2015 Sport Addiction Canadian Year in Review

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When New Year’s Day began in 2015 there was a sense of excitement for Canadian sports fans as the new year meant plenty of anticipation.

The government had already declared that 2015 would be the Year of Sport in Canada and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Canada played host to major events while new superstars emerged in a year where many were watching Canadians celebrate sports.

That is a fairly new thing in Canada that has always been a nation that prefers to sit in the background.

It is a country that rarely gets in anyone’s face about being proudly Canadian and doesn’t like to rock the boat.

A lot of that attitude has changed though and it all began in 2010 when Canada played host the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

That was the change in Canada as people from around the world saw a passionate group of people cheering loudly for their athletes.

Ever since that year Canadians have been much prouder of their home grown talent and more often than not it has expressed itself in sports.

They can play that role for so many countries as sports are a way for many to show their national pride.

Whether it is in major events where athletes represent their countries one their national teams or it is professional players there is always some sense of national pride in sports.

For Canadians the Vancouver Olympics was the spark that lit national pride in sports and showed that being proud is not a bad thing.

Since that time more and more pride has built among Canadians for their great players on the international stage and for professional players around the world.

That has created a greater focus on Canadians in sports and as a result sports have only been getting better.

There are more great athletes competing for Canada and more Canadians are entering the top of professional sports.

There have always been a big number of great players from Canada to make the NHL but other professional sports usually had one or two recognizable names.year-in-review-sidebar.fw

That is changing as the rise of basketball throughout the country has seen a number of great players make the NBA and begin making an impact.

Tennis saw two Canadians rise to be considered two of the best in the sport as they have competed for major titles.

The MLB has seen the rise of a few very good Canadians that are continuing to make an impact.

There are also any number of new young athletes beginning to make noise in major Olympic sports.

The Canadians teams are also taking over as the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Raptors are among the most popular teams throughout the country thanks to their resurgence.

Of course this new focus on sports in Canada has brought new pressures on anyone who plays a sport in or for the country.

Not everyone can handle that pressure and they are no longer able to hide in relative anonymity that past Canadians have enjoyed when they struggled.

There is no longer an acceptance of being good at a sport as that has given way to an expectation of being great and winning.

Anything else and it just turns to a discussion of why Canada can’t compete or what needs to be done to get to the winning side of things.

Canada has always been a sports nation but the rest of the world is just waking up to that fact.

This year was another step in that process as more than ever Canada and Canadians were in full focus throughout the sports world.

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Every year there seems to be a new superstar ready to take on the NHL and change a franchise as the new young superstar. Not every year is there a player that comes into the league with the weight of being the next great player in NHL history. In fact it has only really happened twice in the league with two players simply nicknamed The Great One and Sid the Kid. Both were great in junior hockey and both have solidified legendary careers. One is in the Hall of Fame and the other, despite his struggles in this season, is likely headed there when his career is over. So when the 2015 draft approached it was not just another hyped player that was expected to go #1. Connor McDavid was definitely that hyped player but unlike players before him McDavid had already flirted with records held by Wayne Gretzky. It wasn’t new to him though as the hype had built when he became the third player to receive a special player exemption by the OHL allowing him to enter the OHL draft at 15-years-old. From his GTHL career to his OHL career McDavid lit up every league he was a part of and quickly became known as the next great hockey player. He was considered the next in line from Gretzky and Crosby with everyone waiting to see what he can do when he gets to the NHL. He was the talk of the league and leading up to the draft the lottery became a primetime event. Whoever won the draft lottery was going to get the best player to come into the NHL since Crosby and with every team having a shot all NHL fans were watching hoping to get that spot even if the top teams had almost no chance. The Edmonton Oilers won the lottery skipping ahead of Buffalo and earning the chance to take McDavid to add to an already impressive list of young talent. They didn’t leave anyone wondering during the draft as they took McDavid with the first pick and began the McDavid era. Unfortunately the hype dissipated when McDavid was injured just as he seemed to be getting in his groove in the NHL only playing 13 games as many await his return to see if he can live up to the potential in the new year.

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The golf world has been one that has seen brief achievements from Canadians with Mike Weir leading the way. He was one of the best Tour members to ever come from Canada winning multiple tournaments including the Masters in 2003 becoming the first Canadian to win a major championship. Largely due to his influence there are more Canadians on the PGA Tour than ever before and all, despite not winning majors, are consistently good players. That influence didn’t just end on the men’s side of the game though as a new golf star emerged this year on the LPGA Tour. Brooke Henderson had a quick rise through the ranks of women’s golf when she began winning amateur events in 2013 and then dominating the amateur tour in 2014. In December 2014 she decided to go pro at only 17-year-old and fought her way to the LPGA Tour. Throughout her first pro season she had to regularly qualify for tournaments, something that LPGA Tour members don’t have to do, and every time she qualified she made an impact. During the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic she broke records for the lowest scores in the tournaments history. She didn’t win that tournament ending in third but she had shown that she can compete with the best golfers on tour. She was denied the opportunity to qualify for a LPGA Tour card by playing the in Q Schools and instead was forced to qualify for any tournament she wanted to play. Her first professional win came on the Symetra Tour at the Four Winds Invitational and then she took another step. After qualifying for the Cambia Portland Classic, Henderson went on to dominate the tournament winning by eight strokes, the largest margin of victory since 2012. She became the second Monday qualifier to win an LPGA Tour and the first Canadian to win an LPGA Tour event since 2001. Later that month she was given her LPGA Tour card and in December she was named the Canadian Press Female Athlete of the year. Henderson had an interesting year as a professional but she fought through all of the qualifying with a number of wins and ended the year as an LPGA Tour golfer as the sky seems like the limit for this young star of Canadian golf.

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It seems like every year Canadian hockey fans look at the state of the NHL and wonder why teams like Florida and Arizona remain in the league when big Canadian markets are ignored. The return of the Winnipeg Jets has only fueled the belief that hockey in Canada will always work better than hockey in the USA. That might not be entirely true but it is a good chance that hockey in Quebec City, Hamilton, Markham, or many other places likely would work better than Arizona or Florida. Amongst all of the talk from Canadian hockey fans the NHL remains steadfast in their belief that they were not looking to expand or to relocate any team. That was until this year when the NHL announced that they were ready to explore the idea of expanding the league and welcomed cities to apply to earn an expansion franchise. In a somewhat disappointing turn of events only two cities applied, largely due to the $10-million application fee of which $2-million is non-refundable. One of those cities is the place that the NHL has been looking towards for the last few years in Las Vegas. The other was what Canadians had been hoping for since the team left in the 1990s, Quebec City. The city had already built a brand new NHL-ready arena in the Videotron Centre, where the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL currently play. They had built the arena in the hopes that if the NHL ever wanted to relocate or expand they would be ready at a moment’s notice. When Winnipeg got their franchise it was a last minute decision to move the team from Atlanta to Winnipeg and the new owners had to scramble to put the team in a CHL arena which is now one of the smallest in the league. The expansion was big news but as the season progressed the expansion talk dwindled as the NHL continues to decide if it does want to expand. There has been no decision yet and there might not be until next year but Quebec City has expressed its interest clearly and they are ready to get a team. There is renewed hope for the city though as they have officially applied and they seem like a good decision especially with only two cities applying and with recent issues in Florida there is a good chance that the city gets a new team at some point in the near future.

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In 2014 there was plenty of excitement surrounding Canada capital as football was returning to the city for the first time since the Renegades were suspended in 2006. The biggest question was whether or not football could work in Ottawa after two tries ended with poor attendance thanks to poor performances. For the first season things went better than expected as the REDBLACKS sold out every game in a great show of support. The big concern was whether or not that could continue through what was sure to be a struggle for an expansion team. Their first year ended with only 2 wins all season and many wondered if they could survive a few more bad years. After all the Renegades failed largely because they never made the playoffs in their four years and the fans were not interested in a losing team. The REDBLACKS were heading into their second season after one of the worst in the history of the CFL and although many expected the fans to return they weren’t sure what could happen is another bad season came about. General Manager Marcel Desjardins and head coach Rick Campbell weren’t willing to wait and see as they went about changing the face of their team in the off-season. Those new additions along with an ageless performance from Henry Burris brought the REDBLACKS to the winning side of things. Even more than that the REDBLACKS finished first in the Eastern Division and fought their way to the Grey Cup. They came up just short of winning the Grey Cup and completing the greatest single season turnaround in CFL history but they had completed an amazing turnaround. They had gone from the worst team in the CFL to one of the best two teams in the league. It is a major accomplishment for a team that has only been around for two seasons to get to the Grey Cup. It was all do to the great team building of Marcel Desjardins who put together a brand new receiving corps after a shaky one dropped too many balls the season before. That new group helped Burris, at the age of 40, win the Most Outstanding Player Award and brought the REDBLACKS to the title game. The only question now is where this team can go from here and if there is a new power to worry about in the east.

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There was plenty of talk about the rising Canadian stars in a number of league and sports throughout the 2014 season. So when 2015 began the question was less about who Canadians should be cheering for and more about what new highs could these athletes reach. There may not have been anyone with more weight on their shoulders than Genie Bouchard who went from a relatively unknown to the next superstar. She was in commercials and photo shoots and was recognized as one of the greatest athletes from Canada. Most of that hype came after she made the semi-finals in the Australian Open and French Open followed by a Finals appearance at Wimbledon. The excitement built and Bouchard became a household name in her home country with everyone thinking that there was plenty more to come for the young star. The end of that year was a sign of what was to come in 2015 though as she suffered a knee injury that kept her out of the final major of the year and was eliminated in her first match of the Rogers Cup at home in Montreal. 2015 never got better as she was eliminated in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open while losing her first round match in the French Open and Wimbledon. Things only got worse at the end of the year when she seemed to be back to her old self winning her first three matches at the US Open. Before her fourth round match Bouchard slipped and fell in the locker room suffering a concussion and forcing her to withdraw from the tournament. That slip is currently the focus of a lawsuit by Bouchard against the USTA that might go into trial during the next WTA season. After a meteoric rise through the tennis world Bouchard was all of a sudden a non-contender in almost every tournament and has been the source of plenty of controversy. From the lawsuit to the way she is treated as a female athlete in the media, namely criticism of her modelling and not focusing on tennis while Rafael Nadal does the same and is never questioned. 2015 was not a good year for the future superstar and as a new season approaches questions remain about whether she is truly a superstar in the making or just a flash in the pan.

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The NHL is a different beast in Canada than anywhere else in the world and nowhere is it seen more than in Toronto. Most Canadian hockey fans disagree claiming that the fans are just businessmen and that there are few real hockey fans in Toronto. Those people would be wrong though as the Maple Leafs have been one of the most valuable teams in the NHL for years and were the first NHL team to be worth $1 billion. That value went down this year, now ranking third in Forbes annual list behind New York and Montreal, but they are still one of the biggest and most important markets in the league. That is what makes news about the team that much bigger as everyone wants to know what the Leafs are doing whether because they are a fan or because they love to hate them. So when the 2014 season ended and the Leafs cleaned house the talk about who was going to be the next head coach and whether or not he could change things for a team that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 1949. At the same time news of the man considered one of the best coaches in the NHL leaving was just coming out. Mike Babcock had spent years with the Detroit Red Wings bringing them to a Cup and continuing a 20+ year playoff streak. It was going to be a bidding war to get the coach and with an opening the Leafs were in on the fight to hire him. It didn’t seem to be happening though as Babcock had reportedly agreed, in principle, to a deal with the Buffalo Sabres and the rumours of a different head coach began to surface. Then Babcock changed his mind and signed with the Leafs for the biggest coaching contract in the history of the NHL. Babcock signed an 8-year $50-million deal to coach in one of the most scrutinized markets in all of hockey but he brought a new life to the franchise. For once he stated that the Leafs were going to struggle for a few years instead of promising a quick fix and that process began. So far the Leafs are one of the worst teams in the league but they seem to be playing better hockey just with a worse roster as hope has returned to Toronto in the form of the highest paid coach in the NHL.

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They are not the biggest event in sports and more often than not they are the forgotten games but the Pan Am Games were a big deal this time around. Canada’s largest city was named the host for the 2015 Pan Am Games and they were set to let the party begin this past July. It was largely considered a tryout for the city to see how they could handle a major games and deal with the issues that come along with them. Overall the grade was fairly good with the city spending just under $2.5-billion, just about $1-billion over budget, on the games and had little issues with traffic or security. The city passed the grade as fans had a great time in the city along with the athletes and the city came out to support their Canadian athletes. The city finally got much needed transit improvements and new state-of the art sporting facilities that mostly will be owned and operated by the city’s universities. The Olympics won’t be coming any time soon but overall, aside from going over budget, the Toronto games were a success and brought much of the world to Canada. Along with the event itself the games also brought light to the new generation of summer sport stars ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics next summer. There was Ellie Black who became the new queen of Canadian gymnastics winning five total medals including three golds for the beam, the floor, and all-around. Then there was the Canadian Women’s Basketball team who beat the USA for the gold medal led by Kia Nurse, sister of Nashville Predators defenceman Darnell Nurse. The Women’s team later followed that up with a title in the FIBA Americas Championship to earn a spot in the 2016 Olympics. Chief among the young stars though was the new face of Canadian sprinting and the man many consider to be the second coming of Donovan Bailey. Andre De Grasse came into the Pan Am game with plenty of hype and he matched all of it throughout the games. He took home gold medals for the 100m and 200m while just missing out on gold in the 4x100m after a lane violation disqualified the Canadian team that had won the race. It was a massive party in Toronto and overall a major success for Canadian sports at every level.

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Not too long ago it was sheer panic in Canada with the Junior team failing to win gold medals and other national teams not having the performances Canada is used to having. The problem for many was the idea that Canada had been failing to produce Canadian goaltending talent. After all this was the nation that produced Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Eddie Belfour, and Curtis Joseph all within a small period of time. It used to be one of the most debated positions on the Canadian national team with everyone having an opinion on who the start and the backup should be. Since that time though the debate never seemed the same and the pipeline in the Juniors looked like they weren’t producing as many great goalies as they used to produce. The CHL got in on the action establishing a rule that required every team to carry at least one Canadian goalie after an influx of Europeans into the league. The problem was that the issue of having no goaltending talent from Canada was simply wrong. They may not have sounded like the old Canadians but goalies like Mike Smith, Corey Crawford, and Braden Holtby were all top goaltenders. It might have been that there was no goaltender that truly dominated like they used to but in 2015 that was put to rest as well. It ended thanks to the emergence of Carey Price as the greatest goaltender in hockey. Price had always been considered great but in 2015 he was at a different level with a .933 save percentage and 1.93 Goals Against Average Price had the season of his life in 2014-15. When the NHL Awards came around he cleaned up winning the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP, the Vezina as the league’s best goalie, the William M. Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed, and the Ted Lindsey Award as the NHLPA MVP. It was one of the biggest hauls by any one player in NHL history. The accolades didn’t end there though as he become only the fourth hockey player to win the Lou Marsh Award as Canada’s best athlete in 2015 and the Lionel Conacher Award as the Canadian Press’s best male athlete. There were plenty of great performances by plenty of athletes this year but none were greater than Price who was truly Canada’s best athlete of 2015.

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No the FIFA Women’s World cup is not the World Cup and is not the biggest sporting event in the world but it does get the world watching. In North America soccer is not necessarily the biggest draw but it is one of the fastest growing sports in both the USA and Canada. What makes North America slightly different than most of the rest of the world is that the women’s game is also growing a big pace. They will likely never reach the level of the men’s game but they are a popular part of the soccer landscape in both Canada and the USA. In fact in both countries the women’s side of the game provides a lot more excitement and more achievements than the men’s side, both are far higher ranked than their male counterparts. So when the Women’s World Cup begins people in North America are all watching closely and around the world soccer fans tuned in to watch the best in the women’s game fight to be named the greatest soccer team in the world. This year that competition focused on Canada as across the country the best women’s teams gathered on their quest for the biggest title in soccer. For Canadians it usually wouldn’t have been a big deal but a bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics had the country buzzing about the best women’s soccer team that country had ever seen and had the expectations higher than ever for a soccer team in Canada. The tournament did not start too smoothly as before the tournament began protests began, led by the US team and Canadian born but American team member Sydney Leroux, regarding the fields. The World Cup was to be held in multiple arenas but none were grass with field turf at every location. The few women’s teams that threatened to boycott claimed that it was an equality issue as the men would never play on field turf. In the end every team showed up though and the issue remained relatively quiet. Meanwhile the Americans rose to the top in a great tournament to win their third title while the Canadians disappointed failing to make it out of the group and tying for ninth place. The disappointing season wasn’t necessarily the big news though as another major sporting event made Canada the focus of a sport and despite some controversy the tournament was another success that showed that Canada can be a destination for international sporting events.

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It is rare that a professional sports team can unite a country especially in Canada where professional teams are few and far between. Aside from the NHL and the CFL there are no professional teams in any place but the country’s biggest city, Toronto. But with major American cities closer to Canadian cities than Toronto it is hard to get the attention ahead of the US teams. So for teams from Toronto to truly become Canada’s team they have to do something special and inspire people from coast to coast. No team has united the country better than the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays though in one of the best seasons that the team has seen. After winning their second straight World Series title in 1993 the Blue Jays missed the postseason and continued to miss the postseason for over 20 years. In 2013 a change began though as Canadian and GM Alex Anthopoulos brought excitement to the team with massive trades that changed the face of the team. Only a few remained on the team but Torontonians and Canadians began to notice the Blue Jays once again. In 2015 the GM went to work again adding 2014 MVP candidate josh Donaldson, Marco Estrada who was the surprise of the season, and all-star Canadian catcher Russell Martin. Excitement reached a new high but the Jays still played .500 baseball until the All-Star break. Then came a big and unexpected trade for shortstop Tor Tulowitzki and the landing of starting pitcher David Price. Those two additions changed everything and they put together the best second half in the league to win the AL East and clinch a playoff spot for the first time in 22 years. While in the postseason the Jays only became more popular fighting through their first series with the Texas Rangers in games that had everyone in Canada watching from the edge of their seats. The unifying image was in game 5 when a controversial play put the Rangers ahead until Jose Bautista came up and hit a three-run go-ahead home run flipping his bat in dramatic fashion and winning the game and the series for the Jays. They were not able to repeat the magic in the next round losing to the eventual World Series champion Kansas City but the run to the postseason and the often controversial and emotional ALDS is a lasting memory in Toronto and Canadian sports that will live forever in the minds of Canadians who were wrapped up in Canada’s baseball team.

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