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The Snap: Alouettes’ Notebook



It’s hard to believe, but this is the fifth season Bear Woods has been with the Alouettes – and yet, 2016 marks the first time he’s been active throughout the opening half of the regular schedule.

Woods, Montreal’s middle-linebacker, got his Canadian Football League baptism by fire, making his debut in the playoffs against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats – a crazy game the Als lost 52-44 in overtime. Needless to say Woods, overmatched at that stage of his career, spent the majority of the afternoon with his back to the play, chasing down tailback Avon Cobourne.

He missed the next season with an injury, started 2013 on the nine-game injured list and began the following year on the six-game injured list. Last season, he tore his pectoral muscle in the second game, against Calgary, forcing him to undergo surgery.

“Here we are in 2016 and I’m going into the ninth game. Knock on wood, I’ll be good,” Woods said prior to facing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Friday night (7 p.m., TSN, RDS, TSN Radio-690) at Molson Stadium.

Given the physical nature of the game he plays – not to mention his reckless abandon on the field – Woods, still only 29, won’t take anything for granted in his quest to play an entire season injury-free. The most games he has played in one year was 12, in 2014.

“It’s so unpredictable. Who knows (what will happen) in that next step,” said the 6-foot, 245 pounder. “I really don’t give it too much thought, but it does feel nice to finally be in mid-season form. I’ve never been able to get there.

“It was a goal of mine. I expect and hope to finish the season.”

Woods, the East Division’s outstanding defensive player in 2014, is having a banner season for co-ordinator Noel Thorpe. Heading into this week’s games he ranks first in the league in defensive tackles, with 57. The Als have allowed an average of 23.3 points per game. Only the Calgary Stampeders, first overall in the CFL, can boast a stingier defence. …

Friday night’s game marked the annual Purolator Tackle Hunger food program. All proceeds will support Moisson Montreal, a non-profit organization founded in 1984 that serves as the city’s largest food bank in Canada.

The Als’ spokesman for the 14th edition of the program was safety Marc-Olivier Brouillette.

“The biggest thing that struck a chord with me was that 160,000 people a month in the province of Quebec required assistance from food banks,” Brouillette said. “And of those, 60,000 are children.

“There’s a direct correlation between nutrition and performance in both the classroom and sports. By helping provide food to those in need, we have an impact on their development.”

Fans attending the game were asked to bring non-perishable food items or make monetary donations. Last year, 10,518 pounds of food were raised. And for every dollar raised, Purolator will donate two pounds of food for local families. …

Perhaps they’ll never be as tight on the field as Anthony Calvillo and Ben Cahoon were, but Nik Lewis is quietly becoming Kevin Glenn’s go-to receiver. Or perhaps not so quietly, given how outspoken and candid is Lewis.

Lewis had five second-down conversions last week against Ottawa, increasing his season total to 18.

“I would say he’s a very reliable source when it comes to that,” Glenn said. “The biggest thing is he breaks tackles. I trust the fact that, if it’s second and seven and I get a five-yard pass to him, I have confidence he can possibly break a tackle and get the first down.

“He’s a sure-handed guy who doesn’t drop a lot of passes.”

Lewis, who spent most of his career with the Stampeders, is on pace for his first 1,000-yard season since 2012. And he’s doing this at age 34.

“I’ve always wanted to be his go-to guy,” Lewis quipped. “You have to play and see how it works out. Sometimes the defence takes certain things away.”

Typical Lewis – taking no credit. …

Duron Carter might be the most misunderstood player in the Als’ dressing room, according to general manager and head coach Jim Popp.

Carter might be bombastic and outspoken, but he backs everything up on the field and has produced four 100-yard games in Montreal’s last five contests. As much as the Als’ offence has struggled this season, it’s hard to imagine where they might be without Carter’s contributions.

“Sometimes I just rub people the wrong way. Some people think I’m malicious. I just like to talk and have fun,” said Carter, who returned to the Als this season after a year of inactivity with the Indianapolis Colts.

Popp, who made Carter the league’s highest-paid receiver, knows how valuable the player is in the grand scheme of things.

“He’s a very intelligent young man,” Popp said. “He has his antics but, when you’re around him, you understand him. He’s a good person.

“He’s very competitive. He can get in the heads of other players and he’s flamboyant. He loves playing and has a lot of confidence. He’s backed it up. He’s as advertised.” …

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since non-import defensive-back Hugo Lopez was selected by Edmonton in the 2011 Canadian college draft. He has played for the Eskimos, Toronto, Ottawa, Saskatchewan and this week joined the Als as a free agent.

He made his Montreal debut on special teams against the Bombers after working out for the Als in June.

“I have nobody to blame but myself. Obviously I didn’t meet some expectations or there were roster moves and I didn’t fit in financially or scheme-wise,” the soft-spoken Lopez said. “I can’t say I was betrayed. I’m blessed for the opportunity I’ve received from every team.

“I’m not the only one. There’s a lot of guys bouncing around, doing the CFL tour,” added the 6-foot-3, 215 pounder, born in Nicaragua but raised in Toronto. “Being able to play at this level is an opportunity of a lifetime.”

Popp said he was impressed by the athleticism displayed by Lopez. Popp believes he has a natural body for special teams. Lopez said he’ll add speed and aggressiveness to the unit. …

Finally, the Als’ scratches against Winnipeg were Brandon Rutley and Ramon Taylor.

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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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