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Tim Hortons Brier bubble heats up with championship round – TSN

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If the first seven days at the Tim Hortons Brier was a marathon, then the next two days will be a sprint.

Eighteen teams entered the curling bubble in Calgary last week and they’ve been whittled down to the elite eight which will compete in the championship round of the Canadian men’s curling championship.

It all starts Friday when Kevin Koe takes on Brendan Bottcher at 2:30pm et/11:30am pt on TSN 1/3 and streaming on TSN.ca, the TSN App and TSN Direct.

The top four teams in each pool will carry their records over and will play four more games against teams in the opposing pool.

With no page playoff this year, only the top three teams will make the playoffs. The top-ranked team after championship pool play will get a bye into Sunday’s championship contest while the second and third-seeded teams will battle in the semifinals earlier in the day.

Like last month’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts, entering championship pool play with three losses probably means you need to win out to have a chance to play on Sunday. It’s a tough task, but it can be done as proven by Alberta’s Laura Walker, who ran the table to get into a tiebreaker against Jennifer Jones. She won the game and reached the Scotties playoffs for the first time in her career.

Let’s take a closer look at the Brier’s championship pool and which teams are in the best position.

Looking Good

Wild Card 2 (Team Kevin Koe)
7-1

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The Pool B winners are in good position to capture one of the three playoff spots thanks to their strong round-robin record.

Kevin Koe led his Calgary-based rink to wins in each of their first six games before dropping their first against Ontario’s John Epping on Wednesday night. They struggled early against Quebec, but turned things around in the second half to clinch the top spot.

“We’re in a good position going in. I like where we’re at,” said lead Ben Hebert on Thursday. “[We’re at] 7-1 and we control our own destiny to still claim the top spot if we run the table. That’s a good place to be, but we’re going to have to pick up our game at bit.

Morris on Koe: He gets better with age, he’s a natural leader

Team Kevin Koe are off to the championship round after a dominating win over Team Matt Dunstone. Koe and new second John Morris discuss how their dynamic has changed since their first stint as teammates in the early 2000s.

“We’ve been playing pretty good, but a few misses out of me and John, not setting us up early enough. We need to get on the same page and make it a little easier on BJ and Kev. If we do that, we’re going to be real tough to beat.”

After a brief hiatus, John Morris is back at the Brier this year, throwing second rocks and holding the broom for Koe. In fact, the two were teammates back in the early 2000s when Koe played vice for Morris.

If the 46-year-old Koe can find his way to the top of the podium Sunday night, he would be the only skip with five Brier Tankards to his name.

Wild Card 3 (Team Glenn Howard)
7-1

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The story of this year’s Brier has been 53-year-old Wayne Middaugh.

Middaugh didn’t even know he’d be competing at this year’s Canadian championship until last month when a snowmobile accident resulted in multiple broken ribs for former teammate and long-time buddy Glenn Howard.

Howard couldn’t play so Middaugh got the call.

SC Backstory: Wayne Middaugh – Turning Back the Clock

Wayne Middaugh had finally come to terms with retirement from competitive curling, but it was a retirement that he didn’t choose. So when his former teammate Glenn Howard posed an unexpected question: “Would you come to the Brier?”, Middaugh couldn’t resist. For the 53-year-old, it was about more than just shaking off a few years of rust. Glenn Schiiler has more in this SC Backstory.

It’s a remarkable feat that Middaugh, a three-time world champion, is able to play at all given that he has a titanium rod in his leg after breaking 11 bones during a horrific skiing accident in 2016.

Due to COVID-19 protocols, curlers at Markin MacPhail Centre have had plenty of time to rest and relax between games, simply because they don’t have the various responsibilities of a normal Brier. Middaugh credits that factor as one of the reasons why he’s been able to stay sharp all week. 

“There’s nothing that can replace being mentally fresh,” said Middaugh on Thursday.

The veteran has been pure vintage inside the bubble, regularly shooting in the high 80s and making numerous highlight reel game-winners. He’s gotten plenty of help from the sweeping due of David Mathers and Tim March while vice Scott Howard is playing some of the best curling of his life in Calgary.

Everything has clicked this week for Team Howard, beating perennial contenders in Brad Jacobs and Mike McEwen en route to a first-place finish in Pool A. They’ve won their last five games coming into the championship pool. 

The skip says he isn’t feeling much pressure as an underdog this week compared to his heyday.

Must See: Middaugh scores two in 10th for come from behind win

Watch as three-time Brier Champ Wayne Middaugh turns back the clock with his final rock in the 10th end, scoring two to give his rink the 6-5 win.

“Expectations weren’t super high,” Middaugh said. “We knew we could make a lot of shots. We weren’t sure if we could run with the big guys, it turns out if we play really well (we can).”

Howard has been alongside his team for the entire ride as well and has used his coaching experience with Scotland’s Eve Muirhead to help where he can, said Middaugh.

“Our coach has been outstanding at getting us prepared for every game and every team,” said Middaugh. “He’s done all the things an awesome coach should do.”

It won’t get any easier in the championship round with matchups against Koe, Brad Gushue, John Epping and Matt Dunstone.

Right Behind

Canada (Team Brad Gushue)
6-2

Must See: Gushue makes delicate split for three

Watch as defending champion and Team Canada skip Brad Gushue makes an incredible split for three points, with his final stone of the fourth end.

The defending champs had a difficult schedule over their first four games, but took care of business in the second half of the preliminary round and are on a four-game winning streak coming into the championship pool.

“I think we have been getting better as the week has gone on,” skip Brad Gushue said. “We’re starting to feel more comfortable and more confident in our rock placement which is key for us.”

Gushue, 40, has had two perfect games this week and has shot 95 per cent or better in each of his last three games.

A fourth Brier title in five years would only add to Team Gushue’s legacy as one of the greatest rinks of all-time. It would also allow Gushue to join the ranks of Koe, Randy Ferbey, Kevin Martin and Ernie Richardson as the only skips to win the Brier four times.

Alberta (Team Brendan Bottcher)
6-2

Must See: Bottcher makes great in-off to score three

Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher makes a great in-off to score three against Mike McEwen’s Wild Card rink.

Edmonton’s Brendan Bottcher is in familiar territory at the Canadian championship.

For the fourth straight year, the 29-year-old has led his rink out of the Saville Community Sports Centre into a good position to make the playoffs. 

“It’s a long week,” Bottcher said. “It started out OK, I think we’re gaining some momentum here and I hope we can take that through into the last couple days.”

Alberta’s round robin finale against British Columbia was delayed nearly an hour due to ice repairs, but they were able to get back on track when play resumed to avoid the dreaded third loss. Bottcher made a beautiful game winning takeout with the last throw of the game to pick up the victory. 

Bottcher’s rink became the first in history to lose three straight Brier finals when they fell to Gushue in Kingston last year.

Will they get over the hump in the curling bubble?

Saskatchewan (Team Matt Dunstone)
6-2

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For the second straight year, 25-year-old Matt Dunstone and his rink are in a good position heading into the championship pool.

“We just accomplished step one of three ultimately,” Dunstone said. “So it doesn’t change. The arena, the rocks, everything stays the same come tomorrow.”

Last year in Kingston, Ont., Team Dunstone had a 6-1 record after round-robin play and ended up with the bronze medal, the best result for the prairie province since 2015. 

Whatever happens over the next couple days, Dunstone says his team is just grateful they get to curl at all.

“We’re out here trying to enjoy this as much as possible because we haven’t had curling in a year. To come back and not only play, but play on the biggest stage,” he said. “This is about as good as it gets and that’s our perspective going into this. Win or lose that’s not going to change, but obviously we’re going to go out there, compete our asses off and play well.”

Ontario (Team John Epping)
6-2

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Toronto’s Team John Epping kicked off the Brier last Friday night with a 6-2 loss to Gushue and the defending champs.

They’ve turned things around since and have been one of the better squads inside the bubble, highlighted by a win over previously undefeated Team Koe.

Their skipper is getting hot at the right time as well, shooting 91 per cent or better in the last two games.

Epping lost to Brad Jacobs in the second playoff tiebreaker at last year’s Brier.

In The Mix

Northern Ontario (Team Brad Jacobs)
5-3

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For the second straight year, Brad Jacobs and his Sault Ste. Marie rink will likely have to run the table in the championship pool to have a shot at the playoffs.

A tough 8-6 defeat to Wayne Middaugh in their round-robin finale gave them their third loss of the week.

They had three losses in round-robin play last year as well and still needed to win a pair of tiebreakers to make the page playoff after putting up a 4-0 record in the championship round.

If Team Jacobs was able to do it once, there’s a good chance they can find a way to do it again.

The 35-year-old Jacobs has made the playoffs in each of his six appearances at the Brier since winning his first and only Tankard in 2013.

Manitoba (Team Jason Gunnlaugson)
5-3

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After winning their first five games, Manitoba’s Team Jason Gunnlaugson dropped their final three round-robin games and will be in for an uphill battle in the championship round.

They lost games to Middaugh and British Columbia’s Jim Cotter on Thursday after attempting difficult shots with their last throws.

In his first Brier appearance, last year in Kingston, Gunnlaugson held a 5-2 pool play record before losing all four games in the championship round.

Gunnlaugson faces Koe, Gushue, Epping and Dunstone on the schedule over the next couple days.

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Boston Bruins Add Offense With Solid Taylor Hall Trade – Boston Hockey Now

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The Boston Bruins clearly understood they had serious deficiencies on their NHL roster this season and credit them for going and doing something about it.

The B’s finished off their Sunday night fireworks ahead of the NHL trade deadline by sending a second round pick and Anders Bjork to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for top-6 winger Taylor Hall and bottom-6 forward Curtis Lazar. TSN’s Darren Dreger, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and ESPN’s John Buccigross were the first to report about the completed deal between the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the hours following the B’s getting stomped by the Washington Capitals, 8-1, at TD Garden.

The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.

The 29-year-old Hall is having a terrible season in Buffalo with just two goals and 19 points in 37 games along with a minus-21 rating after he chose to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres during the offseason. But he brings legitimate offensive talent as a former No. 1 overall pick and Hart Trophy winner to a Boston Bruins team that’s ranked in the bottom third of the NHL offensively all season.

The Bruins were one of the suitors for Hall prior to him choosing the Sabres months ago, and now they get him for a deep discount while keeping their own first round picks after making their deadline deals.

Holding onto their own first round pick was a priority for Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney after spending first rounders at the deadline in two of the last three deadlines in trades for damaged goods Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase.

The 26-year-old Lazar has five goals and 11 points in 33 games as a bottom-6 forward for the Sabres this season and is signed for $800,000 for next season. It seemed clear that something was going on with the 24-year-old Anders Bjork over the last couple of weeks as he was a healthy scratch for five straight games, including Sunday night against Washington, and heads to Buffalo hoping to further develop a game built on speed and skill level that hasn’t translated into offense as of yet.

Hall should fit right into the top-6 with the Bruins as a skilled winger for playmaking center David Krejci, but it remains to be seen how he’s going to fit as another left winger on a team with Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk.

Either Ritchie or DeBrusk is going to have to play the off wing with a Krejci/Hall combo, but that’s a problem that Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will gladly figure out after being forced to piece together lineups all season due to injuries and offensive inconsistency. With the acquisition of Hall, Lazar and left-handed defenseman Mike Reilly on Sunday night, it would appear the Boston Bruins are largely done with deals ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

Interestingly enough, the Boston Bruins are set to play the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season – Sportsnet.ca

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It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.

“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.

It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.

But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.

It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.

“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”

Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.

Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.

“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”

But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.

When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.

Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.

“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.

Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?

It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.

“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.

“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”

It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.

But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.

You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.

What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.

“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?

“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”

Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.

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Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics

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(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.

For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.

Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.

“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”

The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.

Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.

 

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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