This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.
Figure skating and curling own the winter Olympic sports stage this weekend
The Beijing Winter Olympics officially open 13 weeks from today. As February 4 approaches, we’ll be seeing more and more winter sports seasons get going as athletes ramp up for the Games. Just not quite yet. Only two major events are taking place from now through Sunday. Here’s what to know about each of them in our weekly guide to what to watch in winter Olympic sports this weekend:
Figure skating: Italian Grand Prix
The Grand Prix of Figure Skating circuit typically does not include a regular stop in Italy. But Turin stepped in to fill the gap when the Cup of China was cancelled due to travel restrictions related to the pandemic.
If you only care about Canadian skaters, this is not the event for you. Nearly all of them are skipping this one after competing at Skate Canada International (the country’s lone Grand Prix stop) last weekend in Vancouver. The only Canadian entry in Turin is the ice dance duo of Carolane Soucisse and Shane Firus. They finished seventh at the Grand Prix season opener, Skate America, a couple of weeks ago in Las Vegas. Skaters are allowed to enter up to two of the six regular Grand Prix events per season (plus the Grand Prix Final if they place in the top six in the standings), so this might be it for them.
If you can get past the dearth of Canadian content, some excellent international skaters are competing in Turin, headlined by an intriguing ice-dance battle. Four-time world champions and 2018 Olympic silver medallists Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France are making their first Grand Prix appearance since skipping the pandemic-marred 2020-21 season. They’ll be tested right away by three-time world championship medallists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue of the United States, who won gold at Skate America two weeks ago.
The pairs event features China’s Wenjin Sui and Cong Han, who own two world titles and took silver at the most recent world championships and Olympics. They’re going for their second straight Grand Prix gold after dominating at Skate Canada.
The guy to watch in the men’s event is 18-year-old Yuma Kagiyama of Japan. He won silver at the world championships last season and skates to music by Michael Bublé (for his short program) and from the movie Gladiator (for his free routine). What a combo.
The women’s event features reigning world champ Anna Shcherbakova, who’s squaring off again with fellow Russian teenager Maya Khromykh. The latter, who’s only 15, beat Shcherbakova at an event in Budapest last month.
Competition at the Italian Grand Prix got underway today with the short programs. If you’re reading this in time, you can still catch the end of the men’s short, which runs until about 5 p.m. ET. CBC Sports’ live streaming coverage continues Saturday at 10 a.m. ET with the women’s free, followed by the conclusions of the other three disciplines. Watch all the streams live here. Read a full preview of the Italian Grand Prix by CBC Sports’ Christine Rankin here.
Curling: The National
The second Grand Slam of Curling event of the season is also the last one before Canada’s Olympic trials. Those happen later this month in Saskatoon, and the fields for the men’s and women’s tournaments were finalized last weekend at the pre-trials in Nova Scotia.
Eight of the nine men’s teams that qualified for the trials are competing at the National, which began Thursday in Chestermere, Alta., and runs through Sunday. That list includes trials favourites Kevin Koe, Brad Gushue, Brad Jacobs and Brendan Bottcher. The exception is the team skipped by 23-year-old Tanner Horgan, who beat 59-year-old great Glenn Howard to win one of the last spots up for grabs at the pre-trials. The National’s men’s field also includes the two finalists from the 2021 world championships: Sweden’s Nik Edin, who captured his fifth world title, and runner-up Bruce Mouat, who might be the hottest curler in the world right now. The Scotsman has won three consecutive Grand Slam tournaments, dating back to last season.
The women’s tournament at the National features six of the nine skips who qualified for the Canadian trials, including favourites Kerri Einarson, Rachel Homan and Jennifer Jones. Also keep an eye on Tracy Fleury, who opened the Grand Slam season by beating Jones in the final of the Masters a couple of weeks ago. The international contingent is led by Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni, winner of the last two world titles, and Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg, the reigning Olympic champ. The National is being broadcast by Sportsnet.
Carey Price is coming back. The superstar goalie will rejoin the Montreal Canadiens on Monday after spending the start of the season in the NHL’s player assistance program. No official reason has been given for why Price entered the program, but his wife, Angela, has indicated it involved mental health. It’s unclear when Price will be ready to play. Montreal is struggling without him, going an Eastern Conference-worst 3-9-0 to start the season after making it to the Stanley Cup final last summer. Read more about Price’s return here.
Yuzuru Hanyu’s three-peat hopes took a hit. The Japanese figure skating star suffered an ankle injury that will keep him out of next week’s Grand Prix event in Tokyo. Hanyu, who won gold in 2014 in Sochi and 2018 in Pyeongchang, is hoping to become just the third individual figure skater in history to capture three Olympic gold medals. Norway’s Sonja Henie won three straight women’s titles from 1928-36, and Sweden’s Gillis Grafström took three men’s titles in a row in the ’20s. On the bright side for Hanyu, he missed two months with an ankle injury leading up to the 2018 Olympics and still won gold. Read more about his latest injury here.
The National Women’s Soccer League playoffs start Sunday. It’s been a trying season for the NWSL, which was rocked by allegations of sexual harassment and coercion against coach Paul Riley by two former players. The fallout from a published report detailing those allegations led to the departures of several key figures in the league, including Riley, some other coaches and team executives, and even NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird. But the players pushed on, and now they’re set to compete in an expanded, single-elimination playoff tournament that features six teams — two more than in the past. The top two seeds get a bye to the semifinals. Both of them feature a member of the Canadian women’s national team that won Olympic gold this summer. Christine Sinclair — Canada’s longtime captain and the leading scorer in international soccer history — plays for the Portland Thorns, who had the best record in the regular season and recently hired former Canadian national-team goalie Karina LeBlanc as their new GM. Quinn, who in Tokyo became the first openly transgender, non-binary athlete to win an Olympic medal, is a member of the second-seeded OL Reign. The semifinals will take place on Nov. 14, and the NWSL title match is Nov. 20. Read more about the NWSL playoffs, including a rundown of the Canadians involved in Sunday’s first-round matchups, in this preview by CBC Sports’ Signa Butler.
The women’s Premier Hockey Federation is set to relaunch. Known as the National Women’s Hockey League for six seasons before rebranding itself over the summer, the PHF is hoping for a fresh start in more ways than one. The six-team league’s attempt to pull off a shortened season and a playoff tournament in Lake Placid, N.Y., last winter fell apart because of a COVID-19 outbreak on the eve of the semifinals. The Isobel Cup playoffs were eventually completed the following month in Massachusetts, with the Boston Pride winning the title. Better days are ahead, the PHF hopes, after doubling its salary cap to $300,000 US per team (an average of $15K per player) and securing a U.S. streaming deal on ESPN+, which will show every game. The PHF plans to expand to Montreal, but for now the lone Canadian franchise remains the Toronto Six, who debuted last season. They’ll play an outdoor game on Feb. 21 in Buffalo vs. that city’s team, the Beauts. Players from the Canadian and U.S. national teams, which will likely face off for Olympic gold again in Beijing this February, are still refusing to participate in the PHF as they seek a “sustainable” women’s pro league in North America — preferably one backed by the NHL. The national-team players are aligned with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association, which will continue to stage barnstorming events this season, beginning next weekend in Nova Scotia. Read more about the PHF relaunch and the state of women’s pro hockey here.
Aaron Rodgers explained himself. Sort of. The reigning NFL MVP has been under fire all week after testing positive for COVID-19 and being ruled out for 10 days — an indication that he’s not vaccinated, despite giving the media and fans the impression that he was. Today, Rodgers finally owned up to avoiding the shot, explaining in an interview that “I’m not an anti-vax, flat-earther. I have an allergy to an ingredient that’s in the mRNA vaccines. I found a long-term immunization protocol to protect myself and I’m very proud of the research that went into that.” Rodgers also lashed out at “cancel culture” and the “woke mob,” quoted Martin Luther King Jr., and mentioned that he consulted Joe Rogan for medical advice.
This weekend on CBC Sports
In addition to the aforementioned Grand Prix of Figure Skating event, here are the other live sports you can stream and/or watch on TV:
Junior hockey: Watch the QMJHL game between the Saint John Sea Dogs and the Drummondville Voltigeurs on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on the CBC TV network, CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.
Rugby: Watch the Ontario university women’s championship between the Guelph Gryphons and the Queen’s Golden Gaels on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.
You’re up to speed. Have a good weekend.