalries are one of the best parts of sports (and are showcased prominently in the regular season), it takes a bit of luck for that fun to carry over to the playoffs.

This year, we have a rarity in the NHL post-season. For the first time since the turn of the century, two second-round series feature in-state or in-province matchups: the Edmonton Oilers versus the Calgary Flames (the cities are about a three-hour drive apart) and the first-ever Sunshine state series between the Florida Panthers and the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning (four hours between arenas).

And while there is far more of a hockey spotlight in Alberta, some Floridians are going to savour this moment, too.

“I’m torn. I’m on the east coast so I’m a Panthers guy, but I tell ya, both teams help my sales,” said Joe Webb, president of Duffy’s Sports Grill, which has 33 locations across Florida.

“We have more restaurants on the east coast than the west, so the longer the Panthers stay in it, the longer we’ll benefit from the sales.”

The perfect scenario, Webb chuckled, is “seven games and OT.”

In Red Deer, restaurant owners feel much the same way.

Tari Klein, general manager of the East 40th Pub, recalls how the bar used to use a piece of tape to separate Oilers and Flames fans during previous battles — all in good spirits.

This year, East 40th has specific shots for both teams: the Oil Spill (Blue Curacao and Pear Liqueur) and the Flame (Fireball and Baileys).

A lifelong Oilers fan, Klein didn’t have trouble picking a team to cheer for when the Flames faced Dallas in Game 7 last weekend for the right to meet Edmonton.

“I was rooting for the Flames, no doubt about it,” she said. “I’d rather see the (Oilers) play the Flames than play Dallas any day. It will be great.”

Brennen Wowk, owner of Bo’s Bar and Grill in Red Deer, was anticipating big business for the series. A wildly entertaining Game 1 — the Flames prevailed 9-6 Wednesday night — certainly set the tone.

“We had a lot of years where the Battle of Alberta kind of fizzled because one or the other was, for lack of a better word, kind of shitty,” he said. “Now that the teams are competitive again and obviously at a high level in the league, it gets a lot more intense and a lot more fun.”

The excitement, Mayor Johnston said, is “palpable” throughout the city and province.

In Florida, of course, hockey isn’t on the same pedestal — especially in the Miami area, where the Panthers had gone decades without being a legitimate contender (a beach in warm weather might have slightly more appeal than watching a bad hockey team).

The Miami Heat also are in the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals this year — and Webb said many of his bar locations, especially in the Miami area, would be dividing the TVs between basketball and hockey on game nights (the fact six Heat and Panthers games were scheduled for the same day this round, including Game 2 of both series on Thursday, has been a storyline in the Miami area).

Also, a healthy chunk of hockey fans in Florida grew up further north, so loyalties go in many different directions.

“Here’s the thing. They’re obviously smaller (hockey) markets, both of them,” said David Shepard, the president of the Junior Everblades hockey organization, located near the halfway mark of Miami and Tampa in Estero, Fla.

Shepard grew up in upstate New York.

“My kids grew up fans of hockey and enjoy hockey immensely, but none of them are either Panthers or Lightning fans. It’s one of those classic things where they follow the parents. My wife’s a Rangers fan and I’m a Bruins fan so the family is pretty much split down the middle,” said Shepard, whose family has made regular trips to Florida and Tampa games to support the Rangers or Bruins.

While hockey has certainly grown in the state (three members of the silver-medal winning U.S. under-18 team hail from Florida), it isn’t necessarily the big game in Florida. The manager of a sports bar in Cape Coral, Fla. (like Red Deer, almost equal distance between Tampa and Miami) acknowledged in an email that “we do not have a very large hockey base here, unfortunately.”

“I think everybody loves winners,” Webb said. “You’ve seen what’s gone on in Tampa with their team being pretty good the last several years. The Panthers have been pretty good (this season). Their draw has improved. I think this is only going to make it better. … Winning creates more fans.”

Win or lose, the Flames and Oilers won’t be lacking for fans — or competing with other sports for attention at this time of year.

For Red Deer and similar places throughout the province, the Oilers-Flames series can help in many ways.

“It’s been a very difficult time for hospitality, a very difficult time for restaurants, a very difficult time for any kind of social gathering,” Johnston said. “This is a perfect storm in a great way.”

Having lived in Calgary for 10 years, Johnston is a Flames fan.

Can Johnston wear Flames gear in public this week?

“I’ve weathered some more difficult political storms in my career. I think I’ll be OK,” laughed Johnston, who predicted an Oilers series victory before the Flames’ win on Wednesday.

“I think folks here are just so enthusiastic and anticipating a tremendous series.”

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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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