Here’s what you need to know this week about the sports you love.
World Juniors Wind Down
The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Juniors are a long-standing holiday tradition for Canadians. But on the heels of a 2020 that left us all properly rotted some competitive hockey was sweet relief.
Team Canada made it to the final after a 5-0 drubbing of the young Russian Team. Following the semi-final, Coach Slava Fetisov said that not one Russian player was good enough for the Canadian squad. Good to see warm and fuzzy are alive and well in the land of vodka and nesting dolls.
But on Tuesday, Canada was handed their first loss along with a silver medal. An earlier loss or near miss might have left them readier to meet a stronger American team.
Emotional Head Coach André Tourigny was proud of the kids that dominated amid the adversities of international competition during COVID.
Newfoundland and Labrador was well represented on Team Canada.
Colorado Avalanche prospect Alex Newhook, playing injured, finished the tournament with 3 goals and 3 assists. Dawson Mercer, recently drafted by the New Jersey Devils, also impressed with 2 goals and 4 assists. Newhook is due to return to Boston College, and Mercer will be eligible to play in the AHL with the Q on hold.
NHL teams took to the ice for an abbreviated training camp ahead of exactly zero pre-season games. That’s a recipe for a groin pull and sloppy hockey. Every Canadian team has made significant roster changes this off-season, and there will be limited opportunity to test lines and build chemistry.
Trial and error will count in the box score, but after a lengthy hiatus, fans and pundits are not complaining. Right now, we’d watch pond hockey with a goalie wearing his mother’s oven mitt for a blocker.
For Christmas, COVID gave us new divisions, including the Canadian Division… or is it the North Division? Oh wait… it’s the Scotia Division.
Canadian teams are going to be seeing a lot of each other and it begins on Wednesday night, Jan. 13, with the Habs in Toronto and the Oilers in Vancouver. Any chilled rivalries will have a kerosene fire lit under them, with teams facing each other 9 or 10 times throughout the shorter season.
The new divisions mean one lone Canadian team will make it to the 3rd round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That will be the first game for a Canadian team against an American team in the 2020-21 season, and only one team from the north will get the opportunity.
Leafs fans can take comfort in the possibility that they can still be eliminated from the playoffs by the Boston Bruins.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s Christmas gift was a “Taxi Squad”. That means teams can waive players who don’t make their main roster, while keeping them around to practice with the team and be recalled quickly as needed.
They will have to pass through waivers, and still count on the team’s salary cap, but at an AHL-level hit. Teams that keep their farm teams close – Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa – could probably manage without this option.
For West coast teams with farm teams playing South of the border, the Taxi Squad is essential in the COVID format. The taxi squad opens a door for team General Managers to fix errors. A bad contract is unlikely to be claimed and can be kept close to the team while burying the cap in the cabbie, if you will. The player can play 10 games before having to pass through waivers again.
The Ottawa Senators are unlikely to go there on account of having an owner who gets hives when paying a player that doesn’t play. But teams nudging against the salary cap may get creative. Consider Loui Eriksson in Vancouver or Paul Byron in Montreal.
Fans are advised to not get their knickers in a knot every time a player is waived this season. We’ll see a lot of it as GMs manage a compressed schedule and a flat cap.
NHL coaches needing advice on how to adjust to a revamped roster could approach the Toronto Raptors for advice. Or not.
Following the departure of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, the Raptors have dug a hole for themselves to start the season. Coach Nick Nurse attributes the losing start to a lack of compete, but the eye test reveals a team that is disorganized in the D-zone, and missing the two big men they lost.
If the coach can’t get them in sync quickly, it may be up to Masai Ujiri to get some help or become a seller at the March 25th trade deadline.
Blue Jays Babble
The MLB season is scheduled to begin on April 1st, but all things are tentative while we deal with the second wave of a global pandemic. Whether they can successfully reel in free agent George Springer, or another high-impact player, President Mark Shapiro has committed to being active in free agency.
There will be new faces when the Jays take the field in the Spring. Along with the new, there will also be some improved faces. Fans following Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on Instagram have watched his offseason transformation as the young star has been getting his fit on.
In our dreams an agile 3rd baseman is snagging balls in Toronto, and a trip to see a live game is still part of the summer’s itinerary.
Lori Bennett is a social worker, policy professional, recreation softball player and coach, and new ukulele-ist. A Newfoundlander living in Toronto, Lori loves a good hockey chat or even a debate, just as long as it remains respectful. She posts her game time thoughts on twitter, particularly for hockey and the Montreal Canadiens, as @lori10habs.