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It’s our year… right?

If you really take the time to stop and think about it, professional sports are quite odd. In terms of physical ability, the top one-percent of the human population put themselves under both immense physical and mental pressure for the entertainment of other humans across the world. We, as fans, eat it right up.

As fans, we take huge pride in the success of the teams we support, and we can even be impacted in our regular lives because of their losses. Toronto has multiple major sports franchises with enormous fan bases, and having lived in Toronto for the last 18 years, here are some of the highs and lows you can expect by cheering for some of the major Toronto teams.

 

The Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto’s hockey team.

The Toronto Maple Leafs could be considered a religion here in Toronto. Saturday nights are almost always dedicated to hockey, with home games happening at the Scotiabank Arena. Few things come close to giving me the goosebumps I get from hearing the crowd roar on a Saturday night Leafs game.

However, not everything comes easy with being a Leafs fan. The last time the Toronto Maple Leafs won a Stanley Cup was in 1967. Yes, that’s right. It’s been over 50 years since Toronto hockey fans have seen their team lift the cup. What makes things worse is that the Leafs always show good potential in the regular season, and then somehow manage to mess it up in the playoffs. A prime example of this is the 2013 season.

The 2013 season was a shortened season due to a player lockout. Poor communication between the league and the players association resulted in a labor dispute that lasted for 4 months. This meant that the regular 82 game season was shortened down to 48 games. The Leafs, who always had a great start to the season, were hopeful to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-2004 season. With the strong start that they always had, the Leafs finished fifth in the Eastern Conference and qualified for the playoffs, to play against the Boston Bruins. The series was a battle.

However, like all good things, the Leafs’ run of fortune had to end somewhere. After a 3-1 series lead, the Bruins came back to send the game to game 7 in Boston. Game 7 meant win or go home, and the Leafs were up 4-1 with 9 minutes left to go in the game. What happened next was a complete collapse by the team. Boston came back to tie the game 4-4. We were off to overtime. After 6 minutes and 5 seconds of overtime hockey, the Boston Bruins scored to finish the series. The Leafs not only blew a 3-1 series lead, but also a 4-1 game lead in the most important game of the year. It’s almost as if the Leafs collapse when it matters most, and the 2020-2021 season was definitely no exception to that.

Battling in a division composed of only Canadian teams due to the Covid-19 restrictions, the Leafs finished the season on top of the North division with 77 points in 56 games played. Superstar forward Auston Matthews was league leader in goals with 41, and goalie Jack Campbell broke the record for the most consecutive wins for a goalie to start a season, with 11 wins in a row. The Leafs were a good blend of young talented players and veteran players with loads of experience. They truly looked like the favorites that would make it to the conference finals, the third round of the playoffs. Enter the Montreal Canadiens, the team the Leafs were set to play in the first round in a best of 7 game series.

To put it in simple terms, the Canadiens are one of the Leafs’ biggest rivals. The reason being that both of them have great histories in the sport, being the two oldest and most decorated teams in the National Hockey League (NHL). The series was a hard one to watch as a Leafs fan, as we had a 3 to 1 lead in the series and needed 1 more victory to advance to the next round. Game 5 and 6 were both heartbreaking losses in overtime after some poor turnovers. Game 7 was what Leafs fans have come to expect: a complete collapse from the entire team.

This marks the fifth year in a row that the Leafs have failed to win a series in either the playoffs or the playoff qualifiers, and the question is, will their streak of bad luck ever end?

 

The Toronto Raptors. Toronto’s basketball team.

The Raptors are Toronto’s most recent success story. After years of dominating the regular season and then getting eliminated by either the Brooklyn Nets or Lebron James in the playoffs, in 2018 the Raptors General Manager, Masai Ujiri took a huge risk. Masai chose to trade all-star DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a lottery protected first round pick to the San Antonio Spurs for NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

At the time of the trade, DeMar DeRozan was a Raptors icon. Fans across the country cheered for DeMar and held their heads high that one day he could bring us to an NBA championship. When he was traded, fans were shocked to find out that our star player was now leaving, and we were receiving two players who only had a single year on their contracts left. This meant that if something was going to happen, it needed to happen that year.

Kawhi Leonard is famous for his invention of the idea of “load management.” Load management is when players take games off during the regular season to be more physically able for the playoffs. In the 2018-2019 season, Kawhi Leonard missed 22 games in total for load management. However, come time for the playoffs, he did not miss a single game, playing in all 24 games en-route to an NBA championship, which was a first for the Toronto Raptors. Few moments define that championship run as much as the game 7 dagger does.

In game 7 of the second round of the NBA playoffs, the score tied 90 to 90, the Raptors had 4.2 seconds left on the clock waiting to inbound the ball. In a miraculous feat of athleticism and a bit of luck, Kawhi put up the most important shot in Raptors’ history, and it went in (after it seemed to have bounced a million times on the rim). The crowd at Scotiabank arena went wild, and from then on, our path to an NBA championship was set. With some luck on injuries to other team’s players, the Raptors found themselves NBA champions. The rest was downhill from there.

Kawhi decided to not renew his contract in Toronto and signed with the Los Angeles Clippers instead. In 2020, the Raptors fought hard to make the playoffs in the Disney bubble. However, they were eliminated in game 7 of the second round. In 2021, with Covid restrictions in place, the Raptors moved to Tampa Bay for the year and found themselves in a difficult situation. Playing home games at Amalie Arena meant that fans would often be booing them and cheering for the other team. The consequences were unfortunate: 27 wins and 45 losses this season, which meant the first losing season for the Raptors since the 2012-2013 season, missing the playoffs for the first time since then as well.

So what’s next in store for Raptors fans? Not many know, but fans are hopeful that with a return to Scotiabank Arena and re-signing Kyle Lowry, the Raptors can at least continue to contend for the playoffs regularly.

 

The Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto’s baseball team.

Now, I’ll be honest, baseball might not be the most interesting to everyone. If you’re one of those people, go read (or watch) Moneyball and then come back to this article. The role that statistics and data analysis plays in baseball is just mind boggling.

The Jays have a history of successful bursts. They were World Series champions in 1992 and 1993, and then failed to make another playoff appearance until the 2015 season.

Coming off a very promising 2014 season, the Jays finished with 83 wins and 79 losses, 5 wins short of a playoff spot. General Manager Alex Anthopoulos decided that he was not satisfied with this and made a push to improve his team. In the 2014 offseason, he traded for third baseman Josh Donaldson, sending third baseman Brett Lawrie, pitchers Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin, and prospect Franklin Barreto to the Oakland Athletics. The impact that Josh Donaldson would have would be evident immediately.

Josh Donaldson slotted into a trio of heavy hitters consisting of himself, long time fan favorite Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. The three of them combined in the 2015 season for 466 hits, 120 home runs, a batting average of 0.275 and an on-base percentage of 0.373. Josh Donaldson brought home the AL MVP, the award for the most valuable player from the American League, and the Blue Jays had an offence that produced 5.5 runs on average per game, leading the league.

The issue for the Blue Jays was their defense, more specifically their pitching. However, with Marcus Stroman making a shocking comeback from an ACL tear he suffered during spring training, and the Blue Jays making a trade for David Price that took them from a 52 win and 51 loss record to a 41 win and 18 loss record for the rest of the season, they catapulted to the top of their division. The Blue Jays were prepared for the playoffs.

The Blue Jays faced off against the Texas Rangers in a best-of-5 game series in the American League Divisional Series. Splitting the first 4 games of the series, the Jays played game 5 at home in the Rogers Center. The Blue Jays were down 3-2 in the seventh inning after a weird mishap from catcher Russell Martin. That is when “The Unforgettable Inning” really started.

A few errors from the Rangers resulted in one run coming into score, and runners on first and third base with one out. Come up to the plate Jose Bautista. When I mentioned Jose Bautista earlier, I mentioned how he was a longtime fan favorite. The reason is because he completely reinvented himself with the Blue Jays. Jose went from being a sub-par player with the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 6-time all-star and 3-time silver slugger with the Blue Jays. It was his turn to give back to the city that gave so much to him. The following was a three-run home run deep into left center field, sending the entire stadium into cheers. An epic flip of his bat and a long trot around the bases later, the Blue Jays never looked back and went on to win the series.

However, in the next round the Blue Jays would be eliminated in 6 games against the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series, a team that later went on to win the World Series against the New York Mets. In 2016, the Blue Jays would reach the American League Championship Series again, losing to the Cleveland Indians in 5 games this time. Since then, the last playoff appearance for the Blue Jays was in 2020, when they lost the American League wild card against their division rivals, the Tampa Bay Rays.

Things are looking promising, however, as upcoming young superstars such as Vladimir (Vladdy) Guerrero Jr., son of hall of famer Valdimir Guerrero Sr., is in contention for MVP this year with an outstanding breakthrough season. Shortstop Bo Bitchette, who came through the minor leagues with Vladdy, is now an all-star as well. With news that the Blue Jays will be back to the Rogers Center this year, we can all hope to get to see some September baseball in-person when the SkuleTM year starts up again.

So, what have we learned? Toronto sport teams have a deep history. I only had time to look over the three big teams here in  Toronto, but the Toronto Argos (Canadian Football), Toronto FC (Football/Soccer), the Toronto Rock (Lacrosse), and even the Toronto Marlies (Hockey) are no short of these kinds of moments. The history that each of these teams possess is quite spectacular, and as a fan, we are always hopeful for the next seasons.

No matter how high the highs or how low the lows, Toronto fans will always be there to support our teams. The beauty of all this, though, is that you do not even need to be the most passionate fan to enjoy it. Just show up to a local Toronto pub on a game night, and you will have plenty of fans there ready to convince you why our team is the best in the league, and why this year is our year.

We are just a poorly written recursive function as fans in this city.

 

#include <stdbool.h>

bool itsOurYear(bool haveWeLostYet) {

    if (haveWeLostYet == true) {

            printf("Next year is our year!\n");

            return false;

    }

    else {

            printf("It's our year!");

            return true;

    }

}

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