From the Olympics to the Commonwealth Games to a newly minted hometown star competing at the Rogers Cup, 2018 will be a jam-packed year for Canadian sports fans. Here are some of the top stories to watch in 2018:
A ROGERS CUP STAR COMES HOME
Teenager Denis Shapovalov blasted onto the tennis scene in a big way in the summer of 2017, rising up the ATP rankings from No. 250 to 49 before ending the year at No. 51.
The 18-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., became a household name with stunning victories over Juan Martin del Potro and World No. 1 Rafael Nadal at the Rogers Cup in Montreal — becoming the youngest semifinalist in an ATP Masters 1,000 event.
Shapovalov will be front and centre when the men's Rogers Cup tournament takes place this August at Toronto's Aviva Centre, less than 20 kilometres from where he grew up. Shapovalov, who also reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open in 2017, was named the ATP's most improved player of the year and given the ATP Star of Tomorrow award.
Swiss superstar Roger Federer said during last year's Rogers Cup that Shapovalov "caught the attention of the tennis world, and rightfully so." The young Canadian will be looking to keep it in 2018.
LIFE WITHOUT JOEY BATS
For the first time in a decade, the Toronto Blue Jays will open a season without star slugger Jose Bautista on their roster.
Toronto declined the option on Bautista's contract this off-season following an uncharacteristic down year from the right-fielder who twice led the league in homers during his tenure as a Blue Jay. But as big a contributor as he was on the field, Bautista was just as significant off of it, providing leadership and contributing to the team's identity as a fiery, passionate group despised by virtually every other MLB fanbase.
While rookie outfielder Teoscar Hernandez shined in a limited September role with the Blue Jays after being traded to the team from Houston, it's still not clear how Toronto's outfield — and offence — will shape up in 2018. And with the New York Yankees making a big splash this off-season, acquiring reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton in a trade with Miami, it will be interesting to see how Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins' group stacks up against a strengthed AL East.
AN ENDING TO CANADA'S STANLEY CUP DROUGHT?
It's been 25 years since a Canadian team last won the Stanley Cup — and seven years since one even made a final — but that drought could be close to an end. Two teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Winnipeg Jets, are in playoff position entering the Christmas break.
Winnipeg has flown under the radar in the first half of the 2017-18 season while staying close to the top of the Central Division and the Leafs have remained relevant after a red-hot start to the year, even while losing star Auston Matthews to injury for portions of the season.
Neither Toronto nor Winnipeg are favourites to win the Cup right now, but as seen last year when the wild-card Nashville Predators made it all the way to the final, the teams with the best records don't always come out on top.
MCMORRIS COMPLETING HIS COMEBACK
Canadian snowboarding star Mark McMorris will be heading to Pyeongchang hoping to cap a comeback from a series of horrific injuries with a gold medal — and possibly two.
The 24-year-old from Regina suffered breaks to his jaw and left arm, a ruptured spleen, a stable pelvic fracture, rib fractures and a collapsed left lung in a backcountry crash in B.C. less than a year ago, but his recovery so far has been remarkable.
McMorris began the 2018 snowboarding season this November with a gold medal at a World Cup big air event and first place in a slopestyle event on the World Snowboarding Tour. McMorris is the defending Olympic bronze medallist in slopestyle from the Sochi Games — where he competed with a broken rib.
He and fellow Canadian Max Parrot remain podium favourites for Pyeongchang, in both slopestyle and big air, which will make it's Olympic debut.
REDEMPTION FOR CANADA'S TRACK AND FIELD TEAM
Canadian sprint star Andre De Grasse was forced to sit out the 2017 track and field world championships with a hamstring injury, missing what would have been his final showdown with eight-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt.
With Bolt now in retirement, the 23-year-old De Grasse will be the main attraction on the track at the Commonwealth Games in Australia this April.
De Grasse, who won silver in the 200 metres, bronze in the 100 and bronze in the 4x100 at the Rio Olympic Games in 2016 (Bolt took gold in all three events) will lead a Canadian squad that's coming off a disappointing 2017 world championships where they failed to bring home a medal for the first time in 16 years.
Illness and injury had much to do with Canada's tough luck in London in 2017, and the team will be looking to atone for their missed opportunities this year in Australia.
Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press