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Canadian Premier League looking to add expansion team in Saskatoon

The Canadian Premier League is looking to add a team in Saskatchewan, awarding “exclusive rights” to an expansion club to a company planning to start a franchise in Saskatoon.

But there are more hoops to jump through before the fledgling soccer league, which grew to eight teams with Atletico Ottawa coming on board last year, expands again.

The agreement in principle with Living Sky Sports and Entertainment Inc. (LSSE) is contingent on the Saskatchewan-based company providing a soccer-specific stadium to league standards.

LSSE is looking at Prairieland Park in Saskatoon as the preferred site for a stadium — on the site currently occupied by the Marquis Downs racetrack.

“The key thing now is to get everybody behind it — the community, the soccer public in Saskatchewan and get that machine running the way they do. Because they’re great sports fans,” said CPL commissioner David Clanachan. “I think soccer will fit perfectly in that province.

Should everything fall into place, 2023 would likely be the earliest for the Saskatchewan team to kick off.

The man behind LSSE is Alan Simpson, a 63-year-old Regina businessman.

He was co-founder of Hospitality Network Canada, which provides entertainment services within the healthcare industry. He subsequently co-founded StorageVault Canada and currently is chairman of the company’s acquisitions committee and serves on its board of directors.

Soccer is his game now

“My time right now is consumed with Living Sky Sports and Entertainment and trying to get this soccer project to fruition with CPL,” he said in an interview.

Simpson has no partners as of now, but says he is open to bringing on “other founding partners and community partners in Saskatchewan.”

While the soccer team would be the primary tenant, the proposed venue could be used for other things. Simpson said Prairieland Park would be a partner in the stadium.

Prairieland Park, a non-profit corporation established as an agricultural society in 1886, is a 55-hectare site in the southeast section of Saskatoon.

Prairieland Park CEO Mark Regier said his site is reviewing the merits of adding a soccer stadium.

“When Prairieland was approached about the possibility of a soccer stadium at the park, we felt compelled to consider whether such an infrastructure project could enhance the long-term sustainability of the park, as well as contribute meaningfully to the city of Saskatoon,” Regier said in a statement. “While we have not come to a definitive answer, Prairieland has entered into a memorandum of understanding with LSSE.”

Regier said the memorandum of understanding “marks the ending” of thoroughbred racing at Marquis Downs.

Simpson is looking at a stadium that can accommodate 5,000 to 6,500 to start, refurbishing some of the existing infrastructure of the racetrack. Clanachan says the plan could see the venue expand to 10,000 to 12,000.

Starting in 2023 would mean “we would need to put shovels in the ground probably second quarter of 2022,” said Simpson.

“We’ll focus on 2023. We’ll be assertive and aggressive on trying to achieve that,” he added. “But we will also be realistic that it’s a very very ambitious timeline.”

Simpson says his soccer dream is “somewhat idealistic.”

“The province is ready for it. Saskatoon is ready for it. And all the kids who have participated and will participate in soccer are ready for it because it’s a stepping stone to creating a vision and a hope and a dream of perhaps playing professional soccer one day if not in your own province, in your own country. That’s the underlying driving force to do it.”

The CPL’s current lineup includes Pacific FC (Langford, B.C), FC Edmonton, Calgary’s Cavalry FC, Winnipeg’s Valour FC, Hamilton’s Forge FC, York United FC (Toronto) and HFX Wanderers FC (Halifax) in addition to Atletico Ottawa.

The league has targeted the Victoria Day long weekend (May 22-24) as the kickoff for its third season.

Clanachan says the league is moving “full steam ahead” on expansion.

“We’re still having conversations with multiple other groups,” he said. “Every one of them is going to come along at a different pace. This is one that just seemed to be able to pick up a little more steam than the others. And so it’s important for us to get it out there and get working on it.”

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CBC | Soccer News

The Blue Jays are back and looking like a contender

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

Spring* is here

*OK, not actually. Most of Canada is still in winter’s grip. But there are signs it’s loosening. One of those comes to us from Dunedin, Fla., where the Toronto Blue Jays are now holding full-squad spring training workouts. Seems like a good time for a quick catchup on the Jays as they prepare for opening day on April 1 at Yankee Stadium:

They won’t be back in Canada for a while.

The Jays announced last week that, due to ongoing health/travel restrictions, they’ll remain in Dunedin for at least their first two homestands of the regular season. That means they’ll be playing out of their spring-training stadium until May 14 at the earliest.

Team president Mark Shapiro said the Jays want to return to Toronto “as soon as it is safe to do so.” But there’s no timetable for the move and it’ll probably depend on the Canadian government easing its restrictions on cross-border travel. So there’s a good chance the Jays remain in Florida (or at least in the United States) past mid-May. Once the summer heat/humidity/thunderstorms bear down on central Florida, the Jays could head north to Buffalo, where they played their home games last season.

There are some new faces in camp.

The big one is centre-fielder George Springer, who was lured from Houston with the richest contract ($ 150 million US over six years) in Blue Jays history. Springer, 31, was one of the top free agents on the market. He won the World Series MVP award in 2017, averaged 31 home runs in the last four full seasons and homered at even higher rate in pandemic-shortened 2020.

Toronto also signed Marcus Semien to be its new second baseman. He played shortstop for Oakland, where he hit 39 home runs in 2019 and finished third in the American League MVP vote. Semien was awful at the plate last year, but the Jays gave him a one-year, $ 18-million deal that should motivate him to rebound.

Toronto took a similar approach to trying to upgrade its pitching behind ace Hyun-jin Ryu, rolling the dice on one-year deals with several players. Those include lefty starter Steven Matz, who’s coming off an atrocious season for the Mets, and potential closer Kirby Yates, who led the majors with 41 saves in 2019 for San Diego but had his 2020 ruined by an elbow injury.

But it’s the “old” faces who will make or break this team.

Quotation marks around “old” because we’re talking about the Jays’ young core. Shortstop Bo Bichette, who turns 23 next week, hopes to bounce back after a knee injury cost him a month last season and sapped him of his power once he returned. Twenty-five-year-old Swiss Army knife Cavan Biggio will probably spend more time at third base with Semien taking over at second. Corner outfielders Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Teoscar Hernández are both coming off excellent seasons and are still on the right side of 30. Twenty-one-year-old catcher Alejandro Kirk showed promise last year, and 24-year-old pitcher Nate Pearson could be a godsend for the thin rotation if he taps into his potential.

But all eyes, again, will be on Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The almost-22-year-old slugger has shown flashes, but he still hasn’t lived up the hype accompanying his arrival in the majors two years ago. Guerrero appears to be in much better shape this year (with the requisite Instagram workout pics to prove it) but the pressure is on him to start producing like the all-star everyone figured he’d be.

The Jays can build on last year.

Their surprise playoff appearance was more a product of the shortened season and expanded post-season field than the actual quality of the roster. But Toronto is a good, young team that made some solid additions and should challenge for a spot in the back-to-normal playoffs.

It’ll be tough to top the Yankees in the AL East, but here’s a warm thought to help you through the last few weeks of winter: Fangraphs’ respected projection system has Toronto finishing second in the division at 88-74 — ahead of the improving Red Sox and declining AL-champion Rays. According to the model, that would tie the Jays for the second-best record in the AL and would land them a wild-card playoff spot for the second year in a row.

Shortstop Bo Bichette looks to bounce back after a knee injury sidelined him for a month last season. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press)


The Scotties Tournament of Hearts is heating up. It’s the final day of the opening round, and only eight teams will advance to the championship pool, which starts tomorrow. Defending champion Kerri Einarson’s Team Canada (7-0) will be there, and so will Ontario’s Rachel Homan (6-1). They’d already clinched spots heading into their Pool A showdown at 3:30 p.m. ET, which is a rematch of last year’s final. Pool B was more crowded at the top, with Saskatchewan’s Sherry Anderson, six-time champ Jennifer Jones of Manitoba and Quebec’s Laurie St-Georges tied at 5-2 after the morning draw. The wild-card team skipped by Chelsea Carey was just behind at 5-3. Read more about today’s results here. Watch last night’s episode of That Curling Show, which featured a celebration of the 15th anniversary of Brad Gushue’s Olympic gold medal, here. And watch tonight’s show live at 7:30 p.m. ET on the CBC Olympics Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages.

Oklahoma City’s Canadians had a big night. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored a career-high 42 points and Lu Dort hit the game-winning three at the buzzer in the Thunder’s 102-99 victory over San Antonio last night. Dort finished with 16 points and is now averaging 12.6 on the season — up nearly six points from his rookie year. Gilgeous-Alexander is seizing the opportunity to be OKC’s go-to guy after the Thunder traded away future hall-of-famer Chris Paul in the off-season. The third-year guard is averaging 33 points over his last three games and now ranks 20th in NBA scoring at 23.5 per game. He’s also averaging 6.4 assists and 5.3 rebounds.

The Canadian women’s soccer team ended its comeback tournament on a sour note. Playing for the first time since the pandemic hit nearly a year ago, Canada scored only one goal and won only one of its three matches at the SheBelieves Cup in Orlando. After an encouraging 1-0 loss to the juggernaut United States, Canada beat Argentina 1-0 before getting blanked 2-0 by Brazil yesterday. Seven key Canadian players were absent from the mini-tournament, so it’s hard to draw any conclusions about the team’s chances of winning a third consecutive Olympic medal this summer. We might learn more when Canada plays its next match, an away friendly vs. No. 6-ranked England, on April 13. Read more about Canada’s performance at the SheBelieves Cup here.

The Canadian Elite Basketball League will tip off its third season in June. The start was pushed back from mid-May and the number of games cut from 20 to 14 for each team in hopes that fans will be allowed in arenas when the season opens. Last summer, the seven-team CEBL became one of the first North American leagues to return after the pandemic shutdown when it played a month-long tournament in St. Catharines, Ont., to crown a 2020 champion. This year, seven consecutive Saturday games will be broadcast on the CBC TV network, starting with the June 5 season opener between defending champion Edmonton and Fraser Valley. Games will also be streamed live on CBC Gem, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app. Read more about the CEBL’s 2021 season here.

Coming up from CBC Sports

Alpine skiing: Watch a World Cup women’s downhill race in Italy live Friday at 5:45 a.m. ET here.

CBC Sports U: Anyone pursuing a career in sports media might want to check out this free, interactive virtual summit on March 3. CBC Sports is bringing together some well-known sports-media personalities to give students an inside look at their experiences and an opportunity to ask questions. Get more details and sign up here.

You’re up to speed. Get The Buzzer in your inbox every weekday by subscribing below.

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CBC | Sports News

Raptors draft pick Malachi Flynn looking forward to learning from Lowry, VanVleet

Malachi Flynn said there’s no better NBA veterans to learn from than Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet.

The Toronto Raptors selected Flynn with the 29th pick in Wednesday night’s NBA draft, adding another small point guard with a strong defensive presence to their backcourt.

“I think it’s going to be great for me honestly, as a young guy coming in the league, with two guys who have won a championship, who have put up great numbers, there’s not much bad you can say about those two guys,” Flynn said. “I think it will be great for me to be around them every day and continue to learn.”

The six-foot-one, 185-pound guard led San Diego State to a 30-2 record and a No. 6 national ranking. He was also the Mountain West conference player and defensive player of the year.

WATCH | Raptors take Malachi Flynn at 29:

San Diego State point guard Malachi Flynn is the Toronto Raptors 1st round draft pick of the 2020 NBA Draft, selected 29th overall. 0:37

Flynn said he’s watched the Raptors and “how well they play,” and has paid particular attention to VanVleet and Lowry.

“They’re super savvy,” he said. “Kyle Lowry’s great at getting you in foul trouble, just keeping you on your toes, he knows what plays to make, he’s going to come up in big moments, he does all the little things.”

He’s inspired by VanVleet, who went undrafted but has worked himself into being one of this year’s most coveted free agents.

“He blew up and just continued to get better. He’s six foot, six-one, right around there, guys like that get (overlooked) so seeing him being able to win a championship and put up great numbers in the finals, it’s definitely inspirational for a guy like me,” Flynn said.

The Raptors spoke to Flynn early in the pandemic, and then went to see him two weeks ago in Las Vegas, a trip that sealed the deal.

“He’s a guy we really liked, and can come in and . . . develop under the leadership of Kyle and Fred,” Raptors GM Bobby Webster said. “Those are two guys for him to learn under.”

Webster said Flynn’s a modern NBA point guard, who has a complete game on the offensive end, plus defends at a high level.

The 22-year-old Flynn played two seasons at Washington State before transferring to SDSU. He averaged a team-high 17.6 points on 44 per cent shooting and 37.3 per cent shooting from three-point range, plus 5.1 assists through 32 games for the Aztecs.

Flynn, wearing a charcoal suit for the virtual draft, celebrated the night at his hometown in Tacoma, Wash., sharing a huge sectional couch with his parents and six older siblings.

Webster said it’s too soon to compare the newcomer to Lowry and VanVleet.

“Those guys are incredibly accomplished. I think as you guys will meet Malachi, he’s a serious kid. He’s professional. He’s about the hard work. He’s about winning,” Webster said. “So I think those will be the natural comparisons.”

The Raptors took Nevada guard Jalen Harris with the 59th pick. The 22-year-old Texan was a late bloomer after breaking his back in high school. He was excellent at Nevada last season, however, averaging 21.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.1 steals.

This year’s draft was held virtually due to the pandemic and, originally scheduled for June, ended the longest pre-draft period in history. Because of the Canadian government’s border restrictions, the Raptors had to do much of their research online.

“It was tough,” Webster said of how Wednesday night unfolded. “Every pick would come in, and there would be some gasps and a little bit of disbelief. But you know, all along, Malachi was up there. And that’s who we wanted.”

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CBC | Sports News

Nunavut’s high rate of police-related deaths ‘obviously worth looking into,’ says data expert

Inuit in Nunavut are dying during interactions with police at a rate significantly higher than in Yukon, Northwest Territories and Ontario, according to data collected and analyzed by CBC and a statistical expert in criminology. 

That trend is especially apparent since 2010, with a rate of police-related deaths in Nunavut more than 14 times higher than both Yukon and Ontario and more than three times higher than the Northwest Territories. 

Police-related deaths in this story refer to deaths in police custody, detention or during or after interacting with police. 

CBC collected data on police-related deaths from 1999 to 2020 from the coroner’s offices in the three territories and the Special Investigations Unit in Ontario. Data from Canada’s most populous province provides a comparison outside the North.

These include all deaths where police were on the scene but may not have been directly responsible for a fatality.

It looks like there’s something systematic here.– Anthony Doob, University of Toronto professor

“What the statistics show in this case is that it’s pretty unlikely that this is a chance phenomenon,” Anthony Doob, a professor emeritus of criminology at the University of Toronto with 40 years’ experience analyzing crime statistics, told CBC News. 

“It looks like there’s something systematic here.” 

The RCMP serve all three territories, while Ontario is policed by roughly 60 agencies ranging from municipal to First Nations police services. 

16 deaths in 21 years in Nunavut

Between 1999, when Nunavut was created, and 2009, there were three police-related deaths in the territory, according to Nunavut’s chief coroner’s office.

Between 2010 and July 2020, there have been 13 police-related deaths in Nunavut, the office said, including nine deaths since 2013. That’s a total of 16 deaths in 21 years. 

Anthony Doob is a professor emeritus of criminology at the University of Toronto with 40 years’ experience analyzing statistics. (Submitted)

In Yukon, there have been five police-related deaths, while the Northwest Territories has seen six such deaths since 1999, the territorial coroner’s offices said. 

Because the territories’ population sizes are relatively small, the distribution of deaths over time can be misleading, Doob said. 

“Any given year, you can say, well, that’s an anomalous year. But when you take 20 years [of data], it’s kind of hard to make that argument,” he said.

With a much larger population than the territories, Ontario has had an average of about 31 such deaths every year since 1999.  

When adjusted for the different population sizes of all four jurisdictions, Nunavut’s overall per-capita rate of police-related deaths since 1999 is more than nine times higher than Ontario’s and about three times higher than both Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

“The rate [in Nunavut] is clearly higher than the other two territories and clearly higher than Ontario’s,” Doob said. 

But it is the trends since 2010 that are most significant, he said.

Since 2010, Nunavut’s rate of police-related deaths is 14.35 times higher than Ontario’s, 14.23 times higher than Yukon’s and 3.27 times higher than the rate in the Northwest Territories. 

“It’s obviously worth looking into as to why these events seem to be more likely to be happening [in Nunavut] now than they were 10 years ago,” Doob said. 

‘Very unlikely’ trends are a fluke: expert

The professor said he performed a number of statistical tests on the data to determine how likely the apparent trends occurred simply by chance.

Those test results provide the percentage chance that the trend is a fluke rather than significant. 

Doob said the test results show that these trends are “very unlikely” to have occurred simply by chance: The chance that these trends are random ranges from 0.7 to seven per cent. 

The RCMP’s Nunavut headquarters in Iqaluit. There have been 16 police-related deaths in Nunavut since 1999. Yukon and the Northwest Territories report five and six deaths, respectively, over the same time span. (David Gunn/CBC)

Analyzing data allows statisticians to identify trends from what may seem to be unconnected events, he said.

“We have a consistent problem here,” Doob said of the trend in Nunavut. 

His analysis, he said, showed there’s less than a one per cent chance that Nunavut’s high rate since 1999, compared with the other three jurisdictions, is a fluke. 

“Nunavut is the jurisdiction that stands out among the four,” Doob said.

Officials cite high rates of violence, lack of funding

The RCMP in Nunavut and the Nunavut Justice Department denied CBC’s interview request for this story but provided written statements. 

Both pointed out Nunavut’s high rates of violence as a factor in these statistics. 

The RCMP respond to a disturbance in Apex, Nunavut, in April. The territory’s Justice Department and the RCMP both cite high violence rates as a factor in police-related death statistics. (Patrick Nagle/CBC )

The RCMP said the combination of increasing calls for service, easy access to weapons and alcohol, and high rates of suicide make violent encounters between Nunavummiut and police a reality. 

“The RCMP in Nunavut are successful in the de-escalation and safe conclusion of thousands of high-risk encounters every year,” Cpl. Jamie Savikataaq said in an email. 

Nunavut’s Justice Department said such data analysis requires a review of historical experiences, crime rates and social indicators. 

The department has struggled with adequate funding and resources to address the root causes of criminality and social inequality, director of policy Jessica Young wrote in an email. 

Specifically, she referred to the lack of access to the federal government’s First Nations Policing Program, which is run by Public Safety Canada to support culturally sensitive policing in Indigenous communities. 

“We are currently the only jurisdiction across the country who was left out of this program,” Young wrote.

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CBC | Health News

Trudeau, Ontario health minister say they’re looking at collecting race-based pandemic data

The federal and Ontario governments say they’re now working toward collecting race-based health data as part of their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Human rights commissions from across Canada have added their voices to those of municipalities, health advocates and elected officials calling for the collection of raced-based COVID-19 data to ensure that vulnerable groups are protected.

“Colour-blind approaches to health only serve to worsen health outcomes for black, Indigenous and racialized people because we can’t address what we can’t see,” said B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender. 

Federal, provincial and territorial human rights commissions say that collecting pandemic data without breakdowns by race leaves public health officials with no window into COVID-19’s impact on vulnerable populations. 

Earlier today, both the federal and Ontario governments said that while they typically do not collect race-based health data, they are working on plans to start doing so now.

Watch: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government plans to start collecting race-based pandemic data:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government has invested millions of dollars towards improving the collection of race-based data. 2:17

“We recognize that there have long been challenges in Canada about collecting disaggregated data … which is why a number of years ago, we invested millions of dollars towards Statistics Canada to start improving our ability to collect race-based data,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday in Ottawa.

“We’ve flowed greater funding to community organizations and grassroots organizations that are helping out people who we already know to be more vulnerable and marginalized … But yes, we need to do a much better job around disaggregated data and that’s something that we’re going to do.”

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said that local health agencies in the province can collect race-based data legally now, should they choose to do so, providing they respect privacy and confidentiality.

‘We haven’t traditionally collected race-based data in health but there are a number of organizations that have come to us to ask us to do that,” Elliott said.

‘We are working with the anti-racism directorate to set up a broader framework in order to collect that in a meaningful way. It is something that we are working on as an active project.” 

Watch: Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says her government is working on plans for race-based data collection:

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says that while her province has not traditionally collected race-based health data, it is working on a plan to start. 0:41

Canada does not collect race-based pandemic data. Both the United States and the United Kingdom have started doing so.

Earlier this week, Toronto City Council called on provincial health authorities to begin collecting province-wide data on COVID-19 cases, broken down by race, occupation and other “socioeconomic factors.”

“The old adage of ‘what gets measured gets done’ is especially relevant right now. In order to tackle COVID-19, we must fully understand it and who is most at risk,” Toronto City Coun. Joe Cressy said in a media statement.

“Toronto’s data has shown that while we’re all susceptible to the virus, parts of the city are more impacted than others. In order to protect our residents and beat COVID-19, we need the Ontario Government to collect and share disaggregated data.”

Basic data not collected: Trudeau

One of Canada’s leading experts on the social causes of disease told CBC Radio’s The House last week that Canada’s failure to collect race-based data on COVID-19 infections amounts to discrimination by “neglect.”

“Discrimination is not necessarily about what you do. It’s often about what you don’t do,” said Dr. Kwame McKenzie, a psychiatry professor at the University of Toronto and CEO of the Wellesley Institute, a think tank that studies urban health issues.

“It’s not about people being actively discriminatory or racist. It’s sometimes about just neglect,” he said. “And the fact that we haven’t collected this data seems neglectful, because everybody really knew we should be collecting these data but it was never at the top of anybody’s list of things to do.”

Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter, who represents the provincial riding of Scarborough-Guildwood, said the lack of information about who is getting the virus now, and who is most in danger of getting sick, puts people in her community at greater risk.

“One of the weaknesses in the Ontario Public Health Response is the lack of the collection of disaggregated data based on race and other demographic profiles that could help track the progress of this virus by individuals, where they work, where they live and income levels,” she told The House last week.

“All of those factors … could help to save lives.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also has called for the collection of race-based data to improve health outcomes for vulnerable groups.

“We need to make sure we have the data, that there is race-based data that allows us to make the evidence-based decision making to remedy these injustices,” Singh told the House of Commons earlier this week.

On Friday, Trudeau admitted that during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, public health officials were not always collecting basic demographic information, such as age and gender.

“We know we need to do much better to properly understand where things are hitting hardest in this COVID-19 crisis,” he said.

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CBC | Health News

From hub cities to reworked Olympic qualifying, Curling Canada looking at all scenarios for sport’s return

As the days get longer and summer heat rises, Curling Canada is keeping an icy stare on the upcoming season, trying to come up with every way imaginable to keep the nation’s teams at peak performance.

Both Curling Canada CEO Katherine Henderson and Gerry Peckham, the organization’s high performance director, said they are taking steps to ensure they’re prepared for whatever comes their way in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that has shut down curling and sports around the world.

“We’re carefully planning for all of our commitments, which really begin in the November time period,” Henderson said. “We haven’t cancelled anything on our calendar. We’re looking at things day by day. We’re dealing with public health authorities, partners and want to ensure we can deliver as much curling as we can.”

The Canada Cup, a crucial event on the calendar with Olympic trial ramifications, is scheduled to begin Nov. 24 in Fredericton. That’s a lot of time under normal circumstances — these are anything but.

Whether the event takes place is just one part of the puzzle. One of the bigger challenges is determining which teams will even play as qualification is based on ranking in the order of merit, which is based on a team’s placing in events. 

But there are no events being played because of pandemic cancellations, and with no certainty a bonspiel will happen before the Canada Cup, Peckham said they are developing a number of contingency plans.

“In hearing from and talking to our teams, they have received very little information to what the front part of this curling season will look like,” he said. “If there is no normalcy to the bonspiel circuit as we know it, and events of that magnitude are not happening, then what can we create that can fill that gap?”

The 2020 Shorty Jenkins Classic, scheduled for mid-September in Cornwall, Ont., has been cancelled. The Canad Inns men’s, women’s and mixed doubles Classics, set to take place in mid-October have all been cancelled. 

“Without questions there’s concern. We’re trying to identify what curling clubs will open first and where, and how might we gain access to them for training some of our more elite teams,” Peckham said.

One of the scenarios being considered is identifying a number of hubs across Canada where the elite teams could come together in a training camp-like setting to prepare for the season.

“What we’ve been looking at is identifying centres in each province or each region so that people could in fact drive to them as opposed to fly to them,” Peckham said. “If we can provide some access to training to be on the ice and re-engage delivery dynamics, we will be close to being as competitive as we were at the end of last season.”

While Peckham and his senior leadership group continue to come up with ways to keep Canada’s curlers competitive, Henderson has been spending hours coming up with ways to return to play.

Brad Gushue celebrates his win at the Brier in March, the last curling event before the global shutdown of sports. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

“We’re going to have to stay flexible,” she said. “How far away do you have to be? What protective measures? Handshakes. I think until we’re fully over this crisis, people are going to have to approach curling differently.”

Henderson said Curling Canada has been putting together informational webinars to help clubs navigate what a return to play might look like, and how to access government funding and how to keep their members safe.

“At some point the clubs are going to need to invite people back and let them know what they’re doing,” Henderson said. “It will be up to the various clubs, but we’ll give them the best advice.”

The Olympic trials are set for Saskatoon in December 2021. Making sure the best teams in Canada are there competing for the chance to wear the maple leaf in Beijing 2022 is top priority.

“What we need to ensure is that … the six or seven most deserving teams in Canada have access to the trials per gender.”

Peckham said that might mean changing the Olympic qualification process entirely.

“My only concern is getting our most elite teams ready to perform and ensuring those teams on the bubble have been given a fair and reasonable opportunity to fill in those last spots,” he said. “We are definitely at risk at having to reimagine the Olympic qualification process.”

Should events take place, Curling Canada is looking into ways to get people into the arenas.

Henderson has been talking to a number of organizations, ranging from the Korean Baseball Organization to the Bundesliga German soccer league, NHL and NBA trying to get a sense of how these leagues are considering having fans in their venues.

“I’ve talked with people about ticketing apps that allow people to sit separately and enter a venue at different times,” she said. “People are starved for sport.”

Having fans at major curling events is vital to the bottom line for Curling Canada. Peckham said they couldn’t host many events without people attending.

“It’s the nastiest challenge facing us. An event like the Canada Cup is not financially viable without ticket sales. Could we run it? Yes. Would it satisfy a TV deal? Yes. Would it satisfy some sponsors? Yes,” he said.

“Would it be financially viable? No.”

Peckham said hosting the Canada Cup in November without fans to “create momentum” is something they’re entertaining, but they couldn’t do many other events outside of it without spectators.

“It would be too big of financial hole that not even the Brier and the Scotties would allow us to recover from,” he said.

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CBC | Sports News

NHL looking at multi-city return plan among many options for possible resumption

If the NHL is able to return from its pandemic-induced pause, Gary Bettman says it will be “on some basis that is fair and has integrity.”

The commissioner spoke in a wide-ranging interview with Sportsnet’s Ron MacLean on Wednesday night, where they covered off topics from return to play, to league revenues and the draft as the league grapples with its new reality.

The NHL announced the league was pausing indefinitely on March 12 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic with 189 regular-season games remaining.

Its self-quarantine recommendation to players, coaches and staff currently goes to Apr. 30, but has previously been extended twice.

Asked about a potential model for a return to the ice, Bettman said the league has all options on the table.

“Which one of the plans?,” Bettman said. “We’re modelling, we’re trying to see what our options will be under whatever scenario unfolds. … The decision ultimately will be made by medical people and people who run governments at all different levels so we’re not going to try and do anything that flies in the face of what we’re being told is appropriate.”

Earlier Wednesday, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported the NHL had moved away from the single-city, non-NHL neutral site return plan.

Instead, Friedman said the league is now looking at one bubble city per division to complete the regular season, with one idea including daily triple-headers to wrap the games up quickly.

WATCH | Alberta premier says he’s in contact with Bettman:

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says NHL commissioner Gary Bettman contacted him but has not received any sort of formal proposal for hosting games in the province. 1:46

Bettman said the league is starting to move away from a single-city, neutral-site solution to a different format where the league would have four bubble cities with full professional facilities.

“The particular location could be anywhere that isn’t a hotspot and has everything we need in terms of the arena and having practice facilities because if you bring in seven or eight clubs to a particular facility and you’re playing lots of games on a regular basis without travel there does need to be ice for practice.”

Reports from Sportsnet and ESPN on Wednesday said Edmonton, Carolina and Minnesota could be front-runners as bubble cities.

Alberta premier Jason Kenney confirmed he’s been in contact with Bettman over the idea.

“I did receive a call from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who wanted to ask some questions about Alberta’s status and combating COVID,” Kenney said in Edmonton on Wednesday.

“There was a very general conversation. We have not received a formal proposal of any kind.”

Bettman shot down the idea of using a college rink because it would lack the “back of the house” NHL arena facilities such as multiple locker rooms, video replay ability, proper boards and glass and a broadcasting area.

Ideally, Bettman said the league would be able to complete the regular season and proceed with a normal playoff format. The NHLPA has indicated its players would require at least three weeks of training camp before hockey resumes.

The NHLPA must approve the league’s plan for a restart.

“Clearly we can play into the summer, clearly we can play next season — which we intend to do in its entirety — starting later, so with a lot of timing options we have a great deal of flexibility,” Bettman said.

WATCH | Have we seen the last of Henrik Lundqvist?:

The longer athletes stay on the sidelines because of Covid-19, the higher the chances some veterans decide to hang them up. 2:05

Meanwhile, no decisions have been made surrounding the draft, which recent reports suggested could happen on its regular June dates as the league monitors this weekend’s virtual NFL draft.

One issue with that plan would be that the draft is typically a busy time for player movement, but trading before the playoffs would be problematic. On the other hand, a draft later in the summer would provide less time for teams to get their prospects up to speed before the 2020-21 season.

“There are issues on both sides of the equation so it’s not like if we wait, the draft will be perfect. There are some other set of issues about if we wait and that’s why you gotta look at all the options,” Bettman said.

Bettman chose not to get into specifics on the economic impact of the league shutdown, but did say that the bulk of national TV revenue is accumulated in the playoffs, while regional TV money mostly came during the regular season.

“I don’t want to get into the economics, but lets be clear about one thing: we have no revenues coming in right now and that poses an issue not just in terms of how our system works with the players but the tens of thousands of people who work for clubs in all sports.”

There have been just two instances in the NHL’s history where the Stanley Cup wasn’t awarded: the 2004-05 lockout, and in 1919 when the league had to halt play in the middle of the final because of the Spanish Flu.

Bettman said the league is looking at the pause through a long-term lens, with fans, and not money, at the forefront of conversations.

“We want to make sure that they’re comfortable, that we’re doing the right things for them as fans and for the game and for everybody associated with the game and that’s what’s motivating us more than anything else.”

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Canada’s world junior returnees looking for redemption against Finland in semis

It’s a loss Joe Veleno knows he’ll never truly get over. The same goes for Barrett Hayton.

Canada was leading Finland 1-0 with under a minute to go in the quarterfinals of last year’s world junior hockey championship in Vancouver before a crowd ready to explode.

Moments later, disaster struck.

The Finns tied it late on a crazy carom from behind the net. The Canadians, however, steadied themselves and had a golden opportunity to move on in overtime, only to see captain Max Comtois stopped on a penalty shot.

Noah Dobson got another chance to win it and send the national team to the semifinals on home soil, but the defenceman’s stick broke at the crucial moment as he stared down what basically amounted to an open net.

Finland immediately broke the other way, and blue-liner Toni Utunen — known more for his play without the puck than offensive prowess — took a drop pass and wired a shot upstairs on Michael DiPietro to break Canadian hearts.

“Rewatching that video kind of triggers me a little bit,” Veleno said. “If we would have won that game, we maybe could have won the tournament.”

Instead, the Finns thumped Switzerland in the semis and beat the United States for gold.

‘We all remember all of it’

“We all remember all of it,” said Hayton, this year’s captain. “Forever that’ll be a bitter taste.”

The recollections on the other side are, of course, decidedly different.

“It was a huge goal. I hope to see something similar on Saturday,” Utunen said, adding he’s only viewed the replay on social media a handful of times. “It’s hard to explain the feeling.”

An opportunity at redemption doesn’t always come along in life, but Canada’s five returning players at the 2020 event get one Saturday when the countries meet one round later in the semifinals. Russia and Sweden will tangle in the other matchup, with the gold- and bronze-medal games set for Sunday.

“We’ve got a really good group to do this,” said Veleno, a first-round pick by Detroit. “We believe in ourselves.”

Veleno, Hayton, Jared McIsaac, Ty Smith and Alexis Lafreniere — Dobson was also eligible to return, but wasn’t released to Canada for the tournament by the New York Islanders — stayed in touch in the wake of that crushing defeat, knowing they’d likely get another crack at gold.

“We’re all friends,” said Hayton, who was loaned out by the Arizona Coyotes. “We’re always in constant communication. That’s just how we are. We’re a tight group.”

And things seem to be coming together at the right time.

Bouncing back 

Following an embarrassing 6-0 loss to Russia in its second game where Lafreniere injured his knee, Hayton accidentally disrespected the opponent by failing to remove his helmet during the anthem ceremony, and Veleno got suspended, Canada has ripped off three straight wins with increasing efficiency.

A mostly-tidy 7-2 dismantling of hosts Czech Republic to close out the preliminary round clinched first in Group B. Lafreniere, the projected No. 1 pick at the 2020 NHL draft, then made an unexpected return to the lineup — at least to those on the outside — in the quarters against Slovakia, setting the tone with a big hit and finishing with a goal and an assist in a 6-1 victory.

WATCH | Canada sails past Slovakia and into the world junior semis:

Canadian captain Barrett Hayton had two goals and an assist, and Alexis Lafreniere added a goal and an assist in his return from injury as Canada beat Slovakia 6-1 to advance to the semifinals of the World Junior Championship. 1:54

The Finns, however, are also ascending.

After losing 5-2 to Switzerland to complete round-robin play on a sour note, they stunned the favoured U.S. 1-0 in the quarters to book the rematch with Canada.

“They have good players everywhere,” said Finland captain Lassi Thomson, an Ottawa first-rounder. “It’s going to be a tough game.”

Finland, which has won world junior gold three of the last six years following just two victories in the previous 37 tournaments, is in the semis despite missing its No. 1 and No. 2 centres.

And yet, as they have in years past, the Finns have found a way when it matters most.

“After the second period it was easy to see they were frustrated,” Utunen, one of three returning players from 2019, said of Thursday’s victory over the U.S. “They started to play a little bit by themselves.”

Finnish goalie Justus Annunen, a Colorado prospect, has the second-best save percentage at .936 after that 30-shot performance against the Americans.

“He’s been amazing,” said Utunen, who has scored four goals in the last two years, with three coming against Canada. “We need to thank him a lot.”

The Canadians, who beat Finland in a pre-tournament game in December, know their opponent will look to once again stifle creativity at 5 on 5, but unlike last year, Canada’s power play has been lights out at 44 per cent compared to a mark of just over 16.5 per cent in 2019.

Hayton, meanwhile, has rebounded from the Russia controversy to register five goals and nine points in five games, Lafreniere has two goals and six points in his seven periods of action, Veleno is a key piece down the middle, and Smith and McIsaac have been steady on the blue line.

And while the stinging memories of last year will always be present, the returnees are hoping to dull that pain and take another step towards finishing the job with Canada two wins from its 18th gold medal.

“You don’t get too many opportunities,” Veleno said. “You want to take advantage.”

They get another shot Saturday.

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