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World junior hockey: Canada defeats Sweden 5-1

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HALIFAX –

Connor Bedard had four assists to tie Eric Lindros for Canada’s all-time points record at the world junior hockey championship as the tournament hosts wrapped up preliminary round play with a dominant 5-1 victory over Sweden on Saturday night.

Brennan Othmann, with two, Joshua Roy, Tyson Hinds and Kevin Korchinski scored for the Canadians. Thomas Milic made 22 saves. Ludvig Jansson replied for Sweden, which got 39 stops from Carl Lindbom.

Canada, which wore its black jerseys on New Year’s Eve, will face Slovakia in Monday’s quarterfinals at the men’s under-20 event, while Sweden is set to take on Finland. United States will face Germany and Czechia will play Switzerland in the other matchups.

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The presumptive first pick at the 2023 NHL draft, Bedard has played just 13 total games at the world juniors, while Lindros registered his 31 points in 21 contests over three tournaments.

The 17-year-old from North Vancouver, B.C., who wasn’t shy about throwing his weight around against Sweden, leads this showcase with 18 points in four games, while his 14 career goals are tied with Jordan Eberle for Canada’s all-time national record at the world juniors.

The first New Year’s Eve game at the world juniors since the 2020 tournament, and Canada’s first Dec. 31 victory on home soil in eight years, saw the host country shot out of a cannon in front of an electric and well-lubricated crowd inside a sold-out Scotiabank Centre.

Roy took a pass from Bedard and roofed his third goal of the tournament just 57 seconds into the first period before the Swedes took a penalty to send the Canadians and their lethal power play — which entered the game 11-for-16 — to work.

It didn’t take long to strike as Bedard glided over the blue line and fed Shane Wright, who in turn found Othmann for his first at 2:08.

Canada went up 3-0 at 11:45 when Bedard and Logan Stankoven set up Tyson Hinds for his second.

Canadian forward Zack Ostpachuk was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for kneeing moments later, opening the door for Sweden — which had absolutely nothing going on — to get on the board when Jansson scored his first at 16:21.

Milic made a terrific desperation left-pad save on Jonathan Lekkerimaki with five minutes left in the second before the goaltender and Canada’s penalty killers survived a Swedish two-man advantage for 53 seconds.

Othmann then put things out of reach 35 seconds into the third when he scored his second of the night off a pass from Dylan Guenther.

Bedard then passed to Korchinski at 12:42 for the defenceman’s first — and the star centre for the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats’ record-tying assist to send the Canadians to the quarters with by far their best performance of these world juniors.

DOMINANT CANADA

The countries played for the first time since the 2018 gold-medal game, which Canada won 3-1 in Buffalo, N.Y.

Canada improved to 9-1 on home soil, while Sweden’s last victory over the North American powerhouse came in the preliminary round of the 2015 tournament in Finland.

UNDRAFTED MILIC SHINES

The Canadian goaltender is the only player on his team’s roster passed over at the NHL draft.

“One of the bigger shocks for me,” Bedard said of the 19-year-old from Coquitlam, B.C. “We’re hopeful for him to get drafted.”

Milic was 11-2-1 with a .919 save percentage and a 2.35 goals-against average with the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds this season before joining up with the national team.

“He’s been unreal,” Bedard added. “Really good goalie.”

CARLSSON, BEDARD RESPECT

Bedard is, as it stands, the slam-dunk top pick in 2023, while Swedish forward Leo Carlsson is in a group of players along with Canadian forward Adam Fantilli expected to be vying for the No. 2 slot.

“Special player,” Bedard said of Carlsson. “Some unreal hockey IQ.”

“Really good offensive skills,” Carlsson countered. “Biggest game I’ve played.”

LINDBOM LOVES CROWDS

The Swedish netminder said before Saturday’s game he looks forward to tough playing environments like the one inside Scotiabank Centre on New Year’s Eve.

“I love the big crowd,” said the Vegas Golden Knights draft pick. “I love the crowd booing you, going against you. I love it.”

“Fires me up.”

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Bedard earns attention, rave reviews at CHL

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LANGLEY, British Columbia — Connor Bedard was the center of attention during the 2023 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Langley Events Centre on Wednesday.

The 17-year-old forward with Regina of the Western Hockey League, and projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft, had a bit of a home-ice advantage. He grew up about 30 minutes away in North Vancouver.

“I’ll have a good amount of people there,” Bedard said before the game. “I think some relatives. Obviously, my sister, my parents and some buddies for sure. I should have a decent crowd.”

Tom Bedard, Connor’s father, was relishing the rare chance to see his son in person; Regina is a 20-hour drive.

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“My wife (Melanie) actually is in Regina with Connor, so she gets to go to a few more games,” Tom said. “I get out five or six times a year but it’s difficult. It’s nice to have things close to home.”

It was a good show for family and friends. Bedard had a game-high six shots on goal for Team Red in a 4-2 loss to Team White.

The only people watching Bedard as closely as his family was the opposition.

“Keeping him off the scoreboard, that was kind of a team goal,” Team White goalie Scott Ratzlaff said. “Just making sure he’s always covered, making sure we’ve got eyes on him. It was good.”

There was a fair amount of physical play aimed at Bedard, including Team White defenseman Lukas Dragicevic taking a cross-checking penalty against him 20 seconds into the first period. Bedard also had a game-long, trash-talking conversation with Team White defenseman Oliver Bonk.

The frustration led to Bedard taking a penalty for cross-checking Bonk at 16:30 of the third. Bonk said the back-and-forth wasn’t anything malicious, more about the respect for Bedard’s ability to take over a game.

“He’s the best [2005-born player] in the world right now,” Bonk said. “It was good to get him off the ice for two minutes for our guys.”

Bedard (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) is used to physical play and won’t shy away from it. He was a presence in front of Team White’s goal on most of his shifts and had no problem battling in all areas of the ice.

“It’s hockey,” Bedard said. “It’s competitive and you’re allowed to hit so you’ve always got to expect that. It’s a contact sport and you’re going to get hit and you’re going to give hits. That’s part of it and it was good.”

Despite the physical play, Bedard still displayed his game-breaking ability. With Team Red on the power play in the first period, he wheeled through the high slot and fired a shot on net that Ratzlaff saved. Midway through the second, Ratzlaff had to make a spectacular pad save to stop Bedard at the net on a give-and-go with Zach Benson.

“The goalies played well and obviously it would have been nice to see a few go in, but it didn’t happen,” Bedard said.

Ratzlaff also plays in the WHL, for Seattle. Though it was his first time facing Bedard in a game, he knows exactly what he’s capable of doing.

“He’s just so dynamic, and he’s just good from anywhere,” Ratzlaff said. “You think, ‘Oh, I’ve got to commit because he’s going to shoot,’ and then he makes a pass backdoor right on the guy’s tape. So, I think just being ready for anything because he’s just so good and just patient with the puck so he can really create, turn nothing into something.”

Bedard said his focus now returns to Regina, where he leads the WHL in goals (39), assists (42) and points (81). Since being held off the score sheet in the season opener, he has a point in 32 straight games. He’s No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s midterm ranking of North American players presented by BioSteel and almost a certainty to hear his name called first at the 2023 draft at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on June 28.

“When you look, you can see his similarities with his quickness, offensive smarts, that go up to the Connor McDavid level, but then just the pure substance and overall makeup of his game is reminiscent of Sidney Crosby,” said Dan Marr, vice president of Central Scouting. “He’s right up there with those players that are going to be all stars and win a lot of hardware moving forward.”

Bedard has said the draft is something he’ll worry about down the road. Now that all the attention from the Top Prospects Game has passed, he’s focused on helping Regina reach the WHL playoffs.

“I want to win in Regina,” he said. “We’ve been playing well of late, [won] four of the last five, so we want to keep that going and I’m excited to get back and get to work.”

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 113, Kings 95 – Raptors Republic

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S. Barnes38 MIN, 7 PTS, 6 REB, 10 AST, 2 STL, 3-8 FG, 0-2 3FG, 1-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 22 +/-

Scottie was finding his teammates all night long, one of the stronger defensive performances from Scottie tonight as well, first game without double digit points in quite some time but he impacted the game in other ways.

O. Anunoby31 MIN, 11 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, 2 STL, 4-9 FG, 3-6 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 24 +/-

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Solid shooting night for OG who was able to really impact this game defensively by being a menace in the paint, did some great stuff against Sabonis.

P. Siakam35 MIN, 26 PTS, 11 REB, 7 AST, 2 STL, 11-24 FG, 2-8 3FG, 2-2 FT, 2 BLK, 1 TO, 15 +/-

Great night for. Pascal, defense was very impactful as he mucked up a lot of Sacramento’s acts through Sabonis, he was hitting his teammates all night, cleaned up on the glass, and kept the pressure up late with his scoring.

G. Trent Jr.36 MIN, 16 PTS, 5 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 7-15 FG, 2-6 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 13 +/-

Gary’s shot wasn’t all the way there tonight but he still managed to get a couple down, had some good looks in transition.

F. VanVleet38 MIN, 17 PTS, 4 REB, 5 AST, 4 STL, 7-16 FG, 2-9 3FG, 1-1 FT, 2 BLK, 2 TO, 20 +/-

Fred didn’t shoot the ball well tonight but he still put up 17, had a game high 4 steals tonight which is a testament to his impact on that end tonight.

P. Achiuwa28 MIN, 19 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 9-12 FG, 1-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, 3 +/-

Great night on both ends for Precious, really impactful defensively, had some great finishes as a roll man and see created.

C. Boucher22 MIN, 16 PTS, 6 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 7-11 FG, 2-4 3FG, 0-0 FT, 3 BLK, 0 TO, -3 +/-

Great spark off the bench and made his presence felt at the rim on both ends of the floor, great energy tonight.

J. Hernangomez12 MIN, 1 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 0-2 FG, 0-2 3FG, 1-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -4 +/-

Didn’t really standout tonight.

Nick Nurse

Great game plan for Sacramento, never let Sabonis get comfortable, great minutes for Precious and Boucher.

Things We Saw

  1. One of, if not the strongest defensive performances from Toronto this season holding this high powered offense to 50 at halftime and 95 for the full game, really encouraging.

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Russia’s path to 2024 Olympics takes shape, Ukraine objects

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Russia’s path to sending a team to the Paris Olympics next year became clearer on Thursday amid fierce objections from Ukraine.

The International Olympic Committee indicated on Wednesday it favors officially neutral teams from Russia and its ally Belarus at the 2024 Olympics despite a plea from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to exclude them entirely.

A day later, Russia and Belarus were invited to compete at the Asian Games, a key Olympic qualifier.

Russia typically competes as part of Europe but has a tense relationship with many of the countries set to host qualifying events there. Russia and Belarus have been barred from almost all international competitions in Olympic sports following the invasion of Ukraine.

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Zelenskyy has said he told French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country is hosting the Olympics, that Russia should have “no place” there. Ukraine is seeking to rally support against the IOC-brokered plan.

“IOC has been disregarding Russian war crimes, claiming that ‘No athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport’, while Ukrainian athletes continue to be killed by Russia because of their passports. I urge all sports figures to make their stance known,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Ukraine boycotted an Olympic qualifier in judo last year when Russians were allowed to compete as neutrals.

In Russia, there was praise from the IOC plan from Igor Levitin, an aide to President Vladimir Putin who holds influential government and sports posts.

“I think it is already a success. Olympic society understands that the Olympic Games cannot be staged without Russia,” said Levitin, who is the senior vice-president of the Russian Olympic Committee, in comments reported by state news agency Tass.

Some Russian officials expressed unhappiness at the IOC declaring it would not allow athletes found to be “actively supporting the war in Ukraine.” Russian Olympic Committee president Stanislav Pozdnyakov said on Wednesday he opposed “any restrictions, extra requirements or sanctions.”

The IOC statement on Wednesday referenced the civil war in the former Yugoslavia at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. The country was under United Nations sanctions so Yugoslav athletes were allowed to compete individually only as “Independent Olympic Participants.” They didn’t take part in team sports such as soccer and basketball.

That would be stricter than previous IOC measures against Russia in the years-long fallout from one of the largest doping cases in sports history. Russians competed under the name “Olympic Athlete from Russia” at the 2018 Winter Olympics and as ROC — short for Russian Olympic Committee — in 2021 and 2022, without their country’s anthem or flag but with national colors on uniforms.

The Asian Games will be in Hangzhou, China, in September and October, and function as Olympic qualifiers in several sports including archery and boxing. Some other sports host their own Asia-specific qualifying competitions.

“The OCA believes in the unifying power of sport and that all athletes, regardless of their nationality or the passport they hold, should be able to compete in sports competitions,” the OCA said in a statement.

The long-time director general of Kuwait-based OCA, Husain al-Musallam, is also the president of World Aquatics, which is overseeing the core Olympic sport of swimming in the IOC home city Lausanne.

“The OCA has offered to give eligible Russian and Belarusian athletes the opportunity to take part in competitions in Asia, including the Asian Games,” the organization said.

The OCA added it “remains on standby” until the IOC and the individual sports’ governing bodies finalize the conditions for Russia and Belarus to compete.

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