Saskatchewan has its newest pro sport championship team.
The Saskatchewan Rattlers surprised at least this fan by capturing the inaugural Canadian Elite Basketball League championship.
I say surprised because having watched every game the Rattlers have played this season via CEBL.TV I came to recognize the team had something of a Jekyll & Hyde personality, being very good some nights, and struggling to hit threes and free throws on other nights. I wasn’t sure which team might show up when the chips were on the table.
Saskatchewan was guaranteed a spot in championship weekend as hosts, but earned the spot with a third place finish in the regular season; middle of the pack in a six-team league.
That set the Rattlers up to meet Edmonton in one of the semi-finals Saturday. The Stingers have 14 regular season wins, the Rattlers 11 in a 20-game season.
The game was a nail-biter, with the Rattlers squeaking by the Stingers 85-83. If that seems low scoring recall that the CEBL plays international FIBA rules and that means 10-minute quarters, not 12 like the National Basketball Association.
In the other semi the Niagara River Lions with their 15 wins and top spot in the league took on the Hamilton Honey Badgers, fourth overall with 10-wins.
This was another game that could have went either way as the teams ran the court hard with the Badgers pulling the upset 104-103 in what was the most entertaining game of the weekend.
So Sunday’s final were the number three and four finishers squaring off for the championship.
The Rattlers started well – not always something they managed this season – and while the Honey Badgers pushed hard at times, Saskatchewan won 94-83.
For a sports fan who, as I close in on 60 far too quickly, can count pro championships for teams I follow on two hands still, this was hugely enjoyable, even as I was cheering and my better half suggested I was being too loud.
Beyond the great win, home court was no doubt huge for the Rattlers, there is the general success of the CEBL.
In Canada we have something of an inferiority complex and don’t always support things of our own. The CEBL is about giving Canadians a place to play. The Rattlers won with only one import player dressed for the final.
That the league survived its first season is big news in itself, and plans are under way for 2020 without rumours flying of teams folding or moving.
In fact, CEBL commissioner Mike Morreale was talking growth ahead for the league even as championship weekend was ongoing.
Morreale was talking about a seventh team announcement soon, within a few weeks.
And while the commissioner said the CEBL is banking on only one new team – hinting it would be in a new province where the CEBL currently hasn’t got a team, he wasn’t ruling out more teams in 2020 either.
Morreale was quite specific in noting he has a list of “13” potential teams across the country, including many new markets – Winnipeg, Vancouver, Red Deer, Calgary, Quebec, Ottawa, Maritimes.”
That a community the size of Red Deer, population 100,000, would even be on the radar suggests the league could have more suitors than anyone imagined, thanks I suspect to the Toronto Raptors really putting the sport on the Canadian sports fan’s radar.
A great first season for the CEBL to be sure, and hopefully many more are to come.