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NHL Top Three: Toronto/Montreal, Laine Lands in Ohio, and the Devils COVID Scandal

Three weeks into the NHL season and teams are beginning to find their right places in the standings. The restructuring of each of the divisions this year makes it difficult to test each teams true potential, as each team plays the same few teams throughout the season, but it’s becoming more and more apparent who will be a playoff contender come May.

With the NHL season ramping up, we’re here to break down three highlights from this week that showcase the exciting things continuing to happen around the league.

Toronto and Montreal Continue to Light Up the North Division

It’s no question that the North Division was the most anticipated division coming into this shortened season. The two teams that had the highest standards set to them prior to opening night were the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, and they’re certainly living up to those expectations.

Toronto currently has a 7-2-1 record, their two losses coming from the Ottawa Senators and the Edmonton Oilers. Mitch Marner currently leads the team with 14 points in 10 games, trailed by Auston Matthews and John Tavares with 10 points. The Leafs sit at second in the North Division and look to continue their momentum, especially adding notable players Jimmy Vesey, Joe Thornton, and Wayne Simmonds over the offseason.

Likewise, the Canadiens sit at first in the North Division with a 7-1-2 record; their only loss coming from a 2-0 shutout against the Calgary Flames. Players acquired in the offseason have had a huge impact on the team so far; Tyler Toffoli not only leads the Canadiens in goals, but the entire NHL. Anderson has been a key asset as well with 6 goals in 10 games.

While both Toronto and Montreal have been incredible through their first 10 games respectively, they’ve only faced off against each other once, in which Toronto took the win in overtime. Many anticipate their next matchup, which will take place on February 10th at the Bell Center.

Laine Makes his Debut with the Blue Jackets

After a blockbuster trade that sent Pierre-Luc Dubois to Winnipeg and Patrik Laine to Columbus, Laine finally managed to make his debut with the Blue Jackets, sporting their reverse retro jersey. Laine’s been on injury reserve since the beginning of the season, only playing one game with Jets, before being traded. That game, played against the Calgary Flames, Laine put up 2 goals and an assist.

Laine started the game alongside forwards Alexandre Texier and Cam Atkinson. Laine, a one time 44 goal scorer, looks to fill gaps within in the Blue Jackets that they desperately needed coming into this season. Although he went without a point in his Columbus debut, he looks to continue to develop chemistry with his new linemates.

Since going second overall in the 2016, the Finnish forward has played 307 career games, accumulating 140 goals and 110 assists. He’s been key to the Winnipeg Jets and looks to bring that talent and skill to an in need Blue Jackets roster.

New Jersey Devils COVID-19 Scandal

The New Jersey Devils recently announced that they have 14 players in the leagues COVID protocol including:

Jesper Bratt, Jack Hughes, Damon Severson, Ty Smith, Matt Tennyson, Connor Carrick, Aaron Dell, Andreas Johnsson, Janne Kuokkanen, Michael McLeod, Kyle Palmieri, Sami Vatanen, Pavel Zacha, and Travis Zajac.

It’s unclear whether any of these players listed have tested positive for COVID as the league has not disclosed that information. There is a possibility that any of these players had an initial false positive test, but again, the league has yet to disclose any of that information to the public.

The Buffalo Sabres chimed into this situation, stating that the Devils knew about these players needing to be on COVID protocol, but wet ahead with their game anyways. This has led to the Sabres getting shut down by the NHL through February 8th, postponing any of their games during that time period. Taylor Hall and Rasmus Ristolainen, of the Sabres, were added to the COVID protocol list.

The list of teams that have had games postponed due to COVID protocol continues to grow. This then poses the question, are the restructured divisions really working the way the NHL was hoping to? Everyone was impressed with the NHL Playoff Bubbles in both Edmonton and Toronto as there were nearly zero cases throughout the two months.

It’s only been three weeks and we have seen multiple teams from multiple divisions be forced to shut down for days while players remain on protocol. Will there be more postponements next week? Stay tuned here at NHL Top Three and find out!

Featured

Believe in the Magic of NBA Christmas Games: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

We had Christmas games this year as usual, except that they came 3 days into the regular season, which was a little more unusual. You could feel the excitement among the basketball community, and some teams really showed out. In case you missed it, here are the recaps of yesterday’s NBA Christmas Games!

Game 1: (W) Miami Heat vs New Orleans Pelicans [111-98]

MICHAEL REAVES/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA VIA GETTY

Although the Pelicans seem to be an interesting team that can be a lot of fun, the Miami Heat were able to power out some good runs on both defense and offense. On the offensive side, Duncan Robinson shot lights out. He shot 7 threes, leading the board in that area. 21 of his 23 points came from behind the arch, and it helped Miami take control late in the second half. Miami’s defense also helped them keep the Pelicans from regaining their lead. Rookie Precious Achiuwa and Bam Adebayo had a block each, working hard on the defensive side. Goran Dragic also had 4 steals, topping the board. Although Jimmy Butler had to sit out for the second half, the Miami Heat showed that they could close out the game without him.

Although the Pelicans lost, there seems to be some promise with this team. The Pelicans defeated the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, and before Miami’s hot streak during the final stretch, they were giving them a fight. Keep your eye on this team, because they look a lot better than they did last year.

Game 2: (W) Milwaukee Bucks vs Golden State Warriors [138-99]

GARY DINEEN/NBAE VIA GETTY

The Warriors just can’t seem to get any luck this season. With Klay Thompson being out due to injury, Steph Curry can’t do enough with his team to last the whole game. Although they kept up with the Bucks for a small portion of the game, it wasn’t long before the Bucks took full control and put on a show on Christmas day. Khris Middleton led with 31 points, while his teammate Giannis led in rebounding, putting up 13 boards. 

What’s next for the Warriors? Here’s what Steph Curry had to say about his team:

The message is loud and clear for Curry, they need to find a way to win, and they need to find a way to win now.

Game 3: (W) Brooklyn Nets vs Boston Celtics [123-95]

OMAR RAWLINGS/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA VIA GETTY

There’s definitely a recurring theme today, and if you don’t see it yet, stay with me and find out what it is.

The new and improved Brooklyn Nets are here to stay. The Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving duo have started out strong, combining for 66 points in a 28 point win over the Boston Celtics. Kyrie Irving had 7 three pointers, including this one from deep:

Many thought that the Celtics would be able to keep up with the Nets, making it a close game but the Nets had other plans. There is no doubt that the Celtics will bounce back, but the rest of the league should be wary about the Brooklyn Nets. A matchup that might interest a lot of viewers will be Nets-Lakers, coming up on February 18, but until then, who will challenge the Nets? Let us know in the comments or on social media @unbenched_

Game 4: (W) LA Lakers vs Dallas Mavericks [138-115]

ADAM PANTOZZI/NBAE VIA GETTY

Mavs-Lakers was an interesting matchup choice. They were able to hang on to the Lakers until the second half, when the Lakers really took off. 

Highlights from the Lakers-Mavs Games/Via NBA

The absence of Kristaps Porzingis is getting more obvious for the Mavericks, and Doncic needs better support if the Mavs want to create some serious impact. Doncic had 27 points, but these numbers won’t be enough until the Mavericks add more star power.

Game 5: (W) LA Clippers vs Denver Nuggets [121-108]

BART YOUNG/NBAE VIA GETTY

Probably the biggest highlight to come out of this game was a crippled Kawhi Leonard, lying on the floor after an unfortunate elbow to the face by fellow teammate Serge Ibaka. Leonard needed 8 stitches for a mouth laceration, but the team says that he will be okay. 

TW // Blood, Distress

Even though it was less of a blowout than the previous teams that played, the Clippers were able to top the Nuggets. As they did last season, the Clippers have started out strong. The question will be whether Paul George and the rest of the team can step it up in the playoffs when it really matters. Hopefully they won’t be blowing any 3-1 leads anymore. The LA Clippers faced the ghost of Christmas past in the Nuggets, and they passed their test. 

The Christmas games may not have been as tantalizing as they have been in the past, but after everything that the world has endured this year, I am grateful that the NBA can start their season safely.

The team here at Unbenched wish our viewers a happy and safe holidays! Make sure you follow us @unbenched_ on Instagram and Twitter for the latest updates and articles in the sports world. Thank you for all your support throughout the first 6 months of our network! There is more to come in 2021.

Sunday Sprint Week 2

Week 2 left us with no shortage of storylines; from questionable rulings, laughable gaffs, and a few WTF moments from the Sunday nighter, we’ve got it all for you in this week’s Sunday Sprint.

Las Vegas Raiders 26- Pittsburgh Steelers 17

Pittsburgh wasted no time backing the Corvette out of the win column with a calamity of errors against the now undefeated Raiders. Adding insult to injury was the injury to TJ Watt, the heartbeat of the Steelers defence is now slated to miss some time. Given the form of Big Ben, the defence will be getting a healthy amount of reps so this is absolutely cause for concern. As for the Raiders, I don’t even think they know how they got to 2-0 with the roster they have but at least for the time being, Derek Carr is an undefeated quarterback. 

San Francisco 49ers 17- Philadelphia Eagles 11

If you’re a fan of offence this was certainly not the game for you. Despite the painfully slow pace for Jimmy G and the 49ers, Kyle Shannahan said he “never had the urge” to put Trey Lance in. They may have won but something tells me it won’t be long before all of San Francisco feels the urge to see Trey. 

Cleveland Browns 31- Houston Texans 21

In what might get rebranded as the Injury Bowl, Davis Mills managed to attempt seven more passes than Tyrod Taylor and have three less completions. And yes you read that right, a team’s two options in the 2021 NFL season were in fact Tyrod Taylor and Davis Mills, are you confused as to why they lost? The two Texans weren’t the only QBs to take a trip to the injury tent, with Baker Mayfield having to shake off an ailment en route to the win. 

Denver Broncos 23- Jacksonville Jaguars 13

For all our hockey fans out there, let me give you an idea of the level at which the Jacksonville Jaguars are at: they’re the Oilers. All the best picks and absolutely no talent holding the clipboard to put it all together. Lawrence was slated as the McJesus equivalent but instead it was Teddy Bridgewater who looked holier than thou today. 

Carolina Panthers 26- New Orleans Saints 7

The honeymoon phase is over for Sean Peyton and his new starting quarterback Jameis Winston, who was a big reason his team had zeros on the board through the first three quarters. Winston looked to be eyeing another 30/30 season with two picks, no TDs, and an outing that had fans up and down Louisiana begging for Brees. On the other side, Sam Darnold continues to show us that he wasn’t the problem in New York…

Los Angeles Rams 27- Indianapolis Colts 24

I am patiently waiting for my apology from everyone who said I was wrong to call Carson Wentz a bust. The Colts’ new starter threw a pick…at the three yard line…on a shovel pass before having to be sat for the end of the game due to injury. Wentz may have a Super Bowl ring to help muffle the sound of the criticism but if his pattern continues, no amount of diamonds will be enough to distract from the noise. Someone who isn’t having to deal with any of that is Matthew Stafford who seems to be basking in the LA sun more and more every week thanks to a wealth of talented hands to catch his passes. 

Buffalo Bills 35- Miami Dolphins 0

Did anyone realize Jacoby Brisset was now a Dolphin or was I the only one who missed that update? Don’t be surprised if some of the Dolphins themselves hadn’t noticed as the offence looked to be all kinds of out of sync one Tua went down with a rib injury. The only thing left to figure out now is if Dolphins fans are in more pain from a shutout than Bills fans are from jumping on flaming tables. 

New England Patriots 25- New York Jets 6

In a showdown of rookie quarterbacks it was the 15th overall pick that appeared the veteran. Bill Belichick got back to his bread and butter playing dink and dunk inside the numbers with some white guy under centre, and he even got some help from Jets QB Zach Wilson who completed four passes to the Patriots. All in all this game was just a reminder that if you’re a rookie QB and see The Hoodie on your schedule, consider calling in sick that day. 

Chicago Bears 20- Cincinnati Bengals 17

After the Red Rifle had to go in for maintenance, Bears fans got a real look at Fields. Despite his interception, the future of football on the midway looks bright as long as Matt Nagy and Co don’t mess this one up (meaning there’s a 50/50 chance that within 2 seasons the lights are off and the midway is just an abandoned boardwalk).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48- Atlanta Falcons 25

Dear Tom Brady, 

Please retire. 

Sincerely,

Everyone

Arizona Cardinals 34- Minnesota Vikings 33

New kicker, same problems. Five years after Blair Walsh shanked the winning field goal wide in a playoff game against Seattle, Greg Joseph treated Vikings fans to more of the same, but at least this time the stakes were lower. It was a shootout between Kyler Murray and Kirk Cousins that got Joseph to the game winning kick and uh I think it’s safe to say that Kirk did not like that. 

Tennessee Titans 33- Seattle Seahawks 30

Julio Jones was in bounds, send tweet. 

Dallas Cowboys 20- Los Angeles Chargers 17

Cowboys fans can rejoice now that Greg the Leg has relocated his kicking leg while there’s still time to salvage the season. Last week’s punch line became this week’s hero when he drilled the game winning field goal dead centre as time expired on Herby and the Bolts. 

Baltimore Ravens 36- Kansas City Chiefs 35

No bathroom breaks in this one as Lamar Jackson RB1’d his way to a win in primetime in a matchup we all had over before it started. This one will go down as the Chiefs beating themselves with some comical coverages and missed assignments, but it’s nothing Andy Reid and Mahomes won’t bounce back from. 

What was your favourite moment from Sunday? Let us know on Twitter!

Sunday Sprint Week 1

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! NFL season is back and that means no team is safe from the Sprint, now let’s get to running…

Seahawks Seattle 28- Indianapolis Colts 16

Tell me if you’ve heard this story before: Russel Wilson goes on a heater for 8 weeks, Seahawks fans insist this is his season for MVP, we’re told Seattle is “legit” all to watch the whole thing melt away by Week 9. Well folks, we’re on page one of that story, with this year’s edition opening on a 4 TD tear en route to a comfortable win over a Colts team blindly following Carson Wentz (for the time being.)

Houston Texans 37- Jacksonville Jaguars 21

For the first time in his footballing career, Trevor Lawrence has lost a regular season game, which given the squad around him, does not come as a plot twist. But if you had listened to the preseason pundits, you would have thought that Lawrence would be Jacksonville’s Jesus, the one sent to save them from hilarity. The first overall pick didn’t look bad, it just so happened that NFL journeyman Tyrod Taylor looked like a starter for the first time in his career. 

Philadelphia Eagles 32- Atlanta Falcons 6

The good news for the Falcons is they can forget their identity as chokers seeing as they would have needed a lead to choke on. Jalen Hurts laid the pain on thick for the Atlanta secondary thanks to his full complement of weapons (hello and welcome to the NFL DeVonta Smith) and wicked arm. Those giving credit to Nick Siriani were few and far between before he took the clipboard, but after the transformation shown by the former laughing stock of the NFC Least, one of the coaching rookies might deserve his moment in the spotlight. 

Los Angeles Chargers 20- Washington Football Team 16

Another season of the Football Team was slated to kick off under the seasoned arm of Fitzmagic…and it did for six glorious passes. The quarterback that came with the NFL was taken out by a hip injury and replaced by Taylor Heinicke. As the game unfolded however it became clear that WFT could have had both guys playing QB at the same time and they still would have been no match for sophomore sensation Justin Herbert. Everyone’s favourite teenage-looking QB went off for 337 yards. Concerns over the Chargers’ lack of offensive line help were warranted ahead of Herbert lining up but that might not pose any problems if he can maintain his release time and accuracy shown today. 

Pittsburgh Steelers 23- Buffalo Bills 16

Bills Mafia flooded back to the stadium to support their boys after their somewhat surprising run last season. Unfortunately for them, the Bills’ offence was only in the building for the first half, while the Pittsburgh offence decided to show up at halftime. The Steelers can be happy to have the “we can’t beat a good team” monkey off their back but they won’t be as lucky to meet offences that take the half off for the next 16 weeks so there’s still work ahead for Ben and the boys. 

San Francisco 49ers 41- Detroit Lions 33

I’m starting to think you could put the lovechild of Joe Montana, Tom Brady, and Patrick Mahomes in a Lions jersey and this team would still find a way to lose. In what was Jared Goff’s first start for the Lions it was an all-too familiar story for the rest of his teammates: dig yourself a massive grave, trick your fans into thinking you can reverse the damage, and end up losing by a score. On the other side, Jimmy G was holding on to that starter spot for dear life, and 314 yards with a touchdown pass should be enough to keep him at the top of the depth chart…for now…

Cincinnati Bengals 27- Minnesota Vikings 24

Raise your hand if you had this Week 1 matchup as our first overtime game of the season. Okay now put your hand down you liar. Heading in to kickoff the only storyline here was whether or not Joe Burrow could make it out of the jaws of the Purple People Eaters with both knees intact. But this is why we play the game, to see Kirk Cousins lose a game he had no business losing, and to watch Eli Apple get burned down after down yet somehow ending up on the winning team. 

Carolina Panthers 19- New York Jets 14

In a time where nothing feels safe, it’s nice to know we can count on Sam Darnold being the reason the New York Jets lose football games. His replacement, Disney star turned rookie Zach Wilson impressed, with 258 yards and two touchdowns. But much like a Tesla in the driveway of a leaky-roofed shack can only distract you from the problem for so long, Wilson could only do so much. He was sacked six times while the Jets’ defence appeared to have been scared off by that CGI panther they had running around the stadium pregame. 

Arizona Cardinals 38- Tennessee Titans 13

When the Titans were knocked out of the playoffs last season there was not a single person who would have said it was due to a problem on offence; it has long been clear that what’s missing in Music City is someone on defence that has a higher success rate than a pylon. You would think the front office would have gone all in on a big name free agent on the defensive side of the ball. But no no, they added Julio Jones, someone whose job is notably not to stop the other team from scoring touchdowns. All this while the team on the other sideline added JJ Watt, arguably the biggest name available in free agency, despite already having Chandler Jones, who lit up Tennessee with five sacks. Priorities, am I right?

Kansas City Chiefs 33- Cleveland Browns 29

Did we really doubt Patrick Mahomes? Yeah didn’t think so…

Miami Dolphins 17- New England Patriots 16

Last time the Patriots sent a white guy with a dad bod onto the field it was the start of a 20 year dynasty. The Foxborough faithful were hoping for a repeat and it looked promising for a little while, until the team around him got caught under a rain of yellow laundry. Instead it was the other Alabama quarterback who rolled to victory. 

Denver Broncos 27- New York Giants 13

Nobody blink but there may be a competent quarterback in a Broncos’ jersey. Sure it’s Teddy Bridgewater so who knows how long it’ll last but for the time being it’s a glorious sight for Denver fans who have been yearning for an offence to do what they did on Sunday. As things tend to go with long-plagued football teams, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows as their prime target, Jerry Jeudy, fell off the horse with a high ankle sprain, not to be back in the saddle for 6-8 weeks. 

New Orleans Saints 38- Green Bay Packers 3

The Packers’ hopes at a respectable season are looking to be in jeopardy after Aaron Rodgers and company all seemed to be reading from different playbooks this weekend. Though the team swears their comedy of errors had nothing to do with the reality show worth of turmoil their QB turned TV host put them through, it’s hard to find another reason as to why the Pack scored an ⅛ of the amount of points as a baseball team did on the same day. 

Los Angeles Rams 34- Chicago Bears 14

It wasn’t a fever dream, the Chicago Bears really did choose to start the Red Rifle on Sunday Night Football while Justin Fields sat on the sidelines. In case the scoreline wasn’t obvious enough, that decision may not be one that gets made again especially when realizing that one of the touchdowns on the Bears’ board was a rushing TD by none other than Fields. As for the quarterback in the other colours, Matthew Stafford had a dazzling debut for his new squad, truly proving that maybe it was the team around him all these years that was the problem.

That’s all from the first Sunday of the season, don’t forget to come back every week for everyone’s favourite football recap.

The NWHL Becomes the Premier Hockey Federation in Rebrand

The National Women’s Hockey League announced a rebrand heading into their seventh season. It was reported on Monday night by Marisa Ingemi of the Seattle Times, followed by the league’s Tuesday announcement to make it official. They took on a new name, the Premier Hockey Federation to solidify change within the federation as a whole. All six teams that were a part of the NWHL will still be involved under the new name.

League commissioner, Ty Tumminia said in Tuesday’s press release that, “the Premier Hockey Federation is home to some of the best professional athletes in the world who deserve to be recognized for their abilities and to be empowered as equals in sport”.

“This league has come a long way since its inception in 2015 and we believe that this is the right time and the right message as we strengthen our commitment to growing the game and inspiring youth.” she continued.

The league’s desire to remove gender from its name impacted the decision to rebrand the league. “We felt it’s time for our players to be defined by their talent and skill,” Tumminia said. “It’s not like they’re female phenomenal. You’re just phenomenal.” They have used the phrase, “No Labels, No Limits”, to describe their mission moving forward. This move helps to make the league more inclusive for players, staff and fans. This vow of inclusivity for the PHF must go further than just the name change and really be seen in day to day operations. This includes policies and regulations rewritten or put in place to protect all players.

The new logo uses components from the preexisting one including the black and white theme along with the stars. This new logo has the stars moved into the shape of a W to symbolize women or to “raise the W”.

The rebrand could potentially help to separate the league from the not-so-great parts of their history. This change also comes just months after the NWHL was featured on NBCSN and Sportsnet. This new, generic name may take away from the work done to grow the viewership of the NWHL over the last year. Only time will tell what kind of an impact this change truly makes.

The rebrand is not complete as the PHF still has to unveil its website and fully convert social channels. Effective immediately, the NWHL is now the PHF and we will have to wait and see what the next few months look like for the federation.

An Eventful US Open: The Future of Canadian Tennis is Here

The Canadian Open may have finished several weeks ago, but the young Canadians are still taking over this Open. In what has been one of the most scintillating US Opens in recent history, the Canadian representation at this Grand Slam has not disappointed. If you ever had any doubts about the future of Canadian tennis, it’s here. From the newly-turned 19 year old to the former US Open champion, there is a lot of great tennis to get into.

We’ll start with the two Canadians that are still in the tournament: Leylah Annie Fernandez and Felix Auger-Aliassime. Fernandez booked her spot in the semifinals today, and FAA will try to do the same tonight.

Leylah Fernandez – Teenage Sensation

Leylah Annie Fernandez has been working for this moment for a while. The young Canadian has a really bright future in tennis, and her path to the semifinals is indicative of that. Fernandez did not drop a set until she clashed against defending champion Naomi Osaka.

“I guess I just wanted to spend more time on the court.” -Leylah Fernandez

Fernandez in her on-court interview after defeating Osaka

Her ability to capitalize on important moments with such grace on her shoulders is a very admirable skill, especially at a young age. Fernandez plays with experience while obtaining it- and that makes her run to the quarterfinals all the more fascinating.

In her match against former Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber -who has looked to be in great form again- Fernandez went down a set early but didn’t let that get to her.

via YouTube/US Open

Her agility and reflexes at the net has granted Fernandez many amazing points. Most of the time, she is able to read her opponent and figure out a way to make them work. Against Kerber, she approached the net 21 times, winning the point on 16 of those times (76%). This did not change against Svitolina, either.

Fernandez had a bit of a scare when Svitolina leveled the final set 5-5 and pushed a tiebreak, but she pulled off some gutsy plays and was able to pull it out. The path to the final is not out of reach, but she will have tough matchups until she gets there.

Felix Auger-Aliassime – Quarterfinal Breakthrough

Another young Canadian on a mission: Felix Auger-Aliassime. After a small history of struggling at Grand Slams, Auger-Aliassime is on the verge of a breakthrough. With this most recent result, he has now reached back-to-back Grand Slam quarterfinals, the previous being at Wimbledon. The path wasn’t easy- FAA has had to produce some high-level tennis against players like Bautista-Agut and close friend Frances Tiafoe.

In a very rare circumstance, Auger-Aliassime is going to be playing against somebody younger (!) than him. Carlos Alcaraz has been one of the most popular stories at the US Open, after the 18 year old defeated number 3 in the world, Stefanos Tsistipas. FAA has the slight edge in experience, but not by much. If he can harness that forehand, FAA has a chance to advance to the semis. Regardless, this will be a tantalizing matchup.

Bianca Andreescu & Denis Shapovalov

The 2019 champion seemed to be rolling through the rounds, in good shape. In a hard-fought match against Sakkari, Andreescu mentioned that she had felt something in her groin, but that she will be alright. This is a positive stretch for Andreescu fans, as she starts to string together consistent matches and show the flashes of brilliance like her 2019 summer.

As for Denis Shapovalov, he made it to the round of 32, but fell to current quarterfinalist Lloyd Harris. This young Canadian had some success at Wimbledon, making the semis there. He’s been on a similar verge of a breakthrough like his ATP compatriot Auger-Aliassime, and we should be excited nonetheless.

The Growth of Canadian Tennis

The representation of young Canadians has not disappointed, and it’s brought the country together.

If you’re reading this tonight, go and watch Felix Auger-Aliassime try to book his spot in the semis. We’ve been talking about the future of Canadian tennis, and it’s finally here.

The NHL is Headed to Beijing!

After speculation and anticipation, the NHL and the NHLPA have come to an agreement with the IIHF which is set to send NHLers to the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, China. This will be the sixth time that the NHL has participated in the Games.

While the NHL has built the Olympic break into the schedule, the league and players can choose to withdraw from Beijing at any time should the concerns around the pandemic become too substantial. The league is still set to have an All-Star weekend in Las Vegas in addition to the Olympic break.

The NHL skipped the 2018 Pyeongchang Games so this will be the first time we’ve seen the best of the best in men’s hockey since 2014 in Sochi. At those games, Canada took gold with a 3-0 win over Sweden and Finland took the bronze.

Player’s contracts will be insured should injury occur at the games. The NHL will not cover loss of salary due to COVID-19 but the IIHF is set to provide a fund of $5 million should it be necessary. The IIHF and IOC will cover insurance and travel costs for NHL players and their guests.

The Olympics open on February 4th 2022 and men’s hockey will begin on the 9th. The Games will be wrapped up on the 20th and the players will head back to their NHL teams for the end of the season.

With the large amount of time passed since the NHL’s last appearance at the Games, expect to see heavy turnover on national team rosters for Beijing. Connor McDavid has yet to play at the Olympics, along with many of hockey’s young stars. 

The Beijing Olympic Games are only a few months away so countries and their staff will look ahead at picking their rosters in hopes of a gold medal. 

Women’s World Hockey Championships: Preliminary Round Recap

The opening round of the Women’s World Hockey Championships in Calgary, Alberta is now complete. The last time this usually annual tournament was played was in April 2019 when the USA beat Finland for the gold medal. Canada finished in third.

The first week of the tournament has given fans plenty of exciting stories and has set up the quarter-final matchups. Here are the standings after each team’s first four games:

Group A

  1. Canada (4-0-0)
  2. USA (3-1-0)
  3. Finland (2-2-0)
  4. ROC (1-3-0)
  5. Switzerland (0-4-0)

Group B

  1. Czech Republic (4-0-0)
  2. Japan (3-1-0)
  3. Germany (2-2-0)
  4. Hungary (1-3-0)
  5. Denmark (0-4-0)

With all five teams from Group A making the quarterfinals along with the top three from Group B, here are the next set of game matchups:

ROC vs Switzerland

USA vs Japan

Canada vs Germany

Finland vs Czech Republic

Let’s get into the biggest stories from the preliminary round of hockey,

Hilary Knight

Hilary Knight has been a top player on the world stage for over a decade. The Idaho native made her World Championships debut in 2007 when Canada hosted the tournament in Winnipeg and Selkirk, Manitoba. Since that tournament, Knight has racked up 45 goals in World Championships action. During this tournament, she passed former USA team captain, Cammi Granato on the leaderboard for most goals all-time at the women’s World Championships. Granato, who also wore number 21, held the previous record of 44. With Knight’s career far from over, it will be interesting to see how high the 32-year-old will set this record.

The Injury Bug

Unfortunately, this tournament has seen its fair share of injuries. Alina Muller of Switzerland injured her ankle during preliminary round action against ROC. She fell awkwardly and had to be helped off the ice. She will not return to the tournament. This is a big loss for Switzerland and her impact on the game is almost impossible for the team to replace.

Canada’s captain, Marie-Philip Poulin was sidelined for their last game against the USA. She blocked a shot in her collarbone/neck area against Switzerland but Gina Kingsbury, Director of Women’s National Teams of Hockey Canada said, “She’s doing better than she was yesterday. She’s in good spirit”. Canada hopes to have her back as they move into elimination games.

Jenni Hiirikoski

In Finland’s preliminary round game against the USA, Jenni Hiirikoski became the all-time games-played leader at the Women’s Worlds with 70. She passed fellow Finn and former teammate, Karoliina Rantamaki to take on this position. The 34-year-old defenceman joined the Finnish women’s National Team at the World Championship in 2004.

Canada vs the USA

The final game of group action for Canada and the USA was set to be a showdown and potentially a preview of the gold medal game. Canada game is out ready to play and dominated their opponent. The USA came into this game with a 29 game win streak at the World Championships. Even without their leader, Poulin, Canada was able to beat the USA, 5-1. Jamie Lee Rattray scored two and Melodie Daoust, Renata Fast and Sarah Nurse each added one to Canada’s total. Lee Stecklein scored the USA’s lone goal late in the third period. It was certainly an off day for the USA but Canada played a solid game. It will be interesting to see if these two teams meet again down the road at this tournament.

The group stage of the Women’s World Hockey Championships was full of incredible hockey. The stakes only get higher from here on out and the team’s know what’s on the line. The quarterfinals will happen on Friday so be sure to tune into the games.

Henrik Lundqvist Retires

Henrik Lundqvist, the beloved New York Rangers goaltender, made the announcement on Friday morning that he would officially be retiring from professional ice hockey. After 15 years with the Rangers and 887 games played, Lundqvist took to Twitter to thank all of the fans, the city of New York, and the National Hockey League, saying that “you gave my life purpose and I have loved every single minute of it!”.

Lundqvist was drafted in 2000 by the Rangers in the 7th round and made his debut with the team during the 2005-2006 season. Since then, he has been a staple in the Rangers line-up and a favorite amongst fans for both his stellar play and off-ice charity initiatives.

Although he never got to win the Stanley Cup, throughout his career Lundqvist has earned himself a number of accolades, some of which include winning the Vezina trophy in 2012 and the New York Rangers MVP award, which he earned 9 times between 2007 and 2018. As well, Lundqvist was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team in 2006, the NHL First All-Star Team in 2012, and the NHL Second All-Star Team in 2013.

Internationally, Lundqvist represented team Sweden during his career. One of his most notable achievements on the world stage was when he won the gold medal with Sweden at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. Additionally, in 2014, he won a silver medal at the Sochi Olympics.

During his career, Lundqvist recorded 459 wins and a 0.918 save percentage. He also holds a few New York Rangers records, having the most regular season wins by an NYR goaltender (459) and most play-off wins by a goalie in their franchise history (61). As well, he has played more play-off games than any other Ranger, regardless of position, at 130 games.

In addition to being an outstanding netminder, Lundqvist has been involved with various charity projects. Since 2009, Lundqvist has been the Rangers representative for the Garden of Dreams Foundation and in 2014 he founded the Henrik Lundqvist Foundation with his wife. This mission of his non-profit organization is to “create positive change in the lives of children and adults throughout the world through education and health services”. As a result of his extensive charity work, Lundqvist was named a finalist for the ESPN Humanitarian of the Year award in 2015 and the NHL Foundation Player Award for the 2014-2015 season.

During his time with the Rangers, Lundqvist was so adored by fans that he was nicknamed “King Henrik”. Although having many years of success in New York, during the 2019-2020 season up-and-coming goaltenders Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin took precedence over Lundqvist, and the team ultimately bought out the final year of his contract in September 2020. As a free agent, Lundqvist signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals in October 2020 that was valued at $1.5 million. Unfortunately, Lundqvist was unable to play in the 2020-2021 season as he required heart surgery which took place in January 2021. Although he returned to light practice earlier this summer, Lundqvist experienced some health problems from training and made the decision that it was time for him to retire.

After the news of his retirement, NHL players were quick to comment on King Henrik’s legacy and congratulate him on a successful career. Aleksander Barkov, captain of the Florida Panthers, had nothing but praise for Lundqvist, saying that “his nickname is the King for a reason. He’s a legend. Great goalie, one of the best of all time”. Lundqvist’s former Ranger’s teammate, Igor Shesterkin, also had words of great admiration, stating via an Instagram post “you have always been my inspiration. Not only are you a legendary goaltender but an incredible teammate and person as well”.

The New York Rangers organization quickly announced that Lundqvist’s jersey #30 would be retired at a ceremony during the upcoming 2021-2022 season.

The entire hockey community wishes Henrik success for his next chapter and congratulations on a spectacular career!

Hungarian Grand Prix Recap

Alongside the first turn chaos and an unbelievable race, Esteban Ocon captured his first Formula One race win. It was an unexpectedly interesting race that many thought would be boring due to the difficulty to overtake at the Hungaroring. It all began with the first rainy start of the season. We have been teased all year long with rain in the forecast to only be a bright and sunny start. After the lights went out, Lando Norris had a great start from P6. He pushed his way into the front in P3 when he and the field approached the first turn when Valtteri Bottas struck him from behind after his wheels locked up. It caused a chain reaction event where Norris then struck Max Verstappen and Bottas crashed into Sergio Perez. Lance Stroll also had a lock up on the same turn and struck Charles Leclerc who also hit Daniel Ricciardo. Due to the two incidents, five cars were forced to retire from the race and two drivers managed to stay in the race despite severe damage to their cars. The race was red flagged after three laps. 

After the restart, the track had dried and during the formation lap all but one driver, Hamilton, went into the pit lane to change their tires from intermediates to slicks. The race started with only Hamilton on the grid and the rest of the drivers starting from the pit lane. Mercedes realized the error of their decision on the next lap and pitted Hamilton for slicks. Which now meant that Esteban Ocon was leading the race. From the back of the pack, Hamilton showed blistering pace moving through the field pretty easily. It was only until he met with fourth place Fernando Alonso where he slowed up his pace. In the subsequent 27 laps, Alonso held Hamilton at bay with some of the best defending seen in the DRS era of F1. It was only until lap 65 when Alonso locked up in turn one where Hamilton took advantage of the mistake and passed him. Hamilton passed Carlos Sainz two laps later but didn’t have enough runway to catch the top two drivers. Ocon owes a lot to his teammate who helped him win his first race. 

After the race, there was a bit of controversy when the stewards could not take out the mandatory one litre of fuel from Sebastian Vettel’s car which caused his disqualification from the race. He had to forfeit his P2 result which pushed everyone ahead one position. Hamilton took over the lead in the Drivers Championship. Williams scored double points and are now eighth in the Constructors Championship ahead of the two other bottom teams. 

And now… Summer Break

With the end of the Hungarian GP, we have the three week summer break. I thought that this is a great time to ponder some questions as to what’s going to happen ahead of the Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps at the end of August. 

Will teams make a driver change during the break?

After Valtteri Bottas’ incident at turn one and George Russell’s first points in a Williams, will Mercedes make that change. Bottas did take out both Red Bulls in the crash and helped both Hamilton and Mercedes move ahead of Red Bulls in both championships but he has struggled throughout the year to deliver when everything is there for the taking. Russell on the other hand has done everything to show that he is ready for the seat. He has pulled out everything he can from his Williams car by moving onto Q3 twice this year and finishing in the points for the first time. He is also test driving the Mercedes this week for testing. 

How will the battle for the driver’s championship continue after the summer break?

Max Verstappen looked to run away with the Drivers Championship after nearly posting five straight wins going into the British GP. He was on top in qualifying taking the pole and that incident at Copse seemed to derail his progress. He, of course, DNFd that race and at the Hungarian GP he was delegated to the second row after being out-qualified by both Mercedes. He started the race out in front of Bottas in P2 but after the incident at turn one, he suffered serious damage to his barge board and finished the race in P9. In two weekends, Verstappen has only scored 2 points while his rival scored 43 points. Hamilton took advantage of Verstappen being out of the British GP despite being assessed a 10 second penalty to take the victory and if not for Alonso’s incredible driving he may have won his second race in a row. Will Hamilton continue that momentum through the break or will Verstappen use the break to regroup and take back the championship?

Olympics Men’s Golf Recap

Round 1

In the first round, Austrian Sepp Straka finished at the top of the leaderboard with an -8 (63). He shot a bogey free round. The weather of the first round was rather humid and soggy. The first round also had a two hour weather delay. Straka was out with the first group avoiding the delay. The top eight of the first round were outside of the top ten ranking. It seemed as though the weather had an effect on the top ranked golfers. The Canadian men finished in the top twenty with the score of -2 (69).

Round 2

In the second round, the first round leader Sepp Strake shot an even par round. The top ranked golfers seemed to have shaken off their round one struggles and started to take over the leaderboard. At the top was Xander Schauffle who shot a 8 under par round to finish -11 (63). The other top ranked golfers to finish the second round in the top ten were Hideki Matsuyama (-9), Rory McIlroy (-7) and Paul Casey (-7). The two favorites going into the event, Justin Thomas and Colin Morikawa, were outside of the top twenty. Corey Conners maintained his score of the first round with an even par score. Mackenzie Hughes dropped a shot and finished -1. 

Round 3

Xander Schauffle maintained his lead on the field with a 3 shot under par round. He was closely followed by Hideki Matsuyama who shot a four shot under par round and only one shot behind. Rory McIlroy and Paul Casey also continued their charge up the leaderboard getting into the top five. Colin Morikawa made his way into the top twenty trying to catch the leaders and have a shot at the podium. But, he had his work cut out for him to make up the five shot lead to the podium. The Canadians also made their way into the top twenty with round 5 and 6 shots under par.  

Round 4

In the final round, Schauffle kept up his lead with four shots under par round. He took the gold medal and was the second American alongside Charles Sands in 1900 to win the gold medal in the event after men’s golf only made four appearances in the Olympics. The silver medalist Rory Sabbatini from Slovakia made an unbelievable charge to the podium. He began the round tied for seventeenth with the leader double the amount of shots ahead. In the fourth round, he shot an incredible 10 under par round. For the bronze medal, there was a seven way tie. Which meant that there needed to be a playoff. As for the Canadians, Corey Conners finished in 13th with another underpar round. Mackenzie Hughes, unfortunately, finished his final round with only round above par. He dropped to 50th. 

Bronze Medal Play-off

In the playoff, all seven golfers replayed the 18th hole. All of but two of them shot par. Therefore, they moved on to the next hole with another shot at the bronze. The same result happened on hole 10 where the same golfers shot par. At the next hole, Mito Pereira and Rory McIlory were eliminated from contention after finishing the hole in four shots. On the last hole, C T Pan and Colin Morikawa were the final two. C T Pan took the bronze medal after shooting a par. 

Women’s Gymnastics All-Around Final Recap

One of the most anticipated events of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games was the women’s all-around gymnastics final. With 2016 champion and 2020 favourite, Simone Biles out of the competition, it was anyone’s gold to win.

In the first rotation, USA’s Jade Carey and Sunisa Lee put up impressive scores on vault with a 15.200 and a 14.600 respectively. Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade had the lead after her vault scored a 15.300.

The next rotation saw Lee, Carey and the rest of their group on the uneven bars. This rotation saw high scores from ROC’s Vladislava Urazova and Angelina Melnikova as well as Nina Derwael from Belgium. Lee was last up on the apparatus and she put up the highest score of the rotation (and the highest on uneven bars for the whole day) with a 15.300.

The third rotation for the leading group was on the balance beam. Carey scored an 11.533 which unfortunately was much lower than the rest of the group. Her fall on beam put her out of the medal hunt. The rest of the group scored well and the competition was tight heading into the final rotation. Urazova had the highest score of the group on this apparatus with a 14.200.

Heading into the final rotation, the standings were as follows:

1 Suni Lee United States 43.733

2 Vladislava Urazova Russian Olympic Committee 43.566

3 Rebeca Andrade Brazil 43.532

4 Angelina Melnikova Russian Olympic Committee 43.233

5 Nina Derwael Belgium 42.532

With the scores tight so big performances on the floor were needed to secure a spot on the podium.

The first performances of the group were clean and scored well. Melnikova performed third and scored a 13.966, putting her ahead of teammate Urazova and into a medal position. Lee hit the floor next and put out a beautiful floor routine. She scored 13.700, putting her in first place. With just Andrade and Carey left to go, she would finish with at least a silver medal. Andrade stepped out of bounds twice and scored a 13.666 meaning Lee would win the gold medal. 

She is the fifth consecutive American woman to win the event (Lee 2020, Biles 2016, Gabby Douglas 2012, Nastia Liukin 2008 and Carly Patterson 2004). Lee of St Paul, MN takes home her first gold medal at the Olympic Games and will compete for Auburn University in the fall. The reaction from the 18 year old’s family watching back home was absolutely incredible. This moment was a long time coming for Lee and she is an absolute joy to watch.

Andrade took home silver and Melnikova held on to take the bronze. Both ladies had a fantastic showing at these games and in this competition. 

Here were the final scores:

1 Suni Lee United States 57.433

2 Rebeca Andrade Brazil 57.298

3 Angelina Melnikova Russian Olympic Committee 57.199

4 Vladislava Urazova Russian Olympic Committee 56.966

5 Mai Murakami Japan 56.032

Gymnastics is far from over in Tokyo. Still to come is all of the event finals which means more incredible performances and more medals to be handed out. Come back to Unbenched for more Olympics content every day.