Quick Hits Canada - May 17th
🏀Basketball: Back to the Basketball HOF, so we can wax poetic about . The two-time NBA champ and 11-time All-Star is a Toronto Raptors legend after being drafted to the 6ix in 2003. And even though he in 2010, he still has a special place in Raps fans hearts.
- On the court, he set and still holds , and off the court, he set up his own foundation in TO and his hometown of Dallas to help youth with athletics and academics. Something special.
⚽️NWSL: And while we’re talking GOATs, let’s revisit that stellar Portland Thorns win last night. Before it became wildly one-sided, Canadian legend Christine Sinclair of the game...and 50th NWSL goal of her career.
- With that, she’s now tied at second for all-time goals in the league with North Carolina Courage’s Lynn Williams, and trails Sam Kerr by 17 goals. If anyone can top that, it’s Sincy.
🏀NBA Play-In contenders set
The play-in contenders: After finishing seventh and eighth respectively in the Eastern Conference, the Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics will now play for the No. 7 spot in the playoffs. The No. 9 Indiana Pacers and No. 10 Charlotte Hornets will face off tomorrow, too, and the winner will play the loser of the earlier game for the playoff’s No. 8 seed.
- In the West, it’ll be a Battle of California on Wednesday for the No. 7 seed, between the Golden State Warriors and the reigning NBA champs, the LA Lakers, while the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs will play for their lives.
The best of the rest: The Philadelphia 76ers locked up the top spot in the East, and the Utah Jazz are the best in the West. They’ll each play the winner of their conference’s No. 8 seed game. The East’s Brooklyn Nets and West’s Phoenix Suns both finished second, so they’ll square off against the earlier winners (aka No. 7 seeds).
- Meanwhile, the third through sixth seeds already know who they’ll be facing in the first round of the postseason. Check out all of Round One’s match-ups .
The GOATs: The end of the regular season wasn’t the only excitement this weekend — the Basketball Hall of Fame (HOF) inducted its 2020 class on Saturday. The honorees included the late Kobe Bryant (his widow Vanessa ), former Indiana Fever star Tamika Catchings, former San Antonio Spur star and former coach Tim Duncan, and 15-time NBA All-Star Kevin Garnett.
- The 2021 HOF class was also announced yesterday, and amongst the 16 inductees are the WNBA’s Yolanda Griffith and Lauren Jackson, and the NBA’s Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce and Chris Webber.
Weekend Recap: NWSL, WNBA, and UWCL Final
🏀WNBA: In just her fourth professional game, New York Liberty’s Sabrina Ionescu (pronounced yo-NESC-ooo) with about two seconds remaining to win the W’s season opener. The Liberty went on to beat the Indiana Fever again yesterday, already tying their total games won from last season. Do a 180.
⚽️UWCL: Barcelona put on a show in a dominating 4–0 victory over Chelsea to win their first-ever title. They could’ve stopped after the first three goals — which included — but from Caroline Graham Hansen was just too good.
⚽Everything you need to know about the UWCL final
QUOTE OF THE DAY
My son asked me this morning if I’d bring a medal home for him today….He’ll love that. He’ll wear that all day tomorrow. Let’s just hope he don’t throw it in the bin.
— Chelsea head coach, Emma Hayes on winning back-to-back Women’s Super League (WSL) titles and sharing the medals with her son, Harry. Will Harry be adding more hardware to his collection today? Tune in and see.
⚽️ The background
A quick refresher: Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) is the governing body for European soccer, and the top-tier teams from around the continent make up the Champions League. The UEFA Champions League is the biggest club (not country) soccer tournament in the world.
- The tournament is held annually and over the entire club regular season. Club teams play within their national leagues, and those rankings determine their entry into the UEFA Women’s Champions League (UWCL).
The top two teams (clubs) from each of the strongest 12 national associations are entered, while the weaker associations only get one team entry. From there, teams play in as many as two qualifying rounds before moving to a knockout round of 32, then round of 16, and so on.
- Starting next season, the qualification structure will more closely resemble the men’s side with mini-tournaments and a group stage to start.
In the knockout round, there are two legs within each round. This means that each team plays one home and one away match. Then, the goals from those two matches are added together and the team with the better aggregate score advances.
- The final, however, is just one single match, which makes today’s contest all the more exciting.
Five-time reigning UWCL champion Olympique Lyonnais (Lyon) are the most successful club in the league’s history, with seven titles under their belt in nine appearances.
- The German squads have also been impressive with Frankfurt (4), VfL Wolfsburg (2), Turbine Potsdam (2) and MSV Duisburg (1) boasting UWCL wins under the German flag.
🇪🇸 Meet Barcelona
Barcelona may be out for blood this time around after suffering a 4–1 loss to powerhouse Lyon in the 2019 finals. And from the looks of it, the squad has only improved since then.
In this year’s campaign, Barcelona stomped on newcomers PSV Eindhoven in the round of 32 and mainstay Fortuna Hjørring in the round of 16, scoring 17 goals across the two rounds. And in the quarterfinals against top contender Manchester City, they walked away with a 4–2 on aggregate win (featuring a convincing 3–0 match) to move on to the semis.
- Finally, an exciting 3–2 aggregate win over Paris Saint-Germain earlier this month punched Barcelona’s ticket to their second finals appearance.
Leading Barca scorer Jenni Hermoso and forward Asisat Oshoala could be the game changers in today’s championship vs. Chelsea. The two have collectively netted 102 goals in the last two seasons, but Oshoala may not be in tip-top shape after suffering a recent injury.
- In net for Barca is Sandra Paños. A member of a very athletic family, the goalkeeper has conceded, on average, only one goal for every two games and has no plans to increase that stat today.
- Unfortunately Andrea Pereira, a core member of Barcelona’s defense, is suspended for this match. Her teammate Mapi León will have to step it up in Pereira’s absence to halt the Chelsea offense.
🏴 Meet Chelsea
Chelsea is the newcomer, making their first ever UWCL final appearance. The men’s squad also made it to their Champs League final, marking the first time both the women and men from the same club made it to the final in the same season. So cool.
- This is partially thanks to Chelsea investing in the women’s club with similar enthusiasm as to the men’s (what a novel concept) and also due to their fearless leader, the aforementioned coach Hayes (more on her in a bit).
After winning handily over Benfica in the round of 32, Chelsea went on to best Atlético Madrid and Wolfsburg, before their toughest battle against Bayern Munich in the semis. Of course, Chelsea went on to win 5–3 on aggregate and advanced to the final.
- With Chelsea's all-time leading scorer Fran Kirby and FA Women's Super League top scorer (and resident backflipper) Sam Kerr on the attack, Chelsea should wear down Barca’s defenders. The duo tallied 30 goals in the 19 games they started together this year.
- Leading the defense is captain and center back Magdalena Eriksson, along with keeper Ann-Katrin Berger, who joined the team in 2019 after recovering from thyroid cancer in 2018. If she can stop cancer in its tracks, stopping a
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Representing the red and white for the Blue is Jessie Fleming. The 23-year-old midfielder joined Chelsea last summer, after finishing her college career at UCLA. She started three times during her first professional season and we hope she gets some minutes today. Number 17 on the pitch, but number one in our hearts.
🗣 On the sidelines
At the helm for Barcelona is Lluís Cortés. Cortés joined Barcelona in 2017 as an analyst and later became an assistant coach before taking over the head coach role in 2019. Cortés quickly earned respect across the league after leading the team to the finals the same year he took the reins. Actions speak louder than words.
Now back to Hayes. A charismatic and seasoned leader on the pitch, Hayes is also the first female head coach in 12 years to lead a team to the finals. After hopping across the pond to serve as head coach and director of football operations for the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars until 2010, Hayes returned to England and found her home with Chelsea in 2012.
- Since then, Hayes has collected 10 trophies while maintaining a 67% winning percentage. What, like it’s hard?
- Hayes is known for her “psychological methods,” such as having the team watch videos of other top female athletes before matches and implementing the geese mindset on the pitch. Nothing like a flying V.
🏆 Winner winner
What do the winners get, you ask? Not much compared to their male counterparts. *eye roll* The women’s champs will earn just €250K (~$303K USD) while the men can expect a whopping €76M (~$93M USD) pay-day at a minimum. We smell BS.
- That said, there’s been a lot of progress on the pay equity front lately, including UEFA’s recent announcement that updates to the financial distribution model for the women’s league are coming as soon as next year.
- The update includes a €1.4M (~$1.698M USD) prize for the winner and €400K minimum (~$485K USD) reward for each club that takes part in the group stage. Slowly but surely closing that gap.
📺 How to watch
Unlike several North American leagues, the Champions League final will be fanless this year due to Sweden’s current COVID-19 restrictions. But, for us landlocked in North America, that doesn’t matter much anyway.
🏒It's NHL Playoffs time, baby
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"You do not play hockey for good seasons. You play to win the Stanley Cup. It has to be the objective."
—Former NHLer Guy (pronounced Gee) Lafleur, who knows a thing or two about winning the Stanley Cup, considering he did it five times as a Montreal Canadien in the 1970s.
🏒 The set-up
This NHL postseason has been long and eagerly awaited. Due to the temporary division realignments made for the 2021 regular season, this postseason — known officially as the Stanley Cup Playoffs — is starting a month later than normal and is set up a little differently than other years.
- As opposed to the regular set-up of two conferences with two divisions in each, this season, the league was split into four divisions — East, Central, West and North — with seven teams in the North and eight in each of the rest.
The top four teams from each division, based on regular season standings, are moving on to the postseason, with the top team set to play the fourth-seeded team, and the No. 2 and No. 3 teams meeting in the first round.
- Each round of the playoffs is a best-of-seven series, so the first team to four wins advances. The second round will see the remaining two teams in each division face off.
Things will get extra-interesting by the time the third round, aka the semifinals, rolls around. That’s because the four remaining teams won’t have played each other at all throughout the regular season. But before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look at how the first round (and usually the most exciting one, TBH) is shaping up.
➡️ East Division
No. 1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 4 New York Islanders: We’re not entirely sure how the Pens made it to the top of the East. Sure, they’re great, and yes, they still have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the charge, but their season was just “alright” by Stanley Cup-winning standards of seasons past.
- But the Pens are still the Pens, and their offense is still as stellar as it’s been for about 15 years. For their part, the Islanders have the better goalie in Semyon (pronounced sehm-YON) Varlamov and a stronger defense, which makes this a fun yin-yang pairing.
- The Pens have the head-to-head season advantage, going 6-2 against the Isles, but we wouldn’t be totally shocked if they find a way to lose this one.
No. 2 Washington Capitals vs. No. 3 Boston Bruins: The Caps and Bruins kick off the postseason today at 7:15 p.m. ET, and based on their regular season head-to-head record (a 4-4 split), this series should go the full seven games.
- The Bruins recently picked up the 2010 first overall draft pick and friend of The GIST Taylor Hall and have a stacked first line, but the difference-maker in this series might be the return of big man Zdeno Chara.
- The 6’9” Caps defenseman captained the Bruins for 14 seasons, including the 2011 Cup run, until he left for Washington in 2020. Though he already faced Boston during the regular season, there’s something special about facing your old team in the playoffs.
📍 Central Division
No. 1 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 4 Nashville Predators: The last time the Hurricanes won their division, way back in 2006, they also won the Stanley Cup. Fifteen years later, they have everything in place to do it again, including Rod Brind’Amour: the Coach of the Year candidate who captained that 2006 team to the Cup. Coincidence?
- The Hurricanes are favored not only to win this series, but the whole shebang. The underdog Preds could be a challenge though: they don’t score often, but starting goalie Juuse Saros and the solid defense are tough to beat.
No. 2 Florida Panthers vs. No. 3 Tampa Bay Lightning: The Panthers are one of five teams in the postseason who are playing for their first-ever Stanley Cup...but they’re facing off against the reigning champs, and their cross-state rival, the Lightning.
- The Lightning haven’t been themselves recently, but will have stars Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov back in the lineup after injuries. Despite the current rankings, if the Panthers pull out the win in this battle of the Sunshine State, it’ll be an upset.
⬅️ West Division
No. 1 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 4 St. Louis Blues: How many renditions of “Gloria” do we think it will take to help the Blues beat the Avalanche? The limit does not exist. Seeing as the Avalanche won the President’s Trophy (awarded to the team with the most regular season points) this week, the Blues don’t stand much of a chance.
- Not to brag, but we called an Avalanche Stanley Cup win back in January, and we’re sticking with it. Their goaltending is the team’s only question mark, but it’s like 12-point font while everything else for them — offense, defense and coaching — is 82-point.
No. 2 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 3 Minnesota Wild: What happens in Vegas...continues to amaze the rest of the hockey world. An expansion team just four years old, the Knights have never missed the playoffs, and improve every single season. If anyone can challenge the Avalanche, it’s this division rival.
- Now that’s not to take anything away from the Minnesota Wild. They’re a complete team, with a deep offense and a brick-walled defense. Their only (major) flaw is that they play in the toughest division in the league.
❄️ North Division
No. 1 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. No. 4 Montreal Canadiens: We’ve waited 42 years for this highly anticipated postseason match-up, and we’ll have to wait another few days. Since the North Division still has some regular season games left to play, the North playoff series won’t start until Thursday.
- The Leafs and the Habs aren’t complaining though. The wait gives their starting goalies, Jack Campbell and Carey Price, respectively, some extra time to rest, and in Price’s case, recover from injury.
- The Habs also expect to have stars Shea Weber, Brendan Gallagher and Philip Danault back in the lineup for Game 1, which will help to even up the playing field with the stacked and healthier Leafs. But will that even be enough? We shall see.
No. 2 Edmonton Oilers vs. No. 3 Winnipeg Jets: We’ve saved the best for last. Not the best team (hello Colorado!), but hands-down the best player in the league, Oilers superstar and Art Ross Trophy winner Connor McDavid.
- McDavid leads the league this season with 104 points in 55 games, 21 points ahead of the next guy...who also happens to be his teammate and occasional linemate, Leon Draisaitl.
- But the Oilers aren’t just flashy goals and mega offense; Tyson Barrie and Darnell Nurse (WNBA star Kia’s brother/PWHPA star Sarah’s cousin) keep it tight on defense, too. The Jets have the better goalie in Connor Hellebuyck, but we can’t give them much else.
👀 How to watch
After tonight’s sole match between the Caps and Bruins, the East Division continues tomorrow at noon ET with the Pens and Isles. The Central and West Divisions will kick off tomorrow, too, and the North on Thursday. Check out the full schedule here.
- In the U.S., games will air on NBC and NBCSN, while Sportsnet and CBC have all the action in Canada. The countdown is on.