Winnipeg Sports 1970-present: The top-50 movers and shakers

Something a little different today, kids.

Rather than the usual Sunday morning smorgas-bored, I give you the top 50-plus movers and shakers in Good Ol’ Hometown over the past half century.

This isn’t one of those hum-drum, greatest-athlete lists. We’re talking positive impact, what a sports figure did to enhance the local sporting landscape, whether that meant the wow factor of Teemu Selanne’s 76-goal rookie season or Harvey Warner keeping the ponies at a full gallop out at Assiniboia Downs.

And, while our play-for-pay jocks tend to gobble up the big headlines on a day-to-day basis, it’s often the owners and managers and coaches and administrators who make things happen when we aren’t staring at the scoreboard, and that also means our amateur playing fields, where we have a rich tradition of magnificence and the impact has been significant.

So here’s the list of the 50-plus most-impactful movers and shakers in Winnipeg sports dating back to 1970, and I should warn you that this list includes jock journos, because once upon a time before the Internet, 24-hour TV and social media, there was a gadget called the radio. Not every game was televised or live streamed. We needed our newspapers and radios to take us to the action.

One final note: Remember, this is only one person’s opinion, so don’t get your knickers in a twist if you don’t see the name of one of your faves.

Ben Hatskin, the day he signed Bobby Hull at Portage and Main.

1. Ben Hatskin: Well, this is the ultimate no-brainer. It’s like naming Pope Francis to an all-Catholic team. I mean, Benny didn’t just bring the Winnipeg Jets and the World Hockey Association to Good Ol’ Hometown in 1972, he hijacked Bobby Hull from the Chicago Blackhawks in a shocking coup that reshaped the shinny landscape. Without Benny’s derring-do, there would have been no National Hockey League Jets 1.0 and no Jets 2.0.

2. Mark Chipman: The Puck Pontiff filled the void left by the 1996 departure of the Jets to Arizona, but his Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League and the American Hockey League were just the appetizer. Aided by billionaire David Thomson’s bulging bankroll, there was an NHL rebirth in River City in 2011, with the Atlanta Thrashers moving north. Oh, and did I mention that along the way Chipman and Thomson built a downtown arena?

3. Bobby Hull: The Golden Jet informed Hatskin and the other WHA renegade owners that it would take $1 million dollars for him to leave the Blackhawks and pull on a Jets jersey in ’72. Done deal. The Hull signing legitimized the WHA, and other top-level players soon followed. And, remember, Robert Marvin was also part of the ownership group that took the Jets into the NHL.

Michael Gobuty

4. Michael Gobuty/Barry Shenkarow: I know, I know. Michael is the guy who let Wayne Gretzky get away. Mook. But don’t hold that against him. Michael and his ownership group kept the Jets afloat in the late 1970s, allowing for one final, rewarding whirl in the WHA by purchasing the contracts of a group of Houston Aeros, including Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich, Rich Preston and Scott Campbell. He also recruited John Bowie Ferguson, and Michael offered a loud and influential voice in the NHL’s decision to absorb the Jets and three other WHA franchises in 1979.  As for Barry, talk about shooting the messenger. By the time the whole thing went south for Jets 1.0, he was front man for the ownership group that sold the club to American buyers, who then loaded up the truck and bugged out to Arizona, lock, stock and jock. So Barry became the fall guy. But it’s a bad rap. No locals were willing to dig into their deep pockets to purchase the franchise and lose millions of dollars every year, so he/they really had no choice.

Cal Murphy

5. Cal Murphy: Cantankerous, curmudgeonly and very funny, Cal ruled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers roost with an iron fist from 1983-96, as either head coach or general manager. Along the way, there were three Grey Cup championships, one heart transplant, and one human rights kerfuffle over female news snoops in the locker room. He also brought the Grey Cup game to Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time, and became a vocal advocate for organ donations. Today there’s a pigeon perch of Kindly Cal outside Football Follies Field In Fort Garry.

6. Wade Miller: The leader of the Canadian Mafia inherited a Sad Sack, laughing stock-level Bombers team and the longest title drought in the Canadian Football League when he was anointed CEO in 2013. He was more like the CE-D’oh! in the early years, but Wade ignored the wolves howling at his door and stuck by his fellow hosers, GM Kyle Walters and sideline steward Mike O’Shea. Today the Bombers reign as Grey Cup champions, with money in the bank, and only the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Miller down.

Anders Hedberg, agent Don Baizley and Ulf Nilsson.

7. Dr. Gerry Wilson/Billy Robinson/Don Baizley: No North American shinny side tapped into the European hockey market as swiftly, deeply and as eagerly as the Jets, and it was this trio of forward-thinkers that brought the first wave of Scandinavians to Good Ol’ Hometown in the mid-1970s. Dr. Wilson caught the first glimpse of Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson and alerted Robinson, the Jets main bird dog. Robby scampered across the big pond to Sweden and liked what he saw, signing both players pronto. Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Curt Larsson came along for the ride, and player agent Baizley took them under his wing. Championship parades ensued.

8. Anders/Ulf/the Shoe: It’s no exaggeration to suggest Anders and Ulf revolutionized the game once in partnership with Hull. They made magic with their swashbuckling, freestyle frolicking on the local freeze, but it was Sjoberg—the Shoe—who stirred the drink from the back end. Together, they dominated the WHA and—damn them!—also provided Glen Sather with the blueprint for his Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s.

John Ferguson and Ducky at the 1981 NHL entry draft.

9. John Ferguson: So, here’s the irony—he was the cad who lured the ultra-popular Hedberg and Nilsson away from Portage and Main to make them stars on Broadway, then the Rangers fired Fergy and he joined the Jets to oversee their final WHA title and aid the entry into the NHL. Go figure. Full of bluster and occasional rage, Fergy made certain that life around the Jets camp was never boring, which sometimes meant kicking holes in walls and dumping buckets of ice on the opposing team’s bench. As Jets GM, he assembled a string of formidable NHL outfits during the 1980s, even if he couldn’t quite get them over the hump. Stars like Dale Hawerchuk, Teemu Selanne, David Babych, Thomas Steen and Dave Christian were drafted during his watch, and we won’t talk about Jimmy Mann.

10. Clara Hughes: When they name parks, playgrounds and schools in your honor, and when they put your pic on a postage stamp, you know you’ve done something right. Clara is a two-sport Olympian—speed skating and cycling—and the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. But it’s her advocacy on behalf of mental health and children’s sports/recreation that makes Clara truly impactful. She’s a leading voice in the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and she’s donated/raised many thousands of dollars for various causes.

11. Cindy Klassen: She has as many shiny Olympic trinkets as Clara Hughes (six), including one gold medal, so Clara’s two-sport bona fides is all that separates the two world champion speed skaters.

12. Chris Walby: If ever there’s been a larger-than-life athlete, it was Bluto—all 6-feet, 7-inches and 300-plus pounds of him (give or take a Big Mac and a six pack). Bluto grabbed grass and growled for the Bombers from 1981-96, collecting three Grey Cup rings, nine CFL all-star nods, two top O-lineman awards, and a bust in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. But it wasn’t just what he did on the field and his size that made Bluto stand out. He was among the great characters in Rouge Football, a good-time Charlie and a deliverer of delicious quotes. No surprise he became a talking head on CBC’s football coverage, even if English sometimes seemed to be his second language.

13. Dale Hawerchuk: He came to the Jets as a freshly scrubbed 18-year-old from Cornwall, and much was expected of Ducky. He delivered. Winnipeg HC went from the free space on the NHL’s bingo card to the best shinny outfit this side of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and Ducky was the centrepiece.

Jennifer Jones and Jill Officer

14. Jennifer Jones: The only thing Jennifer hasn’t won is the Brier, and that’s only because the boys won’t let her play. There’s never been a finer female curler in our country, even if some in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia might want to point to Sandra Schmirler and Colleen Jones and debate the issue. Well, let ’em hash it out. We know they’re wrong.

15. Jill Officer: It will be interesting to monitor how Jennifer gets along without Jill throwing second stones. They were together almost as long as Mick and Keith, but Officer retreated from competitive curling in 2018. Jill’s haul is the same as Jen’s: An Olympic gold, two world championships and six Scotties titles in her trophy case. Also one park named in her honor.

Teemu Selanne and the Calder Trophy

16. Teemu Selanne: Like Anders and Ulf, the Finnish Flash wasn’t in Good Ol’ Hometown for a long time, but it sure was a good time. Those 76 goals in his freshman NHL crusade had the burg in a buzz, and it’s a record that will stand as long as there are frozen ponds for kids to skate on. Teemu might have been the most popular Jet ever, give or take Ducky.

17. Don Duguid: The Digit toddled off to two world curling championships as a skip and never lost a game. Yup, 17-0. Dugie then thought it would be a swell idea to go on TV and tell the rest of us how to curl, which he did for 29 years until someone at the CBC had a brain fart and let him go. And just the other day he was made a member of the Order of Canada for his wonderful work as a curler and teacher of the game.

Moosie Turnbull

18. Ray Turnbull: His friends called him Moosie, and he had scads of friends in and beyond the curling community. A true visionary, Moosie’s impact began at the Mother Club on Granite Way, but his influence spread across the globe when he buddied up with Don Duguid for instructional clinics to curling curious nations beginning in the 1970s. So he’s largely to blame for the rest of the world catching up to us on pebbled ice. A broadcasting icon with TSN from 1984 to 2010, Moosie coached no fewer than 17 world champions.

19. Frank McKinnon: Those who knew him best would probably tell us that Frank never slept, because he didn’t have time for zzzzzzs. How busy was he? Let me count the ways: Five years president and 20 years on the executive board of Hockey Manitoba; 10 years commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League; founding father of the Centennial Cup tournament and the inaugural World Junior championship; first chairman of the board of Hockey Canada; two years director Sports Federation of Canada; four years vice-president Canadian Olympic Association; founding member of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. Frank was based in Carman, but he spent enough time in Good Ol’ Hometown to qualify for this list.

20. Donny Lalonde: The Golden Boy was in the ring with Sugar Ray. Yes, that Sugar Ray, as in Leonard. He even put the boxing legend on the canvas—one of only two men to do so—scoring a fourth-round knockdown in their 1988 bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Alas, Sugar Ray ruled the day, battering Lalonde about the ears in the ninth round and scoring a TKO. But it’s enough that the Golden Boy went from working out in the old firehall gym on Talbot Avenue in Elmwood to champion of the boxing world’s light heavyweights.

21. Jeff Stoughton: It’s easier to break out of jail than win the Manitoba men’s curling championship, but Jeff wore the Buffalo on his back 11 times. Crazy, man. A two-time world champion and three times the best at the Brier, Jeff also has two Canadian Mixed titles on his resume. Once he retired his tuck delivery and his spinorama showtime shtick, he took to coaching and administration, first helping Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris strike gold in Mixed Doubles at the Seoul Olympics, and he’s now coach and program manager for the national men’s team.

Coleen Dufresne and Garth Pischke.

22. Coleen Dufresne: When you spend 17 years coaching and another 15 as athletic director at the University of Manitoba, you’ve had an impact on more young people than you can count. Coleen, who wore the Maple Leaf as a player at the 1976 Olympic Games, coached U of M Bisons women’s basketball teams to three national championships and five Great Plains Athletic Conference titles. She is a member of the Basketball Manitoba Hall of Fame in three categories—builder, coach and player—and the Canada West Hall of Fame.

23. Garth Pischke: Tom Hanks talked to a volleyball in the movies, but Garth made people talk volleyball in real life. Nobody put the W in the word “win” like Garth. He won a staggering 1,353 games in his 38 seasons as mastermind of the U of M Bisons men’s volleyball team, losing just 414 times. Chew on that and digest it—1,353-414. Who does that? Only Pischke, the winningest coach in collegiate V-ball history, on either side of the border. A two-time Olympian and six-time MVP at the Nationals as a player, Garth coached the Bisons to nine national titles and was named the Manitoba amateur athlete of the 20th century.

Brian Dobie

24. Brian Dobie: If this was just about being a nice guy, the U of M Bisons football coach would be at, or near, the top of the heap. Lovely man. He’s been sideline steward of the Herd since 1996, a gig that came on the heels of a 21-year watch with Churchill Bulldogs in high school grid. Do the math. Coach Dobie has been impacting the lives of teenagers and young men for close to half a century. Oh, and he’s also a five-time Canada West coach-of-the-year and a USports coach-of-the-year, plus he brought the Vanier Cup to the Fort Garry campus in 2007.

25. Vic Pruden: There was no women’s or men’s intercollegiate basketball program at the University of Winnipeg (nee United College) until Vic came along, so all the hoops glory stems from there. The annual Wesmen Classic was Vic’s brain child, ditto the Fort Garry Invitational. The Wesmen Classic became such a landmark event that it had to be shuffled from Riddell Hall to the Winnipeg Arena, and was televised nationally. Vic was also founder and first president of the Manitoba Basketball Coaches’ Association.

Tom Kendall and his U of W Lady Wesmen

26. Coach Tom Kendall/University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen: Few took notice of women’s hoops back in the day, but then along came coach Kendall and his fabulous University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen who, from October 1992 to November 1994, never lost a game. Eighty-eight teams tried to topple them, and 88 teams failed. Even fabled UCLA coach John Wooden was talking about the Lady Wesmen. Under Kendall’s watch, the Lady Ws went 101-2, with three national titles.

27. Coach Mike Burchuk/U of W Lady Wesmen volleyball team: The U of W women’s hoopsters received the 250-point newspaper headlines for their 88-game winning streak, but the women on the volleyball court trumped them with 123 consecutive Ws from January 1987 to January 1989. That included a 58-0 record in 1987-88 and, along the way, the ladies won six consecutive national titles and beat the NCAA champion Texas Longhors and a pro team, the Minnesota Monarchs.

Jennifer Botterill

28. Jennifer Botterill: It should be enough to say that Jennifer is the only female player ever inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, but we’ll also mention that she’s a three-time Olympic champion, five times a world champion, two times the Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the top player in U.S. women’s college hockey, twice the MVP at the world championship, and she once had an 80-game scoring streak (beat that, Connor McDavid!). If young girls are looking for a role model, Jen’s it.

29. Paul Robson: Can a sports list be complete without a guy named Mad Dog on it? We think not. So come on down, Mad Dog Robson, architect of the Winnipeg Football Club’s return to glory in the 1980s, a Lazarus-like rebirth that included the 1984 Grey Cup championship crusade, the first in 22 years. His handiwork as assistant GM/GM included going stealth to lure Chris Walby out of Montreal, hiring Cal Murphy as sideline steward, and engineering the Dieter Brock-for-Tom Clements trade. Paul was also once publisher of the Winnipeg Sun, but we won’t penalize him for that.

Harvey Warner

30. Harvey Warner: It’s probably safe to say the ponies wouldn’t be galloping at Assiniboia Downs if not for Harvey and his Manitoba Jockey Club. Harvey is a founding father and current president of the MJC, which took possession of the Downs in 1993. It’s never been an easy ride for Harvey and cohorts like Darren Dunn and Sharon Gulyas out at the racing oval on the western edge of Good Ol’ Hometown, but they’ve managed to keep the barns open and the horses fed and watered. So, yes, the reins have been in the right man’s hands for 27 years.

31. Mike Riley: When Leo Durocher coined the phrase “nice guys finish last,” he certainly wasn’t thinking of a guy like Mike Riley. Aside from bringing the Grey Cup home twice in his four years as sideline steward of the Bombers, Mike might be the most decent man to ever coach a pro team in Good Ol’ Hometown (John Paddock would be second in line), and that counts for something on my scorecard.

Milt Stegall

32. Milt Stegall: The Turtle Man would be higher on this list, except for one thing—every time I look at his hands, I don’t see any Grey Cup rings. For all his personal accomplishments—all-time TD leader in CFL history with 147 and a Most Outstanding Player award—the Bombers had just four winning seasons in his 14 crusades. No player ever looked better while mostly losing, though, and he’d be the first to tell you that. Milt continues to be a Bombers booster as one of the gab guys on TSN’s CFL coverage, and that’s always a good thing.

33. Sam Katz: Full disclosure—I’m not fond of Sammy. I think him to be a snake oil salesman. If he told me today is Sunday, I’d double check the calendar. But he brought professional baseball back to Good Ol’ Hometown, and the Winnipeg Goldeyes frolic in a beautiful, downtown ballyard thanks to Sammy.

Andy Van Hellemond

34. Andy Van Hellemond: Whistleblowers don’t always get respect, but Andy Van did. The kid weaned on the frozen ponds of Isaac Brock was, arguably, the best man to ever pull on a striped shirt, and he was also a trend-setter, becoming the first on-ice official to wear a helmet, in 1984. The NHL made lids mandatory for the zebras four years later (a grandfather clause allowed some to officiate sans head protection until 2006-07). Andy Van refereed 1,475 regular season games, 227 in the playoffs and 19 Stanley Cup finals, all records. He was named Manitoba’s referee-of-the-century.

35. Sylvia Burka: Before Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen and Susan Auch, there was Sylvia Burka, three times a world speed skating champion. She has held over 40 Canadian speedskating records, and once set a world indoor cycling mark at one kilometer. She won 12 national cycling titles. But her true legacy can be found in the skate marks she left for others to follow.

36. Dawn McEwen: I suppose you could say Dawn is to Team Jennifer Jones what Ringo Starr was to the Beatles. She seems content in the background while Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Cathy Overton-Clapham attracted most of the attention, but without her lead stones and robust sweeping they wouldn’t have become the finest female outfit in Canadian curling history. Dawn has an Olympic gold medal, two world titles and five Scotties crowns in her trophy case, so don’t even think of her as a spare part.

Gold medalists Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris.

37. Kaitlyn Lawes: She branched out from throwing third stones for Jennifer Jones to strike Olympic gold with John Morris in the debut of mixed doubles at the Winter Olympic Games. So she has a nice collection of two gold trinkets, a world championship and a Scotties title.

38. Susan Auch: Although never making it to the top level of the Olympic podium, Susan made speed skating front page news in Good Ol’ Hometown with two silver medals and a bronze in the Winter Games, three gold in World Cup racing in 1995, three Manitoba athlete-of-the-year honors and a Canadian athlete-of-the-year salute. There’s a Susan Auch Oval out at the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex and a Susan Auch Park in Transcona, and she’s now CEO of Speed Skating Canada.

39. Troy Westwood/David Asper: Board member Asper came up with the concept and gave the Banjo Bowl it’s name, but it was the spinoff of a quote from Ol’ Lefty, the former Bombers place-kicker who, in an interview prior to a 2003 playoff skirmish, called Saskatchewan Roughriders fans “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds.” Much caterwauling from the Flattest of Lands ensued, and the Banjo Bowl was born in 2004. It’s the most-anticipated event on the local sports calendar every year, and it’s been strictly SRO since 2005. When he wasn’t trash talking Flatlanders, Ol’ Lefty was hoofing more field goals (617) and more points (2,745) than anyone in Bombers history.

40. Connie Laliberte: They called her the Ice Queen, but underneath that cucumber-cool exterior burned a competitive bonfire. Connie gave every female curler in Manitoba something to aim for when she became the first Buffalo Girl to win the world crown, in 1984. She also won three Scotties titles and today is the high performance director for Curl Manitoba.

Sandy Riley

41. Sandy Riley: The former sailor (1976 Olympic Games) and former president of the Manitoba Sports Federation served as chair of Winnipeg’s 1999 Pan American Games, an event that helped revive the sagging spirit of a city that had lost its NHL franchise only three years earlier. As a bonus, it attracted the attention of Ol’ Cigar Breath, Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, who used his Revolution Day address to go on a mini-rant about mysterious “traps and tricks and schemes and filth” that encouraged his athletes to clamber over the wall to freedom. Cuban defectors aside, the Pan Ams were an artistic and financial success. More latterly, the Riley family donated $500,000 toward construction of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.

42. Dayna Spiring: It doesn’t matter that Dayna wasn’t on the receiving end of any passes, nor did she hoof any field goals or tackle any running backs. The lady was a champ in her first year as Chair of the Blue Bombers board of directors, and she became the first woman to have her name engraved on the Grey Cup. For young girls and women, that makes her Dayna Inspiring.

43. Desiree Scott: A former star and coach with the U of M Bisons, the lady they call The Destroyer joined our national women’s soccer side in 2010, and she’s now just one of five to have earned 150 caps. Along the way, she’s collected two Olympic bronze medals and participated in three World Cup tournaments. Away from the competitive pitch, Desiree is heavily involved with soccer camps for KidSport and she’s an ambassador for the Homeless World Cup.

44. Bill Wedlake: A head coach for 32 years, first at St. John’s High where he won two provincial titles, then 16 years at the U of W, Bill was also athletic director at the downtown campus for eight years. A co-founder of the Winnipeg Invitational tournament, he’s written three books on coaching and is a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

45. Mo Glimcher: If you think it’s tough dealing with teenagers these days, consider Mo Glimcher’s gig—he had 30,000-40,000 kids under foot every year between 1975 and 2016. Mo retired after 41 years as Executive Director of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association, and I’d say he’s earned a master’s degree in babysitting.

46. Bob Picken: There are three major sports operatives in Good Ol’ Hometown—the Jets, the Blue Bombers, and curling. Yes, curling. Our Pebble People don’t make the big bucks like the Jets and Bombers, but they don’t want for media exposure, due in large part to jock journos like Pick. Pebble People have never known a better media friend than Pick, whose magnificent pipes blessed the airwaves of CJOB, CKY and the CBC for half a century. He played the game, served as president of the Manitoba Curling Association, worked with both the Canadian Curling Association and the World Curling Federation, and there’s a bonspiel at the Thistle named in his honor. Pick made certain that curling was never back-page news or filler at the end of a sportscast.

47. Jack Matheson: Admittedly, there’s bias in this choice, because Matty gave me my start at the Winnipeg Tribune, but his sassy and brassy sports column was the only absolute must-read in town during the 1970s. And when Furnaceman fired him up for his daily rants on CJOB, it was must-listening. Matty set an incredibly high bar as a sports scribe, and no one has come close to reaching it since the Trib folded.

Friar Nicolson and his former sidekick Sod Keilback.

48. Friar Nicolson: There’s no way of knowing how many young men and women went into broadcasting because of the curmudgeonly Friar, but I’d suggest the number is closer to 50 than one. The longtime play-by-play voice of the Jets, Friar is the man who lured Knuckles Irving to CJOB in 1973, and he also gave one-time do-everything CKY/CTV voice Peter Young his start in the gab game. That’s serious impact.

49. Bob Irving: When Knuckles became the voice of the Blue Bombers, Don Jonas and Chuck Ealey were the starting QBs and Dieter Brock was a little-known rookie who answered to the name Ralph. Bud Riley was the head coach, and there have been 14 more since Knuckles moved in behind the mic. So he goes back some, and he’s still going. At least he was until COVID-19 interrupted regularly schedule play-by-play. We assume (hope) the well-liked and highly respected Knuckles will be back for a 46th season once the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.

50. Don Wittman: How versatile was Witt? Well, we know he covered the CFL and the NHL and tennis and the Olympics and world-class track and top-flight curling during close to half a century with the CBC, but he also broadcast cricket. Ya, cricket. Witt traveled the globe and was on site to call the Ben Johnson race in Seoul and Donovan Bailey in Atlanta, but home base was always Winnipeg.

Let’s talk about empty seats in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie after COVID-19…what’s on my book shelf?…tee times…horrible takes on Ponytail Puck…a bull session with Chris Streveler in the Drab Slab…and other things on my mind

There’s been much natter about National Hockey League millionaires returning this summer to perform in front of empty seats in four select cities, none of which will be named Winnipeg (reportedly).

That’s a deep concern because the NHL is a gate-driven enterprise.

There is, however, a greater fret and threat looming. Try this: How many of those empty seats will remain unoccupied once the faithful have been given the okie-dokie to gather in groups and return to rinks hither and yon?

The Jets have made due with 15,000 and change at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie since 2011 and, once they’ve finished feeding at the public trough, it’s believed there’s black ink on the bottom line of the balance sheet. The profit is likely minimal, but we don’t know for certain because True North Sports+Entertainment has never been eager to open its books, even as it smugly expects the rabble to continue opening their wallets.

Unfortunately, the scourge that is COVID-19 has many thousands of workers also feeding from the public trough, and some of them won’t have a job at the far end of the pandemic.

It’s tough to part with thousands of dollars in support of the players’ millionaire lifestyles when you’re on pogey.

So let’s say the Jets lose 1,000 customers post-COVID-19 and can’t replace them. Is the NHL doable in Good Ol’ Hometown with just 14K in the pews? Well, when the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011, I seem to recall NHL commish Gary Bettman saying something about sellouts and SRO audiences being the absolute, no-margin-for-error requirement.

If so, 14,000 customers won’t cut it.

Oh, sure, the Jets boast of a robust wait list, so any available tickets would be scooped up faster than toilet paper at the start of the pandemic. But whoa Nellie. That was pre-COVID-19. The game has changed. It costs $100 (non-refundable) per annum to stay on that list, and $50 (non-refundable) to get on that list. Know anyone with a spare C-note or 50-dollar bill lying around these days, just in the hope of spending in excess of $1,000 to watch the millionaires frolic on the local freeze?

This isn’t meant to be a doomsday essay. It’s simply a cautionary note that once there’s a vaccine and the NHL arrives at its “new normal,” crowd concern might not be limited to warm-weather locales like Sunrise, Fla, and Glendale, Ariz. It might hit hard at the frost-bitten heart of the continent as well.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been catching up on my reading during the COVID-19 lockdown. So far, these have been my favorite books:

  • My Pants Were Always Lower Than My Score: The Sex Scandal That Sank Tiger Woods, In His Own Words.

  • If It’s Too Late for a Prenup, I’m Totally Screwed: The Tiger Woods Tell-All About Infidelity and Divorce (with special forward by Elin Nordegren).

  • I Bit Off More Than I Could Chew: Mike Tyson Recounts the Night He Made a Snack Out of Evander Holyfield’s Ear.

  • D’oh Canada! The Duping of a Dope: The Rise and Fall of Ben Johnson at the Seoul Olympics.

  • Deflated: Who Really Let the Air Out of Tom Brady’s Balls (with special forward by Gisele Bundchen)?

  • The Dead Speak Scrolls: Complete Transcripts of Everything Bill Belichick has Ever Said that the Media Understood (Total number of pages-2).

  • Serena Williams

    I’ll Shove This %$#% Ball Down Your *%$#% Throat: Memoirs of Serena Williams at the U.S. Open.

  • Grey Cup and the Groupie: E! News Canada Takes A Deep Dive Into the Glen Suitor-Keith Urban Broadcast Booth Bromance (with special forward by Nicole Kidman).

  • You People: The Official Don Cherry Code of Conduct for Wannabe Canadians, where the former star of Coach’s Corner explains Milk & Honey & Poppies & EVERYTHINK LIKE THAT!

  • Still Searching In A White Ford Bronco After All These Years: O.J. Simpson Takes Us to Various Golf Courses In His Hunt for the Real Killers.

Speaking of golf, it looks like some courses across the land will be opening next month (a few in my neck of the woods never closed). I haven’t swung the sticks in more than 12 years, but I’ve been thinking about my ideal foursome were I ever to tee it up again. This is it: Moi, Alison Krauss, Babs Streisand and, of course, Jesus, because I figure that walk-on-water thing might come in handy given my skill level.

Oh drat. The Scripps National Spelling Bee in the U.S. has fallen victim to COVID-19, canceled for the first time since World War II. Such a shame. I was really looking forward to watching 10-year-old kids make me feel like a complete doofus again. Or is that spelled d-u-f-u-s? Or d-o-o-f-a-s? Or d-u-f-is? Or d-u-f-f-a-s? Geez, where’s a 10-year-old whiz kid when you really need one?

I note that Scotiabank Arena in the Republic of Tranna is now a kitchen, where they’re cooking 10,000 meals a day for front-line health workers, their families and the needy. Just wondering: How will the Tranna media make that feel-good story about Drake?

So, the National Women’s Hockey League has added an expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna and, not surprisingly, at least one of the Dream Gappers (Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association) couldn’t resist the urge to take a cheap shot at the team to be named later. That would be Liz Knox, who attempted to paint NWHL execs as uncaring, tone-deaf oafs for conducting business during the pandemic. “It’s difficult to imagine expansion being at the forefront of many business strategies,” she snarked in a text message. Oh, for sure, Liz. No businesses should look ahead to the day COVID-19 is behind us. The NHL shouldn’t make plans to finish its season or begin the 2020-21 crusade. The National Football League shouldn’t have conducted its draft last week. And, hey, Roger Federer has no business talking about a marriage between the women’s and men’s pro tennis tours. All sports operations should just sit and twiddle their thumbs. What a pathetic take, but totally in line with the PWHPA hate-on for the NWHL, which refuses to get out of the Dream Gappers’ way.

Tim & Sid granted air time on Sportsnet to another Dream Gapper, Natalie Spooner, who informed the boys that the PWHPA will “keep fighting for what we deserve.” Part of what they claim they “deserve” is a living wage, but none of the Dream Gappers has ever explained how anyone can pay for it.

Second worst take on the NWHL franchise in The ROT came from (who else?) Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna.

“It has been officially announced that Toronto has been awarded an expansion team in the National Women’s Hockey League,” he scribbled without allowing his grey matter and fingers to connect. “What hasn’t been announced: the team’s name; the team’s logo; the team’s venue. And some of those things, if not all of them, can make an outsider rather skeptical and troubled about the future of this kind of endeavour. You don’t gain credibility by announcing a team with no name, no place to play, and no big-name players. When you have all that in place, then make the announcement. The press release referred to the expansion team as a ‘first class team of professionals.’ Time will answer that, but the new Toronto Whatevers are not off to a great start.”

Really? There’s no credibility without a team name, a team logo or big-name players? Like the NHL’s expansion franchise in Seattle? The one that was announced in December 2018 and, 16 months later, remains without a team name, a team logo or any players. Or like the NHL Las Vegas expansion franchise that was announced in June 2016 without a team name, a team logo or any players? Or like the Jets, who arrived in Winnipeg sans a team name or a team logo in 2011?

Or does that lack of “credibility” only apply to female shinny outfits with no name, no logo and no big-name players at startup?

Simmons is on record as saying Ponytail Puck is a “charade,” so he’d be wise to concentrate on Golden Boy Auston Matthews’ mustache, Phil Kessel’s hot dog stand and Drake’s clown act, and leave the women’s game to news snoops who actually care and know something about it.

This week in jock journalism…

Jason Bell of the Drab Slab wins the prize for best off-beat yarn, with his piece on a Charolais bull named after Chris Streveler, former Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback and party boy. Streveler the bull is 1,499 pounds of pure Western Manitoba beef on the hoof—about the same as the entire Bombers O-line—and the brute recently sold for a whopping $45,000 at the Nykoliation family auction. The way Jason tells the story, 50 bulls were sold that day for $335,000, or about the value of a Tier-II starting QB in the Canadian Football League…I monitored bylines in the Winnipeg Sun from last Sunday through Saturday, and here’s the scorecard: Postmedia bylines 32; Toronto bylines 21; Winnipeg bylines 15; lady rassler bylines (Natalya Neidhart) 1. I swear, if I ever win Lotto Max, I’ll offer Postmedia the $1 Cdn. that the tabloid is worth today and convert it back to a local newspaper with local stories and enough scribes to actually cover the city…The NFL’s remote draft received favorable reviews from Bombers play-by-play guy Knuckles Irving and Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab. Here’s Knuckles on Twitter: “Watching the NFL draft and once again it’s completely apparent that no sports entity in the world can deliver elaborately choreographed, brilliantly produced, dragged out, mind-numbing TV hype like the NFL. Man are they good at it. Gotta be impressed.” And here’s Mad Mike: “You’ve got to hand it to the National Football League. Real life handed the league a lemon—in this case, the COVID-19 pandemic—but they showed why they’re the world’s most popular and successful sports operation by turning it into glorious, refreshing lemonade.” I never watched one second of the production, so I’ll just have to take their word for it…Laura Armstrong of the Toronto Star misses sports and feels guilty about it. I don’t miss sports and feel guilty about it. Hmmm. I never thought of COVID-19 as a guilt trip, but apparently that’s what it is.

Jesse Stone and Thelma, one of his many female admirers.

And, finally, I went on a Jesse Stone movie binge last week. Watched all nine of the made-for-TV flicks. Jesse, played by Tom Selleck, is a scotch-swilling, non-smiling wreck of a cop so hung up on his ex-wife that he talks to her long distance every night. Between benders, sessions with his ex-wife’s shrink, and trying to figure out how to work a cellphone, Jesse always catches the bad guys in Paradise, Mass. He probably drinks too much caffeine, but Jesse’s coffee breath isn’t a turnoff to the ladies in Paradise. Apparently the woman who can resist his dimples has yet to be born. Jesse always gets the girl. And I do mean always. Tall, short, black, white, young, old…every woman falls prey to Jesse’s dimples and must dine or do lunch with him. Even a nun, Sister Mary John! It’s quite silly stuff, really. So why do I like it so much?

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Jets and their Sideshow Bobs…someone told someone something about Big Buff…Buffpubry…a Big Blue hair ball…the life of Reilly…Andrew Harris and the MOP Award…little green men in Area 51…Ponytail Puck…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and it’s out with summer and in with autumn colors…

Coach PoMo and Sideshow Bob

Now playing for the Winnipeg Jets, Sideshow Bob and Bob and Bob and Bob.

Seriously, I was sooooo wrong about the Winnipeg HC training sessions.

I mean, this is what I scribbled last week: “There are a limited number of interesting storylines and, in the case of the Jets, they’ve already been exhausted. Big Buff’s taken leave. Blake Wheeler had his say. Paul Maurice went zen master about his ‘sparrows.’ Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor are in RFA limbo. What’s left to write and talk about?”

D’oh! Double d’oh! Triple d’oh!

But, hey, how was I to know Puck Finn would decide to skip stones across the Atlantic Ocean and one of them would whack Bryan Little in the privates? How was I to know Big Buff’s retreat might have reached the point of no return and the club would put him on the suspended list? How was I to know that Puck Finn and Little would kiss and make up via text/phone, even though there really wasn’t anything to kiss and make up about? How was I to know that Big Buff would search for the meaning of life in a pub?

Who’s the producer of this drama, Jerry Bruckheimer? And who’s writing Coach PoMo’s material? Matt Groening?

It’s become a cross between CSI: Jets and Big Buff Does Moe’s Tavern.

Here’s the deal, though: The Sideshow Bobs have turned this into the most interesting Jets camp. Ever. Tis a shame they have to interrupt all the shenanigans by playing meaningless games on the ice.

Big Buff and his buddies engaging in Buffpubry.

On the matter of Dustin Byfuglien and his navel gazing at the crossroads of life, we’ve had confirmed sightings of the will-he-or-won’t-he rearguard in watering holes/eateries about town, and he’s been hobnobbing and making nice with the rabble. One of the minions who observed Big Buff in his at-ease habitat swears on a stack of empties that No. 33 isn’t ready for last call on his National Hockey League career, and his 260 pounds of girth will return to the Jets blueline as soon as they start playing for keeps. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a more reliable source than someone who heard someone say something to someone in a gin joint.

The folks at Merriam-Webster added 533 words and meanings to their dictionary this month. One of them is “Buffpubry.” It means “to drink beer and schmooze during the deliberate avoidance of NHL training camp.”

What’s that you say? I shouldn’t make light of Big Buff’s play-or-quit quandary? I suppose you’re right. Retirement is a serious bit of business. Plenty to ponder for a 34-year-old man who’s already earned north of $50 million and has an additional $14 million on the table. If I was Buff, I know exactly what I’d do—go to a pub and drink about it.

The Toad In The Hole

You think I’m kidding? That’s exactly what I did when it came time to fish or cut bait in 1999. I found the answer I was looking for while sitting in solitude one afternoon in the Toad In The Hole Pub & Eatery in Osborne Village. Left the rag trade shortly thereafter and, just shy of age 49, moved to Victoria, as poor as Second Hand Rosie with holes in her pocketbook. If anyone noticed my adios, they didn’t give a damn. Big Buff won’t be able to sneak away to count his millions so quietly.

Coach Grunge

So, here’s what disturbed me after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers hacked up a hair ball the size of a mule’s arse on Saturday afternoon in Montreal: Head coach Mike O’Shea suggested his large lads “maybe underestimated” the Alouettes. Excuse me? The boys in blue-and-gold linen believe they’re so high and mighty that they looked at les Larks as pushovers? Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the dumbest of them all?

Coach Grunge was right about one thing, though: The Bombers gagging on a 24-point lead in a shocking 38-37 loss was “sickening.” And I’m not sure a visit by the Hamilton Tabbies on Friday is the cure they’re looking for.

Andrew Harris

Yes, now that you mention it, I detected an extra helping of oomph in Andrew Harris’ giddyup v. les Larks. He certainly seemed to have a serious grouch on.

“Pissed off” is how Coach Grunge described his tainted tailback in advance of the skirmish at Percival Molson Stadium, and I suppose you and I would be wearing our grumpy pants too if squints in lab coats called us cheaters and told us to get lost for a few weeks.

So Harris returned to the fray with a chip the size of a totem pole on his shoulder pads and toted the pointy ball for 188 combined yards in Winnipeg FC’s losing effort, and he did so, presumably, without the benefit of anything that will attract the attention of lab techs tasked with the chore of squinting into a microscope in search of squiggly, little nasties in his pee.

The thing is, we have yet to determine the full and final fallout from L’affaire Harris.

He committed the crime (a trace amount of an illegal somethingorother was discovered in his pee in July) and he’s done the time (a two-game suspension), but the matter of the Canadian Football League’s year-end trinkets and whether Harris is now considered a pigskin pariah is yet to be determined.

This is normally an interesting debate and, as the leading lugger of mail in Rouge Football, Harris certainly has the bona fides to warrant consideration for the Most Outstanding Player bauble. In fact, I’d say he was the leading candidate BBP (before bad pee) and was likely heading to a landslide victory at the polls.

That all changed when the lab rats confirmed the Bombers tailback was (officially) a drug cheat.

A-Roid

Sounds so cruddy, doesn’t it? Drug cheat. Puts Harris in the same sinister sphere as Big Ben, A-Roid, Lance Armstrong and all the other needle jockeys. Difference is, a lot of people like me want to believe Harris when he swears there was something fishy in the supplement he took. It wasn’t poison fruit; someone poisoned the fruit.

Alas, that’s what they all say when caught with their hand in the juice jar, and I can’t imagine all the boys and girls on the beat are buying his denial. Surely a number of them will consider his yardage total ill-gotten. Question is, how many?

News snoops in Good Ol’ Hometown will be the first to pass judgment on Harris and, although we won’t hear from them until late October, I’m guessing some have already discussed/debated the merits and optics of choosing a guy branded a drug cheat as the Bombers MOP and/or most outstanding Canadian.

I don’t think it’s a tough call, though.

Forget that it would be a horrible optic. Awarding the highest individual honor to a player forced to sit down midway through the season due to a drug rap is just wrong.

This isn’t a moral dilemma about the ayes and nays of performance-boosting drugs. I think most people are guided by the same compass in that area, and they’re straightforward against. Thus, it’s a matter of belief. Do news snoops believe Harris’ story about a contaminated supplement? If so, they can vote him MOP with a clear conscience. If not, to vote him MOP is to excuse, if not endorse, performance-enhancing drugs.

It’s my understanding that Harris is a media favorite because he’s accessible, obliging and delivers quality sound bites. But how much does likability come into play in MOP voting? And should favoritism forgive him his sin?

John Bowman and Andrew Harris

Harris tells Ed Tait of bluebombers.com to “look at the facts” in his illegal drug case. “It wasn’t like they found a massive amount. I got tested earlier in the season and there was nothing and then 10 days later there’s a small trace. I’ll be tested for the rest of the season and there’s not going to be anything. It was one game where I had this trace in my system and it was probably my worst game of the year, too.” Harris repeated his “look at the facts” mantra to news snoops in Montreal after Larks D-lineman John Bowman called him a “cheater,” but he seems to be missing the point, which is this: Lab squints found a no-no substance in his pee. That’s the fact. It doesn’t matter if it was a “small trace” or a “massive amount.” Metandieonone was in there. It’s a banned substance. He got caught. Henceforth, suspicion and doubt will dog Harris the remainder of his CFL days, and it won’t be just John Bowman who’s skeptical of his achievements. That, not the two-game suspension, is the real punishment.

Mike Reilly, down again.

How in the name of Jackie Parker and Kenny Ploen has Mike Reilly made it through this CFL crusade in once piece? Angry large lads with malice in mind have beaten the poor man like a rug during spring cleaning, but the B.C. signal-barker is the last of the original starting QBs still standing. He really is the toughest dude in Rouge Football.

That was quite the crowd the Argonauts attracted to BMO Field for their skirmish with the Calgary Stampeders on Friday night: 9,819. Apparently the guy who won the 50/50 draw doesn’t know what to do with his $8.40 windfall.

Just wondering: Why is Mad Mike McIntyre selling subscriptions to the Drab Slab on his Twitter feed? Things must be grim at the broadsheet if they’ve got the scribes peddling papers.

Here’s the kind of stuff I like to see in a newspaper: Justin Emerson of the Las Vegas Sun asked members of the Golden Knights if they believe the U.S. government is hiding E.T. and some of his little green friends at secretive Area 51 in Nevada. Some of the answers are classic.
Head coach Gerard Gallant: “Ya, for sure. I’ve seen a couple in the stands.”
Alex Tuch: “I think we should be more working side-by-side with them instead of keeping them captive.”
Nate Schmidt: “There’s no live ones. Ever see Independence Day? That’s a factual movie.”

According to scientists, there’s been a dramatic decline in the North American bird population in the past 50 years, with a loss of 2.9 billion of our feather friends. If only something could be done to get rid of the Baltimore Orioles.

Talk to the ‘stache.

Some women are playing exhibition shinny in the Republic of Tranna this weekend. Apparently all the major media outlets planned to be there, except Auston Matthews scored a goal on Friday night so they had to interview his mustache.

Actually, Dave Feschuk of Toronto Star scribbled a piece on the women’s Dream Gap Tour a couple of days ago, and he only managed to squeeze three Drake references into his article. I’m quite uncertain what the Tranna Jurassics groupie has to do with women’s shinny, but apparently it’s compulsory for scribes in The ROT to mention Drake in every essay.

And, finally, I don’t think any of us expected Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to be pitching faux woo to one another at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, but the finest of our fancy skaters made their retirement official last week, and that’s sad. What a trip, though. For us.

Let’s talk about Randy Carlyle and Body by Pillsbury…liars, liars pants on fire…what say you, Jeff Hecht?…E-Town trumps Pegtown…the CFL’s best newspaper market…men overboard at Sportsnet…and the WJM newsroom

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and this post was written without the benefit of performance-enhancing nouns, verbs, adjectives or metaphors, but there are trace amounts of sarcasm, irreverence and flippancy…

Back in April 1989, when drug cheat Ben Johnson still had our attention after his fall from grace at the Seoul Olympics, word drifted out of Stockholm that Randy Carlyle had failed a drug test.

I laughed.

Anyone who’d ever met or seen Randy Carlyle probably laughed.

Randy Carlyle

I mean, you didn’t get Carlyle’s body with daily visits to the gym, augmented by human growth hormone milk shakes. We’re talking Body by Pillsbury. Whatever muscle the Winnipeg Jets defender had was well concealed by a pleasantly soft exterior, most likely the product of jam-filled pop tarts or crescent rolls stuffed with cheese and bacon. His soft under belly really was his soft underbelly.

Thus, after Carlyle had piddled in a bottle at the World Hockey Championship and women/men wearing lab coats didn’t like the color of his pee—they discovered traces of the banned substance mesterolone—there were many giggles, even though he had officially joined Johnson on the Drug Cheat Hall of Shame roll call.

“When we first heard the words ‘steroids’ and ‘Randy’ in the same sentence, everyone in the room laughed,” Dave Ellett, a teammate of Carlyle’s in Sweden and with the Jets, once recalled in a natter with Lance Hornby of the Toronto Sun. “John Ferguson Sr. had the best line: ‘If that’s what steroids does for your body, a lot of people will want their money back.’ Then we realized how serious it was.”

As it happened, Carlyle’s ‘B’ sample came back cleaner than a saint’s soul, so neither he nor Team Canada was disqualified from the tournament.

“I’ve been through hell,” the Pillsbury D-Boy told news snoops at the scene of the non-crime. “I was in total shock. How do you live with yourself when they say you’ve taken this and you know you haven’t? I lost a few pounds with sweaty palms.”

Andrew Harris

So, sure, squints make mistakes, and many among the rabble believe the lab rats did a dirty to Andrew Harris, who won’t join his Winnipeg Blue Bombers teammates in their annual Labor Day Weekend frolic v. the Saskatchewan Roughriders today on the Flattest of Lands. He’s also been told to find something else to do when the large lads assemble for the rematch in Good Ol’ Hometown on Sept. 7.

The Canadian Football League’s now-suspended leading rusher vows he didn’t knowingly take the illegal drug they say he took, but, for every local who believes Harris got a raw deal and shouldn’t be twiddling his thumbs this afternoon, there are probably 10 beyond the boundaries of Manitoba who’ll tell us that his pants are on fire. You’d have better luck convincing them that O.J. is honest-to-gosh looking for the real killers.

And that’s for good reason: When caught with their hands in the juice jar—or, in the case of Pete Rose, cozying up to friendly neighborhood bookie—most high-profile cheats in sports immediately take a trip to Planet Pinocchio. Examples…

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong: “If you consider my situation, a guy who comes back from arguably, you know, a death sentence (cancer), why would I then enter in a sport and dope myself up and risk my life again? That’s crazy. I would never do that. No. No way.”

Mark McGwire (appearing before U.S. Congress): “I’m not here to talk about the past.”

Rafael Palmeiro: “I have never used steroids. Period.”

Sammy Sosa: Pretended he couldn’t understand English when asked about his steroid use.

Roger Clemens: “I’ve been accused of something I’m not guilty of…I’ve never taken steroids or HGH.”

Justin Gatlin: “I am not using and have not used PEDs.”

Marion Jones: “I am against performance enhancing drugs. I have never taken them and I never will take them.”

Ben Johnson: “When I was a kid, I never took drugs. People who know me in Jamaica and people who know me here know I would never take drugs. I have never, ever knowingly taken illegal drugs, and I would never embarrass my family, my friends, and my country, and the kids who love me. For now, there’s nothing more I can tell you, because I just don’t know.”

Floyd Landis: “I declare convincingly and categorically that my winning the Tour de France has been exclusively due to many years of training and my complete devotion to cycling, to the sacrifice of an entire life to carry out my dream, a dream of thousands of kilometres that I have completed through an absolute respect to the cleanness of the sport.”

Alex Rodriguez: “I have been clear that I did not use performance enhancing substances as alleged.”

Pete Rose (gambling): “I’m not going to admit to something that didn’t happen. Never bet as a player. That’s a fact.”

Martina Hingis (cocaine 2007 Wimbledon): “I am frustrated and angry. I believe that I am absolutely 100 per cent innocent.” Notably, she promptly retired rather than fight lab findings and a two-year ban.

Manny Ramirez: “Recently I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid.” After taking another medication that wasn’t a steroid, Ramirez failed another drug test and retired rather than be banished for 100 games.

Ryan Braun: “I truly believe in my heart, and would bet my life that this substance never entered my body at any point. I am the victim of a process that completely broke down and failed the way it was applied to me in this case.”

Vladimir Putin: “State-sponsored doping system has never been created in Russia, it is simply not possible, and we will do everything we can to make sure such state-sponsored system of doping support never exists.”

That, kids, is the reason people are hesitant, or flat-out refuse, to believe Harris. They’ve heard all the nose-growing excuses before.

And, unlike Randy Carlyle, his isn’t Body by Pillsbury.

Jeff Hecht

So, when Louis-Phillipe Bourassa was banished for being a drug cheat, Bombers safety Jeff Hecht pounced, calling out the Bytown RedBlacks long snapper on Twitter with this post: “Sometimes you just have to work hard instead of being lazy and buying an edge.” It followed, therefore, that he’d deliver the same public tsk-tsking to Harris. But no. “To think that I would treat my teammate the same as I would somebody else, I think, is kind of naive from some people, because I’m a team-first guy,” he said in a chin-wag with Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun. He then told Teddy Football that “I think lying is the tool of the coward, so I’m not going to hide my stance on anything.” Except, of course, he’ll hide his stance on Andrew Harris, thank you very much. Hypocrisy, thy name is Jeff Hecht.

The Bombers are without Matt Nichols, Andrew Harris and Chris Matthews today on the Flattest of Lands, so why do I think they have a snowball’s chance of beating Gang Green? Because they aren’t without Willie Jefferson and the D.

I like most of what young Jeff Hamilton does in the Drab Slab. Grade A reporter. Good writer. On top of the beat. Alas, young Jeff is off the mark when he suggests Saskatchewan and River City are the “two best markets in the CFL.” That’s only half accurate. The main measuring stick for any CFL market is the box office and, yes, Gang Green has developed a most rabid fan base. But Winnipeg? Not so much. Edmonton has been, and is, a better market. Even with this year’s sharp downturn in bodies at Commonwealth Stadium, the Eskimos are attracting 3,335 more than the Bombers per game. More to the point, if the Eskimos don’t nudge their head count up a couple thousand, this will be the first time—the only time!—this century that their average attendance falls below 30,000. Winnipeg FC has averaged 30,000 once. Repeat: Once. That was in 2013, the year Football Follies Field in Fort Garry opened for business and became a destination for curiosity seekers. So, sorry to say, Jeff, Good Ol’ Hometown is a better market than E-Town like Bob Dylan is a better singer than Sinatra.

There are, of course, other methods of measuring a CFL market, one of them being media coverage. That, of course, is subjective. But I submit that no one in our vast land does it better than the girls and boys on the Bombers beat in Pegtown, and I can already hear the squawks of protest from news snoops in E-Town and on the Flattest of Lands. Well, let ’em squawk. They’re wrong.

River City is the only true two-newspaper town in Western Canada, thus Winnipeg FC gets double the print coverage from competing rags. The operative word is “competing.” Standard cookie-cutter, scrum-collected quotes aside, what you read in the Drab Slab won’t be what you read in the Sun, and the Andrew Harris situation is an excellent example of the difference. Paul Friesen’s take in the Sun had a harsh, but fair, tone, while Hamilton delivered a more personal, reined-in essay. Both pieces worked for me in their own way. And that’s something you don’t get in points west, because Postmedia eliminated newspaper competition in other Prairie provinces. In terms of CFL coverage, the E-Town Sun is the E-Town Journal; the Calgary Sun is the Calgary Herald; the Vancity Sun is the Vancity Province; and you’ll read the same Riders copy in both the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. They’re kin. Kissing cousins, if you will. That’s not the way it should be, but that’s what you get when Postmedia is still pinching pennies long after our copper coin went out of circulation.

Nick Kypreos

So, Sportsnet (thankfully) has pulled the plug on resident meathead Nick Kypreos, and we can only hope he’s replaced by someone who isn’t stuck in the 1970s, when clubbing an opponent over the head with a piece of lumber was an oft-used gambit in winning hockey games. Kypreos spent two decades using his Sportsnet pulpit to deliver a “to hell with turning the other cheek” sermon, promoting back-alley bullying to the point of advising skilled players like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews to adopt rat-like stickwork and fisticuffs as tactics in dealing with the National Hockey League weasel element. That dinosaur logic is now left to blowhard Donald S. Cherry and the bellicose Brian Burke, although Burkie often delivers juicy insight when he isn’t talking about truculence.

John Shannon

I hope the last person to leave Sportsnet’s stable of shinny voices remembers to turn out the lights. Gone are Kypreos, Doug MacLean and John Shannon, which leaves who to natter with Jeff Marek on Hockey Central At Noon? Muppet head Colby Armstrong and Gord Stellick (meh)? Anthony Stewart and Mike Zigomanis (spare us)? The return of Damien Cox (shudder)? I’m not a Shannon fan, because there’s more than a whiff of arrogance to his delivery and he can be annoyingly interruptive, but he certainly knows where a lot of bodies are buried. I suspect he won’t be in the unemployment queue for long.

Murray, Lou, Mary, Ted, Sue Ann, Georgette, Rhoda and Phyllis in the WJM newsroom.

And, finally, Mary is gone, Ted is gone, Georgette is gone, and now Rhoda is gone. Thank goodness for reruns so I can still watch The Mary Tyler Moore show every afternoon and keep them and the WJM newsroom in my life. Love that show. Love the characters. I actually have a framed pic of Mary Tyler Moore beside my flatscreen TV, a gift from dear friends Jeff and Paul, who know I still want to be Mary Richards when I grow up and have a friend like Rhoda Morgenstern.

Andrew Harris: Another tainted hero or the victim of “some bad luck?”

Yes, of course, many of us want to believe Andrew Harris when he honest-to-gosh, cross-my-heart swears he didn’t swallow a dirty pill.

That’s because Harris is one of the good guys.

And, because he’s one of the good guys, he can’t possibly be dumb enough to stick a needle in his butt, coat himself with an iffy kind of cream, or pop a pill called Metandienone to make his 32-year-old body perform like a 22-year-old body.

It’s the other guys who do the cheating.

Andrew Harris

Except Harris, the Canadian Football League’s leading ground gobbler, has been found guilty of being stupid enough to do that very thing. Drug cheat. Guilty as charged. And sentenced.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers tailback has been told to go away for two games and, no, I don’t wear tin foil on my head so any notion of some cockeyed conspiracy contrived on the Flattest of Lands is straight out of the Rod Serling playbook.

I mean, if you’re among the Tin Foilers who actually believe that the Harris suspension is the end result of a plot to give the Saskatchewan Roughriders a leg up on the Bombers, then I have some ocean-front property with a Rocky Mountain vista at The Forks that you might be interested in. And while we’re at it, how would you like to buy shares in the Redwood Bridge?

Naturally Winnipeg FC will miss Harris in the home-and-home, Labor Day week dosey doe with Gang Green beginning Sunday, but come on. The fix is in? Sure. Zapruder film at 11.

Look, this isn’t about two points or four points, or clinging to first place or falling out of first place in the West Division.

It’s about Andrew Harris, the person, the guy who now must convince people, including his daughter, that he isn’t a drug cheat. That he bought a supplement at a natural health store and somehow Metandienone found its way into the mix.

“I pride myself on being a great role model to my daughter, youth, my peers,” he told an assembly of very attentive news snoops on Monday morning.

“I would never intentionally cheat and I’m in a situation now where I’m being questioned and it hurts.”

Cue the eye-rolling, because that’s what they all say, right? A-Rod said it. Mark McGwire said it. Roger Clemens said it while “misremembering” all the needles he stuck in his caboose. Barry Bonds still says it, even though his head has shrunk from the size of a prize pumpkin at the country fair to something that more closely resembles a five-pin bowling ball. Ben Johnson…Lance Armstrong…Marion Jones…Manny Ramirez…Julius Peppers…nope, didn’t do it. Pete Rose…nope, never bet on his own baseball beam.

We didn’t believe any of them, so why should we believe Andrew Harris?

Because, like I said, he’s one of the good guys. A local kid who just 12 days ago stamped his place in Rouge Football folklore by becoming the career yardage leader among all homebrews who’ve ever taken a handoff or caught a pass in the CFL.

We don’t want his line in the record book for most real estate gained to read: Andrew Harris, 13,481* yards.

Roger Maris didn’t deserve an asterisk in 1961 just because he had the (apparent) bad manners to swat more dingers in a season than the Bambino, Babe Ruth, and Harris doesn’t deserve an asterisk in 2019 if there was something fishy with his supplement and it showed up when he peed in a bottle.

“All natural, got it from a natural health store, and here I am,” he quietly assured the gathering of those with quill and microphone.

Harris also called his misadventure “some bad luck” and had to collect himself when the matter of legacy and his record-breaking performance vs. the B.C. Lions was mentioned. Some of us wondered why he lost it emotionally on the sidelines that night, weeping as teammates stepped forward to embrace him.

Now we have our answer. Harris already knew about the two positive tests by then, and he knew his day of reckoning was nigh.

“It took away from something that was really great. It was very difficult and…” he said, then bowed his head and buried his face in his right hand.

A lot of people will think of it as an act, just as they did with A-Rod and that bunch of denying needle-pushers who refused to ‘fess up until there was no way of climbing out of the rabbit hole. They’ll note the uncommon things Harris is accomplishing when most running back’s bodies are falling apart like a witness during a Perry Mason cross-examination. They’ll view his records as ill-gotten plunder. Rancid fruit.

Well, I’ve never met Andrew Harris. Probably never will. But, damnit, I hope like hell someone wearing a lab coat made a mistake.

It doesn’t look that way, though. Such a shame.

About the WHA Jets vs. les Canadiens…B. Hull still ragging on Fergy…remember Benny and the Jets…a roster of rejects isn’t fair?…newspaper wars…meet the new Leafs GM, Harry Potter…Kypreos has ‘no idea’…Daren Millard and a smarmy guy on Hockey Central…Evander Kane’s wish list…dirty, rotten Darian Durant…fashionista Phil…boxing’s jail break…the greatest cheater…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

The boys are back in town, so let’s settle this Habs-Jets thing once and for all.

Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson

Let me begin by saying that I stand second to few people in admiration for the Winnipeg Jets, circa Hedberg-Nilsson-Sjoberg-Hull-et al. They played hybrid hockey. Canadian grit met Scandinavian swirl to form a swashbuckling brand of shinny not seen on this side of the great waters until the two cultures dovetailed in the mid-to-late 1970s.

If we are to believe Slats Sather, those Jets provided the blueprint for his rollicking Edmonton Oilers outfits that ruled the frozen ponds of the National Hockey League a decade later.

So, ya, the Jets were good. Good enough to give the mighty Soviet Union national side a 5-3 paddywhacking one January night in 1978.

But…were they Montreal Canadiens good? That is, how might the World Hockey Association’s signature team have measured up against the Habs juggernaut that featured a Hockey Hall of Fame head coach and nine HHOF players who produced Stanley Cup parades in four successive springs, 1976-79? Well, let’s ask three people who ought to know—Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Bobby Hull.

Peter Young, Ulf Nilsson, Kathy Kennedy, Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Sod Keilback.

The three members of the legendary Hot Line were in Good, Ol’ Hometown this weekend for a gathering of the players who conspired to win the club’s second WHA title 40 years ago this month, and Kathy Kennedy summoned them to her CJOB studio for a gab session. Also sitting in for the 40-minute chin-wag were veteran broadcasters Peter Young and Sod Keilback, who steered the chatter in the direction of les Canadiens.

Keiback: “Would you have beaten the Montreal Canadiens?”

Hull: “No, but it would have been a great game.”

Keilback: “I want to ask this to Ulf, because Friar Nicolson told me the most honest man he ever met in his life—the guy couldn’t lie—was Ulf Nilsson. Ulf, would you have been able to win the Stanley Cup with the WHA Jets?”

Nilsson: “No, I don’t think so. I agree with both Bobby and Anders. We were short maybe a few defencemen. Goaltending was good, though, and I think we had enough good forwards, but defence, we could have used one or two more.”

Hedberg: “We could have reached the final, no question.”

So, there you have it. While hundreds (thousands?) of locals to this day remain convinced the Jets could have given the Habs a wedgie, three of the WHA club’s four most influential players (defenceman Lars-Erik Sjoberg was the fourth) insist it’s a notion built on fantasy.

It would have been a boffo series, though.

Bobby Hull and John Ferguson in the good, ol’ days.

Former Jets general manager John Ferguson has been bones in the ground since 2007, but Hull won’t let his feud with Fergy go to the grave. Proudly talking about the open-door policy the Jets had with fans during the WHA days, Hull said this during the ‘OB gabfest: “They wanted me to take over the team, and they brought in a guy by the name of Ferguson and Tommy McVie, and that was all the goodwill we’d built up in all those years from 1972 to 1979 or ’80, or whenever it was that they joined with the NHL, went out the window. Doors were closed, there was rippin’ and cursin’ and kickin’ buckets and throwin’ oranges.” When host Kathy Kennedy relayed a story about an angry Fergy once kicking a hole through the Jets’ dressing room door, Hull said, “He not only had the foot in the door lots of times, he had that size 13 in his mouth.”

Ben Hatskin

As the present-day Jets continue their Stanley Cup crusade vs. the Vegas Golden Knights, give a thought to the WHA Jets, because they’re the reason what’s happening today is happening today. Had original owner Ben Hatskin folded his tent, the NHL wouldn’t have given River City a second glance. Edmonton and Ottawa probably wouldn’t have franchises either.

Interesting take from Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun on the Jets-Golden Knights skirmish for bragging rights in the NHL Western Conference. “I get that Vegas being good is beneficial for the league, but it still doesn’t seem fair that an expansion team can come in and contend for a Stanley Cup right away.” Fair? You tell me what’s fair. I mean, the Golden Knights entered the fray last October with a roster of rejects. Nobody thought it was unfair back then. So now that same roster of rejects is eight wins from hoisting the holy grail in Glitter Gulch and it isn’t fair? As if.

It occurs to me that it isn’t just the clubs competing in the NHL’s annual spring runoff. It’s also the daily rags. And, two series and one game deep into the playoffs, I’d say the Sun has opened a big, ol’ can of whupass on the Winnipeg Free Press. The tabloid troika of Wyman, Paul Friesen and Ken Wiebe have been cranking out the good stuff daily since the puck dropped on the Jets-Minnesota Wild series. Over at the Drab Slab, Mike McIntyre, Jason Bell and Mike Sawatzky are doing boffo business, but it doesn’t help that the Freep’s Sunday edition is an after-thought and the sports columnist seems to be MIA every second day.

kyle dubas3
Harry Potter lookalike Kyle Dubas

I turned on the TV the other day to watch the coronation of Kyle Dubas as GM of the Tranna Maple Leafs and they introduced Harry Potter instead. Seriously. If Dubas isn’t Harry Potter, he’s Harry’s big brother. The question now is this: Can he do anything about the boggarts on the Leafs blueline?

Nick Kypreos has come clean about running off at the mouth. Sort of. If you’ll recall, our man Kipper implied that Leafs head coach Mike Babcock and his star player, Auston Matthews, have been giving each other the ol’ stink eye. “Babcock lost Matthews. There was no trust anymore. For whatever reason, Babcock lost Matthews,” he said after les Leafs had bowed out of the Stanley Cup tournament. Kipper offered zero evidence to support his suggestion of a spat. And now? “It is based purely on my instincts following a 12-year professional career,” the Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada gab guy tells us. “It is nothing more, nothing less. To my knowledge, there is no major rift between Babcock and Matthews. There is no conspiracy, but trust me, it isn’t fake news either. I have no idea how Matthews feels about his coach.” I think that last sentence sums it up: Kypreos has no idea.

Daren Millard

Loved the chatter between Daren Millard and “smarmy” Damien Cox on Hockey Central at Noon last Wednesday, when they engaged in a to-and-fro about ice time for elite NHL performers.

Cox: “Good teams don’t give their best players 23 minutes. Or, if they do it’s very rare. Or they’re coached by John Tortorella.”

Millard: “Barkov plays…Sasha Barkov plays 23 minutes.”

Cox: “Oh, Connor McDavid plays more than 22 minutes and they’re horrible. So, that’s what you want? The idea is to have a well-balanced team. Now…”

Millard: “You’re so smarmy sometimes.”

Cox: “Why is that smarmy?”

Millard: “You just…you are. You’re just…”

Cox: “I was giving you an example.”

Millard: “It’s the way you say it. ‘No, they’re terrible. Is that what you want?‘”

Cox: “That is not smarmy. You can say it’s overcritical, but it’s not smarmy.”

Well, let’s see. Smarmy is defined by Merriam-Webster as: “Of low sleazy taste or quality; revealing or marked by a smug, ingratiating, or false earnestness.” The urban dictionary describes smarmy as: “A certain attitude often accompanied by a squinty look and a superior smile that makes you instantly hate a person.” It’s settled then: Millard is correct—Cox is smarmy.

Evander Kane

Old friend Evander Kane, soon eligible for free agency, has revealed his needs-and-wants list for re-signing with the San Jose Sharks or moving to another NHL club: “Common sense tells you there are three priorities that you look for as a player: money, chance to win and lifestyle. Those are the three priorities and it just depends on how you rank them.” In Kane’s case, considerations of lifestyle would have to include proximity to Las Vegas, a private jet and, of course, comfy jail cells. Okay, okay. That was a cheap shop. I mean, it’s been at least a year since cops have had to slap the handcuffs on Kane in public. Shame on me.

Quote of the week comes from the Boston Licker, Brad Marchand, whose filthy habit of licking opposition players commandeered much of the chatter during Round 2 of Stanley Cup skirmishing: “I have to cut that shit out,” he said. Ya think? What was your first clue, Inspector Clouseau?

Darian Durant

I’d like to feel sorry for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers today. I really would. I mean, they got stiffed. That dirty, no-good, rotten scoundrel and noted green guy Darian Durant took their money and ran. Paid him $70,000 and he flat out quit. Didn’t even have the good manners to bid a polite adieu. And now the Canadian Football League club is left without its security blanket for starting quarterback Matt Nichols, a week before the large lads in pads gather to grab grass and growl at their 2018 training sessions. Well, here’s a thought: Stop relying on other outfits to do your dirty work. That is, find and develop your own damn QBs instead of this decades-long dependency on others’ retreads. I think Dieter Brock was the last in-house starter of note, and the Bombers haven’t groomed a backup who could toss a spiral since Hal Ledyard rode shotgun for Kenny Ploen.

Having said that, Durant’s departure was totally lame. Really bad form. You want to quit, fine, quit. That’s cool. Get on with your life. But, good gawd, have the gonads to tell the people who invested $70,000 in you. Pick up a phone and call them. Don’t let them find out on social media.

Phil Mickelson

Meet Phil Mickelson, fashionista. Who knew? If you missed it, the normally frumpy and flabby Phil has taken to wearing button-up dress shirts on the golf course, complete with starched collars and cuffs. What, no cufflinks, Lefty? No ascot? Not sure if Lefty is caught in a middle-age crisis, but this is a good look like Hair In A Can was a good idea. It’s Giorgio Armani bogies the back nine.

The good news is, Drake has been eliminated from the National Basketball Association playoffs. The bad news is, jock journos in the Republic of Tranna will have to scramble to find another groupie to fawn over. Are there any rapper/hip-hop stars who like the Blue Jays? If not, I’m sure they’ll settle for a B-list celeb like Dave Foley or Steven Page.

Boxing is on the menu in The ROT next Saturday, with champion Adonis Stevenson defending his WBC light-heavyweight title against Badou Jack. It’s quite the seedy main event: Stevenson has spent time behind bars for pimping out women; Jack is known as The Ripper, an obvious reference to Jack the Ripper, serial killer of prostitutes; and the challenger is among the stable of boxers promoted by Floyd Mayweather Jr., himself a convicted woman-beater. That’s not a sports event, it’s a jail break. And yet people will part with their money to watch. Go figure.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 1): “The greatest Toronto athletes in my time: Donovan Bailey, Ben Johnson. @De6rasse has a chance to surpass both.” Can you say hypocrite, kids? I mean, Simmons sits on a horse named Morality and refuses to vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in Baseball Hall of Fame balloting because they flunked his smell test. That is, they stuck needles in their butts. They cheated. Yet he lists this country’s most-disgraced cheater, druggie Ben Johnson, as one of the two greatest Tranna athletes during his 61 years drawing oxygen. A freaking cheat! Can you say zero credibility, kids? Zero!

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 2): “The Leafs can’t beat Boston three straight. Probably no team in hockey can.” Tell that to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who just beat the Bruins four straight.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 3): “It’s entirely possible that all four conference finalists in the NHL will be teams that have never won the Stanley Cup before.” No, it was not possible. Tampa and Boston, who met in the eastern semifinal, have both won the Stanley Cup. Simmons explained his gaffe by saying he was soooooo “tired,” then deleted the tweet.

 

About some tar and feathers for Willie Boy…good reads at the Olympics…the beauty of fancy skating…burned rocks and rocky writing…a new juggernaut in Manitoba curling…Genie in the raw…all-Tiger TV…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Meet Willie Desjardins, convenient scapegoat.

Yup, there’s a bucket of tar and a bagful of feathers with poor Willie’s name on it should our patchwork men’s shinny side stumble and fall at the Olympic Winter Games in South Korea. As sure as good Canadian boys pour maple syrup on their flapjacks, the head coach will be the fall guy. You can make book on it.

Willie Desjardins and the boys.

I mean, our not-so-jolly hockey heroes were a mere two games into their crusade—handily beating Switzerland before falling a score short in a shootout vs. the Czech Republic—and already the knives had been drawn from their sheaths. And for what? Because they failed in one of those objectionable shootouts that belong in a trash bin?

Nope.

Willie Boy, it seems, is guilty of two things: 1) he has the bad manners to not be Mike Babcock; 2) he delivers lousy sound bites.

Here’s Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star:

If Canada’s players have looked nervous, Desjardins, at times, has appeared like a man overwhelmed by the strain. Maybe you caught the same pre-game close-up of Desjardins they showed in the arena here Saturday. Standing on the bench in the moments before the opening faceoff, Desjardins swayed from side to side, teetering from foot to foot like a self-conscious fourth-grader singled out in front of his classmates. His mouth twitched. His eyes gazed blankly into the distance. And he clutched his trademark whiteboard as though it was his dry-erase answer to a security blanket.

It was dumbfounding how, in the wake of Saturday’s loss, Desjardins offered answers that were Belichick-ian in their curtness when he doesn’t own anything approaching a record that’s Belichick-ian in its peerlessness.

Watching Desjardins so far, only the sleepiest observer wouldn’t raise questions about whether or not he’s up to this challenge.”

Whew…tells us what you really think, Mr. Feschuk. On second thought, don’t bother. You’ve already said quite enough.

Mike Babcock and Sidney Crosby

Next up is Postmedia gasbag Steve Simmons, who’s forever chasing kids off his lawn:

There is little about Willie Desjardins that is reminiscent of Mike Babcock…Desjardins comes across just a little bit nervous, a little unsure, not necessarily confident, not calming in the usual arrogant coaching I-have-this-under-control way, but instead there is just a little reason to wonder about the Team Canada head hockey coach. Desjardins doesn’t seem to take ownership of the environment the way Babcock has done in the past.”

Geez, you don’t suppose that might have something to do with talent, do you Stevie? Babcock was sending Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews over the boards when Canada was winning gold medals in 2010 and ’14. Willie Boy is sending out Derek Roy and Wojtek Wolski. Do the freaking math, man.

But Simmons wasn’t done. He added:

He showed up in the mixed zone Saturday afternoon—the Olympic area in which press, athletes and coaches meet—and looked like he would rather be anywhere else in the world. He barely said anything that mattered. His interview lasted 93 seconds. For most of the time his body language screamed: Get me out of here. Bill Belichick can get away with that. Willie Desjardins is no Bill Belichick.

The Canadian coach needs to be better, stronger, more confident, more urgent, more definitive, appearing more in control and maybe a touch more defiant.

Good grief. Get a grip, boys. Our hockey heroes were two games in. They’re now three deep, having beaten South Korea 4-zip on Sunday, and they’ve earned a free pass into the quarterfinal round. What part of that do you not understand?

Scribes and/or broadcasters crapping on our Olympians is lame. Unless you’re a stooge like Ben Johnson and the mooks who used him for a patsy, the people wearing the Maple Leaf—and their handlers—ought to be totally off limits. I hope that’s something jock journalists keep in mind if the hockey crusade turns sour for coach Willie and the boys in the elimination rounds.

Kaitlyn Lawes

Olympic Games good reads: Like the athletes they write about, sports scribes are expected to “up” their game at the Winter Olympics. No mailing it in. And there’s been some terrific stuff coming out of South Korea. For example…

Gold medal: Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star, for his heart-tugging piece on Canadian speed skater Ted-Jan Bloemen’s bride, Marlinde, and her childhood friend who lost a baby.

Silver medal: Arthur again, this time for his piece on the difficult road travelled by Canadian fancy skater Eric Radford, the first openly gay man to strike gold at a Winter Games.

Bronze medal: Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press, for his piece on delightful curler Kaitlyn Lawes and her relationship with her late father, Keith.

It’s wonderful stuff, because Arthur and Wiecek are writing about people who happen to be champion athletes, not champion athletes who happen to be people. There should be more human interest tales in sports writing and less Xs, Os and naked animosity.

Tessa Virtue and dance partner Scott Moir.

Is there anything more beautiful in athletics than fancy skating at the Olympic level? I think not. From the music to the women’s costumes to the sex appeal to the sensual/sultry-yet-robust athleticism, it’s breathtaking, especially the dance program. And if I was a little girl instead of an old lady, I’d want to grow up to be Tessa Virtue, the delicate half of Canada’s leading dance partnership. If I couldn’t be Tessa, I’d want to be Kaitlyn Lawes.

Rachel Homan

Here’s what happens when non-curling people are required to cover curling: Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail waded into the Olympics burned-rock controversy involving Canadian skip Rachel Homan and Julie Heogh, second on the Danish team. Kelly writes about “Homan’s decision to burn a Danish rock—take it out of play after being touched by an opponent.” Wrong. Homan didn’t “burn” the stone, she removed it.  Heogh “burned” the stone while sweeping it in the rings. Kelly also notes that Canada no longer wins by divine right on the global curling stage, as if that’s something new. Earth to Cathal! Earth to Cathal! That’s not exactly man-bites-dog material. It’s been that way for quite some time. Our curlers have ruled the world of women’s curling just twice in the past 10 years. Yup, 2-8. The men, meanwhile, are barely above the break-even point, at 6-4. You might want to familiarize yourself with something called research.

This week’s notable quotable comes from skier Kjetil Jansrud of Norway: “We believe there is no good explanation or justification for why you have to be a jerk to be a good athlete. So we just won’t have that kind of thing on our team. You have to get along with everyone.”

Saw an interesting question the other day: “Should the Montreal Canadiens do something at the National Hockey League trade deadline?” Yes, they should. General manager Marc Bergevin should tie a white flag to the end of a stick and wave it.

Clockwise from top left: Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Briane Meilleur, Shannon Birchard.

Jennifer Jones is probably jumping for joy right now, knowing she and her rinkmates have a free pass into next year’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts as Team Canada. Otherwise, they’d be required to get out of Manitoba, which just became more difficult. Joining forces, with an eye on a berth in the 2022 Winter Olympics curling tournament, are skips Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur. Einarson is a former ‘Toba champion. Sweeting is a former Alberta champion. Birchard just helped the Jones rink win the recent Scotties title. Meilleur has skipped her own team in the ‘Toba Scotties. Can you say juggernaut, kids? But wait. That’s four cooks at the same stove, maybe two cooks too many. Meanwhile, Tracy Fleury is assuming command of Einarson’s old team, which was beaten by Jones, Birchard, Dawn McEwen and Jill Officer in the Scotties final. Can we fast forward to next January? I’d like to know how this turns out.

Genie Bouchard

The great Roger Federer is back atop the world tennis rankings, moving ahead of a temporarily inactive Rafael Nadal into the No. 1 slot last week. His ascent is notable due to his age, 36, which makes him the oldest world No. 1 in history. Meanwhile, in other tennis news, Genie Bouchard took her clothes off and said, “Wow, this is harder than playing tennis. It is very hard work.” Apparently, the Sports Illustrated photo shoot was done in one day—just like most of her tennis tournaments.

After the first round of the Genesis Open at Riviera, I watched a highlights package and didn’t see anyone other than Tiger Woods swing a golf club. There was no mention of the leader. There was no mention of the golfers nipping at the leader’s Foot Joys. Just video evidence of Woods missing another fairway en route to a 1-over-par 72. What’ll the coverage be like if he actually breaks par one of these weeks?

The San Francisco 49ers have made Jimmy Garoppolo the richest player in National Football League history, with a $137.5-million contract.at $27.5M per season, and I’m asking myself this: What am I missing? I mean, that’s more coin that Tom Brady takes home. More than Aaron Rodgers. More than Drew Brees. Those three are Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. Garappolo has won…oh, that’s right, he earned two Super Bowl rings for holding a clipboard for Brady. Go figure.

Oh joy. Baseball is back. And it’ll be on TV at the end of the week, which means it’ll be beer and baseball at Bart’s Pub on Saturday afternoons from now until October. There’s just something about baseball that makes the beer taste better.

About mob justice and the Canadian Football League…the hypocritical media…”Oskee wee wee! Oskee wa wa! Holy WTF Hamilton!”…and the Sharapova Shriek returns to the U.S. Open

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Now that sober second thought has won the day and it’s no longer necessary to lock up every mother’s daughter in Hamilton, I must say that the rush by fans and media to tar and feather Art Briles and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats was shocking in its swiftness and ferocity. Also its effectiveness.

Art Briles

I mean, Briles and his off-the-charts creep quotient won’t be coming across the border into Canada. That’s a good thing. A very good thing.

But all the righteous indignation and condemnation that rained down on Briles and the Tabbies on Monday, where was it during the past two months when a chronic and convicted beater of women, Floyd Mayweather Jr., was preparing to collect upwards of $350 million for a fist fight? Mayweather was allowed to go about his business, pre- and post-beatdown of Conor McGregor, sans universal censure. Indeed, the boxing champion is today lauded for running his ring record to 50-0.

Atta boy, Floyd,” goes the verbal back-patting of enablers and hangers-on. “You beat Rocky’s record. You’re the greatest, champ.”

Evidence indicates that fight fans and media cannot get their fill of Mayweather. Morals be damned. They continue to feed at his trough of dismissive arrogance, blatant misogyny and utter indecency, and it doesn’t matter how many women he sends to the hospital.

Is it because boxing is the seediest of all sports, with its assortment of sinister characters forever lurking on the periphery, that the rabble and (especially) opinionists on air and in print look the other way?

Perhaps, but isn’t looking the other way the very reason Briles is a pariah? Well, yes it is. We didn’t want him anywhere near our vulnerable young people because, while head football coach at Baylor University in Texas, he turned a blind eye to the systemic sexual assault of college women and other wrong-doing by his players, criminal activity that reportedly included gang rape. For that, Briles was dismissed and, little wonder, he’d been unable to secure employment until the Tiger-Cats came calling with an offer to serve the sorriest outfit in the Canadian Football League as an assistant coach.

The Briles hire was, of course, an affront to anyone with a moral compass, and it’s absolutely appalling to consider that he would be working with randy young men today had CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie not felt obliged to step in and force the Tabbies’ misguided management/ownership into giving their heads a good and proper shaking until all the stupid had fallen out.

CFL commish Randy Ambrosie

In this case, there’s something to be said for mob justice, because the Ticats recruiting Briles was as wrong as rain is wet and the social media warriors, team sponsors, bloggers and mainstream media were having none of it.

But, again, I challenge the media’s role in this shameful episode that might have been the total undoing of the Hamilton franchise had it moved forward with the contaminated coach, who was dismissed less than 24 hours after being hired.

Why are jock journalists picking and choosing the bad guys, like they’re at the market shopping for vegetables and fruit? Why is Floyd Mayweather Jr. a rotten apple and Art Briles a rancid orange? This isn’t apples and oranges. It’s rotten apples and rotten apples. How is it that the guy who went to jail for beating up women is less of a cad than the guy who ignored frat boys on a gang-banging binge?

I simply cannot wrap my head around that.

The media, across the land and on both sides of the border, were absolutely correct in condemning the Briles hire, just as they were on the side of angels when they railed against National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell for his clumsy work on the Ray Rice domestic violence file. But they are the very picture of hypocrisy in looking the other way whenever Floyd Mayweather Jr. is in the room.

Yes, you have every right to wonder what the hell is going on in Hamilton. Never mind between the sidelines, where the Tabbies are 0-8. Are they operating a professional football organization or a halfway house? The general manager, Eric Tillman, couldn’t keep his hands off the family’s teenage babysitter in 2010 and entered a guilty plea on a sexual assault charge; they displayed ghastly judgement in attempting to bring Briles on board; and rumors persist that they’ll make a strong pitch for bad boy quarterback Johnny Manziel, who only last December had his day in court on sexual assault charges. All together now: “Oskee wee wee! Oskee wa wa! Holy WTF Hamilton!”

Maria Sharapova

Really got into the Maria Sharapova-Simona Halep first-round match at the U.S. Open on Monday night at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Gotham. It was electric. I can do without the Sharapova Shriek (couldn’t we all?), but Her Royal Blondeness’s 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory over the world No. 2 was high drama for an opening act at the tennis season’s final Grand Slam tournament. Even though she was dressed in all black for the occasion, I don’t see Sharapova as a villain. Call me gullible, but I’m not convinced she’s a cheater in the sense that Ben Johnson was a cheater. I’m inclined to sing in concert with commentator Chrissie Evert, who, during the broadcast, suggested someone made a dumb mistake that resulted in a 15-month ban for using the drug meldonium. Sharapova is a longshot to win the tournament, but her presence provides considerable oomph to the women’s draw.

Interesting that U.S. Open organizers would choose a Canadian crooner, Shania Twain, as the feature performer for the opening ceremonies at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Guess Americans don’t get as bummed out about that sort of thing as we do.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

About jock journos still giving Floyd Mayweather Jr. a pass…Winnipeg Jets missing the playoffs…Connor McDavid is No. 1…an unsafe city…and other things that are too dumb for words

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Floyd Mayweather Jr. in handcuffs is what the sports media should be talking about.

The circus has rolled into Las Vegas and no one is talking or writing about the elephant in the room.

They talk and write about Conor McGregor’s weight, the betting line, the unvarnished vulgarity of a recent travelling trash-talk tour, the price of ringside seats at T-Mobile Arena, pay-per-view audience numbers, McGregor’s Irish charm and blarney, the size of the the boxers’ gloves, the age of the fighters, Justin Bieber unfriending Floyd Mayweather Jr., the heat in Glitter Gulch, racism, McGregor’s wardrobe, a fixed fight, and the improbability of a mixed martial arts champion battering the best boxer of a generation.

But nobody is talking or writing about Mayweather beating up women. It’s as if the undefeated champion has never hit a woman or never spent any time behind bars for hitting women.

The unbeaten boxing champion is a serial woman abuser and the sports media is giving him a pass in advance of Saturday’s scheduled 12-round dust-up with MMA champion McGregor, who is so inexperienced as a pure fist-fighter that he can’t even be classified as a novice boxer.

I scanned a dozen articles Wednesday morning on the Mayweather-McGregor tiff and discovered exactly two one-sentence references to Floyd Jr.’s ugly predilection for punching out women, including the mother of his children. Neither of those sentences appeared in a column by Steve Simmons of Postmedia. He went all the way to Vegas to write about himself instead of the fighters. I watched Stephen Brunt, among our country’s finest sports scribes, wag his chin for 10 minutes on Sportsnet and not one second was devoted to Mayweather’s history of domestic violence.

So here’s the question I’m struggling with: Why were jock journalists so hot and bothered and eager to place a focus on domestic violence in February 2014, when Ray Rice KO’d his then-finance on an elevator, yet now it’s a non-issue?

Perhaps, like Mayweather himself, they’re “waiting to see the photos.” Perhaps that’s what it takes to stir them. Video or photographic evidence. It isn’t enough that there have been 21 arrests of National Football League players on domestic violence/battery charges since the Rice incident, which cost the former Baltimore Ravens running back his career. It isn’t enough that Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott has been told to go away for six games due to multiple instances of domestic violence. It isn’t enough that Willie Reed of the Los Angeles Clippers spent time in a Miami jail last weekend on charges of roughing up his wife. It isn’t enough that Mayweather Jr. is a convicted woman-beater.

They need pictures. Otherwise, they’ll continue to glorify Floyd Jr. and promote his farce of a fight.

Sigh.

Paul Maurice

This just in: The Hockey News is first out of the chute with a prediction that there won’t be any meaningful matches played at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie next spring. Here’s what Sam McCaig has to say about the Winnipeg Jets’ prospects for their 2017-18 National Hockey League crusade: “The Jets have a premier first line, a solid second line, and some upside on the bottom two units. The defense corps features a sturdy top-six, led by Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba. The problem areas are in goal, where incoming Steve Mason has been tasked with mentoring up-and-down goalie-of-the-future Connor Hellebuyck, and the team’s inability—to this point—to become a sum of its parts. It also doesn’t help matters that Winnipeg plays in the West, where there appears to be 11 bona fide playoff teams vying for eight spots.” Odd that he had nothing to say about the head coach, Paul Maurice, who’s probably the reason the local outfit has yet to “become a sum of its parts.” (McCaig, by the way, also has the Tranna Maple Leafs, L.A. Kings and San Jose Sharks among the 15 outfits that will fail to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament.)

Another reason to like Connor McDavid: He’s honest. THN rates McMoneybags as the No. 1 player in the NHL, but the Edmonton Oilers centre is having none of that. “I don’t agree with it,” says McDavid, who’s probably better than anyone not named Sidney Crosby. “Everyone knows who the best player in the league is and it’s not me.”

THN’s top-50 player list is a head-scratcher, to be certain. I mean, Sergei Bobrovsky is No. 6? Steven Stamkos is No. 46? Auston Matthews is already a better player than Victor Hedman? And if Kevin Shattenkirk is a better defenceman than Roman Josi, then Don Cherry is a card-carrying commie. That’s just stupid. Only two Jets cracked the THN select 50: Rink Rat Scheifele at No. 15 and Patrik Laine at No. 24. I’m not convinced that’s accurate, especially the Laine ranking, but it’s no dumber than listing Matthews at No. 8.

I note that a Mainstreet/Postmedia poll lists Winnipeg as the most unsafe city in Canada. There’s no truth to the rumor that the poll was taken immediately after Travis Bond, Jermarcus Hardrick and the rest of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ O-line attempted to leap into the stands at Formerly Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

Andrew Harris

A week ago, Donnovan Bennett of Sportsnet declared Bombers kicker Justin Medlock to be the most outstanding player in the Canadian Football League (yes, a kicker). This week, Bennett asks this of running back Andrew Harris: “Is he the best player in the CFL?” A strong case can be made for Harris, but the answer is “no.” It’s Mike Reilly. Same as last week.

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: The Bombers whup the Eskimos in their sole head-to-head skirmish, yet Bennett has the latter ahead of the former in his weekly CFL power rankings. Hands up if that makes sense to anyone other than Donnovan Bennett. I didn’t think so.

Looks like UFC fighter Jon Jones has failed yet another drug test. Plenty of athletes get caught using illegal drugs once. But twice? C’mon, man. Guess that’s why it’s called a dope test.

Tonya Harding

Speaking of dummies, here are my top five athletes who were just too dumb for words…
1. Ben Johnson. Too easily duped by dishonest people. A total patsy.
2. Tonya Harding. Seriously, a fancy skater hiring a hit man?
3. Pete Rose. Betting on baseball games when you’re a manager?
4. Ryan Locte. Really? Fibbing about being robbed at gunpoint during the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil?
5. Jose Canseco. Has the former big league ballplayer ever said anything that wasn’t too dumb for words?

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

About grrrrl power ‘n’ goddesses…an ugly American in Rio…giving A-Rod the needle…the Otta-whine RedBlacks…a mea culpa…and not wearing a beach volleyball bikini

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Grrrl power and goddesses.
Grrrl power and goddesses.

Quiz me this, Sexism Police: If a writer uses the word “goddesses” to describe a female athlete, is that sexist or not? Or does it depend on the gender of the scribe?

I ask this because one wordsmith has bestowed the loft of “goddesses” upon the women who are responsible for the entirety of Canada’s medal haul at the Summer Olympic Games in Brazil. Given the sensitivities of the day, such a descriptive might be expected to inspire howls of protest because the word “goddess” is very much about female physical beauty.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a goddess is “a female deity” or “a woman who is greatly admired, especially for her beauty.” Merriam-Webster defines goddess as “a female god,” or “a women whose great charm or beauty arouses adoration.”

So, you need to be female and you need to be beautiful in appearance. All others need not apply.

Sounds sexist to me.

Actually, much of the column written by Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star could be considered sexist, to the point of being an exercise in the gender-shaming of men. I mean, it’s appropriate to laud the ladies for their achievements at Rio de Janeiro with catchy phrases like “Grrrrl power in the pool.” But Ramblin’ Rosie shifts into an us-vs.-them mode. The women vs. the men. It’s XII medals for the XX side. And the XY side? Zip. Zilch. The men have provided no yang to the women’s yin.

Still, I don’t think DiManno was being sexist in her use of the term “goddesses” or her emphasis on the lack of success, to date, by Canada’s male Olympians. (Stooping to the branding of certain scribes/broadcasters as “chauvinistic troglodytes” is another matter.)

I just find it interesting that she can use a word, the meaning of which speaks directly to a women’s physical beauty, and it goes unchallenged. I’m not sure a guy would get away with that. Not in today’s politically correct climate. Surely someone would be offended. Which might explain why, in a similarly themed column, Randy Turner of the Winnipeg Free Press took the safe route and described our women as “fierce female warriors.”

Hope Solo: An ugly American in Rio.
Hope Solo: An ugly American in Rio.

The gold medal for Ugly American in Rio goes to Hope Solo, goalkeeper with the United States women’s soccer side. Her gamesmanship, whereby she demanded a new pair of gloves prior to the final kick in a shootout loss to Sweden, was pathetic theatrics, but calling the victors a “bunch of cowards” went beyond the pale. According to Solo, those pesky Swedes displayed extremely bad manners in refusing to join the Americans in a game of run-and-gun football. How dare they sit back and defend? Dirty, rotten “cowards.” And, to think, some Americans wonder why the world cheers against them.

Hard to imagine that the now-retired Alex Rodriguez is on the New York Yankees’ payroll as an adviser. What pearls of wisdom will he dispense to young players with Major League Baseball’s most-storied franchise? In which butt cheek to inject the needle?

I don’t know what is worthy of more yuks, the Saskatchewan Roughriders being found guilty of cheating and still sporting a woeful 1-6 record for this Canadian Football League season or former genius Chris Jones insisting that all fans wishing to attend Gang Green workouts must first produce photo identification and sign in. Perhaps Jones shouldn’t just ask fans to sign in. Let ’em on the field. One or two of them might be able to do something most of the Riders are incapable of. You know, like catch a football.

I’m all for chasing dreams, so I won’t be joining the chorus of rude laughter that has accompanied football washout Tim Tebow since he expressed a desire to play professional baseball. Just one piece of advice for Tim, though: Play first base, because you rarely have to throw the ball.

That was quite the pity party Henry Burris had last week. Smilin’ Hank was snarlin’ Hank, most of his venom directed at the talking heads on the TSN football panel, who might or might not have been critical of him. Chris Schultz called the Burris rant an “overreaction,” while Matt Dunigan was “disappointed” and submitted Snarlin’ Hank’s “focus is all out of whack.” Milt Stegall got more personal, saying, “You sound like a baby right now, that’s exactly what you sound like.” You got it, Milt, just call Hank the Otta-whine RedBlacks quarterback.

Alex Rodriguez: Liar, liar, pants on fire.
Alex Rodriguez: Liar, liar, pants on fire.

I have a theory about the outpouring of support for Elliotte Friedman from his brethren in the Fourth Estate—he apologized. Jock journalists, you see, are not accustomed to hearing mea culpas. They expect lies and denial (hello, Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, A-Rod, Roger Clemens, Alan Eagleson, Roger Goodell, Russia, Ben Johnson, Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa et al). Thus, when Friedman apologized for his mega-mistake in the Olympic men’s 200-meter individual medley final, the boys and girls rallied ’round him, not simply because they don’t eat their own, but for his honesty. It’s in short supply in sports.

Not in short supply is casual homophobia. BBC commentator Paul Hand had this to say as a kiss-cam scanned the audience during a women’s tennis match in Rio: “Let’s hope they don’t go on to two blokes sat next to each other.” No Paul. The sight of gay people kissing is not the problem. The problem is people like you who have a problem watching gay people kiss.

A fun BBC thing is the site Who is Your Olympic Body Match? You type in your height, weight and age and you’re given the names of Olympic athletes who most closely resemble you. Mine are Barbora Strykova, a Czech tennis player, Natalia Alfaro, a Costa Rican beach volleyball player, and Wai Sze Lee, a Hong Kong track cyclist. I can handle playing tennis and riding a bike, but you’ll never catch me wearing one of those skimpy beach volleyball bikinis. For which we all can be thankful.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.