What to watch in Olympic sports this weekend – CBC.ca

CBC Sports’ daily newsletter looks ahead to the weekend’s Olympic winter sports action, including the start of the long-track World Cup season, a variety of women’s hockey and the NHK Trophy in Japan.

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Ted-Jan Bloemen opened his Olympic season with a silver medal on Friday. (Peter Dejong/The Associated Press)

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.

Skating sports take centre stage

A sport in which Canada is banking on Olympic medals begins its season, a Canadian team nearly assured of a spot on the podium heads to Finland and the figure skating Grand Prix stops in Japan. Here’s what to know about each in our weekly winter Olympic sports viewing guide:

Speed skating: Long-track World Cup

Canada’s Olympic team is relying on its long-track skaters to deliver a good portion of its overall medals in Beijing. And the skaters’ first taste of international competition today in Poland delivered some promising results.

At 35, Ted-Jan Bloemen continues to reach podiums, grabbing silver in the men’s 5,000 metres — the distance in which he set the world record in 2017 before earning silver at the 2018 Olympics. Bloemen won’t get the chance to flex his 10,000m muscles until next weekend’s World Cup stop in Norway, where the reigning Olympic champion will be challenged by Canadian teammate and one-time world record-holder Graeme Fish.

Isabelle Weidemann also started her season with a silver medal in the 3,000m, where she holds the national title. Weidemann returns to the ice for the team pursuit on Saturday alongside Ivanie Blondin, looking to bounce back after disappointing results in last year’s shortened season, and Valerie Maltais, a three-time Olympian in short track trying to return to the Games in a new discipline. Blondin placed eighth in the 3,000m while Maltais was 12th.

Laurent Dubrueil used that short season to assert himself on the World Cup tour with four medals and another pair at the world championships. That success continued today as the reigning 500m world champion took bronze in the distance.

One last notable: Vincent de Haitre. You might recognize the name from track cycling at Tokyo 2020. But it’s on to the next Olympics for de Haitre, who quickly converted his full focus to the ice ahead of Beijing.

Read more results from today’s competition here. Catch all the action when it resumes Saturday and Sunday at 8:30 a.m. ET here.

Women’s hockey: Canada vs. Finland, Dream Gap Tour, PHF

That’s three different forms of women’s hockey this weekend, all featuring different players, and all worth your attention.

There’s the obvious one: Canada won the first of a three-game exhibition series on the road against Finland last night, with the teams battling again on Saturday and Sunday. Finland, ranked third, shocked Canada in the semifinals at the 2019 world championships and nearly (some would say should have) upset the U.S. for gold before falling back to bronze at the 2021 tournament. If any country can prevent the presumed Canada-U.S. Olympic gold-medal game, it’s Finland.

Elsewhere, the PWHPA returns with a season-opening Dream Gap Tour tournament in Nova Scotia, while Boston and Connecticut meet twice in PHF (formerly the NWHL) action. The former is a barnstorming series that rose from the ashes of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, which shuttered in 2019. In non-Olympic years, it features nearly all of the Canadian and American national-team players. But they’re now centralized in preparation for Beijing, leaving just those who missed out to continue playing in the PWHPA.

The PHF looks more like your regular professional hockey league, with teams travelling between cities instead of playing at neutral sites. In time for the new season, the league also doubled its salary cap (to $300,000 US per team) and contains permanent dressing rooms for players (meaning they no longer have to lug their hockey bags to and from the arena). But despite all that, the world’s top players remain committed to the PWHPA and its quest for a sustainable pro league.

Calgary and Boston were underway in Dream Gap Tour action as of our publish time, with action continuing at 6 p.m. ET (Montreal vs. Toronto) and throughout the weekend on CBCSports.ca. Watch it all and see the full schedule here.

Figure skating: NHK Trophy

The Japanese stop on the Grand Prix tour was supposed to feature hometown superstar Yuzuru Hanyu. But the two-time reigning Olympic champion suffered an ankle injury in practice last week, forcing him to withdraw and creating a potential opening on the podium in Beijing — though Hanyu similarly hurt his ankle in the lead-up to the Pyeongchang Games.

In Hanyu’s absence, a battle emerged between compatriot Shoma Uno and American Vincent Zhou, who ended Nathan Chen’s 14-event winning streak earlier in the season. Both skaters made minor mistakes in their short program today, but Uno, the 2018 Olympic silver medallist, came away with a slight lead over Zhou. All eyes are on the Hanyu, Chen, Zhou and Uno quartet ahead of Beijing, where at least one talented skater is assured of missing the podium entirely.

Canada’s Nam Nguyen sits 10th in his second Grand Prix of the season. With Keegan Messing close to a lock for the Olympic team, Nguyen is fighting to grab the other Canadian quota spot. Meanwhile, the top Canadian entry after one day of competition at the NHK Trophy is ice-dance duo Marjorie Lajoie and Zach Lagha, who used a season-best rhythm-dance performance to reach fifth. Canadian pair Evelyn Walsh and Trennt Michaud are 10th after the short program.

Read more results from the first day of the NHK Trophy here. Competition resumes tonight at 10:20 p.m. ET, and you can watch it on CBCSports.ca here.

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Shoma Uno dazzles in NHK Trophy short program

The Japanese skater posted a score of 102.58 to lead the men in front of his home crowd. 6:04

Quickly…

The Canadian men’s soccer team’s best-laid plans are in motion. The temperature at kick-off for tonight’s World Cup qualifying match against Costa Rica in Edmonton is expected to reach freezing. And it’s supposed to be even colder for Tuesday’s tilt with Mexico. That was the point — bringing opposing players used to warm temperatures into new environments. Now it’s up to the team to take advantage. Canada sits third in qualifying, with tonight representing the halfway point of the octagonal tournament. Coming away with points against two top sides would go a long way toward securing that top-three position, which guarantees a spot at Qatar 2022. Read more about Canada’s newfound men’s soccer belief in this piece by CBC Sports contributor Chris Jones, and watch a video preview of the game here.

Something else to check out

The 4% Rising newsletter: A study done a few years back found that only four per cent of traditional media coverage was devoted to women’s sports. Hence the name of this newsletter focused on growing the audience by telling you when and where to watch women’s sports on TV and online. Sample the latest edition and subscribe here.

This weekend on CBC Sports

In addition to the aforementioned events, some other things to watch:

U Sports championships: Victoria and Ottawa meet in the first women’s rugby semifinal at 5 p.m. ET before defending champion Laval clashes with Queen’s at 7 p.m. ET. The winners play for gold on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET. Watch it all here. Meanwhile, the three-game women’s field hockey championship series between Victoria and Toronto begins at 6 p.m. ET tonight here, with Game 2 set for Saturday and Game 3, if necessary, on Sunday. And catch the Ontario university women’s soccer title match between Toronto and Western at 7 p.m. ET today here.

International Swimming League: It’s the opening round of the playoffs, with the Toronto Titans hitting the pool for its two-day, four-team match on Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. Read everything you need to know about the ISL playoffs here.

Junior hockey: Top-ranked NHL prospect Shane Wright and his Kingston Frontenacs take on the Mississauga Steelheads on the CBC TV network, CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET. Watch an interview with Wright here.

Beach volleyball: Action from the World Tour stop in Brazil continues through Sunday’s gold-medal match on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.

You’re up to speed. Have a good weekend.