Tag Archives: opener

Leylah Fernandez makes quick work of Chinese opponent in Charleston opener

Canada’s Leylah Annie Fernandez beat No. 16 seed Zhang Shuai of China 6-3, 6-1 in the opening round of the Volvo Car Open on Tuesday in Charleston, S.C.

The 18-year-old Fernandez, from Laval, Que, saved four of five break points, while Shuai was one-for-six in the same category.

It was the first match of the clay-court season for Fernandez, who was ousted in qualifying for the recently completed Miami Open one day after winning her first career WTA Tour event in Mexico last month.

Fernandez, ranked 72nd in the world, will next face world No. 91 Danka Kovinic of Montenegro at the WTA 500 event.

WATCH | Laval’s Leylah Fernandez cruises past Zhang Shuai in straight sets at Volvo Open:

Leylah Annie Fernandez of Laval, Que., beat No. 16 seed Zhang Shuai of China 6-3, 6-1 in the opening round of the Volvo Car Open clay court tournament in Charleston, S.C. 0:35

Shuai, ranked 41st, has lost all three matches she has played in 2021.

World No. 1 Ash Barty of Australia headlines the field this week after capturing the Miami title.

Canada’s top-ranked player for Billie Jean Cup

Fernandez is the top-ranked player on the Canadian roster for the April 16-17 Billie Jean Cup playoff against host Brazil as world No. 6 Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., and No. 120 Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que., are not in the lineup.

Andreescu hurt her foot in the Miami Open final last Saturday, while Bouchard hasn’t played since March 16.

Fernandez is joined by Vancouver’s Rebecca Marino and Toronto’s Sharon Fichman and Carol Zhao.

WATCH | Andreescu retires from Miami Open final with injury:

Australian Ashleigh Barty claimed the WTA Miami Open title Saturday 6-3, 4-0 after Canada’s Bianca Andreescu was forced to retire in the 2nd set having fallen awkwardly earlier in the match with what appeared to be a right ankle injury. 6:03

Serbia has one player in the top 100 of the singles rankings — No. 85 Nina Stojanovic.

The Billie Jean King Cup is the new name for the Fed Cup.

The winner of the Canada-Serbia tie will play in the qualifiers next year for a chance to reach the 2022 finals. The loser drops into a regional group.

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Senators kick into overdrive to storm past Maple Leafs in season opener

Brady Tkachuk didn’t want to call it a statement win.

But he made it clear the Ottawa Senators — only just emerging from the darkest days of their rebuild — won’t be an easy out in 2021.

And the rest of North Division should probably take notice after Friday.

Tkachuk had a goal and two assists, Matt Murray made 20 saves in his Ottawa debut, and the Senators defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-3 in their first game in more than 10 months.

WATCH | Sens put 5 past Leafs to win Battle of Ontario:

Ottawa defeats Toronto 5-3, Brady Tkachuk leads the way with 3 points. 0:56

“That’s going to be the way we play,” said Tkachuk, an alternate captain at 21 years of age. “We have a couple other levels to get to.”

Thomas Chabot, Austin Watson, Derek Stepan and Chris Tierney also scored for Ottawa. Josh Norris, with his first NHL points, Drake Batherson and Nikita Zaitsev added two assists each in the first of nine meetings between the Ontario rivals in a pandemic-shortened season.

John Tavares, with a goal and an assist, Zach Hyman and Alexander Kerfoot replied for the Leafs. Frederik Andersen stopped 19 shots for Toronto, which will look to rebound when the teams play the rematch Saturday back inside an empty Canadian Tire Centre because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“With the way the schedule’s set up, you gotta have a short-term memory,” Stepan said. “We got a good win, but we’ve got to put our work boots back on.”

WATCH | Hockey arenas could be a dangerous place during COVID-19 era:

The NHL is back, which is great news for hockey fans — especially those who can’t play indoors these days. We look at the reasons why your local arena could be a dangerous space when it comes to COVID-19. 8:27

The Leafs, widely viewed as Stanley Cup contenders and the betting favourite to win the division, have now given up nine goals through six periods to start the schedule.

“We were just playing a little bit too loose,” said Toronto centre Auston Matthews, whose team led 1-0 and 2-1 before Ottawa exploded with four straight goals. “That’s a team that works hard. They’re not going to go away. That’s on all of us.

“We’ve got to make sure we put our foot on the gas and [have] no mercy.”

Friday’s tilt marked the Senators’ first game in 310 days after they unknowingly took part in the final contest of the 2019-20 regular season March 11 in Los Angeles against the Kings. The league suspended its schedule the following day because of the widening coronavirus pandemic, and 30th-ranked Ottawa wasn’t included in the 24-team summer restart.

“Amazing feeling,” Tkachuk said. “You miss those winning ways.”

Genesis of rebuild

Playing their first home date since March 5 — a stretch of 316 days — the Senators unveiled an off-season roster remake that includes No. 3 overall pick Tim Stutzle, who celebrated both his NHL debut and 19th birthday, Murray, defencemen Erik Gudbranson, Josh Brown and Braydon Coburn, as well as Stepan, Watson, Evgenii Dadonov and Cedric Paquette up front.

The Leafs, Senators and Canada’s other five NHL franchises have been grouped together in the one-time-only North Division for the abbreviated 56-game 2020-21 campaign to avoid cross-border travel into the U.S.

Given where the franchise stands in the genesis of its rebuild, the Senators aren’t expected to challenge for one of the division’s four post-season spots, but showed what’s possible when they compete at a high-level and play with structure.

“The team did a heck of a job keeping them to the outside,” Murray said. “I really liked our effort all the way up and down.”

Stutzle holds own

Picked third in October’s NHL draft, Stutzle is the most-hyped prospect in the nation’s capital since Ottawa drafted Jason Spezza — now in the twilight of his career with the Leafs — second overall back in 2001. Nicknamed “Jimmy” by roommates Tkachuk and Norris, the German forward finished with just over 12 minutes of ice time and one shot.

“Jimmy played well,” Tkachuk said. “He looked really good. Great speed. You can just clearly tell he’s going to be a stud — not only on our team, but throughout the whole league.

“He’s an unbelievable player.”

Tied 1-1 after 20 minutes, the Leafs went ahead at 9:15 of the second when Kerfoot fired a shot through traffic past Murray, who was playing his first game with Ottawa after an off-season trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But the Senators got back even 1:13 later when Tkachuk outmuscled T.J. Brodie to deflect Zaitsev’s effort. Watson then got in on the action at 12:32, ripping a shot in off the crossbar to give Ottawa its first lead.

WATCH | Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson against idea of fans at Sens games:

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches comment after Senators owner Eugene Melnyk backtracks on his request to have fans attend home games. 1:41

Tierney then made it 4-2 at 15:03 when he swatted at a loose puck that glanced in off Brodie as the Leafs, who beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-4 in overtime Wednesday in their opener, were once again soft in front of Andersen.

Brodie’s miserable night continued when he gave the puck away behind the Toronto net to Stepan in the third. Batherson’s stick broke on his shot, but the puck dribbled to Stepan, who swept Ottawa’s 5-2 goal past Andersen at 6:15.

The Leafs got a power play not long after that, and Tavares snapped his second of the season in off the post just 52 seconds later for Toronto’s second power-play goal of the night and fourth already in 2021, but the visitors were unable to get any closer.

Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe lamented his team’s inability to press after Kerfoot’s goal made it 2-1.

“We lost three or four shifts in a row coming off of that goal,” he said. “If we’re a team that wants to accomplish anything, the game should be over from there. We should be able to take care of the lead and then build on the lead.

“We showed that we’re not there yet.”

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Brock Boeser cashes in pair to help Canucks spoil Oilers’ home opener

Brock Boeser scored twice, including the winner, as the Vancouver Canucks downed the Edmonton Oilers 5-3 on Wednesday in the 2020-21 NHL season opener for both teams.

Bo Horvat, Adam Gaudette, and rookie Nils Hoglander also scored for Vancouver. Braden Holtby made 28 saves for his first win as a Canuck.

Kailer Yamamoto, Darnell Nurse and Adam Larsson replied for Edmonton. Mikko Koskinen stopped 30-of-35 shots for the loss.

It was a back and forth game in front of no fans and canned crowd noise at Rogers Place.

The Canucks won despite not having winger J.T. Miller in the lineup. Miller, their top scorer from last season, and depth defenceman Jordie Benn had to sit out as per COVID-19 protocol.

WATCH | Boeser’s pair lifts Canucks over Oilers:

Brock Boeser records 2 goals in Vancouver’s 5-3 win over Edmonton. 0:56

Oiler captain McDavid, playing on his 24th birthday, was held scoreless but buzzed around the net, driving on Holtby relentlessly and drawing multiple penalties.

Oiler centre Leon Draisaitl, the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner as the league’s top point getter last season, registered one assist.

Boeser scored twice in the third period to seal the win as the Canucks took advantage of numerous Oiler defensive breakdowns.

Vancouver opened the scoring with less than five minutes to play in the first period. Tanner Pearson, racing with the puck up the right wing, managed, just before getting hit by Oiler Zack Kassian at Edmonton’s blue line, to spin and put the puck on the tape of Horvat in the slot. Horvat skated in alone and shot the puck low stick side past Koskinen.

The Oilers tied the game early in the second. Draisaitl, off a turnover, fed the puck to Yamamoto who one-timed the puck from the slot into the top corner of the net.

WATCH | NHL returns with cautious optimism:

The NHL season returned to the ice on Wednesday with many questioning if it was the right decision amid rising COVID-19 cases. The league is hoping the season will go off without a hitch, as businesses that rely on the games are looking for ways to save their bottom line. 2:01

Hoglander, the Swedish rookie, put Vancouver up 2-1 with less than three minutes to go in the second, on a rebound after Edmonton failed to clear the puck out of its own end.

The goals came in bunches in the third period, starting with Nurse’s wrist shot from the face-off circle just 10 seconds in.

Gaudette then scored on a cross-ice feed from Antoine Roussel to make it 3-2.

Less than two minutes later, Quinn Hughes, down on the ice near the blue line managed to backhand the puck to an open Boeser in the slot, who fired low and in for a 4-2 lead.

Then Larsson fired a slapshot from the top of the face-off circle through traffic and in to cut the lead to 4-3.

Boeser then took a pass off the wall from Elias Pettersson to steam in on the right wing and fire the puck shortside over Koskinen’s shoulder.

WATCH | 9 NHL storylines… in 90 seconds:

Rob Pizzo identifies the key things to watch as the season begins. 1:54

The two teams play again in Edmonton Thursday night in what will be a 56-game regular-season sprint over 115 days. Due to cross-border COVID travel restrictions, the seven Canadian teams will play each other in the North Division.

Edmonton and Vancouver will play 10 times.

It was a return to familiar surroundings for both teams.

Edmonton hosted the NHL’s Western Conference playoffs and league’s final two playoff rounds last summer in the so-called playoff “bubble.”

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Raptors go cold in 2nd half, drop season opener in Tampa

It was a Toronto Raptors home opener unlike any other, played a couple of thousand kilometres from home, in front of a tiny bipartisan crowd, on a day that saw the league postpone a game — on just Day 2 of the season — due to COVID-19.

Also unusual for the Raptors: a loss.

Brandon Ingram scored 24 points, JJ Redick added 23 and the New Orleans Pelicans shot the lights out in the third quarter en route to a 113-99 win, handing Toronto its first loss on opening night in eight years.

“[The third quarter] … zapped our energy pretty big time,” coach Nick Nurse said. “We did seem to lose a little energy and maybe ran out of a little gas, too.”

WATCH | Raptors fade against Pelicans in season opener:

Toronto Raptors lost in their opening game of the season at their new temporary home in Florida, falling to New Orleans Pelicans 113-99. 0:57

Pascal Siakam had 20 points in one of Toronto’s bright spots. Kyle Lowry added 18 points and 10 assists, Aron Baynes had 11 points and nine rebounds, and Norman Powell and Chris Boucher chipped in with 12 points apiece.

The Raptors led for most of the first half but went ice cold in the third quarter. While the Pelicans knocked down seven threes in the frame, the Raptors went 0-for-10 and were outscored by 16 points.

Leading 88-79 to start the fourth, the Pelicans kept their foot on the gas. When Redick knocked down a three-pointer with 5:15 to play, New Orleans led by 14 points.

Siakam was solid in the loss, which is good news for the Raptors after his disappointing performance in the Walt Disney World bubble last summer.

He’d been enjoying a career year before the NBA shut down due to COVID-19 and was never quite himself when the league resumed. Fans weren’t kind to the 26-year-old when the Raptors were eliminated by Boston in the second round of the playoffs.

He not only scored on an array of shots Wednesday, but pitched some excellent passes out of crowds, finishing with six assists, six rebounds, and three three-pointers.

“I’m getting back to just running and attacking, making plays and stuff, so I felt good about it,” Siakam said. “Obviously, we didn’t get the win and we didn’t play like we wanted to and [the Pelicans had] a good stint out there where they made a lot of shots and we weren’t able to stop them, but I think for the most part I like what I brought.”


The Toronto Raptors hosted the New Orleans Pelicans in their season opener at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday. (Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

The night marked the beginning of the most bizarre season in Raptors history. A limited crowd of 3,800 fans — who seemed to be cheering for both teams — dotted Amalie Arena, Toronto’s temporary home for at least the first half of the season due to Canada’s travel restrictions around COVID-19.

“I don’t know if it’s all Raptors fans or what the case might be, but I thought it was cool, just having people around it,” Siakam said. “Obviously we’re blessed that we have some people, some type of energy in the crowd to make the atmosphere a little better.”

In a sign of these strange times, the Raptors mascot waved the team flag before the game clad in a black protective face mask.

The Raptors tipped off a few hours after the league announced Houston’s game against Oklahoma City was postponed due to positive COVID-19 tests. James Harden’s violation of the league’s coronavirus protocols left the Rockets without the league-mandated eight available players.

It was a discouraging blow on Day 2 of a season that feels like the league is playing with its collective fingers crossed while the pandemic continues to rage in the U.S.

Virus scare for Powell

The Raptors had their own COVID-19 scare this week. Powell had missed a couple of days of practice, and was listed as questionable after some inconclusive tests with someone close to him.

“It’s tough, you know?” Powell said. “But that’s pretty much what you have to do. I did everything right in terms of following the protocol, making sure that I was good, I was safe, people around me were safe. But still, you can get caught up in inconclusive tests and whatnot.

“It was kind of frustrating, you know, to sit out the important days leading up to the game.”

Nurse said despite the rocky start, he’s “fairly comfortable” about playing.

“I understand that there are some people — players and staff, et cetera — testing positive,” he said. “I’d be much more concerned if there was a number of players going to the hospital, a number of staff going to the hospital, and I just don’t see that as the case with all these colleges and universities and all the athletes that test.”

Amalie Arena is one of just a few facilities around the league that is permitting a limited number of fans this season.

The Raptors now depart on their first road trip of the regular season, playing against former teammate DeMar DeRozan and the Spurs in San Antonio on Boxing Day. They play at Philadelphia on Dec. 28.

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Durant returns with 22 as Nets rout Warriors in NBA season opener

Kevin Durant looked good as new against his old team, Kyrie Irving was even better and the Brooklyn Nets emphatically kicked off the Steve Nash era with a 125-99 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night in the NBA’s season opener.

Durant shook off 18 months of rust in a matter of moments and finished with 22 points in 25 minutes of his first official game since rupturing his Achilles tendon while playing for Golden State in Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals.

Irving led Brooklyn with 26 points and Caris LeVert scored 20 as the Nets led by as many as 38, pouring on the points the way the Phoenix Suns did when Nash was their point guard, or more recently Golden State did when Durant was their All-Star forward.

The Nets are expected to contend for the Eastern Conference title after finally getting Durant and Irving on the court together and they used the first game of the shortened, 72-game season to prove they might be worth the hype.

Stephen Curry had 20 points and 10 assists for the Warriors, a depleted team that looks nothing like the powerhouse that won two titles in Durant’s three seasons there.

Durant left shortly after having surgery following his injury and was expected to sit out the entire 2019-20 season even before it was suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Teammates who have worked out with him said the four-time scoring champion was back in top form and Durant quickly backed up their boasts in a mostly empty Barclays Center.

He made his first three shots, one a three-pointer and another while being fouled, and was in double figures in fewer than five minutes. He did everything but keep up with Irving, who made three triples and had 17 points in 9 1/2 minutes of the opening quarter, when the Nets led by as many as 21.

Irving, himself coming back from injury after playing just 20 games last season because of shoulder problems, had Brooklyn’s last two baskets of the first half, including a deep three-pointer with 4.1 seconds left that made it 63-45.

Durant then scored 10 more in Brooklyn’s 36-point third quarter, ending his night for good late in the period.

No. 2 pick James Wiseman started at centre despite his limited preparation and had 19 points and six rebounds. But the Warriors, playing without Draymond Green because of a sore right foot, need to find more shooting around Curry with Klay Thompson set to miss a second straight season.

Andrew Wiggins was 4 for 16 for his 13 points and Kelly Oubre Jr. was 3 for 14.

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Auger-Aliassime, fresh off early exit in Vienna, bows to Cilic in Paris opener

Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime was ousted in first-round action of the Paris Masters tennis tournament on Monday, losing 6-0, 3-6, 6-3 to Croatian veteran Marin Cilic.

Auger-Aliassime, seeded 14th at the final ATP Masters 1000 tournament of the season, struggled with his serve for much of the match. He was accurate on just 59 per cent of his first-serve attempts, and he earned a point just 58 per cent of the time when he did get it in. He was good on just 44 per cent of his second serve points.

Cilic, known for his big serve, had 14 aces compared to eight for Auger-Aliassime. He also had some trouble with accuracy however, landing 62 per cent of first serves. He won 71 per cent of first serve points and 47 per cent of second serve points. Both players committed four double-faults.

Cilic was the more opportunistic of the two players, converting five of his 13 break point chances while saving seven of the nine he faced.

WATCH | Felix Auger-Aliassime sent packing in 1st round:

Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime falls to Croatian veteran Marin Cilic 6-0, 3-6, 6-3 in 1st round of Paris Masters. 2:46

The Croatian, who will next face French wild-card Corentin Moutet, has won both of his career meetings with Auger-Aliassime.

Tenth-seed Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., a finalist at the event in 2014, was set to face Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene in a first-round match Tuesday.

Earlier, 15th-seed Borna Coric advanced to the second round beating qualifier Marton Fucsovics 7-6 (5), 6-1.

Victorious Coric ‘serving huge’

The Croatian won 35 of his 48 first-service points at the indoor tournament and will next face Jordan Thompson of Australia.

“It was not an easy match and every time we have played it’s been very tough,” Coric said. “I played one bad game at 2-1 in the first set, when I missed two first serves, but pretty much the rest of the time I was serving huge.”

Coric recently reached the final at the St. Petersburg Open for the second year in a row.

Thompson defeated qualifier Federico Delbonis of Argentina 6-2, 6-3.

Also, Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez progressed to the second round with a 7-6 (11), 6-1 win over Filip Krajinovic of Serbia and will be up against Rafael Nadal in his next match.

Salisbury bows out due to virus concern

Following his record-extending 13th title at Roland Garros last month, Nadal is back in Paris looking for a maiden win at the Paris Masters, the final Masters event of the season. Nadal can tie Novak Djokovic’s record if he wins his 36th Masters title at the end of this week.

The tournament is being held without fans because of lockdown measures implemented in France to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.

The ATP said British doubles player Joe Salisbury was withdrawn from the tournament after a “sustained close contact” with a COVID-19 case.

Both the “credentialed individual” and Salisbury have been placed in isolation, the ATP said.

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Liberty’s Kia Nurse suffers injury in WNBA season opener

Breanna Stewart had 18 points, eight rebounds and four steals in her first WNBA game since helping Seattle win the 2018 championship, sending the Storm past the New York Liberty 87-71 Saturday in the season opener for both teams.

The 2020 WNBA season, delayed and shortened by the coronavirus pandemic, will be played in a bubble at the IMG Academy.

Stewart missed all of last season after tearing her Achilles tendon while playing for her Russian club team in April 2019.

New York’s Kia Nurse of Hamilton, Ont., left the game early in the second quarter because of an ankle injury and did not return.

WATCH | Kia Nurse leaves season opener with injury:

New York Liberty guard Kia Nurse has to be helped off the floor after falling awkwardly during the 2nd quarter. 0:57

Jewell Loyd scored 14 points and Sue Bird — who also missed the 2019, because of a knee injury — added 11 points, hitting 3 of 5 from three-point range, and five assists for Seattle.

Sabrina Ionescu had 12 points, six rebounds and four assists in her WNBA debut. Ionescu, the No. 1 pick in April’s draft , was 4-of-17 shooting, including 0 of 8 from three-point range, and committed four turnovers.

Layshia Clarendon led the Liberty with 20 points.

WATCH | Breanna Stewart leads Storm past Liberty:

In her first WNBA game since the 2018 Finals, Breanna Stewart scored a team-high 18 points as her Seattle Storm defeated New York Liberty 87-71. 0:32 

Neither team took the court for the national anthem and there was a 26 second moment of silence for Breonna Taylor. Taylor, an African American emergency medical technician, was shot dead in her apartment by Louisville Metro Police officers executing a no-knock search warrant on suspicion of drug possession. No drugs were found.

WATCH | WNBA players honour Breonna Taylor prior to tip-off:

Before the WNBA season tipped off it’s announced that their season is dedicated to Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old emergency medical technician who was shot and killed by police on March 13. 1:29

Loyd hit a three-pointer and then converted a three-point play before Stewart made a layup to make it 34-26 and the Storm led the rest of the way.

Jordin Canada scored six points during a 14-4 run to open the fourth quarter that gave the Storm their largest lead when she found Stewart for a three-pointer that capped the spurt and made it 80-61 with 4:44 to play.

Sparks run away from Mercury

Nneka Ogwumike scored 21 points and Seimone Augustus added 14 and the Los Angeles Sparks used a big third quarter to beat the Phoenix Mercury 99-75 on Saturday in the season opener for both teams.

The 2020 WNBA season, delayed and shortened by the coronavirus pandemic, will be played in a bubble at the IMG Academy.

Oguwmike and Augustus combined to make all 14 of their shots. Augustus was playing her first game with Los Angeles after signing as a free agent from Minnesota in the off-season. Chelsea Gray and Candace Parker had 13 points apiece, and Brittney Sykes and Te’a Cooper each scored 10.

Diana Taurasi, who missed most of last season with back and hamstring injuries, led Phoenix with 16 points, Skylar Diggins-Smith added 14 points and six assists.

Los Angeles outscored the Mercury 30-8 in the third quarter to take an 80-54 lead into the fourth. Augustus and Gray had nine points apiece in the period. The Sparks made 12 of 18 from the field while limiting Phoenix to 27% (3 of 11) shooting.

The Mercury committed 27 turnovers – their most since 2016 – including nine in the third quarter.

David Stern added to Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame class

Late NBA Commissioner David Stern has been added to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame induction class.

Commissioner of the NBA from 1984-2014, Stern was Instrumental in the founding of the WNBA and a longtime supporter of the women’s game. He died Jan. 1 at age 77 a few weeks after a brain hemorrhage.

The enshrinement of the Class of 2020 has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic until next year. The ceremony will be held on June 12, 2021.

Joining Stern in the class that was selected by the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Board of Directors are Tamika Catchings, Swin Cash and Lauren Jackson. The other members of the class are veteran player Debbie Brock and contributors Carol Callan, Sue Donohoe and Carol Stiff.

The 1980 U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team, which did not get to compete in the Ompics because of the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games, also will be honoured as the Trailblazers of the Game.

Stern previously was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the International Basketball Hall of Fame.

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Toronto FC blows late 2-goal lead, settles for draw in MLS tourney opener

Defender Frederic Brillant completed a late comeback with a 91st-minute goal as 10-man D.C. United rallied to tie Toronto FC 2-2 Monday morning at the MLS is Back Tournament in a matchup twice delayed by COVID-19 concerns.

Ayo Akinola, in a rare start, scored twice in the first half to give Toronto a commanding 2-0 lead at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida. But things turned in the 84th minute as D.C. United scored against the run of play.

Substitute Federico Higuain, in his D.C. United debut after a decorated career in Columbus, started the rally with a chip over Quentin Westberg after the heart of a reshuffled Toronto defence was sliced open by a pass from Brazil’s Felipe.

Brillant completed the unlikely comeback, rising above Laurent Ciman to head in the tying goal in stoppage time, after Steven Birnbaum headed the ball to him at the far post from a Felipe free kick.

Akinola came close to restoring the Toronto lead in the 96th minute but Bill Hamid got a hand to his header.

There was some bad blood after the final whistle of a game that saw some ugly tackles.

D.C. United played the second half with 10 men after midfielder Junior Moreno received a second yellow for going through the back of Marky Delgado in first-half stoppage time.

WATCH | Toronto FC salvages draw after coughing up lead:

Despite playing down a man in the second half, D.C. United’s Federico Higuain scored in the 84th minute and Frederic Brillant scored in stoppage time, as D.C. salvaged a 2-2 draw with Toronto FC. 2:31

Toronto used its man advantage in the second half, stroking the ball around the field, and seemed cruising to a commanding win until the bottom fell out.

Players negative in new round of testing

The two teams were originally scheduled to meet Friday night but that was pushed back to Sunday due to Toronto’s late arrival (July 6), caused by the need for additional COVID-19 testing after a member of the travelling part reported symptoms.

Sunday’s game was called off minutes before the 9 a.m. ET kickoff in the wake of a positive test for a D.C. United player and an inconclusive test for a Toronto player.

All other players tested negative in a round of new testing. The two players in question, neither of which was identified by their clubs, were isolated pending receipt of a second negative test.

The tournament, which marks the league’s first action since it shut down March 12 due to the global pandemic, has already lost FC Dallas and Nashville SC due to a rash of positive COVID-19 tests.

There was no evidence of rust as Toronto pressed D.C. and attacked on multiple fronts despite the absence of star striker Jozy Altidore.

Captain Michael Bradley, in his first game since injuring his ankle in the Nov. 10 MLS Cup final, was a force in the midfield. Fullbacks Justin Morrow and Brazil’s Auro bombed down the flanks in the first half.

Akinola scored in the 12th minute, beating one defender and then splitting two more before hammering in a right-footed shot from the edge of the box. The goal came after Hamid’s goal kick went straight to Bradley in the D.C. end, with an Alejandro Pozuelo pass eventually finding Akinola.

The 20-year-old scored again in the 44th minute after Pozuelo beat Brillant to the ball following an 11-pass Toronto sequence. Pozuelo floated the ball to the far post where an unmarked Akinola tapped it in.

Teams don masks, Black Lives Matter T-shirts

Akinola came into the match with one goal in 12 career MLS appearances (including two starts) spread over three seasons. It was his first MLS game action since June 29, 2019 — and first start since May 8, 2019.

The game finally kicked off at 9:08 a.m. in 28 C heat. Both teams arrived wearing masks and Black Lives Matter T-shirts, taking a knee before kickoff.

Pablo Piatti, making his TFC debut, had the game’s first chance in the sixth minute after Pozuelo found him on the edge of the box. But the Argentine winger dragged his shot just wide.

Akinola, a U.S. youth international, had a chance for a second goal in the 19th minute after Tsubasa Endoh found him with a slide-rule pass but Hamid stopped his weak shot from out wide.

Westberg made a remarkable one-handed save to stop Ola Kamara’s header from point-blank range in first-half stoppage time.

Akinola was scythed down by Felipe with 20 minutes remaining, earning the midfielder a yellow card. It was one of several ill-tempered tackles from D.C. United on the day.

Toronto coach Greg Vanney made changes in the second half, sending on Richie Laryea, Eriq Zavaleta, Ciman, Erickson Gallardo and Nick DeLeon.

Toronto’s next Group C game is Thursday against the Montreal Impact, who lost their opener 1-0 to the New England Revolution last Thursday.

Changes up front

The three group games count in the regular-season standings with Toronto now at 1-0-2 and D.C. United at 1-1-1.

Toronto went with the same starting 11 announced Sunday.

While it fielded the same back five as it had in its last league game March 7, there were four changes further forward — Bradley, Piatti, Endoh and Akinola.

Altidore did not make the matchday 23. He was late joining the team after spending the lockdown at his Florida home and had to train on his own while fulfilling quarantine.

Jonathan Osorio didn’t dress due to a quad strain, according to Toronto.

D.C. United made one change from the starting 11 that beat Inter Miami 2-1 last time out on March 7. Costa Rican Ulises Segura came in for Argentina’s Yamil Asad, who dropped to the bench.

Estonian international Erik Sorga, who played 75 minutes off the bench against Inter Miami, did not make the matchday 23.

It was another early wake-up call for the two teams, with Toronto planning a 5:30 a.m. pre-game meal for the second day in a row. That was pre-empted by a team Zoom call Sunday to discuss the COVID-19 tests.

Toronto knocked D.C. United out of the playoffs the last time they met, scoring four goals in extra time in a 5-1 first-round win in October.

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TFC shaken by Earthquakes’ late equalizer in season opener

Oswaldo Alanis scored on the last kick of the game as the San Jose Earthquakes salvaged a 2-2 draw against Toronto FC on Saturday in the MLS season opener for both teams.

Alanis, in his first MLS game, scored on a free kick in the 95th minute to complete San Jose’s comeback from two goals down and deny Toronto coach Greg Vanney his 100th victory in all competitions with TFC.

The Mexican defender signed with the Earthquakes this January on a one-year loan from Mexico’s Chivas de Guadalajara. Alanis was playing for Chivas Guadalajara when the Mexican team beat TFC on penalties in the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League final. He converted his penalty in the 4-2 penalty shootout win.

“I think it’s a good first step,” Alanis said of scoring in his league debut. “It’s one more step in my career, one more step for what’s to come. I am working on my confidence and starting off like this definitely helps with that.

“I have always taken one step at a time, and this is only the start of the season.”

WATCH | Oswaldo Alanis’ late curler salvages a 2-2 draw for the Earthquakes:

Oswaldo Alanis curled in stoppage time free kick goal to salvage a 2-2 draw for the San Jose Earthquakes against Toronto FC. 1:05

Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo scored on a penalty kick in the 40th minute for TFC and Canada’s Richie Laryea tacked on a goal early in the second half for a 2-0 lead.

Toronto was awarded the first-half penalty kick when TFC striker Jozy Altidore was taken down in the area, and Pozuelo responded with the game’s first goal. Pozuelo scored seven times on eight penalty kicks last season.

Laryea, a 25-year-old midfielder from Toronto, extended TFC’s lead to 2-0 in the 51st minute. But the Earthquakes sliced the deficit moments later when Andres Rios found the back of the net.

“I’m not disappointed in our performance. I’m not disappointed in anything,” Vanney said. “Our effort was incredible. I’m just disappointed for the group because in the end you want to take those three points. That’s the only thing I’m disappointed or frustrated about.

“From it, we build. It’s a strong mentality. We’ve been out in California for four weeks now. To play the first game having been out here and not seeing home in a long time, the guys really dug deep. A lot of things to build on.”

San Jose’s Danny Hoesen had a chance to tie the game before halftime, but his shot sailed just wide of the net after it was deflected by Toronto defender Justin Morrow. Earthquakes forward Andy Rios had another chance with a header off a corner kick, but it was headed out by Chris Mavigna.

The Earthquakes hold a 6-5-6 all-time record against Toronto, including a 3-2-3 record at home.

Toronto readies for home opener

Earthquakes veteran forward Chris Wondolowski, the all-time MLS leading goal scorer, came on as a sub in the second half to a loud applause from the San Jose fans. The 37-year-old Wondolowski has 170 career goals in 398 MLS appearances.

“Wondo’s a great guy, works really hard,” Altidore said. “To see what he’s done along the years, it’s no surprise that he’s had the success he’s had, so I wish him nothing but the best. He’s been an example from his first game until now.

“He’s had quite a career, so I wish him all the best and I hope he finishes strong.”

Altidore, wearing the captain’s armband in place of the injured Michael Bradley, played 78 minutes before being replaced by Patrick Mullins. Altidore received a yellow card for unsporting behaviour in the 71st minute.

Bradley underwent ankle surgery on Jan. 22 with a recovery time estimated at four months, which takes him to mid-May — some 13 or 14 games into TFC’s 34-match regular-season schedule.

Toronto is coming off its third appearance in the MLS Cup final in four years last season. TFC lost the championship game to Seattle 3-1 in November.

After opening last season at 4-1-1, Toronto endured a 2-7-4 slump before going on a run from mid-July on. TFC only lost twice in the 18 regular-season and playoff contests (10-2-6) leading up to the championship game.

Toronto hosts New York City FC in its home opener March 7.

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Canada tops Belgium in opener of Olympic women’s basketball qualifier

Canada’s women’s basketball team survived a scare and held on for a 61-56 win over host Belgium on Thursday at an Olympic qualifying tournament.

Hanne Mestdagh’s three-pointer with 2:05 remaining in the fourth quarter cut Canada’s lead to 58-56.

Canada prevented the Belgians from scoring for the remainder of the game, however, and Kayla Alexander hit two free throws with 10 seconds remaining to all but cement the win.

Belgium turned the ball over on its next possession and Kim Mestdagh was forced to foul Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, who made one of two free throws to give Canada a five-point lead with just seven seconds left.

Kim Mestdagh then missed on a three-point attempt at the buzzer that wouldn’t have been enough even if she sank it.

Kia Nurse had a game-high 19 points for Canada and added two rebounds, three assists and three steals.

Alexander had 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting. Bridget Carleton and Raincock-Ekunwe had six rebounds apiece.

Emma Meesseman, the 2019 WNBA finals MVP, led Belgium with 14 points and added six rebounds and two steals. Kim Mestdagh had 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists and Hanne Mestdagh had nine points, hitting three of the five three-point attempts.

Canada’s record in qualifying improved to 9-1. They went 5-1 in Puerto Rico, losing only to the United States, then 3-0 in Edmonton.

Canada next faces Sweden on Saturday before taking on Japan on Sunday.

Because Japan has an automatic Olympic berth as host, the Canadians need only to finish ahead of either Belgium or Sweden in the group to be qualify for the Olympics.

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