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With the playoffs right around the corner, it's time to look at who could be a key difference-maker this postseason.
The Canadian women's basketball team is making like the Raptors and moving to Tampa, Fla. But unlike its NBA counterpart, the move is only step one of the 10-week journey to the Tokyo Olympics. Canada Basketball announced a roster of 20 players invited to training camp beginning Thursday, May 20, in Tampa. Three players — guards Kia Nurse and Bridget Carleton and forward Natalie Achonwa — won't attend as the WNBA season tips off on Friday. While the original plan was to hold camp in the team's training home of Edmonton, ongoing restrictions surrounding the pandemic forced the relocation. Denise Dignard, who was recently named general manager, said the decision to go ahead with the Tampa plan was made on Tuesday. A spokesperson for Alberta Health confirmed with CBC Sports on Thursday that it had not yet approved or rejected the Edmonton plan. "The health and safety of our athletes and our staff, as well as our preparedness given that we haven't been together since February 2019, are the utmost priority and drive all of our decision making," Dignard said in an interview with CBC Sports on Thursday. Dignard said the organization had been working with the federal government on training exemptions for athletes that were entering from outside the country. However, with training camp creeping closer Canada Basketball sought to alleviate the pressure on the government and make the move to Florida. Head coach Lisa Thomaidis said she wasn't part of the relocation process, but that it came together quickly. "It's been crazy just having to change all the plans and relocate and still make it all happen. We're getting together in a week's time. So it's been a lot to manage," she said. The women's team, which is ranked fourth by FIBA, will move into the Raptors' training facilities at the J.W. Marriott in downtown Tampa. The Raptors' season concludes on Sunday. For two weeks, a contingent of about 30 Team Canada members — 17 players and around 13 support staffers, including Thomaidis and Dignard — will live in the hotel while undergoing daily COVID-19 testing. "It's not disrupting our training plans and [it's] providing our team and our athletes a five-star training environment. So it's consistent with our plan that we had for Edmonton," Dignard said. The training camp itself is expected to look similar to previous in-person iterations, with daily meetings and practices that range from on-court strategy to mental health. Won't return to Canada before Olympics Once the national team lands in Florida, it won't return to Canada until after the Olympics. Training camp runs until June 4, one week before the start of the FIBA AmeriCup in Puerto Rico. At the conclusion of that tournament, Dignard said the team will likely return to Tampa for pre-Olympic training before departing for Japan, where it will reside in Kariya City, its pre-Games host and sister city of Mississauga, ahead of Tokyo. The last time the team gathered in person was when it qualified for the Olympics in February 2020 in Belgium. "It'll be fun because of when they reconnect, they're just so happy to be together. It's a really cool feeling for them to come back to their basketball and Canadian family and certainly lots of excitement around the stretch here, preparing for the Olympics," Dignard said. Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, a centre who chose to skip the WNBA season in order to focus on the national team, is among some players still in the midst of their international seasons. She could be playing as late as Saturday for French team Lyon. "It's going to be a bit of a learning curve at the beginning for everyone — not just the new players coming in," Raincock-Ekunwe said. "Just really finding our flow, finding our rhythm and our identity. We know the core principles of our team. It's just going to be fine-tuning the things we need to work on for the AmeriCup and also the Olympics." The Toronto Raptors' new practice facility built in the Marriott in Tampa is shown above.(Toronto Raptors/HO/The Canadian Press) Quick turnaround The schedule is nothing new to women's basketball players, who experience the frenzied nature of bouncing between international seasons, WNBA play and national-team commitments whether there's a pandemic or not. Still, a tournament like the AmeriCup — a qualifier for future World Cups — a month before the Olympics, leaves Thomaidis holding her breath on injuries. "We're looking at those as preparation games, for sure. That's one sort of goal in mind with those games. But the other one, obviously, is to perform well and certainly our goal is to win the AmeriCup," Thomaidis said. Among the 20 invitees are the four Canadians who played in college this season, including UConn's Aaliyah Edwards, South Carolina's Laeticia Amihere, Arizona's Shaina Pellington and Louisville's Merissah Russell. The first three all reached the Final Four. Additionally, seven players who represented Canada at the 2016 Olympics — Nurse, Achonwa, Raincock-Ekunwe, Miah-Marie Langlois, Nirra Fields, Kim Gaucher and Miranda Ayim — are invited to camp. The team is about to go from 15 months of separation to 10 weeks of being together all the time, with the culmination hopefully being a spot on the podium in Tokyo. Canada has only won one previous Olympic basketball medal, when the men took silver on a clay court at the 1936 Berlin Games. "This has been 15 months of being remote, being away from one another, and I just can't wait to see everyone and see them back on the court and just together again. We've got a very special group," Thomaidis said. Full roster Natalie Achonwa, forward, Minnesota Lynx (WNBA)/Famila Schio (Italy). Kayla Alexander, forward, Mithra Castors Braine (Belgium). Laeticia Amihere, forward, South Carolina (NCAA). Miranda Ayim, forward, Basket Landes (France). Bridget Carleton, guard, Minnesota Lynx (WNBA). Shay Colley, guard, Charnay (France). Quinn Dornstauder, centre, Cadi La Seu (Spain). Aaliyah Edwards, guard, UConn (NCAA). Nirra Fields, guards, Anatalya 07 (Turkey). Kim Gaucher, guard, USO Mondeville (France). Ruth Hamblin, centre, Politechnika Gdanska (Poland). Sami Hill, guard, Nantes Reze Basket (France). Aislinn Konig, guard, Fribourg (Switzerland). Miah-Marie Langlois, guard. Kia Nurse, guard, Phoenix Mercury (WNBA). Shaina Pellington, guard, Arizona (NCAA). Daneesha Provo, guard, Eisvogel Freiburg (Germany). Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, forward, Lyon ASVEL (France). Merissah Russell, guard, Louisville (NCAA). Jamie Scott, guard, Tarbes (France).
CALGARY — Troy Ryan has been rewarded for his patience. He'll be the head coach of Canada's women's hockey team in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. The 49-year-old from Spryfield, N.S., was named head coach of Canada's world championship teams in 2020 and 2021. Both tournaments in his home province were cancelled, however, because of COVID-19. Hockey Canada still wants to host the 2021 tournament Aug. 20-31 in a city yet to be named. The pandemic limited Ryan to just three camps with the Canadian women's team this winter, although he's continued to build relationships with players and staff virtually. "It's definitely not how you would script it," Ryan told The Canadian Press. "Some of the negative sides we've had right now can end up being positives because it forces you to work a little bit differently. "Any time you work differently, there's some new things you learn about each other for sure." Ryan was Canada's assistant coach from 2016 to 2019. He was a member of the Olympic team staff in 2018 when Canada lost the final to the United States in a shootout under head coach Laura Schuler. Of the 28 players invited to congregate in Calgary in late July to both try out for the 2022 Olympic team and prepare for Beijing, 14 played for Canada in 2018. Ryan was also an assistant to Perry Pearn in the 2019 world championship in Finland where Canada took bronze. Midway through the 2019-20 season, Ryan took over for Pearn and posted a 3-1-1 record in games against the Americans. So many players Ryan will coach in Beijing have a history with him, albeit one interrupted for several months because of the pandemic. "He's a very deliberate coach," said Gina Kingsbury, Hockey Canada's director of national women's teams. "He's been very aware of what the group needs at all times, even when he was an assistant coach with Perry. He was always on my mind as someone who could take this program on. "Even if he hasn't had the chance or the opportunity to have a whole lot of camps or events with our group, even how he's managed our group in this pandemic, and the relationships he's built, the trust he's built, these players want to play for him. "He is the guy to lead us for sure." The pandemic shutting down international women's hockey hasn't allowed Ryan to build a large body of work as Canada's head coach, but he hopes that will change when the team is together in Calgary. "I've had maybe 15 practices with this group," Ryan said. "We haven't had that on-ice time, and that's what I'm most excited for." "When we made the calls to the people that did get selected for centralization, that was one of the messages I wanted to tell most of them was, although I love camp, I'm just very excited to have a centralized group where we can work on things on a daily basis." The Canadian women usually play a regular slate of games against males in the Alberta Midget Hockey League while they're centralized. Ryan may also finally get to coach the women in a world championship if the summer tournament happens. "If you look at it from the positive side, you start centralization, you formulate a team, you win a world championship. What a great way to start a centralization," he said. "If you have your world championship and you don't win, at least you have a gauge there now. You can work on those things that need to be worked on to obviously prepare you to ultimately win a gold medal at the Olympics. "Obviously I'd take option A any day." Ryan coached the Dalhousie University's women's hockey team in Halifax this season. He's also coached university and Junior A men's teams in Atlantic Canada. Ryan played forward for the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds, Saint Mary's Huskies and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Halifax Mooseheads. Ryan's assistants are Kori Cheverie of New Glasgow, N.S., Jim Midgley of Townsend, Ont., and Doug Derraugh of Arnprior, Ont., as well as goaltending coach Brad Kirkwood of Calgary. Derraugh, the head coach of Cornell's women, will not relocate to Calgary, but will still support Ryan throughout the season and be in Beijing with the team. Cheverie is an assistant coach of the Ryerson Rams men's hockey team. She became the first full-time female assistant coach in U Sports men's hockey history in 2016. Midgley was head coach of the Halifax Mooseheads in 2017-18 and was an assistant coach of the German league's Iserlohn Roosters in 2019-20. The coaching staff was chosen by Kingsbury, Hockey Canada chief executive officer Tom Renney and president Scott Smith in consultation with senior vice-president of national teams Scott Salmond and management consultant Cassie Campbell-Pascall. This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2021. Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press
NEW YORK (AP) — The Minnesota Twins, Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers have set plans to host 100% capacity at their ballparks, joining the Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers. The Twins, who started the season at 25% capacity, said Thursday they will increase to 60% for 12 home games at Target Field from May 14-30, move to 80% for 12 home games in June and 100% for the final 40 regular-season home games starting July 5. "We are grateful that our state and region continue to be on a path toward improved health and a return to normalcy,” Twins president Dave St. Peter said in a statement. Philadelphia started the season at 20% and will increase capacity from 11,000 to 16,000 for a series against Boston starting Friday and followed by games against Washington (June 4-6) and Atlanta (June 8-10). Citizens Bank Park will be allowed 100% capacity starting with the Phillies’ series against the New York Yankees on June 12-13. Limited pods will be available with socially-distanced seating. Tailgating also will be allowed. Milwaukee, which began at 25%, said the Brewers’ American Family Field will shift to 100% capacity starting June 25. The New York Yankees and Mets were given permission by New York state to increase capacity from 20% to 100% at their ballparks for home games starting May 19, but only as long as fans are vaccinated against COVID-19. The Mets said they planned to have sections for vaccinated fans at full capacity and for unvaccinated fans with social distancing. The Chicago Cubs will increase Wrigley Field’s capacity to 60% starting with a series against Cincinnati that begins May 28. That will leave maximum attendance at just under 25,000, and there will be a minimum of one open seat between pods within the same row. Illinois and Chicago officials are requiring a designated area for fully vaccinated fans, who will be required to present proof of vaccination and photo ID. The Chicago White Sox will also increase capacity to 60% at Guaranteed Rate Field starting with a game against St. Louis on May 24, also with a minimum of one open seat between pods within the same row. The White Sox will have two full capacity sections for vaccinated fans when they host Kansas City this weekend. Last year’s shortened MLB regular season was played entirely without fans, who were allowed back only for the NL Championship Series and World Series, and then in limited numbers for games moved to the neutral site of Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. Texas was the only one of the major league teams to start the season at 100% capacity. Atlanta said April 28 it would move to 100% at Truist Park starting May 7, and Arizona announced May 5 that it would shift to 100% at Bank One Ballpark starting May 25. ___ More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports Ronald Blum, The Associated Press
A look at what’s happening in European soccer on Friday: ENGLAND Manchester City plays its first game since reclaiming the Premier League trophy when it travels to Newcastle. Pep Guardiola is celebrating his eighth major trophy as City manager after his team was confirmed as English champions for a third time in four years on Tuesday. City also won the League Cup for a fourth year in succession last month and will have a chance to add the Champions League crown in the final against Chelsea in two weeks. Guardiola may start to rotate his squad in preparation for the May 29 final in Porto. Playmaker Kevin De Bruyne is still not fully fit after missing last week’s loss to Chelsea through fatigue. Defender John Stones is available again at Newcastle after completing a three-match domestic suspension. Newcastle is 12 points clear of the relegation zone with three games to go. ___ More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports The Associated Press