Sports·THE BUZZER

The Raptors are back in Toronto, nature is healing

CBC Sports' daily newsletter takes stock of the current sports landscape, where things appear to be relatively normal for the first time since before the pandemic.

Sports return to regular schedule after 2 pandemic-affected seasons

Pascal Siakam is one of three remaining Raptors who played in the team's last game in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

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The sports calendar is back on track

It's been 600 days since the Raptors last played a regular-season game in Toronto.

We could run through the laundry list of ways the world changed in that time, but you either already know it all, don't want to hear it again or, most likely, both.

Still, some cross-sport perspective: in those 600 days, Tom Brady left the New England Patriots, signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and promptly won a Super Bowl in his new digs. Imagine telling your naive February 2020 self that.

The long-awaited homecoming happens tonight, when the Raptors host the Washington Wizards at Scotiabank Arena at 7:30 p.m. ET.

The Raptors' last true home game occurred on Feb. 28, 2020, against the Charlotte Hornets, a 99-96 loss from which just three players who suited up remain with Toronto. The team then embarked on a five-game road trip that concluded with a victory over Rudy Gobert's Utah Jazz. Again, you know the rest.

In the immediate aftermath of the sports world's shutdown, scheduling suddenly became every fan's obsession. As it turns out, the NBA and NHL titles would not be awarded until October, Tokyo 2020 was pushed to 2021 and MLB held its breath through a quick 60-game season.

It all meant the following NBA and NHL seasons were also affected, as both leagues cut back on games and rushed through new campaigns almost immediately after the previous ones ended.

In the time between Raptors regular-season games in Toronto, the Tampa Bay Lightning won not one, but two Stanley Cups. Tampa, of course, also hosted the Raptors for the duration of the 2020-21 NBA season.

But now we're back to your regularly scheduled programming. It's Fall, which means the NFL and CFL seasons are in full swing, there's renewed hope with the start of NBA and NHL campaigns, a new WNBA champion was crowned and the World Series is around the corner.

And not only that. With B.C.'s announcement yesterday that it would lift indoor capacity limits in time for the Canucks' home opener next Tuesday, all 124 major men's North American sports teams can now play at home in front of sold-out crowds.

It wasn't worth complaining at the time, but we can admit now that sports just weren't the same without atmosphere. Baseball needs the buzzing of nervous fans, hockey missed the roar of the crowd after a big save and it has been too long since a well-articulated 'REF YOU SUCK' chant.

Which isn't to say everything is back to normal. Perhaps the biggest NBA storyline right now is Kyrie Irving's refusal to take the vaccine. Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon missed the first two games of the season after testing positive for COVID-19. Fans are required to show proof of vaccination to enter tonight's Raptors game. As of today, only Chinese spectators will be allowed to attend events at the Beijing Olympics.

It's all somewhat precarious. But 600 days after the Raptors lost to the Hornets, just playing in Toronto in front of a home crowd feels like a victory in itself.

Read this preview for a closer look at how the Raptors season may play out on the court. Watch CBC Sports' North Courts panel break down the team's expectations here and discuss some notable Canadian NBAers here:

What are the expectations for the Toronto Raptors this season? | North Courts

1 month ago
3:16
Heading into the start of the NBA season the North Courts panel give their takes on what they expect from a rebuilding Raptors team. 3:16

Quickly...

Would you rather your team drop a blowout or a heartbreaker? Montreal and Winnipeg fans can hash that one out after some tough losses last night. The Habs were shut out by the lowly Sharks to fall to 0-4 and booed off the ice by their home fans. They've scored three goals all year, star defenceman Shea Weber is out for the season and longtime goalie Carey Price is absent indefinitely, too. Next up? A Thursday date with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and the now-hated Carolina Hurricanes. It's getting late early in Montreal. The Jets at least collected a point, but had victory stolen when an empty-netter was disallowed for off-sides and the Wild promptly knotted the game, turning a 6-4 lead into a 5-5 tie headed to OT. That's when Minnesota's Joel Eriksson Ek completed his hat trick and handed Winnipeg its third straight loss to start the year. That doesn't make it desperation time just yet, but a loss like that against a division rival certainly stings longer than most.

Canadian Olympians and Paralympians must be vaccinated to participate in Beijing 2022. With no mandate in place for Tokyo 2020, the Canadian Olympic Committee said 95 per cent of its athletes were vaccinated and none tested positive for COVID-19. But it's not taking any chances for the Winter Games, following in the U.S.'s lead with today's announcement. Unvaccinated New Jersey Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood may be the highest-profile Canadian Olympic hopeful affected by the rule. Read more about the vaccine mandate here.

The MLB playoffs are heating up. Both the ALCS and NLCS have followed a pattern. In the former, the Astros won a close Game 1 followed by three consecutive blowouts — two by the Red Sox, and last night's 9-2 Game 4 victory by Houston to even the series, which was mostly much tighter than the final score suggests. On the other hand, all three National League games have been won by a team in its last at-bats. Atlanta walked off two in a row to open the series before the Dodgers overcame a three-run deficit in the eighth inning of Game 3 last night to get one back. Both series return tonight, and the winners of each will meet in the World Series. Read more about Tuesday night's games here.

Coming up on CBC Sports

Gymnastics world championships: Canada is sending its senior men's team and a developmental women's team to the meet in Japan. The lone Olympian on the squad is Rene Cournoyer, who failed to qualify for any finals at Tokyo 2020. Action on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem begins Thursday at 2:55 a.m. ET with the women's allround finals.

You're up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.

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