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Canada's national pastime is ice hockey (usually just called "hockey" in North America). The professional hockey league is the National Hockey League (NHL). Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver all have teams, and there are many NHL teams in the United States as well. The Stanley Cup has been the "holy grail" of hockey since 1893, and the Stanley Cup playoffs become a major event in cities with participating cities in the months of April, May and June. Soon, professional women's hockey teams will begin competing for the Clarkson Cup. In recent years, Canada has become a major force in international hockey with notable successes in the Olympics and World Championships.
Professional hockey is also played at the major junior league level under the governing Canadian Hockey League. There are three major junior hockey leagues: the Western Hockey League (teams in Western Canada and some north-western American states), the Ontario Hockey League, and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces). These teams offer good amateur hockey with tickets at lower prices than the big-league NHL teams, and have teams in large and small cities, and could make for an enjoyable hockey experience for visitors who aren't willing to pay NHL prices or can't get to an NHL game.
Curling is also a popular wintertime sport which is played at the professional level, under the auspices of the Canadian Curling Association. Canadian interest in curling is rather similar to U.S. interest in tennis. Major events are the Canadian Mixed Curling Championships, the mixed Continental Cup, the women's Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the men's Tim Horton's Brier, the men's and women's Canada Cup. The World Curling Championships are held annually, and frequently take place in Canada.
Professional football is popular in the summer and fall. The eight-team Canadian Football League (CFL) is the major professional football league. Canadian football is very similar to American football, but there are a few distinctive differences: most notably, the size of the field (110 yds by 65 yds), the number of players per team (twelve), and the number of downs allowed to make 10 yards (three downs). There are CFL teams in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Toronto, and Montreal. CFL teams compete for the Grey Cup, first awarded in 1909.
Soccer has historically not been as popular as Canadian or American style football. Although it is very popular among children as a recreational sport, professional caliber soccer has yet to penetrate the sport culture. The exception would be among the many ethnic communities who follow their heritage country's teams especially during major tournaments such as the World Cup or the European Cup. There are some hopeful signs for professional soccer in North America as teams in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver now belong to the United Soccer Leagues' 1st Division, and Toronto soccer team Toronto FC was added to the US-based top-tier Major League Soccer (MLS) in 2007.
Toronto has a major league baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays are part of the American League and entered the league in 1976 along with the Seattle Mariners. They earned back to back World Series championships in 1992 and 1993. Montreal also had a major league team, the Montreal Expos of the National League from 1967 to 2004. They were Canada's first MLB team though they never won a World Series pennant. Following 2004, the Expos became the Washington Nationals.
Basketball is popular, but not nearly as popular in Canada as in the U.S. Toronto has a team in the National Basketball Association (NBA), the Toronto Raptors. In 1995, the Raptors, along with the Vancouver Grizzlies, became Canada's first NBA teams. The Grizzlies moved to Memphis in 2001. On a historical note, Dr. James Naismith, acknowledged as the inventor of basketball, was born in Almonte, Ontario, Canada in 1861. He was educated at McGill University in Montreal. He later moved to the US where, as legend has it, he introduced the game.
Lacrosse is a game which is native to North America. Professional lacrosse has started to grow in popularity; the National Lacrosse League (NLL) has three Canadian teams, in Calgary, Edmonton, and Toronto.
Notable Canadian sport celebrities who are prominent on the world stage include Wayne Gretzky in ice hockey, Steve Nash in basketball, Jacques Villeneuve in Formula 1 racing, Mike Weir in golf, Donovan Bailey in track, Owen Hargreaves in football (soccer) and Kurt Browning in figure skating.