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Alouettes’ Keystone Kops Routine Near a Merciful End



CALGARY — There really is nothing left to be said about the 2016 edition of the Alouettes — a team that will live in infamy as one of the worst that represented this once proud and storied franchise.

A team that reached the Grey Cup eight times over an 11-year span, one that boasted a quarterback who passed for more yards than anyone in professional football history, complemented by some of the greatest receivers the Canadian Football League has seen, now needs a compass and road map to find the end zone.

It has become both incredible, comical and mind-boggling to watch this team implode, week after week, the offence oscillating between futile and pathetic; the players offering the same hollow excuses and broken promises that things will improve. At least, with three regular-season games remaining, we can say the end is finally in sight, the players, almost to a man, finally admitting this is one repulsive team.

“I have no idea at this point. I just don’t know. I promise to God, on my Momma’s soul, I don’t know what’s up. You all see it everyday. I don’t know,” second-year quarterback Rakeem Cato said following a 22-8 loss to the Calgary Stampeders on Saturday night at McMahon Stadium.

“I feel disgusted, terrible, bad — every bad word in the vocabulary. It’s not fun. It’s not how you start off a professional career. It’s not fun. It’s that simple. It’s terrible. I’m not going to lie to you.”Once again, the Als’ defence produced a valiant effort, holding the best team in the CFL to two touchdowns, keeping the Stamps out of their end zone until 29 minutes had elapsed. And once again Montreal’s offence was nothing more than a rumour.

The Als would have been shut out for the first time since July 1997 except for a late safety when Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell was called for intentional grounding while throwing the ball away from his own end zone. That was followed by a two-yard run by Brandon Rutley with 16 seconds remaining — and that came only after Jamal Nixon fumbled a punt and cornerback Tommie Campbell was called for pass interference.

The Als missed the subsequent two-point convert. Of course, they did. This is a team that turned the ball over on downs three times in the fourth quarter — twice from inside the Calgary 20. Montreal also fumbled twice.

Alouettes' Brandon Rutley, centre, is brought down by Calgary Stampeders' Glenn Love, left, and Ja'Gared Davis in Calgary on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016.
Alouettes’ Brandon Rutley, centre, is brought down by Stampeders’ Glenn Love, left, and Ja’Gared Davis in Calgary on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016. Jeff McIntosh / THE CANADIAN PRESS

“It’s ridiculous. We’re a professional football team. We have to be better than this,” said slotback Nik Lewis, the former Stampeder, who led his team with five catches for 65 yards and continued to play hard. If only the same could be said about others.

Duron Carter, Kenny Stafford and Samuel Giguère all failed to make a reception. Carter was targeted five times, the two others twice apiece. Centre Kristian Matte produced more receiving yards than the triumvirate, catching a deflected pass for a one-yard gain — before promptly fumbling.

“Once again we came up short — way short,” Lewis said. “I can’t explain it. What do you want me to tell you? You watched the game. You see it. What do you need me to explain? You have two eyes. You tell me what the problem is. You’re watching it. You tell me what we need.

“We’re in a bad spot. We have three games left. Right now, those three games don’t really mean much. But guys are going to be playing for their jobs, guys are playing for pride and respect,” Lewis continued. “We’re going to see who the men are.

“We have to face the music — we’re not very good right now. Until the people realize that we’re not very good, we’re not going to be better.”

Forget for a moment Montreal hasn’t won a game at Calgary since 2009; that point remains moot for now. The Als are 4-11 and have the league’s worst record. The Toronto Argonauts are horrible, but have won five games. Saskatchewan also has won five, but the Roughriders, who entertain Montreal on Saturday, also are on a four-game winning streak and should add to that total next weekend. The Riders have reason for optimism and hope. The Als? Yeah, right. They can’t even look forward to having the first overall draft choice next May, having traded that to British Columbia for quarterback Vernon Adams, who doesn’t play.

Despite their record, the Als have yet to be eliminated from the playoffs, but that’s only a matter of time. They’re trying to catch Hamilton, at 6-9, and it’s not going to happen. The Ticats already have won the season series. Montreal would have to win its remaining three games, while Hamilton would have to lose its three. Don’t bet the farm on the Als, who probably won’t win another contest until 2017.

Calgary held the Als to 11 first downs and 121 yards’ net offence. Montreal had the ball for 24 minutes and 19 seconds. While Cato didn’t throw an interception, he completed only 13 of 29 passes for 124 yards. He was under constant pressure, sacked seven times.

“I don’t want to step on nobody’s toes,” Cato said.

“Yes, there’s an offensive system,” Stafford claimed. “You can’t say there’s not. We’re a professional team. It’s hard when you change … four different coordinators in two years, two different head coaches. It’s hard to set a standard.”

The Stamps, meanwhile, improved to 14-1-1. Calgary hasn’t lost a game since the opening week of the regular-season, at B.C., having long since secured first place in the West Division. Dave Dickenson also became the first rookie head coach to win that many games.

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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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