We’re approaching the end of the year, which invariably means it’s awards season! Canada’s sports journalists and broadcasters will decide the winner of the Northern Star Award (formerly known as the Lou Marsh Award) on Wednesday morning, granted to the best Canadian athlete over the calendar year.
I’ve covered hockey, racism in hockey, tennis and soccer this year for Yahoo Sports and have previously served as a copy editor for our Raptors content. While it may be easy to provide disproportionate weight to sports that I cover, I’m taking this exercise very seriously and will try to provide the most objective rationale for the decision.
We’re going to outline the case for each athlete, and then reveal why they ultimately didn’t receive our vote — this is no slight on their respective accomplishments, but there can only be one best-of-the-best choice.
Wiggins was once considered a bust, but those days are long over. He was the second-best player on Golden State’s title-winning run, while earning his first All-Star selection. Wiggins did it with style, too. He detonated Memphis’s Brandon Clarke and Dallas superstar Luka Doncic in consecutive rounds with two of the best dunks of the playoffs, before locking down Boston’s Jayson Tatum in the NBA Finals. Wiggins had the best year of his career. But we can’t select him as our winner, as history will remember Golden State’s 2022 title as Steph Curry’s coronation.
Makar became just the third player to win the Norris and Conn Smythe Trophy in the same season and he did it before his 25th birthday. Colorado’s star defenceman took the league by storm in just his third full professional season, using his otherworldly speed, vision and playmaking ability to propel the Avalanche to their first Stanley Cup win since 2001.
During the 2022-23 season, Makar became the fastest defenseman to reach 200 points. He has a supremely impressive resume, but was 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 disproportionately gone to men’s hockey players in the past and though his resume was impressive, there are two Canadian NHL players that may have been better.
A three-time winner of the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award, granted to the best Canadian women’s athlete annually, Henderson is a favourite of the electorate. Henderson submitted another strong '22 campaign, winning two events, including the Evian Championship — once known as the Evian Masters — while finishing in the top 10 of eight additional tournaments. Henderson is currently the sixth-ranked golfer on the LPGA Tour. It was a stellar season by all accounts. Was it enough to captivate the hearts and minds of Canadians everywhere? She is a leading candidate for this award with no obvious flaws in her candidacy.
Poulin is the best women’s hockey player of her generation and the 2022 Olympics may have been the crowning achievement of what’s already been an iconic career. The 31-year-old recorded six goals and 17 points in seven games, finishing second in tournament scoring behind teammate Sarah Nurse, notching two goals in a 3-2 win against the United States in the gold medal game. She is the only player — men’s or women’s — to have scored in four consecutive Olympic finals. And then she followed this up by leading Canada to the gold medal at the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championships. Poulin’s trophy cabinet is iced out.
Poulin was one of Canada’s flag-bearers at the opening ceremonies and she left with her legacy cemented as perhaps the greatest women’s player of all time, in the company of Angela James and Hayley Wickenheiser.
A little bit of inside baseball, if you will: when discussing our vote, Yahoo Sports Canada managing editor Mackenzie Liddell and I couldn’t believe a women's hockey player had never won this award. That may have to change after Poulin's dominant season.
Nurse’s case is outlined simply above. She led the Olympics in scoring with five goals and 18 points, setting Olympic records for points in a single tournament in the process. Off the ice, Nurse has been a vocal advocate of anti-racism in hockey and has emerged as a leader of the next generation of women’s hockey. We’re not trying to pit teammates against each other, but the only knock against her campaign is that Poulin had the better year overall.
Parrot has an inspirational story outside of sports, beating Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2019. This year, Parrot won gold at the 2022 Olympics in slopestyle, while adding a bronze medal in the big air competition. It was a remarkable comeback story and Parrot’s rise to the top of snowboarding is a monumental accomplishment. Snowboarding has rarely been taken seriously by the electorate but it’s time to smash that outdated notion. Parrot is unquestionably one of Canada’s best athletes.
McKeever was outstanding at the 2022 Paralympics, winning three gold medals. He’s the most decorated cross country skier in Canada’s history and within the realm of sports, there’s little that he has left to accomplish. McKeever announced his retirement after the 2022 Paralympics, and he has emerged as the personification of Canadian greatness. His story ought to have made national headlines this year.
Davies is a global superstar and one of the world’s best players while featuring at left back for Bayern Munich. He is the best player on the Canadian men’s national soccer team, which qualified for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. And though it sounds cruel, Davies missed the final two qualification matches due to complications from myocarditis. Davies eventually returned to action, scoring Canada’s first-ever goal for the men’s program at the World Cup, but the team flamed out with three consecutive losses.
Davies’ performance was somewhat inconsistent and some columnists resorted to unjust and irrelevant criticism — like commenting on his jewelry — of the 22-year-old, when he elected not to speak to some members of the press corps. He won the award in 2020 and though he won’t win it this year, we are certain he’ll be back again, especially if Bayern Munich continues as a leading contender in the UEFA Champions League.
Weidemann left the 2022 Olympics with a gold, silver and bronze medal, setting an Olympic record time in the team pursuit alongside teammates Ivanie Blondin and Valerie Maltais. She was Canada’s flag-bearer during the closing ceremonies, edging out Poulin, Nurse and Parrot for the honours. We have a feeling this won’t be the last time Weidemann makes the list and now she has to cement herself as the preeminent speedskater in the world.
Auger-Aliassime came alive during the second half of the season and helped Canada win the Davis Cup, and throughout the tournament’s run, he upset his leading rival, world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz. He’s currently ranked as the sixth-best player in the world and he could sneak into top three by next spring as men’s tennis finally underwent a changing of the guard in 2022. The only thing keeping Auger-Aliassime out of contention for our vote is his relatively poor performances in majors, particularly at the US Open. But have no fear. Felix will be in contention for this award annually for the next decade.
Poulin was comprehensively the best Canadian athlete in the world this year and she captivated the country’s attention again with a dominant performance in the gold medal game against the nemesis United States. She cemented her legacy as the best player of her generation and she’s on the Mount Rushmore of women’s hockey for my money, alongside James, Wickenheiser and Cammi Granato. It’s tough when you’re ranking athletes who have emerged at the top of their field, and we anticipate Henderson eventually rising to the world No. 1 spot — something we can see from Auger-Aliassime and Weidemann in their respective sports, too.
Evaluating cross-sport accomplishments is one of the toughest tasks for a journalist to do, and we’re taking this exercise seriously. We look forward to how the debate and ensuing vote plays out Wednesday.
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