From the drama and disappointment of the Vancouver Canucks to the Women’s World Cup, it was a busy year for B.C. sports fans. Here is a look back at some of 2015’s top sports stories.
Women’s World Cup
The biggest sporting event in B.C. in 2015 turned out to be good for the bottom line.
The FIFA Women’s World Cup dealt with plenty of controversy prior to kick-off at several venues across Canada. Many footballers complained about the playing surface at BC Place and other Women’s World Cup venues. Then there was the fact that FIFA was embroiled in a corruption scandal shortly before the tournament was set to begin.
While crowds were sparse during some preliminary round matches, BC Place was packed for several elimination games. Canada played two matches at BC Place, beating Switzerland 1-0 before falling to England 2-1 in the quarter-finals.
Team Canada games were awash with red and blue, but American fans clad in the stars and stripes filled the downtown core during the U.S. women’s national team’s matches at BC Place.
On a day when the sky was filled with haze due to a forest fire, the U.S. dominated Japan in the final, sending the tens of thousands of U.S. fans at BC Place into a frenzy. Carli Lloyd scored a hat trick in the Americans’ 5-2 win over Japan.
The win helped the U.S. avenge their loss to Japan at the 2011 Women’s World Cup final. In that game, an underdog Japanese side came from behind to win on penalty kicks. But several costly defensive lapses snuffed out any hope of a similar comeback in Vancouver.
More than 53,000 attended the final at Vancouver’s B.C. Place. Among the large contingent of U.S. fans was Vice-President Joe Biden and his wife Jill. FIFA President Sepp Blatter was not in attendance.
All those American fans proved good for the bottom line as estimates suggest the tournament brought in as much as $36 million to the city.
WATCH: FIFA Women’s World Cup financial impact
Canucks playoff disappointment
Many thought the Vancouver Canucks would enter 2015 mired in mediocrity. President Trevor Linden and general manager Jim Benning swore off plans to rebuild, choosing instead to retool their aging roster on the fly, adding in younger players while still relying on veterans.
Head coach Willie Desjardins seemed committed to rolling four lines and appeared to find the right balance, finishing the regular season with 101 points, good enough to earn home-ice advantage in their opening-round playoff series against the Calgary Flames.
The upstart Flames, featuring a young core of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan as well as gritty forwards like Micheal Ferland, proved too much for the Canucks, winning the series in six games.
During the offseason, the Canucks’ brain trust tinkered with their roster, shipping out popular netminder Eddie Lack and veteran defenceman Kevin Bieska while bringing in new blood like Brandon Sutter and Brandon Prust. The team also made room for younger players like Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen, and Ben Hutton.
Fans don’t seem too thrilled with the 2015-16 edition of the Canucks as demand for tickets appears to be waning.
WATCH: Demand for Canucks tickets sink to lowest levels in over a decade
Whitecaps best season in their history
While the Canucks are treading water, the Vancouver Whitecaps appear to be a team on the rise. The franchise had its best year as part of Major League Soccer, hosting their first-ever MLS playoff game at BC Place.
Newly acquired forward Octavio Rivero gave Whitecaps hope early in the season. The Uruguayan forward was electric early, scoring five goals in the team’s first six matches. Rivero’s magic started to fade as the season went on – one of the reasons the ‘Caps scored just seven times during their final seven games of the season.
The lack of scoring punch hurt the Whitecaps when it mattered most. The ‘Caps failed to find the back of the net in the postseason, falling 2-0 to the Portland Timbers in their two-match MLS Western Conference semifinal. After a scoreless draw in Portland, the Timbers’ Fanendo Adi and Diego Chara silenced the sellout crowd at BC Place and the Whitecaps couldn’t find a way to respond.
Kendall Waston was named to the MLS’ Best XI team, cementing his reputation as one of the league’s best defenders. Last month, the Costa Rican international signed a multi-year extension with the team.
WATCH: Whitecaps look to the future
Seahawks lose Super Bowl
Many B.C. football fans kicked off 2014 by celebrating the Seattle Seahawks’ dominant Super Bowl win over the Denver Broncos. A year later, 12th Man North were left in stunned silence after the Seahawks suffered arguably the most painful loss in Super Bowl history.
After a dramatic win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game, the Seahawks appeared poised to win back-to-back Super Bowls as quarteback Russell Wilson led a late charge down the field. Trailing 28-24 late in the fourth quarter, wide receiver Jermaine Kearse made a twisting, turning, tumbling catch for a 33-yard gain to the Patriots 5. Marshawn Lynch then ran 4 yards to the 1. But Wilson, operating from the shotgun, was intercepted on a pass intended for Ricardo Lockette, breaking the hearts of NFL fans across the province.
WATCH: Seahawks controversial final play call costs them a repeat as Super Bowl champions
Tedford out as B.C. Lions head coach
Throughout his career, Lions GM Wally Buono has demonstrated an ability to unearth talent who can thrive in the CFL. Many Lions fans were thrilled when the team announced last December they had hired Jeff Tedford as head coach after a long career south of the border in U.S. college football and a brief stint as an NFL assistant.
Tedford promised an up-tempo offence, but the Lions instead looked to be stuck in neutral for long stretches, leading to a 7-11 record, an early playoff exit and frustration among players.
Earlier this month the Lions announced that Buono is taking over head coaching duties next season following Tedford’s resignation after less than a year on the job.
WATCH: Wally Buono named BC Lions head coach…again
Steve Nash retires
Victoria’s Steve Nash officially announced his retirement from the NBA in April. The two-time NBA MVP, who grew up in Victoria, B.C. made the announcement in a blog post that began with the words “I’m retiring.”
Nash is undoubtedly the greatest basketball player Canada has ever produced, and one of the best sporting stories this country has ever seen.
In his farewell letter, Nash thanked several people, including Ken Shields and Jay Triano, who coached him on Canada’s national team, and high school coach Ian Hyde-Lay.
He is third on the NBA’s career assists list, trailing only John Stockton and Jason Kidd. Nash also is the most accurate free-throw shooter in NBA history, barely edging Mark Price’s career mark at 90.4 per cent.
Nash won two MVP awards with the Phoenix Suns while leading one of the most dynamic offences in NBA history. His playmaking and scoring abilities have earned him worldwide recognition and eight All-Star game selections.
Nash grew up in Victoria, where he played high school basketball for St. Michaels University School, leading the team to a 1992 AAA provincial championship. Throughout an NBA career that spanned nearly two decades, Nash maintained ties to B.C., having an ownership stake in the Vancouver Whitecaps of the MLS and a chain of fitness clubs that bear his name.
He also sponsored the Steve Nash Youth Basketball initiative, which has helped developed a generation of basketball talent in B.C.
At the start of his pro career, many B.C. basketball fans were upset that the Vancouver Grizzlies failed to acquire Nash after he entered the NBA in 1996. Years later, many say it was the best thing that could have happened to him.
WATCH: Steve Nash retires
Carey Price takes home hardware
It’s been a big year for Montreal Canadiens netminder Carey Price.
Anahim Lake’s favourite son became the first hockey goaltender to win the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s top athlete. He was also named the winner of the Lionel Conacher Award.
Price hit career highs with 44 wins, a 1.96 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage for Montreal in the 2014-15 season.
He also won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender, the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player as voted by the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association and earned the Ted Lindsay Award as the NHL MVP as judged by his fellow players.
Price hasn’t forgotten his roots. In October, he teamed up with equipment manufacturer CCM to send thousands of dollars worth of skates, sticks, helmets, pads and all things hockey to youth in the area around Williams Lake, B.C.
The special deliveries landed at the offices of the Williams Lake Minor Hockey Association, where Price played from age nine to 15, three First Nations communities, the local Boys and Girls Club, KidSport, JumpStart and Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
WATCH: Carey Price gives big donation to B.C. minor hockey system
UBC wins Vanier Cup
It was perhaps the most remarkable university sports story of the year in Canada.
Two years ago, the football team at the University of British Columbia status was dire. The Thunderbirds hadn’t been over .500 in over a decade, had few fans, and the program’s cost was so great that the university was considering eliminating the team altogether.
But after several wealthy donors committed to supporting the team, the program was saved. UBC brought in a star coach (Blake Nill) and recruited a star Canadian quarterback from the NCAA (Michael O’Connor).
Still, the young team was only expected to compete for a playoff spot in 2015. However, wins over Manitoba, Calgary, and StFX propelled them to the Vanier Cup where they would meet the defending champion Montreal Carabins.
With no time left on the clock and the game tied, kicker Quinn van Gylswyk hit a game-winning field goal to give UBC their first national championship since 1997.
WATCH: UBC Thunderbirds Vanier Cup win
Kelowna Rockets get to the Memorial Cup
It was a storybook season–until the final second.
Buoyed by the midseason arrival of Edmonton Oilers prospect Leon Draisaitl, the Kelowna Rockets dominated the Western Hockey League, winning 16 of 19 games in the playoffs en route to their first conference championship since 2009.
They weren’t done there, getting to the Memorial Cup final after defeating the Quebec Remparts 9-3 in the semifinals.
Unfortunately, their dreams of winning their first national championship since 2004 were dashed, as an Anthony Cirelli goal 88 seconds into overtime gave the Oshawa Generals the Cup.
But the Rockets currently lead the Western Conference, giving fans hope that another deep playoff run might be right around the corner.
WATCH: Kelowna Rockets bested by Oshawa Generals at Memorial Cup
– With files from