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Thriving under pressure, Team Fleury stays perfect as do-or-die games draw near

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SASKATOON — Every other afternoon game had wrapped up already, and Sherry Middaugh figured this was the perfect scenario: All eyes at Sasktel Centre were on her skip, Tracy Fleury, who was about to throw the final rock in an extra end that would make or break the game.

“Pressure,” Middaugh said, later. “That’s going to mimic being in the playoffs.”

In other words, the moment served as perfect preparation for what could be ahead at Canada’s Olympic Trials when the do-or-die games get underway this weekend, if you ask the coach of the No. 1-ranked women’s team in the world.

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And when Fleury, in that pressure cooker, floated her rock by a guard and stuck for three and the decisive win, she smiled a bit and then slid down the ice to give her teammates and coach high-fives. And then she slid off the ice.

“I’m sure she’s stressed and a bundle of nerves inside,” Middaugh said, following her team’s fifth straight win at Canada’s Olympic curling trials on Wednesday afternoon. “But she really doesn’t show it.”

Fleury sure doesn’t, though the skip did admit it was “nice to feel some nerves out there,” during this latest victory, even if you’d need a microscope to spot them.

“She’s got the perfect temperament for skip,” Middaugh said. “And you don’t often see that.”

The Sudbury-born Fleury and her team are the lone perfect rink on the women’s side here at the Roar of the Rings, with three games to go before the weekend’s playoff round begins (the top three teams here advance).

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“It was nice for us to pull off a close one,” Fleury said after that 9-6 extra ends win over Jacqueline Harrison’s team from Hamilton, Ont. “It gives us a little bit of confidence.”

Just a little bit of confidence — is that all? Fleury, lead Kristin MacCuish, second Liz Fyfe and third Selena Njegovan should be feeling more than a little confident. The team came into this event riding a high, after winning three titles earlier this season, including defending their Masters title last month on the Grand Slam of Curling circuit.

Coach Middaugh is riding a hot streak herself. The four-time Scotties bronze medallist (last in 2008) won her third straight Ontario senior women’s championship over the weekend, and had to miss the first two games here to defend her title. She didn’t arrive in Saskatoon until Monday morning.

“I felt very guilty at our event, and watching the line scores and just wanting to be here,” she said, but the team had done a mock-up of this scenario, knowing beforehand of the conflict. And Team Fleury got off to a hot start here, earning wins against another Manitoban foursome led by Kerri Einarson and then defeating Edmonton’s Kelsey Rocque.

Fleury had been curling near-perfect heading into Wednesday, and despite opening with a deuce against Harrison, she had a few misses in this latest win. She sent her final rock long in the second end and Harrison stole two to even things up, and the teams went back and forth to force the 11th and final end. Fleury curled a tournament-low 73 per cent.

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“We got away with kind of a sloppy game and still got a win out of it,” Middaugh said. “It’s in our hands, which is great — we don’t have to rely on someone else. The games are under our belt, there’s three more and we just have to continue on.”

Team Jones skip Jennifer Jones throws against Team Harrison during Draw 3 of the 2021 Canadian Olympic curling trials in Saskatoon, Sunday, November 21, 2021. (Liam Richards/CP)



Fleury’s final round-robin game comes against the fellow Manitoban rink led by the legend that is Jennifer Jones. It’s Jones (she’s 5-1 here) that Fleury beat in the final of the Masters last month.

Should Team Fleury come out of these Trials as the winners, Middaugh, who has a busy schedule — she has another curling bonspiel in a week-and-a-half — will be sure to clear her schedule for the Olympics. She placed second at Trials herself back in 2013.

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“I hate to say it, I would probably miss my own daughter’s wedding,” she said of the Games, laughing. “But thankfully, I don’t need to.”

That’s still a long way away, of course. For now, Team Fleury will continue doing what they’re doing, relaxing between games and trying to continue to rack up wins.

Being 5-0 is a good start, though. Said Fleury, just a few minutes after she’d thrown that last rock in that pressure-filled situation: “It feels good.”



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Flames Takeaways: PTO hopefuls lacklustre in attempts to secure top-nine vacancy

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Two tryouts for the Calgary Flames all but officially ended Wednesday night, as another one began.

With the Flames looking to shore up their lines and pairings in preparation for next week’s season opener, it was telling that the starting lineup in Wednesday’s 5-0 loss in Winnipeg did not include PTO hopefuls Sonny Milano or Cody Eakin.

Neither appears destined to stick with the team much longer.    

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Instead, the Flames got their first look at the 6-foot-6, 220-pound winger they plucked off waivers Monday from Pittsburgh, Radim Zohorna.

As hard as it is to miss a man of that size, the 26-year-old did little to impress on the third line with Adam Ruzicka and Blake Coleman.

In ten minutes of ice time he had one shot on a goal — a solid rebound chance in tight — and two hits.

To be fair, he joined the team at their morning skate Wednesday and will benefit from a practice Thursday before getting another look in Friday’s pre-season finale, at home against the Jets.

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“I know I can be an NHL player full time,” said the man who played 25 NHL games over the last two seasons with the Penguins.

“I try to play hard, and physical, and use my speed. I will have an opportunity to make the team here and play with these guys.”

Based on the advice of Flames scout Steve Pleau, Zohorna was brought in with hopes he can help shore up a top-nine vacancy the Flames have tried in vain to fill through camp.

By virtue of a solid camp and winning another fitness testing title, Dillon Dube has earned the chance to fill the second line role alongside Nazem Kadri and Andrew Mangiapane.

He had another strong outing with them Wednesday, firing five shots on goal and providing energy on a line that should be a crowd pleaser for Dome dwellers.

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Depending on how many players the Flames want to keep on their roster ahead of Thursday’s opener, Zohorna or Brett Ritchie could be a candidate to be placed on waivers with an eye on going to the AHL Wranglers.

But the Oilers had interest in Ritchie, so he might not clear.

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The Flames will also have an interesting decision to make on the back end, as they have nine defencemen in camp, which includes Michael Stone on a PTO.

Stone has been great in camp and will earn a deal in some fashion from the team, although it may have to wait past the opener.

That leaves the possibility of having to try pushing Connor Mackey, Juuso Valimaki or Nicolas Meloche through waivers.  

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NOTES
+ The game’s first star was former Flames backup David Rittich, who made 37 saves for the shutout as part of his preparation to play for his fourth NHL team. 

+ Despite the score, it was another good showing from starter Dan Vladar, who allowed two power play goals on 15 shots before he made his scheduled departure. All told, the Flames backup has compiled an impressive .942 save percentage this fall. Dustin Wolf was hung out to dry by a series of Flames mistakes, allowing three goals on 11 shots.

+ With the lineup just two or three bodies short of its opening day look, the Flames top power play unit included Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri, Elias Lindholm, Tyler Toffoli and Rasmus Andersson. Lindholm rang one off the iron in the second period, but the unit went 0-for-6 on a night the team struggled with special teams.

The second unit included Dube, Ruzicka, Andrew Mangiapane, Noah Hanifin and Stone/MacKenzie Weegar.

+ One thing that has looked razor sharp for the Flames through the first six games was its penalty killing unit, which stymied the opposition on 25 of the first 26 man-advantages over six games. On Wednesday they allowed three goals on five chances, which had plenty to do with Flames mistakes and the fact two chief penalty killers, Mikael Backlund and Trevor Lewis, did not dress.  

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+ The Flames (4-3 in the pre-season) open their regular season Thursday against the defending champs from Colorado. 

“Funny how that worked out,” said former Avs star Nazem Kadri.

“I’m hoping maybe I’ll get my ring then.”

THE LINES

Huberdeau-Lindholm-Toffoli

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Dube-Kadri-Mangiapane

Zohorna-Ruzicka-Coleman

Lucic-Rooney-Ritchie

Weegar-Tanev 

Hanifin-Stone 

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Zadorov-Andersson 

Vladar

Wolf

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C.J. Stroud, Caleb Williams highlight Joel Klatt's Heisman Tiers

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Joel Klatt released his Heisman Trophy tiers on the latest episode of “The Joel Klatt Show.” See who made the cut.



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NBA pre-season roundup: Raptors maintain perfect record with win over Celtics

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BOSTON (AP) — Pascal Siakam and Precious Achiuwa scored 13 points apiece and Toronto used an early burst in overtime to beat Boston 125-119 on Wednesday.

Josh Jackson also had 13 points for the Raptors. Siakam recorded six rebounds and Achiuwa seven boards as the Raptors improved to 2-0 in the preseason.

Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 23 points and Sam Hauser had 22, connecting on 8 of 12 shots, including 5 of 8 from outside the arc. Jayson Tatum finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds for Boston, now 1-1 in the preseason.

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Payton Pritchard scored 17 points and had five assists

The teams were tied at 110 at the end of regulation after Jeff Dowtin (10 points) converted a 9-footer for the Raptors. Pritchard’s 18-footer was off the mark as time in regulation ran out, sending the game to the extra period.

The Raptors outscored the Celtics 11-4 to open overtime and never relinquished the lead.

76ERS 113, CAVALIERS 112

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Joel Embiid and James Harden were done with their preseason debuts long before Montrezl Harrell scored the go-ahead basket with 26 seconds left to lift Philadelphia over Cleveland.

Embiid had 12 points and six rebounds in 18 minutes before taking a seat after halftime. Harden played 19 minutes and scored nine points, going 3 of 9 from the field but adding five assists.

Tyrese Maxey, who had 20 points in Monday’s win over the Nets, continued his good start to the preseason, leading Philadelphia with 21 points in the first half. He went 9 of 11, making all three of his 3-pointers. Harrell, who signed a two-year contract with Philadelphia during the offseason, scored 13 points.

Mitchell scored 16 points in his first game since being traded from Utah, while Darius Garland and Raul Neto each had 12. Dean Wade and Sharife Cooper finished with 11 points apiece.

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Cleveland played without second-year big man Evan Mobley, who is expected to be out a couple of weeks with a right ankle sprain suffered this week.

The Cavaliers got an optimistic glimpse of the backcourt tandem of Mitchell with Garland in the first half. Mitchell was 6 of 9 for the game, including 3 of 4 from outside the arc to go with five assists. Garland, meanwhile, made 4 of 7 shots and handed out four assists.

Shake Milton had 12 points for Philadelphia, while De’Anthony Melton, picked up from Memphis in a draft night trade, had 11 points, four rebounds and three assists.

PACERS 122; HORNETS 97

Aaron Nesmith scored 16 points, rookie Benedict Mathurin, the No. 6 pick in the draft from Arizona, added 15 and Indiana beat Charlotte.

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Isaiah Jackson finished with 13 points for the Hornets, while Myles Turner and Chris Duarte contributed 12 points apiece. Mathurin was 5 of 10 from the field, despite missing all four of his 3-pointers over 19 minutes.

Terry Rozier led the Hornets with 18 points and P.J. Washington finished with 13. Kelly Oubre Jr. had 11 points and nine rebounds, while LeMelo Ball scored 12 points and handed out seven assists.

MAVERICKS 98; THUNDER 96

Jaden Hardy scored 21 points, Christian Wood finished with 16 points and 13 rebounds, and Dallas used a fourth-quarter rally to beat Oklahoma City.

Dwight Powell finished with 13 points and five rebounds for the Mavericks in their opening game of the preseason.

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Josh Giddey led the Thunder with 13 points, shooting 6 for 10. Rookie Jalen Williams, the 12th overall pick out of Santa Clara, finished with 10 points.



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