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Russell Martin bids farewell to Blue Jays fans after retiring in May

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By John Chidley-Hill in Toronto

Russell Martin’s favourite memory at Rogers Centre is the same as many Toronto Blue Jays’ fans: Jose Bautista’s infamous bat flip in Game 5 of the 2015 American League Division Series.

“Just the electricity of the crowd, you could feel the ground trembling and the energy was insane,” said Martin. “That’s definitely one moment that just sticks out more than any other.”

Martin added another memorable moment on Friday, throwing out the opening pitch in front of a packed Canada Day crowd at Toronto’s ballpark. He formally announced his retirement from baseball on May 28 and making an appearance at Rogers Centre was his opportunity to say thanks and farewell to Blue Jays fans.

Before the game Martin said he hoped for a “couple of claps, a couple of laughs” when he came out to throw the opening pitch. Instead, he got a rousing standing ovation from the packed ballpark and a tribute video narrated by Bautista featuring messages from several former teammates.

He threw the opening pitch to Blue Jays catcher Gabriel Moreno, who wears No. 55 as a tribute to Martin. Mustafa (Moose) Hassan, Toronto’s clubhouse operations manager, told Martin last season that Moreno was going to wear his number and connected the two catches by phone.

“It’s awesome,” said Martin. “He gave me a call and I just told him there’s a lot of a lot of hits left in that jersey and I wish him the best.”

Born in Toronto and raised in Montreal, Martin is one of the most accomplished Canadians to ever play for the Blue Jays. The catcher had a .225 batting average, 66 home runs and 211 runs batted in, as well as an all-star game appearance, in his four seasons with Toronto.

He said that playing in Toronto on Canada Day has a different feel than a typical game at Rogers Centre.

“You feel the energy of the crowd and the crowd gets hyped for Canada Day,” said Martin, sitting in the Blue Jays dugout before the matinee game against the Tampa Bay Rays. “It’s special because you get the red jerseys and the crowd feels like you’re in the playoffs, even though it’s not the playoffs.

“You have that energy that you don’t really don’t get in a regular-season game.”

Martin began his career with the Los Aneles Dodgers before moving on to the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto, and then playing one last season back with L.A. He finished his career with a .248 average, 191 home runs, 771 RBIs, and four all-star games.

He said that he has generally stopped watching baseball, instead focusing on raising his children and playing golf. When asked if he might come out of retirement and represent Canada at an international tournament like the 2023 World Baseball Classic, Martin said it was unlikely.

“I’m so out of shape right now. As much as I’d like to think I could do it, I’m  not even close to being in playing shape,” he said with a laugh. “I have too much respect for the guys that spend a lot of time in their off-season, they go to work and they’re in tune.

“They’re like fine-tuned racecars right now. I’m like a beat up Chevy.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 1, 2022.

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McTavish puts up six points, Canada crushes Slovakia 11-1 at world juniors

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EDMONTON — Mason McTavish didn’t have to pull on the Maple Leaf and play in an unusual summer world junior hockey championship.

The 19-year-old forward will head back to the Anaheim Ducks next month, the NHL team where he put up a goal and two assists in nine appearances last season. Skipping an August tournament to focus on preparing for training camp likely wouldn’t raise eyebrows.

But McTavish has been clear — he loves playing hockey and he loves representing Canada

The dedication paid off Thursday as the captain put up four goals and two assists, powering his team to an 11-1 victory over Slovakia.

“I don’t think anyone’s surprised by his hockey and what he brings to the ice. But what really impresses me is his attitude,” said Canada’s head coach Dave Cameron.

“He has no ego. He probably had every reason not to come to this tournament, just because of the timing of it. And he’s fully engaged in it. And his performance tonight was outstanding.”

McTavish made his way into the history books Thursday, tying a Canadian record for most goals in a world juniors game.

Other players who have accomplished the feat include Mario Lemieux (1984), Brayden Schenn (2011) and Maxime Comtois (2019).

“It’s pretty cool for sure. A special moment,” McTavish said. “Obviously, credit to my teammates. They were looking for me all game, it felt like.”

McTavish plays a special game, said teammate Brennan Othmann.

“He’s fun to play with,” he said. “He’s an elite goal scorer, as you could see tonight. No matter what team he faces, he always finds the back of the net somehow.”

Nine Canadians had multi-point performances in the win, including McTavish, Joshua Roy (one goal, three assists), Othmann (one goal, two assists), Olen Zellwegger (one goal, one assist), Connor Bedard (one goal, one assist), Logan Stankoven (one goal, one assist), Will Cuylle (one goal, one assist), Lukas Cormier (two assists) and William Dufour (two assists).

Zack Ostapchuk also scored for Canada (2-0-0), who were coming off a tournament-opening 5-2 win over Latvia on Wednesday.

“We’re deep from our first line to our fourth line,” Othmann said. “It doesn’t matter who’s in or who’s out, everyone’s contributing in some way.”

Matej Kaslik put away the lone goal for Slovakia (0-0-2) midway through the second period.

Making his first start of the tournament, Canada’s Dylan Garand registered 22 saves.

Tomas Bolo stopped 33 of 44 shots for Slovakia, who dropped a 5-4 decision to Czechia (1-0-1) on Tuesday.

There were just 21 seconds left on the game clock when Ostapchuk buried a shot. He picked up a loose puck at the side of the net and slid it around the front, in past Bolo to seal the score at 11-1.

Roy bumped Canada’s lead to 10-1 at the 15:07 mark. Dufour’s shot hit Bolo’s pad and Roy picked up the rebound at the top of the crease, firing it in over the netminder as he fell to the ice.

McTavish barely celebrated after finding space between Bolo and the post for his fourth goal of the night 3:44 into the third.

“I’m not the biggest celebrator, unless it’s a game-seven OT winner or something like that,” he said. “I don’t really tend to get too excited.”

McTavish completed his hat trick with 35 seconds left in the middle frame.

Bedard took a hit in the neutral zone and sent a puck up the ice to give his teammates a two-man breakaway. Roy put a crisp pass on McTavish’s tape and he fired a shot past Bolo to give the Canadians an 8-1 lead.

About a dozen hats floated to the ice.

It was McTavish’s backhanded flick from the top of the crease 15:16 into the second that gave Canada a 7-1 cushion.

Just 36 seconds earlier, Slovakia finally beat Garand after a battle down low.

Kaslik got the puck and unleashed a shot that hit the goalie’s pad and the crossbar on its way into the net.

A three-man breakaway set up McTavish’s first goal of the night 6:25 into the second. Donovan Sebrango sent him a lead pass and, handling the puck, Team Canada’s captain skated in, sending a rocket soaring past Bolo stick side to boost the lead to 6-0.

The second period was just over a minute old when Stankoven put away Canada’s fifth goal of the night on a five-on-three.

Kent Johnson sent a shot into Bolo’s pad and Stankoven, stationed at the side of the net, popped a shot in before the goalie could get back into position.

Canada was 1 for 4 on the power play and Slovakia went 0 for 3.

After a slow start in Wednesday’s 5-2 win over Latvia, Canada was a force in the first period Thursday.

The host nation took a 4-0 advantage into the first intermission after Zellweger scored with 43 seconds left in the opening frame.

The defenceman got a shot off from the hash marks and the puck appeared to tick off another player in front of the net before pinging in off the post.

Slovakia challenged the play for being offside but a video review determined Zellweger’s goal was good.

A scuttled Slovakian clearing attempt set up Canada’s third strike of the night.

Bolo tried to send the puck out from deep in his own end but Cuylle picked it up at the blue line and sent it to Othmann in the faceoff circle The New York Rangers prospect sailed a shot in past the goalie 15:57 into the game.

Cuylle gave Canada a 2-0 lead less than three minutes earlier.

Ridly Greig stepped out of the penalty box and chipped a pass up the boards to Cuylle, who skated in alone on a breakaway and put a quick blast through Bolo’s pads.

Slovakia had a breakaway of its own earlier in the first, but Garand read the play perfectly and the shot thudded off of his pads to keep Canada up 1-0.

For the second game in a row, Bedard opened the scoring for the Canadians.

The 17-year-old Regina Pats centre dished the puck to McTavish, who sliced it back across the slot. Bedard capped the give-and-go by ripping a blistering shot past Bolo from the bottom of the faceoff circle 6:16 into the first period.

The early game Thursday saw Finland (2-0-0) battle Czechia (1-0-1) to a 4-3 shootout win.

“During the game, we got better and better. And that’s the most important thing,” said Finland’s head coach Antti Pennanen.

Czechia and Canada will both be off Friday before going head-to-head on Saturday.

The Czechs know they’ll need to elevate their game for the matchup, said forward Jiri Kulich.

“We just want to keep our game,” he said. “It’s a big challenge, of course, and a big game. So we’re just going to do our best.”

In the final game of the day, the reigning champion Americans (2-0-0) took a convincing 7-1 win over Switzerland (0-2-0).

Friday will see Austria (0-1-0) face Sweden (1-0-0) and Slovakia take on Latvia (0-2-0).

NOTES: McTavish leads the tournament in scoring with eight points (four goals, four assists). … The preliminary round continues through Monday, with the quarterfinals set for Wednesday. The semifinals are scheduled for Aug. 19 and the medal games will be played on Aug. 20. … The 2022 tournament is being held in August after the original iteration was called off on Dec. 29 after just four days as rising COVID-19 cases among players and officials forced games to be forfeited.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 11, 2022.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

 

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Olympic curling champion Eve Muirhead retires

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LONDON (AP) — Olympic curling champion Eve Muirhead is retiring from the sport.

The 32-year-old Muirhead secured Britain’s only gold medal at this year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing, having also won bronze in Sochi in 2014.

“After 15 years of international curling and 21 international titles I have made the hardest decision of my life to hang up my curling shoes and retire,” Muirhead said in a post on social media on Thursday. “Throughout my career and like most athletes, I have experienced both the highest of the highs, (becoming an Olympic champion) and the lowest of lows and at times the future seemed very distant. It’s been an emotional journey, but a journey that I am incredibly proud of.”

Muirhead also teamed up with Bobby Lammie to win the mixed doubles world championship in April.

“Eve Muirhead will go down in history not only as one of the greatest-ever British curlers, but as one of the greatest sportswomen this country has produced,” British Curling performance director Nigel Holl said.

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