The Stanley Cup: “It’s coming back to Winnipeg!”

Well, the Winnipeg Jets have laid waste to the Nashville Predators, winning 5-1 in Game 7 of their National Hockey League playoff series, so it’s time to check in with my two Hens in the Hockey House, who’ve come out of hibernation to join the rabid rabble as the Jets continue on their Stanley Cup crusade.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Oh, happy day! I’m so giddy! It’s the merry month of May and the Jets are still playing hockey! Round 3 of the playoffs coming up! Can you believe it, girlfriend?

Answer Lady: Yes, I’m a believer. I also now officially believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, that Donald Trump really is president of the United States, and there are now skating rinks in hell. For sure, hell has frozen over.

Question Lady: Is that the best you can do? Sarcasm? Can’t you at least show some enthusiasm for the city and the Jets?

Answer Lady: Hey, I’m as happy as a cottage owner on the May long weekend. The Jets paddywhacking the Predators is the best thing to happen to Good, Ol’ Hometown since the Guess Who did that Pan-Am Games gig in 1999. Which reminds me: I still can’t believe those boys aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Question Lady: Oh, I know. Totally criminal. I mean, Bon Jovi…Journey…Isaac Hayes…those slugs are in the Rock Hall and it’s still on Randy, Burton, Jimmy and Garry’s bucket list? That’s like leaving the meat out of a Sals cheese nip. Do you think it’s true what Jets captain Blake Wheeler was saying last month: Everything flies under the radar when you play in Winnipeg?

Answer Lady: That’s total bunk if you’re talking about the Jets. But apparently it applies to rock bands.

Question Lady: Okay, enough of the Guess Who. We’re here to talk NHL playoffs. Who and what has impressed you during the Jets’ march to the third round of the NHL’s spring runoff?

Stacey Nattrass

Answer Lady: Start with Stacey Nattrass. Sorry to keep it on a music theme, but she kicked some high-priced country bumpkin butt as an anthem warbler during the Nashville-Winnipeg series. Can you believe Lady Antebellum gagging on the words to the American anthem down there in Twang Town last week? Talk about your Star-Spangled Bummers. Tells me all I need to know about today’s crop of country crooners. Brutal. But I digress. I’ll answer your question with a question: What’s not to like about the local hockey heroes?

Question Lady: Nice to finally hear you singing from a different page in the song book.

Answer Lady: What’s that supposed to mean?

Paul Maurice

Question Lady: Let me refresh your memory, girlfriend…one year ago, I made this bold prediction for the Jets—and I quote: “I think they’ll have a clear path to the playoffs next year. What’s to stop them?” You rejected me like an overcooked steak at 529 Wellington. Your answer was—and, again, I quote: “One, coaching. Two, goaltending.” You wanted Paul Maurice canned. You called him Coach Potty-Mouth and a snake oil salesman. You also submitted that Connor Hellebuyck was a backup goalie at best. As I recall, you said Bucky was to goaltending what Homer Simpson is to quality parenting. You also wanted Dustin Byfuglien traded. What say you now? Other than “D’oh?”

Pekka Rinne

Answer Lady: Just my luck. I’ve got a girlfriend with a memory like an elephant and she takes great glee in pointing out that I’m Dumbo the elephant. We’ll have to rethink our living arrangement. Anyway, I’ll tell you who made Maurice a better head coach—Pekka Rinne.

Question Lady: Are you off your nut? Did somebody spike your latté? I mean, how in the name of Georges Vezina did the Predators goaltender make Maurice a better bench boss?

Answer Lady: Were you not paying attention? Rinne sprung more leaks than Wiki. He got the hook not once, not twice, but three times. In seven starts vs. the Jets. That has to be a first. NHL general managers are going to have a four-egg omelette on their faces when he’s handed the Vezina Trophy next month in Las Vegas.

Question Lady: So you still aren’t sold on Maurice?

Answer Lady: I’ll give him this: He somehow convinced Byfuglien and the others to stop playing dumb-dumb hockey vis-a-vis undisciplined penalties. That’s huge. This Jets outfit plays with, as Brian Burke describes it, anger and hostility. They can be very belligerent. They’re tough. They’re defiant. They have a subtle arrogance that I really like. They swarm. They’re the go-go gang. They win the one-on-one skirmishes. Skill overrides all else, and they seldom come mentally unhinged. Very impressive. That, and Hellebuyck’s emergence as an elite goaler, are the reasons why there’ll be another meaningful match at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie on Saturday night.

Question Lady: That’s it? Discipline and goaltending?

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Answer Lady: No, major tip of the bonnet to GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. And his bird dogs—especially his bird dogs. Chevy has talked, ad nauseum, about the draft-and-develop blueprint, and his amateur scouts have done boffo business from the day they told him to select Rink Rat Scheifele with their first shoutout at the entry draft in 2011. But it’s Chevy’s bartering that has rounded off this roster. Look who scored in the 5-1 win over Nashville in Game 7 on Thursday night: Tyler Myers, reeled in as a major piece in the Evander Kane trade; Paul Stastny, two goals, brought in on deadline day. Chevy worked at a glacial pace, which was frustrating, but when he was motivated to make bold strokes they were the right strokes.

Question Lady: What do you see for the Jets going forward?

Answer Lady: A Stanley Cup parade.

Question Lady: Really? You’re saying the Jets will win the Stanley Cup?

Ed Olczyk

Answer Lady: Oh ya, baby. As sure as Puck Finn has a really, really bad beard, it’s a done deal. Like Eddie Olczyk said about Stanley on the Day of the Long Faces in 1996—“It’s coming back to Winnipeg!” Nashville was the big nut to crack. Now the Jets have home-fans advantage the rest of the way. The Little Hockey House On The Prairie will be a graveyard for the Vegas Golden Knights and the Eastern Conference survivor.

Question Lady: You’re not convinced that Vegas is the real deal?

Answer Lady: Sure they are. They’re jitter-bugs on ice. But the local lads will overwhelm them. The Jets are too fast on the puck, too hard on the puck, they bring too much back pressure, they’re too hostile, they’re too much of everything. And they’ll have a better anthem singer.

Carrie Underwood

Question Lady: I’m not so sure about that. Apparently country crooner Carrie Underwood has offered to sing the anthems at one of the games in Las Vegas. Can’t beat that, can you?

Answer Lady: Ha! Fat lot of good she was for the Predators. The Golden Knights can have her. We’ll stick with Stacey…or maybe drag Burton Cummings and the Guess Who out of mothballs. Maybe Neil Young. Maybe Bif Naked. Maybe Chantal Kreviazuk. Maybe Jennifer Hanson in her little red dress!

Question Lady: So how many games will it take the Jets to give Vegas a paddywhacking in the Western Conference final?

Answer Lady: Six. Jets in six. Then you and I will party at Portage and Main.

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About P.K. Subban, boo birds and ‘laughably stupid’ tweets…the Boston Licker…an NHL rule book that ain’t worth a lick…when is a hot dog not a hot dog?…Burkie is boffo on Sportsnet…hi, ho silver—away with those Swedish ingrates!…a parting gift for the Sedin twins…soccer’s Stone Age, the Age of Enlightenment in the NBA…and jock journos in the Republic of Tranna making a big deal out of a drip named Drake.

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

Dr. Phillip McGraw, Host, Dr. Phil

I opened a newspaper the other day and a Dr. Phil show broke out.

Seriously. I went directly to Section D of the Winnipeg Free Press to read Paul Wiecek’s column, figuring the oft-snarky scribe might have something contentious to say about the Winnipeg Jets-Nashville Predators engagement in the National Hockey League playoffs, and instead I found 1,200 words devoted to the optics of a hostile, white-skinned, white-clad mob numbering 15,000-plus raining boos, obscenities and taunts upon a black man.

Apparently, that’s not a good look. Apparently, it conjures KKK imagery of torch-bearing men adorned in white bed sheets and pillow cases, and burning crosses in a remote setting. And the people on Twitter who actually believe this are “laughably stupid,” as Wiecek accurately describes them.

Well, let me say this about all that: There are times when I read or hear something that makes me say, “Stop the world, I want to get off!” Most Jimmy Fallon monologues do that to me. Most Donald Trump tweets do that to me. And so did that Wiecek column. Made me want to call up Oprah and ask her to haul her couch out of storage so we could have a sit-down.

P.K. Subban

I mean, really? Some among the Twitter rabble cringe at the thought of outriders viewing Good, Ol’ Hometown as racist should the faithful in The Little Hockey House On The Prairie boo P.K. Subban of the Predators? This is Mississippi Burning visits Manitoba?

Sorry, but that’s a bigger stretch than the waistband on a pair of Charles Barkley’s old pants.

Wiecek writes “in the normal course of events, stupid things get said on Twitter all the time.” He’s correct. He adds that he is “loathe to give any of it further oxygen.” Yet he gives this racist “optics” nonsense 1,200 words worth of oxygen in a post-game column.

I wouldn’t describe that as “laughably stupid,” but it is stupid.

We now know that Brad Marchand is a serial licker. He has the most famous tongue this side of a Rolling Stones album or a KISS concert. And I can’t stop laughing about it. Don’t get me wrong. Uninvited licking is icky. I wouldn’t want Marchand’s tongue anywhere near me. He creeps me out. Totally. I’d rather have Roseanne slip me the tongue (trust me, I’m cringing at that thought). It’s just that this entire Boston Licker thing is so gob-smackingly absurd that my warped sense of humor keeps kicking in. I mean, think about it. When Marchand’s kid says, “My dad can lick your dad!” to another kid in the playground, he really means it. Literally.

The NHL, of course, has been in full howl since Marchand used Ryan Callahan’s face for a lollipop on Friday night (that after laying a licking on Leo Komarov’s neck in an earlier playoff game), and it’s been an outrage normally reserved for truly heinous crimes. The Boston Licker has become Beantown’s most notorious no-goodnik since Albert DeSalvo copped to the Boston Strangler slayings. The thing is, licking is such an unspeakable atrocity that NHL mucky-mucks didn’t think to include it in the 218 pages of their rule book. Spitting is in there. Hair-pulling is. Biting is. Cussing is. But not licking. Which only confirms what many of us have been saying during the mayhem that is the current Stanley Cup tournament—the NHL rule book ain’t worth a lick.

Apparently, it’s unanimous: Marchand should stop licking people. Even that Boston Bruins-loving blowhard on Hockey Night in Canada, Don Cherry, agrees. “Kids, you never do this,” was his sermon from the bully pit on Saturday night. “Gotta stop that nonsense. A kiss is all right, but…” No, Grapes, a kiss is not “all right.” Marchand needs to keep his lips and tongue to himself.

The Big Buff dance.

So, let me see if I’ve got this straight: When P.K. Subban breaks into dance after scoring a goal in the Jets-Preds NHL playoff skirmish, he’s a self-serving showboat. A hot dog dripping with mustard. But when Dustin Byfuglien of Club de Hockey Winnipeg does a post-goal jig, it’s just so gosh-darned cute because, hey, that’s just big, warm-and-fuzzy Buff being big, warm-and-fuzzy Buff. Sorry, folks, you can’t have it both ways. Hey, I’m no fan of Subban’s theatrics. As a Shakesperean actor, he makes a fine hockey player. But I don’t see how anyone can condemn him for having fun.

Brian Burke

Hockey Central at Noon last Thursday was boffo. Best episode. Ever. Joining host Daren Millard on the panel were Brian Burke and Doug MacLean, two been-there, done-that former NHL general managers who engaged in banter that was humorous, insightful, revealing, raw and sincere. Basically, it was Millard lending an ear to two crusty, ol’ boys spinning yarns. Man, this was some kind of good chatter. So much more enjoyable than the pontifical natterings of Damien Cox and the gatling-gun prattling of Todd Hlushko (stop and take a breath once in a while, man). It reminded me of the old days, sitting in the bowels of the Winnipeg Arena and listening to local bird dogs like Bruce Cheatley, Billy Robinson, Dino Ball and Jimmy Walker talk hockey and swap lies. Good times.

Bringing “Burkie” on board as a talking head was a thumbs-up move by Sportsnet, and I have to believe it’s driving Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna bonkers. “I get disappointed when I see Bill Parcells or Jim Rice or John Tortorella or others who have treated the media with a certain disdain winding up in media positions on television or radio,” he wrote not so long ago when crapping on Marc Savard’s appearance as a gab guy on Sportsnet. “If you don’t care for media, I’ve always thought, don’t be part of it.” Well, okay. Except Simmons treats many of the athletes/coaches (e.g. Kevin Durant, John Farrell, Venus Williams) and sports (e.g. curling, figure skating, women’s hockey, 3-on-3 hoops) he writes about with complete disdain. If you don’t care about the athletes/coaches and sports you write about, Steve, don’t be part of it.

Lias Andersson: Take this silver medal and shove it.

So, the International Ice Hockey Federation has suspended five players and three coaches with Sweden’s national Junior side for the dastardly deed of displaying frustration. Oh, yes, the Swedes had the bad manners to remove silver trinkets from their necks at the most-recent world junior championships, and captain Lias Andersson, who hucked his medal into the stands in Buffalo, received the harshest slap on the wrist. The IIHF has grounded him for four games. “To be ‘frustrated’ by the loss of a game is not the right attitude,” some mucky-muck in a suit said in a statement. I suppose that’s tough love. But I can’t help but wonder what the punishment might have been had young Lias licked someone’s face.

I say the King Clancy Memorial Trophy would be a lovely, also fitting, parting gift for Henrik and Daniel Sedin, and I’d also say you can make book on the Swedish twins walking off stage with the bauble at the NHL awards shindig in Glitter Gulch next month. P.K. Subban and Jason Zucker are the other finalists for the Clancy trinket, which salutes leadership qualities on and off the ice and humanitarian contribution to community, but I have to think the Sedins’ retirement swayed voters.

Stephanie Labbé

Stephanie Labbé has been told by the Premier Development League to take her soccer ball and go home. The reason? She’s a she. One of our national women’s team keepers with 49 caps, the 31-year-old Labbé is good enough to earn a spot on the Calgary Foothills FC roster, but the PDL will have none of it. No penis, no play. So I ask: What year is this? 2018 or 1918?

But wait. It must be 2018, at least in basketball, because the Milwaukee Bucks plan to interview Becky Hammon for their vacant head coaching position. She, like Labbé, is a she. The Bucks apparently don’t care. They’re only interested in ability. Hammon has been apprenticing as an assistant coach with Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs since 2014, and that’s good enough for the Bucks to take a look-see at her resumé and have a chin-wag. Good on them.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

I’m not really into hoops and haven’t harbored a rooting interest since my main man Kareem dropped his final sky hook for the Los Angeles Lakers, so I truly don’t give a damn how much of an ass clown the hip-hop artist/rapper known as Drake makes of himself as the Tranna Raptors’ unofficial court jester.

I mean, to me, the high-profile groupie’s hissing contest with Kendrick Perkins during and after Game 1 of the Raptors-Cleveland LeBrons playoff joust was a meh moment. Nothing to see here, folks. Just another puffed-up, self-inflated celebrity who’s entranced by himself and believes it’s all about him. Ignore him.

Except that’s not how media in the Republic of Tranna play it with the National Basketball Association’s celeb buffoon. To them, Drake is very much a “thing.” They can’t ignore him. They are the flies to his cow paddy.

Drake

Like, never mind DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and the Raptors’ collective faceplant in Game 1, followed by their total surrender in Game 2. Drake was in the house, don’t you know? Got into a gob-knocker with Kendrick Perkins. Talked smack. Huffed and puffed. Nasty stuff. He then received a tsk-tsking from the NBA and was told to go to his room. By the time he slinked back into the Air Canada Centre for the second Raps-Cavaliers go-round, Drake was as quiet as a church mouse tippy-toeing on cotton. All of which inspired Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail, and Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star to make Drake the central point of their off-day analysis.

Drake

Here’s a portion of Simmons’ alphabet fart: “The Raptors’ global ambassador is becoming a global embarrassment. This isn’t Drake’s time or place to get in the way. He has become an annoyance, even by his own rather distinguished annoying standards, even if the Raptors don’t necessarily view it that way. This is his time to sit down, shut up, stop posing for the cameras and acting like you’re part of the show.”

Here’s Feschuk: “Beginning with Game 2, (the Raptors) need to play with a lot less ‘we’re-not-worthy’ self-doubt and a lot more Drake-esque ‘we-own-the-place’ swagger. They’re better off inhabiting the spirit of a hip-hop god than playing like they’re haunted by the ghosts of LeBron-induced failures past. This team doesn’t need to ban Drake. It needs to be a bit more like him.”

It’s all about Drake in the Republic of Tranna

And now Kelly (in mournful muse): “Among the many sad and disappointing things about Thursday’s basketball game in Toronto—basketball among them—Drake stood out. He arrived later than normal, flanked by bodyguards. He came out of the tunnel laughing a little too hard and slapped more hands than usual. Over on the Cavaliers bench, his recent sparring partner, Kendrick Perkins, pretended not to notice. Drake sat down and angled his body toward the Toronto Raptors bench. And that was it. Where he would normally have stood up and started shouting, getting in Dwane Casey’s way as the coach stalked the sideline, he just sat there. No jawing with the opponents, no encouragement, no nothing. This was Toronto’s first citizen tamed. As bad a week as the Raptors had, Drake’s was more terrible in factors. Seeing him brought low for the sin of caring too much, of embarrassing the rest of us by showing it, of being so damned Canadian pains me.”

Talk about people making ass clowns of themselves.

About a “hockey play”…NHL conspiracy theories…good Canadian boys aren’t fakers…hosing the hosers…and long pee breaks for the ladies in Edmonton

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

The National Hockey League doesn’t need a Player Safety Committee. It needs a parole board.

Let’s face it, playoff hockey is street crime moved indoors. Muggings are as commonplace in springtime shinny as unruly chin whiskers. If there’s a rule book, it has all the bite of a butterfly. I mean, using Sidney Crosby’s head for a butcher’s block is a “hockey play” like a home invasion is a pajama party.

Barry Trotz knows that. Ditto Brian Burke.

Paul Bunyan

But because Crosby wasn’t their ox being gored when Alexander Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen went all Paul Bunyan on the Pittsburgh Penguins captain last Monday night, both Trotz and Burke quoted chapter and verse from every good, ol’ boy’s favorite reading material—the Conn Smythe Beat ‘Em In The Alley Hockey Bible.

I thought it was really a hockey play,” observed Trotz, head coach of the Washington Capitals.

I think it was a hockey play. This is what happens in our game,” echoed Burke, president in charge of truculence for the Calgary Flames.

Burke is correct. Stick happens. Ovechkin and Niskanen aren’t the first players in NHL history to use their shillelaghs to deliver violent blows to the head of a foe, nor will they be the last. It’s just that you’re supposed to be punished for such distasteful trespasses.

In this case, Ovechkin didn’t receive so much as a tsk-tsking for his Bunyanesque-like assault on Crosby in Game 3 of the Washington-Pitt playoff series. A two-hander to the arm, followed by a not-so-gentle whack to the back of the head? Nothing to see here, folks. Stick happens. Let’s move along. Except Ovechkin’s lumberjacking led directly to his accomplice moving in for sloppy seconds and cross-checking Crosby to the face.

Yes, I realize Niskanen was flagged and banished from the fray, but were additional punitive measures applied? Like a suspension? Hell no. This is the NHL postseason, don’t you know. Once the Stanley Cup tournament commences, the safety police hand out Get Out of Jail Free cards like condoms at a safe-sex convention. And it doesn’t matter if the unlawful battering renders a player like Crosby concussed and sends him to the repair shop. It’s a “hockey play.”

Well it isn’t. It’s a mugging. And the real crime is the NHL ignoring it.

I didn’t realize so many neurologists followed hockey. I mean, Crosby is concussed and suddenly everybody is an expert on brain trauma. Crosby should retire. No he shouldn’t. Yes he should. No he shouldn’t. Oh, just zip it. It’s his head, his career, his life. And for those who are astonished that he returned to the fray just four days after his mugging, be advised that concussions are like snowflakes—no two are the same. I ought to know: I’ve had my bell rung more often than Quasimodo.

Ryan Kesler

As a rule, I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories, the exceptions being the JFK assassination and anything involving Ryan Kesler, who is the NHL’s version of a human rights violation. But after witnessing the unraveling of the Edmonton McDavids against Kesler and the Disney Ducks on Friday night, I’m thinking there might be something to this ‘Gary Bettman/anti-Canada’ notion. Maybe it’s true what the conspiracists say about the NHL’s pointy-nosed, bobble-headed commissioner: He’ll go to extreme lengths to prevent the Stanley Cup from returning to the True North. Seriously. If what Kesler did to Edmonton’s Cam Talbot wasn’t goaltender interference, then I’m Patsy Cline and Bettman is Johnny Cash. Sure, the Ducks’ resident villain was shoved, rudely, onto the blue ice, but he wasn’t obliged to stay there and make like an octopus, wrapping his left tentacle around Talbot’s right pad. Not surprisingly, officials ignored damning video evidence that supported Kesler’s guilt and they allowed a Rickard Rakell goal to stand, thus sending Game 5 into extra time. If the Ducks’ 4-3 OT victory wasn’t part of a grand, anti-hoser conspiracy, it was enough to make me go “hmmmmmmm.”

For the record, I don’t have a dog in the Edmonton-Anaheim fight. I like Ducks coach Randy Carlyle because he’s one of the old Winnipeg Jets, and Connor McDavid is a joy to watch. Basically, I’m Switzerland on this one. Having said that, I think the McDavids have been hosed by the officials in the past two games.

I’ve been watching hockey since the 1950s and, until this particular version of springtime shinny, I thought I had a good handle on things like icing and offside and goaltender interference and stick infractions. Now, all bets are off. I confess that I don’t know a foul from a fool. Well, okay, Don Cherry still plays the fool, but all the phantom fouls, faux fouls and no fouls leave me scratching my noggin. The officiating is tragically poor.

Don Cherry: We’re Canadian and this is how we dress.

Speaking of Grapes (sour or otherwise), Cherry was in ripe form after Nick Bonino of the Penguins hoodwinked a visually challenged referee into believing he had been clipped in the face by a careless T.J. Oshie, whose stick had actually glanced off Bonino’s left shoulder. “Kids, never, ever…we’re Canadians…we don’t do that, we don’t fake injuries,” the Lord of Loud barked from his Bully Pit on Coachless Corner. “We’re Canadians, we don’t do it. We wear shirts and ties.” So let that be your lesson, kids: Don’t be a Bonino, but if you have to fake an injury make sure you’re wearing a shirt and tie. Clean underwear is optional.

Bob Cole still has the great pipes, but, my goodness, the man has lost it when it comes to identifying players. His play-by-play on Hockey Night in Canada is now done in general terms, and it’s kind of sad. His work reminds me of the great Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield in his final days with the New York Mets.

Well, hello Dolly Parton.

Big beef about biffies at Rogers Place in Edmonton, where the gender bending of the loo is a common practice and a ladies’ lament at Oilers matches. It seems that the ladies have been forced to surrender two of their washrooms to men during the Edmonton-Anaheim series, an inconvenience that has resulted in 30-minute waits for the girls. Geez, Louise, there are 320 public toilets and/or urinals on the main and upper concourses at Rogers Place. And the men need two of the women’s washrooms? How much beer are those boys drinking? Just remember to put the seats back down, boys. The girls will need them when Dolly Parton and the Dixie Chicks come to town.

Dumb headline of the week was delivered by the Globe and Mail: “The Toronto Raptors are losing and we’re all sad.” We are? Interesting. Where I live, I’m not sure anyone actually knows the Raptors exist.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

 

You’re never going to have unanimity on the gay issue in the NHL or anywhere else

Brian Burke is disappointed.

This, of course, is not uncommon. Burke’s smile is often turned upside-down. After all, he once generally managed the Toronto Maple Leafs, a tragic, ghastly hockey outfit that has perfected the art of disappointing its ownership, management, coaches and a fan base whose reach stretches far beyond parochial boundaries.

Not once since the spring of 1967 have les Leafs participated in a Stanley Cup parade, a stretch of annual faceplants that, while not equal in numbers to the Chicago Cubs’ century-plus death march, feels very Cub-ian. Burke can only be held personally responsible for a handful of the Leafs’ springtime melts, but some things tend to cling, and not even fleeing the Republic of Tranna and hiding out in Saudi Alberta can shake off the residue of ruin a man experiences in the Centre of the Shinny Universe.

It isn’t les Leafs who are up Burke’s nose these days, though. It’s a hockey player. A homophobic hockey player.

At least we assume him to be homophobic, because when USA TODAY unsealed the findings of a survey it conducted during a National Hockey League/NHL Players Association media meet-and-greet earlier this month in Toronto, one of 35 skaters turned thumbs down to the notion of welcoming an openly gay teammate into the lair. Guy’s gotta be a gay-hater, right?

“I’m disappointed by the one player,” said Burke, now Grand Poobah of all things Calgary Flames.

Well, sure he’s disappointed. Burke, after all, is among the founding fathers of the You Can Play Project, one of the leading entities in the crusade for inclusiveness in sports, professional and amateur. And already I have heard yelps of “Name him and shame him!” from the rabble. But let there be no witch hunt here. No McCarthyism, whereby we feret out the scoundrel who clings tightly to the notion that gay is wrong, gay is weak, gay is the devil’s own handiwork.

Let’s face it, this is life, which never has been, nor shall it ever be, one-size-fits-all. The crouching tiger of bigotry/racism/misogyny is always at the door.

P.K. Subban, for example, is to be admired universally and unanimously for his commitment to funnel $10 million to charity over the next seven years, yet I harbor no doubt that there are those walking among us who see not the Montreal Canadiens defenceman’s generosity but, rather, only the hue of his skin. To them, he’s just an uppity black man who shouldn’t be making that kind of money.

So finding one rogue hockey player in a group of 35? Not at all alarming.

Seriously, if you were to ask 35 anonymous NHL players if they believe women are nothing more than sex objects to be used for their pleasure, you’re apt to find at least one thick enough to give you an enthusiastic “Hell ya!”

Same thing with Europeans. Still. I mean, xenophobia ran rampant during the 1970s, first when those dreaded Ivans and Igors from Mother Russia tried to steal our game during the ’72 Summit Series, then when a tidal wave of Europeans washed ashore to take jobs from good Canadian boys mid-decade. I would venture to submit that there are still those who would prefer not to sit beside a Russian in the changing room. Some might not be too fond of Swedes. But the xenophobe ranks, I would suggest, have thinned considerably over time.

Ditto the homophobes. I doubt very much that USA TODAY would have received a whopping 97.1 per cent approval rate on its gay question 30-40 years ago. Oh, hell, they probably wouldn’t have gotten it 10 years ago.

So, this is a good-news story, and the fact that at least one player confesses to discomfort with a gay teammate is also positive, in a bass-ackwards way. If, for example, there had been 35-of-35 unanimity, the fallout would have been not only sharp cynicism but flat-out disbelief. Like, tell me Don Cherry is defecting to Moscow and I might buy it. But 100 per cent of NHL players being okay with a gay teammate? Sorry, no sale. That reeks of galloping political correctness.

As it is, we have been given a subtle reminder that educating is yet to be done, and the question now becomes: Is this survey, with its small sample size, enough to convince a gay player to come out?

If nothing else, it is encouraging and I, for one, don’t need to know the identity of the solitary homophobe who took part in the USA TODAY survey. I just assume he plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs, because they always disappoint.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 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 to her 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.