Who’s the Canadian team of the year?

By admin Dec14,2023

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On Monday, basketball star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander won the Northern Star Award for Canadian athlete of the year. The Northern Star voters don’t pick a team of the year, but The Canadian Press will later this month.

So, who should get it? Here are my top two candidates for Canadian team of the year, plus some other squads worthy of recognition:

Canadian men’s basketball team

Led by Gilgeous-Alexander, the squad took Canadian fans on quite the ride at this summer’s Basketball World Cup in Asia.

First, they ended decades of frustration by defeating Spain in a Labour Day thriller to clinch Canada’s first Olympic men’s basketball berth since 2000. Then they earned Canada’s first-ever trip to the men’s World Cup semifinals by beating NBA star Luka Doncic’s Slovenia. After losing to Serbia in the semis, SGA and company rebounded to upset the United States 127-118 in overtime in the bronze game to win Canada’s first-ever medal at the men’s World Cup or world championship, as it was previously known.

Most of the credit (deservedly) went to Gilgeous-Alexander, who was the best all-around player in a tournament that also featured fellow 2023 NBA All-Stars Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton, Lauri Markkanen and Doncic. Dillon Brooks played a key role too, scoring a Canadian men’s national team record 39 points in the bronze game and supplying his trademark physicality and intensity throughout the tournament. New head coach Jordi Fernandez also passed his first test with flying colours. The Spaniard took over just two months before the World Cup after Nick Nurse quit following his firing by the Raptors.

If NBA stars Jamal Murray and Andrew Wiggins return to the fold next summer after skipping the World Cup, this team’s chances of winning Canada’s first Olympic basketball medal since 1936 could go from good to great.

Canada’s Billie Jean King Cup women’s tennis team

A year after Felix Auger-Aliassime led Canada to its first-ever Davis Cup title, Leylah Fernandez and her teammates pulled off the women’s equivalent, capturing the Billie Jean King Cup last month in Spain. In the previous 59 years that the tournament existed (under various names) Canada had reached the semifinals just once (in 1988) and never made the final.

The victory was made even more surprising by the rough year Canada’s singles players had on the WTA Tour. Fernandez, two years removed from her trip to the U.S. Open final, had fallen to 35th in the world rankings. And she was easily the top singles player on a squad with No. 176 Rebecca Marino, No. 258 Marina Stakusic and No. 276 Eugenie Bouchard. Bianca Andreescu, ranked 91st at the time, was out with a back injury.

But something clicked when they arrived at the 12-team Billie Jean King Cup Finals in Spain. Stakusic, a virtually unknown teenage BJK Cup rookie who has never appeared in a main draw on the WTA Tour, stunned everyone by winning three of her four singles matches, including a victory over 43rd-ranked Martina Trevisan in the final vs. Italy.

Fernandez went 4-for-4 in singles and was absolutely clutch in the semifinals and final. With Canada one defeat away from elimination in the semis vs. the Czech Republic, she upset reigning Wimbledon champ Marketa Vondrousova and then teamed with doubles ace Gabriela Dabrowski to win the deciding match over Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, who have won seven Grand Slam titles together. The next day, Fernandez clinched the Cup with her straight-sets win over Italy’s Jasmine Paolini, giving Canada the premier trophy in international women’s team tennis.

Honourable mentions:

The Canadian boys that won the world junior hockey championship in Halifax, led by the record-breaking Connor Bedard; Brad Gushue’s curling team, which won the skip’s record fifth Brier title and took silver at the men’s world championship; Kerri Einarson’s curling team, which won their record-tying fourth consecutive Scotties title and second straight bronze at the worlds; the speed skating trio of Isabelle Weidemann, Ivanie Blondin and Valérie Maltais, who won the women’s team pursuit gold at the world championships and repeated as World Cup champs; and the Montreal Alouetttes, who upset Winnipeg to win the franchise’s first Grey Cup in 13 years.

By admin

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