We’re nearing the end of the year, which always means awards season! Canadian sports journalists and broadcasters will determine the winner of the Northern Star Award (formerly known as the Lou Marsh Award) on Wednesday morning, which is given to the best Canadian athlete of the calendar year.
I’ve covered hockey, racism in hockey, tennis and football this year for Yahoo Sports and previously served as a copy editor for our Raptors content. While it may be easy to assign a disproportionate weight to the sports I cover, I take the practice very seriously and will try to provide the most objective reasons for the decision.
We’ll break down the case for each athlete, and then reveal why they didn’t end up receiving our vote – this doesn’t detract from any of their achievements, but only one choice of the best of the best.
Wiggins was once considered a failure, but those days are long gone. He was the second best player on Golden State’s title run, while earning his first All-Star selection. Wiggins does it in style too. He blasted Memphis’ Brandon Clarke and Dallas superstar Luka Doncic in back-to-back rounds with the two best dunks of the playoffs, before locking out Boston’s Jayson Tatum in the NBA Finals. Wiggins is having the best year of his career. But we can’t pick him as our winner, as history will remember the 2022 Golden State title as Steph Curry’s crowning.
Makar became only the third player to win the Norris and Conn Smythe Trophy in the same season and he did so before his 25th birthday. The Colorado star defenseman took the league by storm in just his third full professional season, using his speed, vision and uncanny playing ability to propel the Avalanche to their first Stanley Cup victory since 2001.
During the 2022-23 season, Makar became the fastest defender to reach 200 points. He has a very impressive resume, but is he the best player in the NHL? Connor McDavid would argue otherwise, while some view his own teammate, Nathan MacKinnon, as the superior player. This award has been disproportionately given to men’s hockey players of the past and despite his impressive resume, there are two Canadian NHL players who could possibly do better.
A three-time winner of the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award, which is given to the best Canadian female athlete each year, Henderson is a voter favorite. Henderson delivered another strong ’22 campaign, winning two events, including the Evian Championship – formerly known as the Evian Masters – while finishing in the top ten of eight additional tournaments. Henderson is currently the sixth ranked golfer on the LPGA Tour. It was an extraordinary season. Is that enough to capture the hearts and minds of Canadians everywhere? He is a leading candidate for this award with no obvious flaws in his candidacy.
Poulin is the best women’s hockey player of her generation and the 2022 Olympics may be the crowning achievement of what is already an iconic career. The 31-year-old had six goals and 17 points in seven games, finishing second in the tournament in scoring behind teammate Sarah Nurse, netting twice in a 3-2 win against the United States in the gold medal game. She is the only player – male or female – to have scored in four consecutive Olympic finals. And then she followed that up by leading Canada to a gold medal at the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship. Poulin’s cupboard froze.
Poulin was one of Canada’s flag carriers at the opening ceremony and she leaves with her legacy cemented as the greatest female player of all time, accompanied by Angela James and Hayley Wickenheiser.
A little baseball inside, if you will: when discussing our vote, Yahoo Sports Canada managing editor Mackenzie Liddell and I can’t believe Poulin never won this award. That may have to change after another dominant season.
The case of the nurse is described above. He led the Olympics in scoring with five goals and 18 points, setting an Olympic record for points in a single tournament in the process. Off the ice, Nurse has been a vocal supporter of anti-racism in hockey and has emerged as the next generation of women’s hockey leader. We’re not trying to pit teammates against each other, but the only blow to his campaign is that Poulin has had a better year overall.
Parrot has an inspiring story outside of sports, defeating Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2019. This year, Parrot won gold at the 2022 Olympics in slopestyle, while adding a bronze medal in major air competitions. It was an incredible comeback story and Parrot’s rise to the top of snowboarding is a great achievement. Snowboarding is rarely taken seriously by voters, but it’s time to demolish that outdated notion. Parrot is without a doubt one of Canada’s best athletes.
McKeever was outstanding at the 2022 Paralympics, winning three gold medals. She’s the most decorated cross-country skier in Canadian history and in the sport she has little left to accomplish. McKeever announced his retirement after the 2022 Paralympics, and he emerged as the personification of Canadian greatness. Her story should have made national headlines this year.
Davies is a global superstar and one of the best players in the world when he appeared as a left back for Bayern Munich. He was the best player on the Canadian men’s national soccer team, which qualified for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. And as cruel as it sounds, Davies missed the last two qualifying games due to complications from myocarditis. Davies finally returned to action, scoring Canada’s first goal for the men’s program at a World Cup, but the team fell short with three straight losses.
Davies’ performances have been somewhat inconsistent and some columnists have resorted to unfair and irrelevant criticism – likes to comment on her jewelry – from 22 years old, when he chose not to speak to some members of the press corps. He won the award in 2020 and although he will not win it this year, we are sure he will be back again, especially if Bayern Munich continues to be the top challengers in the UEFA Champions League.
Weidemann left the 2022 Olympics with gold, silver and bronze medals, setting an Olympic time record in the team pursuit alongside teammates Ivanie Blondin and Valerie Maltais. He was the Canadian flag bearer during the closing ceremony, beating out Poulin, Nurse and Parrot for the award. We have a feeling this won’t be the last time Weidemann will be on the list and now he has to establish himself as the world’s leading speedkater.
Auger-Aliassime came alive during the second half of the season and helped Canada win the Davis Cup, and throughout the tournament, he defeated his main rival, world number 1 Carlos Alcaraz. He is currently ranked as the sixth best player in the world and he could sneak into the top three next spring as men’s tennis finally sees a change of guard in 2022. The only thing keeping Auger-Aliassime from competing for our votes is his relatively poor performance in the majors, especially at the US Open. But fear not. Felix would compete for this award every year for the next decade.
Poulin was comprehensively the best Canadian athlete in the world this year and he again caught the country’s attention with a dominant performance in the gold medal match against arch-rivals the United States. She cemented her legacy as the best player of her generation and she is in Mount Rushmore women’s hockey for my money, alongside James, Wickenheiser and Cammi Granato. It’s tough when you rank emerging athletes at the top of their field, and we anticipate Henderson eventually rising to the No. 1 spot. 1 world — something we can also see Auger-Aliassime and Weidemann in their respective sports.
Evaluating achievements across sports is one of the most difficult tasks a multi-sport journalist has to undertake, and we take this exercise seriously. We look forward to how the next debate and vote plays out on Wednesday.
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