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Gulutzan Older, Wiser, Smarter in His Return as NHL Head Coach



Hiring an NHL coach can be an inexact science – and for proof, you don’t need to go any further than examining the work history of Mike Sullivan, who led the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Stanley Cup championship this past Sunday.

From the time he was fired from his first NHL head-coaching job with the Boston Bruins until he resurfaced to run the Penguins, Sullivan spent nine years trying to get his foot back in the door, without much luck.

Getting back on that NHL coaching carousel can be likened to a giant game of snakes and ladders for any young coach if his first opportunity ends in failure. You practically need to start over and convince an organization that what you learned the first time around makes you far more equipped to handle the challenges the next chance you get.

And so we come to the latest NHL coaching hire, Glen Gulutzan officially appointed to the position of Calgary Flames’ head coach Friday morning, the last coaching vacancy to be filled in a busy off-season of changes.

Just as Sullivan went back to reset his career path as an NHL assistant (mostly alongside John Tortorella during his various stops), Gulutzan spent the past three years working for the Vancouver Canucks as an assistant, one year with Tortorella and Sullivan, the next two with Willie Desjardins (who once worked for Gulutzan in the AHL).

The hope in Calgary is that Gulutzan, like Sullivan, can take advantage of being older, wiser and smarter the second time around.

“When you’re a [NHL] head coach, it’s trial by fire,” said Gulutzan, who was only two years removed from coaching Las Vegas of the ECHL when he got a chance to coach the Dallas Stars in 2011. “I can write you a long list of what I know I did well – and what I would change – but at the end of the day, the biggest thing is experience. In Dallas, I had Jamie [Benn] as a young superstar – and Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney as older players – all those guys teach you something about the league and the game.

“I would say it’s like going to university and becoming an engineer. They’ll all tell you, ‘I went to school for four years and studied my tail off, but I realized when I got out of there that I didn’t know a thing about building a building until I got on the site.’ You can’t replace experience, and these last five years have given me a good base in the National Hockey League.”

Gulutzan’s career trajectory is similar to that of his new boss, Flames’ general manager Brad Treliving. Both played junior for the Brandon Wheat Kings, Gulutzan arriving the year after Treliving left.

Neither ever emerged too far out of the deep minor leagues as players. Accordingly, they had to work their way up the ranks – and convince people of their ability and worth – every step along the way.

“It’s a great experience to come from the bottom,” Gulutzan said, “because it teaches you to work. I think maybe that’s part of the connection [with Treliving] because you’re coming from the same place.

“I see the game a lot the way he sees the game.”

In Calgary, Gulutzan will inherit a team with a strong nucleus of young position players, and two big question marks in goal, a shortcoming Treliving has promised to address.

The Flames missed the playoffs last season, finishing fifth out of seven teams in the NHL’s Pacific Division with 77 points, a 20-point year-over-year drop that ultimately cost Hartley his job. But Calgary had the NHL’s No. 7 overall scorer, second-year forward Johnny Gaudreau, and a deep collection of defencemen – Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie and Dougie Hamilton – all of whom scored above 40 points last season and can really move the puck.

Until Sullivan ended in the winner’s circle this year, the past six championships were won by experienced long-time coaches: Joel Quenneville with Chicago, Darryl Sutter with Los Angeles and Claude Julien in Boston. Before them, it was Dan Bylsma – who, like Sullivan, was another mid-season coaching replacement in Pittsburgh and presided over the Penguins’ 2009 Stanley Cup triumph.

Accordingly, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question: What makes an NHL coach successful? Or to the logical follow-up: How do you even measure success in a 30-team league, where only one team annually gets to celebrate with the Stanley Cup?

“The bottom line is becoming a playoff team and having a chance to compete in the spring each year,” Treliving said. “But there are steps you have to take along the way, a process that starts with making players better. How do you do that? To me, it’s connecting with players, and being able to push them. There are ways you can do it in the short term, and there are ways to do it that have substance over time.

“This is a hard league; any coach can come in and step on people. That’s easy, but the only reason you’re getting a push is the player’s mad at you. Maybe that works for a time. But to get the ultimate push, for the longer term, you’re doing things for the right reason. ‘I want to make you better. I want us to win. I think there’s more there for you to give.’ It’s not unlike being a parent.

“I think, he’s a great communicator and today, that’s what you need. Like it or not, this is the ‘why?’ generation. Players want to know why they’re doing it; and how does that help me get better? He [Gulutzan] can give you the why and the how.”

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Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

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Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

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Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

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