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Gunning for gold

Sochi Games get top billing, but there's plenty of sports storylines on the horizon in 2014

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Patrick Chan is the odds-on favourite to win gold in men's figure skating.

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Patrick Chan is the odds-on favourite to win gold in men's figure skating.

Here are The Canadian Press's Top 10 Sports Stories to look for in 2014:

No. 1: Canada will be gunning to repeat as men's hockey gold medallists at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

General manager Steve Yzerman and head coach Mike Babcock lead a star-studded roster after winning gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games on Sidney Crosby's overtime goal against the United States.

There will again be plenty of competition at the tournament that will include NHL players for the fifth straight time.

The host Russians boast a number of stars of their own, led by Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, while the U.S., Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are also medal threats.


No. 2: Will the Gold Rush Continue?

Canada set a new record for gold medals at a Winter Olympics with 14 in Vancouver, but what will the results be like on foreign soil?

The Canadian Olympic Committee's Own the Podium program directed funding to athletes deemed to have the greatest chance at a medal ahead of the 2010 Games, garnering some impressive results.

Apart from men's and women's hockey and curling, Canada is also a serious medal threat in a number of other events, including men's figure skating, where Patrick Chan is the odds-on favourite to win gold.

Also worth watching will be security and the weather in Sochi, with concerns already being raised about balmy temperatures in the southern Russian city situated on the shores of the Black Sea.


No. 3: Blue Jays Look to Rebound

After a miserable season that started with such promise, the Toronto Blue Jays enter 2014 with even more pressure to succeed.

The club made a big splash on the trade and free agent markets heading into 2013 and were expected to contend for their first championship since winning the second of back-to-back World Series titles back in 1993.

But things went off the rails quickly as the Blue Jays wound up with an embarrassing last-place finish in the American League East.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos and manager John Gibbons will be feeling the heat if Toronto stumbles out of the gate again.

The Blue Jays enjoyed a spike in attendance and merchandise sales in 2013, but it will be interesting to see if fans continue to flock to the team if Toronto fails to live up to expectations again this year.

No. 4 -- Rogers-NHL deal

The 2014-'15 NHL season will be the first of the league's new $5.2-billion, 12-year television deal with Rogers Communications.

The pact includes the playoffs and Stanley Cup final and gives Rogers national rights on multiple platforms. It will see the telecommunications giant broadcast games on Sportsnet and City, while also taking over CBC's beloved "Hockey Night in Canada" brand.

A sub-licensing agreement with CBC allows the public broadcaster to continue airing games on Saturdays for the next four years, with Rogers holding editorial control.

The deal effectively freezes out Bell Media's all-sports channel TSN, aside from regional games in Toronto and Winnipeg, and leaves the future of famed CBC hockey commentator Don Cherry up in the air.


No. 5 -- O Canada, Part 2

After the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Anthony Bennett with the first pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Andrew Wiggins is the favourite to become the second Canadian to go No. 1 in as many years.

The dynamic forward is in the middle of his freshman season at the University of Kansas, but is expected to declare himself eligible for the 2014 draft.

Fans of the Toronto Raptors have been imploring their team to purposely lose -- calling it "Tank for Wiggins" -- so the team can draft the phenom from nearby Thornhill, Ont.

Still on the hardwood, Canadian point guard Steve Nash joined the Los Angeles Lakers prior to last season, but his notoriously wonky back has put a damper on his time in Tinseltown.

Nash turns 40 in February and is under contract until the end of next season, but it remains to be seen if his body will allow him to finish his career on his own terms.


No. 6 -- Third Time's the Charm?

The CFL returns to Ottawa after two failed attempts, this time as the Redblacks.

The original Rough Riders franchise folded in 1996, while the expansion Renegades started play in 2002, only to have their operations suspended after the 2005 season.

Mismanagement and poor results were largely blamed for the demise of both teams. Fans in Ottawa have not seen a winning season since 1979.

Unlike past incarnations, the expansion Redblacks are led by a local ownership group that has deep business ties to the community.

The Redblacks will have a shiny new home when they begin play in 2014, with Lansdowne Park currently undergoing a major revitalization that includes a renovated Frank Clair Stadium.


No. 7 -- Lions host 2014 Grey Cup

The B.C. Lions host the Grey Cup for the second time in four years.

The last three host cities have won the championship, including B.C. in 2011, the Toronto Argonauts in 2012 and the Saskatchewan Roughriders this past season.

The Lions lost out in the 2013 West Division semifinal to Saskatchewan, but should have quarterback Travis Lulay back from shoulder surgery in time for training camp.

The 102nd Grey Cup game goes Nov. 30 at B.C. Place Stadium.


No. 8 -- Cornish and the CFL Rushing Record

Calgary Stampeders running back Jon Cornish has his sights set on the CFL rushing record held by Mike Pringle.

After collecting 1,813 yards on the ground in 2013 to win the CFL's most outstanding player award -- along with being named top Canadian for the second straight season -- Cornish has Pringle's mark of 2,065 yards in his crosshairs.

"I think I can focus a little bit on more numerical goals, which I don't really like focusing on because I think they're reasonably selfish but I need something to focus on," said Cornish, who also won the 2013 Lou Marsh award as Canada's top athlete.

"People have aspired to get that record as recently as this year, but I think it's sufficiently far away that in terms of total yardage if I didn't get there and I tried to get there I'd still have a pretty good season."


No. 9 -- Soccer Dress Rehearsal

Canada is set to host the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2015, but will first welcome countries this summer for the under-20 Women's World Cup.

The 16-team tournament that runs from Aug. 5 to 24 will help serve as a dry run for organizers ahead of the World Cup, with games scheduled for Edmonton, Moncton, N.B., Toronto and Montreal.

Women's national team coach John Herdman will be keeping a close eye on the Canadian under-20 squad as he continues his preparations for the 2015 tournament.


No. 10 -- Will the Cup Come North?

It has been 20 years since a Canadian-based NHL team won the Stanley Cup.

Will 2014 be any different?

While the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks have all made the final since the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Los Angeles Kings back in 1993, it's hard to envision a team from north of the border raising the Cup in June. The Canucks and Habs are having decent seasons, but most of the league powerhouses are American teams.

But then again, that's why they play the games.


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 22, 2013 B8

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