Category Archives: Featured

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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.

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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.

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Is the Edmonton Eskimos Playoff Spot Actually Secure?

This weekend the Edmonton Eskimos dropped their fifth game in a row as Hamilton defeated them on their home field as a last-second field goal banged off the uprights and in. They now have a record of 6-7 and suddenly don’t appear to be a shoo-in for the playoffs; as they appeared just a couple weeks ago. But let’s imagine, if the worst-case scenario happened and they lost their last five games to finish with a record of 6-12, would they still make the playoffs?

Here is the rest of their schedule:

Week 16: at Ottawa

Week 17: at Hamilton

Week 18: BC

Week 20: Saskatchewan

Week 21: at Saskatchewan

That’s not to say they will lose each of these games. However, if it were to happen, would the Edmonton Eskimos still make the playoffs? Right now, Edmonton is six points ahead of BC and Ottawa, who each have three wins. Toronto has a game in hand on those two and is four points behind their two wins. None of these teams are very good, but could any of them make a late-season surge and steal a playoff spot?
Contenders
Ottawa
The Redblacks are sputtering as much as any team in the league right now. After that, they play at Toronto in Week 18, at Hamilton, at Toronto and against Montreal. But, assuming they beat Edmonton this week—because that’s the premise, could they make a late run? Not likely. I don’t believe they will sweep Toronto or beat Hamilton or Montreal.
Toronto
After starting 0-6, the Argonauts have won two of their last six games; including a win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. They crushed the Redblacks in Ottawa in Week 13, and in that time McLeod Bethel-Thompson has shown signs of being a capable quarterback. They narrowly lost to Calgary last week and lost a one-possession game against Montreal in Week 11. The improvement over the season is obvious. They could win their next two games against Saskatchewan this week and then at BC. They get Ottawa after that before going to Montreal. Ottawa comes to town once again before they end the season at Hamilton.

I would give them a better chance to make the playoffs in the present circumstances than Ottawa. They get two home games against the Redblacks, but having to go to BC, Montreal and Hamilton they would need at least one win there to get to six wins (assuming they do defeat the RoughRiders). So could they catch a 6-12 Edmonton team? Possibly, but I would say they would have no higher than a 30% chance.
BC
The BC Lions have won two in a row over the hapless Redblacks. This week they take on Montreal, then host the Argos, go to Edmonton (which is a win we assume for this scenario), host Saskatchewan, then get a bye in Week 20 before hosting Calgary to close the season. They have had some close calls this season against Hamilton (twice), at Montreal, at Saskatchewan and at Calgary. BC’s only other win this season was over—you guessed it—Toronto.

What gives them hope is that they get four home games over their last five, and with Mike Reilly leading the show he could get hot at any point and string some wins together. I would give them a 50% chance to catch a 6-12 Edmonton.

I imagine they will win at least one of the next two games at home against Eastern opponents (Toronto and Montreal), if not both. But even if they only win one, and we assume they win at Edmonton they will be at five wins. Then, the game against the Riders would be a must-win because their Week 21 game with Calgary could very easily determine home-field advantage for the Stampeders.
Outcome
All this said I am hard-pressed to think that Edmonton will not win another game. If they don’t get off the skids this week against the Redblacks, heads need to roll. This is a must-win game against the worst team in the league. With the Riders form recently, the Esks could easily take a game from them. But I don’t see them winning at Hamilton. I also believe playing BC will be tough, because beating a team three times in a season is not easy.

If the Edmonton Eskimos win one more game this season, that should be enough to ensure a playoff spot. Two would all but secure it. However, if they don’t win another game this season, I would still give the Esks a decent shot to make the playoffs at 6-12, but it would certainly not be a guarantee.

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The 10 Biggest Changes in 100 Years of the NFL

When the NFL first started in 1920, it wasn’t the high-flying spectacle it is now. Here are the moments that shaped America’s game in 100 years of the NFL.
The 10 Biggest Changes in 100 Years of the NFL
Photo Credit: Betway NFL
The Forward Pass
The passing game isn’t nearly what it used to be during the early years of the NFL. The NFL in its early stages resembled a game closer to that of the game of Rugby and forward passes were considered illegal.

When forward passes were allowed—although still rare—quarterbacks could only throw the ball forward from within five yards of the line of scrimmage. It wasn’t until 1933 that the NFL began to separate itself from college football where they began to allow forward passes from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage. This is what would come to shape the game of football that we know today.

At this same time, it was rare to see a quarterback throw for big numbers. In the 1932 season, no quarterback threw for more than 640 yards or nine touchdowns. In 2015, we saw Drew Brees throw for 505 yards and seven touchdowns in one game—an NFL record for passing touchdowns in a single game.
The Draft
The volatility of one team going from the bottom dwellers to winning a super bowl title in a couple of seasons is what makes the NFL Draft one of the most exciting sports events of the year.

In 1936, the NFL, in a bid to restore a competitive and take leverage away from the players, held its inaugural draft. Franchises would begin taking turns selecting college players, with the worst team from each previous season picking first. Before then, the players held all the cards as teams would engage in chaotic bidding wars to sign amateur players right out of college.

Within the next 30 years, every other major sports league would follow suit and hold their own inaugural draft.
Racial Integration
During the league’s formative years, its players and coaches were almost exclusively white, despite having a handful of black players in its very early seasons. Between 1934 and 1946, there were no black players at all.

Ultimately, in 1946, UCLA Bruins running back, Kenny Washington—who is regarded as one of the best collegiate players ever— broke the race barrier and became the first African-American to sign an NFL contract.

From then on, the NFL slowly integrated black players into the league, with most coming from the AFL/NFL merger in 1970.

As of 2014, the NFL’s player pool was 68% African-American. But the issues of race in sports is still ongoing despite the NFL’s ground-breaking Rooney Rule (2003), which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for every head coaching vacancy. As of the beginning of the 2019 NFL season, only three of the 32 NFL head coaches are African-American.
The Schedule
The NFL’s early years were chaotic in terms of teams’ schedules. At one point, there was no set schedule and franchises wound up playing any teams they could arrange a match with, which even included teams from outside of the league. Because of the unorganized structure of the games, the amount of match-ups teams got varied widely. Some teams were able to play 10 or more games, while the Muncie Flyers played just one, to which they lost and put them in last place.

Oddly enough, there was no championship game in the early years. Title winners were voted on by team owners at an end-of-season meeting. In 1933, the NFL revised its strange formula and had its inaugural title game between the Chicago Bears and New York Giants. In 1936, the NFL would begin having all nine teams play 12 games each, and since 1978, the regular season has been comprised of 16 games for each team.
The Helmets
It’s frightening to imagine the kind of helmet-to-helmet contact we see today happening with the soft leather caps players wore in the NFL’s early years. In the 1940s and 1950s, the NFL finally moved on to using plastic helmets with face masks to polymer helmets that are universal in today’s game.

The decision to move away from the leather caps was intended to improve player safety. But brain injuries like CTE are still a key concern today and the league continues to push rule changes around the league and make that kind of harsh contact illegal in the game.

In 2013, the league was sued by nearly 4,500 former players for concussion-related injuries.
The AFL Merger
In 1959, the founding of the American Football League (AFL) quickly threatened the dominance of the NFL by luring away top college recruits with lucrative contracts. The NFL recognized that the competition could threaten their talent pool and profitability and by 1966, a deal was agreed to merge the two leagues. The NFL kept its name and the AFL and NFL franchises were separated into two conferences: the AFC and the NFC. At the end of each season, the conference champions would play each other, spawning one of the biggest sporting events in the world…
The Super Bowl
The Super Bowl regularly attracts over 100 million viewers worldwide each year, more than any annual sporting event except the Champions League final. That’s impressive—thanks to the NFL’s marketing strategy—considering American Football is difficult for most outside of the U.S. to understand.

Super Sunday has essentially become a national holiday for American Football fans, and traditions like Super Bowl parties and prop bets have spread to countries even outside of the US.
The Halftime Show
Some of the biggest musical acts in the world like Prince, Michael Jackson, and Beyoncé have produced iconic performances at the Super Bowl halftime show. It’s the biggest in-game entertainment that no other sports league sees and is a big component to just how successful the super bowl is.

Until the 1990s, the half-time show would only feature a marching band with a theme like A Salute to the Big Band Era or It’s a Small World. It wasn’t until Michael Jackson’s iconic 1993 91 million viewer performance that changed everything. The half-time show from then on would be a coveted gig for the world’s biggest artists.

Since then, the half-time show has essentially been as memorable as the game itself. Some unforgettable moments from over the years include Janet Jackson’s Nipplegate, Katy Perry’s ‘Left Shark’, and Lady Gaga’s leap from the stadium roof.
The Salary Cap
Aside from the draft, the salary cap is the NFL’s greatest leveler. While sports like baseball and soccer (sorry, football fans) tend to reward the owners with the deepest pockets, when the NFL introduced the salary cap in 1994, a teams’ success no longer relied on how much money came out of their pockets but on good coaching and talent evaluation.

Take the New England Patriots for example. They have dominated the league since 2000 and their success can be largely attributed to three-time league MVP, Tom Brady—the (almost) undisputed GOAT quarterback and former sixth-round draft pick—and three-time Coach of the Year, Bill Belichick, rather than the checkbook of owner Robert Kraft.
International Expansion
While the NBA and MLB have both played games in London in the last year, it was the NFL that really pioneered the international expansion. The NFL played a handful of exhibition games at Wembley in the 1980s and instantly won over the fans. Now, the NFL attempts to hold a few regular-season games in London every year, thanks to a deal made by Jacksonville Jaguars owner, Shahid Kahn, in 2013. International expansion has even reached Mexico City and it could end up being only a few years from now that we see a league expansion move internationally.

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Life Post-Jeremiah Masoli for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have begun their journey without CFL all-star Jeremiah Masoli and the team has shown promise. Clearly, Dane Evans has a lot to prove but he is starting to settle in with the offence and offensive coordinator Tommy Condell. It takes time for players and coordinators to develop a relationship, but Evans and Condell are on their way.

Masoli and Condell developed a successful relationship, but after Masoli ‘s knee injury, Evans was projected into the spotlight. The Tiger-Cats have shown production through all phases. But, will they manage to continue their success as the CFL season continues?
Passing Game
Since losing Masoli to injury the Tiger-Cats have gone 1-1. Both games were competitive and gave the league a chance to see new starting quarterback Dane Evans. The B.C. Lions game allowed Evans to show what he is capable of.

Playing in front of an energetic fan base, he put up some reasonable numbers and threw for 260 yards and two touchdowns. Brandon Banks returned from injury and played another sensational game. Banks is currently leading the league in receiving yards and second in receiving touchdowns.

Banks is not the only playmaker amongst the wide receiving core. Bralon Addison has accumulated 412 yards receiving and Jaelon Acklin is a solid possession receiver. Luke Tasker has struggled as of late, but do not be surprised if he plays a bigger role deeper into the season and in the playoffs.
Running Game
Losing Maleek Irons for six games hurts the Cats. Cameron Marshall, Irons’ replacement, debuted against B.C. last week and had seven carries for 40 yards.

The offensive line held the Lions to zero sacks. Unfortunately, Darius Ciraco was placed on the one-game injured list and didn’t play against B.C. Ti-Cats fans hope to see him back within the next couple games as he is a vital component of the offensive line.

Hamilton needs consistency in their ground game in order to relieve the pressure off Dane Evans. As the season runs deeper, the Tiger-Cats offence could become much more dangerous as they already are. It will also be intriguing to see how Evans game develops.
Defence
Defensively, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats lineup with a high caliber defence, highlighted by their defensive line.

Ja’Gared Davis was a massive addition to there d-line this year. He is currently tied for second in the CFL in sacks with six and has recorded 37 tackles, which is eighth-most among the league. The seven above him are either linebackers or defensive backs. Leading Hamilton in tackles is middle linebacker Justin Tuggle with 40.
Secondary
The secondary has young players such as Frankie Williams and Tunde Adeleke. Delvin Breaux is a member the Tiger-Cats want back in there secondary as he was put on the one-game injured list and did not play last week against B.C. Overall, the Tiger-Cats have a highly skilled defence on paper, but last week’s outing showed weaknesses and this Saturday’s game against Ottawa will be important to gain some lost confidence.
Special Teams
Jeff Reinebold continues to show why he is in the conversation as the best special teams coordinator in the CFL. The Tiger-Cats special team units are never overlooked by there opponent.

Leding the league in punt return yards and fourth in kickoff return yards, Frankie Williams is becoming a respected returner in the CFL. It also doesn’t hurt when you can put Brandon Banks — who leads the league in field goal missed return yards with 235 — in the end zone when the opposing team is attempting a field goal.

But what makes all this work is the coaching of Jeff Reinebold. He puts together schemes and plays that virtually make these speedy returners untouchable. Great blocking and exceptional return play make for a dangerous return game.
Final Thoughts
If the offence can stay consistent, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will be in this year’s Grey Cup. Their defence has some of the top players in each positional group and their special teams groups are explosive.

Losing your starting quarterback and running back to season-ending injuries is often diminishing to any football team. But head coach Orlondo Steinauer has managed to create an environment that brings players together and ultimately leads to continuity among all. The Tiger-Cats play this Saturday in the Nation’s capital.

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