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Memorable moments

Return of hockey, rise of Raonic and GSP exit among top sports stories in 2013

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Here are The Canadian Press' Top 10 Sports Stories of 2013:

No. 1 -- The End of the NHL Lockout

Hockey fans rejoiced when the NHL and the NHL Players' Association reached a tentative deal to end the lockout in the early hours of Jan. 6.

The agreement was ratified by the board of governors three days later, with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman taking the unusual step of apologizing to fans, players and sponsors after the start of the season was delayed by more than three months.

"To the players who were very clear they wanted to be on the ice and not negotiating labour contracts, to our partners who support the league financially and personally, and most importantly to our fans, who love and have missed NHL hockey, I'm sorry," said Bettman.

It didn't take the league long to get back on its feet.

Just over five months later, the Chicago Blackhawks capped a memorable playoffs by scoring two goals in 17 seconds against the Boston Bruins late in the third period of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final to win their second title in four years.

Then in November, the league signed a massive new television deal with Rogers Communications worth $5.2 billion over 12 years.

No. 2 -- A Season of Disappointment

The Toronto Blue Jays came into 2013 as World Series favourites after a blockbuster off-season that included a 12-player megadeal with the Florida Marlins and the acquisition of reigning National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey.

But with the city buzzing at the thought of meaningful September baseball for the first time since the team's championship years in 1992 and 1993, the campaign was bust from the start.

Perhaps fittingly, one of the lone bright spots from the miserable season that saw Toronto finish last in the American League East was fans' love affair with eccentric Japanese utility infielder Munenori Kawasaki.

Despite the lack of success on the field, the Blue Jays enjoyed a surge in both ticket and merchandise sales.

"We had a lot of people that thought we were going to win the World Series," said Canadian third basemen Brett Lawrie said. "But it takes a little bit of time to build chemistry."

No. 3 -- CFL Double for Cornish

Calgary Stampeders running back Jon Cornish became the first Canadian in 35 years to win the CFL's most outstanding player award.

Cornish, who was also named the league's top Canadian for the second straight year, is the first Canuck to be named CFL MVP since Ottawa Rough Riders tight end Tony Gabriel in 1978.

Cornish finished the 2013 season with 1,813 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns.

To cap off the memorable year, Cornish then captured the 2013 Lou Marsh award as Canada's top athlete on Dec. 9 to become first CFL player to win the honour since legendary Ottawa quarterback Russ Jackson in 1969.

No. 4 -- Green Crush

The Saskatchewan Roughriders became the third straight Grey Cup host to win the trophy, defeating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 45-23 on Nov. 24.

The Riders won the 101st edition of the CFL championship in front of their rabid fans at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, with Kory Sheets rushing for a Grey Cup-record 197 yards and two touchdowns to help his team to just its fourth title.

"The one thing that led us to a dominant performance was that the fans were unreal," said Roughriders coach Corey Chamblin. "It was unreal. From pre-game warmup I knew it was going to be tough for (the Tiger-Cats). I looked at them and said 'I wouldn't want to be in your shoes.' I mean, it was ridiculous. The whole (stadium) was green."

No. 5 -- Raonic's Rise

Tennis star Milos Raonic became the first Canadian to crack the ATP top-10 list.

The Thornhill, Ont., product made the Rogers Cup final in Montreal and was also instrumental in leading Canada to the Davis Cup semifinals.

"The tournament overall was a great thing," Raonic said after losing the Rogers Cup final to Rafael Nadal on Aug. 12. "There were a lot of situations that I'm very happy with the way I dealt with them, and there were a lot of learning experiences through it all."

Also making big gains on the court in 2013 were Vancouver's Vasek Pospisil and Montreal's Eugenie Bouchard, who both shot up the rankings.

No. 6 -- A Trio of Hockey Stunners

The Toronto Maple Leafs made the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and looked set to advance to the second round when the wheels fell off in spectacular fashion.

Toronto led Boston 4-1 with just over 11 minutes to go in the third period of Game 7, only to see the Bruins score three times in quick succession in regulation and again in overtime to send the Maple Leafs packing.

"It's extremely tough to put into words," Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf said after the game. "We had a team down and out and we just let them take over the game and climb out of a hole that they never should have came back from."

There was also misery furhter east in the nation's capital.

Beloved captain Daniel Alfredsson, who had spent his entire career with Ottawa, bolted after 17 seasons to sign with the Detroit Red Wings when NHL free agency opened on July 5. And out on the West Coast, the Vancouver Canucks' goalie soap opera took an unexpected turn at the NHL draft when general manager Mike Gillis traded Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils.

The Canucks had openly stated their intention to deal Roberto Luongo, but were unable to find a suitable trading partner. It's worked out so far, as Luongo appears to have regained his form.

No. 7 -- NHL Concussion Suit

More than 200 former players filed a lawsuit against the NHL in November alleging that the league hasn't done enough to protect them from concussions.

The players want NHL-sponsored medical monitoring for their injuries, as well as damages.

But the hockey community is divided on the issue, with CBC commentator Don Cherry calling the legal action "a money grab."

The lawsuit came some three months after the NFL agreed on a US$765-million settlement with thousands of ex-players for concussion-related health problems.

No. 8 -- Canadian Hoops History

Anthony Bennett shocked many observers on June 27 when he became the first-ever Canadian to go No. 1 at the NBA draft.

With no clear-cut favourite, the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Bennett, a freshman forward from UNLV, with the top pick.

"I'm just as surprised as everybody else," the Brampton, Ont., native said moments after being drafted. "I didn't really have any idea who's going No. 1 or who was going No. 2. I heard everything was up for grabs."

Meanwhile, Andrew Wiggins was named the top high school player in the United States after a standout season at Huntington Prep in West Virginia.

The Vaughan, Ont., native -- who is in his freshman campaign at the University of Kansas and doesn't turn 19 until February -- is expected to declare for the 2014 NBA draft following the season, with most experts projecting him as the top pick.

No. 9 -- GSP Steps Away

UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre successfully defended his title twice in 2013.

But after a bruising and controversial split-decision victory over Johny Hendricks on Nov. 16, the Montreal fighter hinted at retirement in a cryptic a post-fight interview in the cage that included a reference to unexplained personal issues and his need to step away from the sport.

"I can't sleep at night now. I'm going crazy," he added at the post-fight news conference. "I have issues. I need to relax. I need to get out for a while. I don't know what I'm going to do."

Then on Dec. 13, St-Pierre vacated his title and announced an indefinite hiatus from the octagon, citing the pressures of being champion.

Far and away the biggest UFC pay-per-view draw, the 32-year-old added that his life has become "completely insane" and a "freaking zoo."

No. 10 -- Hesjedal Comes Clean

In a year that saw American cyclist Lance Armstrong finally admit to doping, Canadian counterpart Ryder Hesjedal did the same.

The Victoria native was forced to make the admission on Oct. 30 after excerpts from a book by former Danish rider Michael Rasmussen said Hesjedal was shown how to use performance-enhancing drugs at the start of his career.

Hesjedal, who was named The Canadian Press male athlete of the year in 2012 after a memorable season that included a victory in the Giro d'Italia, said in a statement he "chose the wrong path" and made "mistakes."

"And even though those mistakes happened more than 10 years ago, and they were short-lived, it does not change the fact that I made them and I have lived with that and been sorry for it ever since," he said.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 20, 2013 C5

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