Top 11 of ’11: Canadian Sports Stories

Canada is a great and unique country and in 2011 we showed just how great and unique we were in the sports world. The Canadian Sports world is a unique one as there is a clear-cut favorite that cannot be debated. BC is known as a baseball factory and the prairies are in love with their football but from East to West and North to South there is no bigger sport than hockey. Hockey is king in Canada with sports networks constantly covering everything that is done in the NHL, CHL, World Junior Championship, and almost any other hockey being played. There is no question that the fastest sport in the world is the top of Canadians’ lists as their favorite sports and that is why hockey dominates the Top 11 Canadian Sports Stories. There is of course more than just hockey in Canada as Canadian Intercollegiate Sports showed their great talent in their football season. Canada also has its own unique brand of football that provided a number of big stories. Of course there are also a lot of stories that centre around the only city to have a team in every league along with its own attractiveness for many big events. 2011 in Canadian sports was in interesting one from tragedy to joy and everything in between this is the top 11 Canadian sports stories of 2011.

 

11. Spydome

 

 

 

The Toronto Blue Jays are rarely spoken of in the larger context of the sports world as they have not been a top team since the early 1990s. This year the Jays seemed to get better as they look to be on their way to challengers in the MLB behind the spectacular performance of Jose Bautista. Bautista’s seemingly out of nowhere rise to top hitter in the MLB has caused some issues for the Blue Jays as many rumours have started. At first it was that Bautista was using steroids to hit his HRs but it was a legitimate worry as the MLB had been rocked by steroid scandals in recent years. The accusations were never founded though as Buatista had been tested many times and had never failed a drug test. In 2011 the accusations arose again except this time it was in the form of a report in ESPN The Magazine that accused the Blue Jays of stealing signs. This practice was the reason why Bautista and the rest of the Blue Jays were hitting so well. The accusations claimed that a “Man in White” had been sitting in the outfield and was stealing the signs of the catcher and relaying these signs to the Blue Jays batters giving them the upper hand. The story lasted all of a week until the shear outrage of the fans and the General Manager, Alex Anthopoulos, seemed to end the story that had been a report based on accounts of opposing team’s bullpens.  Of course the fact that the accusations were simply untrue did not stop the fans from having fun (picture above) as the game after the story came out saw many fans dress in white and claim they were stealing the signs.

 

10. Home Cooking for the Lions

 

 

 

 

The CFL is a truly Canadian game with its own rules and own attitude about what it stands for in the Canadian Sports World. This year the CFL put on a great season with plenty to talk about but the biggest story was the BC Lions. The Lions started their season 0-5 after a 2010 season that saw them make the playoffs with new QB Travis Lulay. It looked as though the Lions took a step back at the beginning of the season as they went 2-6 by the midseason point at Labour Day. At this point the Lions seemed lost for solutions but they tried one thing as they signed veteran receiver Arland Bruce III, after week 6, who had been seemingly kicked out of Hamilton and Toronto for his attitude. The Lions welcomed him as they had added a second threat with Geroy Simon on the other side of the line. With their dual threat passing offence and a great young QB the Lions began showing signs of life. On Labour Day weekend Lulay began his march toward the league’s Most Outstanding Player of the year award has he led his team to their first of many wins. Including their win before the bye week the Lions won 10 of their last 11 games only faltering against the Hamilton Tiger Cats in week 17. The 10 wins launched the Lions into the first place spot in the Western Conference that gave them a bye in the first round of the playoffs. They did not stumble in the playoffs either as the Lions looked to Lulay to lead them throughout the playoffs and into the Grey Cup. The Lions then did not travel one kilometer as they would play the 99th Grey Cup in their home stadium giving them the advantage in the newly renovated BC Place. The Lions took this advantage and completed their amazing season by winning the Grey Cup at home and possibly becoming the new CFL power behind MOP winner Travis Lulay.

 

9. UFC makes it to Mecca

 

 

 

 

The UFC is the fastest growing sport in the world and after signing a deal with Fox have entered the main stream. They are also always looking for new opportunities to expand and one of these has always been to expand their events into new markets. They had done this in Canada before as they went to Montreal multiple times and earlier in the year went to Vancouver. As good as these places were for the UFC there had always been one place that had eluded UFC President Dana White. This was Ontario, more specifically Toronto, as the Ontario Government had not allowed fighting in their province. Late in 2010 Ontario passed a law to allow fights in the province and the UFC leaped at the chance. They scheduled their first fight as soon as possible and that date ended up being April 30th, 2011. The UFC made sure that this fight would be a memorable one not only for Canadian UFC fans but for UFC fans everywhere. A card that was loaded with Canadian fighters including Mark Hominick, who would fight Jose Aldo for the Featherweight Title, and Georges St. Pierre, who defended his Welterweight title against Jake Shields. The UFC put the fight in the largest stadium they had ever visited in the Rogers Centre and sold out every ticket. The UFC set a record for the largest gate in UFC history, $12.075 million, and the largest attendance in UFC history, 55,724 people. The Fight went so well that the UFC wanted to immediately come back and did so taking away a fight from Montreal and putting it into the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on December 9th, 2011. Canadian sports took a big leap as they quickly became known as the craziest and the biggest fan base of the UFC all after the first UFC fight held in Toronto.

 

8. Calvillo Makes his Case

 

 

 

 

It is a rare sight to see an athlete that many can say will always be the best to ever play the game. The company is small and full of names that need no explanation like Jordan and Gretzky. This year another athlete may have been added to the list of the best to ever play the game but he was in a different league than many would think. Anthony Calvillo has been the top QB in the CFL for years and this year he solidified his spot as the best QB to ever play in the CFL. For 4 years this title had been carried by Damon Allen who had broken the Pro Football record for most passing yards surpassing all QBs including Brett Favre, Dan Marino, and Warren Moon. This year Allen was forced to give up his crown to Calvillo who moved past Allen in a number of categories. First Calvillo threw his 395th career TD pass to Eric Deslauriers moving past Damon Allen on the CFL career TD list. Then on August 4th Calvillo completed his 5159th pass breaking yet another Damon Allen record. Finally on October 10th Calvillo completed a TD pass to Jamel Richardson and surpassed Damon Allen on the all-time passing leaders. Calvillo now stands at 73,412 yards and on top of the all time pro football, NFL and CFL, passing list. Calvillo has decided to come back in 2012 and will extend his record beyond his current total. One thing is for sure, the entire CFL world was focused on the pursuit of the records by Calvillo all year as it became the focus of the 2011 CFL Season. The pursuit of records is always a big focus and this year it was the same as Calvillo became the new leader in passing yards.

 

7. The Greatest Football Game Ever?

 

 

 

The CIS is generally a forgotten league among the football leagues with the CFL, NFL, and NCAA taking the focus. If you are not careful, however, you might miss some of the best football you will ever see. This was true for the 47th Vanier Cup which could be considered the best football game ever played. The Vanier was between the McMaster Marauders and the Laval Rouge et Or as both looked to take home the CIS championship. Laval was looking to break a CIS record for most Vanier Cups with 7 and looked to be on their way as they were considered the best team in Canadian University Football. Meanwhile Mac had a quietly great season as they took out the Western Mustangs in the OUA finals on their way to the Vanier. It was clear that Laval was the favorite in the game with the Big Red Machine having success year after year and being ranked #1 at the end of the season. The start of the game did not follow conventional wisdom though as McMaster took off using their top ranked offence to get out to a 23-0 halftime lead. The game looked to be far from great as McMaster was dominating the play but Laval was not done yet. The third quarter saw Laval mount a comeback scoring 17 points without allowing McMaster to score. At the end of the 3rd quarter the score stood at 23-17 for McMaster with Laval coming on strong. The fourth quarter saw a back and forth shootout with the final play going to McMaster who missed a last second kick to go ahead for good. In OT Laval answered McMaster’s score forcing a second overtime. Then Laval did the unthinkable as they threw an interception giving McMaster the opportunity to win which they took hitting a field goal in second OT. The game had everything including a comeback, spectacular plays, and two overtimes making this by far the best game of 2011 if not of all time.

 

6. Team Canada Collapse

 

 

 

The World Junior Tournament ends and starts the year as the round robin ends in December with the playoffs beginning in January. The 2011 tournament was in Buffalo and the Canadian fans flocked over the border to see their team try to win another gold medal. The Canadians did not have the best round robin losing to Sweden on December 31st 2010 ruining their chance for an undefeated tournament. They rallied though as the playoffs saw Canada move through the teams and earn a spot in the Gold Medal game. In this game they would take on their longtime hockey rivals the Russians. From the start the Canadians looked in control as they scored 2 goals in the first and another in the second. The Canadians were much more physical in front of essentially a home crowd. The third period started with the Canadians up 3-0 and looking like they would win another Gold Medal but that might have been their problem. Just over two minutes into the third period the Russians finally broke through Mark Visentin. The game began turning but there was still a two goal cushion for the Canadians as they were not in trouble yet. Then almost immediately after Russia scored they added another goal reducing the lead to one goal and striking fear into the Canadian fans. Then the unthinkable happened as the Russians scored their third goal five minutes later tying the game and taking the momentum away from the Canadians. From the third goal the Canadians seemed to be done as they could not get anything going or stop the Russians. The Russians completed their comeback 8 minutes later as they scored their fourth goal and took the lead from the Canadians. They added one more goal at the end of the period as the Russians took the 5-3 win over the Canadians and won the Gold Medal for the World Junior Tournament. The Canadians had allowed 5 unanswered goals in one period as they completely collapsed losing in the gold medal game for the second time in as many years beginning a Gold medal drought. The result shocked the Canadian sport world as the collapse will go down as one of the worst in the history of Team Canada.

 

5. Concussions

 

 

 

 

The entire sports world has been rocked by new discoveries in medicine that have shown a direct relation between CTE and concussions. This progressive brain disease deteriorates the mind to the point of causing dementia. The relation between concussions and this disease was thanks in large part to the donations by deceased athletes who donated their brains to scientific study. As a result of this link many sports leagues have began to focus on the treatment and diagnoses of concussions. Every league established new rules and new enforcement in order to prevent concussions but one of the biggest changes in the Canadian sports sphere was the NHL’s concentration on concussions. The hiring of Brendan Shanahan was the start as the NHL legend became the new enforcer for the NHL as he began handing out suspensions for illegal hits to the head or just dangerous hits that could hurt someone. The NHL also began a new protocol in diagnosing concussions in the game. As a result of these new stricter rules in diagnosing concussions the NHL saw a massive increase in head related injuries that kept a number of players out. One of these players was Marc Savard who in February suffered a concussion and has yet to return to the NHL. Savard was one of the first of a number of players that have missed time due to concussions. These players include Sidney Crosby, Chris Pronger, Claude Giroux, and many more. Concussions have ruled the airwaves this year as teams and leagues continue to try to find ways to limit the harm that their players can suffer through changing rules and increasing enforcement. Perhaps the biggest part of this story will be what they can do next to prevent players from getting hurt and prevent them from having to suffer later in life.

 

4. Tragic Summer

 

 

 

This past summer was one of the toughest for the NHL as three members of the NHL fraternity. It all started in May 2011 when it was discovered that New York Rangers tough guy Derek Boogaard was found dead in his apartment. It was discovered later that Boogaard’s death was caused by a lethal mix of alcohol and prescription pills that was ruled as an accident. As if it wasn’t bad enough that one NHL player had passed away it was only 4 months later when Rick Rypien was discovered dead. His death was later ruled a suicide as the enforcer had been suffering from depression for years and finally succumbed to the terrible disease. As people mourned two deaths in one offseason not one month went by without the discovery of another hockey enforcer dead. Wade Belak was found dead in his Toronto apartment at the end of August in what some have said was suicide while others have claimed it was accidental, no cause of death has been revealed yet. All three of these NHL players died in the same summer this year shocking the NHL world and the Canadian hockey world as all three players were Canadian and Wade Belak and Rick Rypien had spent time with Canadian teams. The tragedies also caused a lot of talk in the NHL about the roles these players played in their time with the NHL. All three players were known as enforcers in the NHL and their deaths became a piece of evidence for those against fighting in the NHL. Many used the deaths as proof that fighting can harm players in much more than physical terms. Of course the reality was that these three deaths had little to do with their roles on the ice and a lot more to do with the devastating effects of depression. Although Boogaard’s death was accidental Rypien and Belak had both suffered from depression and as a result of this passed away this summer. The NHL world was rocked this summer and the Canadian sports world took a step back to look at something more than just wins and losses and instead looking at mental health in sports.

 

3. Vancouver Riots

 

 

 

 

As hockey continues to dominate the Top stories of 2011 the Top three deal with the NHL and the biggest stories in Canada in 2011. One of these was the Stanley Cup Finals which featured another matchup of America vs. Canada as the Boston Bruins took on the Vancouver Canucks. Canada has not seen one of the Canadian franchises win a Stanley Cup since the Montreal Canadiens did it in 1993. Since then there have been many opportunities with Calgary in 2004, Edmonton in 2006, and Ottawa in 2007. This past year Canada had the opportunity to bring home the Cup once more with the Vancouver Canucks carrying some of the best Canadian Cup hopes in years. The Canucks were the best team in the NHL at season’s end but had some early struggles in the playoffs as they came close to elimination in the first round. They managed to get through all of the controversy and make the Stanley Cup Finals where they would have home ice advantage. The Canucks began splitting games with Boston and ended up with a 3-2 series lead that saw them go to Boston to try to finish off the series. They lost the game in Boston setting up a Game 7 in Vancouver as the Canucks would look to win the Cup at home. The story did not go as they had hoped though as the Boston Bruins beat the Canucks 4-0 in Game 7. The loss made Vancouver fans upset and after being crammed into some smaller spaces outside and being fed beer for most of the game Vancouver Canucks fans had started a riot. The scene turned very ugly late into the night as cars were turned over and fires were set and damage was done. The rest of the world looked to Vancouver and saw just how crazy the Canadians can get when it comes to hockey. Unfortunately that was the story when the reality was the hockey fans started it but other people accelerated it. Perhaps the best part of the story is the clean up organized by Vancouverites the day after as they tried to put their city back together.

 

2. Sidney Crosby

 

 

 

 

As concussions dominated the sports media through all leagues and especially in the NHL there was one story that got more focus than any other. Sidney Crosby is considered the best player in the NHL bar none and when he plays people begin to watch. So when Crosby went down in February 2011 after being hit by Victor Hedman there was some major concern. It wasn’t even the Hedman hit that had caused the injury as David Steckel had hit Crosby directly in the head during the Winter Classic in January. Hedman’s hit simply was the final straw for Crosby’s head as he went out with a concussion and would not return for the rest of the season. It was a loss for the Penguins but the hope was he would return for the next season as the rest of the team would try, and fail, to win a Cup without him. As the offseason progressed the reports on Crosby were not good as he seemed to be staying the same. Crosby made little progress throughout the summer as his symptoms continued to linger. After almost a full offseason Crosby switched his recovery to a new process that essentially had him starting from the beginning and meaning his recovery would take longer. The season started and Crosby was not on the roster for the Penguins as he continued his recovery. By the end of October Crosby was seen practicing on the ice and doing things that he used to do while practicing with the team. Crosby continued to progress towards his return and on November 21st Crosby made his first appearance in the NHL since February 2011. He made a huge impact in his first time on the ice with a 4 point game, 2 goals and 2 assists, and earned the NHL’s first star of the week. It all looked good for Crosby in his return but it was not meant to be. After playing 8 games Crosby was moved to the bench again with “Concussion-Like Symptoms” as Crosby’s comeback was short-lived. Crosby will end 2011 like he started it, in the box with another head injury as many wonder if Crosby will ever return or if this was just another speed bump. Crosby’s journey was constantly reported on all year as Canadians paid close attention to his path to recover and the watching will continue as most NL fans hope the best player in the NHL will return to play again.

 

1. The Jets Fly Again

 

 

 

The Top Canadian Story of 2011 was one that had every Canadian hockey fan on the same side of the argument. This argument was whether or not an NHL team could survive in Winnipeg if they happened to get a team. In 1996 the Winnipeg Jets were forced to leave Canada and move to Phoenix, Arizona. The move was forced thanks to a rising American Dollar and a growing payroll. With the American Dollar getting much stronger than the Canadian Dollar contracts would cost the Jets much more as they would need to match American teams and their offers while only getting Canadian money as a return for the investment. This meant that the Jets were already in a hole the second they sold a ticket. As payroll increased the Jets could simply not keep up and were purchased by a group in the USA forcing the team to move. It was a true dagger to the hearts of Winnipeg fans who were some of the most diehard fans in the league but simply could not do anything to save their team. Since 1996 the Winnipeg Fans still wore their colours proudly and still supported a nonexistent team. Then came the talk of moving a team from the states that was struggling. It started with Jim Balsille who tried to buy the Phoenix Coyotes and move them to Hamilton. The NHL did not like Balsille though as they would use almost anything they could to stop him from the purchase. Balsille would never be an owner but with the talk of struggling teams needing to move the discussion began about what cities in Canada could support another team. Winnipeg was at the top of the list along with Quebec City and another team in Toronto but Winnipeg had an advantage. This advantage was True North Sports and Entertainment who formulated a plan and began discussions with the NHL to see what they needed to do to get a team. As the 2010-11 season ended it seemed as though Phoenix would move but there was still no word as to where. Winnipeg became a real option when Phoenix seemingly lost their only option for a new owner but the city stepped in and kept the team around. The dreams of Winnipeg seemed to be dashed but in almost no time the Atlanta Falcons became the option as their owners wanted to sell and with no real options in Atlanta the best option was to sell to True North Sports and Entertainment. The sale was completed and Winnipeg got their team back as they would play in Winnipeg for the 2011-12 season. The fans came out in droves as they sold 13,000 season tickets for the next 3 to 5 years proving that they would be able to survive in the NHL. The creation of the new Winnipeg Jets was the best story in Canada because it unified a nation as everyone was on the side of getting another Winnipeg franchise and when it happened all Canadian hockey fines let out a cheer, and then began wondering when Quebec City will get a team.

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