Sports·The Buzzer

It's the 1st big sports weekend in a while

Friday's edition of CBC Sports' daily newsletter, The Buzzer, covers a suddenly jam-packed weekend in pro sports, and the Blue Jays' finally finding a home in Buffalo.

Here’s what to look for on a sneakily jam-packed few days of live events

The Blue Jays' Friday season opener kicks off a surprisingly busy weekend in sports. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

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Here's what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

The Blue Jays finally have a home

Just hours before their season opener at Tampa Bay, the Jays announced they'll play the "majority" of their home games this season in Buffalo, N.Y. The team settled on Sahlen Field, which is the home of their triple-A affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons, after a potential deal to share the Baltimore Orioles' stadium fell through because public officials there didn't like it. Before that, an arrangement with the Pittsburgh Pirates collapsed for the same reason. And before that, the Canadian government decided not to allow the Jays to play in Toronto, which is why they needed a new home.

The reason the word "majority" was used is that Buffalo's stadium won't be ready to host the Jays' first home series, which is July 29-30 vs. Washington. Sahlen Field needs a few upgrades to make it major-league-ready — most importantly, better lighting. So the Jays and Nationals will play that series in Washington. It's possible the July 31-Aug. 2 series vs. Philadelphia could be played in Buffalo, but it seems more likely that the Jays will start playing there on Aug. 11, which is their next home game after that. Read more about the Blue Jays' new (temporary) home here.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. spent some time at Sahlen Field before getting called up by the Blue Jays. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Sports escalated quickly

After months of pandemic-induced idleness, it suddenly feels like every league is back at once. Some are firing up their seasons this weekend, others are playing higher-stakes tournament games, and two big ones are making final preparations for their grand re-openings next week.

Here's what to look for on a sneakily jam-packed weekend for pro sports (feels good to say that again):

Basketball

The NBA season re-tips off in six days, and the Toronto Raptors play their first of three scrimmage games tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET vs. Houston in the Disney World bubble. The defending champs also have warmups Sunday vs. Portland and Tuesday vs. Phoenix. The regular season resumes Thursday night with a pair of games (including a marquee matchup between the Lakers and Clippers), and the Raptors open Saturday night vs. the Lakers.

But you don't have to wait that long for a hoops fix. The Canadian Elite Basketball League tips off its two-week-long championship tournament Saturday with a pair of games, followed by another two on Sunday. The Saturday openers (Niagara vs. Hamilton at 1:30 p.m. ET; Ottawa vs. Guelph at 3:50 p.m. ET) will be broadcast live on the CBC TV network and streamed live on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. Sunday's games (Saskatchewan vs. Niagara at 1:30 p.m. ET; Edmonton vs. Fraser Valley at 4 p.m. ET) will be streamed. You can watch every game in the tournament live here.

The CEBL's Summer Series tournament is replacing the regular season and playoffs this year. It's taking place in St. Catharines, Ont., where the league's seven teams will compete in a round-robin from which the top six advance to the single-elimination stage. The top two teams get a bye to the semifinals, which are Saturday, Aug. 8. The championship final is the next day.

An interesting twist to the tournament is that the CEBL is using the Elam Ending for all its games. At the first stoppage in play with four minutes or less remaining in the final quarter, the game clock is turned off and the teams play to a target score. That number is determined by adding nine points to the leading team's score. For example: the ball goes out of bounds with 3:57 left and Niagara leading Hamilton 80-75. The teams now play to 89. So Niagara needs nine points to win the game, while Hamilton needs 14. The beauty of this system is that every game ends with someone sinking a basket (either from the floor or the free-throw line). There's no running out the clock by the leading team, and no intentionally fouling to get the ball back by the trailing team. Read more about the brilliance of the Elam Ending here and read 10 reasons to watch the CEBL tournament here.

It's also a big weekend for women's basketball. The WNBA tips off its shortened 22-game regular season (cut from 36) Saturday in its bubble setup in central Florida. It'll be followed by a standard playoff tournament that ends in October. Canadian national-team star Kia Nurse's New York Liberty play in the season opener Saturday afternoon. Read about how she's adjusting to life in the bubble here.

Soccer

The knockout round of the MLS is Back Tournament starts Saturday, and all three Canadian teams made it. Toronto FC won its group, while the Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps both recovered from slow starts to improbably reach the round of 16. The tournament is single-elimination from here on in. Montreal faces Orlando on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. On Sunday, Toronto takes on New York City FC at 8:30 p.m. ET, and Vancouver meets Sporting Kansas City at 11 p.m. ET.

The National Women's Soccer League's championship final is Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET. It's an unlikely matchup between the Houston Dash, who were seeded fourth for the knockout stage, and the sixth-seeded Chicago Red Stars. A new champion will be crowned after the North Carolina Courage, who won the title the last two years, were upset in the quarter-finals. Houston has four Canadian players: defender Allysha Chapman, midfielder Sophie Schmidt and forwards Nichelle Prince and Maegan Kelly. Chicago has only one — defender Bianca St. Georges, who scored her first professional goal in the Red Stars' 3-2 semifinal win over Sky Blue FC. Read NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird's thoughts on how the league was able to pull off its tournament during a pandemic and where she sees it going from here in this piece by CBC Sports' Signa Butler.

Sunday is also the final day of the English Premier League season, which restarted in mid-June. Liverpool clinched the league title about a month ago — its first in 30 years — but a few things are still at stake. Manchester United, Chelsea and Leicester are battling for England's last two spots in next season's Champions League (Liverpool and Manchester City are already in). Aston Villa, Watford and Bournemouth are fighting to avoid the two remaining relegation spots (Norwich is already being demoted). Leicester striker Jamie Vardy is looking to clinch his first Golden Boot trophy for topping the league in scoring (he has a two-goal lead). It'll be a quick turnaround to the next EPL season, which kicks off Sept. 12.

Baseball

The shortened 60-game Major League Baseball season opened last night with the Yankees beating the World Series champion Nationals 4-1 in a game that was called in the sixth inning due to rain. Later, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are co-favourites with the Yankees to win the World Series, blasted San Francisco 8-1. Every other team opens today/tonight. The Jays face the Tampa Bay Rays at 6:40 p.m. ET.

Just before Dr. Anthony Fauci uncorked a ceremonial first pitch last night that was juuuuuuuuuuuust a bit outside, MLB and the players' union announced that they'd agreed to expand the post-season from 10 to 16 teams. The top two teams in each division plus two wild cards in each league get in. In the first round, the top seed in each league faces the No. 8 seed, 2 plays 7 and so on. Those series are best-of-three, and the higher seed hosts every game. That's followed by the usual best-of-five Division Series and the best-of-seven League Championship Series and World Series.

Hockey

NHL players arrive at their assigned bubbles (Edmonton for the Western Conference teams, Toronto for the East) on Sunday. Each team plays one exhibition game (Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday) before the so-called Stanley Cup Qualifiers (an additional round tacked onto the standard playoffs) begin next Saturday.

Last night, the NHL released more details about the bubbles. That included a lot of procedural items like how COVID-19 testing, hotel accommodations, meals, entertainment and off-ice fitness facilities will work for the players. But for fans, the most interesting stuff related to how the games will look and sound on TV without spectators in the arenas. In order to make the empty buildings a little more aesthetically pleasing, the lower-bowl seats will be covered with a tarp. Also, giant LED screens and banners will be placed behind the benches, displaying stuff like team logos and graphics and even video of cheering fans. Here's an artist's rendering:

(NHL)

Instead of the usual 20 TV cameras, 32 will be used to capture the games — some of them positioned in places they've never been before. Crowd sounds, supplied by the video-game company EA Sports, will be piped into the arenas so that players can hear them too. Unfortunately for anyone hoping to hear some of the, uh, colourful dialogue on the ice, games will be broadcast on a five-second delay so that anything obscene can be edited out. Read more about life in the NHL's bubble here.

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