It is a widely observed rule of sports that you do not verbalize a good or bad thing when you see it coming.
Nothing will attract more alarmed looks in a press box than leaning back in your chair and saying, “I bet you anything this one’s headed to extra innings.” Congratulations. You’ve just made that happen. And now everyone’s going to miss deadline.
It’s the same sort of person who’ll say, “He’s got a perfect game going!” – followed seconds later by a chopper that caroms off the mound, then someone’s head and into left field for a hit.
Again, that was you. You’re the jinx.
So this business of sports prediction is both contrary to behavioural norms and dangerous to engage in. It’s a little like trying to have a deep conversation with someone after 2 in the morning.
So with that said, 2019 is shaping up to be a special year for Canadian sports.
Historically, non-Olympic years are the ones in which Canadian fandom lies fallow. Our amateur athletes continue to win things, and no one pays attention. Our professional teams continue to lose things, and people focus on that.
That’s the rhythm of Canadian sports – two years of nothing and then bam! Three weeks of euphoria.
This is a non-Olympic year, but the chicken bones portend a good year for us.
That will depend on your definition of “us” – as in, are you from Toronto? Because if you take away real estate prices, ease of movement around the city and steadiness of local governments, it’s a good time to live here.
Will the Leafs win the Cup? Absolutely!
I mean, possibly. It’s conceivable. Theoretically.
Probably not, of course, but it’s good for business to act that way. Having not won a single playoff round since 2003-04, it’s hard to see the Leafs winning four in one go.
Baby steps and all that. Winning a single round would send the city into a “Recall the Army” state of hysteria.
The Raptors are a better bet to make a final. After only four months in the country, Kawhi Leonard has become the most oddly compelling athlete in the country. The team is in the most pressing win-now scenario possible – it has only have one guaranteed year of Leonard.
However it shakes out, if you are planning a major bank heist in the city, I’d schedule it for April when everyone’s attention is elsewhere.
If the Leafs finally have an honest chance, that probably means some other Canadian city is going to pip them to it. Winnipeg would be the solid choice. Calgary looks streaky in the sort of way that can get you through the grind of an NHL postseason. Montreal probably should have faded weeks ago, but is starting to shape up into one of those surprise packages that coast on self-belief (talk about jinxing someone).
Each year, we collectively obsess about how many Canadian teams make the playoffs, using that as a barometer of our hockey health. Best guessing tells us a bunch will get there – as many as six of seven. But this is the first time in a while when you’ll take it a step further – that two or three have a decent shot of making a final.
There has rarely been a better time for Canadian hockey parity – that is, us vs. the 24 U.S.-based teams.
This country’s individual pro athletes are also poised on the edge of something. We’ve been good enough at tennis and golf for so long that we’ve got used to seeing the maple leaf on a leaderboard. Won a Canadian Open? Okay, sure, great. Made the semis of a Grand Slam? That’s fun.
The breakthrough from competence to trophies will happen some time, so why not this year? Brooke Henderson, still only 21, looks a solid bet to become this nation’s international sports banner carrier. She already has one major. How about two or three?
Maybe Milos Raonic can finally get healthy enough to put together a full year’s worth of results. It would make a great injury-rags to sports-riches story.
A great deal of this depends on anticipation and timing. You don’t want to come out of absolutely nowhere, giving the rest of us no chance to catch up with current events. The country falls in behind an athlete who wins as expected at something that a lot of people are free to watch in real time – so, on a summer weekend.
How about Denis Shapovalov at Wimbledon or Henderson at the U.S. Women’s Open? That’d get the anthem rolling from coast-to-coast-to-coast.
Canada will participate in two major World Cups this year – women’s soccer and men’s rugby. (Owing to a skewed qualification process – one that heavily favours traditional powers – Canada won’t be in this year’s Cricket World Cup, and won’t ever again.)
Having been drawn in a group with New Zealand and South Africa, the men’s rugby team has a statistical chance of advancement and that’s the best you could say for them.
But the women’s soccer team is coming in hot. Were I guessing at what will be the national bandwagon moment of the coming year, this is it. Canada’s never won a major international team tournament at anything that wasn’t hockey.
The women’s soccer team isn’t among the favourites, but should be. That’s the perfect position in sports – good enough to win; not touted enough to feel the weight of expectation.
The timing is excellent. The tournament runs from June 7 to July 7 – so the bulk of it lies in the early holiday dead zone when there’s nothing else on but baseball. And by that point, no one will be watching baseball.
So what if the year turned out that way – one or two Canadian teams in the final four of the Stanley Cup chase; the Raptors in an NBA final; a Canadian wins a major in golf or tennis; and a Canadian team is in with a real shot to be world champions of the global game.
You wouldn’t call that a good year. You’d call it our best non-Olympic year ever. Knock wood.