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The biggest Canadian sports questions for 2022
Some things across the sports world in 2021 weren’t all that shocking: Tom Brady won another Super Bowl. Connor McDavid cemented his status as the best player in hockey. The Toronto Maple Leafs lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Others took us by surprise, like the Canadian women’s soccer team winning Olympic gold, the Montreal Canadiens reaching the Stanley Cup Final and Leylah Fernandez playing for a U.S. Open title.
Here are some of the questions — even if we don’t know their answers — that could define the next 365 days in Canadian sports:
How much more havoc will COVID-19 wreak?
Definitely some. If the past year — and especially the past month — taught us anything, it’s that COVID-19 isn’t going away any time soon. We already know the virus is to blame for the NHL pulling its players out of the Olympics, but the Games themselves seem like they could be tainted by positive tests knocking key athletes from competition. The virus remains, unfortunately, the defining question surrounding sports as we turn the page to 2022.
Who will be the breakout Olympic star?
Tokyo 2020 introduced the world to Maggie Mac Neil, the Canadian swimming star who appeared stunned to see she’d won gold. Pyeongchang 2018 thrust Canada’s Kim Boutin into the spotlight for her grace in handling the social-media threats. Rio 2016 saw the debut of Canadian Olympic legends Penny Oleksiak and Andre De Grasse. All of which is to say that some little-known Canadian athlete will turn instantly iconic in Beijing. Some options: ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier (looking to fill the rather large skates left behind by Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir), speed skaters Isabelle Weidemann and Laurent Dubreuil, bobsledder Cynthia Appiah. Among numerous possibilities.
How far can Canada’s men’s soccer team go?
Its story began in 2021, with unforgettable victories over Panama and Mexico helping lift the squad to the top of its regional World Cup qualifier. That success opens a world of possibilities for 2022. First things first though, Canada must hold its top-three position just to reach the World Cup in Qatar, which begins in November. Canada has played in the marquee tournament only once before — in 1986, when it failed to win a match or score a goal. But behind the likes of blossoming global stars Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, the team seems primed to collect some firsts. Read more about the 2021 Canadian soccer breakthrough here.
How much progress is made on domestic women’s pro sports leagues?
Canada’s women’s soccer team grew louder in its calls for one following its Olympic victory. The women’s hockey team has been working toward one ever since the CWHL shuttered in 2019. The basketball team, backed by Drake, wants one too. The desire is clear — it’s now on potential stakeholders to get the ball rolling on a sustainable plan. All it takes is one success story to open the door.
Leylah or Bianca? Felix or Shapo?
The Canadian tennis contingent has never been stronger, with a pair of rising stars on both the men’s and women’s tours that seem to constantly outdo each other. Fernandez stole the 2021 show with her run to the U.S. Open final, plus her first career WTA title. Auger-Aliassime reached the semifinals in New York and the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, with Shapovalov soaring to the semis in the latter. It was a tougher year for Andreescu, who battled injuries and COVID-19 but still managed to reach the Miami Open final. All four remain young, but 2022 may be crucial in determining who takes that next step to consistent Grand Slam contention.
Can the Raptors, Blue Jays or a Canadian NHL team take home a title?
It definitely seems possible. The Raptors may be a long shot, but the Blue Jays, armed with young stars in Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and more, are listed among the top three World Series favourites on multiple sportsbooks. The Stanley Cup picture isn’t quite as rosy, with the Oilers, Flames and Jets on the outside looking in and the Senators, Canadiens and Canucks all but ruled out. That leaves the Maple Leafs, who are listed as legitimate contenders to win the title. But good luck with that.
WATCH | 5 performances by Canadian women that made us go ‘wow’:
Canada’s figure skating nationals are still on. Skate Canada stripped the event of most of its pomp, including barring fans from attending and cancelling the gala. But the athletes remain set to descend upon Ottawa next Thursday ahead of competition through the weekend that will help determine who Canada sends to the Beijing Olympics. As we discussed in yesterday’s newsletter, the decision to run the event amid the current COVID-19 surge is a calculated one, since those who test positive from now on face additional hurdles just to get to Beijing. Skate Canada is also limiting media and postponing its novice event. Read more about the changes to the event here.
Ballots for a fascinating Baseball Hall of Fame vote are due today. For a decade now, we’ve debated the credentials of the steroid-tarnished duo of Barry Bonds, MLB’s all-time home-run leader, and Roger Clemens, one of its most dominant pitchers. Now, finally, it’s the last year of eligibility for both — just in time for Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz to pop up on the ballot. Both would be no-brainer entries, except Roridguez was once suspended a full season for steroid use while Ortiz reportedly tested positive in 2003 before MLB’s drug clampdown. Players require 75 per cent of the vote from a pool of established baseball writers for induction. If Bonds and Clemens, who have been stuck in the mid-60s, are the precedent, neither of the new players would get in. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. While A-Rod seems like a longshot for now, Big Papi is tracking over 80 per cent on public ballots — perhaps because his one-off positive was deemed inconclusive by MLB. Bonds and Clemens are the only other players above 75 per cent so far on public ballots, but have consistently fallen below once anonymous votes are accounted for. Only about one-quarter of ballots have been revealed thus far. Check out Ryan Thibodaux’s excellent Hall of Fame tracker to dive deeper into where things stand.
Coming up on CBC Sports
Snow Rodeo: Canada already owns three medals at the World Cup event in Calgary, with Brendan Mackay taking ski halfpipe gold while Simon d’Artois and Rachael Karker each snagged bronze. Read more about their podium appearances here. Action wraps up on Saturday with snowboard slopestyle finals at 12 p.m. ET before another ski halfpipe medal run at 8 p.m. ET. Watch it all here.
Bobsleigh and skeleton World Cup: Despite a COVID-19 outbreak affecting 14 members of Canada’s bobsleigh team, Canadians including Olympic medal hopefuls Justin Kripps and Christine De Bruin remain in the field at the event in Latvia. Action resumes with the women’s monobob on Saturday at 2 a.m. ET followed by the two-man bobsleigh at 6:30 a.m. ET, with more races scheduled for Sunday. Watch it all here.
You’re up to speed. Happy new year! Talk to you in 2022.