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Fans of Flames and Oilers go to familiar response: “Fire the Coach!”

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Officially, the National Hockey League season is over for the only two teams this province really cares about. While survivors prepare for action in Round Two of the Stanley Cup playoffs, both the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames are setting up what should be fascinating games of chop and change.

The final on-ice breath for 2020 took place after the Dallas Stars humbled Calgary 7-3 to win their best-of-seven series in six games. Days earlier, the Edmonton Oilers were outworked and outscored in a five-game loss to the Chicago Black Hawks.

Promptly, supporters of both teams fell to the oldest response in the Dedicated Fan yearbook: fire the coach.

Dave Tippett was singled out because he juggled some lines. Truly, his Oilers were not good enough at forward, on defence or in goal. Interim Flames head coach Geoff Ward drew immediate criticism on Thursday for replacing Cam Talbot with an ice-cold David Rittich in the early stages of the Stars’ record-setting offensive burst following their early 3-0 deficit. Talbot gave up three goals on only eight shots, but Ritich’s immediate performance was even worse.

Before the sixth and decisive game, Ward expressed optimism about his team’s future. “This is more relentless, more prepared, a better team” than the group that faded badly as a playoff top seed a year ago, he said. Well, for the first 20 minutes, he was absolutely correct. Fan frustration will not force any changes behind the bench. On the ice is entirely different. Goaltending, for example, is a serious concern in both centres.

Edmonton’s pair, Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith are 32 and 38, respectively. At the very least, a reliable young netminder is required. Talbot, widely inconsistent before being traded to Calgary for Koskinen two years ago, shone through most of the playoffs for the Flames this season and drew solid support from teammates Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund after Thursday’s shoddy start.

Monahan’s generous view did not detract from the likelihood that the veteran winger, in common with linemate Johnny Gaudreau, is sure to be prominent in trade talks, starting almost immediately.

Captain and key defenceman Mark Giordano, 35, finally showed signs of age. Partner T.J. Brodie, 29, would attract serious offers if general manager Brad Treliving put him on the market.

Good news for Calgary is that on-ice leader Matt Tkachuk has shown no sign of abandoning his fiery style. He was sadly missed after suffering an apparent concussion in Game Two. The seasoned Backlund, and youngsters Andrew Mangiapane, Dillon Dube and Sam Bennett are set for solid futures up front.

In Edmonton, the question about offence is simple: who will play with Connor McDavid on one line and Leon Draisaitl on another? Third- and fourth-liners on the 2020 roster will have plenty of company looking for jobs next year.

At this point, Edmonton lags behind its provincial rivals in at least one important area. It must be remembered that the Flames won their so-called elimination round by defeating a strong (but injured) group of Winnipeg Jets. The Oilers, who would mortgage the future of the entire Icer District for a brilliant young defender such as Miro Heiskanen of Dallas, Cale Makar of Colorado or Quinn Hughes of Vancouver (all still active in playoffs) have no such victory as a building block at this point.

CFL faces very difficult future

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Alberta

Canadian champ Kerri Einarson leads the way at Grand Slam of Curling event

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CALGARY — Reigning Canadian women’s champion Kerri Einarson is off to a 3-0 start at the Grand Slam of Curling’s Humpty’s Champions Cup.

The Manitoba rink beat Japan’s Satsuki Fujisawa 8-2 in the second draw on Friday.

After six draws at the event, Einarson is the lone women’s rink at 3-0.

Manitoba’s Tracy Fleury and Scotland’s Eve Muirhead lead Pool B at 2-0.

Fleury edged Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones 7-6 on Friday morning, while Muirhead beat Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni 9-3.

On the men’s side, Canadian champ Brendan Bottcher of Alberta tops Pool B at 2-0. Bruce Mouat of Scotland leads Pool A at 2-0.

The event is the first of two Grand Slams at WinSport’s Markin MacPhail Centre, which already has hosted the Canadian men’s, women’s and mixed doubles championships as well as the men’s world championship.

The women’s world championship, with Einarson representing Canada, will close the Calgary curling bubble next month.

The Slam events feature 12 of the top men’s teams and 12 of the top women’s teams from around the world.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 16, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Alberta's Kenney sowing distrust with misleading COVID-19 anecdotes, statements: NDP

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EDMONTON — Alberta’s Opposition says Premier Jason Kenney is sowing distrust by recounting misleading anecdotes to illustrate COVID-19 policy decisions.

“I think this is about trust. I think this is about telling the truth,” NDP critic Sarah Hoffman said Friday.

“I think we’ve seen many examples where the premier tries to bolster his own narrative.

“This is a trend of being dishonest, and I think it really does call into question what trust and confidence we can have in the things the premier says and does.”

Hoffman’s comments came a day after Kenney’s office confirmed the United Conservative premier “misspoke” when he used an anecdote about a super-spreader birthday party in Athabasca as a key driver of recent soaring COVID-19 rates in the town north of Edmonton.

Kenney used the party as an example of how super-spreaders are not necessarily driven by in-school transmission but by social gatherings.

“Apparently the virus had a 100 per cent attack rate at that birthday party. All of the kids who came to that birthday party got sick,” Kenney said Monday. He repeated the same information at a news conference again Tuesday.

An official with Alberta Health later said there was no data to suggest there had been an outbreak from a children’s party in the community.

Athabasca Mayor Colleen Powell said the publicity the community of 13,000 people has received since the premier’s comments is not the kind it wants.

“Why are you saying these things when you don’t know?” Powell asked in an interview.

“I had a couple of people get in touch with me (asking) who held the party. News spreads like wildfire.”

Just over 100 people, including students and a dozen staff, from three different schools in Athabasca tested positive for COVID-19 and its variants.

Kenney’s spokesperson, Jerrica Goodwin, responded Friday in a short statement.

“The premier was using the very real example to illustrate a point of the serious nature of COVID-19 and ease of transmission. As we’ve acknowledged, he misspoke on the specific location,” said Goodwin.

“All the NDP’s ridiculous criticism shows is that they can only attack and criticize.”

Kenney has used anecdotes before to illustrate the rationale for COVID-19 policy decisions taken by his government.

In late November, he cited an impromptu encounter with a food court kiosk owner — a refugee from Venezuela — as an example of the devastating impacts that COVID-19 health restrictions can have on businesses.

“She came up to me, and she broke down in tears in front of me saying, ‘Sir, I put my entire life savings as a refugee into this business. We’re struggling to pay the bills. If you shut me down, I’m going to lose it all, everything, and I’ll be in abject poverty,’” Kenney recounted at the time.

When reached later by a reporter, the owner, Carolina De La Torre, said Kenney accurately recounted her core concerns of balancing health and the economy. But she dismissed the colourful drama, saying she did not cry and did not approach him, rather it was Kenney who approached her.

Earlier this week, the premier came under criticism for challenging a radio host for saying Kenney once downplayed COVID-19 as the flu, telling the host he had never done so.

Hansard, the official record of house debate, recorded Kenney calling the virus “influenza” multiple times during debate on May 27, 2020.

In late February, just before Kenney’s government released its first COVID-era budget, he announced that due to oil and gas revenues the revised forecast deficit for the 2020 fiscal year would be about $14 billion — a third lower than expected.

Treasury officials refused reporter requests to confirm the accuracy of that figure and, two days later, the budget revealed the 2020 deficit forecast was $20 billion.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 16, 2021.

— With files from Fakiha Baig in Edmonton

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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