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Maple Leafs Lose First Game in Regulation to Wild



ST. PAUL, MINN. – In an eventful 48 hours, the young Maple Leafs lost a four-goal lead and couldn’t hang on to at least a point in a back-to-back road game.

That’s just in case anyone thought that the first week’s modest success would roll right through 82 games.

A 3-2 loss to the heavy-handed Minnesota Wild was Toronto’s first regulation loss (1-1-2), though the team did show plenty of life after being psychologically sapped the night before in Winnipeg.

The Leafs took a 2-1 lead into the final period with what would have been Auston Matthews’ first winning goal, while the No. 1 pick came close to tying it later on and forcing another overtime. There’s been a little bit of everything so far for No. 34, as well as Mitch Marner and Nikita Zaitsev, including their NHL debuts in Ottawa and Matthews’ first encounter with Patrik Laine of the Jets.

“I think we’re heading in the right direction,” Matthews said. “It’s just a lot of little things, but we’re competing day in and day out.

“These were four very good teams (starting with Ottawa and Boston) a lot of very skilled players I grew up watching. Back-to-back is not easy, especially for us just coming into the league. The first period was a good one for us. We came out hard.”

But Minnesota tied it early in the third, Zac Dalpe bulling past Morgan Rielly on a goal the Leafs unsuccessfully challenged as offside. It was a rare miscue by Jhonas Enroth, making his Leafs debut with 24 saves.

“In a perfect world, I’d like one or two of those goals back, but I felt OK” Enroth said. “The last goal (Eric Staal’s second) , I didn’t see anything.”

The Leafs didn’t properly clear the puck with Staal a screen shot along the ice past Enroth.

“I’m used to coming in (on the second of back-to-backs),” the goalie added. “Usually, the team is more (focused) in the second game, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad situation.”

William Nylander hit the post as part of a determined Leafs attack in the final minutes, which also saw the Wild fend off a power play, thanks mostly to goalie Devan Dubnyk. Toronto won only four times on the end of back-to-backs last year.

Matthews showed there would be no lingering effects from a couple of missed chances to win the game in Winnipeg. He pressed enough to finish off power-play chances by Nylander and Nazem Kadri, his fifth goal in four games and first since his four-goal debut. It also ended the Wild’s run of penalty-killing at 12 straight.

“We’re trying to emulate what we did (with last year’s top-rated league unit in Anaheim),” said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau before the game. “Usually at the start of the season, the penalty-killing is better than the power-play. The goalie has to be your best penalty-killer, but at the same time, we’ve had guys who’ve really bought into what we did in Anaheim.”

Kadri recorded his 200th NHL assist, while Roman Polak — in his first game as the injured Martin Marincin’s replacement (a non-serious lower body ailment) — opened the scoring with his first goal since Jan. 19. After jumping into the rush with partner Jake Gardiner a couple of times, he put one from the blueline through traffic past Dubnyk.

Getting the assist on that goal was Minnesota native Gardiner, who had family drive seven hours to Winnipeg for Wednesday’s game, then home in time to see him Thursday. But Polak’s goal woke up the Wild (now 3-1), which was well-rested for the game.

Enroth, starting for Frederik Andersen, first had to be sharp in the opening period when Matt Hunwick had an unforced puck-handling error behind the Leafs net and it wound up in the slot. Enroth also survived a couple of Wild power-plays, a partial break by long-time Leafs killer Jason Pominville and, after a hard point shot knocked the stick from his hands and too far from his reach, he got a shoulder on Zach Parise’s drive.

In four games, the Leafs have now been outscored 8-1 after the second period (including 2-0 in OT).

“Like I said earlier, we’ve just got to learn how to play with a lead,” Kadri said. “We’re doing a lot of good things to get in the lead and get out front, especially on the road. At the end of the day, we’re going through some tough breaks, but we’ve still got to make it happen.”

Rielly’s three-game point streak ended while fourth-line winger Matt Martin remains the only Leafs skater not to get at least one point so far.

The Leafs get a day off before another tall order, taking on the Blackhawks at the United Center.


ST. PAUL – No matter where Bruce Boudreau has gone on his NHL playing and coaching odyssey, including a cameo in the hockey cult movie Slap Shot, Toronto is never far from his mind.

The North York native, 100-point Marlborough junior and a Maple Leaf emergency call-up so many times he lost count, Boudreau has landed in the Twin Cities coaching the Wild. Not able to get the Anaheim Ducks far enough in the playoffs for ownership’s liking, he brought the NHL’s highest active winning percentage here (.659) along with his wit.

‘Gabby’ is still going strong at age 61 and warmed to the topic of the Toronto franchise’s 100th anniversary at Thursday morning’s skate. He has seen a few of the greats in club history from the Gardens era and took note of Saturday’s centennial celebration, which included the retirement of 16 sweater numbers that were previously ‘honoured’ and still in circulation.

“I’m just shocked that my number wasn’t retired,” laughed Boudreau. “I wore five of them (six actually; 11, 12, 17, 19, 28 and 35) so you’d think they’d do one for me.”

A 17 was put in the rafters Saturday, but for Wendel Clark not Boudreau, who played a total of 143 regular season and playoff games.

Boudreau saluted many of his former teammates, Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, Ian Turnbull and Mike Palmateer.

“It’s amazing how popular they became over the years. Even though it was the late 1970s that they were pretty good, they kept going as folklore almost among Leafs. (Four-time Cup winner) George Armstrong was my coach in junior and to this day, I use stuff he said to me back then. He was a great first coach for me.”

The other notable Leaf games Boudreau saw on TV was Auston Matthews’s NHL debut, a four-goal feat against Ottawa, then a not-so-great follow up against the Jets where Patrik Laine’s hat trick helped Winnipeg’s four-goal comeback and 5-4 overtime win.

“It’s scary, but it’s great for the game,” Boudreau said of such teenage talent dominating the early NHL season. “Not that (Alex) Ovechkin and (Sidney) Crosby are old by any standard, but these guys will keep the game alive. To have one score four and Laine get three means the league is going to be special.

“(Toronto) has a lot of speed, man. Everyone can go and they’re dangerous. They’ll be more dangerous (Thursday) when they’ve blown a 4-0 lead. I think they might be a little pissed.”

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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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