When Bridget Carleton takes to the field at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday, she will make history.
The Chatham, Ont., native is set to become the first Canadian to play a WNBA game in Canada when her Minnesota Lynxes take on Chicago Sky at an exhibition in Toronto.
Carleton said she was “super excited” to be part of this momentous occasion for Canadian basketball.
“I think it’s going to be huge. Not only are the ticket sellers excited, but the little boys and girls who look up to us, are excited about women’s sport in general and have it in our own backyards, a easy access,” she said at a press conference on Friday.
“It’s huge to help grow the game, so I think all of that combined, there’s so many different aspects that one game can have.”
The game, which kicks off at 4 p.m. ET, will air on TSN and Sportsnet with an all-Canadian, all-female lineup. Meghan McPeak will play-by-play alongside analyst Amy Audibert, while CBC co-host Nikki Reyes Canada’s ultimate challenge, performs secondary reporting functions.
WATCH | Carleton discusses the match with Anastasia Bucsis of CBC Sports:
Tickets sold out the day they became available. Carleton’s grandmother will be part of the crowd and will be able to see her granddaughter play professionally for the very first time.
The 25-year-old spent her WNBA offseason plying her trade overseas in Spain, and with her season just ending on Sunday, she said she hasn’t seen her family since Christmas.
Carleton is one of four Canadians currently on the WNBA rosters. Natalie Achonwa, who also plays for the Lynx, recently welcomed a son. Kia Nurse signed with the Seattle Storm this offseason, while rookie Laeticia Amihere was drafted eighth overall from the Atlanta Dream.
Achonwa will be at the game, even if she won’t play. Carleton said she, Achonwa and Nurse talked about the game in a group chat and they all plan to experience it in different ways.
Amihere said The Canadian Press that the game should inspire children across the country.
“I couldn’t watch the WNBA players because they didn’t have the TV channels in Canada, and obviously there was no team in Canada,” she said. “So for young athletes to be able to watch and experience these games, I think it will be crucial for them to be able to look up to our athletes.”
WATCH | Amihere drafted by Dream:
last June, Athleticism reported that Toronto was a possibility for WNBA expansion as early as 2024. Other regions in the mix include Nashville, Philadelphia, Portland and the California Bay Area.
Former Women’s National Team coach Lisa Thomaidis told CBC Sports that a WNBA franchise would increase visibility and opportunities for young women.
Carleton agreed Toronto would be a “good market,” adding there was more than enough talent outside of the WNBA who could easily filter through if and when expansion happens.
“I think it makes sense with an environment, a demographic that is excited about basketball. [Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment] has been super supportive, obviously that shows through this exhibition game. Having a team in Toronto would be really, really cool,” she told CBC Sports’ Anastasia Bucsis in a recent interview.
WATCH | Carleton guides Canada to 2022 World Cup semi-finals:
The WNBA has rarely crossed American borders – the last time a game was played outside the United States was in 2011 in England, and the only previous case was in 2004 in Mexico.
Carleton Lynx teammate Kayla McBride said she could feel the excitement.
“To actually be here and feel the energy and obviously play with Bridget and [Achonwa] and I know there are a few other Canadians in our league, I think it’s really special for them to come here and be able to play against their own country,” she said.
Before any pomp on Saturday, Carleton will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Blue Jays game on Friday night.
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