Let’s talk about Pontytail Puck, bully tactics and White Knight Gary…a living wage…Grapes and his Bruins…Hall passes for Doc Holliday and Black Hat Barry Shenkarow….D’oh Canada…and more of Mad Mike’s Whodunit

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I had the winning horse in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, until it wasn’t the winning horse…

If 200 women stage a boycott and nobody notices that they’re gone, does it really happen?

Therein lies the conundrum for Ponytail Puck.

Dani Rylan

Few folks noticed the women when they were active on the frozen ponds of the globe (Olympic Games being the notable exception), so why should the rabble care now that a) the Canadian Women’s Hockey League has hit an iceberg and suffered the same fate as the Titanic, and b) 200 elite female players plan to take their pucks and go home (for the good of the game)?

It’s a ballsy gambit, sitting out an entire hockey season, yet that’s the declared intention of the ForTheGame200. They’ll find better things to do next autumn/winter/spring, then cross their fingers and hope this is how their universe unfolds:

  • Founder/commissioner Dani Rylan of the United States-based National Women’s Hockey League tears down everything she has built up over the past four years, thus leaving a barren landscape;

  • Gary Bettman, a white knight on a magnificent steed, rides to the rescue and creates a little sister operation for the National Hockey League—the WNHL, with franchises (on both sides of the border) that offer the girls all the bells and whistles that guys like Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby enjoy;

  • WNHL players earn salaries between $50,000 and $100,000, thereby allowing them to escape the life of a 9-to-5 working stiff;

  • Fans flock to female shinny palaces in robust numbers and everyone lives happily ever after.

Gary Bettman

Less utopian, however, is the picture as seen through the lens of reality, so let’s call out this women’s hockey boycott for what it is: A bully tactic.

Make no mistake, the ForTheGame200 group sit-down is designed to force Dani Rylan’s hand into clearing the deck for Bettman and an NHL takeover, although they’re careful not to use a cut-throat tone in delivering their message. They have the very best of intentions, don’t you know. They’re doing this for the greater good and for little girls.

“I want to set the table for them so that they have a league to aspire to, that they can dream to play this game professionally and not have to work a full-time job,” Team Canada and Calgary Inferno veteran Brianne Jenner told Ron MacLean of Sportsnet.

It’s an admirable, lovely sentiment and, no doubt, genuine. I certainly believe her (them). I applaud her (them), although I must confess that it is the clapping of one hand.

I mean, bullying is bullying is bullying and, to date, Rylan has given no indication that she’s prepared to let the schoolyard toughs steal her lunch money. It’s quite the opposite, actually. Scant moments after the ForTheGame200 declared their plan for a group sit-down, Rylan issued a heels-dug-in communiqué: It will be business as usual for the NWHL next autumn. How she plans to ice a product the rabble will want to support is a mystery, of course, but she’ll soldier on and what we now have is a game of chicken—Rylan vs. the Revolutionaries.

Kendall Coyne Schofield

And, to think, it was just three months ago when the women’s game had its ‘it’ moment, that being Kendall Coyne Schofield’s gobsmacking, 14-second skedaddle against the boys at the NHL all-star game in San Jose.

“Media was buzzing around it for about a week,” Inferno general manager Kristen Hagg recalled, “and then we went back to being Calgary’s best-kept secret.”

Today the Inferno is no more. The CWHL is no more. And 200 players would like the NWHL to be no more.

It’s a fine mess they’ve gotten themselves into. And the question is: Will anyone be there to give a damn by the time they’ve dug themselves out?

Cassie Campbell-Pascall

Cassie Campbell-Pascall participated in the chin-wag with MacLean and Jenner (Schofield also offered her voice), and she delivered this astonishing comment: “We can’t be satisfied anymore with leagues that survive on $50,000 to $100,000 sponsorships. Let’s face it, that should be players’ salaries in the future.” Full marks to Cassie for managing to say that with a straight face—and I didn’t even notice the rose-tinted glasses she was wearing—but it’s pure Pollyanna. The day women are paid 100 large to play in a WNHL, I expect to look out my eighth-floor apartment window and see Miss Piggy flying by.

Hey, I’m not here to piddle in their Corn Flakes. I’d prefer to be part of a world where the elite women earn a living wage, and I hope they get there. For now, though, the ForTheGame200 and their allies aren’t doing themselves any favors by making foolish comparisons between the pauperish wages in Ponytail Puck ($2,000-$10,000) and those of multi-millionaire NHL players. You don’t compare a trail horse to Secretariat, because it only invites rude laughter and ridicule. Like most any enterprise, you get what the market bears, and by no known business plan is $100,000 salaries workable when fewer than 1K people are sitting in the pews 16-28 nights a year.

If it’s comparison you want, let’s look at minimum salaries in the NHL feeder system:
American Hockey League—$47,500US.
ECHL—$14,100 (rookies); $15,300 (returning players).
Southern Professional Hockey League—$4,200 to $14,000/year.
So it seems women aren’t the only people playing pro shinny in North America who can’t afford to quit their day jobs.

Kristen Hagg

The aforementioned Kristen Hagg delivered this observation last week, on Calgary Inferno Day in Cowtown: “We live in a society where people do not value women’s sport. Most of us have been socialized to accept men’s sport as dominant and somehow automatically more interesting. The problem is that once society internalizes falsehood, it’s not easy to correct it.” I’d say the lady is spot-on.

Not spot-on is Donald S. Cherry. I really wish the Lord of Loud would cease using his Hockey Night In Canada bully pulpit to prop up his old Beantown Bruins as the shining example of shinny done the right way. Someone needs to remind Grapes that the Bruins never won a damn thing during his time behind the bench.

Just wondering: Does Justin Williams of the Carolina Hurricanes feel cheated when he’s participating in a Stanley Cup series that doesn’t go to a Game 7?

Bob Holliday

Congrats and a heartfelt tip of the bonnet to old friend, colleague and good guy Bob Holliday, known to friends as Doc or Mr. St. Vital. Robert is this year’s inductee to the media wing of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, and I’m glad they got around to saluting the old boy while he’s still with us. Doc went about his business in an understated way at the St. Vital Lance, Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Sun, and he always delivered the goods.

Barry Shenkarow

Also going into the MHHofF is former Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll Barry Shenkarow, who, to many among the rabble, wears a black hat (along with Bettman) to this day for allowing the franchise to slip, slide away to the Arizona desert. While it’s true that Barry presided over les Jets on the Day of the Long Faces in 1996, I remind you of a couple things: 1) He was part of the group that got Good Ol’ Hometown into the NHL in 1979; 2) as current Jets co-bankroll Mark Chipman once explained, “No one wanted to own the team in 1995. And for good reason. It didn’t work.” There were a myriad of reasons why the original NHL Jets toddled off to Phoenix and became the Coyotes, not the least of which was a 65-cent Canadian dollar and a fan base that refused to fill a decaying barn on Maroons Road. Frankly, Shenkarow and partners squeezed more life out of the franchise than it probably deserved. I’m pleased that he’s getting his due.

What I can’t believe is that the Winnipeg Sun was a day late and a dollar short on the Hall of Fame story. Like, how do you miss, or ignore, that? The Drab Slab devoted an entire page to the Class of 2019 on Friday, while the Sun tucked it onto a back page on Saturday. Shame, shame.

Lisa Simpson

Loved the burn The Simpsons writers laid on the Ottawa Senators in last week’s lampoon of all things hoser. Actually, the entire D’oh Canada episode was a hoot. Unless, of course, you happen to be a “Newfy” or a Trudeauite. In that case, I suppose it wasn’t all that funny. Since I’m neither of the above, I giggled.

What would a week be without more unbridled speculation from the Drab Slab’s resident conspiracy theorist, Mad Mike McIntyre? Seriously, I really don’t know if Mad Mike is writing sports or a Whodunit novel. You remember those “ruffled feathers” that Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice referenced last month? Here’s Mad Mike’s take on it: “While Maurice didn’t offer any specifics, it says here (Mark) Scheifele was one of the players the bench boss was referring to.” There you have it. Those “ruffled feathers” belong to Rink Rat Scheifele. Mad Mike says so. No specifics, naturally, but that’s his guess. That’s his hunch. Seems like everything in the past month has been a guess or a hunch from Mad Mike.

Mad Mike took to Twitter to answer questions from readers last week. One asked him about his Drab Slab-driven “rumour” of a rotten-to-the-core Jets changing room. “It’s not just a rumour,” he responded. “There were issues, divisions, etc. within the room.” Again, no specifics about the issues, divisions, etc. Just take his word for it and stay tuned for the next exciting chapter in Mad Mike’s Whodunit.

This is interesting: Jason Bell of the Drab Slab asked Matt Hendricks about a rift in the room and the veteran Jets forward had this to say: “The room was as strong as when I left (in 2018), without a doubt.” So Hendricks is blind, deaf or a liar. Take your pick.

And, finally, I think it’s terrific that so many folks have rallied around female hockey players, but where were those people when the CWHL was still in business? And I’m looking at you, mainstream media.

About Captain F-Bomb and Paul F-riesen…fabulous is also an F-word, and that’s Brooke Henderson…Commish Randy’s street buskers…of Drake and Burt…annoying commercials…Pebble People ahead of the trend…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and—language advisory—today’s essay is brought to you by the letter F…

Let’s talk F-bombs, kids.

Should Blake Wheeler be telling a news snoop to “fuck off” just because he doesn’t like the tone or substance of a question?

Of course not. It’s unprofessional and rude in the extreme.

Captain F-Bomb

Yet that’s the route Wheeler, captain of the Winnipeg Jets, chose to travel scant seconds after he and his mates were issued their ouster from the National Hockey League Stanley Cup tournament on Saturday night in St. Loo.

Early in a post-skirmish scrum, he had this exchange with Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun.

Friesen: “In an elimination game, you guys probably expected your best. What happened?”

Wheeler: “Fuck off.”

How utterly offensive. Clearly, the ‘C’ on Wheeler’s jersey doesn’t stand for ‘classy’ or ‘charming,’ and it leaves me to wonder if that’s how all the workers in Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s squeaky-clean True North Sports & Entertainment fiefdom talk to guests. I mean, is there a section in the TSNE employee manual that instructs them to be foul and vulgar?

Paul Friesen

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised, though, because Captain F-Bomb has a history of being a dink with news snoops. Mind you, Wheeler always stopped short of telling anyone to “fuck off” until Friesen had the (apparent) bad manners to toss the potty-mouth capitano a totally reasonable question on the heels of a totally unreasonable performance.

Fact: Les Jets soiled the sheets in an elimination joust vs. St. Loo, dropping a 3-2 verdict that looked a lot more like 7-2. Rather than deliver their best, it was their worst effort in six games.

So, ya, I wanted to hear the captain’s thoughts on the pratfall.

“Fuck off,” Captain F-Bomb snarled. “Please, come on, man. This is a tough trophy to win and, um, you know, maybe our best just wasn’t good enough today and, you know, their best was pretty darn good. Um, you know, in situations like that you look for the resolve in your group, you look for how guys fight and, um, we played to the last whistle, so…you know, that’s the way I see it.”

He couldn’t have said that without telling Friesen to “fuck off?”

Look, I understand sports and athletes. Been there, done that. So I realize that Wheeler was dealing with a raw wound. He was PO’d. But, hey, we all have bad days at the office. That doesn’t grant us license to tell the butcher, the baker and the babysitter to “fuck off.”

I don’t want to hear anything about an inappropriate question at an inappropriate time, either. That was the right time and the right place for Friesen to ask Captain F-Bomb, and others, for an explanation. It’s part of the captain’s gig to man up to the media, and if the surly Wheeler isn’t comfortable with the duty he can hand the ‘C’ to someone with a civil tongue in his head.

Paul Maurice

That’s quite the collection of salty-tongue leaders the Puck Pontiff has assembled. Paul Maurice is Coach Potty Mouth (“I can make you cry in that fucking room;” the players are “horse shit.”) and Wheeler is Captain F-Bomb. Charming men.

I know Friesen. If you don’t appreciate his scribblings, I’m partly to blame, because I spearheaded a move to pry him away from CJOB and join us at the Sun, and when we last saw each other he wasn’t holding it against me. He’s a terrific guy and terrific at his job. A lot better than Wheeler was at his job on Saturday in St. Loo. I can also assure you that being on the receiving end of Captain F-Bomb’s f-bomb won’t give Paul a moment of bother. Guarantee he’s heard worse, like from readers suggesting he perform physical acts that are impossible. So he doesn’t need me to defend him. He’s a big boy. I’m simply calling out Wheeler for what he is—a Grade A boor.

Unless I miss my guess, Friesen will make light of his exchange with Wheeler, and that’s fine. But it doesn’t address the larger picture. News snoops should be allowed to conduct their business without being bullied by boors.

Brooke Henderson

Moving on from the churlish to the charming, give or take a Kaitlyn Lawes or Tessa Virtue is there anyone on the Canadian sports landscape more totally fab than Brooke Henderson? Fabulous—now there’s an F-word worth speaking. Our girl Brooke topped the leaderboard at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii on the weekend, bringing her win tally on the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour to eight, and no homebrew has ever done it better. Or with a brighter smile. Brooke’s only 21, so it’s a cinch she’ll pass Sandra Post, Mike Weir and River City’s George Knudson on the hoser all-time wins list, but I like her because she’s a delight and appears to be everything that’s right with our youth.

Annoying TV Commercial 1: Is there a rule in advertising that men must come across as total tools? I realize men can be real goomers, but seriously. The guy in the ad for a Hyundai Santa Fe is made out to be the all-time nincompoop, driving his very pregnant, very in-labor wife and her mother to the hospital, and he forgets they’re in the car when he hops out and races solo to the emergency entrance. As if that’s going to happen. Well, okay, a guy might be dense enough to forget his pregnant wife is sitting in the back seat, but there’s no chance in hell he’d ever get away with leaving the dragon lady mother-in-law behind.

Commish Randy

Canadian Football League players say they’ll stay home and twiddle their thumbs if there’s no Collective Bargaining Agreement in place by May 18, when the large lads in pads are scheduled to begin grabbing grass and growling. Not to worry. Commish Randy Ambrosie, remember, spent the off-season galloping the globe and slapping palms with folks who don’t know a rouge from Rihanna, and I’m sure he’s convinced league owners that he’s discovered enough Mexicans, Germans, Austrians, Italians, Scandinavians and Frenchmen to fill their rosters. If not, he’ll just go back to Europe and round up every street busker with a valid passport.

Sarcasm aside, I’m getting bad vibes about the CFL-CFL Players Association negotiations, now on hold until the end of the month. Not sure what little games Commish Randy and the bankrolls are playing, but I don’t like it. Our home and native football needs a shutdown like Winnipeg needs another pothole.

Can you imagine the reaction across the land if there’s a CFL work stoppage? It’d be huge, front-page news in eight of the nine CFL cities. Meanwhile, in the Republic of Tranna, they’d be too busy gabbing about Auston Matthews’ chin whiskers, John Tavares’ pajamas, and the Drake Curse to notice.

That’s right, rapper Drake is now a two-sport groupie, giving news snoops in The ROT the opportunity to fawn over him at Raptors and Leafs games. But, hey, maybe that’s what we need in Good Ol’ Hometown—a celebrity groupie to attend Jets and Blue Bombers outings. Do you think we can pry Burton Cummings out of Moose Jaw? Better question: Why is a rock and roll legend living in Moose Jaw?

Annoying Commercial 2: I really wish that very angry guy in the white bath robe would quit pouting about the lady in his life sharing his Old Spice body wash. Every time I see it (which is far too often), I get the feeling they’re heading for divorce court to squabble over custody of soap or, worse, he’s about to give her the back of his hand upside the head. The ad has a sinister tone.

Linda Moore was in the booth in the 1980s.

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet notes the number of female voices we now hear drifting from the Tower of Babble in men’s sports. “Cassie Campbell, AJ Mleczko in the (NHL) playoff booth, Dottie Pepper’s analysis at The Masters, Doris Burke calling NBA games, Jessica Mendoza at the ballpark, Beth Mowins calling NFL play by play,” he tweets. “The era of female sports broadcasters in more prominent roles is upon us.” Interesting, but not surprising, that Cox would ignore curling. Pebble People were about four decades ahead of the trend, that’s all. Vera Pezer and Linda Moore worked men’s games for TSN beginning in the 1980s, and now we have Cheryl Bernard on TSN and Joan McCusker with Sportsnet/CBC.

And, finally, it’s hard to believe that the Winnipeg Jets are done before Jennifer Jones, Kerri Einarson and Mike McEwen. When did curling become a 12-month sport?

About Terrible Ted taking a stand…Tessa is a living (Barbie) doll…Genie going Hollywood…puppies and spin-the-bottle in Carolina…puck luck, Puck Finn and lost in a snow maze…broken silence in Lotus Land…tabloid T&A in The ROT…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I think we need an International Day of Old Lady Bloggers…

Much has been said and written about Ted Lindsay since his death last week, all of it justifiably praiseworthy.

Terrible Ted

Puck pundits, opinionists and news snoops allowed that Terrible Ted ranks among the National Hockey League’s all-time elite, as a player and a gentleman, and they’ve made special note of the stiff price he paid for stirring up the serfs in the 1950s and attempting to form a players association.

Stripped of his captain’s ‘C’ and cast aside like a leper by the Detroit Red Wings, Lindsay soldiered on to finish his Hockey Hall of Fame career in 1965, and therein lies my favorite Terrible Ted tale, one that’s always worth retelling.

The HHOF was to fete Lindsay and eight other players at the 1966 induction soiree, but he wanted no part of it. Not unless his wife and kids could attend. Sorry, Ted, it’s strictly stag.

So he boycotted his own induction.

“(Players) are wonderful people when we’re winning, but when we go home and we’re losing, we’re miserable for our wives and our children,” was Lindsay’s explanation. “My feeling was, families put up with us when we were temperamental idiots, they should be able to enjoy the benefits of what the league is giving us. That’s a very simple decision.”

The following year, the HHOF opened the doors to its induction gala to women and family members.

And look where we are 53 years later: Six female players have rings to prove they’re card-carrying members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, and another, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, has been added to the selection committee.

That’s a small part of the Ted Lindsay legacy, and it’s worth acknowledging on the heels of International Women’s Day.

Cassie Campbell-Pascall

Where is female hockey today? Depends on who you ask.

During an interesting panel discussion on Hockey Night in Canada, Campbell-Pascall suggested the glass is “three-quarters full.”

“We need men to understand what some of our challenges are. What some of our needs are,” she told Ron MacLean in a chin-wag that included HHOF member Angela James, broadcaster Christine Simpson and Allison Sandmeyer-Graves, CEO of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity. “And also cover our sports like they would cover male sports. Just don’t use the same big stories over and over again. Get to the rink, get to the practices and cover our sports just like you would cover male sports and get those personalities out there, ’cause we have so many great ones in the female game today.”

That’s a tough sell, given that very few men in mainstream media give a damn about the distaff side of the game. Except, of course, when there’s an Olympic gold medal at stake.

Sami Jo Small

“People are supportive of women’s hockey,” says Sami Jo Small, a product of the frozen ponds of Good Ol’ Hometown and now general manager of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League Toronto Furies. “They love watching it, but they don’t know how to watch it. That’s one of my biggest battles, to get people to know where to watch these games, how to watch these games, where to buy the tickets, and get them into the venue. Not just watching the Olympics.”

To their point, consider this: The CWHL Clarkson Cup playoffs are currently in progress, with one skirmish pitting the Toronto Furies vs. the Calgary Inferno in a best-of-three set that goes to a rubber match this very afternoon. What kind of coverage did Game 2 warrant? Squat in the Toronto Sun. Nada. The Calgary Sun, meanwhile, scribbled a few hundred words (no byline) about the Inferno’s 3-zip win, yet devoted two full pages to the Calgary Roughnecks, a lacrosse outfit. Like I said, it’s a tough sell when mainstream media is reluctant, or refuses, to spread the word. And that’s sad.

Judy Owen

In honor of International Women’s Day, I’d like to acknowledge the women with whom I worked during my time in mainstream media: Peggy Stewart (Winnipeg Tribune), the lovely Rita Mingo (Trib), Mary Ormsby (Toronto Sun) and my fave, Judy Owen (Winnipeg Sun). That’s it. Four women in 30 years. Today, there are no women writing sports at either of the two River City rags. Melissa Martin makes cameo appearances to cover the Scotties Tournament of Hearts for the Drab Slab, but that’s it.

What’s this? Fox plans to make a movie out of tennis diva Genie Bouchard’s Twitter date with fan boy John Goehrke? Well, if the movie is anything like Genie’s one-and-done game, don’t order the large tub of buttered popcorn. You won’t have time to finish it.

Tessa and Barbie Tess

I always thought that Tessa Virtue was a living doll, so it’s no surprise that the folks at Mattel toys have included a likeness of our fave fancy skater in their Role Model series of Barbie Dolls. But here’s what I’m wondering: Whatever became of her lifelong accomplice, Scott Moir? I see our Tessa on TV regularly, peddling mattresses, skin cream and what have you. But poor Scott. We haven’t seen him since he was observed sopping up the suds at an Olympic hockey game last winter. He’s vanished, kind of like Art Garfunkel after Paul Simon went his own way. I guess that’ll teach Moir for playing with dolls all his life.

So, the Carolina Hurricanes continue to play little post-match parlor games like Duck, Duck, Goose, and along comes Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab to inform us that what is known as the Storm Surge has made the ‘Canes “somewhat relevant again.” He adds: “If you don’t like this, I’m going to assume you also dislike puppies, too.” Oh, please. I mean, exaggerate much, Mike? Look, the Hurricanes will be relevant if they make some noise in the National Hockey League’s Beard Season. As for liking puppies, I think they’re cute and cuddly, but that doesn’t mean I also have to like choreographed cornball-ism like grown men playing spin-the-bottle.

By the way, the Hurricanes have become so “relevant again” that their average head count is up a whopping 627 this season, and their average audience of 13,947 is fourth worst in the NHL. Seems as though the folks in Raleigh have better things to do.

Patrik Laine

While many of us have been curious or flat-out baffled by Patrik Laine’s herky-jerky goal-scoring pattern this season, the Drab Slab’s stats goomer, Andrew Berkshire, set about to solve the mystery of the Winnipeg Jets winger. Using a couple of charts with the required squiggly lines to get his point across, Berkshire arrived at this conclusion: “The biggest factor in his drop in goal scoring at even-strength this season is just bad luck…the puck just hasn’t bounced the right way for him.” That’s it? Puck luck? That’s what the squiggly lines tell him about Puck Finn? Well, I have a suggestion for Stats Boy: You might want to actually watch a game instead of staring at your pie charts.

I note that Angie and Clint Masse have made their way into the Guinness Book of World Records for building the planet’s largest snow maze on their farm near St. Adolphe, just south of Winnipeg. I imagine it’d be easy to get lost in there. Hmmm. Maybe that’s where Puck Finn disappeared to for three months. Whatever, it’s nice to have the kid back.

This from TSN’s Dave Poulin at the NHL trade deadline, on Feb. 25: “There’s not going to be eight-year deals anymore.” Just 11 days later, Mark Stone signed an eight-year deal with the Vegas Golden Knights. D’oh!

What part of “moment of silence” does the rabble in Lotus Land not understand? During what was meant to be a silent salute to the late Ted Lindsay the other night at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Tranna Maple Leafs loyalists and some among the Canucks faithful engaged in a hissing contest. As Jed Clampett used to say whenever Jethro did something dumb, pitiful. Just pitiful. But I suppose we should be thankful that they didn’t try to burn the town down this time around.

In the department of Are You Really That Arrogant?, I present Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. In a tweet about the rag trade in the Republic of Tranna, he wrote this of his Toronto Sun: “The only paper still covering sports like it matters, with its own people.” Spare me. On that same day, there were seven bylines in the Toronto Star sports section, each one of them the Star’s “own people” covering sports “like it matters.” That coverage, by the way, included a terrific spread on women in sports on International Women’s Day. Simmons’ Sun, meanwhile, saluted International Women’s Day with a photo spread of a lass named Sydney, adorned only in her black lace bra and knickers. That’s the Sun—still covering T&A “like it matters” after all these years.

And, finally, at tip of the bonnet to the Drab Slab for its recent uptick in local amateur coverage. We read about university track and field on the sports front Friday, plus a full-page, deep dive into the Manitoba Junior Hockey League playoffs and the high school shinny championships. They followed with U hoops, high school puck, U track, and elite female athletes on Saturday. That’s what I call old-time coverage. Took me back to the hey days of Winnipeg Tribune and Free Press sports pages.

About the absence of a women’s game for Hockey Day on Planet Puckhead…nobody does it better than Ron MacLean…the Great Wall of Oil…the NHL salary cap hell…Espo didn’t ‘move his feet’…a QB in Lotus Land…a menage-a-gridiron in the CFL…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I don’t see my name on TSN’s Trade Bait Board, so I guess I’m not going anywhere…

How can you tell that Hockey Day on Planet Puckhead is a big deal?

Because it isn’t every weekend that Sportsnet dispatches octogenarian gasbag Donald S. Cherry and his setup man, punster Ron MacLean, to the frigid flatlands.

Normally, of course, the Yin and Yang of Saturday shinny are confined to quarters, which is to say they’re tucked away in a cozy, modest Hockey Night in Canada studio in the Republic of Tranna, far removed from the frost-bitten colonies.

But there they were Saturday on location in Speedy Creek, which, according to the tiny town’s tourism spin meisters, is “where life makes sense.”

It certainly made sense that Saskatchewan and, specifically, Speedy Creek would serve as the centrepiece for Hockey Day, because it doesn’t get much more Canadiana than pucks, prairie and a wind chill reading of minus-30.

Speedy Creek is Prairie-speak for the wonderfully named Swift Current, a welcoming, convenient stopping-off point just a hop, skip and a slapshot west of Pile O’ Bones (that’s Prairie-speak for Regina) and east of the wonderfully named Medicine Hat. It has been the breeding ground for numerous National Hockey League luminaries, such as Patrick Marleau, Adam Lowry, Bryan Trottier, Tiger Williams, Joe Sakic, Terry Ruskowski, Sheldon Kennedy, Geoff Sanderson and Dave (The Hammer) Schultz.

Don and Ron

So, ya, it was a great fit and Hockey Day seemingly had it all, including the on-site star power of Don and Ron, Canadian television’s longest-running bromance since Wayne and Shuster.

There was, however, one notable exception—the package did not include our best women in action. And that made no sense on a show from a town “where life makes sense.”

Oh, sure, there were numerous references and interviews about the distaff side of our great game during the 12-hours marathon on CBC and Sportsnet, and they parachuted Olympian Cassie Campbell-Pascall into Speedy Creek for some glad-handing and chin-wagging during the four-day festival. But that carried the waft of forced tokenism and nothing more.

Hockey Day is supposed to be our annual celebration of all things puck, and the women’s game is supposed to be a happening “thing,” especially given the upbeat chatter since Kendall Coyne Schofield’s jaw-dropping skedaddle a fortnight ago at the NHL all-star showcase. So how could they leave the Canadian Women’s Hockey League out in the cold, figuratively if not literally?

It was a glaring, inexcusable omission. Kind of like organizers of the Grammy Awards telling female singers they’re welcome to attend the show but they can’t perform. Stay in your lane, ladies.

I don’t know what, if any, obstacles prevented Sportsnet from including the Tranna Furies-Montreal Canadiennes afternoon skirmish, but I do know they should have moved mountains to get that game on air.

Dick Irvin

That snub aside, Hockey Day delivered some truly wonderful, Kleenex-worthy stories, and it reminded us how good Ron MacLean is. I’m quite uncertain how he isn’t anointed our country’s top broadcaster every year, because nobody does it better. Not even James Duthie. It was also nice to hear the legendary Dick Irvin’s voice. I’ll go to my urn convinced that Irvin and Danny Gallivan were the best hockey broadcasting tandem ever.

Tough viewing choice for the afternoon game, Habs vs. Leafs or Connor McDavid flying solo vs. the San Jose Sharks. I started with McDavid, but quickly switched to Montreal-Toronto because the Edmonton Oilers are a total fire drill.

The Great Wall of China has been a work in progress for more than 2,000 years, only a week or two longer than the Oilers rebuild.

There’s nothing wrong with the Oil that someone like David Poile or the Winnipeg Jets’ scouting staff couldn’t cure. Trouble is, Poile already has a job. Ditto les Jets bird dogs. So the Oilers are stuck with Bob Nicholson and Keith Gretzky. Good luck with that.

With so many NHL outfits about to enter salary cap hell, I’m inclined to suggest they ought to scrap the thing. I mean, why should a club like les Jets be penalized just because they have better talent snoops than most? Alas, there’d be no franchise in Good Ol’ Hometown without a salary ceiling, so it stays.

Eugene Melnyk

Bytown Senators bankroll Eugene Melnyk vows to spend close to the cap between 2021 and ’25. Until then, he’ll continue to squeeze nickels, tell fibs and order his players to stay away from Uber.

Anyone still believe there’s a goaltending controversy with Winnipeg HC? Didn’t think so. After watching Laurent Brossoit give the royal wave at pucks with his left hand in les Jets’ 5-2 loss to the bottom-feeding Senators in Bytown, I’m convinced he has a hole in his catching mitt. Apparently the Senators are, too.

There’s no danger of les Jets missing the Stanley Cup runoff, but there is a danger of them failing to secure home-ice advantage. And I don’t see them going the distance without an extra game at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in every playoff series.

Mike McIntyre and the Drab Slab’s obsession with Patrik Laine continues without any signs of a retreat. In the past two weeks, Mike M. and Jason Bell have combined to scribble seven stories on the Jets bewitched, bothered and bewildered winger, none of which told us anything we don’t already know. Yo! Boys! It’s no longer news that Puck Finn isn’t scoring. It’s only news the next time he makes the red light flash.

Mike M. described Puck Finn’s playmaking skills vs. the Senators as “impressive.” I must have nodded off when that happened. I mean, other than a nifty pass to set up Bryan Little for a score, Laine handled the biscuit like it had cooties.

Puck Finn

Some deep, penetrating analysis (not!) on Laine’s struggles from Donald S. Cherry and Mike Johnson. The Lord of Loud used his HNIC pulpit on Saturday to tell us this: “Somebody better give Laine a smack. This is his contract year. Get going kid! I know ya got 25 goals, but he’s done nothing. Give him a smack.” Earlier in the week, TSN’s Johnson advised us that Puck Finn has to start “moving his feet.” Oh, please. “Moving his feet” has become the worst cliché since “our backs are against the wall.” Phil Esposito scored 76 goals one season without moving his feet. Difference is, Espo was willing to go into the dirty area in front of the net and gobble up Bobby Orr’s leftovers. Laine, meanwhile, plays on the periphery and Dustin Byfuglien is no Bobby Orr.

Alexander Ovechkin is now the highest-scoring Russian in NHL history with 1,182 points, which works out to a 1.119 per-game average for the Washington Capitals captain. Coincidentally, 1.119 was also Ovie’s blood-alcohol reading during his summer-long Stanley Cup celebration.

Mike Reilly

I don’t know if Mike Reilly is an adventurous guy, but if he’s looking for a challenge—and if he doesn’t mind playing in front of empty seats—he’ll sign with the Tranna Argonauts when the Canadian Football League livestock auction begins on Tuesday. But word from the left flank of the nation suggests the Edmonton Eskimos quarterback is heading for Lotus Land and all those empty seats in B.C. Place Stadium. If true, it isn’t surprising on a number of levels, not the least of which is Vancouver’s proximity to Reilly’s offseason home in Seattle. It is, however, shocking that GM Ed Hervey has convinced Leos skinflint bankroll David Braley to part with $700,000. It must have taken the jaws of life to pry Braley’s wallet that wide open.

Will Reilly’s return to B.C. translate into ticket sales in the Great Wet West? I have my doubts. I live in Leos Land and I hear more chatter about the Seattle Seahawks than three-down football.

Randy Ambrosie

Another busy week of global hobnobbing for CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, who now has signed more treaties than the Sioux Nation. For those of you scoring at home, Commish Randy has crawled into bed with Mexico, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, France and Finland, and it’s believed his menage-a-gridiron will soon include Dutch Holland and the gang that organizes the annual New Year’s Day Toilet Bowl at Blossom Park in River Heights. Those boys are in their 80s now, but Commish Randy expects them to attend the Foreign Flag Combine in March.

So what do we call three-down football now? The CMGASND2FFL? And if gay guy Michael Sam makes a comeback with the Gentille Alouettes, does it become the CMGASND2FLGBTQFL?

I don’t know about you, but I’d feel a whole lot better about Commish Randy’s off-season handiwork if it included the letters CBA, as in Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Mike Riley

Old friend Mike Riley is coaching San Antonio Commanders of the Alliance of American Football, and Dan Barnes tells us all about the former Winnipeg Blue Bombers sideline steward in an excellent piece for Postmedia. Mikey says he “loved” Good Ol’ Hometown, but that didn’t stop him from abandoning the Bombers after their most-recent Grey Cup conquest (if you can call more than a quarter of a century ago “recent”). Those 29 years without a CFL title? I blame it all on Mikey for getting out of Dodge.

And, finally, I note that the jersey toss is once again in vogue in Edmonton Oilers country. Wouldn’t white towels be more appropriate?

About a toast to Her Royal Pintness…more party animals on Whiteout Way…no Grapes…the Evander Kane trade keeps on giving…and the Winnipeg Jets go up 2-zip in their series with the Minnesota Wild

Notes, quotes and totally irreverent observations during Game 2 of the National Hockey League playoff skirmish between the Minnesota Wild and les Jets de Winnipeg on Friday the 13th…

Pregame blah, blah, blah: Is it true that Queen Liz has been observed loitering outside The Pint pub on Garry Street? If so, let’s have a toast to Her Royal Pintness…Locals are Doing the Donald on Whiteout Way outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie again, only this time city officials have added a stretch of pavement and a park to accommodate more revelers to the downtown block party. Should be anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 of the rabble milling about on Whiteout Way (otherwise known as Donald Street) during the joust. I swear, we haven’t seen that many Winnipeggers left out in the cold since—well, since the NHL gave the city the cold shoulder in 1996…Cold is the operative word, because winter refuses to surrender to spring in Good Ol’ Hometown. Minus-18 windchill at 7:30 this morning, minus-15 overnight. Even the Golden Boy is still wearing his longjohns…Apparently, it’s costing the Secret Society Known As True North Sports & Entertainment $20,000 per night for the Whiteout Way bash, which is roughly what Puck Finn Laine and Twig Ehlers were paid (combined) to tie their skate laces each night during the past season. That 20 large might not be pocket change for Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, but it is for David Thomson…No Matty Perreault for les Jets tonight, but Jack Roslovic is in. The Evander Kane trade three years ago is the gift that simply won’t stop giving…Official attendance for Game 1 of the best-of-seven series was 15,321, but veteran scribe Roy MacGregor of the Globe and Mail reports that there were actually 16,345 in the barn. Where were those extra 1,024 folks when Roy did his head count? Stuck in the beer line?

Dustin Byfuglien

First Period: The Wild are looking to be “a little more assertive” in Game 2 according to centre Eric Staal. They are more assertive in the early skirmishing…Can’t believe the Wild aren’t leaning heavy on Twig Ehlers, like they did Matty Perreault in the opener. Ehlers is more difficult to track down because he bounces around the rink like a pinball on uppers, but he’ll burn them if they don’t slow him down…Hey, what happened to Cassie Campbell-Pascall’s whiteout outfit? Guess she finally got the memo that she’s supposed to be impartial. So she’s wearing a black jacket over a top with every color of the rainbow. Hideous…Dustin Byfuglien makes me nervous. He hasn’t done anything boneheaded. Yet. But he makes me nervous…Breaking news (speaking of boneheads): Nazem Kadri of the Tranna Maple Leafs is gone for three games. Good. Kadri is the kind of pain in the ass every team can use, but he’s a stupid pain in the ass. He’s also a dangerous loose cannon who clearly attempted to hurt Tommy Wingels of the Bruins in Game 1 of the Tranna-Boston series…Paul Romanuk really is an excitable little guy, isn’t he?…Less than three minutes to go and it seems to me that the Jets have stopped “moving their feet.” (One bad cliché allowed per period.)…Best period of the series for Minny. Zip-Zip.

Tyler Myers

Second Period: Donald S. Cherry is given the night off. Maybe that’s why Cassie Campbell-Pascall is wearing her wacky outfit…Wow, the Jets are definitely “moving their feet” this period. Somebody  throw another puck on the ice so the Wild have something to play with. Guaranteed Minny takes a penalty if the Jets keep moving at this pace…There you go. Jonas Brodin yanks down Mark Scheifele and Jets go on the powerplay…Oh. My. Goodness. If Big Buff makes me nervous, how does Mikko Koivu feel about the big man? I mean, Byfuglien totally stapled him to the end boards. How do these guys get back on their feet after something like that? Totally nasty…Bound to happen—Jets score. Tyler Myers makes like a very tall, gangly Bobby Orr and sifts through the Wild defenders, beating Devan Dubnyk to the far side. Jets 1, Wild nil. And look who assisted on the goal. Yup, it was Myers from Roslovic. Did I mention that the Evander Kane trade is the gift that simply won’t stop giving…Yikes. Puck Finn misses the net from 10 feet. Should be 2-zip…Complete domination by the home side. They’re absolutely pounding the wild. Order the full-body ice packs.

Jack Roslovic

Third Period: Jets are too fast, too big, too skilled. This is a rout dressed up as a 1-0 game…Not for long. Paul Stastny scores to make it 2-zip…So Joe Morrow gets the winner in Game 1 and now Stastny lights the lamp. Take a bow, Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff for those two trade deadline deals…Roslovic sets up an Andrew Copp goal for two assists in his baptism in the NHL’s beard season, and Garry Galley is absolutely correct: The Wild are running on empty. They are spent. The Jets are beating the hell out of them…Dubnyk makes a magnificent glove save on a Byfuglien howitzer. “Holy snappin’ eyeballs!” Romanuk squawks. Love it…Have you ever wondered what it would be like if one team wore skates and the other team wore snowshoes? Now you know. It’s 4-zip thanks to Puck Finn, and Myers gets a helper. So, if you’re keeping score at home, Roslovic has two assists and Myers a goal and an assist. One more time: The Evander Kane trade is the gift that simply won’t stop giving…Observation from Galley: The Wild can’t get anything going and “I think the Jets are the reason.” Ya think? What was your first clue, Serpico?…Zach Parise spoils the shutout. Whatever. It took the Wild 15 minutes to get their first shot…Hey, there’s a fight. I thought that only happened in baseball. And now another fight. Stupid…Jets have outshot Minny 83-37 through 120 minutes of ice-tilted shinny, goaltender Devan Dubnyk has been the Wild’s best player in both games—and they’re 0-2…Jets 4, Wild 1. Off to Minny Ha Ha for Game 3 in the hunt for the Stanley Cup.

Should the Winnipeg Jets get out the brooms, or will Devan Dubnyk steal a game for the Minnesota Wild?

The Little Hockey House On The Prairie

Notes, quotes and totally irreverent observations during Game 1 of the National Hockey League playoff skirmish between the Minnesota Wild and les Jets de Winnipeg on Wednesday night…

Pregame blah, blah, blah: Love living on the West Coast. Game time is 4 o’clock, meaning it should be over at about 7 chimes, which is bedtime for moi. Don’t know what I’ll do if it goes to OT…Just for the record, yes, I have a rooting interest in this series—rah, rah, rah for Good Ol’ Hometown—but, no, I am not wearing white…That’s quite the scene in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie and outside on Donald Street in downtown Pegtown. I haven’t seen that much white since Donald Trump released the official White House staff photo…The Winnipeg whiteout tradition has always struck me as kind of Halloweenish, kind of creepy. But whatever works, I guess. Oh, wait. I forgot. The whiteout has never worked for the Jets, this version or the original NHL version…As I recall, there was no need or desire for this whiteout gimmickry at the Old Barn on Maroons Road during the 1970s. You know, when the Jets actually won playoff series and championships…I note reseller tickets for this Wild-Jets opener were being offered on StubHub for as much as $1,026 U.S. Geez, for $1,026 U.S. you can book a seven-day Las Vegas vacation and wear whatever color clothing you want…Am I supposed to be disappointed that Sportsnet has put Paul Romanuk, rather than Bob Cole, behind the play-by-play microphone? Well, I’m not. Romey doesn’t have Cole’s pipes, but I’ve always liked his call. The guy’s got energy. He’s got game. He’s also got Garry Galley with him in the chat room, which is probably a good thing. I mean, say what you will about Galley as a color commentator, but he’s got at least one thing in his favor—he’s not Greg Millen…Ron MacLean delivers sad news: The lovely young Dayna Brons, trainer for the Humboldt Broncos, succumbed to injuries suffered in last week’s fatal team bus accident. That raises the death toll to 16. Damn…Nice job on the anthems by Stacey Nattrass, who, of course, is rockin’ the white. You’d never know Stacey’s been awake since 5:30 in the morning. I’ve often wondered if anthem singers hang around to watch the game or leave for another gig…Time to drop the biscuit.

Bruce Boudreau

First Period: Why is Cassie Campbell-Pascall wearing a white top? A really fashion-challenged white top? She’s working the game for Sportsnet, a national network. She’s supposed to be impartial. Yo! Cassie! You don’t see Scott Oake in white, do you? You aren’t a member of the Jets organization. Knock it off…Garry Galley says the underdog role is a “new look” for Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau. I don’t know about that. He’s still short, still wide and still has a very red face…It’s 15 minutes into the match and I’m not seeing a lot of nasty out there. There’s definitely big-boy bodychecking, but no nasty…Mathieu Perreault crashes the Minny blue paint and Devan Dubnyk dumps him on his britches. Good for Dubnyk. Goaltenders shouldn’t take any crap…Refs are keeping the whistles tucked away. Wonder how long that’ll last…Are the Wild playing for a tie? I mean, four shots?…Zip-zip after 20 minutes, but I’m already convinced that Minny has one chance to win this best-of-seven series. His name is Devan Dubnyk.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Second Period: If I had a hockey stick, I’d leave it outside on the porch tonight…Ka-runch! Dustin Byfuglien snot bubbles Joel Eriksson Ek and Mikko Koivu returns the favor with a broadside on Perreault. Maybe that’ll turn on the nasty switch…Perreault is a gamer, but I’m not convinced his body is made for NHL playoff hockey. If he survives the night, he won’t survive the series…Loved Romanuk’s call on a Bryan Little dash toward the Minny goal: “A dazzling, buccaneering play from Little.”…Rink Rat Scheifele scores on the powerplay to put the Jets up 1-zip. Wild are paying so much attention to Puck Finn (Patrik Laine) that they’re ignoring Scheifele in the high slot. Something to keep in mind as the series moves on…Is Paul Stastny even playing? Or has Jets bench boss Paul Maurice decided to give him the night off? And here I thought they brought the guy over from St. Louis specifically for the playoff push.

Devan Dubnyk

Third Period: No surprise. Perreault is in the repair shop and done for the night. Poor guy took a fearsome pounding…What’s this? The Wild put two pucks past Connor Hellebuyck, first Matt Cullen then Zach Parise. There is no joy in Mudville, only silence and a 2-1 Minny lead…Not to worry, Puck Finn pulls the locals even “like the predator he is,” as Romanuk put it. And, hey, look who fed him the puck with a nifty drop pass—Stastny. Nice to see Maurice recognizes that Stastny has a pulse…Adam Lowry definitely is built for playoff hockey. He arrives at the rink with flared nostrils and in a bad mood, and he plays with a take-no-prisoners mentality…Who had Joe Morrow in the game-winning goal pool? Anybody see that coming? Jets up 3-2 and I’d say they’re home and cooled…Boudreau gives Dubnyk the night off two minutes and 30 ticks from time. Kind of early to yank your goalie, but the Jets use that 2:30 to ice the puck six times. Or was it seven? They need to work on their empty-net skills and not much else…Don’t know who chose the three stars at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, but Dubnyk, not Lowry, was the best player on the ice…Final score: Jets 3, Wild 2. No way this series goes past five games if the Jets are going to pour 40 shots on goal every game. It might even be a sweep…Okay, it’s past my bedtime. See you Friday for Game 2.

About drinking the Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid…a pity party…size doesn’t really matter…beer-league hockey and a bean counter…a losing MVP…Nathan MacKinnon for MVP…Shaq’s still PO’d about Steve Nash…women in the broadcast booth…and Le Grand Orange bids adieu

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

I didn’t think anyone would buy the “everything goes under the radar when you play in Winnipeg,” bunk that Jets captain Blake Wheeler was selling last week. Other than the gullible, fawning faithful, that is.

But along comes Paul Wiecek and he’s actually swallowing that cup of Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid.

Right to the very last drop.

Here’s what the Winnipeg Free Press columnist wrote about Wheeler’s “under the radar” malarkey: “That might have been true before this season. In fact, it almost certainly was true.”

In fact, it almost certainly was not true.

Which National Hockey League outfit, the Jets (versions 1.0 and 2.0) or the mega-market Tranna Maple Leafs, do you suppose has produced more individual regular-season award winners and more all-stars since River City was invited to join the fun for the 1979-80 season (excluding, of course, the years when Winnipeg was dark)? I’ll give you a hint: It isn’t the team that skates in the shadow of the CN Tower.

Here are the facts, ma’am…just the facts (they aren’t hard to find):

Winnipeg Jets 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17

Calder Trophy: Dale Hawerchuk 1981-82, Teemu Selanne 1992-93
Jack Adams Trophy: Tom Watt 1981-82, Bob Murdoch 1989-90
King Clancy Memorial Trophy: Kris King 1995-96
All-star teams (1st or 2nd): Hawerchuk 1984-85, Selanne 1992-93, Keith Tkachuk 1994-95, Phil Housley 1991-92, Alexei Zhamnov 1994-95
Rookie all-star team: Selanne 1992-93, Bob Essensa 1989-90, Iain Duncan 1987-88, Boris Mironov 1993-94, Patrik Laine 2016-17
Total: 5 individual awards, 5 all-star teams, 5 rookie all-stars15.

Tranna Maple Leafs 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17

Calder Trophy: Auston Matthews 2016-17
Frank Selke Trophy: Doug Gilmour 1992-93
Jack Adams Trophy: Pat Burns 1992-93
All-star teams: Borje Salming 1979-80
Rookie all-star team: Felix Potvin 1992-93, Wendel Clark 1985-86, Dan Daoust 1982-83, Kenny Jonsson 1994-95, Jake Gardiner 2011-12, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews 2016-17
Total: 3 individual awards, 1 all-star team, 7 rookie all-stars—11.

We all know les Leafs fly “under the radar” like Donald Trump is subtle on Twitter, yet voters have ignored them season after season after season.

Teemu Selanne and the Calder Trophy

Consider the Calder Trophy as an e.g. Until Auston Matthews was anointed the NHL’s leading freshman last spring, do you know how long it had been since a member of les Leafs won the top frosh bauble? Fifty-one freaking years! Half a century! When Brit Selby accepted the trinket, Lester Pearson was Prime Minister of Canada. Neil Young had just joined Buffalo Springfield. Hockey Night in Canada was still televised in black and white.

But two Jets—Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne—copped the Calder after Selby and before Mathews. And a third, Patrik Laine, was runnerup last year.

Go figure.

This whole Winnipeg is “under the radar” thing is a total copout. It’s such a lame lament. It sounds like the theme of an “Oh, woe are we” pity party. I can hear Leslie Gore singing “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” as I type. Rodney Dangerfield should be their poster boy. No respect, I’ll tell ya…no respect. Look, I get the drill. Winnipeg is mocked, maligned and ridiculed as a backwater burg. It’s so remote, you have to drive 500 miles just to get to the Middle of Nowhere, also known as Regina. But I invite anyone to provide evidence in support of the notion that a Jets player or coach has been cheated out of an award due to locale.

Blake Wheeler

Wiecek didn’t stop at one swig of the Jets Kool-Aid. He doubled down on the conspiracy theory in a follow-up essay: “There has been some loose talk in recent weeks about Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler having an outside shot at taking down this season’s Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player,” he wrote. “That’s not going to happen for a lot of reasons, beginning with the fact the Hart Trophy is voted upon by the media and Wheeler plays in the smallest media market in the entire NHL.” He wants to talk about size? Like size matters? Okay, let’s talk size. If Winnipeg is the nail on your little toe, Edmonton is the nail on your pinky finger. Yet the Oilers won 30—count ’em, 30—individual awards that are voted on (mostly by the media), 10 of them going to players not named Wayne Gretzky (in the years Winnipeg wasn’t dark). There were also 32 first- or second-team all-star selections, including six chosen to the rookie team. In the National Football League, tinytown Green Bay can boast of eight Associated Press MVP awards from five players, dating back to the early 1960s. The Goliath known as New York City, with two teams since 1970, has had just two NFL MVPs. Size doesn’t matter, performance does.

Scott Foster shuts the door on Paul Stastny.

So, the mighty Jets juggernaut couldn’t put a puck past a bean counter who plays goal in a beer league at Johnny’s Ice House West in Chicago. They tried for 14 minutes and one second. They tested him seven times. Nada. Scott Foster, the Blackhawks backup goaltender to the backup goaltender, was perfect on Thursday night at the United Center. His NHL career goals-against average is 0.00. I swear, there hasn’t been a better emergency replacement story in sports since Lou Gehrig took over at first base for Wally Pipp and the New York Yankees. Difference is, Gehrig hung in there for another 2,130 consecutive games. Bean Counter Foster didn’t quit his day job. He went back to his spreadsheets the following morning, knowing he’s the NHL’s feel-good story of the year. Brilliant stuff.

Al Rollins

Speaking of Chitown goaltenders, does the name Al Rollins mean anything to you? Didn’t think so. Well, he tended goal for Chicago in 1953-54. The Blackhawks occupied the cellar in the NHL that season. They won just 12 of 70 assignments, missing the playoffs by a whopping 43 points. Rollins’ 3.23 goals-against average was worst in the league. Guess who was NHL MVP. Yup, Al Rollins. So don’t tell me Connor McDavid shouldn’t be considered for the Hart Trophy simply because his Oilers teammates suck and didn’t qualify for this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament. History records that numerous outriders have been MVP, in all leagues. Andre (Hawk) Dawson, for example, was MVP on a Major League Baseball bottom-feeder. Ditto Alex Rodriguez. Here’s a partial list of non-playoff MVPs: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles Lakers,1975-76; Larry Walker, Colorado Rockies, 1997; Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants, 2001, 2004; Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers, 2003; Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies, 2006; Albert Puhols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2008; O.J. Simpson, Buffalo Bills, 1973; Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts, 1967; Andre Dawson, Chicago Cubs, 1987; Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals, 2015; Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins, 2017; Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 2016; Robin Yount, Milwaukee Brewers, 1989; Cal Ripken, Baltimore Orioles, 1991; Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs, 1958-59; Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins, 1987-88; Andy Bathgate, New York Rangers, 1958-59.

If I had a vote, I’d be inclined to give serious consideration to Brad Marchand as MVP in the NHL, because the Boston Bruins would be in Nowheresville without him. But I’d have to hold my nose if I included him on my ballot, because he’s a skunk. A total dweeb. People say Marchand plays “with an edge,” but I disagree. He plays dirty. He’s also a diver. Ultimately, I’d have his name on my ballot, but not at the top. I’d put Nathan MacKinnon and his 93 points/11 game-winning goals for the Colorado Avalanche first, followed by McDavid. Yup, possibly two non-playoff participants one-two. I’d have Blake Wheeler of les Jets third (he plays an honest game as opposed to Marchand’s shenanigans), then Sidney Crosby (Evgeni Malkin has marginally better numbers, but Sid the Kid still makes the Pittsburgh Penguins tick) and Marchand.

I’m not a hoops fan. Never have been. But it’s boffo that Victoria’s Steve Nash will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, in part because he was a two-time National Basketball Association most valuable player. Mind you, his former sidekick with the Phoenix Suns, Shaquille O’Neal, figures Nash’s two MVP awards were a rob job. “(I should have won) three, easily. (I should have won) the two that Steve Nash got over me. It pisses me off. (Nash) knows,” Shaq once told SI.com. Get over it, Shaq.

How unusual, also refreshing, to hear an all-female broadcast team work a hockey game. Sportsnet pulled it off with Leah Hextall handling the play-by-play, Cassie Campbell-Pascall providing the backup vocals in the booth, and Nikki Reyes standing at rink-side for the Clarkson Cup, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League title match between the Markham Thunder and Kunlun Red Star. Wonder how long it will be before we hear three women working an NHL game? No doubt the very thought will make a lot of men cringe and feel like they’ve been gelded. Well, it’ll happen one day. Deal with it, boys.

Le Grand Orange

Le Grand Orange has left the building. That would be Rusty Staub, who died Thursday, three days before his 74th birthday. I have one vivid memory of Staub—he stole a base in the first Major League Baseball game I witnessed live. An original member of the Montreal Expos, Staub was with the Detroit Tigers at the time and I was sitting in the first base bleachers at old Exhibition Stadium in the Republic of Tranna. Because he had the foot speed of an ATM, the Blue Jays thought it unlikely that Staub would bolt. Yet away he went. It was like watching a man pull a milk wagon. I could have poured back three pints by the time he arrived at second base. But he got there safely. Standing up, no less. Staub stood there, smiling, like a schoolboy who’d pulled the perfect prank. A nice memory.

And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: Not so long ago, he described the induction of Pedro Martinez to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as a “ridiculous choice. He spent four seasons in Montreal. That’s all.” Apparently, that made the Hall “look cheap.” And “Do you honestly believe a player with four years service belongs in a Hall of Fame? Any Hall of Fame?” Ah, but now he writes glowingly of Staub as “the baseball player in Canada so many of us cared about. The first who mattered across the country.” Staub actually spent less time with the Expos than Martinez, just 3 ½ season with the Expos, but he was inducted into the CBHF in 2012 and I don’t hear Grandpa Simmons shouting that it was a “ridiculous choice.” Nor should he. So shut up about Pedro, Steve.