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The GIST's Quick Hits - CA (April 12, 2021)

April 12, 2021
Source: Canada Soccer/Twitter
Source: Canada Soccer/Twitter

⚽️Soccer: The NWSL Challenge Cup kicked off over the weekend, but most of our Canadian stars missed the debut in the name of national play overseas. The CanWNT played a friendly match against Wales on Friday, winning 3–0, and will play England tomorrow in a warm-up for the Olympics. 

🏇Horse racing: Another gender barrier hurdled! On Saturday, Rachael Blackmore became the 20th female jockey to participate in, and first woman to win (!!!), the Grand National horse race in England, the premier steeplechase (think Kentucky Derby, but with jumps) in Europe. Jolly good!

🏀Basketball: The Toronto Raptors are in a weird spot. After a miserable March, things — despite last night’s loss to the NY Knicks — are slowly improving for the Raps, currently sitting in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. 

That means a few games in either direction will be the difference between a playoff spot or high draft pick. They have until May 16th to figure their sh!t out.

🏒NHL Trade Deadline is Today

April 12, 2021
Source: Toronto Maple Leafs/Twitter
Source: Toronto Maple Leafs/Twitter

NHL: It’s trade deadline day, which means teams have until 3 p.m. ET to make trades or be stuck with their current rosters until season’s end. The Toronto Maple Leafs were busy over the weekend, namely trading draft picks for Columbus Blue Jacket captain Nick Foligno, among other moves.

  • But all eyes will be on the only expected blockbuster trade today: current Buffalo Sabre and former NHL MVP, Taylor Hall. Follow all the day’s action with the NHL trade tracker.

Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks are still trying to get back on the ice. After 25 positive COVID-19 cases amongst players and staff, the team was supposed to return to practice yesterday, but had it pushed to today (at the earliest) as they deal with yet another case. They’re expected to play their first game in three weeks on Friday. Tough luck.

Jack Campbell: The Leafs’ goalie made NHL history over the weekend as the first goalie to win 11 straight games to start the season. Considering Campbell started the season backing up Frederik Andersen, this story is something special. 

and feelings are mixed.

Sunday at the Masters

April 11, 2021
Source: Masters Historical Imagery
Source: Masters Historical Imagery

QUOTE OF THE DAY 

"I must admit the name was born of a touch of immodesty."

—Augusta National Golf Club co-founder and President in Perpetuity Bobby Jones, on why it’s called the Masters.

🐅 Eye of the Tiger

SOURCE: ANTHONY POWTER/GOLFGRINDER.COM

While not the winningest Masters champ in history (that’s Jack Nicklaus, who we’ll get to in a minute), Tiger Woods is arguably the most notable. Tiger began his reign as golf’s top guy in April 1997 with his first Masters win, only eight months after turning pro. At just 21, he was (and remains) the youngest Masters champ ever.

  • Tiger’s next green jacket came in 2001 — capping off four straight major wins for the first time in men’s golf history — and he defended his Masters title in 2002, before his fourth win at Augusta in 2005.
  • That said, Tiger’s most spectacular win came two years ago. After knee injuries, back surgeries, rehab, divorce and immense public scrutiny, Tiger “returned to glory” at the 2019 Masters, winning his fifth green jacket. Shivers.

💯 Age is but a number

SOURCE: DAVID TULIS/AJC

Tiger is just one win short of tying Jack Nicklaus, who holds the all-time Masters record of six career victories. And much like Tiger, Nicklaus’ most recent win was his best: by winning the 1986 Masters at age 46, he set the record for oldest player to ever win.

  • After a long and fruitful career in which Nicklaus won 17 majors, “The Golden Bear” entered the 1986 Masters 11 years removed from his last tournament victory, with many doubting he'd make the cut.
  • Instead, Nicklaus proved the haters wrong, making the cut and shooting a shockingly low 65 in Sunday’s final round to win his 18th, and last, major. What a way to go out.

🔢 By the numbers

SOURCE: MIKE HOLAHAN/THE AUGUSTA CHRONICLE

$70,000: The amount Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts paid for the land upon which they built Augusta National Golf Club in 1931. A steal.

1934: The year the first Masters was held, and won by Tim Horton Smith.

1949: The first year the green jacket was awarded. Three-time winner Sam Snead rocked the look.

1990: The year Fanny Sunesson became the first and only female caddie to win at the Masters, holding the bag for Nick Faldo.

50: The most consecutive Masters appearances, set by the late Arnold Palmer between 1955 and 2004.

33: The number of hole-in-ones made at the Masters (not including this skipper from Jon Rahm’s 2020 practice round).

20-under: The lowest 72 hole (aka four-round) score in Masters history, recorded by first-time champ Dustin Johnson (DJ) in 2020.

3: The number of Masters champs — Tiger, Nicklaus and Faldo — who have defended their title. And after DJ missed the cut on Friday, that number will stick for at least another year. 

🙋‍♀️ Fanny at the Masters

SOURCE: HENRIK STENSON/INSTAGRAM

Back to caddie Fanny Sunesson. No woman has ever played in the Masters, and Augusta National only started allowing female members in 2012, which makes Sunesson’s appearance at the 1990 Masters all the more amazing.

  • The Swedish native began golfing as a child, beating the likes of LPGA legend Annika Sörenstam before joining Faldo at the end of 1989 and working with him for a decade throughout his second and third Masters wins in 1990 and 1996.
  • She also caddied for Sergio García and Adam Scott (though not at the time of their Masters wins) and last worked at Augusta when she filled in as fellow Swede Henrik Stenson’s caddie in 2019.

These days, Sunesson is retired from caddying and spends her time coaching pros, but she’ll forever be in the Masters’ record books as the first woman who could...and did.

💬 What’s in a name?

SOURCE: ROB SCHUMACHER/USA TODAY SPORTS

Patrons: Augusta National has very strict rules about what visitors can be called. Announcers are prohibited from saying “fans” and “spectators,” instead they’re called “patrons” who are part of “the gallery.” After CBS commentator Jack Whitaker referred to an excited crowd as a "mob" during the 1966 Masters, he was banned from the tournament until 1972. Harsh.

Flowering Crab Apple: Augusta National is built on a plant nursery site, and each of the 18 holes are named after a flower, tree or shrub found on the course. Flowering Crab Apple, for example, is the name of the fourth hole.

Amen Corner: From the second half of the 11th hole to the first half of the 13th, Amen Corner is a section of the course where tournaments have been won and lost. The area was named by a Sports Illustrated writer after a jazz song called “Shoutin’ In That Amen Corner.”

⛳️ Talkin’ ’bout playoffs?

SOURCE: MICHAEL MADRID/USA TODAY SPORTS

Yes, even golf has playoffs sometimes. If two or more golfers are tied at the end of the fourth round, they move on to a “sudden death” playoff where they go head-to-head in a replay of the 18th hole. If they’re still tied, they move to the 10th. No playoff has ever gone to a third playoff hole.

  • The first Masters to go to a sudden death playoff was in 1979, when Fuzzy Zoeller (pronounced ZEH-ler) won, becoming just the third rookie to win the Masters.
     
  • Since then, another 10 Masters were won in a sudden death playoff, most recently Sergio García’s in 2017.

👀 Watch and see

SOURCE: GREGORY BULL/AP

Will we see another hole-in-one today? Another winner decided by a playoff? Will Amen Corner ruin yet another sure thing like Jordan Spieth’s 2016 collapse? Will we see a handshake attempt more awkward than two-time winner Bubba Watson with then-Augusta chairman Billy Payne? You’ll have to watch and see.

  • The final round begins on CBS and TSN at 2 p.m. ET today, and you can follow along with the leaderboard here. Happy Gilmore golf-watching!

NWSL Challenge Cup Preview

April 09, 2021
Source: Houston Dash/Giphy
Source: Houston Dash/Giphy

QUOTE OF THE DAY

We were walking out to the pitch before the game and obviously you could see a celebratory locker room…and it was full of Budweiser. You're looking and thinking ‘well we want to win to do that and not see pictures of other people doing it.’

— Houston Dash forward Rachel Daly, on her team’s extra motivation heading into last year’s 2020 Challenge Cup Final. Not only did the Dash win the title, Daly was named the 2020 Challenge Cup MVP, winner of the tournament’s Golden Boot (awarded to the highest scorer) and she graced us with this epic celebration. Cheers to that.

⚽️ How it started

SOURCE: RICK BOWMER/AP PHOTO

Following the COVID-19 sports pause, the NWSL was the first professional North American team sports league to return to action in 2020. After the season was postponed in March, the inaugural Challenge Cup kicked off in June with record-setting viewership numbers. Music to our ears.

  • And although the Orlando Pride withdrew from the tourney before play began, there were no positive COVID-19 tests throughout the tournament. The league’s successful month-long bubble tourney paved the way for other sports leagues to return to action.
  • Behind stellar play from the aforementioned MVP Daly, the Houston Dash hoisted the Challenge Cup trophy after defeating the Chicago Red Stars 2–0 in the final.

🚨 This year’s format

SOURCE: OL REIGN/TWITTER

While the 2020 Challenge Cup was played in a bubble in Salt Lake City, Utah, this year’s tourney will be held in home markets. The NWSL’s 10 teams (expansion team Racing Louisville FC joins the fray this year) are divided into two divisions — East and West — with each team playing four matches, one against each team in their division.

  • From there, the top team in each division advances to the championship game scheduled for Saturday, May 8th, airing on CBS in the U.S. and on Twitch in Canada. HYFR.
  • And while the Challenge Cup doesn’t have an impact on regular season standings, it does offer teams a chance to sort things out and gain momentum ahead of the May 15th regular season start. Give us all of the soccer, please.

Another major factor in this year’s Challenge Cup is the scheduling. With an international break overlapping with the start of the tournament, NWSL teams will be without some of their top talent for at least the first two games. Teams with deeper rosters will be eager to capitalize and grab points in those early matches. Keep an eye out.

💪 The teams

SOURCE: USATSI

Top contenders: As the regular season champions and NWSL Championship winners for both 2018 and 2019, North Carolina Courage had an unexpected early exit from the 2020 Challenge Cup, but we feel they’re destined to return to their winning ways in the East Division thanks to their deep roster.

  • The West Division — led by Portland Thorns FC and the Chicago Red Stars — is seriously stacked. With all-time leading international goal scorer and Canadian Christine Sinclair as their captain, the Thorns should have no trouble finding the back of the net.
  • As for the Red Stars, they’ll be entering the tourney with a new ownership group and be playing with a chip on their shoulders as they look to avenge last year’s loss in the final. Watch out, world.

Middle of the pack: In the East, the Washington Spirit and (newly rebranded!) NJ/NY Gotham FC will contend to overtake the favored Courage. The Spirit are stacked on defense with USWNT members Kelley O’Hara and Emily Sonnett. As for Gotham, it’s all about the offense, with USWNT strikers Carli Lloyd and Midge Purce leading the way.

  • The Houston Dash and OL Reign have the odds stacked against them in the West Division. Even though the defending champion Dash have most of their core players returning, they’ll likely struggle at the start with players out for international friendlies.
  • The Reign might benefit from their later start, as they open their season against the Dash on April 16th. With offensive stars Megan Rapinoe (pronounced Ra-PEE-noe), Quinn and Tziarra King, the Reign could defy expectations this go round.

Just happy to be here: Rounding out the East are the Orlando Pride and new kids on the block Racing Louisville FC. The Pride will be competing in their first-ever Challenge Cup, after having to withdraw last year due to COVID-19, while new Louisville fans will just be happy to see their team take the field.

  • The final team in the West is Kansas City (KC) NWSL (formerly the Utah Royals). While KC probably won’t hoist the trophy, we’re still celebrating their new ownership group, which includes former college soccer player Brittany Matthews, Patrick Mahomes’ fiancée.

💃 The offense

SOURCE: WASHINGTON SPIRIT/TWITTER

Trinity Rodman, Washington Spirit, Forward: As the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NWSL draft, Rodman will make her highly anticipated debut against the stacked Courage tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. ET. With key pieces of the Spirit offense playing internationally, Dennis Rodman’s daughter she will have a chance to make an immediate impact.

Megan Rapinoe, OL Reign, Forward: Wherever Rapinoe goes, we follow. After opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns, Rapinoe is excited to return to the NWSL. After the USWNT’s April friendlies, Rapinoe will likely be back in time for the Reign’s tilt with the stacked Portland Thorns on April 21st. Mark your calendar.

Shea Groom, Houston Dash, Midfielder: Groom’s breakout three-goal performance in the Dash’s 2020 Challenge Cup run earned her a new three-year contract ahead of last year’s Fall Series. And Groom brought the heat again, scoring three goals and adding two assists. Houston, other teams might have a problem.

Desiree Scott, KC NWSL, Midfielder: This year will be somewhat of a homecoming for the CanWNT vet, as she first played for FC Kansas City during the NWSL’s inaugural 2013 season. She’ll bring a wealth of experience to this fresh-start club after returning from playing in Canada’s international friendlies.

🏆 Defense wins championships

SOURCE: CHICAGO RED STARS

Casey Krueger (née Short), Chicago Red Stars, Defender: With USWNT defenders Julie Ertz and Tierna Davidson away at friendlies, the Red Stars will rely heavily on Krueger, who started every game for Chicago during last year’s Challenge Cup run.

Abby Erceg, North Carolina Courage, Defender: This lockdown defender was named to the 2020 Challenge Cup Best XI and, heads up, she can get it done on offense too. Get you a girl who can do both.

Bella Bixby, Portland Thorns FC, Goalkeeper: Bixby’s breakout performance during the first few games of last year’s Challenge Cup was sadly cut short due to an ACL tear. We can’t wait to watch the Oregon-native run it back in her home market this year.

Ashlyn Harris, Orlando Pride, Goalkeeper: After being left off the USWNT roster for upcoming friendlies and the Pride missing out on the 2020 tournament, we’re expecting big things from Harris in her Challenge Cup debut. Talk about mom goals.

🏅2022 Beijing Winter Olympics Controversy

April 08, 2021
Source: AP
Source: AP

The details: Earlier this week, a U.S. State Department official suggested that the U.S. may boycott the Beijing Olympics in response to China’s severe human rights violations, and Canadian politicians have also suggested a similar idea.

  • The Biden administration suggested that they would speak with allies about a joint approach, in what would be the first American-led Olympics boycott since they organized the 65-nation boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in the USSR.
  • In response, China’s government warned against a boycott (obviously), citing a “robust Chinese response” if the U.S. went ahead with it.

The decision: While the governments toss around rumors, the National Olympic Committees will make the final call, and so far, both the US and Canadian Olympic Committees have rejected the idea. Both committees have acknowledged that a boycott would ineffectively use athletes as pawns.