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World Cup of Hockey 2016: How Each Team Could Win the Tournament — and Why they Might Not Medal at all



Why they could win: Depth, depth, so much talented depth. This is a roster that features the past two Vezina Trophy winners (Carey Price and Braden Holtby) and a talented cache of forwards that will leave coach Mike Babcock with a fourth line that could equal any other team’s top unit.

Why they might not medal: Let’s be candid here: If this team doesn’t win this event — let alone finish in the top three — it will be a failure. For the players. For the management team. For the entire country. Of course, any tournament that features a one-game knockout setup in the playoffs has the blueprint to foster upsets. Still, there are no legitimate excuses to justify this group finishing outside the top trio. The bottom line: Talent plus home ice plus international experience should equal success.

Training camp concern: Carey Price’s healing knee. Sure, he’s been telling anyone who will listen that he’s 100 per cent after being injured for most of last season. But until he shows it on the ice, there will be lingering questions. He’s been refreshingly candid while talking the talk; now, it’s time to walk the walk.

Player to watch: Steven Stamkos. Not so long ago, his 2014 Olympic dream was crushed when he fractured his leg against Boston just a handful of months before the Sochi Games. This is his chance to put on the maple leaf jersey and represent his country in his hometown (he’s from nearby Markham). No further motivation required.


Why they could win: Despite the presence of tournament-favourites Canada, a digestible argument could be made that this is the weaker of the two World Cup divisions when you go top to bottom.

Why they might not medal: In our opinion, this team probably has the least talented roster in this event. Losing David Krejci is a huge blow, especially when you consider the talent drop-off from the veteran Bruins forward down to his replacement, Roman Cervenka. Krejci’s absence leaves a gaping hole in the team’s talent pool. Keep in mind that Czech hockey has struggled on the international stage in recent years.

Training camp concern: A defensive blueline led by Zbynek Michalek is definitely this team’s Achilles heel. Which rearguards will step up in a tournament that will feature some of the best opposing forwards on the planet?

Player to watch: Goalie Peter Mrazek. During the 2015-16 NHL campaign, he grappled the Red Wings starting goalie job away from Jimmy Howard. He’ll need to keep up that high level of play at this event, one that promises to see him peppered with rubber.


Why they could win: Loads of leadership. In Zdeno Chara, Anze Kopitar and Marian Hossa, head coach Ralph Krueger has a foundation of talent and experience he and the rest of the roster can lean on to show them the way. It’s a key element with a significant drop-off between Europe’s upper- and lower- tier players.

Why they might not medal: Look no further than the crease. Pipe dreams or pipe screams? That is the key question looming over Team Europe, which could potentially face significant goaltending issues. Frederik Andersen suffered an upper body injury while playing for Denmark in an Olympic qualifier on Friday; Jaroslav Halak has spent almost as much time on the disabled list as on the ice in recent years; and Thomas Griess has been a No. 1 NHL goalie for exactly half a season.

Training camp concern: Creaky legs. Chara, Hossa, Halak, Dennis Seidenberg, Thomas Vanek, Frans Nielsen, Marian Gaborik, Mark Streit, Jannik Hansen, Andrej Sekera and Christian Ehrhoff are all 30 or over. That’s 11 players — almost half the 23-man roster. Pass the oxygen.

Player to watch: Chara. Is this the final dance on the international stage for the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer?


Why they could win: Premium puckstoppers. Much like pitching in baseball, goaltending is the equalizer in any short tournament, and the Americans have three of the best in the business in Jonathan Quick, Ben Bishop and Cory Schneider.

Why they might not medal: Head-scratching roster omissions. How does slick puck-moving blueliner Kevin Shattenkirk not get selected for this team? In an event showcasing the most elite talent in the world, Justin Abdelkader makes it and Stanley Cup winner Phil Kessel doesn’t? We understand the Americans are looking to grind out games on the smaller NHL ice surface, but you could legitimately make the argument that management overlooked too many skill players.

Training camp concern: Key cogs such as Zach Parise and Ryan McDonagh are coming off injuries, so just how much time will it take to shake off the rust and get up to speed? This is a team that needs its foundation players to peak quickly.

Player to watch: Patrick Kane. Twelve months ago, he was shrouded in sexual assault allegations. Now, after rebounding to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP, this will be his next step in the attempt to re-invent his image, although we’re not sure he’ll ever be completely able to do that.

Mike Zeisberger


Group B


Why they could win: The last time the World Cup was held, in 2004, Finland lost to Canada in the final. While the Finns always rely on team play to get the job done, this year’s edition also comes with a ton of individual skill, with Patrik Laine, Aleksander Barkov and Teuvo Teravainene leading the offensive charge.

Why they might not medal: With Tuukka Rask and Pekka Rinne as options, keeping the puck out shouldn’t be a concern. But the question is how much of a workload they’ll face. The Finns have a largely no-name defence and a younger team than usual, so limiting their opponents’ offence could be an issue.

Training camp concern: Rask or Rinne? It sounds like a nice problem to have, but neither is necessarily coming into this tournament on a high, with both goalies outside the top-25 in save percentage last season. The team needs one goalie to step up and grab the reins.

Player to watch: Patrik Laine has yet to play an NHL game, but don’t underestimate the 18-year-old’s potential impact in this tournament. The Winnipeg Jets prospect, who has drawn comparisons to Alex Ovechkin, dominated the world juniors and the world championship, where he was the MVP with seven goals and 12 points in 10 games.


Why they could win: Speed kills. From Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon to Johnny Gaudreau and Dylan Larkin, almost everyone on the under-24 roster can fly. As long as they have the freedom to be creative, the youngsters should generate plenty of scoring chances.

Why they might not medal: Putting a bunch of Canadians and Americans together sounds like a fun idea, but it could create chemistry issues — especially if everyone wants to be the top dog. And while the forwards are filled with skill, the back end is thin, with only Morgan Rielly ranked in the top-35 in league ice time last season.

Training camp concern: Who will be captain? Unlike Canada, where there are nine players who wear (or have worn) the C with their NHL teams, Team North America’s experience is more limited. The team will head into training camp without a captain. They will need someone to step up and take ownership; otherwise, convincing players to buy in and accept lesser roles could be a challenge.

Player to watch: Matt Murray was in the Conn Smythe Trophy conversation after leading the Penguins to a championship with a .923 save percentage in the Stanley Cup playoffs. And yet, the 22-year-old has played in so few regular season games (13) that he is still eligible for he Calder Trophy this season.


Why they could win: From Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin to Artemi Panarin and Vladimir Tarasenko, the Russians might have the most offensive firepower of any country in the tournament. If — and this is a big if — they can get them playing as a unit, watch out.

Why they might not medal: You just never know what you’re going to get from the Russians. Call them enigmatic or just plain vexing, but their fortunes can turn dramatically on a bad goal, as we saw in the 2014 Olympics, where Russia lost in the quarter-final game. For that reason, they are both medal favourites and ripe for an upset.

Training camp concern: Defence is never really a strong point for the Russians and this year is no exception. The team is led by 37-year-old Andrei Markov and will rely on two defencemen — Alexey Marchenko and Nikita Zaitsev — who spent last season in the minors or the KHL.

Player to watch: Vadim Shipachev might not be a household name, but that could change after the World Cup is done. The KHL forward, who is an old linemate of Panarin’s, led the world championship in scoring in May with 18 points in 10 games.


Why they could win: The Swedes, who are always a strong contender in international tournaments, lost to Canada in the 2014 Olympics — and that was a team that was missing Nicklas Backstrom, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Victor Hedman. With Henrik Lundqvist in net and arguably the best defence of any team, Sweden has the foundation for success.

Why they might not medal: This team is getting old. Daniel and Henrik Sedin are both 35 and showing signs of slowing down, and Henrik Zetterberg is out with an injury. Sweden will need the young kids, such as Filip Forsberg and Gabriel Landeskog, to step up or they won’t go far.

Training camp concern: Erik Karlsson, who tied for fourth in league scoring last season, is Sweden’s No. 1 offensive weapon. But he’s also a defenceman. With Backstrom as the only other top-20 scorer, generating offence could be an issue.

Player to watch: Lundqvist backstopped Sweden to a gold medal at the 2006 Olympics and should be the X-factor for a team that will likely try to win games 2-1 rather than 6-3. With the Russians, Finns and North America all boasting big offensive weapons, King Henrik is going to have to rule.

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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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