Bautista happy to be back with Blue Jays despite offers from others

Afterwards, he scurried up to the front of the room to give Bautista a bear hug. “We did lose out on Edwin, he’s one of the best hitters in the game and I wish him the best. Toronto’s clubhouse leader has returned.Bautista, who signed an $18.5-million, one-year deal with the team last Tuesday that includes mutual options for more years, said he’s happy to be back – even if it means he didn’t get the long-term contract or the lucrative pay day he was said to have asked the Blue Jays for last spring training.“I had other opportunities and other options but I wanted to be back here so here I am,” Bautista said.“Rumours are rumours and everybody would like to be in a long-term deal but you get what you can get,” he added. He wanted to be there for Jose Bautista’s welcoming news conference.As Bautista fielded questions from reporters, the young right-handed pitcher sat, mostly quietly, in the back row. “I’ll let that take care of itself.”Bautista rose to prominence with the Blue Jays after bouncing around from team to team and struggling over the first four years of his MLB career. We all have to accept that and move on but we have a very capable replacement in Kendrys Morales and hopefully he has the type of year he’s capable of having.“As a unit, we can always play better baseball. Marcus Stroman snuck down to the bowels of the Rogers Centre on Saturday afternoon after signing autographs for fans upstairs. He had a breakout season with Toronto in 2010, hitting 54 homers with 124 RBIs to make a name for himself as one of the game’s top sluggers.He was also one of the driving forces behind the Blue Jays’ return to the post-season in 2015 after a 22-year-long playoff drought. He’s a great teammate while I played with him but now we’re playing against him. That success on the field was one of the main reasons he wanted to re-sign with Toronto.“I wanted to be here because I enjoyed success here, I’ve been here a long time,” Bautista said. Concerns about the 36-year-old right-fielder’s ability to play defence on a regular basis couldn’t have helped his cause either.Bautista, who hit 22 homers and had 69 RBIs in just 116 games in an injury-slowed 2016 season, said he’s not paying attention to that criticism.“I’ll just go out there and play and I’ll see what happens,” he said. “This market, this city, this country, you know, wherever you play or live for 10 years almost it ends up becoming a part of you so those were the main reasons I wanted to be back and nothing else.“Also because we have a great team and we’re capable of winning, we have a great fan base that’s extremely supportive, among the best in all sports … “My relationship with all those guys is extremely important and I’m happy to share the locker-room with those guys and continue to go to battle with them every single day.”While the Blue Jays lost out on their other top free-agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion – he signed a $60-million, three-year deal with Cleveland earlier this month – Bautista expects Toronto to be a post-season contender for a third straight year.Bautista said he’d be willing to play other positions, such as first base, or bat leadoff again if that would help Toronto’s chances. “The most important thing is being happy where you are and I’m happy I’m where I want to be.”Bautista’s agent, Jay Alou, said he had fielded offers from other teams interested in the right-handed power hitter.“This is where he wanted to be,” Alou said.Bautista’s free-agent stock was likely hurt by his rejection of Toronto’s $17.2-million qualifying offer last fall, which meant the Blue Jays would receive a compensatory draft pick from a team that signed him. Our pitching is strong and our defence is great so we’re still up there amongst the best in the American League.” He also praised new first baseman/DH Kendrys Morales, who Toronto signed early in the off-season.“Some of our opponents have gotten much better and I feel like we are making moves that are making us a contender as well,” Bautista said. All those things, along with the fact that I’ve been here a long time, makes Toronto a desirable place to stay.”Bautista also spoke of the bond he’d formed with his teammates over the years, describing it as “something you can’t replace.”“It’s one of those things about the sport that transcends long after your playing days are over,” he said.

Canadian Adam Hadwin shoots 13-under 59 in CareerBuilder

Justin Thomas had an 11-under 59 last week in Hawaii in the first round of his Sony Open victory. The former Louisville player had 13 birdies, running off six in a row on the front nine and five straight on back. Hadwin matched David Duval’s tournament record, a 13-under 59 on the Arnold Palmer Private Course in the final round of his 1999 victory. Jim Furyk shot a tour-record 12-under 58 last year in the Travelers Championship.Hadwin, of Abbotsford, B.C., took the tournament lead at 17 under after opening at PGA West with rounds of 71 on the Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course and 69 on the Stadium Course.He’s the first Canadian to break 60 on the tour, and the first player to accomplish the feat on a par-72 course since Duval. Adam Hadwin has shot a 13-under 59 in the CareerBuilder Challenge for the ninth sub-60 round in PGA Tour history and the second in 10 days.In cool, clear conditions in the desert after rain the previous two days, the 29-year-old Canadian reached 13 under with a 7-foot birdie putt on the par-4 17th and got up-and-down for par – making a 3-footer – from just off the green on the par-4 18th at La Quinta Country Club.

Milos Raonic fights fever, downs Simon to reach last 16 at Australian Open

It wasn’t a physical dip of any kind.”He pushed a shot wide to give up a break-point at 4-3 and Simon grabbed the chance with a delightful drop-volley played off his feet.Simon sealed the set with a thumping first serve that triggered raucous cheers from the French fans in Hisense Arena and sent Raonic back to his chair muttering.The Canadian regrouped, however, and raced to 3-1 before stumbling again to lose serve a third time.But he grabbed back the break and grimly held to close out a galvanising win before returning to his sick bed.“The most important thing for me right now is just to get myself at full capacity or as close to it as possible,” Raonic added. The big-serving Canadian drowned out the Gallic cheers by capturing the decisive break in the sixth game of the fourth set and sealed the match with a big kicking serve to set up a clash with Spanish 13th seed Roberto Bautista Agut.“I’ve had a rough last 48 hours, everything was aching, just sort of those kind of symptoms,” said Raonic.“I’m managing it. I’m sure I’ll probably get something after today’s match.”Raonic became the first Canadian man to reach the semi-finals here last year and backed it up with his first grand slam final at Wimbledon in his best season to date.His chances of blazing a trail to a maiden final in Melbourne were handed a huge boost when Uzbek journeyman Denis Istomin knocked out six-times champion Novak Djokovic in the second round. That upset has left Raonic as the highest seed left in the lower half of the draw.Raonic has long been tagged a grand slam contender and he looked the part early on against Simon, mowing through the first set in 28 minutes and showing impressive composure to fend off the 25th seed in a tense tiebreak in the second.The 26-year-old stumbled in the third as he gave up two breaks of serve but refused to put it down to two days battling illness catching up with him.“He started playing a bit more aggressive, I became a little bit too passive,” Raonic said.“It was more just a dip in sort of dictating. Milos Raonic’s machine-like advance through the Australian Open hit a brief glitch against Gilles Simon but the Canadian re-booted to delete the dogged Frenchman 6-2 7-6(5) 3-6 6-3 and reach the fourth round on Saturday.The third seed, who revealed he has been suffering from a “bad fever”, lost his first set of the tournament against the indefatigable Simon, whose hard running and sublime passing shots threatened to turn the game on its head.

Canada’s Alex Harvey wins cross-country ski World Cup 15-kilometre race

She has now won seven of the last 15 10K freestyle races in the World Cup.It was the first World Cup race ever held in Ulricehamn, meaning the 36-year-old Bjoergen has now won in a record 37 different host cities over the course of her career.Finland’s Krista Parmakoski was second, 10.7 seconds off Bjoergen’s time, while Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla took third, 24.9 seconds off the lead.Norway’s Heidi Weng, who was sixth in Saturday’s race, leads the overall standings by 279 points over Parmakoski.Cendrine Browne, of Saint-Jerome, Que.,was the lone Canadian in the women’s 10-kilometre skate-ski race, finishing 35th at 25:38.3. This is a new place for us, but the course was really good and suited my abilities. I was in it from the beginning and felt good the whole way today.”Standings leader and reigning World Cup champion Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway was six seconds off Harvey. Individual start, it’s a real man’s race. It is nice to be able to own a statistic like that, but I do it for the result and to be the best I can be each race,” said Harvey. “I’m really happy to be able to check that off.”

Harvey is the first Canadian cross-country skier to earn back-to-back gold medal victories in consecutive weekends on the World Cup. Canadian Alex Harvey won the 15-kilometre freestyle race at the cross-country ski World Cup on Saturday.Harvey’s time of 32 minutes 46.2 seconds made him the first North American man to win a World Cup race since he last topped the podium almost three years ago.“It’s amazing. He also won gold last week with Toronto’s Len Valjas in the team sprint relay in Toblach, Italy.“We’ve had a lot great champions in Canada. “If that means that I win back-to-back then that is a bonus.”Beckie Scott also won in back-to-back races during her memorable 2005-06 run, but not on consecutive weekends.“It does feel great to win again today,” said Harvey, who won his first individual race since the World Cup Finals in 2014. You’re there on your own,” said Harvey, who is from Saint Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que. Sweden’s Markus Hellner finished 14.3 seconds off the pace as he narrowly beat Switzerland’s Dario Cologna to the final podium spot.Sundby stretched his lead in the standings to 257 points over Russia’s Sergei Ustyugov, with Finland’s Matti Heikkinen 220 points back of Ustyugov and Harvey in fourth.Earlier, Norwegian veteran Marit Bjoergen won a women’s 10-kilometre freestyle race in 23:46.3 to underline her dominance of the event. “Everything was clicking today.

Vancouver Canucks captain Henrik Sedin records 1,000th NHL point

Henrik Sedin has the 1,000th point of his NHL career.The captain of the Vancouver Canucks reached the milestone on Friday night with a goal in the second period against the Florida Panthers.The point came against Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo, who was Sedin’s teammate in Vancouver from 2006 to 2014. Washington Capitals sniper Alex Ovechkin also accomplished the feat on Jan. He has 233 goals and 767 assists in 1,213 career games.Sedin, the fourth-highest scoring Swedish-born player all-time, has missed just 30 games in his career, and is the 38th player in league history to get to 1,000 points while playing with one team.Twin brother and linemate Daniel Sedin, who assisted on the milestone goal against Florida, sits at 968 points, but has also missed 53 games in his 16 seasons. Sedin is the 85th player in NHL history to hit the 1,000-point mark. 11.The 36-year-old Sedin is in his 16th NHL season, all with Vancouver.

A passing of the broom: Curling runs in the family at the junior championships

It’s fun to be going through this together again; and I know they’re excited about it, too.” “Once we joined the Olympics, a switch really went off among all the top players. “I’ve already sent a message to Kerry Burtnyk’s wife on Facebook and told them I’m excited to spend some time with them again. I also think it’s just because I got a lot of attention through it, so I had to talk about her a lot more. People still see me as Sandra Schmirler’s daughter, but they also see me as my own curler, which is kind of nice.”Curling became a full-medal Olympic sport in 1998, so Schmirler and Hart were members of the first Canadian curling teams to win Olympic medals. These teams nowadays, they are not like that.”England agrees: “When I was younger, my friends never thought of curling as a sport. Ever since then, every time I step on the ice, it feels as if she’s with me from now on.”The sport of curling has evolved greatly from one generation to the next, largely because of its inclusion in the Olympics, according to Hart. Kerry, Jeff Ryan – these are all guys I look up to. It’s such a massive part of my life that it would be hard to imagine if my kids didn’t get involved.”But Schmirler’s daughter, Sara, says she originally resisted the temptation to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Obviously, what it’s done is the same thing that happened in all the other sports, where fitness became a big part. “But all my friends, I’ve met through curling. I didn’t want to be known as another curler in the family. “I didn’t want to join. Everyone was looking to gain some sort of advantage. We’ve been to the Canada Games, and now we’re going to the juniors for the first time. His infant son, Joey, is sitting in Sandra Schmirler’s lap, surrounded by the rest of Schmirler’s women’s Olympic curling team, all of them fussing over the cute three-month old baby. I met my wife through curling. Guys weren’t staying out all night partying any more. “When I represented Saskatchewan for the first time – that was probably the time I felt more connected to her than I ever have. He might even try to dig up that old photograph of her mom, posed with young Joey.Does it seem odd to Hart to go to these competitions, as a parent, watching his kids exchange shots with the children of his former opponents?On the contrary. You actually have to put in all the effort in the off-ice training – and the mental training, I would say, is even harder than the physical training.”Hart retired from curling briefly, but returned to play on a team with his old skip Glenn Howard, which limited the amount of time he could spend coaching his sons.Accordingly, their coach is now Ray Bushfield, but Hart will go to Victoria and help out at the start of the event because Bushfield had a scheduling conflict.Once there, Hart plans to look up England, whom he met at an event a few years back. “Sara was left at home because Sandra was competing and it would have been a lot for her to curl and to be the primary caregiver for a baby. But I had my grandmother. Curling’s getting noticed for the athleticism that’s in the sport.“You can’t just walk down the ice and lightly brush a rock. She lived with us and she took over the role of the mom.”Now, as she rises through the curling ranks, Sara says she can feel her mother’s presence beside her, on the ice.“My first year with the team I’m with now was three years ago at the Canada Games,” she said. “Joe was born in November, 1997, and in the meantime, Sandra’s daughter, Sara, was just born the previous September,” Hart remembered. And there are a handful of other players whose parents played in either the Brier or the Scotties, but didn’t win, including Alberta’s Kristen Streifel (daughter of Tracey) and PEI’s Chris Gallant, child of Peter and Kathie Gallant.As a parent, Hart said he always hoped his kids would get into the sport.“Unlike some of the other sports, curling’s long been considered more of an amateur sport, so it’s not necessarily a career choice like professional hockey is,” Hart said. All the ladies on the Canadian women’s team had young children at home, so they just loved it – to spend a little time with baby Joe.”Almost two decades later, those two infants are now teenagers and both will compete in the Canadian national junior championships, beginning this weekend in Victoria.Joey Hart, now 19, is representing Ontario, along with his brother David, 17, as part of a team skipped by Matthew Hall.Meanwhile, Schmirler’s daughter, Sara England, 19, is making her junior national debut, curling as a third on Kaitlyn Jones’s Saskatchewan team.Curling has always been something of a family affair, but to the extent that this year’s national junior championships feature the sport’s Generation Next is virtually unprecedented.In addition to Hart’s sons and Schmirler’s daughter, the national championships will also feature Manitoba skip Laura Burtnyk, the daughter of Kerry Burtnyk, a two-time Brier champion and the 1995 world champion.Manitoba’s third is Hailey Ryan, daughter of Jeff Ryan, another former Brier and world champion, and the niece of Pat Ryan, a three-time Brier winner and two-time world champion.Hailey Ryan’s brother, J.T., will skip the Manitoba boys’ team, where his third is Jacques Gauthier, son of Cathy Gauthier, a two-time Scotties winner.Additionally, Quebec skip Vincent Roberge and second Étienne Elmaleh are the sons of former Brier champion and world silver medalists François Roberge and Maxime Elmaleh. We were lumpy, young guys who enjoyed having a beer or two at the end of the night. We competed for so many years. They were working out in the gym and practising on the ice.“You look at pictures of our men’s team and Sandra’s team and compare that to the Olympic teams going to Sochi in 2014, and there’s no comparison. “I’m really embracing it,” Hart said with a big smile. So now, more recently, you look at Brad Jacobs or on Rachel Homan’s team, Joanne Courtney, they look strong and muscular. “In all honesty, when I was in Grade 3 or 4, we had a ‘learn-to-curl program’ in Regina – and I was totally not into it at all,” she said. In the basement of Richard Hart’s Pickering, Ont., home, there is a photograph taken in Nagano, Japan, where he was competing for Canada in the 1998 Olympic men’s curling championships. My family curls. My grandma and my dad [Shannon England] pushed me a lot – I don’t want to say forced – but they put me into learn-to-curl and, ever since then, I’ve loved it.“At first, I was really worried about being known as Sandra Schmirler’s daughter that curls and not making a name for myself, but slowly it’s coming. Schmirler’s rink won gold, while Hart’s team won silver.Sadly, Schmirler lost her battle with cancer in March, 2000, leaving Shannon England to raise his daughters, Sara and Jenna, as a single parent, with the help of Sara’s grandmother.Sara said she had good family support in her household. “I was just two years old when she passed away, so that was normal for me – growing up, without a mom in my life. I had to think about her a lot more. The new kids on the block look a lot different than the players he curled with and against at a similar age.“It sounds odd because where most sports are kind of at their peak and then get accepted into the Olympics, the Olympics really helped change our sport,” Hart said.

Raptors lose by whopping 35 points against Hornets

“We have to have some resistance. The Hornets entered the game a combined 0-7 against Cleveland, Toronto and Boston, the top teams in the East. Walker scored 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the first half and had four rebounds and three assists.The Hornets have won eight of their last nine at home, with the only loss coming against the Cavaliers. Walker called it an “important” win.“We have been hearing about how we haven’t been playing well against the top teams, which is obviously true, so we wanted to come out with great intensity right from opening jump,” Walker said. “We did that.”Walker, who came in averaging 23 points and looking to earn his first All-Star selection, scored 16 points in the pivotal third quarter, including a four-point play to close the quarter as the Hornets outscored the Raptors 33-15 to build a 25-point lead.Walker didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter after the Hornets stretched their lead to more than 30. We were trying to trap him and we can’t allow him to go around our trap.”Hornets coach Steve Clifford called it his team’s best game from start to finish.Kyle Lowry had 24 points and DeMar DeRozan added 23 points for the Raptors, who have lost two straight.The Hornets held the Raptors to 33 per cent shooting and limited them to a season-low 78 points.Charlotte (22-21) came out strong with Walker effectively running the pick-and-roll with Cody Zeller. Kemba Walker and his Charlotte Hornets teammates were getting a little tired of hearing about how they couldn’t beat the top teams in the Eastern Conference.They took care of that on Friday night.Walker scored 32 points on 11-of-16 shooting, and the Hornets routed the Toronto Raptors 113-78. The 6-foot-1 point guard also finished with eight assists.“He came out and set the tone for them offensively with his speed and quickness, attacking the rim,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said.

Scouting the quarterbacks in NFL’s conference championships

1, Roethlisberger No. 3, Brady No. Among QBs with at least 250 passing attempts, Brady ranked No. You’ve got quarterbacks that can be a combination of Joe Montana, Steve Young and Brett Favre.”They share attributes, such as reading a defence, arm strength, leadership skills and more. They’ve shown their foot skills. New England’s Brady, Pittsburgh’s Roethlisberger, Green Bay’s Rodgers and Atlanta’s Ryan are as good as it gets today at the NFL’s most important position. Trailing by one possession in the fourth quarter, career passer rating is 81.9, with 16 TDs, 14 interceptions. 2 at 122.5.They said it: “He is just making really good presnap decisions and post-snap decisions. Brady set a record for best TD-to-interception ratio with 28 scores and two picks. This postseason, according to Sportradar, he’s 16 for 20 for 234 yards, 2 TDs, zero interceptions, 148.8 rating on such plays; every other playoff QB has thrown for 182 yards combined and a 56.2 rating.Negatives: Only 17-36 with a game-winning drive or comeback opportunity, a .321 winning percentage that’s by far the worst of this bunch, according to Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders.They said it: “Look at the flexibility, the ability to turn his hips, the flexibility he has in his shoulder and elbow.” Packers coach Mike McCarthy on Rodgers’ ability to throw while moving to his leftMatt RyanPositives: Spreads the ball around, setting an NFL record with TD passes to 13 receivers this season. Trailing in the fourth quarter of one-possession games this season, compiled near-perfect 156.1 passer rating, 27 for 31 for 371 yards, 4 TDs, no interceptions.Negatives: Can be troubled by blitzes: 78.6 passer rating this season, 24th in the league. And each member of this quartet has distinctive abilities, too. They make mistakes. … He is doing a better job of not trying to make a ‘Ben-like’ play all the time.” Steelers offensive co-ordinator Todd HaleyAaron RodgersPositives: Terrific out of the pocket, often via designed rollouts. I recognize it. And chances are, one or more will do so again this weekend.“Joe Montana would say, ‘I don’t have to make every throw; I have to deliver the mail. Just try to get the mail to the right person at the right time and not beat myself trying to do more than I should,’” Lott said. “Watching these quarterbacks play has been extraordinary,” said Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott, a teammate of Joe Montana’s on four Super Bowl champions from 1982 to 1990 with the San Francisco 49ers. Now I’m going to deliver it.’ They’ve shown their ball skills. Just 2-4 in playoff games, with 7 interceptions.They said it: “We’ve got a lot of different moving parts and different guys that can make plays.” Matt Ryan His 135.4 passer rating on deep throws led NFL, according to Sportradar, and his 9.3 yards per attempt were surpassed only by three QBs since the AFL-NFL merger. They’ve given us a little bit of everything. … That’s, for me, where this game has evolved. Turns seemingly anyone into an effective receiver, putting the football where teammates can make big plays; sixth in the NFL this season in percentage of total yards after the catch (49.1), according to Sportradar.Negatives: In 10 conference title games, owns 76.3 passer rating with 12 TDs, 12 interceptions. 4, with Roethlisberger No. “They’re very good at identifying: ‘Okay, I see an opening. There are some overlooked truths about the four superb quarterbacks left chasing a Super Bowl title:Tom Brady’s career AFC championship game stats hardly should scare an opposing defence; nor should his deep-throw efficiency in the playoffs.Ben Roethlisberger becomes rather ordinary when being blitzed.Aaron Rodgers is hardly the king of the fourth-quarter comeback, no matter his recent Hail Mary completions and a certain final-seconds, throw-on-the-run play.Matt Ryan produces interceptions nearly as often as TDs when trailing late.There’s a lot of talk heading into Sunday’s conference title games about the accomplishments, talents and legacies of the four starting QBs, which makes sense. On postseason deep throws (more than 20 yards in the air) since 2007: 50.6 rating; 26 completion percentage, 4 TDs, 6 interceptions.They said it: “He does such a good job of relating to you … the way that he likes things to be run, his route details and that type of stuff.” Patriots WR Chris HoganBen RoethlisbergerPositives: Long known for extending plays, now quickly understands what’s available and gets the ball to play makers. I have to make the right decisions. Rodgers led in TD passes with 40, two more than Ryan. 11. 5 in completion percentage.These guys are not perfect, though. That’s why they’re the four QBs with the most wins since 2008, and by next month, why they’ll own a combined 12 Super Bowl appearances, eight titles and quite possibly five league MVP awards.This season, Ryan led the NFL in passer rating at 117.1, the fifth-best ever, followed by Brady at No. 3 in fewest sacks, while Ryan was No. 2 and Rodgers at No. Durable, making 120 consecutive starts.Negatives: Had just seven interceptions this season, but four came in losses – three in the final four minutes; another was a pick-6 late in the first half. Brady, in contrast, led the NFL at 126.8, according to Sportradar; Ryan is No. “Which one of these quarterbacks is going to put themselves in a situation where in their weakest moment – because all of them have moments when they’re going to be weak – do you try to do something more than you need to do?”What stands out about these QBs:Tom BradyPositives: Diagnoses a blitz and shifts the play; 126.8 passer rating against blitzes led the league, according to Sportradar.

Questions linger about status of injured Green Bay Packers receivers

“Really today was the most important day for those three [receivers], so really the information that comes out of the training room today will give us a better idea where we are.”The Packers are left with Cobb, along with third-year player Jeff Janis and rookie Trevor Davis at receiver.Janis and Davis each had their first regular-season touchdown catches during the teams’ meeting in the regular season in October, when Cobb missed the game with ankle injury and then-receiver Ty Montgomery sat out because of illness.Montgomery has since been moved to running back, though he remains a pass-catching threat out of the backfield.Notes:S Morgan Burnett (quad) and CB Quinten Rollins (neck/concussion) were also listed as questionable for Sunday. The Packers have an option to put Tretter on injured reserve to free up a spot on the 53-man roster to help fill depth at other positions. The team may make a decision on the receivers after the final practice of the week on Saturday, although McCarthy said that it was possible that at least one or two players may be pushed back to just before the game on Sunday in Atlanta against the Falcons.Nelson was limited in practice this week as he recovers from broken ribs. Fluids. He apparently came down with a bug that bothered kicker Mason Crosby earlier in the week, as well as quarterback Aaron Rodgers later in the week.“Rest. We’ll be okay,” Rodgers said.Adams, who has an ankle injury, had 12 touchdown catches. All that stuff. Nelson and Adams were the top two receivers for Rodgers in the passing game.Allison, a rookie, emerged in the last couple of weeks of the regular season with eight catches for 157 yards and a score while filling in when Randall Cobb was hurt. He led the NFL with 14 touchdown catches.Nelson wasn’t at Lambeau Field on Friday because of an unrelated illness, McCarthy said. The Green Bay Packers may not know the status of injured receivers Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison until just before the NFC championship game on Sunday.Coach Mike McCarthy said on Friday that all three receivers would be “given every chance to play in the game.”The Packers didn’t have on-field work on Friday, when all three players were listed as questionable on the injury report. Allison has a hamstring injury.Illness shouldn’t have any bearing on the decision about Nelson after he looked good in practice this week, McCarthy said.“It was good to have him out there,” McCarthy said. Burnett missed the first two days of practice this week, while Rollins has been limited.JC Tretter, who started the first seven games this season at centre, had knee surgery on Tuesday, McCarthy said. Their practice squad includes two receivers and two defensive backs.

NHL backup goaltenders work a thankless – but essential – job

Up to that point, the Leafs had earned three points from their backups, as Enroth had a 0-3-1 record and 22-year-old Antoine Bibeau was 1-1.“You don’t want to get no points, that would be awful,” Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said of the position. The term optional does not apply to you. “You may go a month without a start. There is no forgiveness for failure.“The biggest thing is it can be hard,” Healy said. Practice is your game. 1 goaltender Carey Price suffered a season-ending knee injury on Nov. “If a guy plays 20 games and you get no points, that would be a tough way to make the playoffs.”McElhinney, 33, who was waived by Columbus because of a couple of bad starts, paid immediate dividends for the Leafs. “Practice for the starter is to stay loose,” Clemmensen said. 1 goaltender Frederik Andersen, who is in his first season as a No. 10, to replace Enroth. 25, 2015. A guy who is a bona-fide backup understands that role,” he said. 1, will only play a few times a month and still enthusiastically does all he can to support the starter. You need to help with the scouting, you need to have that relationship where there is trust. “Nobody dreams when they’re a kid of being a backup goalie in the NHL, of almost getting that starting job but not quite,” said New Jersey Devils goaltending development coach Scott Clemmensen, who had the most thankless backup job of them all. 2, you have to be a good teammate. You’ve got to be there for every optional practice. At the same time he has to play well enough in those few appearances that his coach and teammates feel they have a chance to win. and I’ve got to play, woe is me.’ The coach doesn’t care. In the NHL, there are some situations like that, but the true backup goalie is usually a veteran who has been around the block, understands he is never going to be the No. “You can make a difference, whether it’s a heads-up to a defenceman or to guys who come back to the bench and say, ‘What the hell happened on that shift?’”There are rewards, too. They don’t put starter or most points on it,” Healy said. He also has to be able to jump into a game at a moment’s notice when the starter is hurt or shelled and stop the other team’s momentum. He skates over to the bench, you say ‘they’re working the puck low’ or ‘watch this guy.’“You’re expected to deliver points, but also deliver a night off for the starter mentally and physically.”That is why Montoya was left in goal for the entire game in early November, even though he was bombed for 10 goals in a loss to the Blue Jackets.“I have no problem with him staying the whole game and absorbing the 10 goals because his job that night was to give Carey Price the night off,” McLennan said. There’s no pity party. While the notion of the job is common to many occupations, be it understudy in theatre, vice-president in politics or straight man in comedy, the actual role of a backup goaltender is unique to hockey.The only other position that comes close is backup quarterback in professional football, although the majority of those positions are filled by young players hoping to take the starter’s job. 1, you have to come to the rink with a smile on your face and be genuine about it. No. The minimum salary in the NHL is $575,000 (U.S.) a year and a veteran such as Montoya makes nearly $1-million. 1 for a while if the starter’s injury is serious.Off the ice, Clemmensen says, “No. He won his first start and posted a .946 save percentage, giving him a .928 mark for the season in eight games with the Leafs and Columbus. In the NHL, that is a tremendous difference.“The games you did play, that was the difference between your team making the playoffs or having your team not make the playoffs or having your team make the playoffs and having home-ice advantage,” said broadcaster Glenn Healy, who began his playing career as a starter in the 1980s and then moved to a backup role with the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs through the 1990s.Healy points to Montreal Canadiens backup Al Montoya as an example. On the ice, the backup has to be able to sit for a long time and still be able to play well when an infrequent start comes up. All were backups who were essentially fired for poor performances.The Leafs claimed their latest backup, veteran Curtis McElhinney, when he was waived by the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 1 but has appeared in 35 of Toronto’s 43 games.“The biggest thing is [teammates and coaches] have to be confident when you go in there,” McElhinney said. We all landed at 3.”In the past two weeks, three NHL goaltenders were put on waivers and another, Jhonas Enroth of the Maple Leafs, was traded for the token price of a seventh-round draft pick. Prospects such as Bibeau should be playing in the minor leagues, not sitting on the bench with the big team thinking they should have more playing time. And he has to be good enough to be the full-time No. If you’re fake, people will see through you, especially your teammates. Backups are expected to perform as well as the No. “That’s pretty good and there’s other teams with three points from their backup. 1 goaltender, despite not playing for weeks at a stretch or always getting the worst starts, such as the third game in four nights or second of back-to-backs when the team isn’t fresh. “The thing lost in all this is the relationship you have with the starter.“You need to be the eyes and ears of your partner. You’re focused on every shot, every rebound.”TSN broadcaster Jamie McLennan, who served as a backup for most of his 12 NHL seasons, says the support side of the job is just as important as the points earned by the backup.“People need to understand that role. “They have to be confident you can do the same job the starter can, whether it’s a couple of games or 10 games.”Coaches and goaltenders agree the optimum situation is to have a veteran who understands he is the backup. He spent parts of four seasons as the fill-in for Devils hall-of-famer Martin Brodeur, who routinely played more than 70 games a season.However, no one should make the mistake of thinking the job has little value to a team. Well, there you go, that’s the difference at the end of the year.”The need to maximize the points from the position is also why the job is so thankless. 3, you can’t be in the coach’s office asking what can I do [to start more games] and being a headache for the coach. If you have five starts you had to get at least five points.”Healy said a backup can make himself valuable to a team in every game just by watching what goes on all over the ice and passing along information to players other than the starting goaltender.“You shouldn’t just be sitting at the end of the bench in a baseball hat,” Healy said. 1 job rarely works out because each is hoping the other fails.Clemmensen said there are six factors that form a good backup goaltender – three on the ice and three off. No. That’s how the game looks to you because you have no feel.“It takes a period to just settle down, make the first save, get your five minutes, less is more, don’t handle the puck like Marty Brodeur, just keep it simple and get through it. Coaches and those who have played the position will tell you a good backup – who may play 20 games or more in a season in today’s NHL – can help provide 20 points or more. The Habs did not have a reliable backup and finished sixth in the Atlantic Division, well out of the playoffs. Plus you can call yourself a big-leaguer.“It wasn’t my dream to be a backup, but at the end of the day you’re one of 60 [goaltenders] playing in the NHL,” McElhinney said.Or, if you’re lucky, you get your name engraved on the Stanley Cup as Healy did in 1994 when he backed up Mike Richter with the New York Rangers.“They don’t put any stats on the Cup. You can’t go, ‘we landed in Tampa at 3 a.m. You have to stay out late on the ice to help guys do extra drills. Last season, the Canadiens sank like a stone in the standing when No. It now seems the Leafs have the person they need to spell No. “It didn’t go well and it happens. That’s the type of stuff a seasoned backup understands.“When I played in Calgary, [former Flames coach] Darryl Sutter used to say to me the role of a good backup is you have to be .500. This season, after signing Montoya, 31, as a free agent, the Canadiens have 14 of a possible 24 points from the backup’s 12 starts and Price is getting the rest he needs.“You can’t tell me [Canadiens head coach] Michel Therrien is not going, ‘Montoya, man, he’s got almost 20 points and we’re just past New Year’s,’” Healy said. It’s almost like you’re looking at a telescope backwards. The last person the coach needs to hear from is the backup goalie.”As for the big question of how you stay sharp despite not playing much, all agree that backups have to treat practices as games. “For the backup, practice is to stay sharp. “They put your name on it.” And having two veterans competing for the No.

Current and former Blue Jays reflect on Jose Bautista’s new Toronto contract

He clubbed 43 the following year to lead the majors again.Utility player Steve Pearce, who signed a two-year free-agent deal with Toronto in December, was a teammate of Bautista’s while in Pittsburgh. “He could hit, he was a gap-to-gap guy in Pittsburgh but now he can launch the ball out of the park at anytime, anywhere.”Bautista has stroked 265 of his 308 career regular-season home runs while wearing a Blue Jays jersey the past nine years, which ranks him second on the franchise hit list behind Delgado’s 336.He also ranks in the franchise top-10 in hits (984), games played (1,078), runs batted in (701) and walks (719).Marcus Stroman, a Toronto starter who was also at the Winter Caravan stop on Friday, said it is hard to quantify what Bautista’s presence means to the team.“I feel Bautista is Blue Jays baseball,” Stroman said. So if Jose had have left it would really have left a big void.”While Encarnacion bolted to the Cleveland Indians on a three-year, $60-million (U.S.) deal, Bautista was unable to land as lucrative a free-agent contract coming off a substandard and injury-filled 2016 campaign.He eventually decided to return to Toronto on a one-year guaranteed deal that will pay him $18-million in 2017 with a $17-million “mutual option” in 2018 if triggered.There is also a $20-million vesting option if Bautista is still a member of the Blue Jays heading into the 2019 season.While Bautista’s big bat will be a welcome return for the offence, Moseby said he is a bit concerned how Bautista will hold up, at the age of 36, playing right field on a regular basis.“It could be [tough],” Moseby conceded. “These guys, they’re sleeping on beds that are $10,000 beds. He gave us something to cheer about.”Bautista has stroked a couple of the most memorable home runs in franchise history, none more iconic – think bat flip – than the three-run blast he launched at Rogers Centre in 2015 that won Toronto its American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers.Even if Bautista struggles this season, his legacy as one of the team’s most dynamic performers is pretty well set after nine seasons in Toronto.Bautista arrived in Toronto in August, 2008, in a trade that J.P. His final season in the big leagues was 1991 with the Detroit Tigers. He’s the first guy when I come off the mound – ‘Hey Stro, let’s try this a little bit or if you do this, this might get this result.’ So extremely instrumental in my career.”The Blue Jays unveiled a new alternative red uniform on Friday, the colour commemorating Canada’s 150th anniversary celebration, which they will wear at home games every Sunday. “When he first came to Toronto, before the team started making the playoffs, the fans were just kind of down and disappointed.“But Jose picked everybody up, hitting 40s and 50s [home runs a season]. He was 31.Moseby, in Toronto on Friday morning attending the Blue Jays Winter Caravan stop at Rogers Centre, said he was elated to learn that slugger Jose Bautista had signed a new contract, which will bring him back to the Jays for 2017.“I thought for sure he was going to leave, I really did,” Moseby said about Bautista. He was asked if it was apparent back then if Bautista was on the verge of breaking out with the bat.“It’s hard to envision what he’s done,” Pearce said. “I was like damn, Edwin [Encarnacion] was already gone. “It could be difficult.”However, Moseby added that modern-day stars such as Bautista have so much more at their disposal to maintain their bodies and be able to produce at a high level and stave off the inevitable onslaught of old age.“You got to remember now, but the money they make they [use to] take care of their bodies,” Moseby said. My bed was like $30.“So Jose I think will be good.”Good enough, in all probability, to cement his status as one of the greatest Blue Jays in history when his career is over. Ricciardi, the Blue Jays general manager at the time, will be able to dine out on for the rest of his career.Bautista was swapped for catcher Robinzon Diaz, who never amounted to much and was gone from baseball following the 2009 season and 44 games in the majors.After an underwhelming start to his professional career, never hitting more than the 16 home runs he had with the Pirates in 2006, Bautista suddenly emerged as one of baseball’s most feared bats while in Toronto.In 2010 he led the major leagues with 54 home runs, a Blue Jays record. Lloyd Moseby knows a thing or two about patrolling the outfield, which he did with élan during a solid 12-year major-league career, the first 10 spent with the Toronto Blue Jays.A stalwart in centre, Moseby was part of the famed “Killer B’s” Toronto outfield of the 1980s along with George Bell in left and Jesse Barfield in right, arguably one of the game’s best of their day. In all likelihood he’ll one day join Bell, Roberto Alomar, Joe Carter, Carlos Delgado, Tony Fernandez and Dave Stieb with recognition on the club’s Level of Excellence.“He’s going to go down as one of the greatest players in Blue Jays history,” Moseby said. I can’t even put into words how much he’s taught me about pitching, about the game of baseball, how much I put that right into my game.“One of my first starts in the big leagues he preached to me about tempo, he preached to me about pitch selection. “He’s an unbelievable clubhouse guy.

Death of bull rider Ty Pozzobon spurs push for standardized concussion protocols

He stayed out of [bull riding] seeing doctors who could help him.”Tanner Gerlitz, a friend of Pozzobon’s, is one of the bull riders pushing for concussion protocols to be in place for the coming season, even if the document is not 100-per-cent completed. We all talked openly about it. “We want something good to come out of this.”Luke Pozzobon feels the same way. In a sport known for its danger, bull riding has been slow coming to grips with head injuries. (Researchers at University of Western Ontarioin London, Ont., recently came up with a blood test that can determine if a person has been concussed. The Pozzobons donated tissue from Ty’s brain to the University of Washington, where researchers have been working on a number of projects, including the design of a new football helmet to reduce the impact of hits to the head. In the works are concussion protocols that would deal with issues such as baseline testing and return to play and be in effect at all rodeos held in Canada. But, in the end, it’s the bull rider or cowboy who decides whether he’s good enough to keep competing.“The PBR has its own way. And yet some argue the helmets are of little protection against a bucking one-ton monster. (The team parks itself at rodeos and offers medical assistance to those who need it. The bull kicked Pozzobon in the head while he lay motionless on the infield dirt until he was pulled to safety.Then there was his ride aboard Mark 10:27 when Pozzobon was hit and flipped by the bull then hit and flipped again before heading for cover. Pozzobon was flung off and stomped on for his troubles. Ideally, he believes it should be science, through a blood test, that determines if a bull rider has had a concussion, not someone making a judgment call. As rodeo’s governing body, it is up to the CPRA to lead the way on crucial matters. The CPRA has its own way,” Thome said. He’s hopeful the Rodeo Sport Medicine Team can produce the right practices to be presented to the CPRA’s board of directors in February.“I’d like the Sport Medicine Team to come to our annual general meeting and present what they have so it can be used this year,” Rock said. Then the bull pitched him off to the left and, while Pozzobon was falling to the ground, Carolina Kicker hit him again, knocking out Pozzobon. Pozzobon took Boot Strap for a ride only to be tossed then stomped on by the bull. He was able to get away on his own and ride another day.“He went to Connecticut [to the University of Connecticut Health Center for neurological research],” Luke Pozzobon said. We want to help the guys who love the sport because Ty loved it, too.” “That’s our goal.”In Canada, different organizations are in charge of different rodeos, meaning each rodeo has different concussion practices in play, if any at all. One suggestion is having bull riders agree to that when they register for a rodeo. The biggest stumbling block he sees is being able to enforce the new rules, given how notoriously stubborn all cowboys are when it comes to resting injuries.“Someone has to be able to say, ‘You have to sit out,’” Gerlitz offered. The NFL, Under Armour and GE have already awarded $750,000 (U.S) to the project.Pozzobon said Ty visited more than a dozen concussion doctors and specialists in search of how to treat a brain that had taken some brutal poundings. For the PBR’s prime events – the Built Ford Tough Series – competitors must take a neurological test before each rodeo and, if they’re wobbled or knocked out cold, they have to take it again.Asked about protecting its bull riders, PBR issued a statement saying it “invests in medical personnel at every event we produce, we are working with experienced organizations to develop advanced protective equipment, and we engage with riders regularly in new research and development initiatives.”At the Calgary Stampede, the usual precautions are taken – an ambulance is always standing by with paramedics and an experienced rodeo doctor. Helmets are mandatory at PBR events, which occur in the United States and Canada. Several cowboys, and Luke Pozzobon, Ty’s father, have had discussions with Brandon Thome, the Calgary-based athletic therapist who travelled the circuit for 10 years as a member of the Canadian Pro Rodeo Sport Medicine Team. Ty Pozzobon’s death is about to create something he never got in life: a standardized set of rules and procedures that could have tracked his concussion problems and prevented him from riding bulls too soon after he had injured his brain.Sadly, Pozzobon’s multiple concussions led to a deadly bout of depression that ended with him taking his life on Jan. “We’re not trying to kill the sport. Bull fighters were able to draw the bull away before it stepped on Pozzobon.He wasn’t so lucky at a 2014 PBR event. There was also the rough ride on Rock River Red. In 2013 at a PBR event in Louisville, Ky., Pozzobon was hand-strapped aboard Carolina Kicker and seemed to be doing well. But to ensure their friend, the 2016 Professional Bull Riders Canadian champion, did not die in vain, rodeo cowboys current and retired, along with bull fighters and officials, have been rethinking their sport when it comes to safety and concussions. “He’d had a couple of major [concussions]. It doesn’t have a bull rider’s background data when it comes to concussions.)“We [at Thome’s Prairie Therapy clinic] have no jurisdiction, but we’re definitely involved with it,” Thome said of the medical guidelines being put together for Kyle Rock, operations manager for the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association.Rock, a former bareback rider, understands what’s at stake. He was pretty good at listening. PBR Canada has its own way. 9. “We’re talking to the CPRA so that there can be one way [to deal with concussions].”Luke Pozzobon and his wife, Leanne, have been active in the push to have their son’s death heighten an awareness of concussions and the damage they can wreak. The force of the animal’s hind legs cracked Pozzobon’s helmet in half. Bull Riding Canada has its own way. The test examines chemicals in the blood stream and has come with a 90-per-cent success rate.)“It’s still a human call and that’s where the hang up is,” said Luke Pozzobon, who insisted his son’s death shouldn’t be used to denigrate bull riding.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir lead National Skating Championships

Virtue and Moir, who have made a stunning return after a two-year hiatus, are the leaders after Friday’s short dance at the Canadian figure skating championships. She and Poirier scored 78.15.Virtue and Moir stepped away from competition after their second-place finish at the Sochi Olympics, and return this season in their quest to reclaim the Olympic crown they won in 2010 in Vancouver.They vowed to keep pushing the ice dance envelope, and their short dance certainly does that. We have to chase, we have to feel that in training and practice, we can’t get too comfortable.” Gilles bounced back after spending Thursday in bed with the flu. Virtue, dressing in a backless cat suit with a purple Prince-inspired neck ruffle, and Moir, dressed all in black, scored 84.36 points for their program to a medley by the late pop star.Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., were second with 78.92, and take a narrow lead over Piper Gilles of Toronto and Paul Poirier of Unionville, Ont., into Saturday’s free dance. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir announced their return to the Canadian figure skating championships with a hip-swivelling, funky short program that had the crowd whistling from the opening few Prince lyrics.By the time they struck their final pose, the TD Place Arena crowd was on its feet, showing how sorely the duo was missed. Boy was I ever wrong,” he said. The pace from the opening notes is like a 100-metre sprint, before the tone turns sultry during the middle portion to Prince’s 5 Women.Moir said the pressure is surprisingly heavy in Ottawa, despite their nearly two decades of competing together.“It’s funny, after our first Olympics, I felt like we’d never feel pressure again, because we’d done everything. “I think at this stage of our career, especially some of the younger athletes would look at us and be ‘They know what they’re doing, they have it covered.’ But I feel more pressure at this nationals than I can ever remember in any of the 15 prior ones.Virtue added: “Mentally we’re still approaching everything like we’re the underdogs because we feel like we are.

Meet the Canadian artists behind the masks worn by NHL goaltenders

A surfer catches a wave on one side, while a realistic panther snarls on the other. A lot of times you’ll have nice little details incorporated which is nice, but with the vents and screws and buckles they don’t register as strong.”He says the secret is to find a balance between what looks good from afar for spectators and personal touches intended for the goalie alone.“A lot of them use the back plate almost as a journal: things like their grandfather’s initials, town where (they’re) from, or the home country’s flag,” he said.“The chin is the usual area to put a number or a nickname.”Bartziokas says the mask-painting field is more crowded than ever, meaning artists usually get contracts either through a personal relationship with the goaltender or through a team’s trainer. An NHL goaltender’s mask is not only the one thing standing between a man’s head and a 160-kilometre slapshot — it is also Sylvie Marsolais’ canvas.The Montreal-area airbrush artist is one of a small group who paint masks for the league’s top goalies — each a unique work of art made to showcase both the team and the netminder’s personality. Many artists begin painting for players at junior level and hope to stick with them as they move up the levels.Both Bartziokas and Marsolais are goaltenders themselves, something they say gives them a personal connection to the game.And both of them struggle to answer when asked to choose a favourite mask from among the ones they’ve done, given the time and energy invested into each one.“The last one I’ve finished is always my favourite,” Marsolais said.04:00ET 20-01-17 Team logos decorate much of the top, while the back plate features the initials of Berra’s family members.Marsolais, 38, says each goaltender gets a personalized design and no two are ever the same.“There’s no production and there’s no reproduction, it’s just creativity from A to Z,” the artist says in an interview in her workshop in Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac as she layers red paint on a mask with smooth strokes and then stops to check the drawing in front of her.Marsolais, who operates Sylabrush Airbrush with her partner Alexandre Mathys, says some goaltenders approach her knowing exactly what they want, while others let her take the lead in the design.Team logos and brick walls are popular motifs, but goaltenders also request everything from family portraits to religious symbols to video game characters.For logos and large graphics she uses vinyl stencils that are carefully stuck and later peeled off with a sharp knife. More detailed work, such as portraits, she draws freehand.Her masks take anywhere between 15 and 40 hours to paint and cost anything from $600 to more than double that amount.The painting of goalie masks is a competitive market, and many artists also try to stand out with signature techniques and special effects.Marsolais’ newest specialty is “ghost paint” that changes colour when heat or cold is applied.As an example, a mask she painted for Ottawa’s Craig Anderson features a black background that fades away when heat is applied with a hair dryer to reveal Marvin the Martian — a tribute to retired goalie Patrick Lalime, whose masks always featured the character.Another painter, Swedish artist Dave Gunnarsson, attracted attention this year for his work with glow-in-the-dark paint, including a dramatic glowing lightning bolt mask for Tampa Bay backstopper Ben Bishop.Gunnarsson, a prolific artist who paints masks for more than half the league’s goaltenders, also lists a number of “special effects” on his website that include 3-D, metallic, holographic and glowing paints.But for Alberta-based painter Jason Bartziokas, a good mask is less about gimmicks and more about simple, bold design.“It’s scale,” said the Jasper-based airbrush artist, who counts Andrew Hammond and Chad Johnson among his NHL clients.“I think bigger is better. A recent mask Marsolais painted for the Florida Panthers’ Reto Berra features palm trees superimposed over a background of team colours in red, gold and black.

NFL’s final four teams getting help from surprising places

“He’s obviously a running back with the ball, but he can run around like a receiver because he’s played receiver for a number of years, too. “That was the first time I scored. He played in only seven games last season before hurting his knee.In last week’s 34-16 win over Houston, Lewis became the first player in the Super Bowl era to score on a run, a catch and a kick return in a post-season game. “Right now, moving forward I’m just focused on having great practices with my teammates and continuing to prepare because it’s a big week for us and we gotta stay focused on this week. He is healthy this time around and thriving.He has an interception in four straight games. He flashed his speed on the 47-yard scoring pass from Matt Ryan, showing why the Falcons moved quickly to sign the receiver after he was cut by Cleveland late in the preseason. Jones had another big year, finishing second in the NFL in yards receiving. The second-year player ran for two touchdowns in last week’s win over Dallas. Midway through the season, there would have been no way to predict Taylor Gabriel would be the top scorer among Atlanta Falcons wide receivers.Especially considering that group includes All-Pro Julio Jones.Gabriel’s surprise unveiling began when he scored his first touchdown of the season in the Falcons’ 33-32 win over Green Bay on Oct. He also had six catches for 34 yards.“He’s an extremely skilled player,” said Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. I’ve gotten introduced to the offence a little more since then.”Gabriel’s teammates saw his potential in his first practice with the team in September.“The first day when we saw him get off the ball we were like ‘whoa,’” said fullback Patrick DiMarco. I’m really proud of his effort.”Montgomery set season highs with 16 carries for 162 yards against Chicago on Dec. Jones had six.Similarly, Green Bay running back Ty Montgomery, New England running back Dion Lewis and Pittsburgh linebacker Ryan Shazier have emerged with surprise key roles to help their teams reach the conference championship games.Gabriel is a big part of Atlanta’s offence entering Sunday’s NFC championship game rematch against the Packers.“A lot has changed,” Gabriel said, referring to the regular-season game against the Packers. 30. He also has taken on a large portion of the Steelers’ defensive play-calling responsibilities, allowing veteran Lawrence Timmons to focus more on making an impact in opposing backfields.Shazier has the speed to cover wide receivers and the intelligence to diagnose plays quickly. 18.Lewis’s versatility helps PatsDion Lewis missed the first half of the season in New England while recovering from surgery on his left knee. In Pittsburgh’s wild-card win over Miami, Shazier disguised a blitz then dropped back into coverage to make a leaping interception.Coach Mike Tomlin said Shazier “steadies a lot of waters.” But Gabriel’s seven touchdowns, including one on a run, led Atlanta’s receivers. That’s all that matters.”Shazier’s interception spreeRyan Shazier spent the first meeting against the Patriots trying to shake off the rust after missing a month with a sprained knee. They were his first touchdowns of the season.“The past is the past,” Lewis said. He scored on a 13-yard catch, a 98-yard kickoff return and a one-yard run. “You could tell from his skill set that the kid is super-explosive and super-fast.”Gabriel has 35 catches for 579 yards.Here’s a look at the major contributions from the other trio of expected surprises.Montgomery catching on at running backTy Montgomery moved from receiver to running back for the Packers following the season-ending injury to Eddie Lacy in October.