20. Sidney Crosby
When it’s all said and done, Crosby will certainly careen up this list. He’s the one athlete still competing today in his prime. This is the only reason why he registers at the very bottom of this list. In terms of Crosby’s prowess on the ice, the Nova Scotia native is already regarded as one of the very best to ever play the sport (despite being only 33 years of age). Crosby’s ruthlessness in attacking the offensive zone is sublime. He’s able to control the pace of play immensely well, and his awareness in linking with teammates (even in tight spaces) is simply special. Enjoy him while you can…Crosby is a once-in-a-50-year type of athlete.
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19. Martin Brodeur
Among the most talented netminders in the history of the NHL, the Québécois native enjoyed a 22-year professional career (predominantly with the New Jersey Devils). In the process, the acrobatic Brodeur won every single individual award one could think of as it pertained to the goaltender position. Aside from three Stanley Cup triumphs, Brodeur also was integral in helping Canada win two Gold medals. His ability to handle the puck with his stick was rather transcendent for his time. In the annals of the NHL, Brodeur certainly is right up there with the best to ever do it.
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18. Bronko Nagurski
Born in Ontario, Bronko Nagurski made his mark professionally as both a football player and as a wrestler. When on the gridiron, Nagurski starred both in college at Minnesota, and for the Chicago Bears. Playing a multitude of positions on both sides of the ball, Nagurski ultimately became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Even more fascinating, Nagurki wrestled professionally for nearly 30 years. He even held the World Heavyweight belt on multiple occasions. For the duration of his career as a professional athlete (whilst performing at an incredibly high level), Nagurski more than belongs on this list.
Image Source: Star Tribune
17. Larry Walker
Vancouver native Larry Walker was once one of professional baseball’s most prolific hitters. He had the ability to spray the ball to all parts of the field. Even though he played in a very hitter-friendly park, Walker’s elite talents were plainly evident. The 5-time All-Star won the MVP award with the Colorado Rockies during the 1997 season. He batted a ridiculous .366 with an unfathomable 1.172 OPS. Not just a ridiculous hitter, Walker was also exceptional as a fielder (winning seven Gold Gloves). In 2020, Walker rightfully was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
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16. Patrick Roy
Speaking of transcendent athletes, Patrick Roy universally revamped the way many goaltenders play the position today. In terms of modern hockey, Roy’s influence may be greater than any other single player. He essentially made the butterfly style of ‘tending the preferred way of stopping shots compared to those who stood up. Of course, Roy had cat-quick reflexes and insane hand-eye coordination. Staying low to the ice, Roy was a master in deflecting shots using every inch of his body. A native of Cap-Rouge, Quebec, Roy first played with the Canadiens before eventually landing with the Colorado Avalanche. He has the most playoff victories of any goaltender in the history of the league.
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15. Mark Messier
Mark Messier was a complete hockey player. He held the rare blend of charisma, devotion, speed, athleticism, toughness, and grit. Willing to stick his nose into any battle, more often than not he came out on top. Among his greatest achievements is the proclivity Messier had for performing when the lights were the brightest. Few were as productive as he was in the playoffs. Winning six Stanley Cups, Messier without a doubt is one of the more prolific professional hockey players over the last half century.
Image Source: The Hockey Writers
14. Bobby Hull
Speed, speed…and more speed. Bobby Hull set the standard as a dynamic winger with unbelievable acceleration. He made the quickest defenders akin to parking cones when swiftly skating past them en route to goal. The Ontario native enjoyed a 20+ year career in the NHL — which included 1,170 career points in only 1,063 games played. Hull was also a two-time winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy. In terms of being a pure winger, Hull’s skill-set may be still unparalleled when it comes to current players today.
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13. Fergie Jenkins
Larry Walker is undoubtedly the best non-pitcher to ever hail from Canada. When it comes to taking the mound, Fergie Jenkins is in his own class completely. Jenkins possessed a power arm — and often showcased that whilst playing for the Cubs, Rangers, Phillies, and Red Sox. The three-time All-Star not only won the 1971 Cy Young Award, but also led the league in wins on two separate occasions. Jenkins himself broke a number of barriers — particularly when it came to being a black ballplayer in a sport dominated by anything but. To this day, Jenkins has the most victories of any black player. Perhaps most impressive, Jenkins had an eight-year run in which he won at least 20 games in seven of those seasons (with 25 wins being his career high).
Image Source: Baseball Hall of Fame
12. Steve Nash
Born in South Africa to parents from the U.K., Nash ended up spending the vast majority of his upbringing in British Columbia. Despite not possessing ideal physical tools, Nash relied heavily upon both his skill level as well as his brain. In the process, he became a two-time NBA MVP. Nash also was the head of the proverbial snake when it came to commanding a Phoenix Suns squad which ultimately changed the course of the NBA by playing with extreme pace. Nash was clinical in manipulating the basketball — whether it involved shooting himself or deftly setting up teammates for open looks.
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11. Cindy Klassen
We must pay respect to the Olympians who’ve proudly represented this great nation. Winnipeg native Cindy Klassen delighted those back home when coming away with five medals (one gold, two silver, two bronze) during the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. For good measure, the speed skating extraordinaire also won a bronze medal during the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. To date, Klassen has collectively accrued more Olympic medals for Canada than any other Olympian. In addition, Klassen is widely regarded as one of the most talented speed skaters in the sport’s illustrious history.
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10. Gaetan Boucher
Gaetan Boucher is a national treasure. A winner of four Olympic medals (two gold, one silver, one bronze), Boucher dominated the speed skating scene during the prime of his career. Much of his success on the ice came from a background in hockey. A number of physical ailments tested Boucher’s resolve time and time again. However, he was able to recover for the ’84 Olympics — becoming the first ever male athlete to win an individual Gold medal in Canada’s history. Boucher has become an inspiration of sorts, and continues to motivate up-and-coming athletes all over not only Canada, but the world as well.
Image Source: CBC.ca
9. Jean Beliveau
A proud Canadian through and through, Beliveau played his entire professional career within the province of Quebec. As a left-handed centre, Beliveau holds the immense distinction as being the athlete with the most Stanley Cup titles (17 to be exact). From a young age, he was recognized as a potential prodigy. By the time he joined the Montreal Canadiens, he had accrued enough professional experience prior to be a true threat on the ice. When it comes to a dual-role as both a player and as an executive, Beliveau is in rarefied air. As a player alone, the 13-time All-Star has two Hart Memorial Trophies, one Conn Smythe Trophy, and 10 Stanley Cups under his belt.
Image Source: NHL.com
8. Maurice Richard
The original poacher, Maurice Richard had a true nose for goal. He was excellent in putting himself in the right positions to score. Intuitive, cunning and utterly lethal, Richard was the first NHL player to bag at least 50 goals in one season. His intensity on the ice was quite apparent. Despite being somewhat small in stature, there was arguably no one tougher than Richard. The 14-time All-Star helped the Canadiens win a whopping eight Stanley Cup championships. His most prolific season came in 1954-55 — when Richard bagged 74 points (38 goals, 36 assists) in only 67 games.
Image Source: Montreal Gazette
7. Clara Hughes
Hughes is tied with Cindy Klassen as having the most individual medals in the history of the Canadian Olympic program. In recent years, Hughes has been known for her brilliant work in the community. Her efforts in the non-profit realm has led to a ton of opportunity for those who are disenfranchised. As an athlete herself, the Winnipeg native participated in the 1996 Olympics as a road cycler (winning two bronze medals) AND as a speed skater 10 years later in Turin (where she won a gold, a silver, and two bronze medals). This sort of versatility at the highest level (winning medals at both summer and winter Olympic competitions) is beyond impressive. It’s not a shock to find out that Hughes is in the Canada Sports Hall of Fame.
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6. Donovan Bailey
Despite being born in Jamaica, Bailey moved to Canada as a young boy. This led to him ultimately representing his adopted country in official athletic events. This fortuitous turn of events was certainly Canada’s gain, as Bailey is widely regarded as the country’s most talented track and field star. At the time of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Bailey helped Canada win two Gold medals — one in the 100m race and the other in the 4x100m relay. At various points in his track career, Bailey broke several world records. One included a blistering 5.56 second-time in the 50 metre dash.
Image Source: Canadian Olympic Committee
5. Nancy Greene
There’s a real case to be made that Nancy Greene is arguably the greatest female athlete ever to hail from the wonderful nation of Canada. For one, Greene was recognized as the country’s best female athlete of the 20th Century. This was largely based upon Greene’s prowess as it pertained to alpine skiing. She won on virtually every single level — whether it was the Olympics, World Championships, or the Ski World Cup (19 titles in total). Green was praised time and time again for her fearlessness in attacking each competition. Her crowning achievement included winning a Gold medal in the Giant slalom and a Silver medal in the Slalom (both during the 1968 Winter Olympics).
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4. Mario Lemieux
Montreal native Mario Lemieux was a truly special talent. Despite being a massive guy at nearly 6-foot-5 and over 240 pounds, Lemieux graced the ice with the fluidity of a player much smaller. It’s almost akin to a big man in basketball who played as a guard before a gigantic growth spurt. Much like those athletes retaining those traits upon getting larger, Lemieux’s puck handling during the height of his career is as good as we’ve seen — particularly at his size. A number of injuries truncated what could’ve been an even more prolific career. When looking at his long list of personal accomplishments, Lemieux has won virtually every award you could think of.
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3. Bobby Orr
Defensively, Bobby Orr is in a league of his own. When first breaking into the professional ranks of hockey, defensemen were essentially stationary in the fact that their primary job involved stopping the opposition (and nothing else). Orr flipped that script based upon his upbringing as an attacking player. Utilizing his puck skills and skating ability, Orr became a massive offensive threat despite playing as a defenseman. He was so good, in fact, that Orr led the league in scoring on two separate occasions despite not being a forward or a centre. He also had one season in which he notched over 100 assists. Orr’s adventurous style of play — coupled with his fantastic skill-set — has him pegged as the best defensive player the league has seen to date.
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2. Gordie Howe
Many have gone back and forth on whether Howe could be the best to ever play the sport. There’s no argument on this end, as the Saskatoon native took the league by storm. The winger obliterated most scoring records by the time his career had come to a close (after over 30 years of professional experience). When it comes to durability, Howe is unmatched. He was a 23-time All-Star (yes, this isn’t a typo). For over two decades, Howe ranked in the top ten in scoring during his NHL tenure. When it comes to consistency over an elongated period of time, you’d be hard-pressed to find another athlete — regardless of sport — who’s achieved as much as Howe did.
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1. Wayne Gretzky
He’s called “The Great One” for a reason. Gretzky is the proverbial modern-day hockey G.O.A.T. Graceful, threatening, lethal, and unassuming, there wasn’t much Gretzky couldn’t do on the ice. He produced at an unbelievable rate. During the 1985-86 season, Gretzky notched 52 goals and 163 (!) assists in 80 games. The 215-point total was the highest of Gretzky’s career. Prior to Gretzky entering the league, no one had ever accrued over 200 points in a single season. Gretzky not only accomplished that feat once, but on four separate occasions. Aside from holding numerous scoring records, Gretzky won four Stanley Cup trophies, 10 Art Ross Trophies, and nine Hart Trophies. His ability to dominate in more of a modern era gives him the slight edge over Howe.
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