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Three-Down Football Set to Kick off CFL Season



The Ticats will begin play minus their offensive leader as quarterback Zach Collaros continues to recover from last year’s season-ending knee injury. It’s unclear when Collaros will return, leaving the No. 1 job to either Jeff Mathews or Jeremiah Masoli. Whoever starts will line up behind a solid offensive line and have dependable Luke Tasker anchoring a receiving corps that also features former Argo Chad Owens. Hamilton’s strength is a stout defence, anchored by linebacker Simoni Lawrence and tackle Ted Laurent. Brandon Banks remains a dangerous returner but the loss of punter-kicker Jason Medlock (Winnipeg) hurts.

Montreal Alouettes

The hope is veteran Kevin Glenn can offer much-needed stability at quarterback. Seven different players were under centre last year as Montreal (6-12) missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996. Receiver Duron Carter’s return gives the Alouettes another big-play receiver to complement S.J. Green. Offensive consistency would help take pressure off a defence that last year was often overworked. Linebacker Chip Cox (CFL’s top defensive player in 2013) and defensive lineman John Bowman (league-best 19 sacks) are the unit’s stalwarts. GM Jim Popp returns as head coach after going 3-6 last year as Tom Higgins’s replacement and has a 19-27 overall coaching record.

Ottawa RedBlacks

Henry Burris, the 2015 CFL MVP, returns to headline a potent offence but the unit will be minus offensive co-ordinator Jason Maas, now Edmonton’s head coach. Jaime Elizondo, Toronto’s receivers coach last season, replaces Maas with plenty of weapons at his disposal, including Burris and a receiving corps that had four 1,000-yard performers last year. But questions exist on defence as Ottawa lost Canadian defensive linemen Justin Capiccotti (Saskatchewan) and Keith Shologan (Winnipeg), defensive back Jovon Johnson (Montreal) and linebacker James Green (Calgary) in free agency. The defending East champions also won’t have the element of surprise in their favour this year.

Toronto Argonauts

The good news is veteran starting quarterback Ricky Ray is pain-free after missing most of 2015 recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. It’s crucial for Ray to remain healthy because Trevor Harris, who led Toronto to nine wins over 16 starts last year, is now in Ottawa. A young receiving corps anchored by sophomores Vidal Hazelton and Tori Gurley should benefit from a healthy Ray and veteran slotback Andre Durie. The addition of respected defensive co-ordinator Rich Stubler should immediately enhance the Argos’ unit but former Winnipeg kicker/punter Lirim Hajrullahu has big shoes to fill with the departure of Swayze Waters (Carolina, NFL).

West Division

B.C. Lions

Wally Buono, who holds the CFL record for career coaching wins, returns to B.C.’s sidelines. Buono relinquished coaching duties in 2011 after the Lions’ Grey Cup win, concentrating full-time on his GM post. He replaces Jeff Tedford, who resigned after registering a 7-11 record last year. Jonathon Jennings begins his first full season as the starter after posting a 3-3 mark last year with a 66-per-cent completion average, 2,004 yards and 15 TDs. But stalwart running back Andrew Harris is gone, signing this off-season with home-town Winnipeg. Linebacker Solomon Elimimian, the CFL’s top player in 2014, is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury.

Calgary Stampeders

Former offensive co-ordinator Dave Dickenson takes over as coach as GM John Hufnagel has added the president’s job to his résumé. All-star tailback Jon Cornish has retired but fellow Canadian Jerome Messam is a former 1,000-yard rusher. Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell has quickly become one of the CFL’s top quarterbacks. DeVone Claybanks replaces the departed Rich Stubler (Toronto) as defensive co-ordinator and inherits a unit that allowed a league-low 16.1 offensive points last year but will be minus linebacker Juwan Simpson (released), defensive back Keon Raymond (Toronto) and defensive lineman Freddie Bishop III (New York Jets, NFL).

Edmonton Eskimos

The Eskimos will defend their title with a new head coach. Former Edmonton quarterback Jason Maas replaces Chris Jones, now Saskatchewan’s head coach/GM. Quarterback Mike Reilly is the team’s offensive leader as the Esks won their final 10 games after Reilly returned from injury. Adarius Bowman was the CFL’s receiving leader last year but Shamawd Chambers – the top Canadian in last year’s Grey Cup – followed Jones to Regina. Defensive linemen Almondo Sewell and Odell Willis anchor a solid front but gone are linebackers Dexter McCoil (San Diego, NFL) and Otha Foster (Saskatchewan) and defensive back Aaron Grymes (Philadelphia, NFL).

Saskatchewan Roughriders

Chris Jones’s hiring made huge headlines but the biggest key to Saskatchewan’s turnaround from a 3-15 record will be the health of starter Darian Durant, who has suffered season-ending injuries the past two years. However, Durant won’t have either Weston Dressler (Winnipeg) or Chris Getzlaf (Edmonton) to play catch with. Jones’s forte is defence and that, along with the off-season additions of defensive linemen Justin Capiccotti and Shawn Lemon (both Ottawa), running backs Kendial Lawrence (Edmonton) and Curtis Steele (Toronto) and linebacker Greg Jones (Toronto) will definitely help. But veteran lineman John Chick is now with Hamilton after being released during the off-season.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Winnipeg needs starter Drew Willy to remain healthy to reach the CFL playoffs for the first time in five years. The Bombers won just two games after Willy suffered a season-ending knee injury last August. GM Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea are both under the gun as they’re in the final year of their respective deals. Walters was very active in free agency, boosting his Canadian content by adding running backs Harris and Pascal Lochard, defensive tackle Keith Shologan and offensive lineman Jeff Keeping while also signing Americans Medlock, defensive tackle Euclid Cummings and receiver Ryan Smith.

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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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