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Alberta

Door opening for fan increase for minor-sports?

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No surprise that the COVID pandemic has eliminated many high-profile sports in the last 100 days or so, and that promoters are struggling to get back to work. What may be a shock is that many officials tied to low-profile sports see an opportunity to fill the gap with events that normally receive only limited space on the back pages – if they get any media attention at all.

One of those who sees the opening, and welcomes it, is a man intimately connected with university, junior and age-class versions of his sport at all levels.

Enthusiastic comments are part of the Tim Enger personality; he played and coached this game before stepping into administration and ultimately becoming executive director of Football Alberta. It’s a big plus that he tempers his optimism with the basic understanding that the NHL, NFL, NBA, MLB and others are sure to draw the bulk of fan and media support as soon as massive problems with border access, real or feared boosts in infection totals and growing disputes between players and ownership are settled. The Canadian Football League cannot be added to this list because there has been no clear indication that any games will be played in 2020.

The timing of Enger’s comments is commendable. So is his understanding that a lot of professional supporters are reluctant to watch unknown amateurs do their thing. “We know that not every game is a thriller,” he conceded. “But most of our games provide a good level of excitement.”

Obviously, the major difficulty right now is tied to coronavirus reduction. Grid schedules will not be settled for quite awhile. “In Alberta (Step 2  of the recovery process), junior teams have permission to practice in cohorts of 50. Basically, that’s an offensive group and a defensive group. They haven’t been approved for larger numbers, so there are no full-team workouts at this point.

“We (Football Alberta) stay in contact with the health minister and Alberta Health Services,” said Enger, happy that his small staff is back at headquarters in the Percy Page Centre after two months of working almost exclusively at home. “There has been no sign of when Tier 3 will go into effect, so all we can do is wait.”

Tentative schedules have been designed. Obviously they’ll be adjusted as necessary.

He anticipates at least a partial junior schedule this season, perhaps starting in August with the Edmonton Huskies, Edmonton Wildcats and Calgary Colts filling some dates. Clashes with Saskatchewan and Manitoba teams are iffy these days because  provincial rules vary on border access and possible isolation.

“There has been talk of a Manitoba-Saskatchewan connection, with a possible playoff between the two groups. We’ll have to wait and see.”

The Prairie Junior Conference outlook changes radically from high school programs,” he said. They deal with school boards, principals and the ASAA (Alberta Schools Athletic Association.) Their road to competition might be quite a bit longer than ours.”

Already, the University of Alberta decision to give the Golden Bears a year off has negatively affected provincial football. For those concerned that they may be done for good, it’s pleasant to recall what happened when athletic director Dale Schula announced the sport had been chopped in 1991. The Bears alumni stepped up to raise enough money to keep the program alive. Two years later, then-coach Tom Wilkinson – one of Canada’s leading sports heroes, in many opinions — led a drive to raise another $400,000 when tight university economics threatened a final end to Golden Bears football.

Our sports history has value

 

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Alberta

Plucky Stars, leading Lightning confident going into Game 6

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EDMONTON — After a very un-Dallas Stars-like first overtime period in which they sat back and let the Tampa Bay Lightning take it to them, players and coaches in the locker room had a very distinct message.

“We’ve got to play to win, let’s go at them, let’s get back on our toes and get skating again,” coach Rick Bowness said. “We found our legs. We found our second wind.”

And it’s their second win of the Stanley Cup Final to force a Game 6 Monday night that these teams see very differently. The plucky Stars are embracing the underdog role missing several key players to injury and feel as if they’re playing with house money, while the deep, talented Lightning still feel like the favourites up 3-2 in the series and are confident based on recent experience they’ll be able to close the series out in their next opportunity.

Dallas was doubted against Calgary, Colorado and Vegas, and the injuries still make it an uphill climb to beat Tampa Bay two more times in a row. Shots are 175-136 in favour of the Lightning and goaltender Anton Khudobin has had to come up big in his team’s two wins this series, but being counted out is just how the Stars like it.

“Every person really this whole time we’ve been in the bubble seeming to choose the other team we’re playing — we relish that,” said centre Tyler Seguin, who has five points in the past two games after a five-game drought. “We believe in each other. We’ve got a confident group, and we don’t want to leave the bubble, so we’re having fun.”

That’s what made the first OT so troubling for the Stars, who put the Lightning on their heels to take Game 1. Suddenly, the same team that buzzed and attacked until Joe Pavelski tied it in the third period Saturday night was playing not to lose when one goal against would end the season.

The attacking mentality returned, leading to Corey Perry’s goal in double overtime, and the Stars get one more shot to prove they belong here. Of course, they’re taking an us-against-the world outside the bubble approach.

“We just battle,” said Perry, who along with Pavelski has three goals in two games. “It doesn’t matter. We believe in that dressing room. We came here with 51 people, and all of those guys in that dressing room believe that we could go out and get this done. That’s all that really matters.”

All that matters to the Lightning is they’re still in control of the series. Only they can win the Cup on Monday night, and they believe playing the same way as Game 5 will be enough to finish this off and celebrate.

“That’s what playoffs are about,” forward Yanni Gourde said Sunday. “You’re not going to win every elimination game. You just got to go out there and play our best, try to win that particular game and go from there.”

They’ll have to do it without injured captain Steven Stamkos, who’s out for the rest of the series. Coach Jon Cooper and Stamkos made that determination in a conversation Sunday morning, though it was growing obvious that his post-season would be limited to 2:37 of ice time and a memorable goal in Game 3 of the Final.

“He did everything he could to get back, and he did get back and unfortunately he couldn’t go any further,” Cooper said. “Hopefully the next time you see him on the ice is during a trophy presentation.”

Cooper said multiple times his team has been “pretty good at responding after losses.” Not just pretty good but perfect.

Led by goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy’s ability to bounce back like the Vezina Trophy finalist he is, Tampa Bay is 6-0 after a loss this post-season. Vasilevskiy has a 1.41 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in those games.

So, that’s a source of confidence along with the experience earned along the way in previous playoffs and even as recently as last round. The Lightning lost their first chance to wrap up the Eastern Conference final, to the New York Islanders in overtime of Game 5.

Facing a similar situation in the Cup Final, they’re prepared.

“We’ve been in this situation before,” top defenceman Victor Hedman said. “We’re a resilient group. We know how to respond to adversity. We were up 3-1, now it’s 3-2, so you just got to go out and get the next one. That’s our focus.”

And the next one comes against an opponent seemingly on its last legs. Dipping now four deep into their players from their taxi squad of “Black Aces” with forwads Joel Kiviranta, Nick Caamano and Justin Dowling and defenceman Joel Hanley feeds the Stars’ underdog mentality but depletes their depth.

“I give them a lot of credit because we’re missing a lot of key guys on our hockey club,” Bowness said. “There’s no question about it.”

There’s no question Dallas is hurting.

With forwards Radek Faksa, Roope Hintz and Blake Comeau and defenceman Stephen Johns already out, veteran Andrej Sekera was injured blocking a shot early in Game 5 and missed a period and a half before returning. Jason Dickinson is hobbling through as best he can after blocking a shot with each foot in this series, and the Stars are trying to gut through it all and force Game 7.

“Every guy’s going through something this time of the year,” Seguin said. “Everyone’s ready to get tapped in. That’s just how our identity’s been and how we’ve been all this bubble, so it’s been great.”

___

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press

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Alberta

Dallas Stars stay alive in Stanley Cup final, beat Tampa Bay 3-2 in double OT

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EDMONTON — Corey Perry scored on a goalmouth scramble in double overtime and the Dallas Stars beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 on Saturday to stay alive in the Stanley Cup final.

Perry jammed the puck past Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy at the 9:23 mark for his second goal of the game.

Tampa Bay still leads the best-of-seven series 3-2. Game 6 goes Monday night at Rogers Place.

Joe Pavelski also scored for Dallas. Goalie Anton Khudobin made 39 saves for his 14th win of the playoffs, just 20 hours after he faced 35 shots in a Game 4 loss to the Lightning.

Ondrej Palat, with his 11th goal of the post-season, and Mikhail Sergachev replied for Tampa Bay.

Vasilevskiy, also coming off a quick turnaround after Tampa’s Game 4 overtime win, stopped 30 shots but took the loss and is now 17-7 in the post-season.

Dallas opened and finished the scoring.

Perry made it 1-0 late in the first period, taking advantage when Sergachev was winded in a collision with Alexander Radulov.

Sergachev was doubled over and couldn’t get off the ice, and Perry scooped up a loose puck in the slot and wristed it over Vasilevskiy’s blocker-side shoulder.

Palat tied it less than five minutes into the second period, taking a dish pass from Nikita Kucherov, swooping around Dallas defender Esa Lindell, cutting across the front of the net and slipping the puck past Khudobin.

The Lightning took the lead early in the third when Sergachev fired a slapshot through traffic past Khudobin. Pavelski replied, scoring his 13th playoff goal with less than seven minutes to go, burying the rebound off a Miro Heiskanen point shot.

The Stars won despite mounting injury woes.

Justin Dowling played in his first playoff game for Roope Hintz, who fell awkwardly into the boards in Game 4. The Stars were also without Radek Faksa and Blake Comeau, making it three of their key two-way forwards and penalty killers.

The Lightning were again without captain Steven Stamkos. Stamkos, dealing with a lower-body injury, has played just five shifts in the entire playoffs: a 2:47 stretch of Game 3, although he scored in his one shot on net.

All games are being played in front of no spectators at Rogers Place. Players are also isolated between games to prevent contracting the coronavirus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2020.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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