Sunaya Sapurji

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Sunaya Sapurji is the junior hockey columnist for Yahoo! Sports Canada. Sunaya previously worked at the Toronto Star for 10 years as a copy editor and writer covering the Ontario Hockey League.

  • Auston Matthews' long, winding road to No. 1 showdown against Connor McDavid

    Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid and Toronto Maple Leafs' Auston MatthewsEdmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid and Toronto Maple Leafs' Auston Matthews
    Not since Sid vs. Ovi have hockey fans been this excited over a showdown between No. 1 overall NHL draft picks.
    Connor McDavid, the top pick in 2015, and Auston Matthews, selected first in last June’s NHL draft, will face off against each other for the first time on Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre.
    It’s big enough that even The Great One – Wayne Gretzky – made an appearance at Tuesday morning’s skate.
    “All eyes will be on those two kids, there’s no question about it,” Gretzky said. “I’ll be watching, that’s why I flew in and I’m excited to see the game. I think it’s great for our sport.”
    Gretzky remembers his own battles with Mario Lemieux and said that whenever they played each other it provided a little extra motivation.
    “Absolutely it fires you up,” Gretzky said. “Listen, it’s a team game but individually you’ve got pride, too, and that’s what makes superstars Hall of Famers.
    “That’s what makes the game great.”
    With two players as special as McDavid and
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  • 'Sky's the limit' for Sea Dogs star Joseph Veleno

    Joe Veleno #9 of the Saint John Sea Dogs fires a shot against the Gatineau Olympiques on October 18, 2015 at Robert Guertin Arena in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)Joe Veleno #9 of the Saint John Sea Dogs fires a shot against the Gatineau Olympiques on October 18, 2015 at Robert Guertin Arena in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)

    Joseph Veleno grew up in his Montreal neighbourhood surrounded by family. Right next door were his older cousins – Michael and Anthony Buonincontri – who he’d watch play hockey when he was a kid. And, when Veleno was old enough, he and his older brother Michael-Anthony would join them in various games: soccer, mini-sticks, street hockey, and all the other Canadian childhood staples.

    It was always Veleno, the youngest, paired with his cousin Michael, the second oldest. Even within the tight knit family, the two always shared a special sporting bond. The competition was always intense and Veleno wasn’t always the most gracious in defeat.

    “When we’d be losing in a soccer game he’d be so upset that sometimes he’d cry because he was so young,” says Michael Buonincontri on the phone from France where he plays pro hockey. “He was determined to win. I don’t think it would make him cry anymore, but when he was younger he’d definitely take it to heart.”

    The Buonincontri’s father, Frank, coached

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  • Former OHLer Ben Johnson sentenced to prison for sexual assault

    Former Spitfire Ben Johnson was sentenced on Tuesday.Former Spitfire Ben Johnson was sentenced on Tuesday.

    Former Windsor Spitfires forward Ben Johnson was sentenced to three years in prison on Tuesday.

    Johnson, 22, was convicted in early September of raping a then 16-year-old “near comatose” girl in the washroom of Windsor nightclub in 2013. The assault occurred when he was 18 and still playing for the Ontario Hockey League team.

    In addition to the prison time the former New Jersey Devils prospect will also have to be registered as a sex offender for the next 20 years and provide a blood sample for a DNA database. He is also prohibited from owning weapons for 10 years.

    The maximum sentence for sexual assault is 10 years. The crown had been asking for a jail sentence of between three-and-a-half to four years for the native of Calumet, Michigan.

    In addressing the court on Tuesday, Johnson told Superior Court Justice Kirk Monroe that he had grown as a person since the assault and was now a married man. The judge however noted that the sentence had to fit the severity of offence and the

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  • Trade has new Day dawning in Windsor for Spitfires

    Sean Day poses after being selected 80th overall by the New York Rangers at the 2016 NHL Draft.  (Getty Images)Sean Day poses after being selected 80th overall by the New York Rangers at the 2016 NHL Draft. (Getty Images)
    When Sean Day entered the Ontario Hockey League as an exceptional player at the age of 15, the expectations were huge. He was following in the footsteps of fellow defenceman Aaron Ekblad and forwards John Tavares and Connor McDavid – all surefire stars and No. 1 overall NHL draft picks.
    Day, now 18, has yet to reach the promise of greatness many held for him when he was selected fourth overall by the Mississauga Steelheads in the 2013 OHL draft. On Tuesday, Day was traded from Mississauga to the Memorial Cup-host Windsor Spitfires.
    “There’s been a lot of criticism,” said Mississauga general manager James Boyd. “I’ve used this terminology before but he’s been a lightning rod for criticism. I think a lot of it is unfair. He’s a talented player … I think when he received exceptional status there was an expectation from observers that he would be the first overall pick and an NHL superstar right away and that hasn’t materialized. He’s still a very good player.
    “I think time will
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  • Maple Leafs' wonder rookie Auston Matthews gets legends' stamp of approval

    If there’s anyone who understands the scrutiny of playing for the Maple Leafs in a hockey mad city like Toronto as a teenager, it’s Wendel Clark.

    Prior to last June’s NHL entry draft, Clark had been the only other first-overall pick made by the franchise. The former Leafs captain was selected as an 18-year-old out of the Western Hockey League in 1985 before becoming one of Toronto’s most beloved players. Now, of course, there’s Auston Matthews, 19, the Leafs newest wunderkind who was taken first this summer and announced his arrival in Ottawa Wednesday night with four goals - an NHL record debut.

    “The easiest place to come and play when you’re 18 is Toronto,” said Clark on Friday, at the unveiling of the Leafs’ top 100 players of all-time. “People think it’s hard, but it’s actually easier because he’s learning the game at the most popular place to learn it. So if he was coming here as a 26-year-old and played somewhere else and then came here? It’s harder because you get comfortable

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  • The Ontario Hockey League is looking into an incident involving Ottawa 67’s and head coach/general manager Jeff Brown. Multiple sources told Yahoo Sports that Brown grabbed one of his own players on the bench during a game in Sarnia on Sept. 30. One source described Brown’s actions as a “horse-collar” – grabbing the player by the back of the jersey – and pulling him downward.

    OHL commissioner David Branch said the league received “some comments which we found concerning” about the incident and were conducting interviews.

    “We have a duty and commitment to our players and their player experience and we take that very seriously,” said Branch on Tuesday afternoon. “So we are in the process of talking to some of our players and others in Ottawa.”

    Ottawa 67’s owner Jeff Hunt told their local CTV affiliate that Brown “crossed the line” and had apologized to the player in question.

    Read More »from Incident between Ottawa coach, player 'crossed the line,' OHL investigating
  • With Halifax in the rear-view, Ehlers has sights set on making Jets

    Winnipeg Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers. The Canadian PressWinnipeg Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers. The Canadian Press
    As far as Nikolaj Ehlers is concerned, he’s ready to take the next step in the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets. In terms of his junior career, he’s been there and done that, with little more to prove with the Quebec League’s Halifax Mooseheads.

     

    “I feel like I’ve proven what I can do (in the QMJHL) and what kind of player I am,” said Ehlers, the ninth overall pick in the 2014 NHL draft. “I also think it’s time for me to play against bigger men.

     

    “I feel like I’m ready.”

     

    Ehlers said he is no longer under contract with the Mooseheads, but the team still holds his North American rights. So in the event he doesn’t make the Jets, he’d be able to play in Europe. The 19-year-old Danish import grew up playing hockey in Switzerland where his father, Heinz Ehlers, is a head coach in the Swiss league.

     

    Last month Ehlers told Swiss News Agency Sportinformation that if he didn’t make the NHL, his first choice would be to play in Switzerland. However, this week the forward backtracked slightly on
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  • The NHL dream finally 'starting to get real' for McDavid, Eichel

     

    The reality is finally beginning to set in for the NHL’s youngest and brightest stars. During their childhood years, many of them collected hockey cards. They’d pick them up at convenience stores or trade them among friends and all of them had a favourite.

    On Tuesday, a new crop of potential NHL rookies were on hand at the Mattamy Athletic Centre at Maple Leaf Gardens to pose for their own Upper Deck hockey cards.

    “Of course I collected trading cards, I think every kid did,” said Connor McDavid, the No. 1 overall draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers in June. “It’s really special to be on one now.”

    Earlier, Jack Eichel, who was selected one spot after McDavid by the Buffalo Sabres, signed an exclusive multi-year trading card deal with Leaf. No terms of the deal -- which includes cards, autographs and memorabilia – were released, but Leaf CEO Brian Gray called it “easily the most lucrative autograph trading deal for any rookie in the history of the sport.”

    “You dream of this

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  • Rychel's late gamble pays for Windsor with Fischer signing

    Christian Fischer with Windsor coach Rocky Thompson, left, and GM Warren Rychel. Photo: Windsor SpitfiresChristian Fischer with Windsor coach Rocky Thompson, left, and GM Warren Rychel. Photo: Windsor Spitfires

    It’s been a while, but Warren Rychel is finally looking forward to a Windsor Spitfires season with more than just cautious optimism.

    “You can probably tell I’m excited,” said the general manager. “More than I have been in the past few years. I think we’re a little deeper and we’ve made some changes.”

    A big part of that excitement came on Monday morning, when the team announced the signing of American forward Christian Fischer. The 18-year-old was a second round pick – 32nd overall – of the Arizona Coyotes at the June NHL entry draft. He spent last season with the U.S. National Team Development Program’s under-18 squad, where he scored 31 goals and 33 assists in 66 games. The native of Wayne, Ill., had been committed to the hockey program at Notre Dame, but after recently signing a three-year entry-level contract with the Coyotes, his NCAA eligibility was quashed.

    “He’s a real smart, hard working player,” said Rychel of Fischer. “He’s good in the corners, good on the wall, plays a

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  • Rudi Ying follows family tradition, opens doors to China through hockey

    Rudi Ying sits for an interview with the Chinese media.Rudi Ying sits for an interview with the Chinese media.

    Before Rudi Ying had even hit his teenage years, a meeting was arranged for him at a Chicago hotel room. He was 11 years old.

    There, he would get the opportunity to sit and talk with Houston Rockets centre Yao Ming, who already had achieved superstar status as one of China's most revered athletes.

    Ying had left China for the U.S. two years earlier in order to follow his hockey dream.

    He might not have realized it at the time, but that meeting with the NBA star would leave a lasting impression.

    “That was an experience,” said the now 17-year-old of his tête-à-tête with Ming. “He did for basketball basically what we would like to do for hockey – to completely open up the sport to China.

    “Even though he doesn’t play the same sport, I certainly see him as a role model in terms of opening up the sport to China.”

    This week at St. Michael’s College School Arena, Ying and fellow Chinese under-18 teammate Wei Zhong have been participating at the BioSteel hockey camp in Toronto, which includes

    Read More »from Rudi Ying follows family tradition, opens doors to China through hockey

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