Sports·Analysis

Who won and who lost the year in Canadian sports

The past 12 months were great for Bianca Andreescu, Kawhi Leonard and Andre De Grasse. Not so much for Don Cherry, Mike Babcock and other old-school hockey coaches. Here's who won and lost the year.

Here's who came out ahead and who got left behind

Andre De Grasse got his career back on track this year. (Andrej Isakovic/AFP via Getty Images)

With 2019 on its last legs, CBC Sports is looking back at some of the best (and worst) things we saw this year and this decade. So here are some of the winners and losers of the year in Canadian sports:

Winner: Bianca Andreescu

She's the winner, no question. At this time last year, she was a nobody. Now Bianca is a household name after becoming the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam singles tennis tournament. Andreescu also won the Indian Wells event, which was the biggest tennis title ever captured by a Canadian until her U.S. Open victory later in the year. Oh, and in between she won the Rogers Cup — the top tournament held on Canadian soil. All this resulted in her being one of the most obvious choices ever for the Lou Marsh Award as Canadian athlete of the year. Andreescu heads into 2020 ranked fifth in the world — 147 spots higher than she was a year ago.

Winner: Kawhi Leonard

The NBA's most mysterious superstar spent less than a year in Toronto, but that was enough to become a national hero. With the help of a strong supporting cast, Kawhi delivered the Raptors' first-ever championship, won the Finals MVP award, ended the Warriors' dynasty and became one of the most beloved Americans ever to grace the Canadian sports scene. And then — poof — he was gone. No hard feelings, though.

Loser: Old-school hockey coaches

Their methods and general behaviour are being questioned like never before. Two NHL head coaches — Calgary's Bill Peters and Dallas' Jim Montgomery — lost their jobs over inappropriate things they said or did (or both) and Mike Babcock was skewered by some former players on his way out the door in Toronto. Chicago assistant Marc Crawford got off with just a suspension as he seems committed to making amends for his past behaviour. But the ultimate traditionalist of the coaching fraternity, Don Cherry, finally met his end (more on him later). Meanwhile, the new coaches in Toronto and Calgary are earning praise for their more modern, player-focused approaches. Maybe it's time to let the old ways die. 

Winner: Andre De Grasse

It was nice to see him stay healthy for a full season for the first time since the Rio Olympics, but for much of this year De Grasse still didn't look like the electrifying young sprinter who went toe-to-toe with Usain Bolt in 2016. That changed at the world championships in the early fall, where De Grasse won silver in the 200 and bronze in the 100 — same as he did in Rio. It was a good reminder that De Grasse saves his best for the biggest races, and that he's still a multiple-medal threat for next year's Olympics.

Winner: The women on Canada's swimming team

The country racked up a national-record eight medals in the pool at this year's world championships, and a woman won every single one. Kylie Masse became the first Canadian to win back-to-back titles in the same event (100m backstroke) and added a bronze in the 200. Maggie MacNeil shocked everyone be winning the 100 butterfly gold, Sydney Pickrem grabbed two individual bronze, and Canadian relay teams added three more bronze (Penny Oleksiak had a hand in all three). Great timing with the Olympics coming up this summer.

Penny Oleksiak, Sydney Pickrem, Maggie MacNeil and Kylie Masse teamed up to win one of the eight medals Canadian women collected at the swimming world championships. (Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Loser: Don Cherry

But only if playing with house money for that long before finally going bust can be considered a loss. Plus, he has a podcast now. Isn't that what every sports media person really wants?

Winner: The Blue Jays' second-generation stars

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio — all sons of former big-league stars — made their debuts this year. Guerrero's was the most hyped, and he ended up having an OK season that looks a lot better when you remember he's still only 20 years old. Bichette, 21, outshone Guerrero with a Ted Williams-like debut. He went on an 11-game hitting streak to start his career and finished with a .311 average while showing surprising power. Biggio, 24, displayed a good enough mix of power, speed and plate discipline to suggest at least a solid career. The Jays' present still looks pretty bleak, but there's hope for the future now.

Loser: Canadian NHL teams

The Stanley Cup drought is now at 26 years, and no one came close to ending it in 2019. Only three of the seven Canadian teams even made the playoffs, and Calgary, Toronto and Winnipeg all got bounced in the first round. Chances are the drought reaches 27 years. No Canadian team is higher than third place in its division right now.

Winner: Winnipeg

The city snapped its 29-year major championship drought when the Blue Bombers upset Hamilton for the Grey Cup. Now the pressure is on the town's favourite team, the Jets, who have never made it to a Stanley Cup final.

Winner: Mikael Kingsbury

He basically owns a permanent spot on this list. Canada's most dominant winter Olympic athlete cruised to his eighth consecutive World Cup moguls season title and won both the moguls and dual moguls world titles for the second time in his career. He's also the reigning Olympic moguls champion and the all-time leader in World Cup wins. Imagine being 27 years old and having literally nothing left to accomplish.

Loser: Gender equality in hockey

There were two women's pro leagues in North America. One of them folded in the spring, and a large group of players decided to boycott the other until they get what they want — a single, sustainable league that allows them to make a decent living. The obvious solution here is for the NHL to fund its own women's league (a la the WNBA) but so far Gary Bettman and the owners aren't biting. In the meantime, the best women in the world are trying to stay afloat by playing for their national teams and/or taking part in the barnstorming Dream Gap Tour.

Winner: Brooke Henderson

She became the winningest pro golfer in Canadian history when she captured her ninth tournament title back in June. She's still only 22, by the way. Henderson finished fourth on the LPGA money list with close to $1.7 million US in earnings this year.

Winner (soon, maybe): Canada's men's basketball team

This year was a mixed bag. On one hand, the highly anticipated Basketball World Cup was a complete flop. All of the country's best players bailed, costing Canada a chance to qualify early for the Olympics. But everything's not lost. A few weeks ago, rising NBA stars Jamal Murray and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and rookie RJ Barrett all committed to playing in a last-chance qualifier in late June. There's hope that more guys (Andrew Wiggins?) will follow suit. Plus, the tournament is being held in Victoria. Canada needs to win it, but if it does, this young team will be everyone's trendy pick to win a medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer. It's CBC Sports' daily newsletter. Stay up to speed on what's happening in sports by subscribing below.

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