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GSOC’s Boost National serves as first ‘major’ test for new teams

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NORTH BAY, Ont. — New team, who dis? There are a lot of familiar faces in new places playing in the Boost National, the first major tournament of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season, which starts Tuesday at Memorial Gardens.

Featuring the top-ranked teams in the men’s and women’s divisions, the Boost National also serves as the first major test for those who retooled their rosters over the off-season as they now prepare for the 2026 Winter Olympic Games.

For some, it’s not only adjusting to new teammates but also to new roles. Kaitlyn Lawes, who played third for Jennifer Jones for 12 seasons, winning Olympic gold and six Grand Slam titles, has now returned to her skip roots and is calling the shots with the all-new Team Lawes.

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Even just seeing the Team Lawes scoreboard sign for the first time following Monday’s pre-tournament practice brought a huge smile to the face of the 33-year-old from Winnipeg.

“We are so excited to play in our first Slam together,” said Lawes, who won back-to-back Canadian junior titles as a skip in 2008 and 2009. “I actually can’t believe we’re here. We have a couple of events under our belts already. We’re just excited to get started.”

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After the members of Team Jones announced they were parting ways, Lawes retained second Jocelyn Peterman and linked up with third Selena Njegovan and lead Kristin MacCuish, both formerly of Team Fleury.

A “flurry” of team changes is exactly what we saw in both the women’s and men’s divisions.

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Brendan Bottcher was among those who cleaned house, and the three-time Grand Slam men’s champion acquired some marquee talent in third Marc Kennedy (Team Jacobs), second Brett Gallant (Team Gushue) and lead Ben Hebert (Team Koe). All three of his new teammates have been to the Olympics and on the podium to boot. Kennedy and Hebert claimed gold together at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games while Kennedy also collected bronze alongside Gallant earlier this year in Beijing.

The Olympics is where Bottcher would like to see himself in four years, but it is a long and bumpy road and the 30-year-old from Edmonton acknowledged: “There are a lot of dominoes between here and there.”

“There’s going to be highs and lows and I just want to focus on working hard,” Bottcher said. “I think I’m with a great group of guys. I know everyone is going to work hard and then you’ve got to let the chips fall where they lay out on the ice.”

While Lawes may face a steep learning curve readjusting to skipping, even Bottcher admitted he’s had to work on some things he hasn’t in a while.

“I think we’re all in the same boat having been with pretty established teams for a handful of years,” Bottcher said, referring to himself and his veteran teammates. “Just getting back to some of the communication, some of the smaller strategy things but even things as simple as, ‘What does a normal hit look like to you versus me?’

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“Kind of back to square one but we’ve put in a ton of time and our coach Paul [Webster] has helped us a pile. I think that’s really set us up for success here.” 

Both Team Bottcher and Team Lawes have found early success this season. Team Lawes started their year overseas finishing runners-up in the Oslo Cup before returning home to win the Mother Club Fall Classic in Winnipeg.

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“Getting the chance to go over to Norway and do some travelling together was one of the best ways we could start the season,” said Lawes, who was also a semifinalist at the new PointsBet Invitational in Fredericton, N.B. “It was fun just to get to know each other, hang out and see how we travel together.

“Honestly, I’m having so much fun and I have a lot of confidence in my teammates and vice versa. We’re really enjoying it so far.”

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Bottcher won his first event, going undefeated 6-0 through the Okotoks Classic in Okotoks, Alta., and reached the semifinals in the PointsBet Invitational.

“That new event that came into the calendar this year, the PointsBet Invitational, was awesome. I think that’s a great direction for our sport to go in,” Bottcher said, adding, “It feels like we’ve been a team for a long time. Hopefully, we can expand on that and have a really good week here.”

There will be growing pains along the way for sure as they’re still getting to know one another with Lawes looking at the Boost National as a learning experience.

“With us being a new team and year one, we just want to try and enjoy each other’s company, learn what kind of team we are and so far it’s been going well,” Lawes said. “We’re having a ton of fun on and off the ice. We just want to see how we match up against the top teams and play with no pressure.”

Bottcher’s team has embraced a “growth mindset” to start the year as they’re aiming to build towards a great second half of the season.

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“It’s obviously nice to have some success early,” he said, “but as much as we can set up for a good second half of the season, I think that’s what we’re after.”

NOTES: The Boost National is the first of six events on the 2022-23 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tour featuring 16 of the top men’s teams and 16 of the top women’s teams from around the world. … A $300,000 prize purse, split equally between the men’s and women’s divisions, is on the line. The winning teams receive $35,000 plus berths into the season-ending Kioti Tractor Champions Cup. … Points are also up for grabs in the chase for the Pinty’s Cup, which is awarded to the season champions based on their results in the series. … Broadcast coverage begins Thursday on Sportsnet, Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare (international).

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NFL odds Week 13: Insights on Packers-Bears, Commanders-Giants; Big bets

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Gambling Insider Patrick Everson explains how sharp bettors are playing conference championship games and what the big bets are for this weekend’s NFL games.



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NFL odds Week 13: Best bets for Commanders-Giants, Jets-Vikings

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Gambling Analyst Sammy P is back with his best NFL bets and the wagers to make for college football conference championship weekend.



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‘Bonfire Brady’ Tkachuk imposes will on opponents to spark Senators resurgence

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If this was the night the Ottawa Senators season turned around, what a night it was. 

The night Brady Tkachuk put the team on his back and carried his teammates to an overtime victory in Madison Square Garden. 

Bonfire Brady’s Tour de Force. 

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There were just enough fumes left from Tkachuk’s Big Night on Broadway for him to score Ottawa’s first of five goals Saturday night in a goofy but entertaining 5-2 romp over the San Jose Sharks

Talk about a back-to-back momentum shift. After so many early season hiccups and setbacks, the Senators have suddenly won four of their past five and are no longer alone in last place in the Atlantic Division. They are tied with the Buffalo Sabres, and within shouting distance of the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings.

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Giroux ignites crowd

Saturday’s win over San Jose, featuring three Sens power-play goals against a stingy penalty kill unit, was important for a couple of reasons. It kept the Manhattan mojo going and energized one of the largest gates of the season at the Canadian Tire Centre – 17,101. Given that this was the only Saturday home date of December, the upper suites were brimming with company Christmas party revelers, busting for a good time. 

The Sens gave it to them. Nothing was more entertaining than a wild sequence in the third period, which started with a 4-on-3 kill by the home team, the score 4-2 Ottawa at the time. Defenceman Travis Hamonic broke his stick, making it 4-on-2.5. Somehow, the Sens survived, with goaltender Anton Forsberg stopping a flurry of shots. As the penalty to Thomas Chabot expired, the puck squirted free to Claude Giroux, who had a two-on-none break. 

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And so Giroux – takes a slapshot???

And scores, of course. His second of the game and 11th of the season for the cagy veteran. 

The CTC exploded with noise as their hometown hero delivered with such panache. 

“Between periods, I told Pinto I was going to score on a slapshot, so I didn’t really have a choice,” Giroux said later, typically deadpan. He added that it’s the loudest he has heard the building since he joined the Sens in the off-season. 

“That’s why you play the game,” Giroux added, acknowledging the crowd.

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Tkachuk called the slapshot goal “vintage ‘G’” and “almost the loudest moment that I’ve heard in this rink when that happened. So, it’s definitely exciting.”

Tkachuk game for the ages

As fun as Saturday’s victory was for the home fans, those watching on TV the night before saw a signature performance by a young Ottawa captain who would make a fine comic book superhero. 

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“Bonfire Brady” had one for the franchise annals. Playing in his 300th game, Tkachuk scored his 100th career goal to send a frenetic, playoff-style game against the host New York Rangers into overtime. After surviving a breakaway by former Senator Mika Zibanejad, the Senators counted on Captain Brady for the OT winner, racing clear to tuck a five-hole backhand shot past Igor Shesterkin, who had been brilliant for the Rangers. Career goal No. 101 for Tkachuk, and his 11th of the season in this breakout offensive year. 

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Tkachuk leads the Sens in goals (12), assists (17) and points (29) and is on pace for 99 points.

Wasn’t it enough that Tkachuk led with his heart and his fists? Now he’s the offensive catalyst, too. 

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“I think all you guys know, you saw it, he steps up in big games,” said linemate Tim Stützle, grinning. “That’s what he did (Friday). The whole team played well, everybody followed him . . . and that move in OT, I didn’t know he had that in his bag, there.”

Tkachuk’s game-tying goal, scored on a tip of a Chabot shot, marked the first time the Senators have made a third-period comeback this season, and was their first goal scored with their goalie pulled for an extra skater. That tip is a play Tkachuk works on every day in practice.

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Incredibly, Tkachuk has already scored five career overtime winners with the Senators, placing him tied for fourth on the all-time team list. 

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Weirdly, ‘Bonfire Brady’ scored three points (2+1) in his 300th game, just as his father, Walt Tkachuk, did in his 300th game. Of course, Brady is carved from the same granite rock from which ‘Walt’ was created. 

As much as I hate the expression, there was a so-called “Gordie Howe” hat trick on this night. Tkachuk did have a fight, goal (2) and assist in this thriller at MSG. (Howe’s son, Marty, once said the Gordie hat trick should have more accurately described a goal, assist and cross-check to the face. No one wanted to fight Howe). They soon won’t want to fight Tkachuk, who is built like an oak tree, much like Howe. 

At centre ice, Tkachuk fought Rangers captain Jacob Trouba, who was trying to get his team going – coasting a bit against a Sens team that had handled 3-1 in Ottawa last Wednesday.

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No big deal, Tkachuk shrugged. 

“Usually I don’t really think about it,” Tkachuk said about the timing of his fights. “Whenever it happens it happens. 

What a guy, this No. 7. 

In their 30-year history, the Senators have never had a player who brings such a complete package – an elite power forward who can impose his will on a game. A young man who stirs the bench like stirring a drink, still coming into his prime. An animated Tkachuk was jumping up and down on the bench as little Alex DeBrincat was mixing it up in a mini-line scrap near the players’ benches late in the game. 

“I was fired up, for sure,” Tkachuk said. “It’s one of the best parts of the game – when guys are protecting each other . . . whatever it takes to win.”

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Daniel Alfredsson, the longest-serving Senators captain at 13 seasons, was a Hall of Fame captain, a clutch performer with a lot of heart. But he certainly was not an imposing physical figure like the 6-4, 220-pound Tkachuck. Alfie was approaching 27 when he was named captain, already a mature leader. Jason Spezza, an artist and student of the game, had a tough task following Alfie’s footsteps. Erik Karlsson led with his skill. Ditto for Alexei Yashin, who preceded Alfredsson. The early captains, from Laurie Boschman to Randy Cunneyworth, were veteran placeholders until the first group of young stars could emerge, Alfredsson, Marian Hossa etc. 

(A neat aside: Karlsson told reporters prior to Saturday’s game that he spent Friday evening with Alfredsson watching the Sens game. Two former captains watching the new guy on the job flourish). Tkachuk opened Saturday’s game by pounding Karlsson into the boards, heavily. 

Behold this 23-year-old captain, out of the second great youth wave in Ottawa, the rebuild of 2018-22. Tkachuk was the youngest of the ten captains in franchise history when he was given the ‘C’ last November at age 22. 

He was the obvious choice, even if not everyone saw him as the obvious draft choice of 2018. 

When Ottawa drafted him fourth overall, there were comments made about his eight-goal total in his final season at Boston University. Did he score enough to merit a top-five selection at the NHL draft? Never mind that he also had 23 assists for a very respectable 31 points in 40 games.  

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Senators scouts and GM Pierre Dorion saw enough then of what we see today, a kid who simply refuses to back down from any situation. A true winner. With upside as an offensive player, already demonstrated by his brother, Matthew, in Calgary and Florida. 

Now that offensive side of Brady is emerging on a nightly basis. He doesn’t take as many low-percentage shots as he did those first few years, when he was often trying to jam pucks home from the side of the crease. His shot is crisper and sneaky heavy. On breakaways, especially in overtime, it’s usually a done deal. 

Senators head coach D.J. Smith is endlessly praising Tkachuk for his ability to “drag his team into battle.” As a former tough guy defenceman, who loves old school hockey, Smith couldn’t have a more perfect prototype as captain. 

And it was Tkachuk who was most outspoken when fans called for Smith’s firing, over a fourth straight slow start to the season. Despite the team’s record, Tkachuk railed against the “negativity” surrounding Smith’s status. That talk has quieted, to be sure. 

It may take some time for Ottawa’s roster to flesh out into a true contender. 

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When it does, the Sens will have a captain absolutely built to lead them in the playoffs. Their impish comic book superhero who pounds opponents into submission and comes up smiling.

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