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Canada’s exit, USA gold at IIHF

By Lori Bennett National Sports Columnist 2024 IIHF World Junior Championships Team Canada suffered an early ejection from the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship. It was widely known that the roster representing Canada this year was not as strong as the previous two years, with only one player returning from last year’s roster. But they were assessed to be one of the top four teams in the tournament who would compete in the semi-finals. If you make it to the final four, anything can happen. But it was a hot goalie and a flukey bounce in the quarter-final against Team Czechia that ended their tournament and their gold medal streak at two years. Czechia went on to the semi-final to face Team Sweden and were eliminated. The United States eliminated Team Finland in the other semi-final. The gold medal round between the US and Sweden resulted in the Americans dominating and emerging victorious. NHL Noise We are approaching the midway point of the 2023-24 NHL season. That means it’s crunch time for a few of our favourite teams. The Toronto Maple Leafs are trying to assemble a puzzle more tangly than the one you got for Christmas that’s 10,000 pieces and all blue sky. Auston Matthews is scoring goals at will while management is reportedly trying to negotiate a new contract with William Nylander, who is in the middle of a career year, that will stretch the limits of their cap structure. The goaltender situation is tense while the Leafs lean on Martin Jones with Joseph Woll injured and Ilya Samsonov waived this past week. In the meantime, the point spread in the Eastern Conference is small and the team has hardly been convincing so far. The coaching change in Ottawa has not been effective in lifting the Canada’s exist, USA gold at IIHF Senators out of the basement of the Eastern Conference. On New Year’s Eve the team announced a new leadership group. Steve Staios was named General Manager and President of Hockey Operations, while Dave Poulin joined the team as the Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations, and Ryan Bowness was named Associate GM under Staios. The new group has a big task in front of them to sort out a team that was expected to take a big step forward this year. In the short term, we can expect the Sens to sell hard at the trade deadline. Connor McDavid has carried the Edmonton Oilers on his back and practically eliminated the abysmal start they had to their season. On Tuesday, Jan. 2, McDavid reached a major milestone — 900 points in just 602 games — when he scored a goal and added four assists in a 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. With the win the Oilers were 14-3-0 in their previous 17 games, had won six straight, and were just one point out of a wild card spot. The Vancouver Canucks continue to surprise. As of press deadline, they held first place in the Pacific Division as we approach the halfway mark of the season. The Canucks looked bound for a complete tear down and rebuild until they were resuscitated by the addition of Head Coach Rick Tocchet. The Winnipeg Jets are experiencing a lift from the summer’s roster shift and continue to maintain their winning ways. The Jets were in second place in the Central Division at press deadline. I’m not sure anyone would have predicted that the Canucks and Jets would be keeping company with the Avalanche and Golden Knights, but fans north of the border will take it. The Montreal Canadiens are making progress despite being severely hampered by their injury situation. On Thursday, the team announced that centreman Christian Dvorak would be out for the rest of the season due to requiring surgery on a torn pectoral muscle. The Habs are decimated down the middle of the ice. Kirby Dach was lost to injury in the second game of the season. Alex Newhook, who also spent some time at centre, is currently in the middle of a three-month injury absence. Despite this, the Canadiens continue to compete. The Calgary Flames are in lockstep with the Habs in the overall standings, and the two teams are likely to be competing from now until the end of the season. Both teams have assets they would like to sell at the trade deadline to help support their rebuilds, and the same buyers will come knocking. Both teams will also be hoping to keep hockey interesting for a couple of months while they drop in the standings and fight for the highest odds to win the draft lottery. Shoot for the stars, I say. PWHL Posts The inaugural season of the Professional Women’s Hockey League got underway on New Year’s Day. New York was in Toronto to kick off the season at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, situated at the old Maple Leaf Gardens. The home team lost 4-0. All six teams have played their first games with Montreal and Minnesota also claiming wins. We will continue to bring you reports from the PWHL as the season progresses. Raptors Racket The management duo of Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster have begun their retool of the Toronto Raptors. On New Year’s Day, two new additions made their debut in Toronto after a five-player deal between the Raptors and the New York Knicks on Dec. 30. Toronto acquired RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley and Detroit’s (previously acquired by the Knicks) 2024 second round pick in exchange for OG Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa and Malachi Flynn. Barrett is a shooting guard/small forward, a native of the Greater Toronto Area, who is in the first year of a four-year contract and is expected to bring another shooting option. Quickley, whose “IQ” nickname might be the coolest in the NBA, is a pending free agent point guard who can shoot for three, but who may be a better fit for the Raptors to resign than Anunoby. Both players diversify Toronto’s shooting options, which the Raptors need desperately. Both players were in the starting lineup in their debut. Barrett had 19 points and nine rebounds, while Quickley added 14 points. The NBA trade deadline is at 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on February 8th. The Raptors are expected to be active. Blue Jays Babble On Wednesday, Jan. 3, Toronto Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins met with the media to address the holiday season signings of centre-fielder Kevin Kiermaier and utility player Isiah Kiner-Falefa. While Kiermaier is a strong outfielder, and Kiner-Falefa is a versatile option who can play several positions, including third base should Matt Chapman sign elsewhere, neither of these players will have the impact that Shohei Ohtani would have had in Toronto. In the press conference, Atkins expressed his own disappointment that Ohtani did not ultimately choose the Blue Jays. He confirmed that he had met with Ohtani in the days leading up to the decision, and that Toronto was a genuine contender to land the phenom. Atkins told the media he expects to sign another free agent before spring training, and it would likely be another outfielder or designated hitter. So far, the offseason additions have been underwhelming, to say the least. It’s difficult to imagine how the Blue Jays will improve upon the past two seasons unless Atkins can pull a surprise out of his hat.

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