About Major Junior hockey and Benny’s pie in the sky…put that WHL name on Ice…Barnum & Bailey & Mayhem on Maroons Road…Jeff Hamilton racing a woman…Jake and les Leafs…open season on Puck Finn…and good reads from Teddy Wy and Mike M.

A midweek smorgas-bored…and it’s a good day for stepping into the Junior shinny Way Back Machine to a time when some hockey coaches wore fedoras…

Major Junior hockey. Winnipeg.

Some of us are old enough to recall the days when those two went together, like Johnny Carson and late-night laughter.

That’s right, kids, once upon a brief time Major Junior worked in Good Ol’ Hometown.

Bobby Clarke, Chris Worthy and Reggie Leach

Oh, they didn’t exactly sardine-can them into the old shinny barn on Maroons Road every night, but it wasn’t just family and friends who surfaced to watch the Winnipeg Jets. Especially when the Flin Flon Bombers of Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach rode into River City with a sneer and something to prove to the big-city boys.

Logically, the Brandon Wheat Kings, being just a hoot and a holler down the road, should have been cast in the role of the Jets’ antagonist in what was then known as the Western Canada Hockey League. But no. It was the bunch from the northern Manitoba mining town named after the fictional Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin who wore the black hat.

The dreaded Bombers were piloted by Paddy Ginnell, a rascalish head coach given to filling news snoops’ notebooks with goading, in-your-face candor.

Paddy Ginnell

In the spring of 1969, for example, the Jets evened a playoff joust with the Bombers at 2-2-1 (yes, there was a tie game), which meant the eight-point series was heading back to intimidating Whitney Forum in Flin Flon.

“How the hell are they going to win up there?” a cocksure Ginnell scoffed. “They’ve never won there. If I was Ben (Hatskin, Jets bankroll), I’d forfeit the series and save the money.”

Turns out Paddy was right.

The Jets couldn’t quite figure out a way to win in the Flin Flon Forum, which provided cozy comfort for the Bombers but served as a chamber of horrors for the Winnipegs in ’69 and the following spring.

Pistol Dorohoy

The thing is, whatever pre- and post-game hype Ginnell and his counterpart, Eddie (Pistol) Dorohoy, were selling to anyone with a notebook or microphone, the rabble was buying. The Jets topped out at a head count of 7,326 and totaled 20,516 for three home dates in ’69, and upped that in 1970 with a WCHL single-game record of 9,043 and 33,206 for their four home dates vs. Flin Flon.

Queen Liz looked down approvingly from the north end of the barn.

That all changed, however, when the aforementioned Ben Hatskin saw two bigger pies in the sky. One was called the World Hockey Association. The other was Robert Marvin Hull.

Five years after Benny and the WHA Jets reshaped the local shinny landscape in 1972, Major Junior hockey disappeared, despite the earnest intentions and heavy sledding of people like Gerry Brisson, Muzz MacPherson, Gordie Pennell, George Dorman and so many others.

Ben Hatskin

My perch in the press box allowed me to witness the slow, steady decline of a franchise that morphed from the Jets to the Clubs to the Monarchs, and customers disguised as empty seats was not only a bad optic but a killer on the bottom line.

“I don’t understand why people won’t come out to watch us,” Brisson would lament the day after a home assignment would attract an audience numbering no more than 1,200 diehards.

It didn’t help, of course, that Brisson did some goofy things, like replacing his head coach with the team trainer in the middle of a game and later demoting the same head coach to assistant coach, to scout, then firing him via Canada Post. Correct. He sent George Dorman a Dear John letter. And, in general, Brisson iced outfits that could scarcely lick their lips.

Bottom line, though, was the WHA and the Jets. That was the nut nobody could crack.

I’m guessing that Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell are aware of this unfortunate history (not to mention the aborted re-entry of the WHL in the early 1980s), yet they’re still planning to pitch their tent in the boonies (RM of Macdonald) and swim upstream next autumn. Their Kootenay Ice will become the Winnipeg Ice, and Fettes/Cockell seem convinced they can make a go of it in a hockey pool that includes the NHL Jets and American Hockey League Manitoba Moose. You can take them for fools if you like, but, hey, it’s their coin.

Someone please tell me that Fettes and Cockell plan to rename their franchise. Ice doesn’t work for me, nor does an angry Sasquatch as a team logo. We haven’t seen anything resembling a Sasquatch in Good Ol’ Hometown since Jimmy Mann was dragging his knuckles around the freeze.

Wild Bill Hunter

Among the selling points of the old WCHL were the owners/operators. Guys like Brisson, MacPherson, Ginnell, Pistol Dorohoy, Punch McLean, Scotty Munro and Wild Bill Hunter were Sideshow Bobs, equal parts Barnum, Bailey and Ringling Bros. Some, notably McLean and Ginnell, were maestros of mayhem. It wasn’t uncommon for all hell to break loose on any given night, and the lads really frothed at the mouth with Flin Flon in town. Then it was Mayhem on Maroons Road, and much of it seemed orchestrated. Neither Fettes or Cockell strikes me as a carnival barker, and I somehow doubt their head coach, homeboy James Patrick, is inclined to hurl garbage cans onto the ice when his universe isn’t unfolding as it should. Oh, the good, old days.

Here’s how popular the Junior Jets of Ben Hatskin, Pistol Dorohoy and coach Nick Mickoski were: Some fans actually purchased passage on the team charter to attend playoff skirmishes in Flin Flon.

Jeff Hamilton

Young Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab writes this about the Ice’s entry into the River City shinny glut: “A WHL franchise in Winnipeg, together with the unprecedented investment in hockey development, would create a unique sports marketplace and position Winnipeg as the hockey capital of North America, home to teams in the NHL, AHL and the Canadian Hockey League.” Whoa there, young fella. There’s this little burg I call the Republic of Tranna that trumps Good Ol’ Hometown. The ROT has the Maple Leafs, the Marlies, the Mississauga Steelheads, plus the Furies and the Thunder. Unless young Jeff is one of the many men who pooh-pooh the distaff side of the game, The ROT’s two Canadian Women’s Hockey League franchises give it the edge. If young Jeff isn’t convinced, let’s see him beat Kendall Coyne Schofield in a foot race and then we’ll talk.

Leafs GM Harry Potter

Something tells me the Maple Leafs made a trade this week. And I think it involved Jake Muzzin. I could be wrong, though. I mean, maybe I was just dreaming when I saw those 12 headlines about Muzzin on the front page of the Leafs blog known as the Sportsnet website on Wednesday. They usually reserve that kind of over-the-top coverage for Auston Matthews’ grooming habits (film of toenail clipping at 11). So I guess I’m mistaken and Muzzin is still working the Los Angeles Kings blueline.

Let’s be clear about something: Les Jets do not have to make a significant move just because les Leafs snared Muzzin. This isn’t tit-for-tat. The Muzzin transaction has no impact on Winnipeg HC unless they’re the last two National Hockey League clubs standing in the Stanley Cup runoff. If that’s how it shakes down, it won’t be because general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was prodded into action by Leafs GM Harry Potter.

Puck Finn

Tough week thus far for Patrik Laine. The young Jets winger still can’t score, he spent most of Tuesday night in Beantown glued to the pine, and the natterbugs in print and on air went off on the kid. According to my scorecard, Ted Wyman, Jason Bell, Tim & Sid, Noodles McLennon and Jeff O’Dog all had a go at Puck Finn and, to sum up their deep, penetrating analysis, Laine “isn’t moving his feet.” Tough to move your feet when you’re sitting on the bench.

I’m not saying coach Paul Maurice was wrong to plop Puck Finn on the plank vs. the Bruins, but there’s more at play here than the moving of feet. I say Laine’s issues are at the opposite end of his lanky body—between the ears.

If you’re looking for a good read, check out Mike McIntyre’s piece on former U.S. Navy SEAL James Hatch in the Drab Slab. Hatch is in town as part of a dumb bet he made against les Jets last year, and Mike M. hits it out of the park with his yarn. Also worth a look is Ted Wyman’s feature on former Jets forward and all-round good guy Randy Gilhen in the Winnipeg Sun. Good stuff.

And, finally, I have personal links to two of the main players in the old WCHL. Pistol Dorohoy is the only coach who ever cut me, and I played for Gerry Brisson. So, ya, I feel the warm and fuzzies for Junior shinny and I hope it works for Fettes and Cockell.

Advertisements

About dumb stuff from “D’oh!” boys in the press box…Peter Chiarelli’s grey matter…this girl’s got game…Blue Bombers boss lady Dayna Spiring…Naomi Osaka gets to celebrate Aussie title…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I’m no all-star so I won’t be taking an all-star break…

This past week in jock journalism was brought to us by the word “D’oh!”

Seriously. News snoops must have been passing the Homer Simpson stupid pills around the press box and the newsroom, because much of what I read and heard was really, really dumb.

Examples:

Nazem Kadri

* The struggling Tranna Maple Leafs got the best of the struggling Washington Capitals on Wednesday night, winning 6-3. Nazem Kadri tallied three times and added an assist. His linemates, Willy Boy Nylander and Connor Brown, contributed three and two assists, respectively. That’s nine points total from that troika. Yet this was the main headline on the Leafs blog known as Sportsnet:

“Matthews-Marner combo pays immediate dividends for Maple Leafs.”

Say what? Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner contributed a goal apiece, one on the powerplay and one into an empty net. The “combo” collaborated on zero scores.

So that headline is really, really dumb.

* Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab went off on Professional Hockey Writers Association midseason polling, whereby more than 125 scribes determined the top three leading candidates to collect National Hockey League year-end trinkets.

The freshly minted sports columnist described Winnipeg Jets capitano Blake Wheeler as the club’s “heart and soul,” which is fine. Also accurate. But wait. He then confessed that, if allowed to vote for more than three people in each category, he would have “given Mark Scheifele some Hart Trophy consideration as most valuable to his team.” So Wheeler is the “heart and soul” of les Jets, but his linemate Rink Rat Scheifele is more valuable?

That’s really, really dumb.

John Shannon

* John Shannon, the sometimes smug gab guy on Sportsnet, delivered what was labeled his Power 25—the top movers and shakers in the NHL—and he listed wet-eared Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks the sixth most-powerful person.

What Shannon failed to do was explain exactly what makes Pettersson more of a power broker than, say, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, co-bankroll and governor of les Jets and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee. Perhaps Shannon will also tell us that a parish priest in Moose Jaw holds more sway with Catholics than the Pope. Or that Adam Sandler makes better movies than Steven Spielberg.

That’s really, really dumb.

* Luke Fox (Sportsnet seems to have an over-abundance of ”D’oh!” boys) wrote: “(Nikita) Kucherov is running away with the (NHL) scoring race.”

Hmmm. Last time I looked, Kucherov was four points ahead of Mikka Rantanen. Johnny Gaudreau and Connor McDavid are a mere five in arrears. Any one of those guys could erase that deficit in 20 minutes of hockey. That’s a runaway like Lady Gaga is a lumberjack.

So that’s really, really dumb.

Bobby Orr

* Apparently Ken Campbell was napping during Bobby Orr’s career. I say that because of this click-bait the senior writer at The Hockey News posted on Twitter:

“Former NHLer Mathieu Schneider, now with the NHLPA just referred to Nicklas Lidstrom ‘as the greatest defenceman of all time.’ Bold statement. And it’s a worthy debate.”

Sure, and maybe Campbell would also have us debate who’s taller, Zdeno Chara or Johnny Gaudreau. Or what’s whiter, freshly fallen snow or coal.

That’s really, really dumb.

Brian Burke

Okay, that’s enough dumbing down for one day. But staying on the subject of grey matter, best comment in the wake of Peter Chiarelli’s dismissal as general manager of the Edmonton Oilers was delivered by Brian Burke of Sportsnet: “He didn’t become terminally stupid overnight.” Actually, he did. Chiarelli went to bed one night, then woke up the next morning and signed Milan Lucic to a seven-year, $42-million contract.

Hey, the Oilers have finally found someone who can keep up with Connor McDavid—Kendall Coyne Schofield, the young lass who dropped jaws with her dash in the fastest skater segment of the NHL all-star skills competition in San Jose. There is, however, no truth to the rumor that Kendell will replace Lucic in the Oil lineup.

Kendall Coyne Schofield

Coyne Schofield was a revelation. Her long, blonde ponytail flapping and her short legs (she’s 5-feet-2) churning like pistons, she finished her lap in 14.346 seconds, a heartbeat behind McDavid’s winning lickety-split of 13.378 and a blink-of-an-eye better than Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes. It was the “wow” moment of the all-star hijinx, and here’s what I’m wondering: Will people (read: media/men) now view women’s hockey in a more favorable light? I doubt it. It’ll be same old, same old. News snoops will continue to ignore the women except in Olympic years.

Leave it to smarmy Damien Cox of the Toronto Star to make an ass-clown comment about Coyne Schofield’s performance. “The only surprise is so many men didn’t realize female hockey players are great skaters. Geez, people, it’s 2019,” he tweeted. Apparently Cox believes he’s the only penis person on the planet who has the skinny on women’s shinny. He saw this coming, don’t you know. The rest of you guys, including the NHL all-stars who were totally gobsmacked by Kendall’s giddyup? Ignorant louts. Cox truly is a doofus.

Boys being oinkers, do you think the boys will let Keller forget about the night he “got beat by a girl?” No. Not ever, ever, ever.

Dayna Spiring

On the subject of women doing wonderful things, Dayna Spiring is the freshly minted chair of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers board of directors, and it seems to me that both the Winnipeg Sun and the Drab Slab were out to lunch on her story. Becoming the first female chair in the club’s 89-year history is worth more than a few paragraphs that read like a boring club press release. I’d like to know Dayna’s thoughts on Winnipeg FC. On the Canadian Football League. On Commish Randy. On breaking into the old boys’ club. Is it too much to ask a news snoop at either of the River City rags to pick up a phone and have a chat with the Bombers boss lady?

Will someone please give me a wakeup call when men’s tennis becomes interesting again? I mean, where are all those hot-shot, Next Gen players who were supposed to shove Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer to the curb? MIA. All of them. Mind you, Nadal was also MIA in the Australian Open championship match vs. Djokovic on Sunday. Can you say complete dud, kids?

Naomi Osaka

The best part of Naomi Osaka’s win in the women’s singles final Down Under? Poor sport Serena Williams wasn’t there to soil the moment with her brattish behavior. Osaka seems like a delightful, humble young woman who, at age 21, is already halfway to a career Grand Slam. Now the world No. 1, her emergence speaks favorably for the quality and intrigue of the women’s game, which has produced eight different champions in the past nine Grand Slam events. On the men’s side, there hasn’t been a Slam winner not named Nadal, Federer or Djokovic since 2016.

I don’t know what you make of the PHWA midseason NHL awards polling, but it seems to me that it’s very self-serving. That is, news snoops give themselves something to write and gab about during the all-star lull, but in reality it’s a non-story. It doesn’t even tell us which way the wind is blowing, because last year half of the midway leaders failed to pick up a trinket at the awards gala in June. So, I’m sorry, but I fail to see the purpose of the exercise.

And, finally, I think if I was a kid today, my favorite NHL player would be Mitch Marner. Always liked the small, zippity-do-da, water bug guys.

About holding Coach LaPo hostage…letting the Saskatchewan Roughriders clean up their own mess…Buck up, man…Scrooge McFootball’s nifty handiwork…Tony Nostraromos sees all…and hell breaking loose in Edmonton

A Tuesday smorgas-bored…and I don’t want to go to Regina either…

Does anyone else see and appreciate the irony in the Paul LaPolice situation?

I mean, back in 2012, Coach LaPo was sideline steward with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the general manager of the day, Sleepy Joe Mack, told him to get lost. Hoofed his heinie out of Dodge eight games into the season. Yet here we are today and GM Kyle Walters is holding the guy hostage.

Paul LaPolice

Talk about not knowing if you’re coming or going.

We aren’t privy to the why and wherefore behind Winnipeg FC’s refusal to grant LaPolice permission to chin wag with the Saskatchewan Roughriders about their head coaching vacancy, because Walters has been mum on the matter to this point. But a couple of theories have been advanced. To wit:

1) LaPolice, the Bombers offensive coordinator, knows too much. (More irony there; Sleepy Joe didn’t think he knew enough.)

2) It’s too late in the Canadian Football League off-season for Walters to go scrambling for a suitable replacement.

Well, okay, let’s unwrap.

Kyle Walters

In regards to Point 1, yes, Coach LaPo has insider intel that the Canadian Mafia—Walters, head coach Mike O’Shea, chief cook and biscuit-maker Wade Miller—would prefer to keep to themselves. Allowing the arch-rival on the Flatlands to recruit and hire LaPolice would put that classified information at risk.

In regards to Point 2, cow patties! Great big fresh steamy cow patties!

Allow me to direct your attention to the Toronto Argonauts, bless their ignored souls.

The Boatmen punted general manager Jim Barker on Jan. 24, 2017, and head coach/quarterback whisperer Scott Milanovich pulled the pin three days later.

Thus, the Rowers found themselves up Schitt’s Creek without a paddle. No GM. No head knock. No hope. Right?

Jim Popp and Marc Trestman

Well, it would be a full month before the Argos filled those two voids, with the Jim Popp-Marc Trestman tag team coming on board on the last day of February, yet history reminds us that the Argos were holding the Grey Cup aloft in Nathan Phillips Square in the Republic of Tranna just nine months later.

So if it’s timing that the Canadian Mafia is selling, I’m not buying.

C’mon, man, we’re talking about an offensive coordinator here, not finding a GM and a head coach at the 11th hour. Hard to believe LaPolice is the only guy capable of getting the job done, which, of course, he didn’t get done in the West Division final last November.

Basically, Coach LaPo’s gotten a raw deal from the Bombers for a second time and no one can blame this one on Sleepy Joe Mack’s itchy trigger finger.

Buck Pierce

Too late to find an O-coordinator? If so, what’s Buck Pierce’s excuse? He was the Winnipeg FC running backs coach for two seasons and he’s been the QB guru for the past three. Has Buck had his eyes closed and his ears plugged the whole time? If he isn’t ready now, when?

Having said all that, Winnipeg FC is under no obligation to mop up the mess that Chris Jones created on the Flatlands. The Roughriders gave their GM, head coach and D-coordinator an escape clause, which he used to flee to the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League, and the Bombers aren’t in the business of doing Gang Green any favors. Still, to hold LaPolice back is bad form and a dreadful optic.

Both LaPolice and Bytown RedBlacks OC Jaime Elizondo want the Riders’ job. They do realize that there’s no quarterback, no receivers and it would mean living most of the year in Regina, right?

Aside from being Scrooge McFootball in matters of coaches climbing ladders, who’s prepared to quibble about the work Walters has done this off-season? Not me. He’s already sweet-talked Justin Medlock, Beastmo Bighill, Stanley Bryant and Jackson Jeffcoat into returning. And, for all we know, he’s the reason QB Matt Nichols has sworn off cheeseburgers and fries. That’s fine work.

Tony Romo

I really don’t believe CBS football gab guy Tony Romo can see the future, but if he tells me it isn’t safe to get on an airplane I’m taking a bus. If he tells me an earthquake will strike the West Coast tomorrow, I’m buying a survival kit today. Romo’s work in the American Football Conference final between the K.C. Chiefs and New England Brady/Belichicks was Rod Serling kind of spooky. He knew what Tom Brady would do before Tom Brady knew what he would do. Just call him Tony Nostraromos.

And, finally, does anybody have a clue what’s going on with the Oilers in Edmonton? If so, you can reach GM Peter Chiarelli at allhell’sbrokenloose.com.

About Puck Finn and the Magic man…Burkie telling it like it is again…more numbers from Pie Chart Boy in the Freep…Mike Mac gets the columnist gig…what goalie controversy?…the Winnipeg Blue Bombers meal ticket…pregnant Pebble People…and a nice tribute to Joe Daley

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, as Cactus Jack used to say, it turned out nice again…

There are two things I really like about Patrik Laine: 1) his shot; 2) his age.

I’d probably like him as a person, too, because he strikes me as a nice young man with wry humor and a blunt honesty that’s uncommon among play-for-pay jocks. He seems like a cool kid.

Puck Finn

But I’m here today more to discuss Puck Finn the hockey player, not the cool kid and his passion for PlayStation and whatever other techno gizmos and gadgets that have caught his fancy and keep the Winnipeg Jets winger occupied when he isn’t lighting lamps at one end of the freeze and handing out free pizzas at the other.

I recognize some Kent Nilsson in Laine, on and off the ice.

Kenta was as laid back as a Sunday afternoon in a one-horse town. He was also blessed with a wicked sense of humor. (Nilsson once sneaked up behind a scribe tapping away at his computer keyboard in the Calgary Saddledome press box and said, “How could so much shit come out of such a little machine.”)

In terms of pure skill, though, there’s no comparison between Laine and Nilsson. I maintain to this day that no one who’s worn Jets linen was, or is, more gifted than the slick Swede. Not the Golden Jet, Ulf or Anders. Not Ducky. Not the Finnish Flash. If you’d like to debate the issue, consider that Wayne Gretzky once said Nilsson “might have been the most skilled hockey player I ever saw in my career.” That’s good enough for me.

Kent Nilsson

In the mood, Magic Man Nilsson was a maestro. The game was played at his tempo. On his terms. It was best to toss a second puck onto the ice so the other 11 guys had something to play with.

Trouble is, Kenta was an enigma. That is, engaged one minute, disinterested the next. And the rabble recognized both his other wordly talent and his indifference.

When Nilsson scored 131 points for the Calgary Flames in 1980-81 (fewer than only Gretzky and Marcel Dionne), expectations became heightened to the point of delusional. The faithful assumed there would be more of the same. There wasn’t. The best Nilsson could do for an encore was 104 points, ninth in National Hockey League scoring, and that just wasn’t up to snuff for the Flames faithful. Those 104 points would have/could have/should have been 134.

“If only he applied himself all the time like Gretzky,” they would moan.

In that sense, Puck Finn is a Nilsson doppelganger. He introduced himself with 36- and 44-goal seasons, so he’s boxed himself in at those numbers. Anything less and frustration and much braying ensues.

At present, Laine’s sitting on 25 snipes, best among les Jets. But you’d swear he’s stuck on 10 goals.

Trade him! Ship him to the farm! Stick him with the fourth-line sluggos! Get him a skating coach! Take his Fortnite game away! Oh, yes, the lunatic fringe is in full throat.

Let’s call a timeout on that, though.

Wayne Gretzky

I mean, it’s fair to be critical of Laine. Been there, done that. But give the kid a new postal code? Send him down the hall at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie and tell him to suit up with the Manitoba Moose? Sure, and maybe we should think about bringing Pokey and the Bandit back to stand in the blue paint.

Let’s get a grip here, people.

Yes, Laine is seriously lacking in certain essentials. There’s very little lickety-split in his stride, he’s prone to boneheaded blunders, and he’s been known to zone out mentally. And, like Nilsson, he’s maddeningly frustrating because there isn’t a fire burning in his belly at all times. Those flaws are easy to overlook or forgive when he’s scoring. When not, the rabble feels cheated.

But repeat after me: Puck Finn is 20 years old. That isn’t an excuse. It’s a fact.

Nilsson produced his benchmark season at age 24. Teemu Selanne delivered his at age 22. Mario Lemieux had his most productive year at age 23. Gretzky topped out at age 25.

I say we give Laine a chance to grow his game before heaving him onto the dung heap.

Brian Burke

I found Brian Burke’s take on Puck Finn’s game interesting. In a chin-wag about Laine’s earning potential once he becomes a restricted free agent, Burke had this to say on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central at Noon: “I’m not as big on Patrik Laine as a lot of people are. I don’t like his 5-on-5 game. Wonderful goal scorer and I’d have him on my team in a heartbeat, but there’s some holes in his game, too. Now, we know we pay goal scorers. We can find guys to offset those deficiencies. I can find a winger to play with Patrik Laine, to do the backchecking, do some of the things he’s not proficient at. But it’s gonna be north of ($9 million), it’s gonna start with a one. We have always paid snipers. We have always paid snipers. I can bitch all I want about certain deficiencies in his game…he can play on my team tomorrow. I do think he’s a good kid…I do feel when he’s not scoring he’s a liability.” I’d say that’s spot on.

Andrew Berkshire doesn’t share my thoughts on Burke’s assessment of Laine. In the Drab Slab, he writes: “Former NHL executive and current Hockey Night In Canada/Sportsnet analyst Brian Burke has said Laine gives you goals, but nothing else. Goals are pretty significant in the NHL, and I would say that statement is remarkably harsh.” Harsh? You want harsh? The headline on Berkshire’s piece labeled Laine “a D-zone disaster” and the stats geek described Puck Finn’s work in the defensive zone as “disastrous.” Now that’s “remarkably harsh.” Again, why the Winnipeg Free Press runs Pie Chart Boy’s graphics is a mystery to me. He simply uses them to confirm what a lot of us already know. Bring back Scotty Campbell.

Speaking of the Drab Slab and its stable of scribes, I guess it’s official that Mike McIntyre is the new sports columnist. I wish him well, because it’s a tough gig and the rabble is never shy about reminding you that you’re a total moron.

For those of you scoring at home, McIntyre is the fifth sports columnist at the Freep this century, the others being Scott Taylor, Randy Turner, Gary Lawless and Paul Wiecek. Over at the Winnipeg Sun, meanwhile, they’ve had one—Paul Friesen. You might not find the turnover rate at the Drab Slab interesting, but I do.

Connor Hellebuyck

Is there a goaltending controversy with les Jets? Well, yes, in the stands, in watering holes and among news snoops. But until I hear it from the inner sanctum (read: head coach Paul Maurice, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman), it doesn’t exist. Connor Hellebuyck is their guy, and Laurent Brossoit is the other guy.

So, there won’t be a World Cup of Hockey in 2020. Such a shame. I was really looking forward to ignoring it.

Interesting to note that Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols has cut cheeseburgers and other greasy grub from his diet. Does that mean the Calgary Stampeders will continue to eat his lunch? Is he still the Bombers’ meal ticket? Is he going to lay another egg? Whatever the case, it’s food for thought and gives us something to chew on. OMG! I just overdosed on really bad, cornball clichés/puns. Someone slap me silly so I’ll stop.

Rachel Homan

If Rachel Homan isn’t the best female curler on the planet, she’s definitely the best pregnant curler. Rachel’s down there in Glitter Gulch today, helping the North American side attempt to subdue the World group in the Continental Cup, and she’s very preggers. Her due date is June 14 and here’s what I’m wondering: If Rachel wins the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the world championship while pregnant, will news snoops give her the same over-the-top, “mother of all mothers” glorification that they heaped upon tennis player Serena Williams? I very much doubt it. After all, most news snoops ignore the Pebble People until an Olympic year arrives. A real shame that.

And, finally, it’s a big day for one of the truly good guys in Good Ol’ Hometown—Joe Daley. He’ll be honored this afternoon at my old stomping grounds, Bronx Park Community Centre, when mucky-mucks unveil a mural featuring the former Jets goaltender. Such a nice tribute to a nice man. Really pleased for him.

About Beastmo Bighill and the Blue Bombers…Kyle Walters’ sales pitch…that Jones boy in Saskatchewan…coloring Marc Trestman and Mike Reilly green…the CFL head count…and what about Coach LaPo?

A midweek smorgas-bored…because stuff happens…

Adam Bighill. Three years. That’s big. It’s big like Chris Walby’s appetite. Big like Duron Carter’s ego.

Why, this is the biggest football news in River City since the last time the Winnipeg Blue Bombers signed Beastmo Bighill as a free agent. That was less than a year ago, when the great middle linebacker parachuted in on the cusp of training camp.

It’s different this time around, though.

Adam Bighill

This time, Winnipeg FC has the Canadian Football League’s most outstanding defensive player locked up for three years. Yup. A small amount of arm-twisting convinced Beastmo’s bride, Kristina, that Good Ol’ Hometown is the place to be for them and their two little ones, frigid winters and all.

But, hey, $250,000 will buy a lot of firewood to keep three-year-old A.J. and his little sister, 20-month-old Leah, warm and cozy.

This, understand, isn’t just a field-good story for the Bombers, whose quest to end a 28-year championship drought is enhanced considerably by Bighill’s presence as the centrepiece of the defensive dozen. It’s also glad tidings for the CFL.

At a time when there’s been a jail break of quality players fleeing south to the National Football League—and when CFL strategists kowtow to commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s rose-colored world vision and dutifully sift through the riff-raff of a semi-pro league in Mexico—it’s encouraging to know that we’re keeping one of our best at home.

Mind you, it’s not like Bighill had an urge to scoot south, because he’s scratched that itch. The NFL became a been-there, done-that, got-the-t-shirt thing in 2017 when, after six seasons with the B.C. Lions, Beastmo gave it a go in New Orleans and appeared in three skirmishes with the Saints. Didn’t work out. Thus he returned to our side of the great U.S.-Canada divide and found his way to Winnipeg. To stay, as it turns out.

Kyle Walters

No doubt his signing Tuesday turned heads across the CFL landscape, because Bighill could have shopped himself on the open market come Feb. 12. He would have fielded more come-ons than Brad Pitt in a singles bar.

I mean, to say this guy is a difference-maker is to say Donald Trump is fond of fast food.

So the fact that Bighill chose to forego possibly greater riches and at least one much warmer locale (Vancouver) speaks volumes for Winnipeg FC general manager Kyle Walters. And it isn’t just Bighill that he’s lured back. Last week he sweet-talked punter/placekicker Justin Medlock into another two-year gig.

Apparently some people really can sell ice cream at the North Pole. Well done, Kyle Walters.

Biggest smile in town after the re-signing of Bighill? Defensive coordinator Richie Hall, who went from tar and feathers to flavor of the month as the 2018 progressed, thanks largely to Beastmo’s play.

It ain’t Mexico, amigos.

Walters claimed an Ortiz, a Reyes and a Pérez in the CFL’s auction of Mexican talent on Monday, and I can only imagine how his sales pitch will go with the fresh recruits from Liga de Futbol Ay Chihuahua: “Listen, guys, I don’t want to scare you off, but I ain’t gonna lie to you. We never win and Winnipeg ain’t Shangi-La. This Blue-and-Gold outfit has done nothing but lose, like, forever. Last time we won the Grey Cup, your ancestors were taking care of business at the Alamo. That’s right, amigos, it’s been that long. Then there’s our weather. It gets so cold during the winter that it’ll freeze the brass monkeys off a brass monkey. You don’t know shrinkage until you’ve stood at Portage and Main in January. But you can always go underground. That’s how we get from Point A to Point B here in the Peg. We become moles. But, hey, here’s the most important thing to remember about Winnipeg, amigos—it ain’t Regina.”

Apparently Commish Randy’s Mexican adventure that has included a combine and a draft does not include the CFL Players Association. “We’re not in a position to be able to explain what the league is doing, because we don’t know,” is what CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay told Scott Stinson of Postmedia. If you find it odd that the league has left the players on the outside looking in, so do I.

Marc Trestman

That’s a fine mess Chris Jones has left the Saskatchewan Roughriders to mop up. No general manager. No head coach. No defensive coordinator. No quarterback. So is he a scoundrel for defecting to the Cleveland Browns as a defensive specialist a week after signing an extension with Gang Green? Some see it that way. But it’s nothing that signing Marc Trestman and Mike Reilly wouldn’t cure. Do that and folks on the Flatlands will be asking, “Chris who?”

Chris Jones

Let’s be clear: Jones’ move is bad for the CFL because you never like to see talent get away, inside or outside the sidelines. But the 2018 coach-of-the-year has done nothing wrong. Jones had an escape clause in his contract. The NFL and the Browns provided the escape route. He took it. At worst it’s a bad optic. Moralists in the media inclined to tsk-tsk Jones and label him a Benedict Arnold first must look in the mirror, because I know very few veteran sports scribes who have worked for only one newspaper.

If I told you that the Republic of Tranna and Vancouver were the only CFL markets to show a hike in attendance last season would you believe me? Of course not. But it’s true. Trouble is, the situation is so bad in The ROT and Lotus Land that the minimal gains are meaningless. According to the number crunchers at CFLdb, the league lost 63,864 customers in 2018, and almost one-third of the defectors (19,708) were folks in Montreal who abandoned the Alouettes. Attendance continues to be boffo on the Prairies and in Ottawa and Hamilton. Here are the details:

And, finally, I find myself wondering if the Roughriders will look at Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice to fill the head coaching vacancy on the Flatlands. It would be a tough sell to the melon-headed faithful, given that Coach LaPo’s offence failed to score a touchdown in the West Division final last November.

About the great escape of CFL stars to the NFL…Mexico, Commish Randy and Martha Stewart…chasing Mr. Reilly…lady power in the NFL playoffs…backup goalies and backup QBs…and so long to Jim Taylor

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I wonder how many Corona CFL execs sucked back during their dog-and-pony show in Mexico…

Will the last all-star to leave the Canadian Football League please turn out the lights.

Already among the dearly departed are Alex Singleton, Bryant Mitchell, Duke Williams, Marken Michel, Diontae Spencer, Jameer Thurman, James Vaughters and Samuel Eguavoen. Most oustanding player Bo Levi Mitchell soon may follow.

I swear, we haven’t seen this many good men flee since the disciples abandoned Christ.

At least those guys had a legit excuse. It was either leave Christ to fend for himself or become a starving lion’s lunch. That’s kind of a no-brainer.

This southbound exodus of quality CFL talent is another matter. The large lads are skipping town because they want to compete with the best of the best, plus they’re tired of bashing their brains for chump change. And collecting it in Canadian coin. Up here, signing bonuses are paid in Canuck Tire money and wages in Monopoly money. At least that’s how the American import might see it.

Randy Ambrosie

But, hey, make a National Football League roster and he collects Dead Presidents and Founding Fathers. Scads of them.

A practice squad shlep, for example, earns $7,600 per week in four-down football. That’s $129,200 per season. For doing squat. Minimum wage for an NFL freshman in 2019 will be $495,000. A two-year guy can’t earn less than $645,000, even if he does nothing more than spend an entire Sunday afternoon standing on the sideline staring at a Microsoft tablet.

In comparison, the CFL minimum last season was $54,000. That isn’t a typo. Do not add a zero. And it’s only $40,559.40 on the U.S. exchange. That makes staying home in Alabama to offer Big Macs and large fries to drive-thru customers a viable option. Especially if it means you don’t have to leave a bride and kids behind.

Bo Levi Mitchell, MOP.

We won’t know the 2019 CFL salary structure until the league and the Players Association agree on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but we do know the bottom feeders won’t see more than five figures on their pay stubs.

So, ya, head south young man.

What puzzles me is that CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie is cool with the high volume of defectors.

“The NFL thing is just evidence of how fundamentally close the talent level in our league is to the talent level in the NFL,” he told news snoops last week at the winter meetings in Mont-Tremblant, Que. “That’s been a long and important story as it relates to our football. Our guys are world-class athletes and I’m always happy for them when they get a chance to take a shot at the NFL.”

Dave Dickenson

Oh, sure, let’s all paste on our happy faces like Commish Randy. Losing quality people to the NFL is a meh issue. Why, we can replace all those lost all-stars with any scrawny Mexican who can crawl under, climb over, or run around Donald Trump’s wall and make his way to Canada. So not to worry.

“Wonderful, young players,” Commish Randy said of Mexican talent while laying out his global scheme during a fireside chat with Dave Naylor of TSN. “It’s a brand new world, a brave new world out there.”

Sure is. But if Bo Levi Mitchell bolts to the NFL, I doubt John Hufnagel and Dave Dickenson of the Calgary Stampeders will be “brave” enough to replace their starting quarterback with Juan Valdez.

Sorry, but the CFL climbing into bed with Liga de Futbol Ay Chihuahua isn’t the feel-good story Commish Randy makes it out to be. Not when we’re witnessing the football equivalent of a jail break by our premier performers.

Seems to me his time would be better spent working on a CBA that doesn’t pay in Canuck Tire money.

Martha Stewart

In another fireside chat at the CFL winter meetings, Commish Randy channeled his inner Betty Crocker and advised Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun that he wants to “build the mother of all pies. We want to build a big pie.” Terrific. Martha Stewart can succeed him as commissioner when his world vision falls flatter than a sad soufflé.

Commish Randy began building his pie at Estadio Azul in Mexico City on Sunday, with cooks and bottle washers from the nine CFL teams assembling for the inaugural Look Under Every Rock Talent Tour. After observing 50 aspirants run, jump, pass, catch and kick, the consensus seemed to be there were a “couple of guys” who “wouldn’t embarrass themselves” at a training camp. I say we let the Tranna Argonauts have all 50 players. If they fail to make the team, maybe they’ll stay and buy season tickets. That would double attendance at BMO Field from last season.

According to Commish Randy and others, this Mexico’s Got Talent dog-and-pony show is all about growing the game globally. How about growing the game in the Republic of Tranna, Montreal and B.C. first.

Sarah Thomas

The CFL prides itself on diversity, but the NFL one-upped our league this weekend when Sarah Thomas and Terri Valenti worked playoff matches. Thomas became the first woman to officiate a post-season game, serving as the down judge in the American Football Conference division skirmish between the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Brady-Belichicks, while Valenti was the replay official for the Kansas City Chiefs-Indianapolis Colts joust. Awesome.

Moving to a more seasonal topic, I don’t understand why so many people are saying and writing that Rink Rat Scheifele is the engine that drives the Winnipeg Jets. Seems to me that it’s captain Blake Wheeler. Still.

In my next life I want to be a backup goalie or a backup quarterback. They’re always the most popular player with the rabble. A case in point would be Laurent Brossoit, currently Connor Hellebuyck’s caddie with les Jets. Listening to the faithful, Brossoit is boffo and Hellebuyck sucks. And the numbers suggest that. But, no, you don’t want to turn the blue paint over to Brossoit. It’s that old nugget about not fixing what ain’t broke. The Jets sit atop the National Hockey League Central Division leaderboard. They ain’t broke.

Jim Taylor

The West Coast said goodbye to one of Canada’s jock journo legends when Jim Taylor cashed out at age 82 last week on Vancouver Island. There was much to admire about Skull’s scribblings, but what I liked most was his approach to writing sports: Taylor recognized that the games people play aren’t really all that important in the grand scheme of things—hence the term ‘toy department’—so he went about it with a wink and a nod. Taylor used wit and sarcasm, irreverence and cheek to deliver his message of the day to Vancouver Sun and Province readers for 30 years. Sometimes he did it with the bite of a bulldog, other times the purr of a kitten. The main ingredient, however, was humor. He was a funny guy who poked fun and had fun. If there were any sacred cows in his world, no one noticed it in his writing. That’s why he was among my favorites.

Taylor had a quirk: He would run his one-liners by you before he’d ship his copy off to his editors. It was his idea of a test drive. He didn’t have to do that, though. They were all funny and made you laugh. Out loud. And you’d laugh again the next morning when you saw the same line in print.

Taylor’s passing provided pause for ponder on the state of sports writing in our vast nation. There are some fine wordsmiths, people who can spin a yarn and turn a phrase, but I don’t find much cheekiness and humor in most scribblings. The scribes all seem to take themselves so bloody seriously, and I often wonder what some of them are so angry about. It’s probably why I rag on guys like Steve Simmons and Damien Cox so much. They just don’t appear to be having any fun with the gig.

And, finally, is the Drab Slab known as the Winnipeg Free Press ever going to hire a sports columnist? It’s been more than three months since the last guy left the building. Get on with it already.

About wedgies, swirlys and the trying times of Connor McMugged…advice from a meathead…drinking partners…a Finlandectomy for what ails Puck Finn…team values and Torts…ROT Syndrome strikes again…and it happened 40 years ago

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and we’re into the dog days of the NHL season but not the dog days of blogging…

Anyone in Good Ol’ Hometown shedding crocodile tears for the Edmonton Oilers as they attempt to scratch and claw their way to the Stanley Cup runoff?

Didn’t think so.

I mean, if you count yourself among the rabble who root, root, root for the Winnipeg Jets and you remember the 1980s, feeling even a twinge of compassion for the Oil and their faithful is as daft as starting a GoFundMe campaign to pay O.J. Simpson’s legal fees.

Dave Semenko

How often did Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Coffey, Anderson, Fuhr and the lads give les Jets a wedgie? I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count that high. But I do know our guys were usually skating with their tighty whiteys hiked up to their ears. And the Oil repeatedly shoved the Jets’ heads in a toilet and flushed. Yup, wedgies and swirlys. The Boys On the Bus made an art form of hazing and schoolyard bullying. If our guys tried to fight back, Dave Semenko would duct tape one of them to a goal post and that would be the end of it.

So, sorry, there’s no sympathy for the devil. At least there’s not supposed to be. But I can’t help myself.

I like Connor McDavid, you see. A lot. He’s magnificent. No hockey player has captivated me like this since Bobby Orr. Trouble is, he’s surrounded by rubes.

Sinatra got to sing with Count Basie and his orchestra. Astaire got to dance with Ginger Rogers. Lennon and McCartney got to run ideas by one another. And McDavid gets to play with a bunch of guys who have more left feet than a lineup of Vegas show girls.

It’s like watching a John Wayne duster with the Duke riding out to catch the bad guys, only he’s got Larry, Curly, Moe and Shemp for a posse.

It’s slapstick shinny.

Worse yet, the Oilers captain has become Connor McMugged, the National Hockey League’s most talented pinata. A Drew Doughty elbow to the chops here, a nasty Hampus Lindholm shove/crosscheck into the wall there…meh. Nothing to see according to Sheriff George of the player safety committee. Play on. Or, in this case, mug on.

Between Oilers management and the league’s blind eye, I don’t know which is worse. But I do know I feel cheated by both.

That’s why I root for the Oilers to find their way to the playoffs. You don’t like that? Well, as my first sports editor Jack Matheson used to say, sue me.

Andrea Bocelli

Some misguided pundits (I’m looking right at you, Nick Kypreos) urge McDavid to fight back. You know, take the law into his own hands when the ruffians attack.

“I would have loved Connor McDavid to turn around and two-hand Lindholm,” Kypreos said last week on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central at Noon. “I don’t care. If Connor gets suspended a couple of games, so be it. Send a message. Send a message that I’m not taking this, okay? And Connor doesn’t have to fight, but pull the Mark Messier, pull a couple of old-time guys and say ‘Listen, you wanna shove me into the boards? I’m gonna take my stick and I’m gonna jam it down your throat. I don’t care if I get two games, 10 games, I’ll make a hundred and 50, two hundred million dollars by the end of my career, I’ll spend 50 grand, I’ll spend a hundred grand just to send a message to you and everybody else. I ain’t taking this.’ ”

Oh, sure. That’s the ticket. Turn the gooned into the goon. And, while we’re at it, let’s turn Andrea Bocelli into a common street busker. Perhaps we can persuade him to sing backup vocals for Nickelback. Let’s also tell Bill Gates to give up his life of philanthropy and start robbing banks. Maybe tell Stephen King to knock it off with the creepy stuff and start writing fluffy Harlequin romances about blonde bimbos.

As if.

Look, Kypreos was a meathead when he played in the NHL. He spent so much time in stir he should have worn an orange jump suit, not a hockey uniform. He got hit in the head once too often and had to quit because of it. And this meathead is advising McDavid to grow a pair? That’s like Mike Tyson advising Miss Manners how to behave during high tea.

Stay in your lane, Kipper.

Connor McDavid and Aaron Ekblad

Could this be true? When McDavid ran over Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers the other night, apparently it was the 16th time this season that he’s used his body for anything other than making foes look foolish. That’s it? Just 16 bodychecks in 43 skirmishes? Cripes, man, I hit more people than that in the first five minutes of a Boxing Day shoe sale. There’s more body contact in most seniors homes. (I don’t speak from personal experience, but I understand those old folks can be quite randy. Something to look forward to perhaps.) But, again, McDavid is wired for flash, dash and daring, not thump and bump. He’s a swashbuckler, not a shlep. And I don’t want him to change his game any more than I want McDonald’s to cook my next meal.

Enjoyed this nugget from Terry Jones of Postmedia Edmonton: “I’ve never been a referee-baiter. Indeed, I used to spend a lot of nights on the road drinking with them after games. Hockey writers have similar jobs as officials. We call them as we see them. And sometimes we’re wrong.” There’s a very good reason why refs and writers drink together—nobody else will drink with them.

Patrik Laine

The injury bug has taken a big bite out of the Winnipeg Jets lineup. MIA are Dustin Byfuglien (lower body), Twig Ehlers (upper body), Tyler Myers (lower body) and, of course, Patrik Laine (between the ears). Someone once said that Laine could score 40 goals “in his sleep.” Apparently that’s exactly what Puck Finn is trying to do this season. Seriously. Three goals since Dec. 1? Who stole Patrik Laine and stuck Chris Thorburn in his uniform?

Interesting question posed by Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab: Are expectations too high for Puck Finn? Well, Laine has delivered 36- and 44-goal seasons to les Jets, so 35 or more is his standard. Anything less and there’s bound to be much grumbling among the rabble and, likely, some jock journos. No, that isn’t fair, but the kid gave himself two tough acts to follow.

Truthfully, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Puck Finn that an emergency Finlandectomy wouldn’t fix. Hey, it worked earlier during the crusade, didn’t it? I mean, Winnipeg HC toddled off to Finland for a couple of games and the kid responded with an 18-goal November. So send him home for some of mom’s home cooking during the all-star break.

Interesting that the Columbus Blue Jackets disciplined goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky for his failure to meet what an official described as the club’s “expectations and values.” Doesn’t head coach John Tortorella do that every time he opens his gob for a to-and-fro with news snoops?

Mark Giordano

ROT Syndrome definition: “A hallucinatory affliction particular to keyboard jockeys who believe if it doesn’t happen in the Republic of Tranna it doesn’t happen.” Sad to report that Damien Cox continues to show symptoms of advanced ROT Syndrome. We know this because the Toronto Star columnist delivered this tweet last week: “For most, Morgan Rielly is the leading candidate to win the Norris (Trophy).” Who are these mysterious “most” people he mentions? His children? The guys he golfs with? The guys who tune up his car? After all, I doubt “most” of the Flames faithful in Calgary believe Tranna Maple Leafs defenceman Rielly is a more suitable candidate for the Norris than their guy Mark Giordano. What of the rabble in San Jose? Wouldn’t “most” of them be inclined to consider Brent Burns the frontrunner for the top rearguard trinket? Only a news snoop in The ROT would presume that “most” people who watch hockey are convinced Rielly is the cream of the crop. Unfortunately, there’s no known cure for ROT Syndrome, but there is temporary relief: Take two aspirin and actually watch a game outside the eastern time zone.

And, finally, if you’re into milestones, circle May 20 and Oct. 10 on your calendars. Those dates mark the 40th anniversaries of les Jets’ final World Hockey Association title and Winnipeg HC’s baptism in the NHL. I don’t know what I should celebrate—having witnessed those historic moments or still being able to remember them.