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Oilers, Flames focused on finishing season on high note amid playoff push

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CALGARY  —As the National Hockey League playoffs appear on the horizon, and the two Alberta teams lock horns for one last time on a Cowtown Saturday night, we’d ask you this: 

What’s more important? Where you finish, or how you’re playing when the finish line arrives? 

The Calgary Flames, who have surfed atop the Pacific Division all season long, would take solace in the fact they’ve earned first place. They are the best team in Alberta through 82 games — have no doubt about that — but their reward could well be a wildcard opponent that is as good as or perhaps more dangerous than the Los Angeles Kings team that looks more and more like Edmonton’s Round 1 draw. 

Of course, the Oilers, who could finish second in the Pacific if their play continues on its current trajectory, would say the former. All they need to be is the best team for two weeks, in Round 1 against L.A., and in Rd. 2 vs. the Flames, should the Hockey Gods be so kind as to grant us our first Battle of Alberta playoff series since 1991. 

“There are certain matchups you might like better,” began Edmonton defenceman Tyson Barrie. “But you’ve seen it over the years: Once you’re in, it’s anybody’s game. 

“If you’re playing at your top-level going into the playoffs? That definitely suits you better.” 

Since Jan. 22, the Flames have the most points in the NHL (40). Guess who is second? 

Edmonton, with 37. That’s two months — not a good week or even a good month. 

Edmonton has acclimatized a new coaching staff, a couple of deadline pick-ups in Brett Kulak and Derick Brassard, and for the first time in forever Thursday night, it had an entirely healthy roster from which to choose 20 players. When Edmonton lost a 3-1 decision at Calgary two weeks ago, they were without six of the players who will populate their lineup on Saturday. 

Down in Calgary, the Flames appear a tad bored, losing two of their past three games to Buffalo and San Jose — a pair of teams the more desperate Oilers beat by a combined score of 11-3. Attention span shouldn’t be an issue for the Flames on Saturday, however, when the opponent arrives wearing blue and orange. 

“I am new to the Battle of Alberta,” said Zach Hyman, “but it seems not to matter what the standings are — (whether) one team is good or one team is bad. This year there are two very good teams and it is going to be a great matchup. They are first in our division and it is a rivalry that you don’t have to have played many games in to know how important it is to the fans here and the city. 

“I am looking forward to it, definitely.” 

This is the last meeting of the regular season between these two, a Hockey Night in Canada beauty as the NHL season hits the quarter pole with everybody’s lineups set post-trade deadline. 

In Edmonton, they have found enough wingers to sequester Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on their own lines, with a fourth-line that houses a couple of penalty killers and Zack Kassian, always a fan favourite at the Saddledome. 

In Calgary, head coach Darryl Sutter has shifted his top-six a tad, moving Matt Tkachuk to the second line. Suddenly, Sean Monahan is a question mark to even make the lineup on a given night, so lost is his personal game in a season where the Flames have so efficiently found their overall team chemistry. 

The Flames have, however, a trump card in Jacob Markstrom

Edmonton can start whomever they wish in goal, but when it comes time to check the box marked “goaltending,” neither Mikko Koskinen or Mike Smith will get the “X.” 

It’s an important “X,” no doubt. But is it the only factor? 

Not when you have the firepower that Edmonton possesses, and if it’s playing the right way — as it has been in stacking up a 6-1-1 run of late. 

“I think it’s all about peaking at the right time,” said Smith, who is doing just that. He has posted three quality starts since returning from illness, and like his team, he is playing his best hockey as the stretch run arrives.  

“We’ve done a lot of things here in the last few weeks that have given this team a lot of confidence. We feel like we can play with anybody in this league,” Smith said. “I can remember my first year in Arizona, we were kind of out of a playoff spot and then we ended up winning the division and going on a run where we were playing some of the best hockey that we played all season long. We weren’t supposed to do anything (and they went to the Western Conference Final). 

“So I think it’s more about how you’re playing going in, than where you (finish).” 

The only thing finishing on Saturday is the season series between Edmonton and Calgary, so far a 2-1 edge for Edmonton. 

Then they’ll say so long. Hopefully not goodbye. 



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Chelsea 2-0 Manchester City: Fran Kirby and Maren Mjelde goals secure first points of WSL title defence

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Kirby struck the opener in the 42nd minute and Mjelde added a spot-kick with 12 minutes of normal time remaining as Emma Hayes’ side bounced back from the shock 2-1 loss at Liverpool in their campaign opener last Sunday.

Gareth Taylor’s City created a number of chances, particularly in the first half, which included a Laura Coombs shot that Ann-Katrin Berger did superbly to divert against a post, but they were unable to save themselves from another loss following last weekend’s 4-3 reverse at Aston Villa.

After Chelsea threatened in the first few seconds of the contest, with Sam Kerr shooting wide, City exerted the greater pressure for much of the opening 45 minutes.

Chloe Kelly saw an attempt held by Berger – back in action for the first time since last month confirming a recurrence of thyroid cancer – and Khadija Shaw sent two efforts over the bar.

Berger subsequently palmed behind when Lauren Hemp tried to beat her at the near post in the 35th minute, before dealing with a deflected effort by Deyna Castellanos.

It was Chelsea who then grabbed the lead late in the half as Guro Reiten knocked the ball across the box to Kirby and the England playmaker, with Lionesses boss Sarina Wiegman watching on from the stands, side-footed home.

Moments later Berger pulled off a fine stop as her leg sent Coombs’ shot against the post. And as City then pushed again early in the second half, Laia Aleixandri flicked wide from a corner and Coombs had another shot saved by Berger.

But the visitors struggled to create much thereafter, while Chelsea sought a second goal with Lauren James curling one shot wide and having another saved by Ellie Roebuck, and Kirby firing over.

Hayes’ team were then awarded a penalty when substitute Sophie Ingle’s strike hit the arm of Leila Ouahabi, and defender Mjelde calmly converted past Roebuck from 12 yards.

Additional reporting by PA.



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Super League Grand Final: St Helens’ Jonny Lomax comes back from the brink to write name in history | Rugby League News

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Marc Bazeley

@MarcBazeley

Jonny Lomax was awarded the Harry Sunderland Trophy for player of the match as St Helens clinched an historic fourth-straight Betfred Super League Grand Final triumph with a 24-12 win over Leeds Rhinos; The half-back had previously considered calling time on his playing days due to injury

Last Updated: 25/09/22 1:50pm

Jonny Lomax was awarded the Harry Sunderland Trophy for his part in helping St Helens to a fourth-straight Grand Final win

Jonny Lomax was awarded the Harry Sunderland Trophy for his part in helping St Helens to a fourth-straight Grand Final win

Seven years ago, Jonny Lomax was contemplating whether he would even play rugby league again. Now the St Helens half-back’s name is in the history books for his pivotal role in helping them to a previously unprecedented fourth-straight Betfred Super League Grand Final triumph.

Knee injuries and surgery which saw him restricted to 15 games in 2014 and only five at the start of the 2015 campaign had worn Lomax down to the extent he had told his father he was going to call time on his playing career as he could not see himself going through the long rehabilitation process again.

The support of his family and Saints team-mates helped get him through those tough times though, and now the 32-year-old is a four-time Grand Final winner and Harry Sunderland Trophy recipient for his starring role in Saturday’s 24-12 win over Leeds Rhinos at Old Trafford.

“If I do go back to 2014 and 2015 when I was going into my third ACL operation and the rest of it, I probably did think my career was done and I didn’t want to go through it all again,” Lomax said, reflecting on his personal journey in the wake of that success.

“Thankfully, I’ve got fantastic people around me at home and in my immediate family and the boys here.

“I’d decided in my head – probably purely on emotion because it was emotional at the time – that’s me, I’m done and can’t see a way back.

“There were a few things that happened speaking with my family that probably turned that around.”

Highlights of the Super League Grand Final between St Helens and Leeds Rhinos.

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Highlights of the Super League Grand Final between St Helens and Leeds Rhinos.

Highlights of the Super League Grand Final between St Helens and Leeds Rhinos.

Along with the members of the Rugby League Writers and Broadcasters Association who voted Lomax as winning of the player of the match award, one other person who was effusive in his praise of the England international was St Helens’ departing head coach Kristian Woof.

The Australian, who is now preparing to lead Tonga at the upcoming Rugby League World Cup before returning home for his new role with NRL expansion club Dolphins, went as far as put Lomax’s contributions to the team’s success during his three seasons in charge alongside those of the club’s inspirational captain James Roby.

“You talk about hard work, selfless acts and what you’re prepared to do for your team-mates and it’s not just about turning up for a Grand Final and doing that,” Woolf said.

“A Grand Final is a reflection of what you do all the time and Robes leads from the front and this team is a reflection of him as a person and in terms of his work ethic and who he is as a player.

The award is nice, but it’s that trophy we’ve lifted as a team is what it’s all about for me. I’d sacrifice anything individually to be a part of this team and come away with the silverware because of the principles we’re about.

Grand Final player of the match Jonny Lomax

“But I’d put Jonny in the same boat, and you talk about two blokes who lead a group in the right direction and in all those things.

“There are no two harder workers, better people or more honest people and they are the reason why there is so much success in this team.”

Lomax, in turn, was quick to highlight Woolf’s contribution to a team which were already Grand Final winners under his predecessor Justin Holbrook and have gone on to establish a level of dominance in Super League hitherto unseen since rugby league’s switch to a summer sport in 1996.

A large part of that, he believes, is down to the 47-year-old’s beliefs aligning with those of the players and St Helens itself – those working-class values which became entrenched on the back of town’s growth as the centre of the glassmaking industry.

Jonny Lomax’s 2022 Grand Final statistics

Try assists 1
Metres made 155
Average metres gained 6
Tackle busts 5
Attacking kicks 9

“The principles Kristian is about as a person tie in very well with us,” Lomax said. “It’s about hard work, being honest and keep trying to show up for your mate and that togetherness.

“Kristian has instilled that into us, and he’s definitely made us tougher as a team to beat. It’s not always a perfect game, but one thing he has made us do is compete hard and keep showing up for each other.

“It’s probably instilled into us as well because St Helens is a working-class town, it’s the principles it is built on and that’s what we want to put onto the field, and that’s something Kristian has been strong in his belief in.”

That attitude of teamwork making the dream work will undoubtedly continue whoever succeeds Woolf as head coach for 2023, when Saints will be aiming for a barely imaginable five Grand Final wins in a row.

Jonny Lomax was proud of his St Helens team after they claimed their fourth Grand Final in a row after victory over Leeds Rhinos.

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Jonny Lomax was proud of his St Helens team after they claimed their fourth Grand Final in a row after victory over Leeds Rhinos.

Jonny Lomax was proud of his St Helens team after they claimed their fourth Grand Final in a row after victory over Leeds Rhinos.

And while Lomax was proud to have been awarded the Harry Sunderland Trophy, becoming the 11th individual St Helens player to win it since it was first presented in 1965, he would gladly swap it for another Grand Final ring.

“The award is nice, but it’s that trophy we’ve lifted as a team is what it’s all about for me,” Lomax said.

“I’d sacrifice anything individually to be a part of this team and come away with the silverware because of the principles we’re about.

“For me, it’s more being proud of being part of this group and that’s the biggest thing I’ll take away.”





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D.J. Uiagalelei bailed out Clemson’s defense this time around

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D.J. Uiagalelei threw for 371 yards and five touchdowns in Clemson's 51-45 win over Wake Forest

D.J. Uiagalelei threw for 371 yards and 5 touchdowns against Wake Forest
Image: Getty Images

Clemson fans finally got the game from D.J. Uiagalelei that they’ve been waiting for, finishing with 371 yards passing and five touchdowns. You’d figure that kind of day would lead to a blowout of No. 21 Wake Forest with the defense we’re accustomed to seeing from the Tigers. After two overtimes and more than 1,000 yards of total offense, the perennial conference champions held off the reigning kings of the ACC, 51-45.

Demon Deacon QB Sam Hartman tallied six touchdown passes, repeatedly hitting receivers for big plays — or pass-interference flags — up until the second overtime when the hopes of an upset were dashed on a fourth down heave to the endzone. Tiger cornerback Nate Wiggins, who was getting targeted all day, made the game-sealing pass breakup, and Dabo Swinney’s team escaped Winston-Salem with its winning streak — now at 10 — still intact.

As comforting as Uiagalelei’s performance was, the defense is just as concerning. The defensive front was without one of its best players, so they’re not at full strength. Yet they’ve shown some hints the past couple of weeks that they might be missing coordinator Brent Venables, and now those signs are blinking bright red.

I liked Wake Forest’s chances in Saturday’s game, but my questions were more about the quarterback. Clemson has allowed more than 40 points only five times in the past five-plus years. Notre Dame, LSU, Ohio State, and Pitt were responsible for the previous four, and now Wake Forest is on that list.

Outside of a one-play possession that ran out the final 14 seconds of the first half, Wake scored on five-straight drives from the second quarter to the fourth. Dave Clawson’s insistence on the run during the Deacs’ final chance at a score in regulation — Clemson’s only stop of the second half — was a weird strategy considering how hot Hartman was.

Saying Dabo out-coached him might not be accurate either as his equally hot offense wasn’t even given a chance to get within field goal range with 49 seconds left to try to win the game sans OT, and Wake hemorrhaging yards. (He also ran his kicker out for a 52-yarder to tie the game with four minutes left in the game, and his trust was rewarded as B.T. Potter drilled the kick.)

The day belonged to Uiagalelei though. This was the exact type of command and playmaking Clemson fans have been waiting for out of him, and it came in a high-pressure situation. The 371 yards passing is the second highest output of his career, and his first game with 300-plus yards since Nov. 7, 2020. The five passing scores are a career-high by three TDs.

He made plenty of tough throws, but the hardest came on a two-point conversion in the third quarter to tie the contest at 28. Under pressure, with a Deacon holding his leg, he found receiver Beaux Collins despite only having one foot on the ground.

Even though Wake’s defense leaves a lot to be desired — the fangless three-man rushes allowed Uiagalelei enough time to write a memoir — this was as perfect of a game as a quarterback can play.

No. 12 NC State and QB Devin Leary visit Death Valley next week, and if the Wolfpack can get by UConn, College Gameday could find itself with another orange-heavy destination. The Clemson defense will have another veteran quarterback to contain, but that can be said of both teams.



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