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Davis Cup: Fritz pulls US level with Italy in quarterfinals

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MÁLAGA, Spain (AP) — Taylor Fritz pulled the United States level with Italy at 1-1 in the Davis Cup quarterfinals on Thursday after Frances Tiafoe lost his singles. The tie will be decided in doubles.

No. 9-ranked Fritz beat Lorenzo Musetti 7-6 (8), 6-3 on the indoor hard-court in Málaga after Lorenzo Sonego used his big serve to defeat Tiafoe a 6-3, 7-6 (7).

American pair Tommy Paul and Jack Sock were slotted to play Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini in doubles.

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Fritz hit 12 aces and converted one break to better the No. 23-ranked Musetti for a second time after beating him at Wimbledon in June.

Sonego, ranked No. 45, struck 17 aces and never ceded a service game to Tiafoe. Sonego clinched the win after Tiafoe netted a forehand following a long rally to end the second-set tiebreaker.

“I feel like I let my guys down,” Tiafoe said. “It’s tough. It has been a great season for me and I wanted to win for my team, so (I feel) some extra frustration because it is not about me, it is about the team.”

No. 19-ranked Tiafoe, who reached the U.S. Open semifinals in September, won their only previous meeting at the Paris Masters just over three weeks ago.

This time Sonego took the initiative, Tiafoe said.

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“A couple of weeks ago I was playing very aggressive, running him around, hitting much harder; today he was,” Tiafoe added.

Sonego saved two set points while serving 6-5 down in the second set to force the tiebreaker. He said he drew on the loud Italian fans who showed up to support him in Spain, which is home to more than 250,00 Italians.

“It was an amazing atmosphere,” Sonego said. “We are in Málaga, not too far (from home). I really enjoyed every moment on the court with the crowd.”

Italy is playing without its top two players as Jannik Sinner heals an injured finger and Matteo Berrettini recovers from a hurt foot.

The U.S. holds a record 32 Davis Cup trophies, but its last one came in 2007 under the previous format of ties being held at host countries instead of the revamped event where the final eight teams gather in one spot for a week of tennis.

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Later, Germany plays Canada in the quarterfinals.

On Wednesday, Croatia, led by Marin Cilic advanced after beating a Spain side that was missing Rafael Nadal and No. 1-ranked Carlos Alcaraz.

Croatia will face Australia in the semifinals after it beat the Netherlands on Tuesday.

The final is on Sunday.

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Croatia’s Kramaric thanks Herdman for motivating team with ‘eff’ comment

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In the end, it was the Croatians who got the last word.

After thrashing Canada 4-1 in their World Cup match on Sunday, Croatian player Andrej Kramaric had some pointed words for his opponents and, more specifically, head coach John Herdman.

“I want to thank the (Canada) coach for the motivation. In the end, Croatia demonstrated who eff’d whom,” Kramaric said, through an interpreter.

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Herdman had raised the ire of the Croatians after his team fell 1-0 to Belgium in their opening match, despite outplaying them. Asked what he’d told his players after that match, Herdman said: “I told them they belong here and we’re going to go and eff— Croatia. That’s as simple as it gets.”

The Croatians took note, and got the last laugh.

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Wiebe’s World: Kirill’s thrills balanced by grit, work ethic

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — When it comes to Minnesota Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov, you need to look beyond the surface-level statistics to gauge his full impact.

Sure, the highlight-reel moments have been plentiful for the fifth round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft — including a between-the-legs shot he generated during a power play before burying his own rebound on Friday — but one of the most important contributions Kaprizov is making relates to how he handles himself in this pursuit of excellence.

“His team-first mentality,” Wild head coach Dean Evason said earlier this week. “Yeah, he scores pretty goals and beautiful goals, but he scores more gritty goals than he scores pretty ones and he cares more about that end result than that scoresheet result.”

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That may seem like a simple premise, but it’s an integral one when it comes to building a successful team.

Going into Sunday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, Kaprizov had put together an eight-game point streak and is once again leading the Wild offensively, with 12 goals and 24 points while averaging just under 21 minutes of ice time.

“He’s a game-changer offensively,” said Wild defenceman Alex Goligoski, who recently eclipsed 1,000 NHL games. “When you can add a guy like that to a team, it adds a different dynamic. You can control the puck a little bit more, he has the puck on his stick a lot during games and you can kind of change the way the rest of the team plays. When he has the puck so much, it can kind of filter down.”

That production is important, but it’s what Kaprizov does behind the scenes that his teammates appreciate most.

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Goligoski spent parts of four seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins early in his career and he sees some parallels between Kaprizov and Pens’ captain Sidney Crosby.

Although they play different positions and bring different styles to the table, there’s a common thread that sticks out.

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“He’s just a hard-working guy. He’s very humble. He’ll do anything to win,” said Goligoski. “The way that he competes in practices, it’s crazy. He drags guys with him and I can’t say enough about what it means to have your best player be your hardest worker.

“Not that they’re comparable players at this point in his career, but when I was with Pittsburgh, that’s how Sid was. Just that work ethic every day. You’ve got no choice. You’re dragged into it. You’re either doing it too or you’re going to look like an idiot. It’s huge to have on your team.”

Kaprizov burst onto the scene during the 2020-21 season that was shortened because of the pandemic, racking up 27 goals and 51 points in 55 games. He followed that up by recording 47 goals and 108 points in 81 games last season.

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“I was just very impressed, I didn’t know much about him. I played against him a couple of times. He was a good player, but you hadn’t seen him too much,” said Goligoski, who was with the Coyotes when he got his first look at Kaprizov. “Just getting on his team and seeing him every day, you realize how good he is and how special he is. I had no idea.

“He’s so good on his edges. He’s heavy and he competes and obviously his skill takes over after that. He’s a very, very impressive player.”

Wild winger Jordan Greenway got his first viewing of Kapirzov at the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship and he remembers the strategy Team USA tried to employ whenever the Russian forward was on the ice.

“In that game, it was basically, ‘Don’t let him get the puck,’” said Greenway. “I (also) played against him in the (2018) Olympics, so I knew what he was about and it was never a question of whether he was going to do well or not over here. Now that he’s here, he’s obviously found a way to make a name for himself very early and I think it’s just the beginning for him.”

One of the things teammates and opponents alike recognize about Kaprizov is his willingness to go to the hard areas.

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“When you thought of the Wild, you thought of tight-checking, defensive, gritty, Mikko Koivu-led team,” said Jets defenceman Brenden Dillon. “I played with Brent Burns (with the San Jose Sharks) for a bunch of years and that’s kind of what he knew about the team as well. That was their culture and that was how they were going to win games. Of course, when you bring in a dynamic player like him, it does change things.

“For him, you’ve got to know when he’s on the ice. He’s not just one of those skilled guys where you hit him and cross-check him and he’s going to go away. He’s got some feistiness to him.”

THIS LOOKS FAMILIAR

What an interesting stat provided by Colorado Avalanche media relations director Brendan McNicholas.

Following Saturday’s win over the Dallas Stars, the Avalanche’s record through 18 games is the exact same as last season — when the organization captured the Stanley Cup — and eerily similar over the past four seasons:

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2022-23:  11-6-1

2021-22:  11-6-1

2020-21:  11-6-1

2019-20:  11-5-2

The most impressive thing about this season’s start is that the Avalanche have been dealing with injuries to a number of key cogs, including captain Gabe Landeskog (out for the entire season with a knee injury), power forward Valeri Nichushkin (limited to seven games), centreman Darren Helm (zero games), and defencemen Sam Girard (13 games) and Bowen Byram (10 games), among others.

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Forward Evan Rodrigues was added to the list of players on the shelf earlier this week.

Combating the dreaded Stanley Cup hangover is a subject we dealt with in this space in a previous edition of Wiebe’s World, but since starting 4-4-1 the Avalanche have found their stride, winning seven of the past nine games (7-2) to move into a tie for second in the Central Division in points (three points behind the Stars with three games in hand) and a tie with the Jets for first place in the division in points percentage (.658).

The Avalanche are up to third in the NHL in goal differential at plus-21 — the league-leading Boston Bruins are first at plus-38.

The trio of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar are leading the offensive charge for the Avalanche, but 2022 trade-deadline acquisition Artturi Lehkonen has continued to be a perfect fit.

In addition to his defensively-conscious play, Lehkonen is benefitting from his enhanced role in the lineup and is riding a career-high nine-game point streak (four goals, 11 points over that span).

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Lehkonen, who was signed to a five-year extension worth $22.5 million ($4.5 million AAV) on July 13 after being acquired from the Montreal Canadiens, is up to six goals and 17 points this season.

Lehkonen’s career-high for goals came (18) during his rookie season with the Canadiens in 2016-17 while his highest point total (31) came in 2018-19. Expect both of those marks to be updated by the versatile forward from Finland.

EXTRA ATTACKER WOES

Over the course of the season, teams are going to score a fair share of empty-net goals and give up a few when the opposition pulls its goalie in favour of an extra attacker.

It was a wild week for the Jets on that front as they gave up a grand total of five extra-attacker goals in two games over a three-game span – including three against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday and two more against the Stars on Friday.

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Oddly enough, the Jets found a way to win both of those games in overtime on Josh Morrissey goals.

But it’s an area that requires some extra attention.

“That’s a lot. That’s a large number,” said Jets centre Adam Lowry. “The Carolina ones, you look and I think a little bit of it is on our composure and our poise with the puck. We give up the one, a lot of them are shots from the wall, they do a great job of getting traffic and getting numbers to the net and sticks on pucks. There are certain instances there where… guys had the puck on their stick, and could’ve made plays to end the game, but we didn’t. Ultimately it comes back and kind of bites us. It was the same thing (Friday) night. It’s a face-off won here, it’s getting in the shot lane. That’s kind of the difference from earlier on.

“We were pretty successful at icing games, (up) to now it’s such a razor-thin margin for error. You get in a shot lane, you win a face-off, you get the puck down, you get the open net, it changes from giving up five in a week to you’ve iced two games. It’s small tweaks. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s just (being) a little sharper at certain times in the game and that’ll be the difference.”

Now, it’s worth noting the fifth extra-attacker goal that was allowed came with goalie Connor Hellebuyck laying on the ice without a mask after it was knocked off by Stars captain Jamie Benn — so that goal from Jason Robertson essentially came with an open Jets net.

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Still, there are a few areas that Jets head coach Rick Bowness would like to see improvement in, even if it means rolling out different personnel to protect those late leads.

“Where are the goals coming from? They’re all coming from the point. So it’s not like we’re getting beat by three or four quick plays, or we’re running around and they’re taking advantage of it. That’s not the case,” said Bowness. “The four goals are, and I’m not even including that fifth goal because that’s not even… that’s another discussion. Don’t worry about the fifth goal. The four are all point shots.

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“We know where the problems are. When that happens, the forwards have got to do a better job of getting in the lane. And don’t expect to be out there at that point if you’re not willing to block a shot, because that’s all that is, is a point shot. And they’re seeing-eyes right now and they’re going through bodies and they’re going in. OK, sometimes you have to live with that and that’s happening. But identify where they are coming from, and what’s the solution? The solution is to start blocking some shots and if you don’t want to block a shot, don’t expect to be out on the ice in those situations. You’re either going to block the shot or you’re not going to be out there.”

RAPID FIRE

The two longest point streaks in the NHL were extended on Saturday, with Mitch Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs hitting 16 against the Penguins and the aforementioned Robertson reaching 15 against the Avalanche. Marner has five goals and 22 points during that span, while Robertson has 16 goals and 28 points. Robertson moved into the NHL goal-scoring lead (18) by denting the twine six times this week and had a seventh overturned by a coach’s challenge for a missed stoppage…Incredible goalie stat for Ilya Sorokin of the New York Islanders. Not only is he having an awesome start to the season, but his propensity for shutouts is impressive. In 88 career starts for the Islanders, he’s already reached 12 shutouts, which means 13.6 per cent of his starts have resulted in a shutout. The Islanders continue to sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division, six points behind the New Jersey Devils…Speaking of those Devils, if you thought they were going to go away after the Maple Leafs snapped their 13-game winning streak (on a night they had three goals disallowed), think again. The Devils have won two games since that 2-1 loss, the most recent coming in convincing fashion, 5-1 over the Washington Capitals in a contest that saw Jack Hughes notch his first career hat trick. Hughes is up to 11 goals and 25 points on the season, tied for the team points lead with Jesper Bratt. With 12 wins in November, the Devils are tied with the Bruins for first in the NHL in points and are second in points percentage.


If you’ve got a topic you’d like to see explored in this space, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at wiebesworld9@gmail.com.

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Odell Beckham Jr. sweepstakes update: Cowboys, Giants, Bills in play

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The Odell Beckham Jr. sweepstakes appears to be entering its final stages, and per a new report, the Cowboys are considered the favorites to sign the receiver.



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