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Tavares’ heroics could mark turning point for Maple Leafs




TORONTO — If the Toronto Maple Leafs can build off something, it’s the second goal of the hat trick center John Tavares scored in a 5-2 win against the Philadelphia Flyers at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday.

Center Auston Matthews said it was “just special.” Forward Zach Aston-Reese called it “a sight to see.”

The Maple Leafs let a 3-1 lead slip to 3-2 in the third period, like they had at the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday. Against the Ducks, they allowed the tying goal later in the third and lost in overtime 4-3. They came home on a four-game losing streak with a 4-4-2 record, and they had to listen to questions about coach Sheldon Keefe’s job security.

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Not this time. Just as Toronto started to look safe and defensive, Tavares skated down the right wing, made a sweet move to elude defenseman Travis Sanheim deep in the right circle and cut to the net. After goalie Felix Sandstrom stopped his initial shot with the right pad, Tavares chipped in his own rebound to make it 4-2 at 12:42.

“That’s big-time stuff,” Keefe said. “That’s a big moment in the game.”

Maybe even in the season. We’ll see.

“You recognize we haven’t been playing great,” Tavares said. “We haven’t been able to close out some games. But even though we haven’t played the way that we’re capable of, we’ve been in every game, and we’ve had opportunities where we just haven’t finished it out. [It’s] just continuing to stick with what you do, the same approach daily, with being aware of what we’ve got to get better at.”

Video: PHI@TOR: Tavares scores in 3rd period

Tavares made it 5-2 with a power-play goal at 15:23, and the fans tossed caps on the ice to celebrate his hat trick. They roared when defenseman Mark Giordano roughed Flyers forward Travis Konecny and fought Flyers center Kevin Hayes in one sequence at 18:16.

This was what the fans wanted to see: bouncing back, pushing back, the core coming through. Tavares also had an assist, giving him a four-point night. Matthews had a power-play goal and an assist. Forward Mitchell Marner and defenseman Morgan Rielly each had two assists, and forward William Nylander had one.

“I think everyone was aware of kind of where we were heading,” said Aston-Reese, who also scored. “We weren’t playing awful, but we weren’t playing a full 60 minutes, and there was a conversation in the locker room, and we made the adjustments, and I thought we played almost a full game tonight.”

Normally, it’s too early for such anger and angst. But this is Toronto, one of the biggest, most passionate hockey markets in the world, and consider the full context.

The Maple Leafs have not won the Stanley Cup since 1967, the longest drought in the NHL. They haven’t won a series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2004; every other team has won one since then, not counting the Seattle Kraken, who entered the NHL last season as an expansion team.

The past six seasons, the Maple Leafs have lost in the opening round of the playoffs. The past five seasons, they’ve been eliminated in a winner-take-all Game 5 or Game 7.

Last season was the biggest letdown. The Maple Leafs set team records for wins (54) and points (115), and Matthews became their first 60-goal scorer, winning the Hart Trophy as the NHL most valuable player. But they drew the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference First Round, blew a 3-2 series lead and lost 2-1 in Game 7.

Management brought back the same coach and core this season. In the end, that might turn out to be wise, if the Maple Leafs tune out the noise, turn themselves around and win in the playoffs. But in the interim, they won’t get the benefit of the doubt, because they haven’t earned it.

The same questions remain. How far can the core carry this team? Is the supporting cast strong enough? Is the goaltending good enough? Do they have enough toughness? Can their skill succeed in the playoffs?

The heat is on. General manager Kyle Dubas is in the last year of his contract and has said he’s more than happy to be evaluated at the end of the season. Free agent coach Barry Trotz, who won the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals in 2018 and ranks third in NHL history with 914 wins, has said an Original Six team would intrigue him. Matthews is eligible to sign a contract extension after the season.

One win won’t change any of that, especially this one. The Flyers had lost 1-0 at the New York Rangers the night before and were 1-1-2 in their past four. Instead of goalie Carter Hart, who is 5-0-2 this season, they started Sandstrom, who was 0-6-1 in his NHL career.

Bigger tests loom. The Maple Leafs host the Boston Bruins on Saturday, visit the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday and host the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday. Boston (9-1-0) and Vegas (9-2-0) are tied atop the NHL standings with 18 points each. Carolina (6-2-1) is considered a top contender.

But this was a start. It needs to be a start.

“It’s a really positive step forward for us,” Matthews said.

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Bedard, Fantilli headline Canada’s selection camp roster for 2023 World Juniors –



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Recap: Brazil vs South Korea – World Cup 2022 – Al Jazeera English



Neymar has returned from injury to help Brazil thump South Korea 4-1, setting up a World Cup quarter-final clash against Croatia.

Four unanswered Brazilian goals in the first half at Stadium 974 on Monday set an imperious tone for a team with their sights firmly on a sixth World Cup title.

And while the game settled in the second period, it was never sluggish or scrappy, and a spirited South Korea fought hard to score a consolation goal in the 76th minute.

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It took just seven minutes for Brazil to get off the mark, with Raphinha picking up the ball just outside the box and rushing in on the right side, sending in a pass to Neymar. The Paris Saint-Germain number 10 was brought down by his marker and the ball ended up at the feet of Vinicius Jr, in acres of space.

The Real Madrid star steadied himself before placing it to the right of Kim Seung-gyu in the South Korean goal.

Brazil celebrating their third goal, with goalscorer Richarlison in the centre [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Just three minutes later, Richarlison was brought down by Jung Woo-young inside the box, and the referee pointed to the spot. Neymar, who had reportedly flown his barber out to Qatar to dye his hair blonde following previous victories over South Korea with bleached hair, wasted no time in slotting it into the bottom-right of the net. Brazil was up two-nil with less than 15 minutes on the clock.

South Korea had their share of chances, with Hwang Hee-chan, fresh off scoring the winner against Portugal, having a go from a distance but sending the ball comfortably over the bar. Moments later, Allison was forced to make a diving save to his left, his first save of the tournament.

But Paolo Bento’s men were simply outclassed in every part of the pitch.

A remarkable piece of skill in the 26th minute saw Richarlison juggling the ball, heading it to himself three times while evading defenders on the edge of the South Korean box. He then passed the ball before running through on goal to receive the return, firing the ball in for Brazil’s third.

Just 10 minutes later, Vinicius Jr set up Lucas Paqueta with a cheeky chip, and the midfielder shot low and right. Kim Seung-gyu could do little but look at the ball nestling in the back of the net.

With four goals before half-time, Brazil was putting down a marker for any teams who think they might have a chance of lifting the trophy on December 18.

Son Heung-min nearly clawed one back for South Korea straight after the restart, but Alisson — who must, through this game alone, be in contention for the Golden Glove — got enough of his arm onto the shot to tip it wide.

Faced with the intensity of Brazil’s onslaught, South Korea tried to slow the game, but more chances for Raphinha and Vinicius Jr followed despite the best efforts of the men in red.

Then came the 77th minute, and out of nowhere, Paik Seung-ho scored from outside the box. A free kick for South Korea was bundled clear by the Brazilian defence, falling to Paik, who belted it past Alisson’s dive to find the top-right corner. Finally, the South Korean fans had something to cheer about.

South Korea continued to work hard in defence and create chances in attack, but that goal was to be their only score, and they head home having been soundly beaten by one of the best teams in the world.

Brazil will face Croatia in the quarter-finals at Education City on Friday.

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Christine Sinclair, Diana Matheson reveal pro Canadian women's soccer league set for kickoff in 2025 – CBC Sports



Professional women’s soccer is coming to Canada.

Christine Sinclair and former national teammate Diana Matheson announced on Monday plans to kick off a domestic professional women’s league in 2025, featuring eight teams throughout Canada.

The two players sat down with The National‘s Adrienne Arsenault to reveal the news.

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After the duo helped Canada capture bronze at the 2012 Olympics — Matheson scored the medal-clinching goal — Sinclair expected progress. After all, the team had just snapped Canada’s 108-year podium drought in the sport.

“I really thought that 2012 was going to be a turning point for this country in bringing professional soccer home,” Sinclair told Arsenault. “But it never happened. And there’s still no pathways within this country.”

And so, a decade later, Sinclair and Matheson took matters into their own hands.

The still unnamed league would begin in April 2025 with an inaugural champion crowned sometime in the fall. Each team will have at least one Canadian international, and the goal is to bring home about half of the over-100 Canadians currently playing abroad.

WATCH | CBC Sports’ Signa Butler examines absence of top domestic women’s league:

Canada’s greatest athletes still without a domestic league of their own

2 months ago

Duration 2:53

Host Signa Butler explains the landscape of women’s sports leagues in Canada, as some of the country’s best athletes are without a league in their own backyard.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Calgary Foothills Soccer Club are confirmed as the first two teams to join the upstart league.

“Whitecaps FC are thrilled to be one of the first teams to sign on to a professional women’s soccer league in Canada,” said Stephanie Labbe, Whitecaps FC general manager of women’s soccer. “The creation of this league is something we have been advocating for over many years, and to be part of seeing it come to fruition is truly exciting.”

The league is being built by Matheson and her business partners at Project 8 Sports Inc. Sinclair, soccer’s all-time international scoring leader, is on board as an official advisor.

“The whole idea behind this is to aim high. And like, if you’re not, what’s the point?” Sinclair said.

“So let’s go out from the get-go and compete with the best leagues in the world and bring in the top talent. And yeah, have 10 year olds watching a game that 10 years later is on the Whitecaps, for instance. That would be my dream.”

Matheson, who retired from playing in July 2021, has visions of the league pushing the entire Canadian women’s sports infrastructure forward.

“It’s health and wellness. It’s confidence. It’s tied with better academics. There’s a huge tie between women in sport and women in business,” Matheson said. “And this is about soccer, but it’s about the coaches, it’s about the referees, it’s about women in executive roles in sport.”

Part of that women’s sports fabric comes down to marketing like jersey sales. Sinclair said she can’t even get her hands on her own jersey to gift to her niece.

“I don’t know if they exist,” Sinclair said.

Pursuing diversity

Matheson, 38, said she’s been working on obtaining her Master of Business Administration, as well as partaking in UEFA programming. She’s hoping the league becomes a Canada Soccer member by 2023, with full sanctioning by 2024

Sinclair, left, and Matheson, right, at the 2012 Olympics. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

She said Air Canada and CIBC are already on board as sponsors, and that it’s especially important to have the right team owners involved in the league.

“One of the things is having more diversity to begin with — more women, diverse voices to begin with, more players voices to begin with. And that’s top to bottom. I want women owners, women in the executive, women’s player voices as part of this,” Matheson said.

The Oakville, Ont., native made the case that the buy-in, which is expected to be between $8-10 million, is a worthwhile investment, noting that National Women’s Soccer League clubs, which were bought for $150,000 US 10 years ago, are now valued at a minimum of $35 million US. The Orlando NWSL franchise was purchased in 2021 for about $400 million US.

Matheson said her league can compete with average player salaries across the world right now.

“We just have way more opportunities to monetize our own brand. Players can do appearances, they can work with companies, they can run camps in a way that they just can’t when they’re playing in Italy and England,” she said.

Another point of importance for Matheson and Sinclair is ensuring players in their league are protected. Reports of abuse in the NWSL last season resulted in the resignation of half of the league’s coaches.

Sinclair is captain of the Portland Thorns, whose CEO Merrit Paulson stepped down in October following reports of systemic emotional and verbal abuse, as well as sexual misconduct.

“[It’s] unfortunate just how women are treated and taken advantage of. That’s why we need women owners. We need female executives,” Sinclair said.

Added Matheson: “It’s training, it’s vetting, it’s independent reporting systems. And for us, that’s going to mean working with those groups that are really good at doing those things.”

Sinclair autographs a fan’s ball during a men’s World Cup watch party in Toronto in November. (Arlyn McAdorey/The Canadian Press)

Establishing pathways

At its crux, though, the league intends to establish pathways for young Canadian women to stay in soccer and work their way onto the national team — to foster future generations so that one day they could get their golden moment like Sinclair had in 2021 in Tokyo.

“It’s time to change the narrative and inspire the next group,” Matheson said. “I believe kids need to see it to believe that it’s possible to happen. And with the launch of this league, kids will be able to go into their own backyard and watch their heroes play and dream of one day representing their hometown professional club and maybe representing Canada.”

Sinclair said she was once one of those kids, watching the 1999 World Cup with a dream to be on that pitch herself one day.

23 years later, the Burnaby, B.C., native has accomplished nearly everything she could in her sport.

“We’ve inspired Canadians on the podium,” Sinclair said. “Now it’s time to actually make an impactful difference here in Canada.”

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