2016 Sport Addiction Canadian Year in Review

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The story continues for Canadian on the national stage as the country continues to come into its own nearing its 150th anniversary.

It is a relatively young country and it is right on top of one of the biggest countries in the world so it only makes sense that it has taken 149 years for Canada to come into its own.

More people are beginning to recognise Canada as a place to look towards as an example in many aspects, although it is still not perfect.

A part of this evolution is the sports landscape in Canada and as unimportant as sports are in the grand scheme of things they can play that important role.

Although not everyone will always agree on politics and what that Canada is going in the right direction on that front everyone can agree and cheer for the maple leaf being well-represented in the sports world.

It is a great unifier as it is a rare time that everyone will agree on bigger issues but when a Canadian is representing his or her country there aren’t many who won’t cheer them on.

It is also one of the most accessible ways for people to see Canada on the international stage.

Every country has their favourite sport and most watch the professionals play hoping to one day get to where they are or to cheer on their favourites.

When those players or teams are Canadian and they begin to enter the upper echelon of the sports world more people recognise the country.

They are seen as representatives of the country and for a country like Canada they are heroes.

It is not like they go into the international stage and they are simply another in a long line of great sports heroes.

For Canadians, there have been rare moments where a Canadian athlete or team not involved in hockey steps up and represents the country.

That makes these athletes and teams a little more special to Canadians as they are the one representative in that sport.

All Canadians want to see them do well and put Canada at the top of the sport to create some pride in the country.

That pride doesn’t just relate to the athletes that are from the country though as there are teams across the country made up of athletes from everywhere.

Yet in Canada, they are considered representatives of the country as there are so few professional teams across the country.year-in-review-sidebar.fw

Toronto is the best example, as almost every team in the city is a representative of the entire country.

That is often because they are the only team in Canada and so the rest of the country takes ownership.

They provide just as much national pride as they bring the entire country together to watch and see what they can do.

When these teams get better it makes it even better to come together and watch them succeed.

The pride in Canadian sports has always been there but there was certainly a shift in 2010 when the country hosted the Vancouver Olympics.

Since then that pride has become more recognisable as more Canadians are coming out to show their support.

They are no longer hiding in the background with a quiet pride but rather cheering loudly and letting everyone know that Canada is here to show up.

The rise of Canadian athletes and teams has helped in this process in a big way as there is a lot more to cheer for as Canadian sports continues to grow.

In 2016 it took another step as the rising stars continued to rise and the good teams continued to make an impact on the international stage.

Canada continued to step towards being a country to watch when it comes to major sporting events and professional leagues.

To go along with all of that the Canadian fans continue to make an impression around the world as some of the best fans in their respective sports.

There is no question that Canada is continuing to grow and continuing to figure itself out in all aspects.

Sports remains an important part of that growth and after a year like 2016, the future seems bright for all Canadian athletes and the fans.

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Last year Brooke Henderson stepped onto the golf scene as someone to watch on the LPGA Tour. She became one of the young stars after winning multiple awards and for Canadian golf, she seemed like she could be the biggest star since Mike Weir. It was all about potential in 2015 as she had shown that she might be able to make some serious waves in 2016. Although she didn’t take over the LPGA Tour she certainly continued to grow into the best female Canadian golfer ever. She became the first woman to win a major on the LPGA Tour in 48-years while also becoming the second-youngest golfer to ever win a LPGA major. She took that extra step for Canadian golf as her potential continued to grow and although she didn’t take over the tour she still showed that the promise in her game is there. Henderson was also one of the few professionals that travelled to Rio to participate in the first Olympic Golf tournament since 1904. She was a major medal hope for the Canadians as she was a favourite to win gold with some of the top LPGA golfers taking the time off. Henderson did not have her best tournament though as she struggled in the first two rounds putting her way behind. She couldn’t recover in time despite a much better third and fourth round as she ended the tournament tied for seventh. It was a disappointing finish but there was no road map for how the Olympic golf tournament would go and she stepped in and did well to recover from a bad first two rounds. There was a lot of pressure on Henderson this year and she handled well which is made even more impressive by the fact that she was only 18 throughout most of the season. At only 18 winning a major and finishing in the top ten in the Olympics is nothing to scoff at as Henderson is just getting started. Once again she heads into another calendar year with a lot of potential and a bright future ahead of her. She will look to improve on her first major win and begin to win even more events as she comes into her own as a pro. Canadian golf fans will be watching as she continues to bring Canadian golf into the forefront while also getting more golf fans in Canada interested in the LPGA Tour. There is plenty of road to travel for Henderson and if she continues her growth into 2017 the sky is the limit for the future of Canadian women’s golf.

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He has been a part of the Canadian sports landscape for a number of years and it seems like very year people continue to talk about him when the summer rolls around. Milos Raonic has been considered the future of Canadian tennis for a number of years now and in some cases, his biggest stories are the disappointments. It seems like every year the expectations are there and he comes up just short of meeting them as he is always just on the edge of where he could be but never with the ability to catch up. Part of that though is the level of the expectations as the continue to rise for a young athlete that is still developing. When Raonic first came onto the scene in professional tennis the potential was there and everyone wanted him to start competing immediately. He slowly worked his way up to being a contender in every event but most fans wanted him to start winning the major events. That was unrealistic and so when he took a step backwards in 2015 he received plenty of criticism for his play with some believing that he wasn’t going to be the player some thought he could be. He changed their opinions this year though as he got back to being one of the top players in the ATP. He remained just under the big names though as Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic were his big obstacles to gaining more success. He did make progress there too though as he beat Federer this year in the Wimbledon semi-finals to earn his first Grand Slam finals berth. It was the first time a Canadian man had made a Grand Slam finals and although he took a loss to Murray in straight sets he had moved forward in his career. Raonic was continuing to develop throughout 2016 and with injuries, somewhat behind him, he began his climb up the rankings. In November Raonic reached third in the rankings becoming the highest ranked male Canadian player ever. As 2017 approaches Raonic is beginning to figure things out and he seems to be only getting better. He is only 26 years old and is entering his prime making the next few years potentially the best of his career. A Grand Slam win in 2017 is not entirely out of the question although the expectations once again need to be tempered. He will attempt to improve on his 2016 year and if he can Canadians will get to see their top tennis player play in many more important matches for years to come.

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The Canadian Football League continues to adjust and tries to find its place among the rest of the sports in Canada. In some places, it is a struggle to get anyone out to see a game with teams losing money year after year. But there are other places where the sport is growing and the interest has never been higher. The nation’s capital is one of those places as their third attempt at a franchise is turning out to be a winner. After the previous attempts led to poor attendance and eventually to teams folding this newest version has brought out the CFL fans. In a city with only one other professional team, the REDBLACKS have found their spot with great attendance in all three years that they have been a franchise. The worry about bringing a team back though was always about what would happen when the freshness of the franchise wore off. If the REDBLACKS were going to struggle like they did in their first season would people still buy the tickets? It was a major concern for the league and the REDBLACKS ownership but their strategy focused on not letting that happen rather than finding out what might happen should they struggle. In their second year, the REDBLACKS rebuilt in the off-season which helped them to get to the Grey Cup. They lost that game to a much better Edmonton team that seemed unstoppable and proved that they were when they took home the title in Winnipeg. The REDBLACKS came back to a new season hoping that the tweaks they made could make the difference but they struggled with injuries throughout the season ending with a losing record. Luckily for them that losing record still got them first in the east and as they entered the playoffs they had a renewed hope to make the Grey Cup for the second year. After beating Edmonton in the eastern semi-finals, thanks to the crossover, the REDBLACKS had gotten some revenge and earned a date with another seemingly unstoppable team in Calgary who had only lost two games and tied one more, appropriately against the REDBLACKS, to put together one of the best record in the history of the league. It was a familiar story for the REDBLACKS as they were not expected to win against such a great team but nobody told them. In a Grey Cup for the ages, both teams went back and forth with the REDBLACKS coming out on top in overtime to win their first Grey Cup as a franchise. It was only a three-year wait for the fans and it sure to continue their love affair with the team as the REDBLACKS are on top of the football world in Canada until next season begins.

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There is no question about the king of all sports throughout the country as hockey rules over every other sport. There is nothing that comes close to the love and the dedication that fans have for their hockey teams and the national teams. Hockey is Canada’s game and sports fans are all proud to claim that every time the national team plays. When it comes to the professional ranks things get a little different though as the NHL has not seen a Canadian team bring the Stanley Cup home since 1993. In that year the Montreal Canadiens beat the Los Angeles Kings to take the Cup but it also marked the end of a dominant era from Canadian teams. The NHL continued to expand after that championship and Canadian teams were drowned out by the number of American teams in the league. More teams meant more people exposed to the game and more of a need to win the championship. As the American teams grew the sport they began to win more and more while the Canadian teams fell off to the bottom of the league. It all came to a head in 2016 as this past year marked the first NHL playoffs without a Canadian team involved since the 1970 playoffs. For a country that has a passion for the game that is more than anyone else in the world, it was heartbreaking to see the lack of Canadian representation in the playoffs. It wasn’t entirely Canadian free though as the American teams that made up the playoffs were loaded with Canadian talent. That was true for the eventual champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins who had a number of Canadians who played massive roles in winning another Stanley Cup. Still, it was tough to see no Canadian city get to enjoy the ups and downs of a playoff run that gives a city a new energy. It was not a highlight of the year but it was a big story and it might only get bigger as the years move on. That is because this very well might be the start of a special time for those Canadian teams. It was rock bottom but sometimes you have to start over to get back to prominence and so far in the 2016-17 season Canadian teams are proving it to be a decent strategy. There has never been more excitement about the future of some of the Canadian teams as the Edmonton Oilers are truly competing at the top of the league thanks to Connor McDavid. Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally have a team where the future is extremely bright even if they aren’t coming through this year. Montreal and Vancouver remain the hunt as they have been in the past years as well while Winnipeg and Calgary could be fighting for a spot. Canadian teams are on the rise and although 2016 was a low point the future is bright.

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It may have softened the blow slightly for the fans of Canadian teams to see one of their own have such a great year. Sidney Crosby was always labelled the next one as the next great player in hockey even when he was a teenager in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. He made good on that promise as Crosby is clearly the best hockey player in the world right now. He has consistently been one of the top scorers in the league and when watching him play there is little question about anyone testing him for that title. His one issue has been the injuries that have plagued his career with concussions and other issues keeping him off of the ice over the last few years. 2016 marked a different time though as a healthy Crosby was in action adding to his hall of fame resume.  Despite a terrible start to the year with Pittsburgh Crosby helped to turn things around in the new year and the Penguins raced into the playoffs. They ran through every level as the hottest team in the second season and rode that hot streak to the Stanley Cup. For the second time in his, career Crosby had led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup as he raised the Cup once more. He also took his first Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP after putting up 19 points throughout the playoffs. Winning the cup once is good enough but adding that second is impressive and at only 29 he may have a few more in him. After a shorter break after the Cup Crosby continued to add awards and honours. As he was named the captain of the Canadian team for the World Cup of Hockey. The tournament had not run since 2004 but the NHL decided to bring the World Cup back and with Toronto playing host, Crosby was in the hot seat once again. The all-star team that was the Canadians followed his lead throughout the tournament as they took home the title while Crosby led the tournament in scoring and won the tournament MVP. It was a banner year for the man many consider to be the best hockey player in the world and as he moves into a new year he pursues his 1,000th point as his climb up the record books takes focus after winning almost every major award possible. At the end of 2015, there were questions about his ability and what he had left mainly because of his injury issues. If he couldn’t stay healthy would he ever match the expectations that were laid upon him as a teenager. He certainly showed that he had the ability but if his body failed him would he go down as one of the bigger disappointments in league history if only for what he could have done? Crosby answered those questions pretty convincingly in 2016 as he ruled the game of hockey throughout the year.

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It was one of the most feel-good stories for hockey fans and Canadians as John Scott became a folk hero throughout the league in 2016. Before this last season of the NHL, not many people knew who Scott was and for good reason. He was a journeyman from a bygone era in the NHL as a tough guy after the tough guys started to dry up. Lately, in the NHL there is no room for someone to sit and wait to be called onto the ice to defend a teammate by fighting. Now if someone is going to be on the bench they are going to have to produce something on the scoresheet besides PIMs. Scott was part of the past era as a tough guy with not much of a scoring touch and not great skating. What he did well was fight when he needed to and for that, he spent most of his career in the AHL rather than the NHL. During the 2015-16 season though he found his way to the Arizona Coyotes where he played the tough guy, fourth line role. Then something began to happen that nobody expected, least of all the NHL. Scott began to earn all-star votes for the 2016 NHL All-Star game which essentially started as a joke but grew into a lot more. Everyone started voting for Scott to make the all-star game and as he gained votes a new system for the game meant that he was poised to be the captain of one of the four teams in the all-star tournament. Then the NHL looked to step in as he was mysteriously traded to Montreal, meaning that he might be ineligible to compete because he changed divisions and couldn’t be the captain of a division he didn’t play in. The backlash started and despite a letter to Scott asking him to step down from the voting the fans wanted to see him. It was a lot more than just a joke as fans took control of the league that they love and continued to vote for Scott. Eventually, the league had to relent and they allowed Scott to captain the Central Division all-star team despite playing in the AHL at the time and really having no business amongst the best in the game. He proved to be a good choice though as he put up two goals and was named the All-Star MVP. Scott retired before the beginning of the new season but he will always be remembered for the stand against the league and how he brought an entire community together to fight the powers that be in the league office.

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In 2013 the NHL made a decision to let their players go to the Olympics after the players stood up to say they wanted to go. It made little sense for the league but they players wanted it so eventually, it happened as NHL players attended the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Immediately after the negotiations to attend the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Those negotiations have continued without a decision before 2017 begins as the league is trying to get something out of the deal rather than losing two weeks plus money and potentially losing players for the remainder of the 2017-18 season. In what will never be admitted as a move to lessen the importance of the Olympics the NHL prepared to re-launch the World Cup of Hockey. As much as the NHL will always claim that it was always part of the plan to bring it back it was surely an attempt to ensure they have a say in international hockey. With the World Championship running during the NHL playoffs many NHL players can’t attend and if the Olympics were at risk of not having any NHL players the World Cup would be the alternative where the best against the best could play. They even somewhat admitted it in their advertising when they built it as a best-on-best tournament. 2016 was the first time that the NHL had run the World Cup since 2004 and it was an interesting first time back. The organisers had created two new teams that included Team North America made up of the best players from Canada and the USA under the age of 20. Then there was a Team Europe made up of NHL players from any of the smaller hockey countries that couldn’t field a full team with all NHL players. It was a main criticism of the tournament as many people wanted to see real teams and many had thoughts about who should have been included. As the tournament progressed though the new teams were one of the best parts of the entire tournament. The Europeans launched upsets and made the semi-finals while the speed of North America impressed in every game. It ended up being the best part of the new World Cup as the Canadians made the competition and the fight for gold a little expected. They once again proved that they were the best team going undefeated throughout the tournament and winning the gold to kick off a new era of World Cup hockey. There is uncertainty surrounding the next versions of the World Cup as nobody knows how it will look but the first go since 2004 turned out to be a pretty good reboot for the league.

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It is not necessarily a story that most of the country wants to admit to but it is a story that is important for sports in Canada. Toronto is a city that receives a lot of heat from the rest of the country and sometimes rightfully so but what can’t be denied is that Ontario’s capital is essentially at the centre of Canada. It is the largest city in the country and home to the financial centre of the country while almost all major Canadian companies make their home in the city. It is the city that more people around the world recognise than anywhere else. It is also the centre for sport in Canada if only because it is the one major city that can support professional teams from every league. Hockey is often the only sport to survive in the rest of Canada as Vancouver attempted an NBA franchise and Montreal started professional baseball in Canada with the Expos but neither are still around. There are any number of factors including league politics and financial issues during different times that factor into these cities not having other franchises. Toronto had to go through all of those too though and the teams are still around because they can support big teams during rough times. That is not necessarily a bad thing for the country though as Toronto can act as an in for other cities that are looking for a professional franchise and want to convince leagues that Canada is not a bad option. That was especially true in 2016 as the Toronto sports scene took a massive leap forward and continued towards become a serious sports city. For years the teams in Toronto lacked any excitement making it less of an example to other teams and leagues but in the last few years that has changed. It has been led by the rise of the Blue Jays and the Raptors who have become constant contenders in their leagues. That competitiveness that these teams are now showing has brought out the fans as the entire country gets behind them and as a result, Toronto has regularly been seen as a place with some rabid fans. During the MLB postseason announcers can barely hear themselves think and Jurassic Park in front of the ACC during the Raptors playoff games is shown everyone as a great example of great fans. Other teams are following suit as Toronto FC made their first MLS Cup Finals this year while the Toronto Maple Leafs are building excitement for the future for the first time in a decade. The Argos continue to struggle but a new commitment and stadium might be the answer if they can be competitive. Toronto is becoming a sports destination and it has already led to the MLB talking about returning to Montreal using Toronto as an example of the type of success that a team can have north of the border. As much as people might not want to admit what is good for Toronto could be good for the country especially when it comes to the sports landscape.

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There simply is no bigger stage in sports for a nation than the Olympics and that goes double for the Summer Olympics. The Rio Games were another step for Canadian sports as they represented another chance for Canadians to enter the conversation. Traditionally the Summer Games have been a rough spot for the Canadians as the medals have not come as often as the winter games. As great as the winter games are though the summer games involve more countries and more sports making it a bigger test for a country like Canada. Over the past few Olympic Games, the Canadians have progressively gotten better with more top athletes hailing from the Great White North. As the Rio Games approached there were even more expectations as Canadians were waiting to see their best athletes compete with the best in the world and win. The goal has become less about competing and more about winning over the last decade as Canadians are no longer as satisfied with great athletes coming up short. There will hopefully never be a time where Canadian fans hate on an athlete who underperforms but there needs to be that expectation to win not to show up. This year the Canadians certainly competed with the best in the world as a number of athletes stepped up in a big way to become some of the biggest stories of the games. The performance of the athletes certainly didn’t match the best in the world in total medals or golds but for Canadians, is was a big year. They earned a total of 22 medals over the games including four gold medals for a team record-matching Atlanta’s haul with one extra gold medal. It didn’t make them one of the top teams in the Olympics but for those paying attention to Canadian Olympics, it is a sign that things are trending in the right way. A country more known for their winter games won’t immediately compete with teams that have been near the top for years but if they can continue to grow over the next four years a new record medal count is in sight. There were the disappointments in great athletes that came in as favourites but left without a medal but for the most part, the Canadians performed above what was expected. More notably was the fact that some young athletes took over for more than just the Canadian fans. Along with that, the Canadian women showed up in a big way as the men lagged behind in the medal count. It was a continuation of Canada’s improvement on the national stage and although 22 medals pale to the 121 won by the Americans but it is a good sign that the Canadian athletes are beginning to rise through the ranks.

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The Olympics are always a massive story but this year for Canadians it wasn’t nearly as big as the performance of two Olympians. The games were a big part of the sports world this year but a massive part of those Olympics were two young athletes in their first Olympic Games shocking the world with their performances. First up was Penny Oleksiak who came into the pool on the first day and began shattering Canada’s record books. Her first competition saw her break the Canadian record for the 100m butterfly and then anchoring the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay to a bronze medal to earn the first medal for Canada. The next night she broke her own records in the 100m butterfly to win a silver medal giving her two in two days. She added to the collection with another relay medal and a gold for the 100m freestyle. In total Oleksiak earned four medals, the most in one Olympics since Cindy Klassen earned five medals in 2006. She was named the Canadian flag-bearer for the closing ceremonies and did all of this at the age of 16. She will be one of the faces of the games in 2020 but she won’t be alone as another young athlete impressed in his first Olympics. Andre De Grasse was not as much of a surprise as Oleksiak as Canadian Olympic fans had heard about the best sprinter since Donovan Bailey but this was his chance to show the world.  At 21-years old De Grasse took the sprinting world by storm when he lined up beside some of the best sprinters in the world and went step for step. He regularly ran beside Usain Bolt and in the hearts challenged him a few times, although Bolt was clearly taking it easy. He earned a bronze in the 100m, a silver in the 200m and anchored a bronze medal performance in the 4x100m after a disqualification bumped them from fourth. All the time he was constantly on the heels of Bolt and Justin Gatlin with the world noticing that this kid has a massive future ahead of him. In 2020 with Bolt retired and Gatlin possibly not returning to the Olympics it could be De Grasse’s world as he hopes to become the first to win the 100m gold since Bailey did it. Both De Grasse and Oleksiak are the future of the Canadian team and when they walk into Tokyo in 2020 they will look to add to their impressive medal hauls. The pressure will be on both of them and that will be a major factor but for now, the future is bright in the hands of these two young athletes that captured the hearts of the Canadian fans.

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