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Fastest 5 minutes in hockey: How speedy Avs won Stanley Cup

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Playing hockey on fast forward, the Colorado Avalanche blazed their way to the Stanley Cup championship with a mix of speed and high-end skill that needed only a defined focus to get over the top.

There was never any denying a team featuring Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Gabriel Landeskogand Mikko Rantanen has enough talent to win. But after four consecutive early playoff exits, the Avalanche authored a different ending and knocked off the back -to- back defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning by concentrating on something simple: winning each 5-minute burst at a time.

“They never thought ahead — they just prepared every day and just focused on that,” general manager Joe Sakic said. “This group, it was a great group. They believed in each other all year and really stuck together and never let anything faze them, really. If they had a bad game, they got right up the next day ready to be better.”

Coach Jared Bednar, in his sixth season behind the bench, is behind that strategy of breaking games down into 5-minute increments. It’s a lesson he learned from the playoff disappointments and one that served as Colorado’s internal mantra way more than the marketing slogan, “Find a way.”

“We have a good five minutes and we’re moving on to the next,” Bednar said. “It just helps guys stay focused and in the moment and committed to what you’re trying to do.”

Even before the final against Tampa Bay, Bednar praised his team for buying into that philosophy, and players acknowledged echoing it on the bench during games. The chatter became a soundtrack to the Avalanche cruising through the playoffs with 16 wins in 20 games.

“We want to make sure that every five minutes is a focus: No matter what happens, we’re resetting and we’re going again because we want to be taking the game to teams,” said defenseman Josh Manson, one of Sakic’s key trade deadline acquisitions. “We have a lot of speed, and our forecheck is a big part of our game, so we want to be resetting every five minutes to do exactly what we need to do.”

Behind all that speed, the Avalanche swept Nashville in the first round, took out St. Louis in six, swept Edmonton in the West final and finished off Tampa Bay in six on Sunday night, handing the Lightning just their second defeat in their last 13 series.

“All four lines can skate,” Rantanen said. “That’s what we did. Just a team effort. We were working really, really hard. We have a lot of skill, but it takes more than skill to win a championship, and that’s exactly what we did.”saki

Those watching from outside the final could see the extra hockey taking its toll on Tampa Bay — no team has played more games since 2020, the price that comes with winning two straight titles and playing for a third — and only marvel at Colorado’s pace. That includes Bryan Trottier, who won the Stanley Cup six times as a player and again as an Avalanche assistant in 2001.

“Holy cow, they’re quick,” he said. “Their speed is really incredible.”

That was no accident. Sakic, the captain of that title team in 2001 and also in 1996, had a blueprint of how to win and went about finding players who fit. The Avs were not just fast on offense — they were in your face on defense, on the forecheck and along the boards. Opponents had little time to think.

Taking MacKinnon with the first pick in 2013 was about finding what Sakic called a “game-changer.” Same with Makar (the fourth pick in 2017), and Sakic along the way added grit in trades for Manson, center Nazem Kadri and depth forward Andrew Cogliano.

But the key to Colorado’s game was always speed.

“We’re a fast-paced team,” Sakic said. “We train at altitude. And for our group, the faster the pace is, we feel we can take advantage of that.”

Augmented by the rest players got from finishing two of the first three series in four games, that speed was a significant advantage against the two-time champs, who were built to manage just about everything this time of year but couldn’t handle the way Colorado used it.

A 7-0 Avalanche blowout in Game 2 was a perfect example. The Lightning, from 2021 playoff MVP goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to the dependable veteran skaters in front of him, made one uncharacteristic mistake after another because of Colorado’s sharp, aggressive skating and playmaking.

“Our skating has to be a factor for us regardless of opponent,” Bednar said. “And then playing fast is more than that: It’s execution and getting to the right spots and doing the right things so we’re predictable to ourselves.”

The Avalanche winning the Cup was predictable to four-time Cup-winning Hall of Fame goaltender Grant Fuhr. He said Colorado being the better team in the final followed the path that has been set out since October.

“They’ve been great all year,” Fuhr said. “They looked like the best in the West from the start of the year, and they’ve basically been the best in the league the whole time.”

It began in September, when the Avalanche began shaking off their most recent playoff defeat. Bednar said he and his team did some experimenting during the season on the way to earning the top seed in the West.

When it was time to finish the job, Colorado was ready.

“You don’t preach it all year long and practice it all year long to throw it away at the most important time of the year,” Bednar said. “It’s why we started preaching it Day One of training camp: Focus on the process and what we have to pay attention to, to have success.”

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Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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

Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press

Storytelling is in our DNA. We provide credible, compelling multimedia storytelling and services in English and French to help captivate your digital, broadcast and print audiences. As Canada’s national news agency for 100 years, we give Canadians an unbiased news source, driven by truth, accuracy and timeliness.

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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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