When Bridget Carleton steps onto the court at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday, she will make history.
The Chatham, Ontario native will become the first Canadian to play in a WNBA game in Canada when her Minnesota Lynx take on the Chicago Sky in an exhibition in Toronto.
Carleton said she was “super excited” to be a part of the momentous occasion for Canadian basketball.
“I think it’s going to be huge. Not only the ticketing people are excited, but also the little boys and girls who look up to us, just excited about women’s sports in general and having it in our own backyard, easy access,” he said at a press conference on Friday.
“It’s huge to help grow the game, so I think all combined, there are so many different aspects that only one game can have.”
The game, which begins at 4 pm ET, will air on TSN and Sportsnet with an all-Canadian women’s group. Meghan McPeak will do play-by-play alongside analyst Amy Audibert, while Nikki Reyes, co-anchor of CBC’s ultimate Canada Challenge, assumes reporting duties on the sidelines.
CLOCK | Carleton talks about the game with CBC Sports’ Anastasia Bucsis:
Tickets were sold out the day they became available. Carleton’s grandmother will be in the crowd and she gets to see her granddaughter play professionally for the first time.
The 25-year-old spent her WNBA offseason plying her trade abroad in Spain, and with her season just wrapping up on Sunday, she said she hadn’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 had a son. Kia Nurse signed with the Seattle Storm in the off-season, while rookie Laeticia Amihere was selected eighth overall in the Atlanta Dream.
Achonwa will be in the game, although he will not play. Carleton said that she, Achonwa and Nurse have been talking 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 be an inspiration to children across the country.
“I couldn’t admire the WNBA players, because they didn’t have the TV channels in Canada and obviously there was no team in Canada,” she said. “So in order for young athletes to be able to watch and attend these games, I think it’s going to be crucial for them to be able to look up to our athletes.”
CLOCK | Amihere drafted by Dream:
Last June, the athletic reported that Toronto was a possibility for WNBA expansion beginning in 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 that Toronto would be a “good market,” adding that there is more than enough talent outside of the WNBA that could easily trickle down if an expansion happens.
“I think it makes sense with an environment, a demographic that is excited about basketball. [Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment] he’s been very supportive, obviously that’s showing through this showcase game. Having a team in Toronto would be really cool,” she told CBC Sports’ Anastasia Bucsis in a recent interview.
CLOCK | Carleton guides Canada to the 2022 World Cup semifinals:
The WNBA has rarely crossed American borders: the last time a game was played outside the US was in 2011 in England, and the only previous case was in 2004 in Mexico.
Carleton’s Lynx teammate Kayla McBride said she could feel the excitement.
“To really be here and feel the energy and obviously play with Bridget and [Achonwa] and I know there are a couple of 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,” he said.
Before the pageantry on Saturday, Carleton will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Blue Jays game on Friday night.
His only game plan for that?