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The Snap: Alouettes Win Season-opener on the Road



WINNIPEG — One game into a new season, the Alouettes have proven they can beat a bad team. On the road.

And if you don’t think that’s significant, consider that Montreal was only one game better in 2015 than the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Als won only three of nine road games and the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who went 3-15, managed to beat Montreal twice.

“It feels good to get a win. It’s tough to go on the road and get a win,” quarterback Kevin Glenn said following the Als’ 22-14 victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Friday night before 26,433 spectators at Investors Group Field. “It wasn’t a pretty win, but it was a good win.

“We did this on the road. I don’t care what they were. It’s a new year, Glenn continued. “To come on the road in any environment is tough.”

It was the opening-game of the regular-season for both teams, both seeking to rebound from disappointing seasons. The Als finished last in the East Division with a 6-12 record, missing the playoffs for the first time since the franchise returned to the Canadian Football League in 1996.

Winnipeg, meanwhile, was even worse, winning just five of 18 games, missing the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. The Bombers changed 11 of 24 players on offence and defence, hiring Paul LaPolice as the team’s new offensive co-ordinator. But Winnipeg quarterback Drew Willy, playing for the first time since last August, when he sustained a season-ending knee injury, struggled with his accuracy.

The game was delayed for slightly more than an hour midway through the first quarter due to a lightning storm which was followed by rain. It wasn’t the first time Glenn has experienced a stoppage in his 16-year career, but that didn’t make it any more palatable.

“It’s tough when you get the adrenaline going and then cut it,” he said.

The Als were creative on offence, Glenn distributing the ball to many receivers. The playbook under Anthony Calvillo, in his first full season as the team’s offensive co-ordinator, is more imaginative than since the days Marc Trestman was coaching the team.

“We’re good, man. I’ve got a lot of confidence in this group. It feels like we’re taking steps in the right direction,” said receiver S.J. Green, who scored an eight-yard touchdown at 6:25 of the third quarter, increasing the visitor’s lead to 19-3. “You can tell the difference in the organization of the offence. As long as we’re on the field, teams are going to be in trouble.

“There are so many motions that created chaos.”

The Als dominated the game in every category. Glenn completed 30 of 42 passes for 332 yards. Montreal had 25 first downs and 431 yards’ offence, controlling the ball for slightly more than 33 minutes.

But they failed to obliterate the visitors due to numerous squandered opportunities.

In the first quarter, with the ball at the Winnipeg 12-yard line, Glenn, who was under pressure, threw behind Samuel Giguère. The ball was intercepted by Chris Randle. One play earlier, Glenn’s ill-advised toss into the end zone almost was pilfered by rookie cornerback Kevin Fogg.

Late in the second quarter, following an interception by linebacker Chip Cox, who returned the ball 30 yards to the Bombers’ 19, the Als advanced to the Winnipeg five before a costly fumble by Tyrell Sutton was recovered by Randle.

“Hit me for that one,” said Sutton, the league’s rushing leader last season. “Not just in the red zone, we made mistakes all over the place. We scored 22 points but we definitely underachieved. Take those mistakes down and nobody’s going to touch our offence.

“But that’s how you get the season started and it’s big for us. Our bye week comes early. It’s important for us to get on a roll.”

The Als also had a potential 40-yard touchdown pass to Duron Carter called back due to a holding penalty on offensive-tackle Jacob Ruby. But the inexperienced Ruby, attempting to replace Josh Bourke, who signed with Toronto as a free agent, otherwise played a solid game. Although Glenn got hit, he wasn’t sacked once.

“It went well, but I’ve got to cut the penalties. That was undisciplined by me,” Ruby admitted.

Defensively, the Als were solid, as usual, holding the Bombers without a touchdown for more than 57 minutes. Along with the Cox interception, the Als sacked Willy five times – two alone by John Bowman, the league-leader last season, with 19. Winnipeg also turned the ball over twice on downs, once deep in Montreal territory after Willy was tripped up by defensive-tackle Alan-Michael Cash.

“That’s the name of the game,” Cox said. “There’s some plays we’ve got to clean up, a couple of big plays and penalties that could have cost us. We’ll get better and clean those things up.”

Montreal won its season-opening game for the first time since 2013, when the Als also coincidentally triumphed at Winnipeg under Dan Hawkins, their lamentable and short-lived former head coach.

“To go on the road and win the first game is a big deal. It’s a great start … although we squandered a lot of opportunities,” said general manager and head coach Jim Popp. “We had great pressure and the defence played solid. The offence moved the ball. We just didn’t put the ball in the end zone enough.

“Glenn made great choices and distributed the ball well.”

Third-string quarterback Brandon Bridge scored the Als’ other touchdown on a one-yard run. Boris Bede added field goals from 41 and 47 yards, while Justin Medlock conceded a safety.

Winnipeg’s only touchdown came on a 63-yard pass-and-run play to Darvin Adams, who beat rookie cornerback Ethan Davis on the play. Willy then passed to Quincy McDuffie for a two-point convert.

But Davis also knocked receiver Weston Dressler out of the game in the opening quarter with a devastating hit.

Medlock kicked a 58-yard field goal and a 62-yard punt single, while Bede conceded a safety for the Bombers’ remaining points.

The Als entertain Ottawa Thursday night.

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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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