Let’s talk about Howie Meeker and raccoon droppings for $2,000, Alex…fake news and Leavenworth…Vlad the Gifted and Ball Park Franks…Sid and Connor say it’s okay to be gay…and other things on my mind

A Monday morning smorgas-bored…and I never realized how little I knew until Alex Trebek showed up on TV…

In honor of Canadian TV icon Alex Trebek, who left us at age 80 on Sunday, let’s play Jeopardy!

CLUE: Golly gee and Jiminy Crickets, this man was a National Hockey League rookie-of-the-year who scored five goals in one game, a four-times Stanley Cup champion, an all-star, a Member of Parliament, and a broadcasting icon on Hockey Night in Canada.

ANSWER: Who is Howie Meeker?

CLUE: Howie died at the age of 97 on Sunday, meaning this man is now the oldest living Toronto Maple Leaf.

ANSWER: Who is Joe Thornton?

Howie Meeker and Dave Hodge

I remember sitting in the media room of the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver one night many winters ago, gnoshing on a plate of free food while having a pre-game natter with either Friar Nicolson or Sod Keilback.

Actually, it might have been both of the Winnipeg Jets radio guys. No matter.

At some point, Meeker joined us at our table and the chin-wag focused on Dale Hawerchuk, the captain and centrepiece of a decent Jets outfit. I suggested that Ducky had been off his game a bit, but Howie would have none of it.

“Ah, you don’t know a hockey puck from a pinch of coon shit,” he informed me.

I’m not sure why, but hearing Howie Meeker pooh-pooh my hockey know-how somehow made me feel good. I mean, the Squeaker was already a legend of the Hockey Night in Canada blurt box by then, so it was an absolute honor to have him break bread with a stray scribe from the flatlands and, at the same time, confirm that my grasp of the game was no better than a pinch of raccoon droppings. Never before had someone so famous told me I was full of crap.

I thought perhaps Howie was going to pull out his telestrator and draw some squiggly lines to emphasize his point, or maybe even whack me upside the head with the thing.

But no. Howie wasn’t being mean. He was being Howie. Blunt.

That was my only inter-action with Meeker, so I never got to know him in any depth. But, like so many others, I knew him from his HNIC gig, where he’d break down a play and instruct one of the boys in the truck to “Stop it right there!” or to “Back it up!” or, when a defenceman was beaten badly, he’d show the replay and, in a scolding tone, squawk, “What’s he doing down on his knees looking for nickels?”

Howie wasn’t into tap dancing, and his tell-it-like-it-isms surely livened up HNIC intermissions. He gave the show juice and made it fun.

My mom, mind you, thought Howie to be quite the noisy and annoying know-it-all, and I’m sure she would have been horrified by his table manners. But I got a kick out of the guy, coon droppings and all.

Speaking of former HNIC squawkers, Dave Hodge made me giggle with this tweet after jock legends Bobby Orr, Jack Nicklaus and Brett Favre had raised their voices in support of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election: “Thanks to Orr, Nicklaus and Favre, Donald Trump says the only channel that doesn’t broadcast fake news is ESPN.”

Donald Trump

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star describes Trump as a “distinctly unpopular politician.” Ya, he’s so unpopular that only 70,903,094 Americans voted for him. That’s more than Barack Obama tallied in 2008 and ’12. It beats Hilary Clinton’s total in 2016. It’s more than double what JFK received in 1960. We should all be so “distinctly unpopular.”

The Washington Nationals want president-elect Joe Biden to toss the ceremonial first pitch at their Major League Baseball home opener in 2021. To which former broadcaster Peter Young tweets: “Trump counters with claim he’ll throw out the first pitch at Leavenworth.” That made me laugh.

Just wondering: Does Trump’s election loss mean Mexico doesn’t have to pay for his invisible wall?

Speaking of money, I read something the other day about Microsoft dude Bill Gates saying his three children would inherit only $10 million each from his $100 billion-plus fortune, because giving them “massive amounts of money is not a favor to them.” Excuse me? Ten million bucks isn’t a massive amount of money? C’mon, man, that’s like saying Babe Ruth was a singles hitter.

In the past MLB season, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. couldn’t hit his own weight. Literally. He arrived at Summer Camp a whopping 282 pounds, was promptly shifted from third to first base, and hit .262. But word out of Toronto Blue Jays Nation is that Vlad the Gifted is no longer Vlad the Bloated. That’s right, Vladdy’s lost 32 pounds of blubber and now tips the Toledo at 250, give or take a side order of Nathan’s Ball Park Franks. He also wants his old job back with the Tranna Nine, at third base. That would be quite a trip: From the hot dog stand to the hot corner.

Bayne Pettinger

I’m not convinced that the outing of player agent Bayne Pettinger moves the needle toward acceptance of an openly gay performer in the National Hockey League, but the enthusiastic support from Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid might carry some sway with a young, closeted gay kid who’s thinking of quitting the game. Both Crosby and McDavid are fully behind Pettinger, a former Hockey Canada operations manager now with CAA Hockey, and if the game’s greatest players say it’s okay to be gay, then it’s okay.

If the day dawns when an NHL player chooses to come out, he’d be wise to follow the Pettinger blueprint: Find a trusted news snoop to tell the story, which Pettinger did in Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, and do it during down time, which is to say the off-season. That way, the fuss and muss and circus is dispensed with long before training exercises commence, and he can simply get on with getting on.

Like most newspaper sports editors, Steve Lyons of the Drab Slab is expected to find room in his section for female sports. “It’s not always easy,” he wrote on Nov. 5. “The reality is there are less women participating in sports and there are less women’s pro leagues. That adds up—or I guess doesn’t add up to an equal number of stories to be written and published. We can’t control how many wire stories we get each day on women’s sports, so our solution to moving the needle in this area has always been to focus on being as equitable as possible on local sports. While I did once win a national award for a series on gender equity in sports, I’m a guy—and slow sometimes—so, I admit to needing to be poked and kept aware on this subject.” Toward that end, Lyons is bringing Andrea Katz on board, and she’ll be writing about the distaff side of the playground “once or twice a month.” That’s a good thing.

Rafa Nadal

Rafael Nadal didn’t triumph at the Paris Masters tennis tournament, but much was made of the fact Rafa joined the 1,000-win club and trails only Jimmy Connors (1,274), Roger Federer (1,242) and Ivan Lendl (1068) in career singles victories during the Open Era. Not true. Rafa and everyone else is still chasing the great Martina Navratilova and her 1,442 singles match victories. And before they catch Martina, they have to catch Chrissie Evert (1,309 Ws). Just saying.

And, finally, another example of the shameful Torontofication of the Winnipeg Sun could be found on the sports front Nov. 3. It was a piece on Jeffrey Knox Jr., and don’t feel bad if you’re not familiar with the name. A vagabond football player last seen in frolic with the Ottawa RedBlacks, Knox Jr. signed to join the Toronto Argos for a 2020 Canadian Football League crusade that never happened, and now he’s facing an attempted homicide rap, among other things, in the U.S. He never played in Winnipeg for the Blue Bombers. Yet one of the geniuses on the Postmedia sports desk decided that his tale of woe was what sports fans in Good Ol’ Hometown wanted to read first and foremost on Nov. 3, rather than Ted Wyman’s real-news piece on local sports facilities and rec leagues going dark for two weeks due to COVID-19. They tucked Ted’s article on Page 4. Sigh.

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