Canada is a proud sporting nation and contains not only some of the world’s most gifted sports stars but also a whole host of immensely popular teams. From hockey to lacrosse, sport is a big deal for our cousins across the pond, and when visiting Canada there aren’t many better experiences to be had than enjoying an intense game of your preferred sport. There are far too many great teams and franchises to include all in one piece but we hope this guide will provide you with an introductory glimpse into the wonderful world of Canadian sports teams, and in the process, a few ideas for your next holiday to Canada.
Many erroneously believe ice hockey to be Canada’s sole national sport. However, this title is actually shared with another, with hockey being the country’s national winter sport and lacrosse the national summer sport. Hockey is still an immensely popular pastime, however, and fans across the country eagerly tune in to watch their favourite teams compete at the highest level. Many of the biggest teams play in the National Hockey League (NHL) which is comprised of franchises from across the United States and their northern neighbours. Ice hockey is a fierce game, fast-paced, and boasts some of the most passionate fans in all of sport. As far as the specific teams go, there are currently seven from Canada and the below are just a few of the most successful and popular.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs play in the NHL’s Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference. The club was founded all the way back in 1917 and is today the second most valuable franchise in the league behind the New York Rangers. With the second most Stanley Cup wins in NHL history (the Stanley Cup being awarded to the NHL’s playoff winner), the team is incredibly successful, even though they have failed to win another since 1967. Fierce rivals of the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators, the Maple Leafs play their home games out of the Air Canada Centre – the arena being located in downtown Toronto. The ice hockey season runs between October and April and, once ready, the Maple Leafs playing schedule can be seen over on their website, where tickets are also available.
Fansite Editor in Leaf is the go-to resource for all things Toronto Maple Leafs. One of the site’s experts, Mike Stephens, spoke to us about what the team really means to their community: “Who are the Toronto Maple Leafs? That’s like asking a comic book fan who Batman is. In Toronto, the Leafs supersede their status as merely a hockey team. They’re a way of life. Fourth line role players attain enough fame during their tenure as a Leaf that they can open businesses years after retirement to tremendous success. So futile has their success been in the last half-century, that members of the 1993 squad, a team who didn’t even reach the Stanley Cup Final, are revered with similar prestige to religious figures. This is a city that runs on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Industries are built upon their shoulders. Believe me, when the Leafs eventually go the distance and capture the big prize, the celebration will be like nothing you’ve ever seen. I guarantee it.”
The Ottawa Senators are another immensely popular ice hockey team, competing against the best of the NHL as members of the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference. Not to be confused with the now defunct team of the same name that won 11 Stanley Cups between 1917 and 1934, today’s Ottawa Senators were founded in 1992 and have an impressive record of qualifying for 16 out of the last 20 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Senators went on to win the coveted trophy in 2007 and have also picked up four division titles. The team’s logo is of a Roman general which has been the influence for costumes often worn to games by fans. The Ottawa Senators can be seen playing their home games at the Canadian Tire Centre and tickets/schedules can be found via the team’s website.
Fan site: Silver Seven
One of Canada’s very best NHL teams is the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens play their hockey in the NHL’s Eastern Conference of the Atlantic Division and are referred to by fans as the ‘Habs’. Founded in 1909, the Canadiens are the longest continually operating ice hockey team in the world and even predate the NHL itself. With 24 Stanley Cups to their name, the Montreal Canadiens are the most successful team in history, picking up their last trophy in the 1992/93 season. Since the mid-90s, the Canadiens have been playing their home games at the Bell Centre. The Montreal Canadiens play in red, white, and blue, and tickets for games plus their schedule are available via the team’s NHL website. The Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation is a charity connected with the team – they encourage physical activity and healthy family lives for underprivileged youths.
Fan site: Eyes on the Prize
As mentioned earlier, lacrosse is another hugely popular sport in Canada and is actually the country’s national summer sport. Stemming from an aboriginal Canadian version of the game, the sport of lacrosse, as a result, has a long and important connection with this particular nation. The modern game has been popular since the 1800s, with its two main variants being field lacrosse (outdoors) and box lacrosse (indoors). The sport is governed by the Canadian Lacrosse Association, which conducts national junior and senior tournaments for both men and women. While field lacrosse is only played semi-professionally in North America’s Major League Lacrosse (MLL), box lacrosse is played professionally as part of the National Lacrosse League (NLL) across the continent. The NLL is split into an East and West division with Canada boasting four of the nine competing teams.
Toronto Rock is a box lacrosse team and members of the National Lacrosse League’s Eastern Division. Toronto Rock were actually the first Canadian franchise to play in the NLL and have accumulated six league championships since their founding in 1998 – their last triumph coming back in 2011. Toronto Rock are one of the most successful box lacrosse teams, having tied the record for the most championships in NLL history with the Philadelphia Wings. This Toronto-based team play their home games out of the Air Canada Centre (also home of NHL stars the Toronto Maple Leafs). Boasting eight members of the NLL Hall of Fame, there is no doubt Toronto Rock are one of the sport’s very best outfits. The team’s schedule (seasons run from December to June) can be found on their website along with ticket options.
The Calgary Roughnecks (the name derived from those who drill rigs in Alberta’s gas and oil industry) are another star member of the NLL, playing their lacrosse in the league’s Western Division. Known to their passionate fans as the Riggers, the Calgary Roughnecks were founded in 2001 and have since gone on to become one of the division’s most successful teams. The Riggers have qualified for every post-season between 2003 and 2016 and have picked up three division championships and two Champion’s Cups. Their most recent victory was at home against the New York Titans in 2009. Home games for the Calgary Roughnecks are played at the Scotiabank Saddledome – a multi-use indoor arena in the city. Tickets for the Roughnecks can be found on their website, as well as their playing schedule.
While not a national sport like ice hockey or lacrosse, soccer (or football to us) is actually the most popular Canadian sport when it comes to the rate of participation – FIFA (the sport’s international governing body) says that more than 2.5 million people played soccer in the country in 2006. At present, the main professional league in which Canadian soccer teams compete is Major League Soccer, which is comprised of 23 teams, three of which are from Canada and the other 20 from the United States. The MLS season runs between March and October and builds towards a post-season playoff system to determine the participants of the championship game and then ultimately the winner of the MLS Cup. 2019 is expected to see the start of the Canadian Premier League, which is set to more closely resemble the European-style club-based system as opposed to the franchise system of the MLS.
One of only three Canadian teams playing in the MLS, Montreal Impact compete in the league’s Eastern Conference. While Montreal Impact has only been a team since 2012, they have quickly found success, becoming the first ever Canadian club to reach the CONCACAF Champions League final (a continental football tournament), losing on aggregate to Mexico’s Club América. Montreal Impact also won the Canadian Championship in 2013 and 2014. Impact’s biggest rivals are Toronto FC (a result of the historic rivalries between Canada’s two largest cities in many other areas of life). The team play their home games at Saputo Stadium, which can be found at Montreal’s Olympic Park. Head over to Montreal Impact’s website for information on tickets and their playing schedule.
Fan site: Mount Royal Soccer
Toronto FC is a soccer team based in Toronto, Ontario, and are, as mentioned, fierce rivals of Montreal Impact. The team plays in MLS’s Eastern Conference and was the first Canadian team to join the league back in 2007. Toronto FC is an incredibly successful MLS soccer team, having won the domestic treble (MLS Cup, Supporters’ Shield, and Canadian Championship) in 2017, while also setting an MLS season record for the most points in a regular season. Toronto FC have won the Canadian Championship a whopping six times. Upon their introduction to the MLS, Toronto FC was seen as setting the standard for fan support thanks to the passionate nature of their fans. The team can be seen playing their home soccer games at BMO Field on Toronto’s waterfront. For tickets and their upcoming schedule, make sure to visit their official website.
Image credit: Red Patch Boys
The Red Patch Boys are an incredibly passionate supporters club for Toronto FC and Chris Fizik, a representative of the group, kindly spoke to us about why Toronto FC is such a special team to support: “Not only is the team talented, bringing a mix of international and home-grown players together, but TFC brings exciting, professional soccer to the local sports scene in Toronto. Fans of the game long followed foreign teams in faraway leagues in Europe and beyond until TFC entered Major League Soccer. Now the team features internationally known stars and home-grown players coming from academy teams. MLS continues to add famous foreign players to its teams for Toronto to play against as well.
“As Toronto is such a melting pot of every culture and ethnicity in the world, and soccer is the world’s most popular sport, many follow teams from their heritage. When TFC arrived, finally a new option, a local option, was presented for all of those cultures to support at home – a local team to cheer for all together. This is reflected by the makeup of fans that come out to BMO Field every match – young and old, different backgrounds etc., all coming together for Toronto.
“Backed by supporter groups like the Red Patch Boys, the TFC team enjoys a raucous fan base behind them, providing support for the team and also intimidating the opposition! The players are connected to the fans like no other sport in the North American landscape and it makes for a fun, exciting atmosphere. Watching TFC is an experience like no other in the city. Fuelled by energy from the supporter sections, fans are encouraged to sing, clap and chant all game long. Supporters like Red Patch Boys play drums, lead chants and wave flags, making the environment very energetic and engaging.”
Another of Canada’s most popular sports is baseball. Baseball is a game that was adapted from rounders and became very popular in Canada, New York, and New England in the early 1800s. Canada’s first documented baseball game was in 1838. North America’s premier baseball league is Major League Baseball (MLB), which is comprised of 30 teams split into two, with teams either competing in the American League or the National League. There is currently only one Canadian team that plays in MLB, the Toronto Blue Jays. Teams play a massive 162 games each season (March – October) and the best five teams in each league advance to a post-season tournament and then ultimately the World Series best-of-seven championship. In Canada, there are roughly 75 cities which are home to minor league baseball teams.
Toronto Blue Jays
As mentioned above, the Toronto Blue Jays are the only Canadian team that compete in MLB, playing their baseball as a member of the American League’s East Division. Established in 1977, the Blue Jays get their name from the North American bird. Despite being Canada’s sole representative, the Toronto Blue Jays have been enormously successful historically, winning five division championships in nine seasons between 1985 and 1993, three of which came in a row between 1991 and 1993. This hot streak also saw the Blue Jays win the coveted World Series back-to-back in 1992 and 1993. The team is also the last team to appear in a World Series from outside the United States. The team play their home games at the Rogers Centre in downtown Toronto. Tickets can be found along with the team’s schedule on their MLB website.
Fan site: Jays from the Couch
The wonderful world of Canadian Sport
We hope you’ve enjoyed this look into the vibrant world of Canadian sport. As you can see from the few examples given above, Canada is home to an incredible sporting culture with some fantastic teams competing across multiple disciplines. If you think you’ll fancy catching a game or two featuring one of the above teams, make sure you check their playing schedules to see if they match up with your next Canadian holiday.