Thursday, April 24, 2014

For Pete's Sake - Sports Commentary

With the Scruffy one on the DL this week, I crafted this week's sports commentary for Locker Talk. For better or worse, the text is below:

These are heady times for Canadian sports fans, as our young athletes are making huge splashes in their respective sports these days.

Of course there’s hockey, where our men and women captured Olympic gold in Sochi this winter. We’re due at the World Junior Championships – overdue, really – but as long as we keep sending top prospects to the NHL each year, I’d say there’s no reason to push any panic buttons at this point.

Our minor baseball systems, including the one right here in Saskatchewan, are sending more kids each year to top U.S. college programs. Some of those youngsters, including Andrew Albers of North Battleford, are starting to appear on major league rosters. If we can just get Canada’s team, the Blue Jays, into the playoffs, things could get pretty exciting. And bring back the Expos, damnit!

Our grassroots football programs, led right here by Regina Minor Football, are getting better and better each year. Don’t believe me? Go check out a high school football game this fall, and compare it to the quality of play when we strapped on the helmets. The progression is amazing, and that’s why we’re seeing more and more Canadians playing at the highest levels – including Regina’s very own reigning Super Bowl champ Jon Ryan of the Seattle Seahawks.

Next it’s over to basketball, where as many as three Canadians could be taken in the top 20 of this year’s NBA draft. One of them, Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins, may wind up being taken with the first overall pick. As these youngsters mature, along with a handful of young Canuck stars already in the Association, it makes a hoops fan salivate at the possibilities. I’m not suggesting an Olympic gold medal in basketball is around the corner, but a medal of some sort at the next games in Rio in 2016 is a definite possibility.

Soccer…not so much. But with the phenomenal growth of the sport at the grassroots level in every corner of this country, check out the WCP Cup currently underway in Regina for proof, surely improved results in international competitions are on the horizon. We can hope, anyway.

Young Canadian golfers, led by Weyburn’s Graham DeLaet, are poised to break through at the highest levels of their sport. I think we all agree it’s a matter of when, not if, for Delaet’s first victory on the PGA tour.

But, the sport where we’ve seen the most dramatic improvement in the past couple of years may very well be tennis. Yes, tennis. Not since the days of Carling Bassett and Helen Kelesi has a Canadian female caused the kind of stir on the pro circuit that Quebec’s Eugenie Bouchard is causing. Genie’s Army continues to grow in numbers at each stop on the tour, as the young Canadian collects fans, and ranking points.

On the men’s side, Ontario’s Milos Raonic is a legitimate world top ten player, and has a very real shot at making some noise at Wimbledon and the U.S Open this season. And of course there’s ageless veteran Daniel Nestor, who continues to pile up doubles titles at the ripe old age of 41.

Maybe most impressively, Bouchard and Raonic have recently led our national teams to impressive victories in Federation Cup and Davis Cup play. Believe it or not, but Canada is becoming an international mover and shaker in the sport of tennis. Love it!

What’s it all mean? Well, clearly good things are happening at the grass roots levels for all the sports I’ve mentioned – and we haven’t even touched on other summer and winter Olympic sports like snowboarding – hello there Mark McMorris! 

Folks, we are producing great athletes in every corner of this country. And as our Canadian athletes shine on international stages, they inspire the next generation to reach even higher. Buckle up, and enjoy the ride!

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