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Maple Leafs Fall to Coyotes in Shootout at ACC



Rarely does a shootout decide what team wins and which player gets the dream finale against the club he badly wanted to beat.

The pixie dust ended up being spread over Peter Holland and the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, while Auston Matthews and the Maple Leafs just missed out — again.

In an entertaining game brimming with storylines — Matthews against his childhood team, Holland facing the coach who wouldn’t play him and who was just criticized by another idled Leaf earlier in the day — there was the same old ending for Toronto in a 3-2 shootout loss.

Holland squeaked a backhand winner through Frederik Andersen’s pads, handing Toronto its fourth straight home loss, two by shootouts and its fifth setback overall in the tiebreaker.

“We hit a bar, two posts and let’s be honest, we did a ton of good things,” said Mike Babcock as he scoured the game sheet. “We directed 85 shots on net. We made some mistakes, but we had the puck a ton, to say the least, and multiple chances. We’re a little snake-bitten around the net, but keep grinding, it will go your way.”

The youngest Leafs were the best example of that, Matthews with the opening goal, almost 20 minutes of ice and four of the Leafs 46 shots. He now has 14 goals and the team lead, not to mention a growing confidence with fellow rookie linemates Zach Hyman and William Nylander.

“We’re forcing a lot of games into shootouts and OT,” Matthews offered. “Those are the kinds of things we have to bear down on and get those extra points.”

But that’s eight overtime games and just one win. Tyler Bozak hit the post and James van Riemsdyk the crossbar on Mike Smith after he and Andersen matched each other in 3-on-3 overtime with amazing saves. At the conclusion of OT, the two goalies broke with tradition and gave each other a tap on the pads as they crossed paths.

Andersen stopped Anthony Duclair and Radim Vrbata to open the shootout, Vrbata merely the NHL’s all-time shootout goal leader. But Holland, sniffing around the Leafs net all night, had the dagger.

“It seems like almost a bit of a story-book finish,” said Holland, traded last week to the Coyotes after a dispute over playing time escalated. “You can’t really script it much better than that.”

Holland, a life-long Leafs fan who was wearing Mats Sundin’s forbidden No. 13, tried a new shootout twist because Andersen would have known his preferred deke from so many practices.

“I thought I had to change it up on him,” Holland said.

As home stands go, the Leafs are being too perfect as hosts. They were hoping for more than two shootout point scraps of the five straight they’re engaged in at present. It doesn’t get any easier with Pittsburgh and Anaheim wrapping up the Bay St. run Saturday and Monday.

Countless opposing players have come into Maple Leaf Gardens or the ACC through the decades and felt the elation of scoring against their childhood team, but a pumped Matthews reversed the charges on Thursday.

He was buzzing throughout the first period and, on Toronto’s second power play of the game, snapped a low wrister past Smith from the rim of the faceoff dot. That brought him within 20 of matching Wendel Clark’s Leafs rookie record with more than half the season to go.

While Matthews nearly won it on one OT chance he batted out of the air from Nylander, Marner ended an 11-game goal slump with the tying goal late in the second.

Toronto didn’t blow a third-period lead this time, but failed to capitalize on early momentum created by Matthews’ line. The Leafs remain in the top three of NHL teams for shots and for the ninth time, the opposition was limited to three goals or less.

At the other end, Andersen kept the Coyotes to one even-strength goal in regulation and halted Shane Doan with lightning-quick leather on a partial breakaway with less than five minutes to play. Matthews had to sit four agonizing minutes for high sticking in the third period.

Tobias Rieder had a clear-cut breakaway in the first period for Arizona on what might have been the worst man advantage by the Leafs this season. After fumbling the puck around on the breakout, Jake Gardiner dropped a blind backhand with no Leaf around. After thinking about poking it away, Andersen dropped back and denied Rieder the five-hole.

Jordan Martinook and Oliver Ekman-Lasson put the Coyotes up 2-1, the latter when Toronto had two of its top penalty-killing forwards in the box simultaneously, Ben Smith and Hyman, on a long 5-on-3. Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick teamed up to assist on the Marner breakaway.

Marner went upstairs on Smith, a goal that pushed the seven rookies in the Toronto lineup to a combined 97 points this season. But Toronto’s own 5-on-3, created when former Leafs first-rounder Luke Schenn creamed Matthews into the boards, went for naught with 45 seconds to work with.

“It’s been pretty unlucky for us, but Freddy is keeping us strong back there,” said Marner of his goalie’s 28 saves. “We had a couple of tough bounces, we just have to forget about it now.”

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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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