Typically, the sports world would be rather quiet right now. Training camps would be underway or just around the corner in the NHL and NBA, while the MLB put the finishing touches on another grueling 162-game season.
The MLS would be two short weeks away from the conclusion of the regular season. Tens of thousands of spectators would be packing football stadiums across the United States as the NFL celebrated the first few weeks of a new season. Meanwhile, football fans north of the border would be soaking in the final days of summer while enjoying the final quarter of the CFL season en route to its 108th Grey Cup Championship.
Tennis would have just crowned its final major champions of 2020 on the men’s and women’s sides at the US Open in New York, while the PGA tour would be coming down from the high of the FedEx Cup Playoffs with no major tournaments in sight.
As fate and the COVID-19 pandemic would have it, however, none of that is the case this year. Instead, in a year where so much has gone wrong, sports fans have been treated to one of the most bizarre and exciting times in history, with no shortage of reasons to watch and cheer. So if you’re not entirely caught up on what’s been happening with professional sports in Canada, don’t feel too bad. We’re here to catch you up on All Things Sport in the Great White North so far this month.
National Hockey League
After dispatching the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues in six games, the Vancouver Canucks were the only Canadian team to make the NHL’s final eight. Captained by Ontario native Bo Horvat, they faced a tall order against the Vegas Golden Knights in round two.
Entering September down 3-1 in the series and facing elimination, the Canucks looked to have run out of magic, especially with their number one goalie Jacob Markstrom out due to injury. Defying the odds, however, the team won two straight elimination games by scores of 2-1 and 4-0 thanks to outstanding performances from backup goaltender Thatcher Demko, who stopped 90 of 91 shots in games five and six.
The Canucks did eventually fall short 3-0 in the all-deciding game seven, but Demko shined one last time with 33 saves on 34 shots to give his team a chance until the bitter end. Even in defeat, the loss capped off the Canucks’ most successful playoff run since their trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011.
No Canadian teams remain in the Playoffs as the Dallas Stars hold onto a 1-0 series lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any Canadian ties. With Edmonton as the host city, this series will mark the first time that the Stanley Cup has been presented on Canadian ice since the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Representing the NHL’s Western Conference, the Dallas Stars are comprised of 10 Canadian players, including captain Jamie Benn from Victoria, BC, as well as Moncton-born head coach Rick Bowness. The Eastern Conference’s Tampa Bay Lightning, by contrast, have 14 Canadian players on their official roster, including Markham’s Steven Stamkos as captain, and Prince George’s Jon Cooper as the head coach.
Whichever team ends up winning it all in no more than ten days’ time, there will be plenty of reason for celebration in Canada.
National Basketball Association
The Toronto Raptors failed to defend their 2019 NBA Championship in the Orlando bubble this month after a second-round loss to the Boston Celtics in game seven on September 11th. So while the entire country won’t be rallying around one team en route to a championship like last year, one man is putting the entire country on his back instead.
23-year-old Jamal Murray, who signed the richest contract by a Canadian in NBA history last summer, is having himself a breakout playoffs to remember. After putting up 50 points in a win-or-go-home game six against the Utah Jazz in round one, the Denver Nuggets’ guard carried the team to an even bigger victory in round two against Kawhi Leonard’s Los Angeles Clippers. His 40-point game seven performance against the Clippers was double that of any other Nugget or Clipper, and pushed his team through to the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Murray and the Nuggets will be in tough against LeBron James and the Lakers, as was evident in Friday’s game one defeat. But if there’s one thing that the Kitchener native has shown so far these playoffs, it’s that he performs under pressure and has what it takes to carry his team to the next round. Game two goes today at 4:30pm PDT.
National Football League
There’s typically not much content to be had for the NFL when it comes to Canada, but today marks an exciting checkpoint in the career of Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receiver Chase Claypool.
Selected with the 49th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Entry Draft by the Steelers this spring, Claypool made his NFL debut on September 14th against the New York Giants. Just this afternoon, he recorded his first career touchdown, and 84-yarder against the Denver Broncos.
The former Abbotsford Secondary School receiver certainly has many more plays like the one we just saw in his future.
Although no Canadian men or women were able to duplicate the 2019 success of Bianca Andreescu at this year’s US Open earlier this month, it was still a success, especially on the men’s side.
For the first time in the history of the tournament, three Canadian men reached the Round of 16 in the first week of September. While the runs by Felix Auger-Aliassime and Vasek Pospisil came to subsequent ends, Denis Shapovalov ended up becoming the first Canadian man to make the quarterfinals after defeating the seventh seeded David Goffin.
He would unfortunately go on to lose in the quarterfinals, but has continued his excellent play this week in Europe, reaching the semifinals of the Italian Open so far, prior to the French Open next week.
All three men, alongside Ontario’s Milos Raonic will be in the main draw at Roland Garros next week, while Eugenie Bouchard and Leylah Annie Fernandez will represent the Canadian women. Bouchard, who reached the semifinals of the French Open in 2014, just reached her first WTA final in over four years last week in Istanbul.
Canadians should keep their eyes on the courts over the coming weeks.
MLB: While still clinging to the 8th and final playoff spot in the American League, the Toronto Blue Jays have lost six games in a row against the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies. They’ll look to end that slide in the series final against the Phillies today.
Golf: Four Canadian men teed it up at Winged Foot Golf Club in New York earlier this week at the US Open. Corey Conners and Mackenzie Hughes failed to play the weekend after missing the cut. Adam Hadwin currently sits at 54th while Taylor Pendrith is tied for 29th.
MLS: This season will see an increase in playoff teams from 14 to 18. Currently, all three Canadian teams are in a playoff spot: Toronto (3rd, East), Montreal (6th, East), Vancouver (7th, West).
CFL: 2020 season cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.