Over lunch in a boardroom in downtown Toronto on Tuesday, an assembly of Canadian media members will critique the accomplishments of the nation’s top athletes from 2018 and won’t emerge from their stuffy confines until arriving at a verdict for the Lou Marsh Trophy.
As I understand it, it’s always a spirited debate between the sports men and women that lend their voices and opinions to all things Canadian sports. And as Canada continues to produce elite athletes who accomplish incredible things on rinks, courts, hills, tracks, trails, slides, courses, diamonds and rings around the globe, it should only remain hotly contested.
Without an obvious choice in 2018, it shouldn’t be any different this time around.
Here are the candidates that should dominate much of the discourse between bites of catered sandwiches.
*Note: The Kenny Omega campaign, though still picking up steam, is not expected to factor into the decision this year. Oversight is unfortunate, really.
Why: There isn’t a Canadian athlete that was able to pop more champagne and feel that winning feeling in 2018 more than moguls monster Mikael Kingsbury. His disappointments the career highlights for many, Kingsbury won eight of his 10 world cup races last season and must have had a productive summer, too, kicking off the new freestyle campaign with his 50th career world cup win and retaining the No. 1 world ranking. He won two Crystal Globes in 2018 to serve as freestyle skiing’s top athlete across all disciplines, And at the zenith and most pressure-packed moment of his career to date at the top of the hill in Pyeongchang, he captured gold.
Why not: It’s a small pool, right? In the realm of niche athletics, freestyle skiing is right up there. Yeah, Kingsbury was probably the most dominant athlete in 2018, but he’s beat up on a fractional and rather privileged segment of the complete sporting population. And aside from a two-night stretch at the Olympics, he’s very much been an afterthought in the Canadian sports landscape. The moguls kings fetched just three percent of the vote in a poll with almost 900 responses on Twitter.
What our expert says: “It would be easy to pick Mikael Kingsbury, but nobody cares about moguls.” — Andrew Zuber
Tessa Virtue, Scott Moir
Why: Already Canada’s greatest figure skaters ever, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir cemented their place among Canada’s greatest athletes ever in 2018. The decorated ice dancers led Canada to gold in the team event in Pyeongchang before seizing their greatest Olympic triumph to date in establishing a new overall world record to win individual gold while the ink was still dry on the world-record skate performed moments prior by the French. A crowning achievement which made them the most decorated figure skaters ever, Virtue and Moir’s triumph was the “Where Were You” moment in 2018, transcending Canada’s sports culture. Oh, and to less fanfare, they also won their eighth national title with a perfect score in the free dance.
Why not: Less important than the fact that Canada’s top athlete is typically awarded to an individual, Virtue and Moir have been out of competition since that incredible victory in Korea. Do seven or eight productive weeks — or one moment — make a Lou Marsh?
What our expert says: “It would be easy to pick an ice dancer, but they only won one thing all year long.” — Andrew Zuber
(While not totally true, point taken.)
The hockey players
Why: If it’s striking a balance between dominance and the depth of talent around the globe, there are few choices worse than selecting the best Canadian-born NHL player. In 2018, Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon and Taylor Hall were the standouts from the ultra-talented Canadian pool, and will weigh into the conversation. McDavid has been the most productive player in the calendar year with 104 totals points, while MacKinnon isn’t far behind with 96 — and owns a slightly superior points per game rate. But it was Hall that beat out the competition for the top individual honour in the NHL, having led the New Jersey Devils back to the playoffs with an incredible run in the spring.
Why not: Given that it’s almost impossible to choose a *correct* candidate from the year, it’ll be a challenge for those pushing the hockey agenda. McDavid is pretty clearly the world’s best hockey player, but it’s hard to build a case in the absence of major awards or team success. With waning bias (only twice in the last decade has a hockey player been chosen for the Lou Marsh) in an Olympic year, the vote will probably head in another direction.
What our experts say: “It would be easy to pick a hockey player, but no hockey player was good enough.” — Andrew Zuber
With medals in all three individual distances on the short track, the largest individual haul at the 2018 Olympics belonged to speed skater Kim Boutin, who served as Canada’s flag bearer at the closing ceremonies. An honour not just for her performances on the track, but also for Boutin’s courage to perform on the world stage after receiving threats at the Games when a South Korean was disqualified and the Canadian was elevated from fourth to third.
For how successful Boutin was, though, it was para-nordic skier and biathlete Mark Arendz that had the most successful run in Pyeongchang. Six medals, including a gold, and importantly across two vastly different disciplines, Arendz also carried the country’s flag at the closing ceremony.