Let’s talk about girl power on Sportsnet…Billie Jean King doesn’t have a clue…snubbing the NWHL…and bust goes the Brier

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I don’t know if I gained or lost an hour on the weekend…

Oh, baby. They pulled it off.

Yup, Sportsnet delivered its first 99.9 per cent estrogen-fueled broadcast of a National Hockey League joust on Sunday night, so a few words are in order:

Christine Simpson, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, Leah Hextall.

a) Leah Hextall is more than adequate on play-by-play.

b) Christine Simpson is a real pro.

c) Cassie Campbell-Pascall doesn’t know when to put a sock in it.

d) Billie Jean King needs to pop a reality pill.

e) Ron MacLean makes for a rather subdued token male (he calls himself an “ally”).

f) Tara Slone has the groupie gene.

g) Apparently no one involved with the production of Hometown Hockey knows the National Women’s Hockey League exists.

That’s the Coles Notes version of what transpired during the Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Sunday, and if you’re wondering if the women did boffo work just ask them. They’ll assure you that they were absolutely fabulous, darling.

I mean, this was a 3½-hour exercise in excessive back-patting, and I believe they paid tribute to every woman on earth except Karla Homolka. Well, okay, that’s a stretch. But they did manage to squeeze Cher and Beyonce into the conversation, and we all know that no hockey broadcast is complete without mentioning Cher and Beyonce—not!

Curious name-dropping aside, full marks to Sportsnet for pushing the envelope. I just wish the main players hadn’t spent so much time kissing up to one another.

Don’t they realize you can catch coronavirus that way?

Leah Hextall

Among the women, Hextall had the most to gain/lose in this experiment. We’ve been listening to the empty squawkings of colorless commentator Campbell-Pascall for years now, and we’ve grown accustomed to Simpson’s smooth interview skills. But Hextall’s game call was something new, and I give her a passing grade.

I actually learned a new phrase from her: “He loses the boot.” Translation: A player lost his footing. Never heard that one before.

Hextall delivered another good line in the third period when two Golden Knights collided violently inside the blueline, describing it as “A bit of a Three Stooges moment.” I laughed out loud.

Hextall stumbled at times, though. She seemed caught by surprise when Nick Holden scored the second Vegas goal, also when Milan Lucic put the Flames on the board. “Lucic holds, fires and Lehner…oh, hang on, he scores,” she said. And she was flat out wrong on the Golden Knights winning tally, asking, “Is it in? Is it in? It looked in. From an angle shot, Max Pacioretty with the goal.” It was actually Shea Theodore who scored.

But, hey, other play-by-play people have made bigger blunders.

Is if fair to compare Hextall to male game-callers? Absolutely. After all, they’re the only measuring sticks available. So let’s just say she’s no Danny Gallivan, but who is? Like I said, she gets a passing grade.

I’m not sure what it is about Campbell-Pascall that gets up my nose, but I find her to be a total irritant, the same way skin rash is. She talked over Hextall too often, and she rudely hijacked the conversation when the two women were signing off. She also delivered the dumbest comment of the night when, as Ryan Reaves and Lucic lined up, she advised us that “the physicality on the ice right now is epic.” That would have been fine except for one small detail—they hadn’t even dropped the puck for the opening faceoff yet.

Ron and Tara

As expected, Slone and MacLean cooed and gushed during their taped first-intermission sit-down with Billie Jean King. MacLean was so dazzled to be in the presence of tennis royalty that he had Kendall Coyne Schofield winning the fastest skater competition at the NHL all-star game (she finished second last) and, when corrected by King, he mostly sat in slumped silence while Slone lathered the equal rights activist in praise.

Billie Jean King

No surprise that King called on the NHL to create hockey’s version of an adopt-a-pet program and subsidize a women’s professional league. “It’s the right thing to do and I think it’ll be good business,” she said. “They can do this. They can do this. Why can’t we have 700 girls or a thousand girls playing in a league?” Earth to Billie Jean! Earth to Billie Jean! If it’ll be such “good business,” why don’t you peel off some of your personal bankroll and help fund a WNHL? And where’s your business plan? As for a women’s league with 700-1,000 players, that’s shocking naiveté. There are approximately 200 members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, and another 120 suiting up with the five NWHL clubs. Where does King propose they scare up another 380-680 elite-level female players? She’d have better luck trying to find a virgin in a brothel.

During the game, Campbell-Pascall lauded King for her work on behalf of the PWHPA, telling us she’s “moved women’s hockey forward.” Rubbish. Ponytail Puck has never been in a worse mess.

Dani Rylan

In 3½ hours, the talking heads made numerous mentions of the PWHPA, but not once did they talk about the NWHL. And that’s shameful. Sportsnet is supposed to be a news-gathering and news-distributing operation yet, on International Women’s Day, it chose to completely ignore a hockey league that has a female commissioner, a female director of its players association, female general managers, a female head coach, female broadcasters, and the only operation in North America that pays females to play shinny. At some point, they should have advised us that the Boston Pride and Minnesota Whitecaps had won their semifinal matches on Sunday and advanced to the Isobel Cup final, scheduled for puck drop on Friday in Beantown. They didn’t, and that’s just wrong.

Sportsnet’s snub of the NWHL is particularly puzzling given that Kristina Rutherford’s in-depth look at commish Dani Rylan popped up on its website Sunday. It’s a terrific read on the woman who started the NWHL from scratch and is already planning for a sixth season.

And, finally, it’s about the Brier. After nine days of incredible shot-making and last-gasp dramatics, the boys delivered a dud in the Canadian men’s curling championship final in Kingston. It was like seeing Sinatra in concert all week, then getting Nickelback for a closing act. Brad Gushue and his pals from the Rock put on a clinic in a 7-3 win, while Brendan Bottcher and his bunch from Wild Rose Country coughed up a hair ball (many of them, actually). It was all over except for the muffled celebration after three ends, and that’s not the finish this exceptional bonspiel deserved.

Let’s talk about the Buffalo Boys and the Brier…the Jets, the Oilers and Coach PoMo’s excuses…the NHL’s feel-good stories…Sid the Kid’s goal…Commish Randy’s road trip…Tony Romo’s gum flapping…power women in hockey…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and nobody dropped me on my head last week, so some of this might make sense…

Mike McEwen

I trust Mike McEwen and Jason Gunnlaugson realize what’s at stake at the Brier this week in Kingston. If not, someone needs to clue them in immediately that nothing less than the top step on the podium is acceptable.

I know, I know. That’s expecting a lot. But such is the Burden of the Buffalo. Especially on pebbled ice.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Manitoba curlers are on the mother of all rolls this season, winning three world titles and the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, and I’m assuming Messrs. McEwen and Gunnlaugson would rather not let the side down.

Colin Kurz certainly didn’t. He skipped his team to the world Mixed crown in Aberdeen, Scotland, last October. Next up were Mackenzie Zacharias and Jacques Gauthier, who double dipped at the world Juniors in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. Then along came Kerri Einarson and her gal pals out of Gimli to claim the national women’s championship in Moose Jaw.

So, over to you, Mike and Jason. Show us what you’ve got, boys.

Jeff Stoughton

Hard to believe, but our Buffalo Boys are 1-for-the-21st century at the Brier, with only Jeff Stoughton managing to get the job done in 2011. It pains me to say that Alberta outfits have had their way at the men’s championship, taking the Tankard home to Wild Rose Country 11 times since 2000, and I’m not sure I’d want to bet against either Brendan Bottcher or Kevin Koe claiming a 12th title next weekend. If they do, His Royal Smugness Terry Jones of Postmedia E-Town will be positively insufferable, and that’s one column I won’t want to read.

Interesting chin wag between Jay Onrait, Dan O’Toole and Ontario skip John Epping last week on TSN. According to O’Toole, curling is “uniquely Canadian.” Ya, tell that to the Scots, Danny boy. They only invented the bloody game and brought it to our shores.

Yes, now that you mention it, that was a spirited skirmish the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers delivered on Saturday night, and it left me wanting more of the same. It’s quite possible that these two outfits will meet in the initial jousting of the Stanley Cup tournament and, as I was saying last weekend, I’d like Winnipeg HC’s chances against the McDavids in a seven-game series.

Coach PoMo

Only one thing I didn’t like about the Jets 3-2 loss in E-Town—Paul Maurice’s post-match spewings. “I think it’s nine (games) in 16 (days) for us and a couple of time zone changes,” Coach PoMo told news snoops. Oh, boo flipping hoo. Everybody’s tired, everybody’s limping this deep into the National Hockey League season, so it’s no time for lame excuses about scheduling and travel.

Coach PoMo must be the envy of head coaches everywhere. He’s in danger of failing to qualify for Beard Season for the fourth time in seven crusades, yet he has a new, three-year, $9-million contract tucked in his hip pocket. You know, right beside the horse shoe, the four-leaf clover, the rabbit’s foot, the smoke and the mirrors.

Bobby Ryan

So who had the better feel-good story, Bobby Ryan or David Ayres? It has to be Ryan. Ya, sure, Ayres climbing down from a Zamboni to play goal for the Carolina Hurricanes and beat the Maple Leafs was boffo, but I saw it more as Sideshow Bob stuff. You know, something good for a few yuks at Tranna’s expense and, lord knows, a lot of us like to laugh at the Leafs. Ryan, on the other hand, had a hat trick in his return to Ottawa after three months on the shelf to put his life back in order, and I say a guy triumphing in his battle with the bottle trumps quirky every time. It had me reaching for the Kleenex.

David Ayres

Don’t get me wrong. I think the Ayres story is terrific, and there’s a very real human element to it. He has one of his mom’s kidneys, you see, and his new-born celebrity allows Ayres to raise awareness and funds for a disease that, according to the National Kidney Foundation, causes more deaths in the U.S. than breast or prostate cancer. One in 10 Canadians has kidney disease, and I happen to be among them. I’m at Stage 4, and there’s no cure for the silent killer. Not surprisingly, though, the kidney angle is too often an afterthought in the telling of the Ayres tale, because who thinks about their kidneys until they go on the fritz?

Just wondering: Would there have been as big a fuss over Ayres had he made his cameo appearance in San Jose against the New Jersey Devils instead of in the Republic of Tranna vs. the Leafs on Hockey Night In Canada? Somehow I doubt it.

Celebration time for Sid the Kid.

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet did the natter thing with Sidney Crosby, tripping back to Sid the Kid’s golden goal at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. “Everybody remembers where they were,” Friedman said of the moment when Crosby whipped the puck past American goalie Ryan Miller to win the tournament for the good guys. Well, I consider myself among the “everybody,” but I don’t have a clue where I was, who I was with, or what I was doing on Feb. 28, 2010. I remember where I was when Paul Henderson scored in 1972. And when Marie-Philip Poulin scored in 2014. But Sid’s goal escapes me. Does that make me unCanadian?

It seems to me that “tweener” goals in the NHL have become as commonplace as missing teeth. Those between-the-leg goals have gone from highlight reel to ho-hum.

Commish Randy

Canadian Football League commish Randy Ambrosie is on a to-and-fro across the country, hobnobbing with the rabble and nattering about a new playoff format proposed by Wade Miller, CEO of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Apparently the rank-and-file are fully on board with the notion of the top two outfits, West and East, earning first-round byes, and the next four clubs qualifying for the Grey Cup tournament regardless of locale. That, of course, could mean five West Division teams in the post-season. Hey, works for me. As for the idea of having the club with the best regular-season record choose its playoff foe, fuhgeddaboudit. It’s a very loud no-go. No surprise, really. Everyone would want to play the Cleveland Browns.

Tony Romo

Wow, CBS will be paying Tony Romo $17 million to flap his gums during National Football League games next season. Hmmm, I wonder how much it would take for Fox to get Terry Bradshaw to stop talking.

Loved this Twitter exchange between Danny Austin of Postmedia Calgary and Terry Jones of Postmedia Edmonton:
Austin: “Removing all politics from this statement, it is so embarrassing that in Calgary, Canada’s fourth biggest city, the LRT only comes every 15 minutes on weekends.”
Jones: “Yeah, but a chuckwagon comes by every 10 minutes.”
That’s cheeky, also very funny.

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that news snoops in the Republic of Tranna no longer tell us that Kawhi Leonard is God’s gift to the hardwood? Why do you suppose that is? Oh, that’s right, Kawhi is a traitor and doesn’t play in The ROT anymore.

Dani Rylan

And, finally, in the good reads department, Emily Sadler of Sportsnet has a piece on the 25 most powerful women in hockey, and I know what some of your are thinking: You didn’t know there were 25 women in hockey, right? Well don’t be cheeky. Emily has Kendall Coyne Schofield ranked No. 1, followed by Kim Davis of the NHL office and National Women’s Hockey League commish Dani Rylan. It’s worth checking out.

About Auston Matthews and Puck Finn, who ya gonna take now?…hockey goals and soccer goals on TSN…a swing and a miss for the Hockey Hall of Fame…no gay curling champion…Tiger, Tiger burning bright…and a “golden standard” that ain’t so golden

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

Puck Finn, Patrik Laine

Okay, let’s ask the Tranna Maple Leafs if they’d like a do-over.

That is, given the opportunity to revisit the 2016 National Hockey League entry draft, would les Leafs still use their first shout-out to select Auston Matthews? Or would they choose Puck Finn, more commonly known as Patrik Laine?

Matthews and Laine went one-two, respectively, in the annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers in ’16 and, almost two complete crusades into their NHL careers, a case can be made that the Leafs chose the wrong guy. Laine, after all, has lit more lamps this winter than anyone other than Alex Ovechkin and a Kentucky coal miner. He’s just 10 shy of a 50-goal season as a sophomore. Only two players in history, Jimmy Carson and Dale Hawerchuk, scored more often as NHL teens.

In short, Puck Finn has come as advertised.

Auston Matthews

Matthews has as well, though, and going by the numbers the difference between the Leafs centre and the Winnipeg Jets winger is just six games, eight goals and a horrible mess of scraggly chin whiskers that make Laine look like an Amish bread, butter and egg man (worst…beard…ever). Matthews is 135-68-51-119; Laine is 141-76-51-127.

So, would the Leafs do things differently? Nope. Would the Jets want them to do things differently? Hell no.

I recall being puzzled by the results of a Postmedia preseason poll, whereby 25 NHL players were asked to read the tea leaves and predict the winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy, which goes to the league’s top sniper. Eight players were mentioned, not one of them named Patrik Laine. They were, in order, Sidney Crosby, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Ovechkin, Tyler Seguin, Steven Stamkos, Vladimir Tarasenko, Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel. (Seriously, Jack Eichel?) What is it, I wondered, that the players didn’t see in Laine? I mean, they’re on the ice with him. They have intimate knowledge of the shot that Puck Finn snaps off faster and is more lethal than a Donald Trump tweet. Surely they know more about pure talent than us lumps on bar stools. Guess not.

Lionel Messi

Speaking of lumps on stools, I direct your attention to The Quiz boys on TSN—Jeff O’Dog, Dave Poulin and Bob McKenzie. Quiz master James Duthie asked the three wise men to choose between Ovechkin (598 hockey goals) and Lionel Messi (600 soccer goals) as the greatest sniper of this generation.

O’Dog: “I’m going to pick Alex Ovechkin due to the fact I’ve never seen Messi play one second of a competitive soccer match…is that what they call it, the match?”

McKenzie: “I will go with Ovechkin. I’ve gotta go with the hockey answer simply because, as O said, I don’t have the context to provide for soccer. Don’t follow it close enough, so, I realize how great Messi is, but…”

Duthie: “You’re basically saying that you’re both ignorant to soccer.”

McKenzie: “That’s correct.”

O’Dog: “Don’t care about it either.”

Only Poulin got it right.

Six hundred goals in soccer is like two million goals in hockey,” he advised the two blockheads sitting to his left.

Poulin’s point is well taken, even if his math is suspect. The difference between soccer snipes and hockey goals is probably more like dog years to human years—seven to one. Thus, Messi’s 600 is the equivalent of 4,200 hockey goals. You’d think someone named O’Dog would know about dog years.

Pierre McGuire

There must be some Arctic air flowing into hell, because I’m going to agree with Damien Cox. The Toronto Star scribe is calling out the Hockey Hall of Fame for appointing “another older, white male” to replace legendary coach Scotty Bowman on its selection committee. “What was the hall thinking?” he asks. “What was (chairman Lanny) McDonald thinking?” They “blew it.” Cox figures the HHOF would be more in tune to the times had it chosen a woman or “person of color” to fill the vacancy, rather than broadcaster Pierre McGuire. He believes diversity and gender equality are “critical issues.” Hard to disagree. It is, mind you, odd to hear a Canadian sports scribe calling for “diversity” when his own business is largely old, white, male and exclusively heterosexual.

In acknowledgement of International Women’s Day, Donnovan Bennett of Sportsnet had a panel chin-wag with three female jock journalists—Laura Armstrong of the Toronto Star, Rachel Brady of the Globe and Mail, and Christine Simpson of Sportsnet. I’d like to report that the women provided considerable anecdotal insight about the challenges they face in what remains very much a man’s world, but it wasn’t much more than bland generalities. That to-and-fro came on the heels of Bennett’s gab fest with David Amber, Morgan Campbell, Eric Thomas and Rosey Edeh in recognition of Black History Month. It leaves me to wonder if he’ll gather together three or four gay sports writers during Pride Month in June. Oh wait. Scratch that thought. There are no gay sports scribes in Canada.

John Epping

I can’t help but wonder what the reaction would have been had John Epping and his Ontario team won the Canadian men’s curling championship on Sunday. Epping is the only openly gay man to skip in the Brier, and many kudos to TSN for acknowledging his husband, Thomas Shipton, during Ontario’s semifinal loss to Brendan Bottcher of Alberta. That recognition might seem trivial to most, but it carries considerable significant to many in the LGBT community.

Interesting gimmick the Southern Professional Hockey League is adopting for its playoffs this year. The first-, second- and third-place teams get to choose their opening-round foes. Yup. Disregard the standings. The top dog decides if it wants to face off against team No. 5, 6, 7 or 8. Then the next two outfits sift through the leftovers and choose. Seems to me that it’s a risky bit of business for the teams making the call. Totally insulting and the ultimate bulletin board material. Can’t see that ever working in the NHL. But, then, I never thought I’d see the day when an NHL player would be given a minor penalty for scoring a goal (hello Brian Dumoulin). So all bets are off.

So, Tiger Woods didn’t win another golf tournament. Same old, same old. Except, this time, Woods only missed it by that much. One less swing and he’d have been in a playoff with eventual winner Paul Casey at the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Fla., on Sunday. Both Woods’ game and his body appear to be in fine fettle as we near the first tee at Augusta National. Ditto his attitude. I mean, is it my imagination or is Tiger smiling more? Is he interacting with his playing companions and the rabble more? It’s as if he’s adopted a “just happy to be here” mindset. He certainly seems less angry. It’s a good look.

Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard

And, finally, our Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. This week we find our man Steve wondering where Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin fit in among the NHL’s all-time best middlemen combos.

Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier have been the gold standard for 1-2 punches playing centre for the same NHL team,” he writes.

Oh, there have been other great combinations down the middle over the years. Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg in Colorado. Mario Lemieux and Ron Francis in Pittsburgh. Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov in Detroit. Stan Mikita and Phil Esposito in Chicago. Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard in Montreal.

Gretzky and Messier won four (Stanley) Cups together in Edmonton. Should Crosby and Malkin pick up a fourth Cup—and maybe more than that—they will slide neatly right behind Gretzky and Messier in a very special place in hockey history.”

Excuse me? Gretzky and Messier are the “gold standard” because they helped the Oilers win the Stanley Cup four times? As if. Believeau and Richard hoisted hockey’s holy grail 10 times together. They were winning the thing before Simmons was in his mother’s womb. They’d won it five times before he was out of diapers. The “gold standard” is 10, not freaking four.