From unbelievable feats to an unimaginable tragedy felt at all corners of the country, sports once again accounted for a significant portion of the Canadian news cycle in 2018.
Here are the stories that captivated our nation.
A horrific tragedy that shook the national psyche, 15 people travelling on the Humboldt Broncos charter bus died in a crash with a trailer truck at an intersection along one of the major arteries in the network of roads that connect small towns and rinks across the prairies and rural Saskatchewan. The more we learned about the victims and the circumstances that led the Broncos up Highway 35 that night, the more it hit home for Canadians with ties to Humboldt, small-town Saskatchewan, junior hockey, and sport in general. An international story, the victims and families immediately impacted by the tragedy were recognized in rinks and outside households around the globe. As part of the Humboldt Strong initiative, mourners left sticks out on porches and doorways in remembrance of the players, coaches, trainer, statistician and play-by-lay announcer that perished in the crash. While the tragedy will never be forgotten in Humboldt and across Canada, the Broncos are back on the ice for the 2018-19 season, helping the community in its forever healing process.
In the absence of top-end individual talent in 2018, Canada managed to reclaim world junior supremacy with a total team effort just south of the border in Buffalo. Most fittingly, it was the only Canadian forward without a goal to that point in the tournament — the sparingly-used Tyler Steenbergen — who notched the game winner versus Sweden in the gold medal final with under two minutes left in regulation.
Not a single Olympic athlete had more pressure on their shoulders in Pyeongchang than Mikael Kingsbury. Olympic Gold was the one token missing on the mantle of the most dominant freestyle skier in the world — and the competition on the first weekend in South Korea represented his last best chance to capture the career-defining honour. Standing at the top of the hill at Phoenix Snow Park with one last kick at the can with the penultimate run in the competition, Kingsbury floated over the moguls, soared through the jumps and arrived at the bottom of the hill with a 86.63 score to move four points clear of Japan’s Daichi Hara, who failed to match Kingsbury’s brilliance with the culminating run.
Moments after French rivals Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron broke their own ice dance world record with a brilliant performance, it seemed certain that the greatest figure skaters in Canadian history would come up short in their final competitive dance. But able to embrace the challenge and find it within them to set aside the emotions associated with skating one final time, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir executed their greatest performance ever and overcame incredible odds to exit the sport on top. Re-writing the world record before the ink could dry for the French, the 2010 Olympic champions captured gold again in Pyeongchang with a combined total of 206.07 points. With the most memorable and improbable performance of their careers, Tessa and Scott became the most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history and converted every last Canadian that hadn’t fallen in love with them yet.
For Kim Boutin, the Olympic experience was more successful, more terrifying, than she could have ever imagined. Boutin was subject to death threats after being elevated to the bronze medal position when it was ruled that a South Korean skater had impeded her in the 500m short track race. Boutin was heavily affected by the harassment, but showed the courage to return to the track and perform in her remaining races, and wound up capturing the country’s largest individual medal haul before being named Canada’s flag bearer.
Perhaps the greatest spectacle in Canadian sports, and a matchup featuring the fiercest rivals, was also the stage for the country’s most devastating heartbreak. In a shootout in the gold medal game in Pyeongchang, the United States defeated Canada, and ended its 20-year Olympic reign, in an outstanding game that did swing into the favour of the deserving side in the end. Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson provided that decisive strike for the Americans, turning Shannon Szabados inside out with a brilliant move in the sixth round of the shootout.
The 2018 Stanley Cup Final was set up as the ultimate juxtaposition, with a franchise waiting forever for its championship moment meeting an expansion team for hockey’s greatest prize. It was the team that had endured 43 years of heartbreak coming out on top, with the Washington Capitals winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Goals from Devante Smith-Pelly and Lars Eller in the third period of Game 5 was the difference for the Capitals, who, in the process of finally breaking through after a decade of dominance in the Alex Ovechkin era, ended the Vegas Golden Knights’ dream run in their inaugural season. Little did we know, the championship celebration wasn’t limited to the Vegas strip in the immediate aftermath of the win, and instead kick-started the most epic Stanley Cup party ever documented on social media.
Rarely do childhood photos pick up serious traction on social media. But when you use one to announce the biggest free agent signing in recent history in the NHL, it sure does. With a photo of his younger self tucked into Maple Leafs bed sheets posted to Twitter, John Tavares revealed his decision to sign with his hometown club for seven years and $77 million. With that, the balance of power shifted in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
Canadians with France flags sticking out of their car windows were able to celebrate when the final whistle sounded at the end of an exhilarating World Cup Final in Moscow. Les Bleus defeated Croatia 4-2 in the most-watched sporting event in 2018 on goals from Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, Kylian Mpabbe and an own goal off the head of Mario Mandzukic. A dominant showing from start to finish from the world football power, France won its second World Cup in history, 20 years after the first.
It certainly wasn’t the biggest move of the NBA offseason but after another postseason failure, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri pulled the trigger on the most significant trade in franchise history in 2018. Cornerstone DeMar DeRozan was dealt to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard — a legitimate superstar, but one entering the final season of his contract and coming off a lost season after a fallout with the Spurs over the handling of his health. Kawhi has provided the Raptors with a discernible lift and helped establish them as a legitimate championship contender, but to this point has provided no assurances that his time in Toronto won’t be limited to one season.
In a record transfer and truly groundbreaking sale agreement for the growth of Canadian soccer, Bayern Munich — the Bundesliga titan and one of the most prestigious soccer clubs in the world — procured the services of teenage phenom Alphonso Davies for $10 million in July. A Ghanaian refugee, Davies’ family fled to Edmonton when he was five. A little over a decade later, he’s reaching heights never seen before in Canadian soccer and represents inspiration for kids looking to follow in his footsteps. Already a dominant force in MLS, Davies now has the opportunity to expedite his development with and against the elite competition that resides in Europe. While he hasn’t yet appeared for Bayern, signing with the German champions in some ways compares to any accomplishment from a Canadian athlete in 2018.
The CP Women’s Open is by no means the biggest or most prestigious tournament on the LPGA Tour schedule, but it’s the one that casts the brightest spotlight on Canadian phenom Brooke Henderson. That’s what made the triumph so monumental for the Smith Falls, Ontario native. Henderson ended Canada’s 45-year drought at its national championships two weeks before her 21st birthday with a seven-under-par final round and victory at Wascana Country Club in Regina. Said after the win, Canada’s first on home soil since Jocelyne Bourassa in 1973, “I always dreamt of doing this, but I didn’t know if it would ever happen.”
It was cause for celebration in the final days of the season despite a second consecutive disappointing finish for the Toronto Blue Jays as fans bid farewell and extended gratitude to long-time manager and fan favourite, John Gibbons. Fired with one season remaining on his contract, Gibbons was at the helm as the franchise ended its 22-year playoff drought with consecutive appearances in 2015 and 2016. By all accounts it was a largely amicable split, with the Blue Jays coveting a new voice in a transition period and Gibbons not interested in seeing through a rebuild.
On the slick track at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, the Calgary Stampeders avenged loses in the two previous championship clashes with a 27-16 victory over the Ottawa Redblacks in the 106th Grey Cup. Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell tossed two touchdown passes and Terry Williams returned a punt 97 yards for a major score to provide the difference in a game that will mark the end of an era for a Stampeders team marching toward change in 2019.
It was far, far down on the list in terms of importance, but through sheer volume alone, it was this story that might have been most discussed. The Toronto Maple Leafs’ contract negotiations with forward William Nylander lasted throughout summer, through training camp, and through the first quarter of the NHL season before ending literal moments before the deadline to reach an agreement. In the end Nylander signed on the dotted line on a six-year extension, allowing the focus to shift to the other Maple Leafs soon requiring contracts.