You didn’t have to look far for good sports headlines in Halifax in 2023. Unlike some years, in which the silver linings could be as flimsy and brittle as your Christmas tree’s needles in mid-January, they seemed to be everywhere this year. Behold, a World Junior triumph. A historic Mooseheads season. A night to remember, courtesy of the Canadian women’s national soccer team—and not just for the chill that hung in the air at the Wanderers Grounds.
The moments came at such a flurried pace, it was hard to keep track of it all.
From the good—of which there was plenty—to bad—thankfully, little—to historic, we break it all down in our Coast year-in-review replay.
Canada reigns at World Juniors
Few sports tournaments have the ability to so completely seize Canadians’ attention like the World Juniors. And in January, Haligonians were treated to one hell of a spectacle. Even hockey legend Martin Brodeur came to town.
Led throughout the tournament by teenaged phenom Connor Bedard, who would become the National Hockey League’s #1 overall draft pick mere months later, Team Canada claimed its second straight gold medal finish—and in dramatic fashion. The Canadians finished second to Czechia in their round-robin group, after a disappointing Boxing Day loss. And a tough Slovakia team captained by New Jersey Devils draftee Šimon Nemec took Canada to overtime in the quarterfinal. But after a 6-2 trouncing of the United States in the semis, Canada got its chance at revenge against the Czechs in the final. It turned out to be a battle for the ages.
Edmonton-born winger Dylan Guenther opened the scoring for Canada during a power play in the first period. The Canadians doubled the lead to 2-0 in the second thanks to a charging run from centre Shane Wright. But then, the wheels fell off: Czechia scored twice in the waning minutes of the third period to tie the game and send it to overtime. Canada seemed at risk of a collapse. Not on Guenther’s watch: In the extra frame, he broke free in a two-on-one with Joshua Roy and one-timed the winning goal. Bedard’s post-game interview? That was pretty memorable, too.
Halifax Mooseheads reach QMJHL final
Sticking to the ice, the Halifax Mooseheads had quite the 2023. Led by Montreal-born winger Jordan Dumais, the Herd topped the QMJHL’s Maritimes division with 107 points and more goals (335) than any team in the entire league. You can thank Dumais and teammates Josh Lawrence and Alexandre Doucet for that: The three combined for 120 goals and 169 assists through the regular season—and that was with Lawrence and Doucet joining midway through the season from Blainville-Boisbriand and Val ‘Or, respectively.
The Mooseheads’ hot streak carried them right through the QMJHL playoffs to the final, where they ran into an equally-hot Quebec Remparts team coached by Patrick Roy. Halifax lost the series 4-2, narrowly missing out on a Memorial Cup berth. Mooseheads head coach Sylvain Favreau resigned a month later.
The 2023-24 season has been off to a bright start already: The Mooseheads are second in the Eastern Conference, behind Baie-Comeau. And Dumais? He broke the franchise’s all-time points record (previously held by Brandon Benedict) in November.
The North American Indigenous Games take over the city
For nine days in July, the North American Indigenous Games were the biggest thing happening anywhere in the HRM. More than 5,000 athletes from over 756 Indigenous nations descended on Kjipuktuk (Halifax), along with Dartmouth, Millbrook First Nation and Sipekne’katik. Tickets to the opening ceremony at the Scotiabank Centre sold out in less than a day.
“We had a pretty good hunch they were going to sell quickly,” NAIG 2023 board chair Fiona Kirkpatrick Cousins told The Coast in June, “but it was like, 12 hours” before the tickets were gone.
The Snotty Nose Rez Kids performed a free concert at the Halifax Common. Mi’kmaq rapper/producer Wolf Castle and hip hop group City Natives headlined another show. By the time of the closing ceremony on July 22, it had been a party like none other.
Halifax Wanderers set franchise record for wins
The Halifax Wanderers’ 2023 began with intrigue. Ahead of its fifth Canadian Premier League season, the soccer club parted ways with the only coach it had ever known, brought in a highly-touted—if untested—replacement from a semi-pro team in Vaughan and discarded more than half its previous season’s roster. In came a raft of signings, including a first-year professional born in Labrador, a French midfielder who’d once suited up for Paris Saint-Germain and a tall, bearded goalkeeper who always seemed to muster a save (and cramp his calf) when the moment required it.
The on-field transformation was immediate, even if it didn’t yield results right away. The new-look Wanderers were fluid; they switched between positions with a calculated chaos that defied football’s rigid 4-4-2 structure and spread the ball willingly. They passed. (Goddamn, did they ever pass.) They also went winless through their first eight games—a sting only salved by the fact that six of those Wanderers games ended in a draw.
But when the wins came, boy, did they look good: The Wanderers beat league heavyweights Cavalry FC 3-1 in June. Then topped Forge FC 2-1 at home. Then did the same to Pacific FC. That Labrador rookie turned into a Defender of the Year candidate. The Parisian? He was MVP-calibre, as advertised. And the ‘keeper turned out to be Halifax’s most reliable option between the sticks in franchise history. By season’s end, the Wanderers had finished with a franchise-best 42 points, along with a club record 11 wins and 39 goals.
That was good enough to earn Halifax its first-ever home CPL playoff game. Unfortunately the Wanderers lost, 0-1 to Pacific FC. But even the team’s harshest critics had to concede it had been a remarkable season.
And 2024 comes with its own intrigue: The club has been pushing the HRM to pony up for a permanent stadium at the Wanderers Grounds. Plus, there’s the promise of a women’s semi-pro team on the horizon—and not a moment too soon.
Christine Sinclair brings magic to Wanderers Grounds
When Canadian soccer legend Christine Sinclair took to the pitch in the 77th minute against Brazil on Oct. 31, the 40-year-old striker didn’t just bring the Wanderers Grounds crowd to its feet, she embodied a dream that was decades in the making: Never before had the Canadian national soccer team—women’s or men’s—played a match in Nova Scotia. And to hear former national team player Cindy Tye tell it, that moment meant everything for Halifax’s next generation of aspiring soccer stars.
“To have [our] national team who has done so, so well over the last number of years come here so people can see [them]—especially young girls. They can see them in front of them. And we always say: ‘You can see it, you can be it,’” the Dalhousie Tigers women’s soccer coach told The Coast in November. “And I think having that visual and the fact that they’re here and they were very accessible after the game to the fans and that’s an important piece, too.”
It was a frosty one, as matches go—the temperature dipped to -1.7C overnight—but that didn’t stop the celebrations from echoing through Halifax’s downtown. Helped by goals from Jordyn Huitema and Deanne Rose, Canada topped Brazil 2-0. And while Halifax might have seen the last of Sinclair on the soccer pitch, here’s hoping the national team will return.
Argos topple Roughriders in CFL’s second visit to Halifax
The Canadian Football League’s return to Halifax for the first time since 2005 sold all its tickets quickly enough that Touchdown Atlantic—the CFL’s Maritime promotional wing—expanded Saint Mary’s University’s Huskies Stadium to accommodate an extra 1,000 fans. A crowd of 11,555 gathered on July 29 to watch the defending Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts defeat the Saskatchewan Roughriders 31-13. It was the CFL’s first time hosting a regular season game in Halifax: Back in 2005, the Argos tied the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in a preseason game, and a planned regular season game in 2020 was scuppered by… well, you already know.
So, when’s the CFL coming back to Halifax? Not in 2024, in any case. And maybe not for a while, either. On Nov. 29, the league announced a Touchdown Pacific series at Victoria, BC’s Royal Athletic Park—and from the CFL’s promotional material, it seems like other west coast games could follow. During the league’s Grey Cup week, commissioner Randy Ambrosie teased to CTV News that the CFL has had discussions with a “highly engaged, very qualified potential owner in Atlantic Canada,” but that time could be running out for making it happen.
Wigginton, Darling turn heads in NBA and G-League
Sixty-four games. Less than three seasons. That’s all it took Dartmouth hooper Lindell Wigginton to become the Wisconsin Herd’s all-time leading scorer. The 6’1” point guard from Woodlawn High School reached the 1,175-point mark during the Herd’s 123-121 win over the Sioux Falls Skyforce on Nov. 19. (He now sits at 1,190 points after 65 games.)
Wigginton also became the NBA G-League franchise’s all-time three-point leader, with 138 threes drained since he joined Wisconsin from the Iowa Wolves in 2021. And he’s been logging more minutes with the Herd’s NBA franchise, the Milwaukee Bucks: Since March, Wigginton has made eight NBA appearances, including a 25-point outburst against the Memphis Grizzlies and a 17-point follow-up against the Toronto Raptors. Not bad at all for a 25-year-old now competing for minutes with future Hall of Famer Damian Lillard.
Wigginton isn’t the only Nova Scotian enjoying hoops success in the G-League. Bedford’s Nate Darling went from averaging 7.1 points per game with the Ontario Clippers in 2021-22 to 20.1 points per game in 2022-23, including a 37-point tear against the Stockton Kings on Jan. 7 and a career-best 38 points against the South Bay Lakers on Feb. 9. Last season’s success aside, it’s been a harder push for Darling to crack the Clippers’ NBA roster: The 25-year-old inked a training camp contract with Los Angeles in October, only to be waived at the end of the month.
U-SPORTS Final 8 returns to Scotiabank Centre
Elsewhere on the hardcourt, Halifax hosted the U-SPORTS Final 8 men’s basketball championship once again in March. It was the fourth time in seven years that the tournament came to the Scotiabank Centre—and the 33rd time in the event’s history that it was played in Halifax. Too bad none of Halifax’s universities made it to the big dance. Instead, the St. Francis Xavier X-Men were the closest team to cheer for, up against the Victoria Vikes, Ottawa Gee-Gees (slang for horses), Carleton Ravens, Queen’s Gaels, UQAM Citadins (which, it turns out, translates as “townsmen”), Winnipeg Wesmen (from early Wesley College evangelicals) and UPEI Panthers. The X-Men nearly claimed the championship, falling 104-109 in double-overtime to Carleton. Quoth the Raven to St. FX’s title dreams: “Nevermore.”
Dalhousie Tigers, Saint Mary’s Huskies add to trophy cabinet
There were plenty of reasons to celebrate for Dal, SMU and King’s athletic teams in 2023. The Saint Mary’s Huskies women’s basketball team won the Atlantic University Sport championship and claimed bronze at the U-SPORTS Final 8 in Cape Breton. Dal’s women’s track and field team set a U-SPORTS record, winning their 33rd straight AUS title. Both Dal’s men’s and women’s swimming teams won AUS titles—ditto for the men’s and women’s curling programs—and the Tigers’ women’s volleyball team claimed U-SPORTS bronze after their AUS championship.
On the soccer pitch, King’s athletes Iriana Theoharopoulos, Michael Zinck and Luke Kotaska all earned honours: Theoharopoulos and Kotaska were both named Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association All-Stars, while Zinck was named one of 15 CCAA All-Canadians. Meanwhile, King’s men’s rugby team went on a 10-0 run through their season to win both the Wood Cup and Maritime Championship.