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Canucks game against Flames called off with 2 players, coach in COVID-19 protocols

The NHL’s Canadian-based North Division has been impacted by COVID-19 for the second time in less than two weeks.

The league postponed Wednesday night’s game between the Canucks and Flames after a second Vancouver player and a member of the team’s coaching staff were added to the league’s COVID-19 protocol list.

Canucks forward Adam Gaudette, who was pulled from Tuesday’s practice following a positive test result, was added to the list that afternoon.

Vancouver and Calgary were preparing as if Wednesday’s game would still go ahead — both teams held morning skate’s and virtual media availabilities at Rogers Arena — but the league announced its decision in a press release roughly 90 minutes before puck drop.

The NHL, which said it would provide a further update Thursday, added the call was made by medical teams from the league, NHL Players’ Association and Canucks.

A player on the COVID-19 protocol list has not necessarily tested positive.

The Montreal Canadiens had four games postponed — the first contests scratched in the North this season — last week when forwards Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia were added to the protocol list.

Those postponements, which included the shuttering of the Canadiens’ practice facility, forced the rescheduling of 11 games.

Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin said at the time one of his players tested positive for a coronavirus variant, which precipitated the shutdown. Kotkaniemi was removed from protocol Tuesday when the Canadiens returned to the ice against the Edmonton Oilers, but Armia remains on the list.

Canucks head coach Travis Green would not say following Wednesday’s morning skate if Gaudette had tested positive for a variant.

“I’m not going to get into personal stuff with Adam Gaudette,” he said. “We’re preparing to play, and planning to do so.”

Green added his club felt they were in the clear with just one positive test following some nervous hours.

“[Tuesday] when you get the news, you’re always wondering about it,” he said. “Last night we had a pretty good idea we were good to go this morning.

“We’ve tried to just stay focused on that task, and let the people that advise us on the protocols let us know if there’s anything else changing.”

42 games now postponed

The NHL’s truncated 56-game schedule has now seen 42 contests postponed because of COVID-19.

The league’s protocols require players and staff to be tested daily. Any time an individual’s initial test comes back positive, the lab does a second test on the initial sample.

If the second test is negative, a second sample is collected. But if that sample returns a positive result, it’s considered to be a “confirmed positive.”

The league requires individuals with positive tests to self isolate for 10 days, and for close contacts to self isolate for two weeks.

The 24-year-old Gaudette has seven points (three goals, four assists) in 33 games this season. The Canucks were also missing winger Jake Virtanen at Tuesday’s practice, who Green said “wasn’t feeling well so he stayed home.”


Vancouver and Calgary are tied for fifth in the division with identical 16-18-3 records, five points back of Montreal for the fourth and final playoff spot, although Montreal has a big advantage with five games in hand.

The Flames are scheduled to visit the Edmonton Oilers on Friday before opening a four-game homestand against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Canucks beginning Sunday.

The Canucks were coming off a six-day break heading into Wednesday before getting ready to embark on a seven-game road trip set to begin Saturday in Edmonton.

That’s all now very much up in the air.

Vancouver forward J.T. Miller and defenceman Jordie Benn missed multiple games in January after being placed into protocol.

“It’s not ideal,” Miller said Wednesday morning. “Everybody’s trying to do the right things to not have this situation happen.

“Hopefully we can minimize the damage here, and hopefully Gauds isn’t feeling too poorly.”

WHL Kelowna in 14-day quarantine

Also Wednesday, the Western Hockey League announced the Kelowna Rockets have had all activities suspended for a minimum of 14 days following six additional positive COVID-19 tests, taking the total to seven within the club after a positive test one day earlier.

The WHL says the positive COVID-19 test results belong to two staff members and four players.

In accordance with the WHL’s return-to-play protocol, the Rockets have immediately isolated and are being tested, and anyone with close contact has been instructed to self-quarantine and monitor symptoms for 14 days.

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‘Build it and they will come:’ How a Black Canadian coach inspired a generation of hockey players

Cyril Bollers’ ultimate goal in coaching is to reach the NHL. But for now, he’s happy leading Team Jamaica. 

“I think there’s been a lot of frustration in the past with me that I have all the certifications … I just don’t know why I haven’t been given that opportunity,” Bollers said. “But there’s other coaches that are in the same boat of colour that haven’t been given that opportunity either. So I’m not going to say it’s just me, but for me, my goal is to one day coach for Team Canada.”

The 52-year-old doesn’t expect to make a jump straight to the NHL or Olympics, and speculates that the reason he hasn’t advanced much, despite recommendations from the likes of Hockey Hall of Famer Paul Coffey, is a lack of connections at the next level.

“I don’t want to say it’s colour, especially with hockey being for everyone. Other people may — I don’t. I just want to say that the opportunity hasn’t arisen yet and I’m hoping it does. So based on that, I’m continuing to network,” Bollers said.

Bollers is the president of Skillz Black Aces, a Toronto-based program that helps bring hockey to underprivileged and BIPOC youth. It has produced NHLers such as Anson Carter, Wayne Simmonds and brothers Anthony and Chris Stewart.

Born in Guyana, Bollers now lives in Scarborough, Ont., after moving to Canada when he was four. He was inspired to become a coach when his son was six and playing house-league hockey for a coach who heavily favoured his own son.

Soon, coaching became a passion. He’s since worked with the Toronto Red Wings and Marlboros of the GTHL and the Pickering Panthers of the OJHL.

“I was told that I couldn’t because of the colour of my skin, which fuelled the fire, which promoted the education in regards to quality certificates, which gave me the opportunity to prove others wrong,” Bollers said.

In addition to his work with the Black Aces, Bollers has also served for the past four years as head coach and general manager of Team Jamaica — a country that doesn’t contain so much as a single ice rink.

Bollers also works with the Black Canadian Coaches Association in hopes of reaching a broader base of BIPOC coaches throughout the country to serve as a mentor and to help create a network between coaches and sports organizations.

Legacy with Black Aces

But it was with the Black Aces where Bollers helped inspire a generation of BIPOC players, many of whom followed him to Team Jamaica.

“I guess when they say build it and they will come, that’s what it was. Everybody wanted to become a Skillz Black Ace,” Bollers said.

The program began around 20 years ago, partially the brainchild of former NHL goalie Kevin Weekes, as a camp that would run a few times per year. Bollers helped build it into more of a team that would enter — and quickly dominate — tournaments against top competition.


A Skillz Black Aces team is seen above at a tournament. (Courtesy Cyril Bollers)

In addition to a heavy majority of BIPOC players, Bollers led a group of five Black coaches on the bench. The team consistently stunned its opponents with blazing speed and won way more often than it lost.

For parents of colour, the Black Aces was an opportunity to show their children there are other hockey players who look like them.

“And that was the main thing was he was not an outsider or ‘that one kid’ with this group,” said Mark Francis, whose son Peyton played for the Aces and now plays centre for the University of Alabama-Huntsville Chargers.

Loren Francis heard racist comments from the stands when she watched her son play on predominantly white teams. Since Loren is white, other parents did not realize she was Peyton’s mom. When the Black Aces opportunity arose, Mark and Loren were intrigued.

“I thought this was going to be more like a how-to-play hockey type of thing,” Mark said. “And then we went out and I was shocked because not only were the kids very highly skilled, but [Bollers’] coaching methods, I would say, were top notch.”


Bollers leads a player through a drill. (Courtesy Cyril Bollers)

Vancouver Canucks forward Justin Bailey is another Black Aces alumnus. Born in Buffalo, N.Y., a 12-year-old Bailey was hesitant about joining a team across the border where he didn’t know anyone.

It took some convincing from his mother, Karen Buscaglia, and the decision was an instant success.

“People embraced their differences. And they had fun music playing in the locker room. And it was the first time that I could look at him and I could see he just had a blast. And obviously hockey was predominantly white, so he had never been exposed to anything like that,” Buscaglia said.

While a fun atmosphere certainly existed around the Black Aces, both Francis and Buscaglia say Bollers ran a tight ship where discipline among players — things like walking in an orderly fashion and politeness — impacted players’ ice-time.

The Black Aces, counting one edition of the team featuring one of Bollers’ three sons, often faced racism from other teams, including hearing the N-word uttered against them on the ice.

“We used to laugh at it because we were so good we would beat people. And for me, I would just tell the guys, ‘They can’t beat you on the ice. They’re going to try to beat you with their words. But words are just words,'” Bollers said.

Equal success with Jamaica

As a white player born in the Caribbean, Ethan Finlason had a slightly different experience when he joined Bollers’ Team Jamaica. Finlason played inline hockey in his home country of the Cayman Islands before eventually moving to Canada to pursue ice hockey.

He was met with hostility from other kids who said he should quit because he was Caribbean. Then a goalie from his academy team stayed behind to watch one of the team’s games.

“The Canadian goalie was shocked that Jamaicans could skate,” said Ethan’s father Andrew. “And I don’t know where this bias comes from. I mean, most of these kids grew up in Canada. But they’re tremendous athletes. They have a tremendous coach. But there’s this stigma that they shouldn’t be able to play.”


Team Jamaica players are seen above in 2014. (Courtesy Cyril Bollers)

In 2019, Jamaica went 5-0 en route to winning the championship at the LATAM Cup, an international tournament pitting top Latin American and Caribbean teams.

But Jamaica can’t be fully sanctioned by the IIHF until it builds a rink. When that happens, more resources could be poured into the program and the pitch to NHL players of Jamaican descent, like the Subbans, can begin.

“I’m sure that once that’s happened, we can just place a call to Karl [Subban] and then Karl will round up the boys and then we’ll take it from there. But I think until it’s fully sanctioned, we don’t want to put the cart before the horse,” Bollers said.

When that finally happens, Bollers said his admittedly lofty goal is to qualify for the Olympics.

Between the Black Aces and Team Jamaica, Bollers’ hands are plenty full in the world of hockey, even as he continues to eye a pro position. He can take solace in the fact that if nothing else, his teams simply win.

“They used to come and watch us play because we were fast, we were strong, it was entertaining hockey. But more importantly we could coach, and I think what people forget is I’m a hockey coach by choice, Black by nature.”

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Wilfried Nancy named head coach of CF Montreal, team to start season in Florida

After overhauling their name and look, CF Montreal have announced their latest adjustments — a new coach and a new temporary home.

The club announced Monday that former assistant coach Wilfried Nancy has been promoted to the top job. He takes over from Thierry Henry, who resigned last month citing family reasons.

“I’m not going to lie — soccer, football, it is my passion,” Nancy told reporters Monday. “For me, this is a good step.”

Montreal also announced it will open the season playing home games in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., because of border restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nancy, a 43-year-old Frenchman, has been an assistant coach with the first team since 2016, and said he wants to build on what the group accomplished last season.

Montreal finished the regular season with a 8-13-2, good for ninth spot in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference. The club — known as the Montreal Impact before a rebrand in January — made the playoffs for the first time since 2016, but was eliminated by the New England Revolution in the play-in round.

‘We’re going to be a good team’

The team established a style of play last year, Nancy said.

“We will continue that style of play,” he said. “We’re going to be a good team, proactive, dynamic and we will be able also to put produce on the opposition.”

Working under Henry — formerly a marquee striker with Arsenal in the English Premier League — was an illuminating experience, Nancy said.

“I worked with a champion,” he said. “Thierry was a star as a player and I understood why he was a star,.”

Henry was a demanding coach who found it hard to accept that players would make mistakes, but he also set a strong example for the team, Nancy said.

“For me, it was good to learn from Thierry about the desire to win and the desire to succeed,” he said. “This is the first time that I can see that close to me.”

CF Montreal announced on Feb. 25 that Henry was stepping down after a single season as the club’s head coach.

There was a lot of interest in the job from people across Europe and North America, sporting director Olivier Renard said. While he declined to say who else was considered, Renard added that the pandemic wasn’t an obstacle in the hiring process.

What set Nancy apart from other applicants was his determination and his familiarity with the club, Renard said.

“I know his philosophy, I know what he wants to do for the club. And the club knows also what he makes the last 10 years of the club,” he said.

“It’s not only we gave him the chance, he deserved the chance also.”

While’s Nancy’s contract is for one year, Renard said in French that the new coach doesn’t have a sword hanging over his head.

Nancy said he understands the situation and is OK with it.

“I have to do my job now as a coach to go forward,” he said.

Experience developing young talent

Before joining the first team as an assistant coach, Nancy worked as a coach in the club’s academy system.

His experience developing young talent is part of what makes Nancy a good fit for the head coach role, Renard said.

“One of the best qualities of Wil is his communication with young guys,” he said. “We need that.”

Assistant coaches Kwame Ampadu and Laurent Ciman, goalkeeper coach Remy Vercoutre and fitness coach Jules Gueguen will complete Nancy’s staff.

The newly minted coach and his team opened training camp in Montreal last week, but will soon make the move to a warmer locale.

Club to play in Fort Lauderdale

The club announced Monday that it will begin its season in Florida, playing at Inter Miami CF Stadium in Fort Lauderdale and using Inter Miami CF’s facilities for daily training.

CF Montreal is set to move south on April 6 and plans to play two pre-season games in Florida before the MLS season begins on April 17.

The club will have ample Canadian company in the Sunshine State. The Raptors, Blue Jays and Toronto FC are all playing in Florida due to border restrictions and the Canadian national men’s soccer team also will play a home World Cup qualifying game in the state.

The restrictions forced all three Canadian MLS teams to move south last season. Montreal finished out the year in Harrison, N.J., sharing a stadium with the New York Red Bulls.

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CBC | Soccer News

Thierry Henry, citing family, steps down as CF Montreal head coach

CF Montreal lost a head coach and Major League Soccer said goodbye to a marquee name with news Thursday that Thierry Henry was stepping down.

Citing family reasons, the 43-year-old former star striker said he was quitting the club after one season at the helm to return to London. Kevin Gilmore, Montreal’s president and CEO, called it a “difficult day” but said Henry was leaving on good terms.

“I’m surprised but given the circumstances it doesn’t shock me that this has happened given what he went through last year,” he told reporters.

Separation from his children plus the prospect of having to spend another season on the road due to pandemic-related travel restrictions contributed to Henry’s decision.

“Last year was very difficult on this club across the board,” said Gilmore. “But especially with those that had to spend the last four months of the season outside of Montreal. And the prospect of starting a season like that again is very difficult. And it’s taken its toll on a lot of people. Obviously it’s taken its toll on Thierry and his children.

“He made a difficult decision — although I keep saying when you make decisions based on family, they’re always good decisions — to stay in London and give up his position as the head coach of the club in order to be close to his family.”

‘Heavy heart’

The announcement comes on the eve of training camp. Players report Monday for a seven-day quarantine period, medicals and COVID-19 testing prior to the start of team training March 8. The MLS regular season kicks off April 17.

Montreal said it will take a committee approach to coaching led by assistant coach Wilfried Nancy until a successor is found. The new head coach will take charge of a roster that has been radically changed since last season with 11 players having left and eight new faces.

Henry spoke to the Montreal players and staff Thursday via video but not the media.

“It is with a heavy heart that I’ve decided to take this decision,” the French native said in a statement. “The last year has been an extremely difficult one for me personally. Due to the worldwide pandemic, I was unable to see my children.

“Unfortunately due to the ongoing restrictions and the fact that we will have to relocate to the U.S. again for several months, [this year] will be no different. The separation is too much of a strain for me and my kids. Therefore, it is with much sadness that I must take the decision to return to London and leave CF Montreal.”


Henry was hired in November 2019, succeeding interim coach Wilmer Cabrera on a two-year contract with an option for the 2022 season.

Henry has been linked to the managerial opening at England’s Bournemouth in recent days. But Montreal officials said there had been no contact with the Championship side, which recently handed the manager’s job to Jonathan Woodgate through the end of the season.

“Bournemouth was nothing more than a rumour,” Gilmore said.

Still, Montreal says it will be entitled to compensation if Henry takes a position with another club in the near future.

Gilmore said Henry was not focused on a job hunt. “Right now his sole and only focus is his children and his family.”

But Montreal sporting director Olivier Renard said he hopes Henry returns to coaching as soon as possible.

“He deserves it. I can say that I was very proud of him last year ΓǪ You could see he was in difficulty about his family, about the players. He was the leader of the team.”


Henry, seen taking a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, led Montreal (8-13-2) to the playoffs last season, for the first time since 2016. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Henry led Montreal (8-13-2) to the playoffs last season, for the first time since 2016. Montreal, which finished out the 2020 campaign based in Harrison, N.J., exited in the play-in round in November thanks to a 95th-minute goal by New England’s Gustavo Bou.

Gilmore said Henry flew home for the holidays, returning to Montreal the last week of January. After finishing quarantine in early February, he told the club he had to fly home to deal with some personal issues.

“His children were struggling with him having just left,” said Gilmore.

Last Thursday, Henry indicated he was leaning toward not coming back. Gilmore said while the club tried to find ways to ease his burden, Henry told them Monday he was stepping down.


“Is it perfect timing? Absolutely not. But like I said there is no deadline or prescription date on personal decisions and we fully understand where he’s coming from,” Gilmore said.

“Of course it’s a loss when you lose a person like Thierry Henry, who’s a football legend known worldwide and is associated with your club,” he added. “The thing is he’ll always be associated with this club.”

Gilmore said the team is in the process of finalizing where in the U.S. it will play home matches this season while the border restrictions continue. A return to New Jersey or Florida are possibilities.

Toronto FC is also looking at Florida, with Orlando and Tampa possible venues. Vancouver is reportedly looking at Utah.

Henry was an elite forward whose playing resume includes Monaco, Juventus, Arsenal, Barcelona, the New York Red Bulls and France. He retired in December 2014 after a 20-year career that saw him score 411 goals in 917 matches.

Henry was an academy coach at Arsenal and an assistant coach with the Belgian national team before taking charge of AS Monaco and then Montreal.

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Olympics gymnastics coach with ties to Larry Nassar dies by suicide after charges

A former U.S. Olympics gymnastics coach with ties to disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar killed himself Thursday, hours after being charged with turning his Michigan gym into a hub of human trafficking by coercing girls to train and then abusing them, authorities said.

John Geddert was supposed to appear in an Eaton County court, near Lansing, Mich. His body was found at a rest area along Interstate 96, according to state police. No other details were immediately released.

“This is a tragic end to a tragic story for everyone involved,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said.

Nessel earlier announced that Geddert was charged with two dozen crimes, including sexual assault, human trafficking and running a criminal enterprise. The charges were the latest fallout from the sexual abuse scandal involving Nassar, a former Michigan State University sports doctor now in prison.

Geddert, 63, was head coach of the 2012 U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team, which won a gold medal. He was long associated with Nassar, who was the Olympic team’s doctor and also treated injured gymnasts at Twistars, Geddert’s Lansing-area gym.

Among the charges, Geddert was accused of lying to investigators in 2016 when he denied ever hearing complaints about Nassar. But the bulk of the case against him involved his gym in Dimondale and how he treated the young athletes whose families paid to have them train under him.

The charges against Geddert had “very little to do” with Nassar, said Assistant Attorney General Danielle Hagaman-Clark.

‘It can happen to anyone, anywhere’

Geddert was charged with using his strong reputation in gymnastics to commit a form of human trafficking by making money through the forced labour of young athletes.

“The victims suffer from disordered eating, including bulimia and anorexia, suicide attempts and attempts at self harm, excessive physical conditioning, repeatedly being forced to perform even when injured, extreme emotional abuse and physical abuse, including sexual assault,” Nessel said.

“Many of these victims still carry these scars from this behaviour to this day.”

The attorney general acknowledged that the case might not fit the common understanding of human trafficking.

“We think of it predominantly as affecting people of colour or those without means to protect themselves … but honestly it can happen to anyone, anywhere,” she said. “Young, impressionable women may at times be vulnerable and open to trafficking crimes, regardless of their stature in the community or the financial well-being of their families.”

Geddert was suspended by Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics during the Nassar scandal. In 2018, he told families he was retiring.

On his LinkedIn page, Geddert described himself as the “most decorated women’s gymnastics coach in Michigan gymnastics history.” He said his Twistars teams won 130 club championships.

But Geddert was often portrayed in unflattering ways when Nassar’s victims spoke during court hearings in 2018.

“What a great best friend John was to Larry for giving him an entire world where he was able to abuse so easily,” said gymnast Lindsey Lemke. “You two sure do have a funny meaning of friendship. You, John Geddert, also deserve to sit behind bars right next to Larry.”

Rachael Denhollander, the first gymnast to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse in 2016, said she was proud of the women who stepped forward against Geddert.

“So much pain and grief for everyone,” she said on Twitter after Geddert’s death. “To the survivors, you have been heard and believed, and we stand with you.”

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Montreal Canadiens fire head coach Claude Julien

The Montreal Canadiens have fired head coach Claude Julien and assistant coach Kirk Muller.

The team announced that Dominique Ducharme will serve as interim head coach and Alex Burrows has joined the coaching staff. Luke Richardson and Stéphane Waite retain their respective duties within the coaching group.

Julien ends his tenure with the Canadiens with a record of 129-123-35. In his four years with the team, Montreal missed the playoffs twice and lost in the first round the other two years. The Canadiens were the lowest-ranked team to qualify for the 24-team post-season last year and then upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifying round. They then lost in six games to the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round.

“I would like to sincerely thank Claude and Kirk for their contributions to our team over the past five years during which we worked together. I have great respect for these two men whom I hold in high regard,” general manager Marc Bergevin wrote in a press release.

WATCH | Habs lose 2nd straight game to Senators:

Ottawa edges Montreal 5-4 with Josh Norris’ shootout winner. 1:20

“In Dominique Ducharme, we see a very promising coach who will bring new life and new energy to our group. We feel that our team can achieve high standards and the time had come for a change.”

Ducharme joined the Canadiens coaching staff in April 2018 after 10 seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He won the Memorial Cup with Halifax in 2012-13 and has twice been Canada’s head coach at the world junior championship, winning silver in 2017 and gold in 2018.

Bergevin and Ducharme addressed the media Wednesday afternoon in Winnipeg.

“It’s not fun. It’s a tough part of my job. To walk into these two men’s room this morning, it was not easy,” Bergevin said.

In a pandemic-shortened 56-game season, Bergevin said he didn’t want to wait to make a change behind the bench.

“The hard thing to watch is the swing from being a really good hockey team that was playing with pace, was engaged, playing to our identity, which is speed, then going to the other side to a team that’s looking for anything,” he said.

WATCH | Bergevin asserts confidence in Ducharme:

Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin confirms that Dominique Ducharme will be the coach for at least the rest of this season after firing coach Claude Julien on Wednesday. 4:56

“We’re chasing our tail, we’re chasing the puck, we’re not in sync. And that was frustrating for me.

“If the message is the same and they’re acting differently, then change needs to be made.”

Bergevin said he wanted to give Julien and Muller an “honest try” to fix things over the squad’s recent six-day break.

“After that week off, I thought we would really come out flying, refocused, re-energized and back in sync. And I didn’t see that,” he said.

Putting Ducharme in charge gives the players a “different voice,” Bergevin said.

The Canadiens also promoted Alex Burrows to assistant coach. Burrows, formerly a winger for the Senators and Vancouver Canucks, has been a member of the coaching staff for the Habs’ AHL affiliate in Laval, Que., the past two seasons.

‘A new model of coach’

Ducharme will “100 per cent” remain at the helm for the rest of the season, Bergevin said.

“Quarantine or no quarantine, [Ducharme] was my guy from the time I made my decision,” the GM said. “The reason why, he’s a new model of coach, a young coach that came a long way, had success at the junior level, had success at the world junior level. I feel that a new voice is what the team needs.”

Ducharme, who will make his debut when Montreal plays Thursday in Winnipeg, said he wants the Canadiens to spend less time in their zone, create more turnovers and give more support to the player who has the puck.

Taking on the role of head coach is much like sitting down to take an exam when you know you’ve studied hard, he said.

“I feel comfortable, I feel ready. I’m confident in the group, I’m confident in the guys I’m working with. And I’m ready to go,” said the 47-year-old native of Joliette, Que.

Still, being appointed to the position came with a range of emotions.

“I’m losing two colleagues and two great people. To see them leave, obviously, it’s a mixed feelings,” Ducharme said. “But I’m proud to be here. It’s been a long road for me. I didn’t take the highway, I went the side road, but I’m proud of that. And I think it made me grow as a coach. And today I’m ready for it.”


Julien returned to the Habs for his second go-round as head coach midway through the 2016-17 season.

He previously lead the team from January 2003 through January 2006. After being dismissed by Montreal in 2006, he joined the New Jersey Devils for a brief stint, then went on to coach the Bruins from 2007 until 2017, winning a Stanley Cup with Boston in 2011.

Julien, 60, had to leave the team during the first round of the playoffs last year in Toronto when he had a stent installed in a coronary artery. Muller took over the head coaching duties and the Habs extended the top-seeded Philadelphia Flyers to six games before bowing out.

The Habs were the lowest-ranked team to qualify for the 24-team post-season last year and then upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifying round.

This season, a tightly contested all-Canadian North Division has heightened the stakes for the seven teams north of the border, said Calgary Flames coach Geoff Ward.

“I think really what we’re starting to see is that the emotion of the Canadian division is starting to come to the front,” he said. “And because of that, the rivalries are ramping up a bit and with the division being so tight, it can sway perspective very easily one way or the other.”

Ward said he owes Julien “a lot” and sent him a text Wednesday morning when he heard the news.

“He’ll bounce back, if he wants to and when he wants to. He’s a great coach. And somebody else now will benefit from what happened today,” he said.

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Timberwolves officially hire former Raptors assistant Chris Finch as head coach

Chris Finch is the new coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team announced Monday after dismissing Ryan Saunders the previous night.

Saunders was fired Sunday after the team with the NBA’s worst record this season lost for the eighth time in the last nine games. The team quickly hired Finch, who was in his first season as an assistant with the Toronto Raptors.

“Chris brings a wealth of basketball experience from his time in the NBA, G League and Internationally,” Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas said. “He is one of the most creative basketball minds in the NBA, has success maximizing players, and I am excited to see him bring our team to the next level and beyond.”

At 7-24, Minnesota has the league’s worst record this season and already is 7 1/2 games out of what would be the final play-in spot for the Western Conference post-season. The Timberwolves next play on Tuesday, visiting Milwaukee.

“We would like to thank Ryan for his time and commitment to the Timberwolves organization and wish him the best in the future,” Rosas said. “These are difficult decisions to make, however this change is in the best interest of the organization’s short and long-term goals.”

Key players sidelined

It had been a wildly disappointing season for the Timberwolves, who started 2-0 and haven’t had much to savour since. Karl-Anthony Towns, the team’s best player, dislocated his left wrist in the season’s second game and missed six games, returned and missed 13 more after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

D’Angelo Russell, the other key piece for the Timberwolves, had surgery last week on his left knee and may be out until April.

There was no sign the Timberwolves had stopped playing for Saunders; they were down by 21 points in the third quarter at New York earlier Sunday, then took the lead in the final minutes before falling 103-99.

“Unfortunately we ran out of time,” Saunders said after that loss.

He was talking about the game.

Before long, that sentence had a very different meaning.

Connection to Rosas

Finch has history with Rosas, working together with the Houston Rockets. He coached the team’s affiliate in what is now called the G League, winning a championship with Rio Grande Valley, then became a Rockets assistant. He went on to have assistant jobs in Denver and New Orleans and was hired by the Raptors in November.

“I look forward to working hand and hand with Gersson to build and lead a team Timberwolves fans will be proud of,” Rosas said. “We have excellent pieces in place and I can’t wait to get to work.”

Saunders, the 34-year-old son of longtime Minnesota coach Flip Saunders, was with the Timberwolves for parts of three seasons, going 43-94. Flip Saunders died in 2015.

Dismissing Saunders was the first coaching change in the league since this season began. There were nine coaches in new jobs entering this season.

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TFC coach Chris Armas enthusiastic about 1st training camp with club

Intensity and energy were the buzzwords Wednesday as the Chris Armas era kicked off at Toronto FC.

The club is the first in Major League Soccer to open training camp, given a little extra time to prepare for the Canadian Championship final against Forge FC. That will decide which team faces Mexico’s Club Leon in the round-of-16 of the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League on April 6-7.

Most other MLS clubs report March 1 for a seven-day quarantine period, medicals and testing prior to the start of team training March 8. The regular season is scheduled to start April 17.

TFC worked out under the bubble at its north Toronto training centre Wednesday, with the temperature outside at minus-5 C, said to feel like minus-11. Light snow is forecast for Thursday.

Armas somehow managed to exude enthusiasm, even with his face hidden by a mask on a video call with reporters. At first blush, the 48-year-old head coach comes across as an Energizer Bunny-type man with a plan — even in the complicated, ever-changing sands of a global pandemic.

“This time of year, pre-season, it doesn’t get old to me,” he said. “It’s just such a great time.”

Armas said there was plenty of energy on display, even in a video session. Players told him the training session, on a scale of one to 10 for intensity, was a 25, he said.

“What a good first day with these players,” he said.

Where’s home?

Captain Michael Bradley was equally positive.

“It was an exciting first day because we hit the ground running,” he said.

“Chris has come in with his staff and, I think, has set an incredible tone right away in terms of who he is, what he’s all about, the energy that he’s going to bring every day, the mentality, and now starting to get to work with what we’re going to be as a team,” he added.

There is still no word on where Toronto will play its home games, given the pandemic-related travel restrictions that forced it to finish out the 2020 campaign in East Hartford, Conn.

WATCH | Canada’s Davies nets tying goal in Bayern Munich draw: 

Canadian Alphonso Davies scored to pull Bayern even with Arminia at 3-3. 1:06

Florida appears to be leading the pack.

“There’s options. We’re prepared mentally and physically that we might have to set up shop in the States,” said Armas, a former New York Red Bulls head coach.

Armas said there’s a “good chance” that the team will stay in Toronto for the duration of camp. He acknowledged that will present a problem finding pre-season opposition, with a friendly against CF Montreal a possibility.

‘No excuses’

The date and location of the Canadian Championship final have yet to be announced, with mid- to late-March expected.

Even if the team has to move again during the pandemic, Bradley said there will be no excuses.

“It’s been tough for everyone, man. I don’t want to hear that it’s tougher for me or tougher for TFC or tougher for Canadian teams,” he said.

Toronto is coming off a 13-5-5 season that saw the team finish second overall despite having playing just four games at BMO Field due to the pandemic. Its season ended disappointingly in a first-round playoff loss to expansion Nashville SC.

Armas promises to field a team capable of pressing the opposition when they have the ball, one that demonstrates “a commitment and a hunger up the field to not allow teams to build attacks.”

WATCH | Canada’s new women’s soccer team coach discusses her role: 

The new coach of Canada’s women’s soccer team, Bev Priestman, talks about her new job while preparing her team for the SheBelieves Cup. 2:26

The goal is to force mistakes “and take advantage of what we know, which is goals come from transition. More than 50 per cent, 60-something per cent of all goals come from transition.”

In possession, TFC will look to move the ball quickly and break down the opposition.

Armas was named the franchise’s 10th head coach on Jan. 13, filling the void left by Greg Vanney’s resignation. Vanney is now running the Los Angeles Galaxy, taking assistant coaches Dan Calichman, Nick Theslof and Canadian Jason Bent with him.

Armas announced his coaching staff, with goalkeeper coach Jon Conway the lone holdover. He is joined by newcomers Javier Perez, Ian Russell and Ewan Sharp.

Altidore transfer interest 

With camp closed due to COVID-19, information is in short supply. The team has yet to provide a camp roster and Armas said while everyone was in town, not everyone had made it through quarantine, medicals or testing yet.

“We’re almost at full strength,” he said.

Forward Ayo Akinola, who missed a Canada camp in January with an undisclosed injury, is not yet ready to go, however.

As for the future of star striker Jozy Altidore, who has been the subject of transfer interest according to U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter, Armas said he look forwards to working with him once he completes the necessary pre-camp routine.

WATCH | Canada set to face rival U.S. on Thursday at SheBelieves Cup: 

The new coach of Canada’s national women’s soccer team says that pride is on the line as they prepare to meet the United States at the SheBelieves Cup on Thursday night. 0:58

“I think we all know that he’s helped build this house. He’s been a really important guy around here,” Armas said. “The passion that he brings.

“Some guys are just winners and he’s a guy that your chances go up when he’s out there.”

Armas said Altidore had sounded enthusiastic in a text exchange about the team’s planned pressing style.

Armas confirmed that veteran fullback Justin Morrow, whose contract expired at the end of last season, is expected back. Defender Eriq Zavaleta, also out of contract, is training with the team.

Armas, who won 66 caps for the U.S. as a defensive midfielder and was named to the MLS Best XI five times, said his family will remain in Long Island, N.Y., for the time being, with the eldest of his two sons currently in college.

“They’ll join me here soon enough. We’ll just have to see what the year brings.”

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Canadian women’s soccer coach Priestman approaching SheBelieves Cup as Tokyo tune-up

A few days into training for the upcoming SheBelieves Cup in the warmth of Orlando, Florida, the Canadian women’s soccer team has shared the requisite happy tears, belly laughs and of course, the shake-off-the-rust practise sessions.

Now, it’s time for the real work to begin.

The national team has been in an 11-month standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic, and now, in its first camp since March 2020, has just six months to chase a third-straight Olympic medal at this summer’s Tokyo Games.

So what exactly is new head coach Bev Priestman expecting out of her first Canadian camp?

“I already get a sense of real hunger, desire, excitement for the group to get back together,” she said on a recent virtual call with reporters.

“It’s about connecting again. There’s a whole group of players who aren’t yet in season and so I think just getting back on the ground and building some of the ideas … and then we’re into a back-to-back tournament setting, which is exactly where [we] want to be, playing some of the best teams in the world.”

WATCH | Canada coach Priestman targeting podium finish at Tokyo Games:

Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team named a new head coach just nine months out from the upcoming Summer Olympics. Bev Priestman tells Signa Butler her plans for Tokyo and the future of the program. 6:01

There are 29 players in training for the SheBelieves Cup, a four-team invitational tournament featuring some of the top nations in women’s soccer, including the reigning FIFA Women’s World Cup champion United States and No. 8-ranked Brazil.

This year, due to Covid restrictions, Canada (also No. 8) took the place of No. 6 England, while Argentina (No. 31) is filling in for Japan (No. 10).

Canada’s European-based players will join the rest of the squad this weekend and the roster will be trimmed to 23 just before Canada opens against its longtime rival, the U.S., on Feb. 18.

New faces look to make impression

There is a freshness to this first camp of 2021. Yes, there’s a new coach, but also six uncapped invitees and a few other players with less than five appearances at the senior level.

This team has seen very little turnover since winning bronze at Rio 2016.

Veterans Rhian Wilkinson and Melissa Tancredi hung up their cleats shortly after those Olympics and with a handful of others expected to do the same following Tokyo, Priestman is conscious of the need for new faces and new ideas. Not only ahead of the Olympics, but also as they attempt to qualify for the next World Cup in 2023, hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

Among those hoping for a first crack on the senior side include Canadian youth international player of the year Jade Rose, Evelyne Viens of Sky Blue FC, Bianca St-Georges of Chicago Red Stars, Jordyn Listro of Orlando Pride, Rylee Foster of Liverpool FC and Samantha Chang from the University of South Carolina.


With so many well-established players on the senior team, Priestman said she can’t predict whether some of these new faces might make the final 18-player roster for Tokyo, but this is their chance to knock on the door.

“They’ve been brought in for a reason, they’ve shown some attributes that I think this group needs, so I’ve just said to them bring what it is that’s brought you here,” she said. “But I do know that group of senior players will welcome them with open arms.”

If there’s one thing Priestman has been clear about since beginning her tenure in October, it’s that she values bravery and “the Canadian mindset.” She wants to dominate with and without the ball and wants players willing to do whatever it takes to wear the Canadian badge.

Essential to the culture of the Canadian team is the work done over the last 15 years by the senior leadership, some which are still playing (Christine Sinclair, Diana Matheson, Erin McLeod, Sophie Schmidt, Desiree Scott), and those who’ve retired (Wilkinson, Tancredi).

The veteran group has always made sure that the next generation coming in feels as much a part of the team as those who have been around for over a decade — an integral component to their success.

Priestman saw it first-hand when she was an assistant under former coach John Herdman.

“Any player that went into the women’s national team is welcomed with open arms. [The players] know that having that blend of experience and youth with the future in mind is really important.”

Playing catch-up

There are a million clichés about time, but it’s also about how you use it.

The reality of the pandemic has meant adapting, whether that’s been watching games on TV rather than in-person, holding virtual one-on-ones or group culture meetings, or spending more time writing reports on players and comparing them with other staff members.

“The COVID reality can’t be an excuse for this group and it might be the thing that brings a certain amount of freshness in the sense that we’re all dying to get on that pitch,” Priestman said.

Having a tournament setting against top-tier nations like the U.S. and Brazil, in particular, will give the Canadian staff a chance to go straight into some of the areas they feel they need to address.

“We have to use the tournament for what it is. We have to go in and apply some things that we want to apply for the Olympic Games, we can’t go in and say we’re going to do what we’ve always done,” Priestman said. “We don’t have the time to wait around, we have to approach this tournament with an Olympic Games in mind.”

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Canadian women’s rugby 7s coach Tait removed from role after players’ complaint

A complaint from members of the Canadian women’s sevens team has prompted Rugby Canada to call in an independent investigator and revamp the team coaching staff.

The sevens side is coached by John Tait, a former Canadian international who serves as Rugby Canada’s director of women’s high performance. The 47-year-old coached the sevens women to a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics and gold at the 2015 Pan-American Games.

In its five-paragraph release Friday, Rugby Canada did not name Tait, say who was the subject of the investigation or specify the complaint. But Tait does not figure in the new-look coaching setup.

“Of course, matters of employment and confidentiality are really important to us. I would ask you to draw your own conclusions,” Rugby Canada CEO Allen Vansen said in an interview when asked if Tait was involved in the complaint.

In a subsequent email, he said: “matters related to employees are confidential.”

Vansen said he could not provide further details about the complaint other than to say: “I can certainly share that the complaints are from multiple individuals.”

Tait, in a text to The Canadian Press, said he can’t comment at this time but hoped to be able to speak on the matter in the coming weeks.

“It’s surreal,” he said.

Additional responsibilities

An imposing figure, the six-foot-eight Tait won 37 caps for Canada from 1997 to 2002. He played professionally in Wales with Cardiff and France with CA Brive.

He has been a coaching constant at Rugby Canada for more than a decade, having served as an assistant coach with the men’s 15s team and head coach of the women’s 15s team prior to taking over the sevens women. Last August, the father of three was given additional responsibilities, handed the high-performance role on the women’s side in addition to his sevens head coaching duties.

WATCH | Charity Williams using platform to inspire young Black Canadians:

Team Canada Rugby 7s player and Olympic bronze medallist Charity Williams is looking to use her platform to inspire young Black Canadians through sport. 3:20

Team captain Ghislaine Landry confirmed that the complaint was made by members of the team but declined further comment.

In the statement, Vansen said: “Rugby Canada is taking these concerns very seriously. We are following our internal policies and procedures that are in alignment with established national response guidelines, and in a manner that reflects our values.”

He said he hoped the investigator’s report will be completed by the end of March. “And we have been assured it will be no later than mid-April.”

The clock is ticking. The Olympic rugby sevens competition is scheduled for July 26-31 in Tokyo. And reputations are at stake.

The Canadian women are a medal threat. They were third in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series standings when the season shut down after five events last year, having finished runner-up at three events and third at a fourth.

April tournament

Canada was third overall the previous season, lifting the trophy at the Kitakyushu Sevens in Japan in April 2019. It marked the first cup win for the Canadian women since 2017.

Sandro Fiorino, head coach of the women’s 15s team, has temporarily moved from Ontario to Langford, B.C., to serve as interim sevens coach with help from Maria Gallo, an assistant coach with the 15s team.

Mick Byrne, a specialist coach with both New Zealand and Australia who has consulted remotely with the Canadian sevens side since 2012, “will assume the role of national senior women’s sevens interim head coach through to the Olympic Games.” Rugby Canada said in the statement.

Byrne is not currently in Canada. Vansen said Rugby Canada is working on the necessary paperwork to get him into the country.

“We remain united and focused on our goal of winning a medal at the Olympic Games.” Landry said in email to The Canadian Press. “We are training together and are confident in the interim plan. We look forward to working with Mick, Sandro and Maria.”

The World Series ground to a halt when the pandemic stuck. Rugby Canada says the women are expected to travel to a tournament in early April with Byrne expected to join the team on the trip.

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