Category Archives: Featured

  • 0

Saskatchewan Roughriders Free Agency Preview

It’s amazing how fast things change in one year. In 2019, the Saskatchewan Roughriders free agency period was blanketed with a cloud of uncertainty. Chris Jones, the VP of Football Operations, Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator headed south to Cleveland for an opportunity in the NFL. Both of the Riders quarterbacks were free agents leaving many to wonder what this team would look like come kick-off.

Fast forward one year, Craig Dickenson earned himself a Coach of the Year nomination and Cody Fajardo was a finalist for Most Outstanding Player. There’s less stress in 2020 for the Riders but that doesn’t mean there isn’t business to take care of.
Saskatchewan Roughriders Current Free Agents
Quarterback
None

Running Back
None

Wide Receiver
Emmanuel Arceneaux, Denzel Radford, Naaman Roosevelt, Cory Watson

Offensive Line
Dariusz Bladek, Philip Blake, Thaddeus Coleman, Jeremy Zver

Defensive Line
Lavar Edwards, Micah Johnson, Jordan Reaves

Linebacker
Brandyn Bartlett, DyShawn Davis, Solomon Elimimian, Alexandre Gagne, Sam Hurl

Defensive Back
None

Special Teams
None
Who’s Back?
The Saskatchewan Roughriders free agency period got off to a hot start with a flurry of re-signings before the doors swing open Tuesday. There were plenty of big names that many Rider fans feared would be testing the open market. Ed Gainey, Nick Marshall, Shaq Evans, AC Leonard and Cameron Judge will all be back in green & white for 2020.

The @sskroughriders seal the deal with the first major of the game courtesy of Cody Fajardo finding Shaq Evans with a 61-yard strike! #CFLGameDay pic.twitter.com/1PdrQkI1vD
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) October 6, 2019

Saskatchewan has also done a good job of retaining the likes of Dan Clark, Jon Ryan, Kienan LaFrance, Takoby Coefield, Chad Geter & Elie Bouka. While there has been plenty of chaos surrounding the likes of Matt Nichols, Nick Arbuckle, Willie Jefferson and Zach Collaros (rightfully so), the Riders have quietly gone about retaining a majority of their roster that propelled them to 13 wins and a West Final appearance.
Who’s Left?
Reports have been surfacing that two big names will not be returning to Saskatchewan in 2020. Naaman Roosevelt and Solomon Elimimian. After extending Shaq Evans to a deal reportedly worth $175,000, it seems likely that Saskatchewan will run with the younger receivers they have in the pipeline that includes Paul McRoberts, Justin McInnis, Kyran Moore, Jordan Williams-Lambert & Kenny Stafford.

Upfront, Dariusz Bladek, Thaddeus Coleman and Philip Blake remain unsigned, it remains to be seen if deals will be reached before free agency opens. All three started at various points throughout the 2019 season.

On the defensive side of the ball, prized free agent from 2019, Micah Johnson remains a pending free agent. Jordan Reaves, Sam Hurl and DyShawn Davis round out key contributors who are set to hit the market.
What do the Riders need?
With Jeremy O’Day taking care of business by re-signing a range of star players and key role players, the Riders don’t exactly have to make a giant splash this free agency. While it may not put them at the top of any “Who had the best Free Agency?” lists, it was vital that they got this done before February 11th.
Additional Pass Rushers
That being said, it wouldn’t hurt Saskatchewan to add additional pass-rushers to rotate with Charleston Hughes and Leonard. If Johnson does leave in free agency, it appears Zack Evans and Makana Henry would fill in at the tackle spots.

#ChalkTalk | Micah Johnson Appreciation Week:@yours_truly4
remains unimpeded, even with double or triple teams from the opposition! 👀
🎥 » https://t.co/E93ZnOhF7F#UniteInGreen pic.twitter.com/chIUYerKIj

— Saskatchewan Roughriders (@sskroughriders) July 5, 2019

Linebackers
Re-signing Judge was massive for the Riders, however, with the departure of Derrick Moncrief and likely Elimimian, they’ll need to add to this group once free agency opens. Finding someone of Moncrief’s diversity of talents at linebacker in coverage will be difficult but this free-agent class boasts a solid crop of talent that the Riders can target that includes but is not limited to Maleki Harris, Micah Awe, Kevin Brown II and Marcus Ball.
Offensive Line Depth
As mentioned earlier, there are a number of their own free agents the Riders can re-sign that would alleviate the urgency of this need. However, at the moment, Terran Vaughn, Brendon LaBatte, Dan Clark, Dakoda Shepley and Takoby Coefield are who make up the Riders crop of proven offensive linemen under contract.

Free agents such as Ryker Matthews and Derek Dennis may come at too steep of a price-tag for the Riders. However, there is a number of pending free agent offensive linemen that Saskatchewan can target. Such as Justin Renfrow, Spencer Wilson, Jean-Simon Roy or Tyler Holmes.
Sit Back and Wait
The cliche saying goes “the Grey Cup isn’t won in February!” but that doesn’t mean a team can’t help their chances. Saskatchewan has done the most important thing before free agency has opened and that’s securing their franchise quarterback and retaining their star-calibre players. Anything they do after that is the icing on the cake. Don’t mistake that statement with complacency.

If the Riders want to hoist the Grey Cup on home soil in nine-months, they’ll need to add difference makers at linebacker and depth at other key spots. But for the time being, Saskatchewan Roughriders’ free agency in 2020 is much need departure from the chaos that surrounded this franchise last year at this time.

Main image credit:
Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:’7GQ38E4sQyBl3oqA9LRzog’,sig:’6gujcXnRBrX-aoWl0mRmJqUNmKG8f1l9m_tbnOvtvdM=’,w:’594px’,h:’396px’,items:’1179499329′,caption: true ,tld:’ca’,is360: false })});The post Saskatchewan Roughriders Free Agency Preview appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


  • 0

Why Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs Will Win Super Bowl LIV

Super Bowl LIV is just under a week away, and this matchup should be one of the best in recent memory. Patrick Mahomes and the high-flying Kansas City Chiefs face off against Nick Bosa and the San Francisco 49ers elite defense. This game is the ultimate example of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. Nobody’s been able to stop Kansas City’s offense at full strength, but the Chiefs have never faced a defense as good as this one.

The Super Bowl odds are basically even. Some of the best betting sites have Kansas City a -120 to -125 favorite and San Francisco a narrow +100 to +105 underdog. Some years, there’s considerable movement as kickoff approaches (see: Seahawks vs Patriots in 2014), but that’s not the case this year, at least so far. The line has barely budged since the matchup was set. Oddsmakers believe the game is basically a toss-up and, evidently, so do the sharps putting their money down early.
Why Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs Will Beat the San Francisco 49ers
Unstoppable Offense
They say defense wins championships, and that was true at one point. However, today’s pass-happy rules naturally favor high-powered passing offenses, and nobody’s seen anything quite like Kansas City’s offense. The Chiefs have everything you need to create an unstoppable offense. Andy Reid is perhaps the best playcaller in the league, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are matchup nightmares, and Patrick Mahomes is playing at a ridiculous level.

The reigning MVP battled injuries throughout the regular season but is finally healthy. He’s back to his 2018 form, throwing for a combined 615 yards, eight touchdowns, and no interceptions during his first two postseason games. He’s erased 24- and 10-point deficits in consecutive weeks and is in the midst of the best postseason run since at least 2006, according to Pro Football Focus. The San Francisco 49ers have talent all across their defense, but there really is no answer for Mahomes when he’s at the peak of his game.

Additionally, the Chiefs match up surprisingly well with San Francisco’s defense. Mitchell Schwartz is one of the better right tackles in the league and should help mitigate the San Francisco pass rush. Richard Sherman is playing some of the best football of his storied career, but he struggles to cover speed. The Chiefs have the fastest group of playmakers in the league as Hill, Demarcus Robinson, and Sammy Watkins all have the ability to take the top off the defense, and Mahomes has the ability to reach any part of the field.
Interrupting the 49ers Game Plan
The San Francisco 49ers made it this far by playing good defense and leaning on their running game. Kyle Shanahan is a fantastic playcaller and gives his running back the best chance to succeed every time they touch the ball. This style of play can be effective when you have the lead, but it’s not good for playing catch-up. Rushing just isn’t as efficient as passing, and you can’t possibly win a shootout by running the ball.

The best way for the Chiefs to stop Raheem Mostert and company is to gain an early lead. San Francisco’s defense may have what it takes to slow down Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers, but Mahomes is far more dangerous than those two. Once the Chiefs get a lead, the 49ers are going to need Jimmy Garoppolo to match Patrick Mahomes in a shootout. Obviously, there is no reason to believe Garoppolo to be up for that monumental task.

This game should be a close and exciting contest between the two best teams in football. That said, the Chiefs should find themselves hoisting the Lombardi Trophy come Sunday night. Kansas City’s passing attack is just too good to stop, and Garoppolo doesn’t have what it takes to match Mahomes in a shootout.

Main photo:
Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:’fG95ITNURU91fp4c_IHJMA’,sig:’1gBACROLd_dY68_JwAhGQdOqA-siDUjJDU1X7vMZOyc=’,w:’594px’,h:’416px’,items:’1196905400′,caption: true ,tld:’com’,is360: false })});The post Why Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs Will Win Super Bowl LIV appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


  • 0

Super Bowl LIV Prediction and Odds

With Championship Sunday in the rearview mirror, Super Bowl LIV is set to take place in Miami on Sunday February 2, 2020 when the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers play the final game of the season. But which team will emerge victorious? Will the Chiefs hoist the Lombardi Trophy and finally get Andy Reid a Super Bowl ring? Or will the 49ers win it all and maybe, just maybe, lessen the sting of Super Bow LI for Kyle Shanahan, who was part of the 28-3 debacle while he was with the Atlanta Falcons? Below is a Super Bowl LIV prediction and odds.
Super Bowl LIV Prediction and Odds
Odds
The Las Vegas Line is Kansas City -1.5 with the over/under set at 52.5. That means the Chiefs are favored by only half a field goal. The money line doesn’t tell a different story, either, with Kansas City at -121 and San Francisco at +102. Both Vegas and the money line show the Chiefs being favored, but not by much in either instance.

Teams favored to win the Super Bowl are 35-18 straight up and 26-25-2 against the spread. While that should make the Chiefs and their fans feel a little warmer this winter, those statistics are far from a guarantee of a Kansas City Super Bowl victory.
Prediction
Kansas City’s last Super Bowl appearance was Super Bowl IV, while San Francisco last made an appearance in the big game in Super Bowl XLVII.

The Chiefs are on a seven-game win streak, while the 49ers have won four straight contests. These two teams have never met in the Super Bowl. The last time they faced off against each other at all was in Week 3 of the 2018 season, when Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL.

The Chiefs have the reigning MVP of the league, Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and speedster Tyreek Hill on offense and a much improved defense from last season. The 49ers have Nick Bosa and a stifling defense, along with an impressive committee of running backs, including Tevin Coleman (who hopes to return from a dislocated shoulder in time for the Super Bowl), Raheem Mostert (who couldn’t be stopped in the NFC Championship game) and Matt Breida.

The Chiefs fell behind in both of their playoff games this season (to the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans), but behind the magic of Mahomes they rallied and won both games. Will Mahomes and the Chiefs offense be able to go after the field opposite Richard Sherman and find success as other teams have at times this season? Mahomes is a mobile quarterback and mobile signal callers have, at times this season, caused issues for the impressive 49ers defense. If Kansas City wins it will be because of their quarterback. Mahomes is a special difference maker.

If the 49ers can dominate the line of scrimmage they will hoist the Lombardi Trophy. If their offensive line is impressive that will allow their running backs to gain chunks of yards and keep Mahomes on the sideline (which is really the only way to slow him down). But Mahomes will be on the field at some point and when he is San Francisco’s pass rushers, including Bosa, DeForest Buckner and Dee Ford, need to wreak havoc as they have all season and get after and contain Mahomes.
Last Word
The 49ers are probably the more complete team of the two and with their ground game and defense they are probably built to hold onto a lead more than the Texans or Titans. San Francisco will win a close game by keeping Mahomes on the sideline as much as possible.

But, at the end of the day, this game will probably be a very close contest and betting on it is probably a fool’s errand. Just buy some squares and hope to get lucky, or apostar carreras de Ceballos instead.

Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:’SGKUC6oRQThfg7EJ696guQ’,sig:’JnCEDySE_VNUmAlkha3jFPw2dk40581UVwn9ME-ejW0=’,w:’594px’,h:’396px’,items:’1164574306′,caption: true ,tld:’com’,is360: false })});The post Super Bowl LIV Prediction and Odds appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


  • 0

Olivia Smith & Jayden Nelson named Canada Soccer’s Youth Players of the Year

Soccer is becoming one of the top sports in Canada. Almost three million players, young and old, graced the pitch in the North American country in 2006, according to the Big Count. Most Canadian footballers play in the Canadian Premier League, the United Soccer League, and the Major League Soccer. Betway offers different betting options for Canadian soccer. Recently, Canada Soccer named Jayden Nelson and Olivia Smith as the Youth Players of the Year. In this post, we discuss the two Canadian players and the football award.
Canada Soccer Players Awards
Canada Soccer organized the voting for this year’s Canada Soccer Player Awards from November 27 to December 8, 2019. It awards amateur and experienced footballers. The awards include the male and female Canadian Players of the Year and the Youth Players of the Year. Coaches and media personalities vote for nominated players.

Canadian Soccer allows coaches alone to vote of the Canadian Youth International Players of the Year. It celebrates Canadian youth who have made many achievements at the National Youth Teams. The soccer organization assesses how young footballers have performed in international championships.

Canada Soccer named Olivia Smith and Jayden Nelson as the 2019 Canadian Youth International Players of the Year. It recognized them for their stellar performance in international youth tournaments. Punters can use a soccer betting app to predict which players will receive certain awards.
Jayden Nelson
Nelson was part of Canada’s U-17 squad that competed in the FIFA U-17 World Cup. The nation hadn’t competed in the tournament since 2011. The young player scored five goals in the CONCACAF tournament. He received two Man of the Match awards. Also, Jayden scored a hat trick when his team thrashed Guatemala 4-2. He won the Player of the Match award in Canada’s last group game against New Zealand.

Jayden has had a successful year representing the country in various competitions, according to Andrew Olivieri, the Program Director of Canada’s Soccer Men. The player has great dribbling and scoring skills. He is still developing his football career in local and international games. Jayden mentors other young footballers since he makes an impact in each game. He has the right mindset to improve his gameplay.
Olivia Smith
Kenneth Heiner-Moller spotted Olivia Smith in 2018 while on a tour with Canadian youth teams. He called Olivia for an invitational competition in January in Yongchuan. The 15-year-old midfielder has caught the attention of other coaches since she started her football career. She might be the youngest Canadian international footballer to play in an international match. Jordyn Huitema, Jessie Fleming and Kara Lang also played their first international senior games at the age of 15.

Heiner-Moller said in a conference that she is planning to improve Canada women’s squad after losing 4-0 to Japan. The coaches and players had lengthy discussions after the game. The country was eliminated from the World Cup tournament after it lost 1-0 to Sweden.

Many Canadian footballers play in local and international tournaments. The nation has several professional soccer leagues. Canada’s national women’s team was ranked 7th in the latest FIFA World Rankings. Jayden Nelson and Olivia Smith won the 2019 Youth Players of the Year award. You can wager on any Canadian footballer at Betway.

Main image credit:
Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:’UBLT5TaxSJBICGgD8ghy_w’,sig:’kCF0qCbxgJEjwpbfCmtbwumVCTWfrZIYAxKetZo2_tE=’,w:’594px’,h:’396px’,items:’1179391219′,caption: true ,tld:’ca’,is360: false })});The post Olivia Smith & Jayden Nelson named Canada Soccer’s Youth Players of the Year appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


  • 0

Dylan Holloway Looking to Excel with Wisconsin after World Junior Camp

OAKVILLE, Ont.– When Tony Granato first saw Dylan Holloway at the Chicago Steel camp two years ago, he was unequivocally astonished. 

“Holy cow,” said Granato, describing the first time he laid eyes on Holloway. “You watch him one shift and he’s special.” 

Granato is currently the head coach of the University of Wisconsin Badgers hockey team. Holloway, two years later after his astounding Steel camp, is now a rising star forward on the Badgers squad. With three goals and four assists in 17 games this season, Holloway earned a spot on Team Canada’s World Junior Selection Camp. The 18-year-old was one of nine draft-eligible prospects to attend the camp, demonstrating the profound depth of the 2020 class. 

“It’s such an honour to be selected for the Selection Camp,” said Holloway. “Growing up, the World Juniors was so important to me. Being around guys who have been drafted or will be selected this year, has allowed me to bounce questions off of them. It’s been a great experience.”
***
Seeing him at the Sixteen Mile Sports Complex in Oakville, Ontario, Holloway possesses the power forward brand to his game. Playing alongside Anaheim Ducks prospect Benoit-Olivier Groulx and Edmonton Oilers draft pick Raphael Lavoie, Holloway showcased his nifty puck-handling skills and his ability to get to the front of the net with ease. But it is his speed that has impressed scouts and coaches alike, particularly his tendency to use cross-overs to fly past opposing defenders. 

“He’s impressed with his speed,” said Team Canada World Junior Head Coach Dale Hunter. “He’s skating well through the neutral zone and getting on the forecheck with his size. A combination of a good power forward.” 

In the overtime session during the first selection camp game against U Sports, Holloway used his hard wrist shot, which bounced through traffic into the back of the net. But when the time came to reduce the roster, Holloway would not be included in the final team. 

The young forward would be one of nine players cut from Canada’s World Junior team. It is unfortunate news that no player wants to hear, being stripped of a chance to wear the red and white jersey in representing Team Canada. For Holloway, he has fond memories growing up learning the game from his Dad and watching the World Juniors with his family. 

“There was an outdoor rink in the small town where I grew up,” said Holloway. “I would go out there all the time with my Dad, who taught me how to skate. He has been a big help for my hockey career thus far.” 
***
Holloway is a native of Bragg Creek, Alberta, just outside of Calgary. Son of former Vancouver Canucks player Bruce Holloway, Dylan credits his Dad for being an integral influence in him getting into hockey. 

The young prospect would get his first hockey experience playing for the Calgary Jr. Flames organization. It was there where Holloway played alongside future Ottawa Senators prospect Jonny Tychonick, providing a glimpse of the hard work needed to progress in his hockey career. 

After his time with the Jr. Flames, Holloway signed with the Okotoks Oilers in the AJHL. This is where the Calgary native’s ceiling as a hockey player enhanced, highlighting his dual power forward and scoring abilities. In his final season with the Oilers, Holloway recorded 40 goals and 48 assists. Catching the attention of the Everett Silvertips in the WHL, who picked the forward in the 2016 WHL Draft.

While Holloway could have elected to stay in Canada and play junior hockey, he elected to go the NCAA route, committing to the University of Wisconsin. As a member of the Badgers, Holloway has been afforded the opportunity to play with highly touted NHL prospects such as Cole Caufield (Montreal Canadiens) and Alex Turcotte (Los Angeles Kings).

According to Coach Granato, it reflects highly on the character of Dylan and his family to “combine education with hockey.”

“Fortunately, we were able to talk with him early and show him our campus and program,” said Granato. “Dylan was one of those guys that when we saw him, we knew he could be a program changer, inspiring other kids from Alberta who has similar ideas to commit to the NCAA.” 
***
Granato describes a game earlier in the season where Holloway encompassed all of his intrinsic hockey qualities. Despite the Badgers losing 4-0 to the Clarkson Golden Knights on October 25th, Holloway had seven breakaway chances in the first period alone. Granato says that it was a game for Holloway to “gain the confidence that he can not just play at this level but also the NHL.” 

“He’s a competitor,” said Bruce Holloway, who accompanied Dylan to all of his World Junior Selection Camp practices. “If you ask him to be put in as a goalie, he would put on the pads and do it.” 

It is not the first time that Holloway has been left off of a major international team. In 2017, the youngster was left off of Canada’s national U-17 camp roster. While disappointment can quash a player’s confidence, Holloway used it as motivation to secure a spot on future Canadian teams. 

A year later, Holloway represented Team Canada at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he recorded one goal and two assists in three games. He was also selected to play for Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge, where he posted two goals in the tournament, including one against Team USA that secured Canada’s gold medal victory. 


***
It is these challenges that Holloway relishes and as he heads back to the University of Wisconsin, the Badgers coaching staff is eager to watch him be a more motivated, complete player after the selection camp. 

“It will motivate him big time,” said Badgers Associate Head Coach Mark Strobel on Holloway not making the World Junior team. “He will look at it as an honour and people see him in a strong light. He’s going to come back even hungrier and more willing to prove the critics wrong.”

As Holloway prepares for the second half of the season with the Badgers, he is still ranked as a potential first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. Emulating his performance at the Chicago Steel camp, expect Holloway to turn more heads as he skates his way to the professional hockey realm. 
The post Dylan Holloway Looking to Excel with Wisconsin after World Junior Camp appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


  • 0

Alexis LaFreniere Preparing for Leadership Role on World Junior Team

OAKVILLE– Alexis LaFreniere is itching to get back on the ice.

While the rest of Canada’s World Junior hopefuls were taking part in practices, LaFreniere was putting in a ton of work on the bike. For the last few weeks, the Rimouski Oceanic forward has been nursing an ankle injury. It forced him to miss the QMJHL’s games against the Russians in the Canada/Russia series. And for the entirety of World Junior Selection Camp, including practices and games against U Sports, LaFreniere has been on the sidelines.

On Thursday morning, the 18-year-old met with the media for the first time during camp. When asked about his injury, LaFreniere was pleased with his recovery, saying that the ankle is getting better day by day.

“It’s gotten better over the last couple of days,” said LaFreniere. “They don’t want me to push too much on it. I am excited to be back on the ice soon.”
***
While LaFreniere has not been on the ice, he has been integral behind the scenes. With three 17-year-olds at camp, LaFreniere has served as a mentor, introducing them to one of the most celebrated traditions in hockey.

It was just one year ago where LaFreniere was that young, inexperienced future star playing in his inaugural World Juniors. While a quarterfinal exit on home soil in Vancouver was not what he had desired, the Saint-Eustache native inherited a wealth of knowledge that he can translate into veteran leadership on this year’s team.

“Big experience last year,” said LaFreniere. “I can take that to help me this year and to have a bigger role. It’s important for the younger guys to enjoy it, have fun and work hard.”

One of those young players who LaFreniere has interacted with is Sudbury Wolves forward Quinton Byfield. Similar to LaFreniere, Byfield has generated a lot of buzz with his high level of play, currently second in the OHL in scoring (57 points). While Byfield and LaFreniere will be compared and debated regarding who should be the number one pick in the upcoming 2020 NHL Entry Draft, the two have put that aside to focus on making an impact on the World Junior team. Despite the two playing in different leagues, LaFreniere and Byfield welcome the opportunity to be on the same team and to learn from each other.

“Quinton played great last game,” said LaFreniere. “He’s a big guy, who is exciting to watch. It is fun to have him here. To eventually being able to skate with him is going to be fun.”

“He’s a busy guy so it’s hard to talk to him,” said Byfield. “But we’ve said hi a couple of times and it is great to have him here.”
***
Even with a lingering ankle injury, LaFreniere has been dominant in the QMJHL. His 23 goals, 47 assists (70 points) lead not just the Quebec league but the entire Canadian Hockey League. When watching his performance with Rimouski, it is evident LaFreniere has progressed with his puck handling ability and tendency to get in front of the net to create traffic. While he is a pass-first forward, the youngster has improved his shot, making him a dynamic offensive talent that is NHL ready.

While the heightened attention regarding his NHL draft status will come in due time, LaFreniere has a huge opportunity in front of him. When the time comes for LaFreniere to hit the ice again, the highly touted prospect is ready to embrace a leadership role on this team.

Looking to bring Canada back to the golden promise land. The post Alexis LaFreniere Preparing for Leadership Role on World Junior Team appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


  • 0

Injuries, Goalies, Team Identity: Day 2 World Junior Selection Camp Recap

OAKVILLE— Canada’s World Junior hopefuls reached another checkpoint in the Selection Camp process.

Now having completed the doubleheader of practices on Tuesday, the team is now ready to embark on actual games between U Sports on Wednesday and Thursday. A chance for the Canadian selectees to apply the skills and knowledge gained in practice into an actual contest.

Day 2 of the World Junior Selection Camp was filled with a lot of firsts. It was the first time highly touted Sudbury Wolves prospect Quinton Byfield took the ice, after surviving a seven-hour flight delay on Monday. It was the inaugural media availability for Hunter brothers, Mark and Dale, providing insight and perspective on the players on the ice and the character they want in the locker room.

Watching the practices, it is clear that a Dale Hunter-led junior team will be focused on puck possession, speed, and skill.

“We are a skilled team,” said Hunter after Tuesday’s evening practice. “But we need to be a hard-working team. We are going to need to play on top of the puck all the time.”
Team Canada’s Injury Concerns
On the first day of Selection Camp, Los Angeles Kings prospect Aidan Dudas briefly skated before leaving the ice. On Tuesday, Dudas did not participate in any of the two practices.

When asked about Dudas’ status, Mark Hunter reaffirmed what Brad McEwen (Head Scout, Hockey Canada) said on Monday, that they are taking his status “day by day.” Dudas not practicing in either of the two scheduled practices on Tuesday is a cause of concern, especially with the two U Sports games coming up.

Another player absent from the Tuesday practices is consensus No. 1 draft pick in the 2020 NHL Draft Alexis LaFreniere. LaFreniere, who also missed Monday’s practice due to a maintenance day. was seen working out on the bike while his teammates were on the ice.

Coming into the Selection Camp, the Rimouski Oceanic forward had played four games in five nights. While his spot on the junior roster is not in question, it appears unlikely that he will play in the U Sports games, in order to be healthy ahead of the start of the World Junior Hockey Championship on December 26th.

“He needs a few days off for maintenance time,” said Mark Hunter. “He has a few bumps and bruises that need to be cleared up.”

Second Consecutive Day Team Canada Goalies Shine

Goaltending is always a pillar that needs to be addressed for Canada’s World Junior teams. And this team is no different.

However, for the second straight day, the four goalies at the selection camp have remained poised and effective in between the pipes. Whether it is getting into positioning or dealing with the blazing shots from the Canadian forwards and defensemen, Joel Hofer, Hunter Jones, Nico Daws, and Olivier Rodrigue have each made their case to be one of the three goalie spots on this year’s team.

Unlike previous years, where the goalies coming to Selection Camp had international experience, the four goaltenders this year lack in this department. But what they fall short in terms of representing Canada, they make up for it in their stellar performances in the short-term.

Below are the stat lines for each of the goalies at this point in the season:

W
L
GAA
SV%

Joel Hofer
20
4
1.81
0.937

Olivier Rodrigue
15
6
2.79
0.907

Nico Daws
13
3
2.06
0.939

Hunter Jones
19
3
2.53
0.918

It is evident that the strategy of Canada’s coaching staff is to employ netminders who have the “hot hand” in the present. This means that the U Sports games will go a long way in determining the goalies who can raise their performance against tough competition. According to Dale Hunter, “all four goalies will play” in both games, giving them all ample time to showcase their skills.

Daws was one goalie that Coach Hunter had high praise for. The OHL’s leader in Goals Against Average and Save Percentage, Hunter from his experience coaching the London Knights the dominance Daws can bring in the crease.

“Nico didn’t get much of a chance to play last year, backing up an older goalie,” said Hunter. “But they come back with a younger team and Nico has stood tall for them. It is a credit to the team and especially him.”

Team Identity Rounding into Shape for Team Canada

The two practices on Tuesday provided an opportunity for the line combinations for the first day to take shape.

Below are the forward lines that were used:

Byfield-Cozens-Foote

Perfetti-Dellandrea-Foudy 

Holloway-Groulx-Newhook 

Krebs-Zary-Lavoie 

McMichael-Thomas-Mercer

The defensive pairings also remained consistent from Monday’s practice. Below are the pairings from Tuesday’s morning practice:

McIsaac-Byram

Smith-Schneider

Bahl-Bernard-Docker

Harley-Drysdale

Diliberatore-Addison 

Unlike Monday’s practice, the coaching staff spent Tuesday evening’s session focusing on special teams. With the offensive firepower Canada possesses, it is not surprising that their power play will make a resounding impact.

Below are the power play lines from Tuesday’s practice:

Byram
Perfetti – Foote – McMichael
Cozens

McIsaac
Lavoie – Thomas – Addison
Byfield

With the fast-paced nature this team possesses, it places great expectations on the 17-year-olds who are at the camp. Quinton Byfield, Cole Perfetti, and Jamie Drysdale have all shined on their respective OHL franchises.

But on the big ice and a grander stage at selection camp, every moment completing a drill in practice may end up determining their spot on the team. For Drysdale, he has become accustomed to blocking out the noise and focusing on the things that he can control.

“My confidence is high right now,” said Drysdale. “I just want to be able to show that I can play at both ends of the rink.”

Team Canada will take on U Sports on Wednesday at 5 pm EST.
The post Injuries, Goalies, Team Identity: Day 2 World Junior Selection Camp Recap appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


  • 0

Dale Hunter Instills Winning Culture for Team Canada

OAKVILLE– Dale Hunter really does not like losing.

So much so that during the 2006 OHL Playoffs, the London Knights head coach was fined $5,000 for arguing with on-ice officials. Even though his team got swept, Hunter still stuck up for his players.

It is that fervent focus on winning and distaste for losing that has made Hunter the blueprint junior hockey coach in Canada. Under Hunter’s leadership, the London Knights have achieved nine division titles and won two Memorial Cups.

Flash forward to the present and Hunter is employing his winning background to Canada’s National U-20 Junior Team. With the selection camp on its second day, the Canadian players are getting a taste of the identity Hunter wants to develop for this team. 

“There is nothing more than Dale loves to do than to win hockey games,” said McMichael. “The biggest thing is to work your hardest. He likes guys that can compete, protect leads and stick to a system.” 
***

Connor McMichael plays for Hunter on this year’s London Knights squad. After getting drafted 25th in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft to the Washington Capitals, McMichael was sent back to London to improve his game. 

The decision would be the impetus for the Knights once again near the top of the standings. Under Hunter’s leadership, McMichael has become the OHL’s most dynamic scorer, leading the league in points with 59 (25 goals, 34 assists). But in addition to his offence, McMichael is focusing on other aspects of his game. 

Hunter prepares his players for a career in the NHL. And by doing so, he puts his players in situations where they may not be the most comfortable. For McMichael, this has allowed him to be more of a defensive force in his own zone. Tied atop the OHL in power-play goals, the Capitals prospect has also been seen killing penalties. It is this attention to detail in all aspects of a player’s development that has made Hunter so victorious. 

“Not every player comes into camp and can be a top-six scoring forward,” said McMichael. “Dale wants me to adapt to a different role and to embrace any role I’ve been given.” 
***
During selection camp practices, Hunter does not put himself into the center of attention. He is often in the background, discussing drills with a small group of players. When the players are completing their tasks, Hunter does not raise his voice or act in an aggressive manner. When he speaks, the players and personnel listen, as every word uttered is of great importance. 

Sudbury Wolves forward and top 2020 NHL Draft Prospect Quinton Byfield appreciates this quality about Hunter. Having worked with the Knights head coach at the Canada/Russia series, the 17-year-old is aware that Hunter expects a lot of effort and skill for a full 60 minutes. While Byfield may not be on one of the top two scoring lines for Team Canada, he believes that he can use his size and speed to make a noticeable impact in a Hunter system.

“They are really great coaches,” said Byfield after his first practice Tuesday morning. “It would be a great experience to play under them and to represent Hockey Canada.” 

The head coach position for Canada’s World Junior team is highly sought after but even harder to keep. In the last ten years, The Canadian team has only won two gold medals. While it speaks to an increased amount of parity amongst the participating countries, having a strong, experienced leader at the head coach position can inspire a team to greatness. 

While the Hockey Canada management group wants to shift the attention to this year, it is hard to ignore last year’s quarter-final exit. The worst result on home soil in this decade. Regardless of where Canada places in the Czech Republic, Hunter will put out a team that believes in each other and will work tirelessly to wear down their opponents with speed and skill. 

Winning the number of times Dale Hunter has done with the London Knights while producing a plethora of top-tier NHL talent, is not by accident. His formula has worked and will continue to shine on Canada’s brightest junior hockey stage. 

“Dale brings a lot of calmness,” said Head of the Management Group Mark Hunter. “The respect he holds behind the bench is something that not a lot of coaches have. He’s not an in your face kind of coach. He gets his point across through ice time and being in the dressing room.” 

 The post Dale Hunter Instills Winning Culture for Team Canada appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


  • 0

Joe Veleno Joins Team Canada, World Junior Selection Camp Day 1 Notes

OAKVILLE— Joe Veleno will get his chance at World Junior redemption.

The Detroit Red Wings prospect was on the losing end being a part of Team Canada, losing to Finland in the quarterfinals at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Vancouver. The late goal that bounced and tipped into the net behind Michael DiPietro would send the Canadians home early and propel Finland to an eventual gold medal.

Veleno understands fully the weight of World Junior heartbreak. Now, he will get another opportunity to put on the red and white uniform, as Canada hits the ice the Czech Republic at the end of December to get back to World Junior glory.

“Joe has maturity in his game and brings experience and leadership playing against the older guys,” said Hockey Canada’s Head Scout Brad McEwen.

At 6’1, Veleno has great vision for the ice and likes to play the game at a high speed. Transitioning into the attacking zone from his own end is effortless for Veleno, who posted 104 points last season with the Drummondville Voltigeurs.
***
But as McEwen states, it is his defensive play that has really made Veleno into a complete player. Something that Team Canada coaches Dale and Mark Hunter are looking for in their players.

“He’s a complete guy, a 200-foot type player. He is so offensively important to his team and has rounded into a more complete player,” said McEwen.

With three goals and six assists through 25 games played this season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, Veleno provides a wealth of experience playing with bigger players in the AHL. This will translate to success in the World Junior tournament, making him stand out for Canada on both ends of the ice.

Veleno is the fourth returning player from last year’s World Junior team, joining Alexis LaFreniere, Jared McIssac and Ty Smith. While the disappointment from last year’s tournament was apparent in the short-term, McIssac, who is just getting back from a shoulder injury, has put in the rear-view mirror as he embarks on another training camp. He welcomes the opportunity to work with Veleno, LaFreniere and Smith to instill veteran leadership in the locker room.

“It’s a tough tournament to win,” said McIsaac. “All of us have been captains for Hockey Canada through the years. We are ready for this challenge.”
Early Defensive Pairings
Coming into training camp, Mark Hunter made it clear that he wants players “that can control the puck with skill and speed.” After the first practice of selection camp, it is evident that the Canadian selectees can glide on the ice and aren’t afraid to showcase their speed.

Below are defensive pairings that were seen in the first practice:

Harley-Drysdale

Bahl-Bernard-Docker

Smith-Schneider 

Diliberatore-Addison 

McIsaac-Byram 

Two pairings that stood out were Harley/Drysdale and Bahl/Bernard-Docker. Putting an already drafted player in Harley with a draft eligible 17-year-old in Drysdale was an interesting move for the coaches to explore. But both defensemen held their own, breaking into the zone with pace, making efficient passes to their forwards and showcasing their fast shots. More needs to be seen but early on, it appears that Harley and Drysdale complement each other nicely, particularly with Harley’s puck handling and Drysdale’s skill.

Bahl and Bernard-Docker were very at ease playing alongside each other. Bahl, the Arizona Coyotes prospect, is a 6’6, 229 pound defenseman who possesses the size and physicality to wear opponents down along the boards and in his own zone. This was complemented with Ottawa Senators prospect Bernard-Docker’s skill, ranging from his fast skating to his quick release shot from the point.

“Jacob plays a complete game,” said McEwen. “He’s a good complement to our puck movers, making sure things are kept clean in his own zone.”
Early Forward Considerations
Sudbury Wolves star forward Quinton Byfield was not at the first practice due to a travel issue. The same was said about Alexis LaFreniere, who missed practice because of his regularly scheduled maintenance day.

Los Angeles Kings prospect Aidan Dudas skated before practice began, as he has been recovering from an injury. According to McEwen, the coaching staff will take Dudas’ situation “day by day” to see if he will be ready enough to play on the team.

This left the following forward combinations to provide an initial jumpstart to their World Junior Selection Camp campaigns.

Krebs-Cozens-Foote 

Thomas-McMichael-Mercer

Newhook-Groulx-Holloway 

Perfetti-Dellandrea-Foudy 

Krebs-Zary-Lavoie

It is expected that Byfield will slot into the Cozens line, while LaFreniere will slot into the Dellandrea line.

The line combination that stood out the most was Akil Thomas, Connor McMichael and Dawson Mercer. A Washington Capitals prospect and the leading scorer in the OHL with 59 points, McMichael exemplifies offensive prowess with his quick shot and blazing speed. While he had not played with McMichael before, Akil Thomas embraced the opportunity, getting into open space for passes and finding the top shelf with his fast wrist shot.

“I want to be the guy that my coaches can depend on,” said Thomas. “Connor is a really great player and it would be awesome to play with him if given the opportunity.”

For McMichael, he hopes that he gets a chance to be one of the top six forwards on the Canadian team. But his stellar performance with the London Knights is thanks to McMichael’s ability to be multi-faceted as a player. Whether it is being tough on the defensive end or relentless on the penalty kill, Dale Hunter has employed McMichael to adjust to whatever role he gives him. The young forward has certainly succeeded thus far.
Goalie Performances
Olivier Rodrigue, Hunter Jones, Nico Daws and Joel Hofer took the ice to take some shots in between the pipes.

Coming into the camp, the front runners for the three goalie spots are Rodrigue, Jones and Daws. Rodrigue is currently fifth in the QMJHL in wins with 15. Jones for the Peterborough Petes is third in goals against average (2.53) and second in save percentage (.918) in the entire OHL. But leading the crop of goalies in the OHL has been Nico Daws, who is first in both goals-against-average (2.06) and save percentage (.939), after being the Guelph Storm back up goalie last season.

In the first practice, both Rodrigue and Daws looked extremely calm and poised in the crease, particularly in the shoot out where they were stopping some very fast shots. The depth in goaltending will certainly make for a competitive camp and a challenge for the coaching staff to select which goalies belong in the tournament.

“You need to take the body of work this past year,” said McEwen. “They all have great numbers since September and are on teams trending upward. They’ve put themselves in a good spot.”

Tuesday will see Team Canada practice twice before they compete against U Sports on Wednesday and Thursday.The post Joe Veleno Joins Team Canada, World Junior Selection Camp Day 1 Notes appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


  • 0

The Race for First in the CFL West Division

The CFL West Division continues to be the cream of the crop year after year. And while the East finally has two legitimate contenders heading into the last five games of the season, the West still holds all the cards.

Winnipeg, Calgary and Saskatchewan are all vying for the number one seed in the CFL West Division and if this season has been any indication, it’ll likely come down to the final two-three weeks. Let’s take a look at who has the most difficult and easiest path to the top seed.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Remaining Games:
Vs Hamilton

@ Saskatchewan

Vs Montreal

@ Calgary

Vs Calgary

The final five games of the Bombers schedule make the blown leads against the Argonauts and Alouettes that much more painful. At 9-4, the Bombers don’t play a team with a losing record to close out the season.

Chris Streveler has been formidable in the starting role for the Bombers, he’ll need to be even better with Matt Nichols officially out for the season. There is absolutely no clarity with the tie-breakers. Winnipeg is 1-0 versus Calgary but has a home and home to close out the season with them.

After trouncing the Roughriders at the Banjo Bowl, the season-series hangs in the balance next week but they’ll have to go to Saskatchewan to seal the deal there. When it’s all said and done, Winnipeg likely has the most difficult path to first place, despite currently holding that position. I predict two tough losses to Hamilton and Saskatchewan but a strong finish with a victory over Montreal and a split with Calgary.

Final record prediction: 11-7
Calgary Stampeders
Remaining Games:
Bye Week

@ Montreal

Vs Saskatchewan

Vs Winnipeg

@ Winnipeg

@BC

What many (wrongfully) thought would be a down year for Calgary. They’ve proved once again why they’ve been the best-run franchise in the CFL for the better part of a decade. After losing an onslaught of contributors from the 2018 Championship winning team, having Bo Levi Mitchell miss seven games as well as battling injuries at other key positions, Calgary is still right in the thick of it for first in the West.

Similar to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Calgary Stampeders do not have an easy path to finish in first. Thankfully for them, their commanding 37-10 win over Saskatchewan early in the season gives them the upper hand heading into that Week 18 matchup. Calgary has historically struggled in Montreal. Since 2014, the Stampeders are 1-4 in games at McGill Stadium. Is that necessarily indicative of how this next matchup will go? No, but it’s something worth considering, and Vernon Adams Jr. will be back for this matchup.

With a split with Winnipeg already predicted above, I reckon the Stampeders will drop their game in Montreal, win a tightly contested game against Saskatchewan and finish the season strong against the underachieving BC Lions.

Final record prediction: 12-6
Saskatchewan Roughriders:
Remaining Games:
@ Toronto

Vs Winnipeg

@ Calgary

@BC

@ Edmonton

Vs Edmonton

At 8-4 the Roughriders have had one of the more interesting paths to contention. After starting the season 1-3, the Riders rallied to win six straight before being blown out by Winnipeg and winning a nail biter against Montreal. In that time, their strength of competition came under fire as many pointed that during their six-game winning streak, two of those came against the aforementioned Lions, the basement-dwelling Argos and the rebuilding Redblacks. (There’s also that one game that didn’t finish because of lightning but I digress).

While the Riders can’t control who they play, they took care of business against teams that they were expected to. Their remaining schedule appears to be the easiest with two games against a struggling Edmonton team, one more against BC and a matchup in Toronto.  However, the one thing the Riders have working against them is where their games are being played. Currently, Saskatchewan has a 2-3 record on the road. Four of their last six games will also be played on the road, if Saskatchewan is to land a home playoff game (where they are currently 6-1), they’ll have to take care of business outside of Regina.

A win in Toronto should be expected, the Riders having home-field against the Bombers in the tie-breaker game gives them the edge in that one as well. I predict a loss in Calgary but a quick bounce-back victory against BC before splitting with Edmonton to close out the season (assuming Trevor Harris is back).

Final record prediction: 12-6
Edmonton Eskimos
Remaining games:
@ Ottawa

@ Hamilton

Vs BC

Vs Saskatchewan

@ Saskatchewan

Apologies in advance to Edmonton fans, there’s simply too much up in the air with Trevor Harris being inactive. Assuming Edmonton defeats Ottawa, that would put them at 7-7 with games against Hamilton, BC and Saskatchewan (x2) remaining. For the optimists’ sake, let’s imagine that they drop their game in Hamilton but defeat BC and split with Saskatchewan. A 9-9 record will be good enough for the crossover in 2019 (unlike last season), but that would mean they have to go to Montreal and Hamilton to battle their way back to Calgary for the 107th Grey Cup

Final record prediction: 9-9
Final Predicted CFL West Division Standings
Calgary Stampeders: 12-6

Saskatchewan Roughriders: 12-6

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: 11-7

Edmonton Eskimos: 9-9

BC Lions: 5-13
Final Thoughts
Regardless if these predictions turn out or not, the good news for CFL fans everywhere is that they’ll be treated to “playoff atmosphere” football long before November 10th. Calgary, Winnipeg and Saskatchewan’s matchups against one another down the final stretch of the regular season should offer fireworks and some of the best football CFL fans have seen this season.

Main image credit:
Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:’cS2MpsxPRSdVt7_25YAilg’,sig:’arySpYWsKrWA5I2S69S9GjilpOQv26W1GE5imE5pNws=’,w:’594px’,h:’451px’,items:’1154277411′,caption: true ,tld:’ca’,is360: false })});The post The Race for First in the CFL West Division appeared first on Last Word on Sports.


Categories

w88