Let’s talk about the Toronto Maple Elites and the Art of Angst…oh no, no O Canada en francais in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie…the Puck Pontiff and the 3rd Baron have an $805 million toy…a Prairie town with Seabears…the CFL and the kind of voting Donald Trump would love…and other things on my mind…

No one does Chicken Little quite like the rabble and news snoops in the Republic of Tranna, which has a faster-falling sky than any other National Hockey League habitat.

I mean, the Toronto Maple Elites failed, once again, to win the Stanley Cup in October—just like 31 other outfits—and it was a dire bit of business that apparently demanded the dismissal of everyone from the hot dog vendors to the ivory tower, where Brendan Shanahan presides and sits in judgment of the serfs below.

Ten skirmishes into the current crusade, the Shanaleafs were 4-4-2, a tolerable account in most jurisdictions but totally objectionable in the Centre of the Hockey Universe, where the floor for acceptable conduct is first-round playoff success and the ceiling is a Stanley Cup parade. The reality that neither can be achieved in October seemingly escaped the comprehension of the faithful, many of whom recognized a month’s worth of .500 hockey as cause to flood the Twitterverse with 280 characters worth of angst and urgent urgings for the ouster of head coach Sheldon Keefe and/or general manager Kyle Dubas. (And, just for good measure, one or two want to show Mayor John Tory the door, as well.)

News snoops and opinionists, meanwhile, were less inclined to lean toward scorching the earth, with their analysis ranging from cheeky to pragmatic to harsh. Here’s a sampling of their scribblings:

James Mirtle, The Athletic: “They’re just really, to put it charitably, meh right now.”

Cathal Kelly, Globe and Mail: “The Toronto Maple Leafs just finished a western road swing that resembled a man falling down a flight of stairs in slow motion. The Leafs have a lot of problems. Their biggest is that they keep changing problems. Hanging above it all is their level of play: soft. Giggling Pillsbury Doughboy-level soft.”

Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun: “An underperforming mess.”

Marty Klinkenberg, Globe and Mail: “A hot mess. If this were Bugtussle it would be no big deal. But Toronto isn’t a hockey outpost. The faithful who have grown used to an annual collapse are already twitchy.”

Damien Cox, Toronto Star: “No, it’s not too early to ask hard questions about this squad after a lousy western road trip. But it’s definitely too early to reach any meaningful conclusions, particularly after Keefe’s team had a nearly identical start last season and ended up setting a franchise record with 115 points.”

That was before the Philly Flyers arrived in The ROT, and 4-4-2 became 5-4-2. Next up were the Boston Bruins, brandishing the league’s best record, and 5-4-2 became 6-4-2. And then they vanquished Carolina to make it 7-4-2. Yup, the Elites are 3-for-November. Better re-order all those snazzy convertibles for the Stanley Cup parade!

Or not.

As sure as Johnny Bower liked the poke check, another acorn shall fall on Chicken Little’s head soon enough, and great and mournful cries—“They sky is falling! The sky is falling!”—shall again rumble and echo throughout The ROT and, indeed, in all corners of our Frozen Tundra.

Like I said, no one does Chicken Little quite like the rabble/news snoops in the Republic of Tranna. But, hey, they’ve had since 1967 to perfect the Art of Angst.

The Little Hockey House On The Prairie, a no-French zone.

Stu Cowan of the Montreal Gazette has a beef with the Winnipeg Jets: “O Canada was sung in English and French for Habs in both St. Louis and Minnesota but only in English in Winnipeg. Not right,” he tweets. Stu is absolutely correct, of course. If sports teams on our vast Frozen Tundra insist on trotting out crooners for a pre-game anthem (it’s a dumb tradition), it should be in English et en francais. Especially when the Montreal Canadiens are in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.

Cowan’s comment brings to mind an incident back in the day, when the rabble booed PA announcements en francais during a Jets exhibition game vs. the Finnish National B side. Once back in the Winnipeg Tribune newsroom, I was instructed to pen a front-page piece on the audience’s bad manners, and followed that up with a good and proper scolding of the anti-French boors. The next morning, I received a phone call from a man who threatened to bomb my house. Tough crowd.

The Puck Pontiff

So, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his co-bankroll, the 3rd Baron Thomson of Fleet, purchased the Atlanta Thrashers, lock, stock and jock, for US $170 million in 2011, and today Sportico has the Jets valued at $805 million. (And you thought the price of gas and groceries has taken a hike.)

The thing is, $805 million is just a number on a piece of paper unless the Puck Pontiff and the 3rd Baron are inclined to peddle the franchise, and that’s about as likely as palm trees and a nude beach sprouting up at the intersection of Portage and Main in January.

Still, the Sportico list makes for good bar banter and, if you missed it, here’s how the NHL’s seven Canadian franchises stack up in the grand scheme of things:

1. Maple Leafs: $2.12 billion
3. Canadiens: $1.7 billion
8. Oilers: $1.29 billion
11. Canucks: $1 billion
19. Flames: $870 million
22. Jets: $805 million
27. Senators: $655 M

Just wondering: What do you suppose Barry Shenkarow thinks when he looks at those numbers? I’m guessing he winces, gives his head a shake and mutters, “if only.” After all, Barry and the group that bankrolled Jets 1.0 sold the club for $65 million in 1995.

Nothing makes me switch off an NHL game faster than Ron MacLean throwing to a commercial on Hockey Night in Canada by saying, “Cabbie after the break.” Why is there a Cabbie?

You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t get excited about Alexander Ovechkin chasing down Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky as the NHL’s all-time leading goal-scorer. Tough to feel good about Vlad the Bad Putin’s pal when bombs are still raining on Ukraine.

I’m liking what the Drab Slab is doing with it’s Jets post-match coverage. Gone are the yawn-a-thon game stories that drone on in play-by-play style, with cookie-cutter clichés from players schooled in the art of cookie-cutter clichés. Sports editor Jason Bell now has Mad Mike McIntyre and the boys on the beat delivering dispatches in point form, which lends itself to variety of thought and analysis rather than dreary recitation of every pass, shot and save the night before. Give me opinion, anecdotes and harsh truths if required, not a running tally of plus/minus numbers.

According to Mike Sawatzky of the Drab Slab, the Canadian Elite Basketball League is primed to set up shop in Good Ol’ Hometown, with a team to be called the Seabears. I guess that’s because Winnipeg is a seaside town and there are so many bears roaming the streets. I mean, who came up with a name like Seabears for a sports franchise on the bald prairie?

It truly pains me to see the Winnipeg Sun putting out a three-page tabloid sports section. Damn. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be for a daily sheet in a market the size of Good Ol’ Hometown. How are the tabloid’s Toy Department 3—Paul Friesen, Teddy Wyman and Scott Billeck—expected to compete against the Drab Slab, which pumped out eight broadsheet pages on Saturday? It’s like bobbing for apples with your lips zipped shut. So a pox on the suits at Postmedia. Double damn them.

Here’s the page counts for sports sections in Postmedia tabloids across the country Saturday:
Vancouver Province: No paper (13 pages Friday)
Toronto Sun: 11
Ottawa Sun: 8
Calgary Sun: 8
Edmonton Sun: 8
Winnipeg Sun: 3

But, hey, check it out: The tabloid has trashed its TV listings in the Sunday sheet and expanded the sports section, with 12 pages today. Let’s hope going forward they fill the additional space with local copy, or off-beat musings, not a bunch of rot from the Republic of Tranna.

Boffo stuff from Paul Friesen on the 1990 Blue Bombers, many of whom found their way back to Good Ol’ Hometown last week for induction to the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. Paul, as usual, captures the moment magnificently.

D’oh! The Canadian Football League announced its West and East Division all-star teams on Wednesday, then, scant hours later, sent out a missive saying they had it all wrong and provided revised results (with 19 corrections) after a recount. Now that’s the kind of election Donald Trump would like.

The Glieberguys, Bernie and Lonie.

A number of folks believe the Lords of Rouge Football ought to be red faced because of the voting snafu. Maybe. Maybe not. I mean, you want embarrassing? Try Dexter Manley and the Glieberguys and Mardi Gras beads and bare breasts in Bytown back in the day. How about Commish Randy Ambrosie panhandling on Parliament Hill in the thick of the pandemic? How about those many thousands of unoccupied seats at BMO Field for every Toronto Argos game? Let’s not forget dinosaurs Joe Kapp and Angelo Mosca brawling at a meet-and-greet Grey Cup function. Drafting dead guys in the 1990s? And, hey, have you heard Dennis Casey Park’s rendition of O Canada before the Las Vegas Posse home opener in 1994? The list of Rouge Football’s red-faced moments is longer than a Winnipeg winter, but our quirky, three-downs game has survived ’em all and shall continue to chug along, even if it’s with a red face.

Nathan Rourke

Quiz me this, kids: How many is enough? No, that isn’t a Zen koan. It’s the question I have for the Football Reporters of Canada. The girls and boys on the beat, you see, have decided that B.C. Leos QB Nathan Rourke was not the most dazzling performer in Rouge Football this year, presumably because he only played half a season, whereas Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB Zach Collaros was behind centre for 17 skirmishes. But wait. That same half-season was sufficient to earn Rourke the nomination as Most Outstanding Canadian.

Sorry, but that does not compute. I mean, he’s out as MOP but good to go as MOC? Is that some sort of Canadian exchange rate?

Well, here’s Teddy Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun to explain his thinking on CFL awards balloting: “There was talk among FRC colleagues about voting for Nathan Rourke over Collaros for MOP. Eventually I think right call was made. Rourke had amazing half season but no way of predicting how it would have gone after that. Collaros is deserving of the nomination.

“I voted for Rourke for most outstanding Canadian and majority of FRC voters did as well. The fact is, his half-season numbers were strong enough to outshine other Canadians. They weren’t strong enough to outshine Collaros for MOP.”

And now here’s Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab: “Collaros had another solid season and is deserving of the nomination. Nathan Rourke was on his way, and it’s a testament to how great he was when playing. But winning MOP after playing just half the season would have been embarrassing for the CFL.

“Rourke was incredible though. And my basis for voting—I had Collaros MOP; Rourke MOC—is that Rourke had a better season than all other Canadians but not as good as Collaros. Guy had 7 rushing TDs, to go with 25 passing. But, again, I agree with sked and the opposite opinion.”

So, what’s the minimum number of games required to qualify as MOP? Twelve? Fourteen?

Quick picks for today’s opening round in the quest for Rouge Football’s Grey Grail: Calgary Stampeders over B.C. Leos; Hamilton Tabbies over Montreal Larks; Matt Dunigan “gets ‘er done” on the TSN panel; and I foresee a pepperoni pizza-and-football day at Chez Swansson.

The Saskatchewan Flatlanders’ coughed up a hairball the size of a prairie canola field in the back half of the Rouge Football season, going 2-11 with seven successive Ls to close the crusade, and now we know who was most responsible for the fiasco: Offensive coordinator Jason Maas, O-line coach Stephen Sorrells and receivers coach Travis Moore are the official scapegoats. Oh, and let’s not forget starting QB Cody Fajardo, also fired. (His permanent dismissal has yet to be made official.) Meantime, sideline steward Craig Dickenson and GM Jeremy O’Day survive to clean up the mess left behind (apparently) by Messrs. Maas, Sorrells, Moore and Fajardo. My guess: The Flatlanders replace Fajardo with the ghost of Bo Levi Mitchell, which gives them a convenient scapegoat for next year.

Cliff Clavin in a classic episode of Cheers.

Tyler Hubbard, Jordan Davis and Josh Ross are the halftime performers for the Grey Cup game on the Flattest of Lands, Nov. 20. That sounds like an answer Cliff Clavin would give on Final Jeopardy!: “Who are three people who’ve never been in my kitchen?” In this case, it’s more like: Who are three people I’ve never heard of? Well, apparently, they’re country crooners, so do we see one, two or all three of them surface in the TSN booth for face time with Glen Suitor? Or does Groupie Glen limit his man crush gushing to Keith Urban? Better yet, will TSN let us watch the game or force us to endure Suits Goes Fan Boy, the sequel?

A young dude at a New York Knicks game sank a half-court shot to win a car on Saturday. More important, they also gave him $1,000. You know, so he could afford about half a tank of gas.

The Houston Astros have won the World Series. Which reminds me, I have a bag of garbage I need to take to the trash bin.

And, finally…

Let’s talk about the Rouge Football playoffs and the MOP…the Blue-and-Gold’s best in show head count…creepy things in sports that creep me out…Hot Dog! Phil’s the NHL Iron Man…a rinky dink rink…jersey fling in the Republic of Tranna?…and other things on my mind…

Forget about the CFL gas bags on TSN. For the best take on all things Rouge Football, lend an ear to my two favorite gridiron girls, Lady Portage and Dame Main, both unabashed admirers of large lads in blue-and-gold. Take it away, ladies…

Lady Portage: “Well, girlfriend, another Canadian Football League regular season has arrived at the finish line and we move on to the playoffs to see if our Winnipeg Blue Bombers can threepeat.”

Dame Main: “Oh, wouldn’t that be special?”

Lady Portage: “You know it. Not even the Bombers of the glory days brought the Grey Cup home three years in a row. The Bombers of Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis and Herbie Gray won the thing four times in five years back in the 1950s/60s, but not three straight.”

Dame Main: “If they pull it off, wouldn’t that make these the glory days?”

Lady Portage: “I suppose it would, for a younger generation. But it’s going to be a tall task.”

Dame Main: “You aren’t sold on the Big Blue?”

Lady Portage: “I am. They’ve got the best quarterback in the league, Zach Collaros, and that rookie receiver, Dalton Schoen, has made people sit up and take notice. Richie Hall’s D-dozen is as stout and as stingy as ever, and I imagine guys like Biggie Bighill and the J Men—Jefferson and Jeffcoat—are plenty geeked up about another championship ring. But I think the Calgary Stampeders will be a tough out. They’ve got a defence to match Winnipeg’s, and their running back, Ka’Deem Carey, is a beast. If the weather’s foul on Nov. 13, he could be the difference-maker. I like him more than our guy, Brady Oliveira.

Dame Main: “So you’re saying the Stampeders will take out the B.C. Lions in the semifinal next weekend?”

Lady Portage: “The Leos are done like burnt toast. Hey, I’m sold on Lions QB Nathan Rourke—fan-tabulous!—but I’m not sold on him as a QB who’s played part of one game since August.”

Dame Main: “He didn’t look like he was wearing a coat of rust against the Bombers on Friday night.”

Lady Portage: “No, but he didn’t look other-worldly, either. Not like before he suffered the foot owie that put him on the shelf for two months. If I can use just one word to describe his play, it would be ‘meh’. I fear he’s in for an afternoon of hurt courtesy the Stamps D-men. Total misery.”

Dame Main: “What do you think would have happened if Rourke hadn’t been injured? Think we’d be talking about Zach Collaros as Most Outstanding Player?”

Lady Portage: “What if Willie Jefferson had alligator arms instead of a wing span that stretches from Winnipeg to Kenora? I’m not into what-ifs, girlfriend. Rourke got hurt and played in 10 games. Zach didn’t get hurt and led the league in TD tosses and wins.”

Dame Main: “Ya, but the guy in Toronto, Mcleod Bethel-Thompson, had more passing yards and completions than Collaros. Maybe he’s the MOP.”

Lady Portage: “And maybe somebody spiked your tea. You and I will land a gig singing backup vocals for Lady Gaga before McBeth gets the nod as East Division MOP. The guy looks all-world for 30 minutes, then he looks like a kid trying to tie his laces with one hand. Sorry, but Eugene Lewis or Tim White deserves the East nomination. But, hey, the girls and boys on the beat are smitten with QBs, so…”

Dame Main: “I sure hope Zach wins. He seems like a wonderful young man, with an adorable family. And it’s so nice that he’s staying around for a few more years.”

Lady Portage: “As sure as O-linemen like second helpings of mashed potatos and anything that moos, Zach repeats as MOP, then it’s just a question of whether or not the Bombers threepeat. All they need is two more Ws—one vs. Calgary on our Frozen Tundra on Nov. 13, then vs. the Toronto Argos on the Flattest of Lands, Nov. 20.

Dame Main: “So that’s your call? Bombers-Boatmen? Who wins the Grey Grail?”

Lady Portage: “The good guys, of course. Best QB always wins, and that’s our boy Zach. He’ll be flinging TD passes while Bethel-Thompson is trying to figure out how to tie his boot laces with one hand.”

Dame Main: “Guess that’s a wrap for us, girlfriend. We’ll have to do this again Grey Cup week. Ya think the Calgary mob will bring a horse to Regina and clomp him into a hotel?”

Lady Portage: “For sure. And if the nag takes a dump in the hotel lobby, Rob Vanstone and the boys at the Regina Leader-Post can write it up as an editorial comment on the Saskatchewan Roughriders season.”

So, Milt Stegall tells us the Bombers have enjoyed “sellouts through the season.” I demand a recount. I mean, it’s nice that Milt wants to tout Winnipeg FC as the showcase franchise in Rouge Football, but he doesn’t need to fudge facts for the CFL on TSN panel. Here’s the reality: The folks in Good Ol’ Hometown packed the Football Field In Fort Garry twice this crusade, both times in September and both times with a Pil-swilling mob from the Flattest of Lands in town for a visit. But Milt’s correct about the Blue-and-Gold being a model operation, on and off the gridiron. Head counts this year:

26,002 (Ottawa)
23,600 (Hamilton)
29,746 (Calgary)
31,053 (Montreal)
30,062 (Calgary)
33,234 (Saskatchewan)
33,234 (Saskatchewan)
27,159 (Edmonton)
23,685 (B.C.)
Total: 28,641 average (best in show and up from 25,947 in 2021).

Zach Collaros

Dave Naylor asked this question of the TSN panel on Friday: “When’s the last time Zach Collaros stunk the joint out?” Answer: July 22, vs. Edmonton Elks when he was 7/16, 188 yards, 2 TD, 2 picks. But, hey, the Bombers still won, 24-10.

Collaros and Nathan Rourke aside, I can’t remember a more iffy crop of QBs in Rouge Football than what we’ve seen in the past two crusades. Bo Levi Mitchell and Cody Fajardo have become spare parts, Mcleod Bethel-Thompson is as uneven as the back roads in Alabama, we’re still trying to get a reading on Dane Evans, Jeremiah Masoli and Trevor Harris, and Tayler Cornelius might be the next Mike Reilly in Edmonton or the next Great White Nope.

Bytown RedBlacks QB Caleb Evans rushed for a QB record 16 TDs this season. Total yards traveled on those 16 TD rushes: 16.

It’s oft said that the CFL season doesn’t truly begin until the Labor Day weekend, so here’s how the nine teams stacked up in crunch time:

Ron MacLean

It’s Halloween eve and it’s scary out there, kids. Here are five things/people in sports that really, really creep me out:
1. Ron MacLean’s puns and librarian-like references to ridiculously obscure footnotes about historical events/people. The puns are mostly lame and the detours into the unknown are as baffling as they are painful. Just tell the guy to put on a cardigan, call his Hockey Night in Canada gig Mr. MacLean’s Neighborhood and be done with it. He’s become creepy, kids.
2. Conor McGregor. He’s rude, vulgar, obnoxious, a bully, objectionable on every level, and probably thinks mashed potatoes is finger food. Every time I see him on my flatscreen, I feel the need to hose down. He’s creepy, kids.
3. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. I don’t know which of the two aging, slower-than-Sunday NFL quarterbacks creeps me out more. My problem with Brady is simple: His ego is the size of Texas, thus his plan apparently is to force himself upon us until he’s older than every tortoise on the Galapagos Islands. (Fittingly, Brady and the turtles move at the same pace.) Rodgers, meanwhile, has a matching ego and seems to fancy himself as a svengali, determined to bend and shape the Green Bay Packers into his image with his every thought. Or maybe it’s his idea of a Zen thing, where he props himself up as the Dalai QB. I’m uncertain. And when they lose? Never his fault. But it’s creepy, kids.
4. Ever since Phil Mickelson teed it up on the Saudis’ LIV Golf Series, he always looks like he needs a bath. That’s creepy, kids.
5. The fawning by news snoops over Tiger Woods and Serena Williams, two more ego-fueled jocks who refuse to take the off-ramp. Woods has three tournament titles since 2013, his most recent in 2019, then he drove his SUV into a ravine. Williams has won one event since becoming a mom five years ago. Yet both are gabbed and written about like they’ve ended the scourge of global homelessness. Can Woods and Williams still win? I suppose, if all the planets align favorably, but they’re both deep on the downside of the slope and I wonder what part of over-the-hill do the talking heads and scribes not understand? They’re creepy, kids.

Tom Brady

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that Brady looks like he’s on a hunger strike? I realize he’s flying solo these days and probably can’t be bothered cooking for himself, but has he not heard of Skip the Dishes?

Things you don’t expect to read or hear in the same sentence: Donald Trump and humility. Andrea Bocelli and sour notes. Phil Kessel and NHL Iron Man. But a tip of the bonnet to Kessel, who hasn’t skipped a day of work since 2009, or 991 games ago. Not too shabby for a guy reportedly on a tube steak-a-day diet.

Hey, fans have stopped flinging $250 jerseys on the ice in Vancouver, which can only mean the Canucks are no longer playing like a bunch of ankle-benders. Most likely next stop for the Jersey Fling: The Republic of Tranna. The Toronto Maple Elites, after all, are second-last in the Atlantic Division and run the risk of going 0-for-California tonight vs. the Disney Ducks in Anaheim. Another L makes them a sub.-500 outfit, and that simply won’t do in a town where they’re accustomed to winning the Stanley Cup every October. Ladies and gentlemen, start your jerseys.

Nothing but positive dispatches from Mullett Arena, jazzy new playpen of the Arizona Coyotes in Tempe. It’s the size of a college dorm, which is fitting since it also houses college hockey, and we’re told those 5,026 fans crammed into the joint can really raise a ruckus. Well, so do kids in an elementary school playground, but that doesn’t make it college. A rinky dink rink is rinky dink rink is rinky dink rink.

Where did TSN dig up this Frankie Corrado dude? What are the bona fides that compelled TSN to prop him up as a hockey analyst? Well, Google tells me he spent time with 10 teams in 11 seasons of pro hockey, some of it in the NHL (76 games), some of it in Sweden and Russia, and that’s fine. But this is part of a recent Q&A Frankie did with Ben Kuzma of Postmedia Vancouver:
Kuzma: “Why are the Canucks struggling?”
Frankie: “I think that team is in trouble.”
Wow. Move aside, Sherlock Holmes. There’s a new super sleuth in town. And, yes, that’s sarcasm. I mean, the Canucks were the only NHL outfit without a W. What was Frankie’s first clue? If that’s the type of penetrating analysis he’ll bring to TSN, I’ll switch channels and listen to Ron MacLean’s puns.

In a dog-bites-man story, this headline from The Athletic: “PWHPA still working toward a new women’s pro hockey league.” In other news, WWII is over, JFK is dead, Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and The Beatles broke up. I mean, we’ve been hearing about a league for the Ponytail Puck renegades for nigh on four years. When will they tell us something we don’t know?

Dusty Baker

How ironic that the first World Series since 1950 with zero U.S.-born Black players on either roster might be won by a Black manager, Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros. I’ve liked Dusty ever since my one and only visit to Dodger Stadium in the 1980s. Every inning when he trotted out to his post in left field, he’d stop and natter with us fans in the bleachers. Nice man.

I want to go on record as saying I like Camila Cabello and Gwen Stefani on The Voice. John Legend is agreeable and Blake Shelton is Terry Bradshaw with a good head of hair, but not necessarily a better singing voice. Hee haw.

Here’s all you need to know about the Saudi/Greg Norman LIV Golf Series: PGA Tour defector Pat Perez was handed a four-year, $10 million deal, just to show up. “Look, I know I can’t beat those kids anymore. This was a great opportunity for me. I have nothing against the PGA Tour; they did a lot for me, but I had to earn everything I got out there.” What a concept. Earning your wages. Meantime, Peter Uihlein collected $11.3 million in seven LIV events, compared to $4 million in 126 PGA tournaments. But, remember, it isn’t about the money.

And, finally…

Let’s talk about nothing but glory in Good Ol’ Hometown for Zach Collaros…what Cody Fajardo did on his ‘vet’ day…the Winnipeg Jets, the Toronto Maple Elites and the skunk shirts…Blab Costas and the baseball playoffs…TorStar scribes and cement heads…Ponytail Puck…bikinis…and other things on my mind…

Top o’ the morning to you, Zach Collaros.

I’m not sure how you’d describe the past few years of your football life, but it’s surely been an interesting journey.

Zach Collaros

I mean, you were rejected on the Flattest of Lands and ushered out of the Republic of Tranna in the space of five months, but just look at you today: Grey Cup champion starting quarterback, x2; Most Outstanding Player Award in Rouge Football, soon-to-be x2; freshly minted three-year contract, at $600,000 per, tucked in your ditty bag.

Add to that your bride, Nicole, and two lovely daughters, Sierra and Capri, and, as the cool folk say, you’ve got it made in the shade, Zach. Talk about a wonderful life. Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey ain’t got nothing on you.

And, in a twisted sort of way, I suppose you can thank Simoni Lawrence for your favorable turn of fortune.

I don’t have to remind you that Simoni is the ruffian who knocked you loopy on the third play of the 2019 Canadian Foootball League season, Zach, setting in motion a sequence of events that brought you to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, with whom you’ve done nothing but put up Ws and earn the admiration of all who worship at the blue-and-gold shrine.

Yes, it’s been all glory in Good Ol’ Hometown, Zach, so much so that people are mentioning you and Kenny Ploen in the same breath, and the hosannas don’t get higher than a comparison to ol’ No. 11. Not if you’re talking football in Winnipeg, they don’t. K.P. was, is and always shall be football deity whenever and wherever devotees of the big, gold-and-white ‘W’ gather, and you’re making a compelling argument that you’ll soon be sitting beside him on legends row.

If only Jeremy O’Day, Pinball Clemons and John Murphy had known what was to become of you, Zach. So much would have changed.

I’m guessing you remember those guys, Zach. But, in case things are a bit blurry, let’s refresh:

O’Day had you on the Flattest of Lands in 2019 and, once you’d been rendered loopy by Lawrence, the Saskatchewan GM arrived at a dire diagnosis: You were done like a overcooked cob of corn at the Biggar county fair. Thus, he reasoned that upstart Cody Fajardo was a better bet than an oft-concussed QB, and he peddled your butt to the Republic of Tranna for a fourth-round shoutout (receiver Kian Schaffer-Baker) in the 2020 auction of CFL wannabes. It was “the best thing to do for the organization,” he explained.

Pinball Clemons and John Murphy, meanwhile, made the same (mis)diagnosis and figured the Toronto Argos were in better hands with Mcleod Bethel-Thompson and James Franklin. Thus, they dialed up Kyle Walters’ number on Oct. 9, 2019, and made the Bombers GM an offer he refused to refuse: It was you, Zach, and a future draft pick (kicker Marc Liegghio) in barter for two wannabes (O-linemen Theren Churchill, Dylan Giffen). Murphy, VP of player personnel with the Boatmen at the time, explained: “That was too much to pass up on.”

Larry, Curly and Moe…meet Jeremy, Pinball and Murph.

The Canadian Mafia: GM Kyle Walters, CEO Wade Miller, head coach Mike O’Shea.

Actually, Zach, they weren’t as dopey as the Three Stooges, because we have to remember you had a whack of cobwebs up in the attic at the time and all the medical experts, including those without medical degrees in the stands and on press row, had written you off. How were they to know Walters, Mike O’Shea and Wade Miller—the Bombers’ Canadian Mafia—had the magical healing powers of water at Lourdes?

It helps, of course, that they’ve blessed you with an O-line that provides better protection than the guys who keep the wackos away from Joe Biden, but I think we all know it’s mostly down to you, Zach.

The Argos-Bombers deal rates as one of Rouge Football’s all-time fleece jobs, and it might rank as the mother of all all-timers if you and the large lads in blue-and-gold livery conspire to bring home the Grey Grail for a third successive crusade.

So it’s grand to know you’ll be sticking around until 2025, Zach, and I don’t think anyone among the rabble gives a rat’s patootie that you, Nicole and the kiddies vamoose and spend your off-seasons in Aurora, Ont. Hey, I get it. I know all about Winnipeg winters. They’re like a stray dog with a bad attitude: Avoid whenever possible.

For now, though, Aurora can wait, Zach. You’ve got two more football games to win, and I’m guessing you won’t mind if your escape is delayed a day or two due to another championship parade.

Yes, sir, it’s a wonderful life, Zach.

Craig Dickenson and Cody Fajardo

So let me see if I’ve got this right: In a survival skirmish Saturday night, Saskatchewan Flatlanders head coach Craig Dickenson told the aforementioned Cody Fajardo to grab pine and, instead, pinned his club’s playoff aspirations on a QB, Mason Fine, who’d never started a game in the CFL and had flung the football a grand total of 42 times in his three-downs career. Ya, that makes sense. No surprise that Fine got the Flatlanders into the house just once. End result: Calgary Stampeders 32, Flatlanders 21. So Saskatchewan joins the ranks of the no-hopers, with their post-season quest expired, and Dickenson should be grateful he’s under contract for another year.

What’s up with Dickenson giving Fajardo a “vet” day off last week? What the hell is a “vet” day? Did Cody need to take the family pet in for shots and a deworming? Or is it something akin to “load management?” My take: It’s a load of what comes out of the south end of a bull. I don’t want to hear about “vet” day unless it’s Nov. 11.

Somebody at TSN needs to tell gab guy Milt Stegall that the Toronto Argos are not—repeat, not!— “Eastern conference champions” two years in a row. The Boatmen didn’t win the East Division title a year ago, and they haven’t won it this time around. They’ve locked down first place and a bye into the East Division final at BMO Field in the Republic of Tranna on Nov. 13. That’s when the East Division “champions” will be determined. Do better, Milt.

Mitch Marner

After Toronto Maple Leafs bench puppeteer Sheldon Keefe called out his “elite” workers for being notably unelite in a 4-2 misstep vs. the Sad Sack Arizona Coyotes last week, one of the elitists, Mitch Marner, insisted no players’ noses were out of joint because of the coach’s tsk-tsking. “We’re grown men,” he said. If it’s all the same to Mitch, I’ll reserve judgment on that until I see evidence that he’s old enough to shave.

Got a giggle out of dispatches from Saturday night’s skirmish between the Tranna Maple Elites and Winnipeg Jets at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.

In the Drab Slab, the main headline blared, “BAD BLOOD AND BAD CALLS…Leafs escape Jetsville with 2 points and the zebras’ blessings.” Beat guy Mad Mike McIntyre told us Toronto’s 4-1 victory was “draped in controversy” and refs Graham Skilliter and Corey Syvret “completely lost the plot.” The skunk shirts were also “cowardly.” (But, hey, he doesn’t want to be viewed as a homer.) He described Josh Morrissey’s collision with Nick Robertson of the Leafs as “what looked to be a perfectly-timed hit,” while over at the Winnipeg Sun Scott Billeck saw it as “a clean hit.”

Meantime, there were no screaming headlines about shoddy officiating in either the Toronto Star or Toronto Sun, apparently because news snoops were watching a different game. Mark Zwolinski of the Star called the Winnipeg blueliner’s broadside of Robertson a “predatory hit” and Sun scribe Terry Koshan saw it as “a perceived” illegal blow.

Hmmm. If you were wearing Jets goggles, it was “clean” and “perfectly-timed,” but if you had on a pair of Leafs goggles, it was “predatory” and “perceived” as dirty. Go figure.

It’s a “happening” any time the Elites grace the freeze in Good Ol’ Hometown, and it’s especially exciting on a Saturday night, because those fancy schmancy Hockey Night in Canada towels are up for grabs. I just wonder what the players do with them. Take ’em home? Hang ’em on the towel rack in the biffy? Display ’em on a man cave wall? Wrap ’em up and gift them as Christmas stocking stuffers? Give ’em to the dog for a chew toy? Inquiring minds want to know.

Fashion note: Those Winnipeg Jets reverse retro uniforms look like some kid was a few crayons short of a full box. I mean, my favorite color is blue, but I like it most when it’s blended with other hues of the rainbow. You know, like red. But I guess adidas thinks a jersey that looks like it’s been through the wash/rinse cycle about 1,000 times too often is a thing.

The heritage unis the home side wore Saturday night vs. the Tranna Elites are still the best, and always will be.

Blab Costas

Is it safe to watch the Major League Baseball playoffs again, or is Bob Costas still yammering about everything but rounders? Seriously, I turned on my flatscreen to observe a New York Yankees-Cleveland Guardians game last week and a Costas filibuster broke out.

I don’t think there’s a squawk box in sports who loves the sound of his own voice more than this guy. He doesn’t call the game, he lectures in an arrogant “I’m the legendary Bob Costas and I know more important people than you” tone, at the same time taking more detours than a lost dog.

His starting point might be baseball, but he’s apt to wander off to the Civil War to 9/11 to JFK to the shootout at the OK Corral to Grantland Rice and the day the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame rode, before returning to the matter at hand and informing us that Aaron Judge had been scuffling at the plate: “I know Aaron has lost his groove, but I also know he likes his breakfast eggs sunny side up, and, coincidentally, so did General George Smith Patton Jr., who, by the way, was something of a student of fencing during his time at West Point, and Old Blood and Guts also competed in the modern pentathlon at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Sweden, where he became the only non-Swede to finish in the top five. He later became Master of the Sword…and there’s goes Aaron Judge, down on strikes again. But back to General Patton, did you know…blah, blah, blah.”

Basically, he’s under the misguided notion that a ball game ought to be a (bad) Ken Burns documentary, and he believes he’s doing our ears a favor with his non-stop natter. Well, I’m sorry, but my ears begin to bleed at the first sound of his ego.

What’s the worst fear while listening to Bob Costas broadcast a baseball game? Extra innings.

The New York Post reports that Charles Barkley has agreed to keep filling TNT air with his basketball bon mots, and the arrangement is expected to easily top the $100 million mark. Hmmm. If paid at a penny per word, Bob Costas would be a millionaire by the seventh-inning stretch.

My main issue with the current Major League Baseball playoffs is this: I don’t hear the sound of garbage cans clanking, so I can’t figure out how the Houston Astros are cheating.

Nick Kypreos

Good grief, Nick Kypreos has joined Dave Poulin as a contributing columnist for the Toronto Star, leaving me to wonder when he’ll use his new platform to promote goon tactics in the NHL. I mean, if we learned anything about Kypreos during his lengthy run with Sportsnet, it’s that he’s a horse-and-buggy thinker who truly believes you have to beat ’em in the alley before you can beat ’em on the ice. He was a cement head when he played, and he’s still a cement head. If it’s all the same to the deep-thinkers at the Star, I prefer to remember a time when their sports pages featured scribes like Jim Proudfoot and Milt Dunnell and Frank Orr, not broken-down jocks.

Speaking of the Star, the paper’s public editor, Donovan Vincent, has noted his sports section seldom covers female athletes and their teams. Well duh. What was his first clue? Turns out it was a missive from a female reader that alerted Vincent to the issue, and he ought to be embarrassed. I mean, this is nothing new, and Vincent long ago should have noticed the lack of words and scarcity of photographic evidence devoted to the distaff side of the playground. Not to mention the scads of studies that confirm mainstream print and electronic media ignore the games girls/women play. Now that he’s finally pulled his head out of the sand, perhaps other newspaper decision-makers across our Frozen Tundra will do the same and stop treating the females like second-hand Roses.

Hey, check it out. The Drab Slab delivered a significant takeout on Ponytail Puck the other day. Mike Sawatzky took a look at the Toronto Six, now in final prep for the Premier Hockey Federation’s eighth season, and he reminds us that one of our own, Sami Jo Small, is at the top of the food change with the Six. The roster also features three Manitoba-breds. Good stuff.

Did you know, and do you care, that the other half of the Ponytail Puck equation, the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, staged a set of its glorified scrimmages last weekend in Montreal? Well, if you went looking for game info on the PWHPA website, you won’t have a clue, because they apparently like to keep details of their on-ice activity hush-hush. Not a word about the four-team frolic featuring Team Sonnet, Team Scotiabank, Team adidas and Team Harvey’s. So, if they don’t care to fill you in, why should you care?

The PWHPA has been in existence since May 2019, after rising from the ashes of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, and I’m still trying to figure out what they’re trying to prove, except that they’re the most stubborn group of women ever assembled.

Dugie and GG Mary Simon
Photo: MCpl Anis Assari, Rideau Hall

A size XXXXXL shoutout to old friend Don Duguid, who had snacks and made small talk with Governor General Mary Simon on Thursday in Bytown. The GG invested Dugie as a member of the Order of Canada, and I’d say that sounds about right for a world curling champion, turned curling innovator, turned curling guru, turned curling gab guy. I don’t know if the The Digit gave Guv Mary an earful about the Monarchy, but I’m guessing he mentioned King Charlie a time or two. Dugie is one of my all-time favorite people.

Toronto FC pays Lorenzo Insigne $14 million guaranteed per year to play footy, which is better pay than anyone in the NHL. So perhaps someone in mainstream media can tell us again how Major League Soccer isn’t major league.

Bet you didn’t know that the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue has a Rookie of the Year Award. Yup, Christen Harper and Katie Austin are this year’s recipients of the frosh honor because, according to editor and chief MJ Day, “there’s never been two more worthy people.” And, hey, don’t run off with the notion that Christen and Katie put on their skimpy outfits for self-serving reasons. They do it “for random strangers.” Translation: Teenage boys who can’t get their hands on a Victoria’s Secret catalog.

Sometimes I don’t want to believe what I’m reading and hearing, and I don’t want to believe that tennis great Simona Halep is guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs.

And, finally, it’s about soft landings for delicate NFL QBs…

Let’s talk about Bones and the stripping of the ‘C’…Blue Bombers D-Dozen…a Rouge Football rumble in the parking lot…horrors, an RBC logo on La Sainte-Flanelle…a fitting tribute for good guy Baiz…Roger, over and out…the MVP and the ‘dissolvement of ego’…The Shark’s raging PGA hate-on…bull droppings and the Golden Jet…and other things on my mind…

Rick Bowness

Top o’ the morning to you, Rick Bowness.

Boy, you sure know how to make an entrance, don’t you? I thought only Sinatra could “bring it” like that. I mean, you haven’t even spent a nanosecond behind the Winnipeg Jets bench and you’ve already ripped the ‘C’ off Blake Wheeler’s jersey. Ballsy move.

Mind you, that’s the kind of decision you don’t make without first getting the official okie-dokie from on high, which is to say Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman. After all, defrocking teacher’s pet is like telling Tiger Woods he can’t wear a red shirt on Sunday. Still, you pulled it off, and I just wish I’d been a fly on the wall during those discussions, because it must have been some juicy banter.

Whatever was said, Coach Bones, it’s no more Captain Cranky Pants for Winnipeg HC, which means no more sourpuss sound bites from a guy who enjoyed his natters with news snoops the way Donald Trump likes the FBI knocking on his door.

Also no way of knowing if the stripping of the ‘C’ will translate to more Ws from the same old-same old National Hockey League outfit that you inherited due to GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s Summer of Nothing, but I guess we’re about to find out.

Blake Wheeler

One thing the Jets faithful need remember: Wheeler is now ‘C’-less, but he’s still in the dressing room and has no desire to fade into the background like an old piece of furniture destined for a yard sale. Anyone who thinks otherwise is “sorely mistaken,” he told news snoops, adding “I don’t envision changing my role at all” and “I’m still gonna be doing the things I would have done with the ‘C’ on my jersey.” It sounded more like a threat than a promise.

Something I kept thinking after the big news broke on Friday: The Puck Pontiff and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff actually hitched their wagon to Wheeler instead of Patrik Laine. It was an astonishing blunder that will continue to bite them.

I note some Jets gathered for “informal” skates last week. In other words, just like most of their games last season.

Dane Evans

Missing Person’s Alert! Richie Hall’s D-Dozen. When last seen, they were making Dane Evans look like Patrick Mahomes and the Hamilton Tabbies offence look like the Kansas City Chiefs. If seen, call the missing persons hotline at 1-800-We STUNK. Seriously, a 48-31 paddywhacking? I don’t think the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defence has surrendered more than 40 points since leather helmets. Scoring on the Bombers is normally more difficult than opening a bag of airline peanuts, especially in the second half. But the Winnipeg FC D-Dozen decided to sit this one out, and the Tabbies much-maligned QB, Evans, and his receivers were in full frolic, finding their way into the end zone five times Saturday at Timbits Field in the Hammer. But, hey, stuff happens. The Canadian Football League season is long and taxing, and the Bombers haven’t had much time to catch their breath, with just one bye week since late May. We won’t see them again until Sept. 30, by which time we can assume they’ll have licked their wounds and won’t be in the mood to play nice with Cody Fajardo and the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Speaking of Corn Dog Cody, he served some vintage whine after a 26-24 loss to the bottom-feeding E-Town Elks on Friday, suggesting folks on the Flattest of Lands displayed bad manners in booing their hometown heroes. “I feel like the whole world is basically against us,” he moaned. “I’ll be honest, it wasn’t great when you hear your own fans booing you. It hurt.” Yo! Cody! There’s a cure for that. It’s called winning.

Apparently, the B.C. Leos and Calgary Stampeders took their hostilities off the field and into the parking lot after their grass-grabber Saturday in the Alberta Foothills. Something was said, a punch was thrown (not necessarily in that order), and cops became involved out on the pavement at McMahon Stadium. The Leos won the quarrel over second seeding in the West Division, 31-29 in OT, and the two sides will do it all over again next Saturday, this time at B.C. Place Stadium. No word on whether they’ll be selling ringside seats in the parking lot.

Anyone out there still not convinced Quebec is a different kind of world? If so, consider the appointment of Nick Suzuki as capitaine des Canadiens de Montréal. One look at the ‘C’ stitched on Nick’s chest and Premier Francois Legault promptly inserted the matter into the provincial election campaign, insisting Suzuki “will have to learn French.” Excusez-moi? It’s essential that Suzuki learn to say “it sucks to miss the playoffs again” en francais? Only in Quebec.

At what age do people begin shouting at clouds and telling kids to get off the lawn over piffling things like tiny ads on hockey uniforms? Seriously, why would any noses be out of joint because an RBC logo is sewn onto the Montreal Canadiens’ jersey? For cripes sake, man, it’s a smelly hockey sweater. It’s not like someone stitched a Burger King logo on the Shroud of Turin. Yet, many among the rabble (no doubt with grey hair and bladder-control issues) see this as blasphemy, even though it’s done in every sport you’d care to name. The most famous uni in North American jockdom—the New York Yankees pinstripes—features a Nike swoosh. It didn’t when Babe Ruth and Roger Maris were swatting 60 dingers in a season, but Aaron Judge wears one and it hasn’t hindered his home run stroke. Something tells me an RBC patch on La Sainte-Flanelle won’t slow down Nick Suzuki either.

The fear, of course, is that those 3×3.5-inch patches will grow into a monster skating billboard. The naysayers insist that, soon enough, NHL players will look like the people who drive fast cars in F1 and/or NASCAR, and civilization as we know it will collapse like Wall Street in 1929. Oh, please. NHL outfits are allowed two patches max (worth between $5 million to $10 million each) and, unlike soccer, the team logo remains the centrepiece of the jersey.

I think the Jets should wear a 7-Eleven logo. Good Ol’ Hometown, after all, is the Slurpee Capital of the World.

Baiz

All-time good guy Don Baizley has been elected to the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in November as a builder/hockey, and I just wish he was still with us to enjoy the moment. Not that he would want a big fuss, understand. Baiz, a local lawyer who left us in June 2013 at age 71 after a battle with non-smoker’s cancer, preferred any attention be kept on the down low, even though he had a client list that read like a who’s who in hockey: AndersHeberg, Ulf Nilsson, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Kent Nilsson, Willy Lindstrom, Peter Forsberg, Jari Kurri, Paul Kariya, Joe Sakic, Saku Koivu, etc. He surrounded himself with more Scandinavians than ABBA and was at the forefront of the European invasion, smoothing their path and transition to North American life and its oft-barbaric style of shinny. Listen to enough people in hockey, and they’ll have you convinced there isn’t a body of water on earth that Baiz didn’t walk on. He’s had more nice things said about him than Mr. Rogers. But perhaps Hedberg put it best when he described Baiz as “the kind of person we would like to be and our sons to become.”

More than half the teams in Rouge Football are playing sub-.500 football, and two of the five will qualify to chase the Grey Grail in November. A most unfortunate state of affairs, Stanley.

It’s been a boffo year for the sale of used clothing. In May, the Hand of God jersey worn by Diego Maradona in the 1986 World Cup sold at auction for $9.8 million and, just this week, a Michael Jordan top from the 1998 NBA final went for $10.1 million. I’m not saying sports memorabilia collectors are suckers, but I understand they come in 50 flavors, from grape to “give your head a shake.”

Rafa and Roger

Adios to Roger Federer, sublime tennis virtuoso who’ll take his racquet and go home after this week’s Laver Cup in London. The best ever? Always debatable. All-world classy? Never debatable. In a sport rife with me-myself-and-I boors who stomp their feet and hold their breath whenever their universe fails to unfold as it should, Federer was a beacon of all that is admirable in a professional athlete.

Both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have superior mano-a-mano records vs. Federer (24-16 and 27-23, respectively), but this is the difference from my perch in the cheap seats: Rafa and Djokovic use a tennis racquet, Federer used an artist’s brush and painted lovely pictures with the strokes of a genius.

Our guy Denis Shapovalov lists Federer as “a role model.” In that case, Shapo should try to behave more like Roger and less like a brattish John McEnroe wannabe on court.

Chicago Bears placekick holder Trenton Gill was penalized 15 yards last Sunday for patting down a patch of soggy Soldier Field with a towel prior to a field goal attempt by Cairo Santos. Apparently that’s unsportsmanlike conduct. Why didn’t I think to tell my mom that whenever she ordered me to dry the dishes?

Aaron Rodgers

Just wondering: If you aren’t a Cheese Head, which is to say one of the Green Bay Packers faithful, is it possible to like Aaron Rodgers? The guy’s become all sorts of creepy weird. Seriously, I don’t care what he smokes, drinks or eats, or if he dresses like he got lost on the way to Woodstock, but if he wants us to believe his Zen shtick about “dissolvement of the ego” he should probably stop reminding us about the MVP awards he’s won. As the Wise Woman of the Village once said: “Clap with just one hand at your own good deeds.”

Every time Greg Norman opens his cake hole, the more convinced I am that someone piddles on his Corn Flakes every morning. Is there a more bitter man in sports than the LIV Golf Series mouthpiece? Maybe all that anger stems back to the final round of the 1996 Masters, when the Shark authored one of golf’s all-time gag jobs, taking 78 swings to blow a six-shot lead and lose to Nick Faldo by five strokes. Whatever the case, someone or something has really done a number on Norman.

Zach Collaros and Sara Orlesky

I’ve asked this before but, given the love and admiration heaped upon Sideline Sara Orlesky last weekend in Blue Bombersville, I again ask: Why it is that broadcasters become darlings of the rabble whereas newspaper scribes are lower than a guy who farts on a crowded elevator? No doubt Sara is a lovely person and the hosannas after working the Bombers beat for 14 years were warranted, but I have it on good authority that Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun is also a lovely person who’s been scribbling sterling stuff about the Bombers since the turn of the century. You think the rabble will rush for his autograph when he slaps a -30- on his final dispatch for the tabloid? You think Winnipeg FC CEO Wade Miller will present him with a team jersey in front of a packed house? You think Zach Collaros will give him a game ball? Hmph! King Charles III will stop counting all that money Mommy left him and fly into Good Ol’ Hometown to knight Friesen and dub him Sir Paul of the Poison Pen before any of that happens.

I covered the Jets/NHL for 20 years and the Bombers/CFL for 20, and the closet thing I got to a salute was a bunch of middle fingers. And, you’re right, I probably deserved every one of them.

The Sara Sendoff makes me wonder: Will she be the first female inducted into the ultimate all-boys club known as the Media Wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame? By my count, the current roll call is 101 men, 0 women, even though females have written and talked about the three-downs game from pee wee to the pros for decades, and that math just doesn’t add up.

The Shoe

The show of affection for Sara (totally deserved) reminded me of my first encounter with Robert Marvin Hull, on my initial visit to the Winnipeg Jets lair. It was the season of 1977-78 and I sought sound bites from young Kent Nilsson, a dazzling young player in his freshman whirl. While talking to Kenta, I noted the Golden Jet and Lars-Erik (The Shoe) Sjoberg standing nearby, both of them clad only in white towels wrapped around their flat midsections. This was their conversation as they gave me the once-over:
The Shoe: “It looks like we’ve got a new reporter with the team.”
Hull: “Just another asshole to try and stir up shit.”
Yup, Hull could be a real charmer.

And, finally, old friend Peter Young confirms the Golden Jet’s attendance at the WHA’s 50th anniversary hooraw next month in Whistler. Hmmm. Maybe I should drop by. You know, just to stir up shite for old time’s sake.

Let’s talk about Winnipeg Jets young studs skipping town and training camp tardiness…fresh Chevy-speak and what it means…Tiz the Stud…a Twitter hissing contest…no radio/TV in the colonies…heavenly baseball…where’s the money?…and other things on my mind

The first Sunday morning smorgas-bored of 2021…and I can’t say how many more are to follow…

Puck Finn

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed a trend with the Winnipeg Jets? Consider:

Evander Kane wanted out.

Jacob Trouba wanted out/tardy to training camp.

Josh Morrissey tardy to training camp.

Patrik Laine tardy to training camp.

Kyle Connor tardy to training camp.

Jack Roslovic wants out/tardy to training camp.

All young. All first-round draft picks.

Josh Morrissey

Of that bunch, only Morrissey and Connor are locked in longterm with the National Hockey League club. Kane and Trouba vamoosed. Laine’s agents believe it would be “mutually beneficial” for Puck Finn and the Jets to part company, and if they’re saying it we can assume Laine put the notion in their noggins. Roslovic, meanwhile, will likely sign, then bide his time playing third- or fourth-line minutes—or eating popcorn in the press box—for a very modest wage until his wish for a new postal code is granted.

Losing four young studs isn’t how draft-and-develop is supposed to work. But when—yes, I said when—Laine and Roslovic are gone, it will have become the Winnipeg way. That’s not a good look.

But, hey, Blake Wheeler will still be there to ride shotgun for Rink Rat Scheifele, and I sometimes think that’s all that matters to the Holy Trinity of Jets co-bankroll Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice.

That’s not a good look, either.

Just a thought: Would the Holy Trinity ever part company with captain Wheeler the way the Boston Bruins discarded Zdeno Chara, the greybeard who wore the C for so many years? Not bloody likely. I say it’s even money that Wheeler is still captain of Winnipeg HC—and playing right wing on the first line if Maurice is still behind the bench—when he’s 43.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Always get a giggle out of Chevy’s gum-flappers, and he was in peak form last week during 40-plus minutes of to-and-fro with news snoops. The thing is, Chevy-speak usually requires de-coding because, when asked the time of day, the GM is apt to tell you how to build a watch. But that’s why I’m here. To translate his natter.

On Laine’s status and trade rumors lingering into the season…

What Chevy said: “I think, again, everybody is a professional and certainly, you know, I was a professional trying to do my job this summer in looking at all the different options, you know, to improve our team, and I think, you know, we have done that. As far as, you know, with Patrik, you know, again, I assume he’s probably gonna have one of the best years of his career, you know, given the group of players that we have and the professionalism that is there and the maturity level that, you know, that all players gain, you know, year over year over year, I think just, you know, helps us move forward.”

What Chevy really meant: “Sure other clubs called and asked if Patty’s available, but do the names Teemu Selanne and John Paddock mean anything to you? What do people remember John for? That’s right, for trading Teemu. You think I want them remembering me as the doofus who traded Patty for a couple of used jock straps? If he’s gonna score 50 goals, it’s gonna be here, not in Philly or Carolina.”

Sami Niku

On the Jets maligned blueline, which has added only Derek Forbort…

What Chevy said (take a deep breath, kids): “Well, you know, again, we’re excited, you know, the opportunity to have him. You know, he’s someone that when he was in L.A., he put up some top minutes before he had an injury, put up some, you know, really good years playing against some good players, playing, you know, some shutdown roles, you know, he relishes the penalty kill, which is, you know, something that we, you know, look at improving. Obviously we’re excited that Dylan DeMelo, you know, chose to stay with us, you know, from a free agent standpoint. I’m sure there was…I know there’d be lots of opportunity for him elsewhere, you know, judging by the phone calls I got after, you know, we got him signed, so, you know, again, excited about having that. Really excited about, you know, again, just the continuity of, you know, Josh taking another step and Neal Pionk taking another step. Tucker Poolman, you know, now got a year, you know, under his belt, Sami Niku, just, you know, really hope that he can, you know, just take, you know, use training camp as an opportunity to springboard because there’s so much I think more, you know, in his game that unfortunately through, you know, injuries and the like…I guess we just have to make sure he doesn’t drive to training camp so he doesn’t get in a car accident and, you know, to kick things off. And then, you know, we’ve got some young players that, you know, looking forward to seeing. Dylan Samberg has not had the benefit of coming to an NHL training camp yet, so we really have, you know, we’ve kind of been frothing at the mouth for a couple years to get him into the pro ranks and, you know, now the time is here. Ville Heinola has had the benefit of playing over in Finland, you know, so his game, you know, hopefully will be at a level that will, you know, turn heads here, you know, right away. Obviously he had a great training camp last year and, you know, we’re just looking for, you know, obviously for him to come in and have matured that much more, you know, over the course of time. And a player like Logan Stanley, who’s had the opportunity to play two years of pro, you’re looking for that development and you’re looking for those guys to take that next step. We think we’ve got great depth and we’ve got a couple of guys that we think there’s a lot of room to grow with.”

What Chevy really meant: “Fingers and toes crossed. It’s all on Connor Hellebuyck to, you know, give us Vezina Trophy goaltending again or, you know, we’re up Schitt’s Creek without a paddle.”

Why are news snoops referring to it as the 2020-21 NHL season when all games will be played in 2021?

Zdeno Chara

I agree, after his lengthy tenure with the Bruins, it’s going to be weird seeing Zdeno Chara in Washington Capitals garb this winter. It’ll be kind of like Pope Francis holding mass in Wrangler jeans, Tony Lama snake skin boots and a Stetson instead of his robe and pointy hat.

Is it too much for Sportsnet to tell Elliotte Friedman to drag a hair brush across his scalp? The man looks absolutely disgraceful and, again, there’s no chance a female broadcaster would be permitted to appear on camera looking like she spent the night sleeping in a back-alley dumpster.

Social note: Lindsey Vonn and P.K. Subban won’t be exchanging wedding vows after all. Engaged in 2019, the sports power couple called the whole thing off last week, and it’s hard to figure. After all, P.K. is one of the NHL’s most notorious divers. And now he’s not willing to take the plunge? Go figure.

Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law is now Tiz the Stud, and if you want the great bay stallion to service your mare the price tag is $40,000. Imagine that, $40,000 for sex. Tom Brady must feel ripped off. I mean, he screwed the New England Patriots and never got a dime for it.

Stevie Van Zandt

This is rich: In a Twitter hissing contest, Damien Cox of the Toronto Star scolded musician/actor Stevie Van Zandt, who had the (apparent) bad manners to trash talk news snoops for the lame questions they ask athletes. “Don’t criticize things you’ve never done,” the pompous Cox harrumphed. That just might be the dumbest tweet…by anyone… ever. It’s a hot, steamy pile of stupid. Unless, of course, I was sleeping during those years when Cox played in the NHL, MLB, NBA, NFL and MLS. Seriously. The guy’s made a career of crapping on athletes, coaches, managers, owners and officials. He’s a recreational golfer and wannabe tennis player who pooh-poohs pros of all stripes. He’s never spent five seconds in the White House, let alone presided over an entire nation, but he’s spent the past four years crucifying Donald Trump. But, hey, don’t you dare trash talk Cox or other news snoops unless you’ve held a notebook or microphone in a post-game scrum. As if. Like I said, a hot, steamy pile of stupid, and the Star continues to publish his alphabet farts.

Speaking of TorStar, it’s added former NHLer and current TSN gab guy Dave Poulin to its stable of sports scribes. That would be the same Dave Poulin who, in 2018, left Connor McDavid off his all-star ballot, even though the Edmonton Oilers captain was the NHL scoring champion and winner of the Ted Lindsay Award as the best player in the world. Note to self: Cancel Toronto Star subscription first thing on Monday.

Becky the bench boss.

It’s about Becky Hammon: Rock on, girl. Becky became the first female to coach a National Basketball Association team last week, taking the wheel of the San Antonio Spurs after bossman Gregg Popovich was told to leave the building in the second quarter of a skirmish v. the Los Angeles LeBrons. She joins a list of impressive “first” ladies in sports that includes Kim Ng, Katie Sowers, Kathryn Nesbitt, Callie Brownson and Alyssa Nakken, so don’t tell me that nothing good happened in 2020.

I don’t know about you, but I get a kick out of jock journos and others in the rag trade listing their top 10 or 20 articles/columns from 2020. Never mind that it’s a rather arrogant exercise in ego-stroking, it seems to me that it’s the readers who should decide something like that.

I can’t remember 10 of my posts from last year, let alone 20, and I doubt the five or six people who read this blog can either. So I’ll spare one and all my greatest hits.

Sean Fitz-Gerald of The Athletic lists his “top 10 Canadian sports media stories of 2020.” Nos. 9 and 10 are strictly about radio in the Republic of Tranna. Sigh. Only someone from The ROT would presume to believe those of us who live/work in the colonies actually give a damn. Oh, and apparently we haven’t been introduced to radio and TV, because not one of the “top 10” stories targets a Western Canada market. Or anywhere east of The ROT, for that matter. Double sigh.

There’s an old Righteous Brothers song with the lyrics “If there’s a rock and roll heaven, well you know they’ve got a hell of a band.” Well, we can say the same about baseball, because the Big Ballpark In The Sky gained a helluva team last year. Included among the legends leaving our mortal coil were Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Whitey Ford and Phil Niekro, and how would you like to go into a World Series with those four as your starting rotation? Backing them up would be an infield of Bob Watson at first, Joe Morgan at second, Tony Fernandez at shortstop and Dick Allen at third, with Al Kaline, Lou Brock and Claudell Washington patrolling the outfield. The only position the Grim Reaper didn’t tap on the shoulder was catcher.

Bo Levi Mitchell

Canadian Football League outfits are busy getting signatures on contracts for a 2021 season, and that’s good news. The not-so-good news is that nobody has explained how Rouge Football works without people in the pews. As you know, commish Randy Ambrosie went panhandling on Parliament Hill last year, hoping for a pogey cheque to cover the costs of an abbreviated season, but the CFL fell off the grid when Trudeau the Younger and the feds rejected the beg. So how can it be doable this year? Even with a COVID vaccine available, head counts will be limited. Every skirmish will look like a Toronto Argos home game. And what’s left of rainy day funds can’t possibly cover operating costs of a full season, especially for community-run franchises like our Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Some players across the dominion have rejigged their contracts, but where’s the revenue to pay Bo Levi Mitchell $541,000, Mike Reilly $525,000 and Cody Fajardo $405,000, to name just three high-salaried quarterbacks?

Count me as shocked when I called up the Winnipeg Sun this morning to see an article about girls high school volleyball on the sports front. The tabloid doesn’t do local, other than the pro teams and curling. It doesn’t do women’s sports. So it was a pleasant surprise. Having said that, the Drab Slab continues to wallop the Sun in female sports coverage. Here are the numbers for exclusively female content in the 30 publishing days of December:

Free Press
Sports front: 7
Articles/briefs: 32/11
Days with female sports coverage: 27 of 30.

Sun
Sports front: 1
Articles/briefs: 8/2 (plus one sentence on Sarah Fuller)
Days with female sports coverage: 10 of 30.

And finally, I keep reading and hearing people write and say if 2020 has taught us anything it’s to be kind to one another. Seriously? You needed a killer pandemic to learn that?

Let’s talk about renewing the old Winnipeg-Hamilton Grey Cup rivalry and random thoughts after overdosing on Rouge Football

A Monday smorgas-bored coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I’m thinking of Kenny Ploen today…

Those of my vintage remember the glory days, when our local football heroes would make a pilgrimage to the Republic of Tranna or Lotus Land every November.

Our Winnipeg Blue Bombers didn’t go for the weather, understand, because it was usually cold, wet, windy, foggy or flat-out gnarly at that time of the year, and it wasn’t the lure of big-city lights and big-city temptations either. It was business, and that business was to whup the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

We learned to dislike the Tabbies with unharnessed gusto, because they were always in the way. In 1957. In 1958. In ’59, ’61 and ’62.

Jungle Jim

They were big, menacing and vulgar men named Mosca and Barrow and Nagurski, all raised on sour milk and appropriately dressed in villain black. One of them, Ralph Goldston, was a thug of such ill temper that he once was ejected from a Canadian Football League championship match for punching Winnipeg Blue Bombers sublime running back, Leo Lewis, in the face. Their coach, Jungle Jim Trimble, was a trash-talking loudmouth from coal mining country in Pennsylvania and, in advance of the ’58 Grey Cup game, he considered the Bombers’ roster and declared, “The Winnipeg club didn’t show me anything to worry about.”

Jungle Jim also spewed this legendary line that November: “We’ll waffle ’em. We’ll leave ’em with lumps on the front and back.”

The nerve. The very notion that one of the Hamilton ruffians would have the bad manners to leave lumps on Kenny Ploen was a most disagreeable and distasteful notion. I mean, you didn’t mess with the Lone Ranger, you didn’t tug on Superman’s cape, and you didn’t put lumps on Kenny Ploen.

Ploen, the Bombers quarterback and sometimes ball-hawking defensive back, was a sweetheart. They all were, and I say that based on memories of an urchin who, along with my friend Chester, would ride a bike from Melbourne Avenue in East Kildonan out to a parched patch of hard, scuffed earth known as Canada Packers Field in St. Boniface twice a day during the Bombers preseason training exercises.

Before and after each workout, Chester and I would collect the signatures of our blue-and-gold heroes, asking them to scribble their names on paper scraps, magazines, newspaper articles and footballs.

“How many of these do you have?” Ploen asked one day as he signed my white football.

“I don’t know, Mr. Ploen,” I answered. “I hope we aren’t pestering you by asking for your autograph every day.”

“Not at all. I’m glad to do it.”

None of them complained. They simply signed, sometimes the perspiration from their foreheads dripping onto our paper scraps to make the blue ink smudge and run. Ernie (Zazu) Pitts one day greeted Chester and I with a smile, saying, “Good morning, people of the jury,” and, at the conclusion of the two-a-day sessions, god-like head coach Bud Grant trucked in watermelons for the large lads and handed us one as well.

To announce to neighborhood chums that Chester and I had shared a watermelon with Bud Grant, Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis was a bragging point of considerable heft, believe me.

Like I said, sweethearts.

Ah, but once opposite the dreaded Tabbies, the measure of Blue Bombers’ snark and sass was sizable and more than a match for their black-clad foes. Herb Gray, Jack Delveaux, Dave Burkholder and Norm Rauhaus were no quarterback’s notion of a picnic, while the Lincoln Locomotive, Choo Choo Shepard, Carver Shannon and Zazu made things go bump in the night for Hamilton defenders.

Winnipeg FC waffled the Jungle Jim-coached Tabbies four times in their five Grey Cup skirmishes starting in 1957 and ending in ’62, with one game determined in overtime and another taking two days to finish.

Many years after the fact, I caught up with Winnipeg FC lineman Ed Kotowich during a Grey Cup week and asked him about the dislike between the Tabbies and Bombers back in the day.

“There was nothing made up about it,” he said with a growl and a tightening of his jaw muscles. “They didn’t like us and I guarantee we hated them and their big-mouth coach.”

So now the Bombers and Ticats are set to renew their classic CFL squabble, Nov. 24 at McMahon Stadium in the Alberta Foothills, and I was feeling that 1950s/60s vibe the moment Winnipeg FC took out the Saskatchewan Flatlanders, 20-13, in Sunday’s slob-knocker of a West Division final.

All the old villains are long gone, of course, but it’s easy for me to picture Simoni Lawrence in the Angie Mosca or Ralph Goldston roles. Total cads, every one of them.

I don’t know if the Bombers will waffle ’em, and I doubt either head coach plans to take the Jungle Jim route and provide bulletin board reading, but somebody’s going home without any marbles and the loser of Coupe de Grey No. 107 will remain 0-for-the-century.

That, alone, is a good storyline, but I’m guessing we’ll be hearing more about Zach Collaros and Simoni Lawrence in the leadup to next Sunday’s large match. And why not? It’s good v. evil. The Sweetheart QB v. Darth Defender.

You know, just like the good, ol’ days.

It’s interesting to note that when the Bombers beat the Tabbies in the ’58 Grey Cup game, it ended a 17-year championship drought, and when the two franchises did it all again in 1984, Winnipeg FC ended a 22-year famine. Now they’re hoping to end 29 years of never failing to fail.

Corn Dog Cody

Random thoughts from lying on the loveseat and staring at the flatscreen for six hours on Sunday: No doubt the Bombers earned their victory over the Flatlanders on Sunday, but it must be said that they benefited from some incredibly dopey coaching by Craig Dickenson, horrid clock management by Dickenson/Corn Dog Cody Fajardo, and a serious brain cramp by Marcus Thigpen. Just saying…Interesting that the two semifinal skirmishes featured four of the five CFL markets that care the most about Rouge Football—Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, Edmonton and Hamilton. The fifth, Calgary, gets the consolation prize—the Grey Cup game…Not since Pinball Clemons and Gizmo Williams has there been a player more fun to watch than Speedy B of the Tabbies…The boys in the TSN booth(s) were all about nicknames on Sunday. They mentioned, Speedy B, Speedy A, Great Dane, Inspector Gadget, Magic and El Diablo, Shake and Bake, the Special Teams Vulture, and Timbits Field in the Hammer was the Cathouse. Hey, I like nicknames. Big fan. But that’s a bit much…Why do all the TSN talking heads call Mike Benevides “Coach?” He isn’t a coach. He’s an ex-coach. So is Matt Dunigan, but no one is calling him “Coach.”…This was weird: They trotted out former Ticat Rob Hitchcock to present the East Division championship trophy to the Tabbies, but he wouldn’t give it to them. He hoisted it instead…

Matthew McConaughney

Really annoying people: The 7-Eleven Guy and Matthew McConaughey. I think a perfect commercial would be the 7-Eleven Guy spilling a strawberry Slurpee on the posh seats of McConaughey’s fancy-schmancy Lincoln…Further evidence that Glen Suitor isn’t watching the same game as us: 1) At one point, he informed us that Saskatchewan was going into a “no-huddle” offence, even as the cameras showed QB Fajardo standing in the huddle, looking at his wrist play chart, and shouting out a play; 2) on the Flatlanders’ final gasp, he said, “The Bombers made the last play.” They did nothing of the sort. Fajardo’s final fling of the football went clunk against the crossbar and the Bombers didn’t have to do anything except celebrate…Hey, look who’ll be coaching in the Grey Cup game—old friend Jeff Reinebold, the Ticats special teams guru. Bravo to one of the game’s true survivors…What is it with TSN and the Reklaws? They keep promoting a new album featuring the tune Old Country Soul, which might be the worst country tune ever recorded. Enough already.

And, finally, it’s about my forecasts for the division finals:
Prediction:     Winnipeg 29, Saskatchewan 12 (no touchdowns, only field goals).
Actual score: Winnipeg 20, Saskatchewan 13 (no TDs, only FGs and a rouge).
Prediction:     Hamilton 36, Edmonton 34.
Actual score: Hamilton 36, Edmonton 16.
Feel free to discuss among yourselves. Or not.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and a rout…the Sun ragdolls the Drab Slab…helmet to helmet…Kap’s dog-and-pony and clown show…Grapes really has left the building…Alpo barks back…Planet Puckhead has non-hockey regions?…Ponytail Puck…ugly Americans…and Rafa calls a news snoop on his B.S

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and it’s grey, cloudy and wet where I live, a good day to stay inside and watch three-down football…

Bombers by 17.

There. I said it. Not going to change it.

A few hours from now, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will have booked themselves a trip to Calgary for the Grey Cup skirmish on Nov. 24, and it won’t be close, not even if Corn Dog Cody Fajardo makes a side trip to Lourdes between now and this afternoon’s kickoff at Mosaic Stadium on the Flattest of Lands.

And, no, this isn’t the rambling of a Jenny-come-lately swayed by the Bombers paddywhacking of the Calgary Stampeders a week ago

Zach Collaros

I’ll remind you that I’ve been telling anyone willing to listen for more than a month that Winnipeg FC wasn’t a fool’s bet to be grabbing grass at McMahon Stadium in the final frolic of Rouge Football 2019. Just to refresh:

Oct. 9 (before the Bombers brought Zach Collaros on board): “Go ahead and accuse me of typing with rose-tinted glasses, and maybe I am, but I believe the CFL West Division remains a crap shoot and the Bombers aren’t completely out of the discussion.”

Oct. 27: “Playing on the final Sunday in November is doable.”

Nov. 3: “After watching the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Flatlanders struggle mightily against inferior foes in the final thrusts of the Canadian Football League regular season on Saturday, who’s prepared to write off the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the chase for the Grey Cup? I’m not. Ya, sure, they’ll have to win twice on foreign soil to get the job done, but there isn’t anything about either team that should keep the Bombers awake at night. My pre-season prediction was a Winnipeg-Hamilton Tabbies Grey Cup game, and I’m sticking with that.”

So now here we are, Winnipeg v. Saskatchewan Roughriders for bragging rights of the West Division and Prairie pigskin, and when I hear Gang Green plans to use everyone from Corn Dog Cody to Premier Scott Moe at quarterback this afternoon, well, that seals the deal for me.

Corn Dog Cody

They tell us that Fajardo is good to go, but the guy’s nursing an upper-body owie that prevents him from airing it out, which means sideline steward Craig Dickenson will also trot out wet-eared Isaac Harker and Winnipeg FC washout Bryan Bennett, and maybe Scott Moe in a pinch. Well, QB by committee seldom works, and it certainly won’t get the job done against that nasty Bombers defensive dozen.

Add to that the iffy fettle of praise-worthy pass-catcher Shaq Evans, and the Flatlanders enter the fray with one hand tied behind their back and one foot in the gridiron grave.

I could be wrong, of course. Been there, done that. But I just don’t see the Bombers D surrendering anything but three-point scores, and it will take at least seven of them to make this an interesting disagreement. That ain’t going to happen.

So, make the final: Winnipeg 29, Saskatchewan 12.

Speaking of routs, the boys at the Winnipeg Sun—Paul Friesen, Teddy Football and friends in the Postmedia chain—gave the Drab Slab a thorough and proper ragdolling in local newspaper wars the past two playoff Sundays. Today, the Sun delivered an 8 1/2-page package on the Bombers-Riders, with 11 articles and stats. A week ago it was eight pages, eight stories and stats for Bombers-Stamps. The Drab Slab, meanwhile, gave us one Jeff Hamilton story and one Mad Mike McIntyre column today, and that’s actually a step up compared to a week ago when the broadsheet didn’t consider the West Division semifinal significant enough to dispatch Mad Mike to Cowtown. Hamilton wrote one piece on the weather, and they also ran wire copy (also on the weather). So, if you’re keeping score at home (and I know you aren’t), the final tally is: Sun, 16½ pages, 19 articles; Drab Slab, 4 pages, 4 articles. We haven’t seen that big a rout since Tiger Woods’ divorce settlement.

I don’t know if anyone at the Drab Slab is embarrassed by the paddywhacking they’ve taken on Bombers coverage, but the tall foreheads there have always been an arrogant, smug bunch, so I doubt it.

Moving back to reading tea leaves, the Hamilton Tabbies aren’t about to waste the best season in franchise history by coughing up a hairball v. the Edmonton Eskimos in the East Division final at Timbits Field in the Hammer today. They’ll tip a canoe, though, with five lead changes. Tabbies 36, Eskimos 34.

Does this make sense to anyone? Rip the helmet off a foe’s head and cocabonk him with it in the National Football League and you’re slapped with an indefinite suspension, minimum six games. Do the same thing in the CFL (hello, Vernon Adams Jr.) and it earns you a one-game slap on the wrist. Is there some sort of U.S.-Canada exchange rate on criminal activity that I’m unaware of? Or is Commish Randy Ambrosie too busy making nice with Mexico and Europe to give a damn about CFL player safety.

What do you get when a dog-and-pony show is missing the dog and pony? Just the clown (hello, Colin Kaepernick). Seriously. What was that Kaepernick-NFL showcase all about on Saturday? His 1970s hair style?

Ron MacLean

Is it true? Has Don Cherry really left the building? Of course he has. Coach’s Corner is Coachless Corner after close to four decades on Hockey Night in Canada. But, hey, not to worry. Grapes’ former straight man, Ron MacLean, still managed to work in two token Bobby Orr references during four minutes, 44 seconds worth of groveling on Saturday night. He just did it without insulting Francophones, Russians, Europeans, pinkos, women, immigrants and men who prefer to play hockey rather than fight.

I keep hearing that Brian Burke is the curmudgeon-in-waiting at HNIC, but that’s too same old, same old for me. I like much of Burke’s work since he joined Sportsnet, but, even though 21 years younger than the 85-year-old Cherry, he preaches from the same horse-and-buggy hockey bible. That is, he’s still a fists first, finesse second advocate, and that’s not the way the game is played today. For evidence, see Milan Lucic and his three points in 20 games.

Alpo Suhonen

The most biting snarl directed toward the now-defrocked Grapes came from Alpo Suhonen, long-time Finnish coach and a former Winnipeg Jets assistant once mocked by Cherry for having a name that sounded like “some kind of dog food.” Following Cherry’s ouster from HNIC, Suhonen launched this missile in an interview with Postmedia: “I found him to be a nationalistic, chauvinistic, narcissistic, toxic man…I know a lot of Canadians love his style, but his opinions about Europeans and their hockey, and the style he’s speaking, I find it very narrow-minded.” Ouch..

Jacques Cartier

In the fallout since the Don Cherry dismissal on Remembrance Day, the most curious comment was delivered by Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail. “If America has blue states and red states, Canada has hockey regions and non-hockey regions,” he wrote. Say what? I’ve been drawing breath for 69 years (99.9 per cent of it “good Canadian” oxygen), I’ve spent time in burgs coast to coast, and I’ve yet to discover any of these “non-hockey regions” that Kelly scribbles about. Where are these mysterious locales? Are they lost civilizations? If not hockey, what goes on there? And how did John Cabot, Samuel de Champlain, Jacques Cartier, James Cook and George Vancouver all miss these “non-hockey regions?” Inquiring minds need to know.

Before the puck was dropped in October, I had the Winnipeg Jets pegged for a bubble team, with a wild card playoff spot their best-case scenario. But here they are today, running with the big dogs in the National Hockey League Central Division, just four points out of top spot. Trouble is, they’re also only three points away from falling out of the post-season picture. Yup, sounds like a bubble team to me. But they’re a good-news story one-quarter of the way through this crusade, and I’d say both Connor Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit are making Paul Maurice look like a darned good coach.

Frank Seravalli

TSN squawk box/scribe Frank Seravalli is cruising out of his lane again. It wasn’t enough that he once made the laughable and totally fraudulent suggestion that Daniel and Henrik Sedin were “the faces of hockey in Western Canada for much of the 21st century,” this American born, American raised, American schooled, American resident is now sticking his star-spangled snoot into our global puck affairs. “Hayley Wickenheiser has been called the Wayne Gretzky of women’s hockey,” he writes. “It would be fitting then to bestow an honour on her that has only been given to Gretzky at the NHL level: Wickenheiser’s No. 22 should never be worn again by a Canadian woman on the international stage. It’s time for Hockey Canada to officially make that the case.” Well, excuse us all to hell, Frankie boy, but if you promise not to tell us how to dress our female hockey players, we’ll promise not to tell your female soccer players how to behave in a 13-0 rout.

Megan Rapinoe

On second thought, forget that. We’ll mention ugly Americans and Megan Rapinoe’s big mouth every chance we get. But Seravalli still has no business telling us how to dress our Ponytail Pucksters.

I note that the National Women’s Hockey League has had an infusion of funding and there’s talk of expansion to the Republic of Tranna next autumn, which means the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association crusade to put Commish Dani Rylan and her operation out of business is failing. The PWHPA boycotters can continue to stage glorified scrimmages and photo-ops with Billie Jean King, but Ponytail Puck won’t move forward until they sit down and have a chat with Rylan. I’m not sure what part of that they don’t understand.

Rafael Nadal and his bride, Xisca.

Got a kick out of Rafael Nadal’s reaction to the dumbest of dumb comments the other day at the ATP tennis event in London. The world No. 1 had just been beaten by Alexander Zverev, and Italian news snoop Ubaldo Scanagatta wondered aloud if Rafa’s stumble was due, in part, to his recent exchange of “I do’s” with longtime squeeze Xisca Perello.

“I’d like to know, for many people to get married is a very important distracted thing,” said Scanagatta. “Before the marriage, during the marriage, after the marriage. Your concentration on tennis life has been bit different even if you were going out with the same girl for many, many years.”

“Honestly, are you asking me this?” Rafa responded. “Is this a serious question or a joke? Is it serious? Ya?”

Nadal then engaged in a bit of a to-and-fro before finally saying, “Okay, we move to Spanish, because that’s bull shit.”

And, finally, on the matter of bull leavings, it has come to my attention that this is post No. 500 for the River City Renegade blog. All I can say is that’s a whole lot of BS. Probably way too much, in fact.

Let’s talk about Chevy-speak and Buffcapades…what fans “deserve” from the Winnipeg Jets…Looch=goon…snark from Finland…faulty football tea leaves…Simoni and Zach against one another in the Grey Cup game?…calling out the boss…Bianca bugs out…a pub punch-up…and facts as an option

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and we can turn our clocks back, but we can’t turn back time…

It’s never a surprise when Kevin Cheveldayoff stands before a gaggle of news snoops, flaps his gums, then slays them with Chevy-speak.

The man who generally manages the Winnipeg Jets long ago mastered the art of gasbagging his interrogators, filling their notebooks and recording devices with such a high level of hollow blah, blah, blah that you’d swear he’s auditioning for a job on Parliament Hill.

So, of course, that’s what Chevy did the other day in San Jose when he poked his head out of the True North traveling gopher hole to address the curious case of Dustin Byfuglien, the reluctant blueliner.

Chevy

To say Chevy said nothing insightful or informative about Big Buff’s retreat from the fray is to say Rudy Giuliani has loose lips. Like, thanks Captain Obvious. The GM used up six minutes, 17 seconds worth of oxygen to deliver his empty message, and he repeated his nothingness so often that he used the word “again” 17 times. Mind you, I might have missed an “again” or two.

But, again (there’s that word again), why would any of us expect anything different?

That’s the way it’s been since 2011, and that’s the way it’s going to be as long as Chevy is Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s official mouthpiece. Mum’s the word. Always. You’ll get more out of a street mime. I mean, compared to True North, the people at Area 51 in Nevada are a bunch of blabbermouths.

Elliotte Friedman

The thing is, according to Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada, this time Chevy had a reason for keeping his lips zipped: He’s under a National Hockey League gag order.

“The Jets have been told they can’t say anything, which is why Kevin Cheveldayoff has been so guarded in his comments,” reported Friedman, who went on to explain that Byfuglien’s unexpected, pre-season withdrawal was due to the wonky ankle he injured last winter.

Friedman also described a brewing standoff between Winnipeg HC and Big Buff’s camp as “emotional, heated” and “likely going to arbitration.”

So let’s recap the Buffcapades saga:

Big Buff

Big Buff arrived in Good Ol’ Hometown on the eve of the Jets training exercises, but he was a no-show at medicals. He was granted a leave of absence for reasons that were hush-hush, although speculators suggested the large lad was gazing at his navel, which is to say contemplating retirement at age 34. Suspended without pay, some among the rabble spied him in watering holes about town, then he disappeared Stateside, where medics took a scalpel to his wonky ankle last week, and it’s reported that he won’t be available until early 2020. If, that is, he’s of a mind to make himself available, or if the Jets still want him on their blueline.

There will, of course, be additional twists and turns to this clandestine caper, which head coach Paul Maurice initially wrote off as “nothing sinister.” I’m uncertain what Coach Potty Mouth’s definition of “sinister” is, but this all sounds quite sinister to me and, an NHL gag order notwithstanding, Chevy’s verbal stickhandling hasn’t been a good look for the Jets.

I’d tell you what he told news snoops the other day, except he didn’t tell them anything worth noting, so I’ll just paraphrase the essence of his six-plus minutes of gum flapping: “Again, you guys asked me to come out and speak, so here I am speaking, except, again, it’s complicated and I’m not saying anything, so, again, you know, I guess I’m not really speaking about something that, again, I can’t speak about.”

Pure, unvarnished gobbledygook, and the suggestion has been made by many among the rabble, also some news snoops, that they “deserve” better from Chevy and True North.

Well, okay, let’s take a look at that. What exactly does True North owe the faithful?

A winning team? Sorry, it’s strictly buyer beware. The only sure thing in sports is that TSN and Sportsnet will talk about Auston Matthews more than the Pope talks about Jesus. So icing a successful side is a hope, not mandatory.

Honesty? Everyone in hockey lies, and to expect the Jets to be an exception is pure Pollyanna.

Transparency? That would be nice but, frankly kids, True North isn’t obligated to tell us anything, even as they pig out at the public trough and make no apology for subsidies and tax breaks that help keep the bottom line in black, not red, ink.

I agree, it’s irksome, with gusts up to infuriating, and listening to Chevy prattle on like a Sunday preacher with nowhere to go makes my ears bleed the same way a Barry Manilow song does.

Here’s the bottom line, though: Again, revealing what goes on behind closed doors at True North isn’t part of Chevy’s mandate. That might not be what the frustrated flock wants or likes to hear, but it’s the reality of the situation.

While watching and listening to Chevy babble on the other day, it occurred to me that not answering questions he isn’t allowed to answer likely isn’t at the top of his to-do list. He had a root-canal vibe going. I’d like to say I felt sorry for him, but I didn’t.

One final thought on this matter: Isn’t it wonderful to have an NHL team to bitch about?

The Looch

Seriously, why is Milan Lucic still in the NHL? The Looch is a cheap imitation of a 1970s Broad Street Bully, and there shouldn’t be any room in the game for slow, plodding thugs whose sole purpose is to beat up people. His assault on Kole Sherwood of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday was a throwback to the disgraceful goon days of Schultz, Saleski and Hound Dog, and I hope the league hurls the book at him.

Chances are you’re unfamiliar with a chap named Pekka Jalonen, so be advised he’s a Finnish sports scribe with some rather harsh, point-blank opinions on Winnipeg HC. For example, after the Jets had dispatched young defender Ville Heinola to their American Hockey League farm, Jalonen sent out this tweet: “It’s good for Heinola to get away from all that mess in Winnipeg and Jets awful defence. All he can learn there is how NOT to play.” The Iltalehta jock journo also found time to take a broadside at Bryan Little without actually naming him. “Patrik Laine is sentenced to a ‘Donut line’ (there is a hole in the middle).” Well, that Donut Boy in the middle scored a winning goal and helped set up another in two of the Jets’ last three Ws. But, I must say, I like Jalonen’s snark.

Okay, after watching the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Flatlanders struggle mightily against inferior foes in the final thrusts of the Canadian Football League regular season on Saturday, who’s prepared to write off the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the chase for the Grey Cup? I’m not. Ya, sure, they’ll have to win twice on foreign soil to get the job done, but there isn’t anything about either team that should keep the Bombers awake at night. My pre-season prediction was a Winnipeg-Hamilton Tabbies Grey Cup game, and I’m sticking with that.

On the subject of reading tea leaves, I have just one word for my CFL forecast last June—D’oh! I couldn’t have been more wrong if I’d told you Donald Trump is a Democrat. I had the large lads finishing in this order: West Division—Winnipeg, B.C., Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatchewan. East Division—Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal. But, hey, how was I to know every starting quarterback in the league would land in the repair shop, and that the Montreal Larks would fire everybody before the opening kickoff?

Simoni Lawrence took out Zach Collaros.

Let’s play the ‘what if’ game. What if the Bombers knock off the Stampeders in the opening salvo of the Grey Cup frolic next Sunday? And what if they go on to beat the Flatlanders to earn a berth in the championship skirmish? And what if they become rulers of all they survey in Rouge Football for the first time in 29 years? And what if Zach Collaros is the winning quarterback and Grey Cup MVP? Who, then, gets the credit? Why, it’s Simoni Lawrence, of course.

Follow the bouncing ball and think about it:

  • Simoni set off an unpredictable chain of events when he had the bad manners to lay Collaros low with a nasty, illegal hit to the noggin on the third play of the season.

  • That thuggery sent Zach to the repair shop, whereupon Corn Dog Cody Fajardo emerged as a legitimate starting QB and the Flatlanders no longer had any use for Collaros.

  • The Flatlanders then conned the Tranna Scullers into taking the head case off their hands, but they really had no use for Collaros either, so they had him stand on the sidelines and count empty seats at BMO Field.

  • Bombers GM Kyle Walters noticed Zach counting all those empty seats and, with his season falling off the rails, placed an 11th-hour, Hail Mary phone call to the Scullers’ freshly minted GM, Pinball Clemons, asking for Collaros. The answer was, “Yes, take our broken quarterback, please.”

  • Shortly thereafter, the Calgary Stampeders beat Chris Streveler like a rented mule, putting him in the repair shop and Collaros behind centre.

All that, simply because Simoni Lawrence is a dirty football player.

Makes for a great Grey Cup storyline, don’t you think? Be even better if Collaros gets there and Simoni and the Hamilton Tabbies are across the line of scrimmage.

Paul Friesen

Sifting through a collection of commentary on the Andrew Harris snub in CFL year-end awards voting, the most interesting came from Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun. “I din’t get a vote for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ most outstanding player nominees, but if I had received a ballot one of the names on it would have been Andrew Harris. In fact, No. 33 would have been on my ballot twice. Harris has been both the Bombers’ top player this season and their top Canadian. Slam-dunk. Nobody in their right mind would argue against that. While I defend their right to express their opinion through their ballots, I say they blew it.” Strong stuff, considering Friesen was calling out his boss, Sun sports editor Ted Wyman. Teddy Football was one of three voters who supposedly “blew it” by snubbing Harris due to his PED-related suspension this season, but I happen to think he made the correct call. So maybe I’m not in my right mind, either.

Bianca’s adios at the WTA finals in China.

Such a shame that our Bianca Andreescu had to bug out of the WTA finals in China because of a wounded left knee. Bianca delivered a dream season, winning three tournaments—Indian Wells, the Rogers Cup, the U.S. Open—and we can only hope some much-deserved down time can fix a body that has too often betrayed her. In the meantime, a coronation as Canada’s athlete of the year awaits.

Red Auerbach

Some truly strange stuff from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna this week. He notes that Scotty Bowman coached nine NHL championship squads and “no one in history is close” to that number. Say what? I’m no Einstein, but I believe eight is as close to nine as damn is to cussing, and that’s how many Stanley Cup rings Toe Blake earned as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens. Meanwhile, Simmons maintains that Bowman accomplished something that “no one has done before in any professional sport.” Except Red Auerbach took home nine National Basketball Association titles with the Boston Celtics, including eight in a row, before Bowman had even stood behind an NHL bench. Mind you, Red and Toe were doing their thing while Steve was still in diapers, so I guess that doesn’t count.

There’s also the matter of Phil Jackson, who coached his ninth NBA championship squad the same year Scotty reached No. 9 in the NHL. Jackson then added two more. Apparently facts are optional for some sports columnists.

I note the most vulgar man in sports, Conor McGregor, stood before a judge in Dublin District Court last week and received a 1,000-euros ($1,120) fine for his unprovoked attack on an elderly chap in an Irish pub. “I assure you nothing of this nature will happen again,” vowed McGregor. Right. He’ll limit his criminal activity to throwing dollies through bus windows in the U.S. instead of punching out pub patrons in Ireland.

And, finally, a tip of the bonnet to Kirk Penton, inducted into the Manitoba Sports Media Roll of Honour on Saturday night. Kirk’s part of a long line of superb CFL beat writers in Winnipeg, and we won’t hold it against him that he left Good Ol’ Hometown for the kinder climes of Kelowna and a gig with The Athletic.

Let’s talk about Connor Hellebuyck’s puck allergy…the Oilers and pond hockey…a good read from Teddy Football…drama queens at the Drab Slab…Burkie hops on his fighting soap box…old whisky and Grapes speaking in tongues…slobber-knocking football and Chris Streveler…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and here’s a turkey a week before Thanksgiving Day…

There aren’t a whole lot of goaltenders who’ll stand up and tell the world “my stuff don’t stink” after surrendering five goals.

I don’t care what level of shinny you’re talking about. Beer league, big league…doesn’t matter. A keeper whose net looks like a coal bin at the end of the night generally accepts and acknowledges that he wasn’t quite up to snuff, and maybe the team’s loss is on him.

“My bad. I owe the boys one,” he might say.

Connor Hellebuyck

Not Connor Hellebuyck, though. No sir. The Winnipeg Jets ‘tender falls in a manure pile and he believes he smells like a rose garden.

“I liked a lot of my game,” he says.

“I felt like I earned better,” he says.

“I felt like I played a lot better than five goals against,” he says.

“I don’t know, it just seemed like the puck was always in the wrong spot for me,” he says.

Ya, you could say the biscuit was in the wrong spot—the back of the freaking net.

I don’t know if Hellebuyck is ballsy, arrogant or just flat-out ignorant, but he’s definitely delusional if he believes the puck-stopping he delivered in a 6-4 loss the other night in Gotham will serve the Jets well in the grand scheme of things. Thirty-one shots, five goals.

You know how often Winnipeg HC won last season when surrendering a five-spot? Once. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for success to me.

Paul Maurice

But, sure, let’s play some good, old-fashioned pond hockey. I’m all for it. It’s a hoot, and I don’t really care if it turns Paul Maurice into a doddering old man before his time. It certainly worked for the Edmonton Oilers circa 1980s, didn’t it? Unfortunately, Blake Wheeler, Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Puck Finn Laine and Josh Morrissey ain’t Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and Paul Coffey. And Hellebuyck definitely is no Grant Fuhr.

As boffo as these Jets are on the attack, I think it’s asking too much of them to score five times every night to negate Hellebuyck’s marginal to stink-out-the-joint goaltending. You know, the kind that he “liked” v. the New York Rangers.

“Five is unacceptable,” Hellebuyck conceded after losing to the Blueshirts at Madison Square Garden.

Terrific. He’s nailed down that part of the plot. Alas, upon further review, he submitted, “I probably won’t do a whole lot different” in his next start.

Oh joy. We can expect more of the same.

The guy not only needs to up his game, he needs a mental reboot. Calling Dr. Phil! Calling Dr. Phil!

Marc-Andre Fleury, Connor Hellebuyck

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised, though, because Hellebuyck showed us this particular strain of arrogance and delusion when the Jets reached the high-water mark of their National Hockey League existence, advancing to the Western Conference final in spring 2018. Although outperformed by a considerable margin by the remarkable Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights, he was having none of it. Hellebuyck wrote it off as the product of four-leaf clovers and horse shoes, saying things like “I like my game. I like it a lot more (than Fleury’s).”And: “I think it’s bad luck. The stars are aligning for them.” And: “Maybe it was just the luck. They got some lucky bounces on me. And that’s the truth.”

He was wrong then, he’s wrong now.

Apparently it hasn’t registered with Hellebuyck that he’s playing behind a patchwork defence cobbled together out of necessity, not by design, and it figures that he’ll be caught in the middle of a fire drill a lot of nights. Thus, Vezina Trophy-calibre goaltending is necessary to keep this boat afloat over the long haul, not some guy who has an apparent allergy to frozen rubber.

Unless, of course, these Jets really are the second coming of the 1980s Oilers. In that case, next goal wins.

To remind you of the Oilers pond hockey style, consider the 1983-84 crusade: The Gretzkys finished with a goal differential of +132. That is not a typo. Do not adjust your computer screen. They had five or more snipes in 53 of their 80 skirmishes, and surrendered five or more in 23 games (13-8-2). Their 446 total still stands as an NHL record. They won games by ridiculous scores like 12-8, 10-5, 10-7, 8-6, 7-5, etc., and the average score was 5.5-3.9. Oh, one more thing: They won the Stanley Cup. If the Jets can duplicate that, there’ll be no more bitching about Hellebuyck’s allergy to pucks.

Ted Wyman, the guy I like to call Teddy Football, left the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat to dog the Jets on their lid-lifting eastern swing, and I’m glad he did because his piece on best buds and now on-ice foes Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba is boffo. Or, as they say in his trade, it’s damn good stuff.

Big Buff

I seem to recall Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff saying something last spring about giving the Winnipeg HC leadership group a makeover, which led the fiction writers at the Drab Slab to read between all sorts of lines and see all sorts of boogeymen in the dressing room. So here’s your makeover: Wheeler still has the ‘C’, Rink Rat Scheifele still has his ‘A’, and Josh Morrissey has the ‘A’ Dustin Byfuglien left behind when he departed to stare at his belly button. Clearly, then, Wheeler and Rink Rat weren’t the “problem,” which means…yup, Big Buff must have been the rotten apple in that barrel. I’m sure the fiction writers will eventually tell us all about it. As if.

The Drab Slab’s other resident drama queens, sports editor Steve Lyons and once-upon-a-time columnist Paul Wiecek, are aghast—aghast, I say!—that Big Buff removed himself from the fray without their okie-dokie. Why, they’re taking his retreat as if he kicked one of their dogs. “To walk away and sell out his team at this point demands some kind of explanation from either the man or the team.” harrumphed Wiecek. He also described True North’s tight-lips posture as “a joke” and the way the Jets treat the rabble is “disgraceful. If I was a season-ticket holder right now, I’d be on the phone to the Jets offices every day, demanding either an explanation or my money back.” Well, isn’t that a special little hissy fit. I hope he didn’t hurt himself while stamping his feet and holding his breath. Look, Big Buff’s leave of absence is a curious bit of business, to be sure. And, yes, the timing sucks. But he’s under no obligation to give us the skinny. If Buff retires, I’m guessing he’ll have something to say, but we shouldn’t expect the Gettysburg Address, which was only 272 words. If he returns to the Jets blueline, he’ll probably have even less to say. Meantime, the Jets are keeping it on the QT because there’s nothing to say, other than they’ll respect Buff’s privacy. I’m good with that.

Brian Burke

Speaking of boys in grumpy pants, nice to see Brian Burke is already in mid-season form. Not! They hadn’t even begun to play for keeps in this new NHL crusade when Burkie went into dinosaur mode on Sportsnet, scolding linesman Kiel Murchison for having the bad manners to prevent an exchange of bare knuckles between Evander Kane and Derek Engelland. “Where in the rule book does it say fighting is prohibited?” he belched. “What it says is fighting is assessed a five-minute penalty. So let them fight.” Yes, by all means, let the boys throw down. And, while we’re at it, perhaps we can go back to using Eaton’s catalogs for shin pads.

No surprise, therefore, that Burke would applaud Sidney Crosby for getting into a scuffle on Saturday night. “I thought it was great,” he said on Hockey Night in Canada. “I thought it was great, and they got a lift out of it. They scored a couple goals right after the fight.” I don’t know about you, but I’d rather watch Crosby play hockey than sit in the penalty box icing his bruised knuckles.

Bob McKenzie

Bob McKenzie has signed a five-year extension to be TSN’s main blah, blah, blah guy on Planet Puckhead, and I’m sure that suits his 1.6 million Twitter followers just fine. Details of the contract were not released, but it’s believed it does not include an eight-figure signing bonus, prompting Tranna Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas to gasp, “Huh? You mean you don’t have to pay everybody $15 million up front?”

J.P. Wiser’s is producing an Alumni Whisky Series that features former NHL notables like Mark Messier (“Bold & tenacious. Aged for 11 years.”), Dave Keon (“Well-rounded. Aged for 14 years.”), and Yvan Cournoyer “Smooth & complex. Aged for 12 years.”). Apparently, the people at Wiser’s also had plans for a Don Cherry whisky (“Loud, curmudgeonly & obnoxious.”), but they discovered his best-before date expired sometime last century.

Andrew Ference and his finger.

Cherry, of course, was back in his HNIC bully pulpit on Saturday night, doing his usual shtick that’s part fashion show, part fight promoter, and a complete butchering of the language. My favorite segment arrived at the end, when Grapes went off topic and chastised Orlando Arcia of the Milwaukee Brewers for sticking his tongue out at Washington Nationals fans during a Major League Baseball playoff skirmish.

“Other sports, they might do stuff like that,” he growled in a sermon for the benefit of the kids. “In football, hockey, you can go on, the whole thing…in hockey we do not do that.”

Cherry’s right. Hockey players don’t stick their tongues out at the customers—they scale the glass and beat the hell out of them in the stands (hello, Boston Bruins, circa 1979). Or they punch them out at the bench (hello, Rob Ray). Or they fight them in the penalty box (hello, Tie Domi). Or they give them the finger (hello, Andrew Ference). But, ya, they keep their tongues to themselves. Except Brad Marchand, of course. He uses his to lick other players.

In the case of the 1979 Bruins, 18 of them piled into the stands at Madison Square Garden one December night, with tough guy Terry O’Reilly leading the charge. Even the normally docile Peter McNab waded into the fracas and roughed up a patron (“I was quite proud of him,” said Cherry), but the highlight was defenceman Mike Milbury yanking a shoe off one fan, then whacking him with it. All 18 Bruins were fined and three received suspensions. But, hey, not one of them stuck out his tongue, so everything was cool. (For the record, goaltender Gerry Cheevers was the only Boston player not involved. He was in the dressing room drinking post-game beer.)

I note with interest that the St. Louis Blues have locked down Brayden Schenn for the next eight years. Hmmm. That’s three max-length contracts signed in the past month. Perhaps Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab and Dave Poulin of TSN can tell us one more time how we won’t see NHL players signing for eight years anymore.

Chris Streveler

My oh my. That was some kind of slobber-knocking football the large lads in pads showed us Saturday on the Flattest of Lands. Nasty, nasty. There was much to like about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, even if they were on the short end of a 21-6 score, but the work of neophyte quarterback Chris Streveler wasn’t included in the good-vibe mix. He tossed one pass to the wrong guys in the end zone. He tossed another pass to the wrong guys at the goal line. He spilled and lost the ball in the score zone. And his offence put just half a dozen points on the board against a very stingy Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive dozen. What if it had been much-maligned QB Matt Nichols screwing up like that? What would the reaction be? That’s right. Pitchforks and torches. So hands up anyone who still believes the Bombers have a better chance of winning with Streveler at QB. Hmmm. I don’t see any hands.

Streveler after soiling the sheets: “I’ve got to be better.” Connor Hellebuyck after soiling the sheets: “I liked a lot of my game.” Discuss among yourselves.

Corn Dog Cody Fajardo

This has been the year of the backup QB in the Canadian Football League, with all but the B.C. Lions being forced to turn to their No. 2 gunslinger. So where does Streveler fit into the mix? Here’s how I would rank the backups-turned-starters:
1) Corn Dog Cody Fajardo
2) Dane Evans
3) Vernon Adams Jr.
4) Nick Arbuckle
5) McLeod Bethel-Thompson
6) Chris Streveler
7/8) Logan Kilgore/Jonathon Jennings.

And, finally, that was a serious paddywhacking the New Zealand All Blacks delivered to our gnarly Canadian lads at the Rugby World Cup. I mean, 63-0. Winnipeg Jets fans have decided that it’s Connor Hellebuyck’s fault.

Let’s talk about Willie J. and the big, bad Winnipeg Blue Bombers D-men…the Studly Sophomore QB…the road to the Grey Cup goes through River City…oh so dumb in E-Town…Bianca, Bianca, Bianca!…the value of a 14-goal season…Coach PottyMo talks and talks and talks…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and we’re a bit behind schedule due to a swimming pool in my apartment, which is a little too close to the Pacific Ocean for my liking…

Whenever his universe unfolds as it should, Cody Fajardo likes to say his good fortune was a “sprinkling of Jesus.”

Well, unfortunately for Corn Dog Cody, he had a “sprinkling” of Willie Jefferson and friends on Saturday afternoon at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, and that seldom ends well for a quarterback.

So, as much as many among the rabble will rain hosannas down on Chris Streveler for his work in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 35-10 paddywhacking of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they might want to send a few atta boys in the direction of Richie Hall’s defensive dozen.

The Winnipeg D-men had a thing or two to prove, of course, because it was only a week ago when they coughed up a hairball the size of a St. Bernard’s head, costing the Bombers a W in the opening gambit of a home-and-home dosey doe with Gang Green. You had to know they were still licking that open wound when they arrived at the local ballyard for a sold out Banjo Bowl and, sure enough, they had a serious grouch on.

Fajardo never had a chance, but I suppose even Jesus needs a day off now and then.

Jefferson, naturally, was in the middle of the hell-raising with a bunch of tackles, a couple of QB take-downs and a forced fumble, and if there’s a better D-man in the Canadian Football League he’s yet to show his face. Give Willie J. the top-defender trinket now and be done with it.

Meantime, it’s about Streveler. You’re right. Matt Nichols couldn’t have done what the studly sophomore QB pulled off v. the Riders. I mean, that 17-yard scamper on second-and-17 from their own three-yard stripe? The one that pushed Winnipeg FC from one end of the pitch to the other and a 7-0 lead they refused to relinquish? In Nichols’ dreams. Scattering wannabe Sask. tacklers like so many bowling pins? In Nichols’ dreams, baby. But if you believe head coach Mike O’Shea will allow the 2-1 Studly Soph to keep the ball once Nichols returns from the repair shop, you also believe a unicorn will win next year’s Kentucky Derby. It ain’t gonna happen, kids.

What does this ninth W tell us about Winnipeg FC? Try this: In the past month, the Bombers have had first-place throw-downs with three clubs. Here are the results:
Aug. 8 v. Calgary Stampeders    26-24 W
Aug. 23 v. Edmonton Eskimos   34-28 W
Sept. 7 v. Saskatchewan*            35-10 W (* without Nichols, Andrew Harris, Lucky Whitehead, Nic Demski)
So there is no quarrel. Those three Prairie outfits have to go through the guys in the blue-and-gold kits if they expect to be playing football on the last Sunday in November, and I guess we haven’t been able to say that since 2011.

Bo Levi Mitchell

Right now, I really don’t want to hear a lot of blah, blah, blah about the Stampeders. Ya, Bo Levi Mitchell is back in harness and Bo is being Bo. The thing is, I’d be really impressed by the Cowpokes dusting the Eskimos in both ends of their two-game Alberta to-and-fro, except E-Town has either the dumbest players in the CFL or the dumbest head. I’m just not sure which one it is.

On a similar subject, old friend Rod Black had a d’oh moment when he described Bombers kicker Justin Medlock as “the ageless wonder” during the TSN broadcast. Come on, Blackie. The guy’s only 35 for cripes sake. That ain’t old for a kicker. Weren’t Bob Cameron and Lui Passaglia still thumping footballs well into the sixties?

Mike Benevides and his ill-fitting suit returned to the TSN squawk box panel this weekend and had this to say about the Bytown RedBlacks: “If they can find a way to get something done, they’ve got a lot to do.” What the hell does that even mean?

Bianca Andreescu

Bianca Andreescu. Canadian. Grand Slam tennis champion. Well I never. Seriously. I began covering and writing about tennis in 1971 and, over the years, I often wondered why smaller countries Sweden and Switzerland could crank out elite players like Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg, Mats Wilander, Martina Hingis, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, while the best we could do was turncoat Greg Rusedski and Darling Carling Bassett. Then along came the close-but-no-cigar careers of Milos Raonic and Genie Bouchard. But now we have the marvel that is Bianca Andreescu, women’s singles champion of the U.S. Open after her victory over the neighborhood bully, Serena Williams, on Saturday in Queens, NYC. I’m not sure where Bianca’s achievement ranks in Canadian sports folklore, because that takes in a lot of territory, but I started watching sports when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn and it’s surely in my personal top five.

This just in: Auston Matthews has a mustache. Stayed tuned while media in the Republic of Tranna discuss Boy Wonder’s facial foliage with Drake.

Got a kick out of this post on the TSN Twitter account: “Raiders officially release disgruntled receiver Antonio Brown.” Disgruntled? That’s like saying WWII was a pillow fight.

Clayton Keller

I believe it’s safe to say Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka won’t be receiving a thank-you note from his counterpart with the Winnipeg Jets anytime soon. Chayka, you see, did Kevin Cheveldayoff a total dirty by agreeing to pay Clayton Keller an average wage of $7.15 million over eight years, and if I’m the mouthpiece for Patrick Laine or Kyle Connor there’s no chance I’m settling for a dime less than Keller coin. I mean, Keller scored 14 goals last winter. Four-freaking-teen! Puck Finn had more than that in one month. He more than doubled it (30) in an “off” season. Connor lit it up 34 times. So, short of getting them and their agents high on whacky tabacky, how can Chevy possibly convince his two blue-chip restricted free agents that reupping for less than Keller is the right thing to do? I’m not sure there’s enough quality Mary Jane in all of Manitoba to pull that off.

According to CapFriendly, Chevy has $15 million and David Thomson’s couch change to play with in trying to satisfy Puck Finn/Connor and fill out his NHL roster, which now numbers 20 players (maximum 23). Do the math. Unless his bean counters are David Copperfield, Penn, Teller and Criss Angel, Chevy is royally pooched.

We all have our ways of getting kicks, and for Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders it appears seeing unsigned NHL restricted free agents squirm is his thing. “I think it’s kind of fun,” he told Sportsnet’s 31 Thoughts podcast. “It gives the league a little bit of excitement.” We’ll see how much fun and how exciting it is next year when it’s young Matt’s turn to take a spin on the unsigned RFA squirm-mobile.

Coach Potty Mo

So, Murat Ates had a chin-wag with Paul Maurice that was so staggering in length that he felt obliged to run it as a two-parter in The Athletic and, after digesting 90 per cent of the marathon blah-blah-blah, here’s my main takeaway: Coach Potty Mouth has given captain Blake Wheeler—or any of les Jets, for that matter—permission to be a total dink to news snoops.

“He lathers himself for the lack of a better word,” the Winnipeg HC head coach told Ates. “He gets himself wired to the point that, when you ask a question 10 minutes after a game, you’re going to get some edge on your question. And that’s true. That’s the confrontation he’s just been through for an hour so he gives you a bit of that. Let him breathe for 10 seconds and he’s going to answer your question. Most players—most people—will do one or the other. It’s either all emotional and they don’t have the capacity or the grace to give you a nuanced answer or, what I’m sure bothers you guys sometimes, is that there’s no emotion—it’s all out of the book. Blake’s unusual in that he’ll show you both sides to him and that’s what makes him great.”

Blake Wheeler aka Captain F-Bomb

In other words, belligerent Blake might tell you to “fuck off,” as he did to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun last spring, but that’s okay because he’ll still answer your question. That’s his “greatness as a leader.”

Spare me. Sure, Wheeler is wired after a game. So are 700 other guys in the NHL.

You think Sidney Crosby isn’t wired after a tough day at the office? Like after a playoff ouster? Damn straight, he is. But I don’t recall him telling anyone to “fuck off.” Mark Messier was wired tighter than the strings on a banjo. Gordie Howe. Wired. Stan Mikita. Wired. Bobby Orr. Wired. John Ferguson. Wired. I have yet to hear audio evidence, or see video evidence, of them telling a news snoop to “fuck off.”

Coach PottyMo believes Wheeler being a vulgar, condescending boor then turning all nicey-face is his “greatness as a leader.” It’s quite the opposite, actually. It’s his most notable failing.

Overall, the Ates-Maurice gum-flapper is good stuff, even if they sometimes drag us into the dreary nuances of systems play. And there’s some syrupy, groupie-like gushing from Ates (“How great is it that Byfuglien is in his mid-30s and still playing like he is?”) that made me cringe, but it’s definitely worth your time.

Ken Wiebe

Now that Ken Wiebe has defected to The Athletic, I dare say the former Sun scribe and Ates might form the best one-two punch on the Jets beat, especially since they plan to shadow Winnipeg HC hither and yon. I just hope they won’t be covering the team old-school style, which is to say with yawn-inducing recaps of the previous night’s game and breathless quotes about “moving our feet.” If the local dailies choose to remain stuck in the 20th century, let ’em. (Seriously, a detailed game story from the rookie camp in Saturday’s Drab Slab? That is so 1970s.). Give me news, but give me off-beat, give me quirkiness, give me features, give me analysis and, by all means, give me opinion that doesn’t read like something fresh from the Xerox machine in the Jets propaganda department. Oh, one more thing: Go easy on the pie charts.

Speaking of which, newby Scott Billeck has brought pie charts and graphs with colored, squiggly swirls to the sports pages of the Sun, whether we like it or not. Oh, joy. Can’t get enough of gizmo jock journalism. As if. You’ll have to excuse me, but I prefer my sports writing without do-dads that make my eyes bleed.

Rink Rat and Wheeler

Let’s be clear: I don’t believe the earth is flat, and I don’t believe fancy stats are useless like ear muffs in Arizona. But I lean toward Rink Rat Scheifele’s way of thinking when he talks about a special something that exists between teammates, like himself and Wheeler: “I think chemistry’s the biggest thing in this game,” the Jets centre says. “You want to play with guys you click with and play well with. I think chemistry is a thing that is kind of put away on people. Especially nowadays with analytics and all that extra junk. Chemistry is something you can’t quantify, there’s no statistic that says chemistry, and I think that’s something that needs to be looked at.”

Pierre and Kendall

Seems Pierre McGuire has lost his perch between the benches on NBC’s No. 1 NHL broadcasting team, and that must be such troubling news for Kendall Coyne Schofield. I mean, how will the poor dear possibly find her way around the rink without Pierre to point the way and mansplain the game to her?

Kendall, of course, made her debut with NBC last winter, joining Pierre at ice level for a Lightning-Penguins skirmish. “Tampa’s gonna be on your left, Pittsburgh’s gonna be on your right,” he informed the U.S. Olympic champion, adopting the tone and manner of a school marm advising a six-year-old girl where she could find the washroom and lunch room. Well, it turns out Kendall knows the way to San Jose (yes, without Pierre’s hand signals), because she’s signed on as a member of the Sharks TV broadcast team. No word on whether or not her contract includes directions to the biffy, though.

And, finally, good thoughts for Dale Hawerchuk, who’s stepped away from his coaching chores with Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League. All they’re telling us about Ducky is that he’s wrestling with health issues, and I’d say that’s all we really need to know.