Let’s talk about all-hoser hockey…the Puck Pontiff speaks…Torts does Finland…old-school rubbish…Iron Mike back in the ring…what really happened to Dani Rylan Kearney?…Wally’s AOK with XFL and CFL…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and happy spring to you all…

I recognize that I’m likely in the minority, but I find the Canadian precinct of the National Hockey League a bit of a bore.

There, I said it. A bore.

Charlie Chamberlain, Marg Osburne and Don Messer.

Does that make me an un-hoser? Fine. Sue me. Sentence me to a lifetime of watching nothing but reruns of Don Messer’s Jubilee. Frankly, I’d just as soon see Don, Charlie Chamberlain and Marg Osburne pop up on my flatscreen on a Saturday night rather than endure another episode of Winnipeg Jets-Ottawa Senators/Vancouver Canucks/Calgary Flames.

The Jets and Sens have already met five times this year, with another five on the docket. Oh joy. That’s like looking forward to a root canal.

This week, we get a steady diet of the Canucks (two games) and Flames (three). That isn’t a treat. It’s cruel and unusual punishment, like listening to Nickelback music while trapped in an elevator.

Between March 31 and April 24, the Jets will face off vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs six times. But didn’t they just finish a three-game set? Yup, sure did. Hey, I enjoy watching Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews do their thing, but I’d rather have some Sidney Crosby or Nathan MacKinnon or Patrick Kane sprinkled into the mix.

An all-hoser division seemed like a good idea before they dropped the puck in January, and I realize gathering the seven Canadian outfits together in one playground was a necessary byproduct of COVID-19, but it’s become too much like turkey dinner at Christmas. You love it at the time, but you don’t want to still be noshing on cold gobbler sandwiches two weeks into the New Year.

So you can count me among those happy that the Canadian House League will be a one-off.

The Puck Pontiff

Say, look who’s talking. Why, it’s none other than the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, who came out of hiding for a natter with Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic. Their topic? All-hoser hockey.

“I think that for us, and I assume that the other Canadian teams feel the same way, there’s something very compelling about playing iconic franchises, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, and there’s a lot of history here dating back to the Smythe Division days with a lot of people’s recollections drawn to those games against Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver,” the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll said.

“So sure, I would love to play the Canadian teams more frequently. The challenge with that is, where do you find the games to do that? Because I would say we do enjoy and we’ve established some really good rivalries in the Central with Chicago, St. Louis, Minnesota, Nashville and Dallas. So on the one hand, I look forward to returning to that. On the other, I wish there was a way we can play Toronto and Montreal more.

“It’s not a perfect world, scheduling. So for now, I’m really enjoying the games as I think most fans in Canada are and we’ll enjoy it while it lasts. Maybe some day, there would be a way to play the Canadian teams more often. That would be my hope.”

My hope is that the Puck Pontiff doesn’t get his wish.

Given that Chipman delivers sound bites only slightly more often than a street mime, I find it interesting, also puzzling, that he would wag his chin with LeBrun rather than one of the boys on the Jets beat in Good Ol’ Hometown. Does he have something against Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman, Scott Billeck, Mad Mike McIntyre and Murat Ates? Do they refuse to genuflect and kiss his ring finger? I know that Mad Mike has requested an audience with the Puck Pontiff, but not once in his four-plus years on the beat at the Drab Slab has his ask been granted. “I don’t really care, nor am I losing any sleep over it,” he scribbled last July. I wouldn’t either, but that doesn’t make it right.

Twig Ehlers on his knees.

I agree, cheap-shot artist Zack Kassian got away with a flagrant foul on Twig Ehlers in the Jets 4-2 loss to the Edmonton McDavids on Saturday night. The guys wearing the orange arm bands blew it, but I find myself wondering if they turned a blind eye because Ehlers is recognized as one of those players who loses his feet too easily. Remember, he once was fined for diving, and faking it tends to stick.

Torts

Finnish publication Ilta-Sanomat ran a lengthy takeout on John Tortorella the other day and, no shock, the Columbus Blue Jackets bench puppeteer had some interesting observations. Among other things, Torts believes, “The NHL is a league of young and stupid players.” Ya, that’s the kind of guy I’d want for a coach. “I miss the old type of player and old-fashioned hockey,” he added. “There were clashes on the ice and the players acted as cops. There are so many rules and different levels of discipline in the NHL today that this has become a ‘no-hitter’ league. I know people consider me Neanderthal, but I don’t care. I don’t want to lose the values of the old school. I think the game has lost some of its old values. I want to evolve and adapt to the new era, but I think today’s players need to learn some of those good, old values. Sometimes when I look at some payers on or off the ice, I wonder who the hell they think they are.” Which is precisely what many of us wonder about Torts.

Ben Chiarot, breaking his right hand.

Speaking of relics, why do so many hockey people continue to spew the “no one ever gets hurt in a hockey fight” refrain? It’s rubbish and the old-school thinkers who insist on repeating the illogical mantra know it’s rubbish. Ben Chiarot’s right hand is the latest piece of evidence. It’s broken and Chiarot is lost to the Montreal Canadiens for six-eight weeks. He isn’t the first player to go on the shelf after suffering an owie in a scrap, and he won’t be the last. So the horse-and-buggy crowd is advised to do what Archie Bunker often told Edith—stifle yourself.

On the subject of fisticuffs, as advertised following his thrown-down with Roy Jones Jr. last November, former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson plans to return to the ring in May. No word on the identity of Iron Mike’s opponent, but promoters promise he’ll have a matching set of ears when he enters the ring.

Can someone—anyone—tell me why Tiger Woods returning to his home base in Florida to rehab from his most-recent car crash is newsworthy? Does anyone actually care where his broken bones mend? It’s time mainstream media stopped fawning over Woods and told it like it is—he’s a reckless and dangerous man who puts the health and lives of others at risk when he gets behind the wheel of an automobile.

Dani Rylan, former commissioner and founder of the National Women’s Hockey League.

It would be interesting to know the story behind the story of Dani Rylan Kearney’s exit from the National Women’s Hockey League. She stepped down as commissioner in October, then last week resigned as advisor/president of W Hockey Group, which owns four of the six NWHL franchises—Minnesota Whitecaps, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale and Metropolitan Riveters. That’s a fast fall for the NWHL founder and the timing is curious, given that the Isobel Cup will be awarded on Saturday in Beantown. I’m sure mainstream media will get right on top of the story…oh, wait, it’s women’s hockey. They’ll give it a hard pass.

When our latest tennis phenom, Leylah Annie Fernandez, reaches the final of the Monterrey Open, shouldn’t it be more than a brief toss-in item on the back half of TSN SportsCentre? Is it necessary for us to absorb highlights from 20 U.S. college hoops games before they show us a Canadian kid making good on the Women’s Tennis Association tour? If Leylah Annie wins in Monterrey, I trust TSN will move her to the top of the show.

Melissa Martin

Tip of the bonnet to my favorite scribe at the Winnipeg Free Press, Melissa Martin. Her piece on Hometown Hockey in Cree attracted the attention of National Newspaper Award judges, and she’s one of three finalists for top sports writing honors. This sort of thing has become old hat for Melissa, who’s won the NNA as top columnist twice, and I like her chances this year against Cathal Kelly and Michael Doyle, both of the Globe and Mail.

For the benefit of those who aren’t keeping score at home, this is the 50th consecutive year that I have not been nominated for a National Newspaper Award. Or almost the same amount of time as the Republic of Tranna has gone without a Stanley Cup parade.

Wally Buono

Longtime Canadian Football League coach and executive Wally Buono has weighed in on a proposed alliance between the stewards of Rouge Football and Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson’s idle XFL. Surprisingly, he’s “all for it” if it’s a way to “preserve our game.” I say surprisingly, because no one has to tell Wally about the Yankee Doodle Disaster that U.S. expansion became during the 1990s. “I was pleased that the CFL is looking at other ways to grow the game,” the former Calgary Stampeders and B.C. Lions bossman told TSN 1200 in Ottawa. “We have a great game. Maybe we’ve kept it a secret too long. It’s time to showcase our league, showcase our game so we can grow revenues.” He also believes the American football fan will buy our quirky game, lock, stock and rouge. “There was places we went to (in the 1990s), Baltimore and San Antonio and Birmingham, where the people there loved the game,” Buono recalled. “It was an exciting night of football when we were there with Doug Flutie and Tracy Ham and Matt Dunigan. These guys put on a tremendous show, and it was a three-down game. So, you know, football is football. The fans enjoyed it, there was a lot of excitement in the stadium.” Ya, until they discovered you get a single point for missing a field goal.

As expected, ratings for the Brier final last Sunday on TSN took a dive, 33 per cent, compared to last year’s Canadian men’s curling championship. The all-Alberta skirmish featuring Brendan Bottcher and Kevin Koe attracted an average of 728,000 viewers compared to 1.09 million a year ago, when Bottcher and Brad Gushue met in the ultimate match. Overall, 5.2 million watched the Brier at some point. Comparatively, the women’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts had 4.7 million total viewers and an average of 682,000 for the Kerri Einarson-Rachel Homan final, down from 979,000 in 2020. Those dipping numbers follow a trend for all big-ticket events throughout sports, and we’re left to wonder if people will return to their flatscreens post-COVID. I’m not convinced they will.

Bravo to Beth Mowins, who on Saturday became the first woman to call play-by-play of a Chicago Cubs game, a Cactus League joust vs. Colorado Rockies. Beth will make her regular season debut on May 8 and—holy cow!—I’m wondering what Harry Caray would think of that.

Favorite quote of the week, from Robin Lehner of the Vegas Golden Knights: “The stigma around mental health is insane.” True words, those. And kudos to Lehner for talking about mental health.

And, finally, if the Conservative Party of Canada doesn’t have to officially believe in climate change, I don’t have to believe Connor McDavid really skates that fast.

Let’s talk about a Yankee Doodle Disaster…the Winnipeg Jets climb toward the top…short skirts on SportsCentre…another bad Brier for the Buffalo Boys…a free ride for Patrick Mahomes’ daughter…owning our words…and other things on my mind

A Monday morning smorgas-bored coming down in 3, 2, 1…and it’s the Ides of March, the day Julius Caesar was slain, so here’s something else that might slay you…

I had a wacko dream the other night. Seriously, it was total Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds stuff.

Except instead of newspaper taxis, cellophane flowers, marmalade skies, and rocking horse people eating marshmallow pies, I saw Mad Dogs and Pirates and Gold Miners and Glieberguys and football players bunked down in a barn and a Vegas lounge lizard.

Oh, and a Rock. There was a Rock with arms thicker than Louisiana gumbo and a bankroll that could choke a Budweiser Clydesdale.

Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie was also in the dream. He was talking about talking, and he was excited to be talking about talking. That’s the only part that seemed real, because Commish Randy always seems geeked up about something or other, even when the feds are telling him to take his begging cap and stick it where the sun don’t shine. He’s more upbeat than a 1960s Who concert.

Anyway, Commish Randy wasn’t just talking about talking. He was also talking about crawling into bed with the Rock, and that’s when I stirred from slumber.

“Whoa,” I said to myself, clearing my eyes and wondering if someone had spiked my fish sticks and fries the night before. “That’s some serious whack-a-do dreaming. No way Rouge Football is going down that road again.”

Commish Randy

As we now know, that’s exactly where Commish Randy plans to take the CFL. To the United States of Four Down Football, lock, stock and to hell with the import ratio and rouge.

Naturally, since whispers of an alliance between Rouge Football and The Rock’s XFL became a roar last week, considerable hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing has ensued, much of it because there’s a belief Commish Randy and his CFL overlords are about to sell the very soul of our quirky three-downs game.

You know, just like during the 1990s.

Well, okay, they didn’t completely sell their soul to accommodate a handful of American expansion franchises in the ’90s, but they peddled enough of it to make some of us who were there antsy. We hear that Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) and Commish Randy have engaged in something more significant than pillow talk, and we squirm like a fresh batch of hemorrhoids has kicked in.

We remember how the U.S. expansion experiment became a Yankee Doodle Disaster. The CFL was as much a sitcom as it was a sports operation.

Among other things, the end zone at Liberty Bowl Stadium in Memphis was about the size of a cocktail napkin. Bernie and Lonie Glieberman skipped town in Ottawa to set up shop in Shreveport, La., where players were bedded down on the second floor of a milking barn during training camp. The Glieberguys fired their head coach, John Huard, before the opening kickoff. Pepper Rodgers, chief cook and bottle washer of the Memphis Mad Dogs, liked everything about the CFL except the rules, and he was never shy about critiquing the quirkiness of our game.

“You Canadians can sit around and do what you want up there in Canada,” he said, “but no one understands the rules here because we have some really weird stuff in this league.”

Dennis K.C. Parks

In Glitter Gulch, meanwhile, the Las Vegas Posse sometimes practiced in the parking lot of the Riviera Hotel, and they once attracted 2,350 customers to a game at Sam Boyd Stadium. That is not a typo. Do not adjust your screen. Just 2,350 fans. They played their final home game in Edmonton. The Posse also trotted out a lounge singer named Dennis K.C. Parks, who mangled O Canada so badly that it became the biggest strain on 49th parallel relations since the torching of the White House.

So, ya, any hint of Rouge Football mixing with the twice-failed XFL sets off alarm bells.

But, as was the case in the 1990s, the CFL needs money like a vagabond needs a hot meal and a bath, and I can think of worse people for them to hook up with than the Rock and his ex-bride, Dany Garcia.

Vince McMahon

After washing out as a player with the Calgary Stampeders, Johnson found fame as a faux fighter with Vince McMahon’s WWE wrestling troupe, then became boffo box office by conquering Hollywood. Along the way, he grew very deep pockets and, according to Celebrity Net Worth, the mega-movie star is valued at $400 million. Garcia comes in at $20M, thus the $15M they forked over to purchase McMahon’s XFL table scraps last summer is chump change.

Money can’t buy credibility, though, so you can color me skeptical.

I don’t see a second venture into the land of stars, stripes and the maskless happening. It would be as calamitous as a Trump presidency. But, hey, I’ve misread the tea leaves before. I mean, I never imagined Rosie O’Donnell would make me laugh, but she was funny in A League of Their Own. So maybe a CFL-XFL will happen. Maybe they’ll make a go of it this time around. And maybe Johnny Manziel will collect as many Super Bowl rings as Tom Brady.

Let me just say this about all that: If there is a CFL-XFL and they take away the rouge, add a down, take away a player, shrink the field, or if I hear the regrettable Dennis K.C. Parks clearing his throat, they’ll lose me.

So, the Winnipeg Jets made a pilgrimage to the Republic of Tranna and took five of a possible six points from the Maple Leafs. Is there any doubt which is the best National Hockey League outfit on the northern tundra? Didn’t think so.

I still don’t like the Jets blueline, but no team in the Hoser Division knows how to play defence, so it’s a moot point.

I might be in the minority, but I won’t miss the all-Canadian house league next season. It’s too much same old, same old for my taste.

Yes, I realize Patrik Laine wanted out of Good Ol’ Hometown and the Jets obliged, but that doesn’t mean we should take glee in his struggles with the Columbus Blue Jackets. I don’t like bullies and his coach, John Tortorella, is a bully, so I feel sorry for the kid.

Just wondering, is it my imagination, or are the hemlines on TSN SportsCentre getting higher? And, if so, are the lady anchors being instructed to wear their skirts/dresses that short, or is it by choice?

Brendan Bottcher, Darren Moulding, Brad Thiessen and Karrick Martin.

Oh, woe are our male Pebble People. The Mike McEwen and Jason Gunnlaughson teams left the Brier bubble in Calgary battered and bruised, which means our Buffalo Boys remain stalled at 1-for-the-2000s. It’s one thing to have a bad year, but a bad century? Only Jeff Stoughton and pals have managed to get the job done, winning back in 2011, so these are very lean times. Meanwhile, Alberta outfits have lapped the field at the Canadian men’s curling championship, with Brendan Bottcher’s success on Sunday the 12th title this century for the boys from Wild Rose Country. Along with the dozen Brier wins, there have been three Scotties Tournament of Hearts titles from Alberta women in the 2000s. Manitoba’s Pebble People have combined for nine. So perhaps it’s time I conceded that Wild Rose Country, not our Keystone Province, is the Curling Capital Of The World. Naw. Not going there. Can’t go there.

I had the over/under at five draws for the first F-bomb at the Brier. Turns out the cuss word landed during the third match I watched. Never heard one F-bomb during the Scotties, and I still don’t understand why the boys get all potty-mouthed while the women can keep it clean.

One place you will never find my name: The list of Relevant People on Twitter.

Golf’s Incredible Bulk, Bryson DeChambeau

I don’t like to cheer against athletes, but I’d rather not see Bryson DeChambeau win another tournament. Golf’s incredible bulk is an irksome fellow, especially when he says things like, “I don’t think you can Bryson-proof a golf course.” Is that confidence or arrogance? I tend to think it’s the latter. So you’ll have to excuse me for rooting for the field against him at the Players Championship on Sunday.

Here’s something you don’t hear too often: An athlete misses the media. It’s true. Belarusian tennis player Aryna Sabalenka had a natter with news snoops recently, and she got all warm-and-fuzzy, if not touchy-feely. “I prefer to see you guys in person actually,” she said. “I prefer that everything gets back to normal life. I feel okay with this kind of Zoom press conference, but I feel better emotionally to see each other and to have this eye contact when you guys ask me some questions.” Aw shucks.

Talk about robbing the cradle. Texas Tech has offered Sterling Skye Mahomes a full soccer scholarship, which wouldn’t be notable except Sterling Skye isn’t even a month old. Her parents, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Brittany Matthews, received the scholarship offer two days after the baby was born. So let me get this straight: Mahomes recently signed a contract that will pay him $450 million over the next 10 years, and his kid needs a free ride?

So what’s the new term for when a spoiled six-year-old kid in the playground takes his ball and goes home because he thinks the other kids are being mean? Pulling a Piers Morgan.

Meyers Leondard

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of sports figures spewing racist, homophobic or bigoted bile, then expecting us to believe that they aren’t actually racist, homophobic or bigoted.

The latest to join that list is Meyers Leonard, a Miami Heat centre caught uttering an anti-Jewish slur while live-streaming video game play.

“This is not a proper representation of who I am,” he insisted in his mea culpa.

The National Basketball Association believed Leonard, but still fined him $50,000 and the Heat ordered him to go stand in a corner and also seek guidance.

But Leonard’s “that isn’t who I am” defence is far too commonplace. Some examples:

  • Justin Thomas

    Golfer Justin Thomas, after dropping a gay F-bomb during a recent tournament: “It’s not a word I use. It’s not who I am. It’s not the kind of person that I am.”

  • Baseball broadcaster Thom Brennaman, who dropped an anti-gay F-bomb during a broadcast: “That is not who I am and never has been.”

  • Heavyweight boxer Tyson Fury, who said being gay is one of three things that will lead to the apocalypse and homosexuality equals pedophilia: “I’m not homophobic, I’m not racist.”

  • Baseball player Kevin Pillar, after dropping an anti-gay F-bomb: “This is not who I am.”

  • Chris Culliver of the San Francisco 49ers, who said he doesn’t want gay teammates: “Those discriminating feelings are truly not in my heart. It’s not what I feel in my heart.”

  • James Harrison of Pittsburgh Steelers, dropping the anti-gay F-bomb on NFL commish Roger Goodell: “I am not a homophobic bigot.”

  • Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls, dumping the gay F-bomb on a fan: “Anybody who knows me knows that I’m not like that.”

  • Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers, who issued a series of anti-gay remarks on social media: “That doesn’t resemble the person I am now. Those are not my beliefs at all. They never were my beliefs.”

  • The late Kobe Bryant, who lashed out at a referee with the anti-gay F-bomb: “The words expressed do NOT express my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone.”

Words matter. If you say it, own it. Then try to get better.

And, finally, my idea of March Madness has nothing to do with American college hoops and everything to do with reading dispatches from the Republic of Tranna when the Maple Leafs take their predictable nose dive.

Let’s talk about Jills writing about jocks…Scotties ratings take a nosedive…covering the Snake in Ottawa, or was it Montreal?…BS and road apples in Alberta…the NFL QB and the UFO…baseball and beer…Ponytail Puck…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and let’s salute the girls and ladies of sports on the eve of International Women’s Day…

I spent 30 years in the rag trade and worked alongside four women—Peggy Stewart and Rita Mingo at the Winnipeg Tribune, Mary Ormsby at the Toronto Sun, and Judy Owen at the Winnipeg Sun.

Oh, wait. There was a fifth.

Judy Owen

We had a summer intern at the Calgary Sun, although her name escapes me. I recall that she failed to surface for her first day of work (something about her car breaking down in Banff on a long weekend—nudge-nudge, wink-wink), and that was our initial clue that she might have made a wrong turn on her career path.

Hey, I get it. Cars break down all the time. Been there, done that and had the hefty repair bills to prove it. Happens to us all. But in Banff? On a long weekend? How positively convenient.

I jokingly informed sports editor John Down that I would have crawled from Banff to Calgary if it meant arriving to my first assignment at the designated hour, but Downsy was as laid back as a Sunday afternoon on the porch, and he let it slide. Alas, that young lady with the pleasant personality one day showed up to cover a golf tournament a bit too uncovered. She was wearing hot pants and stilettos, and she sashayed onto the practice green in her spiked heels, puncturing the immaculately groomed lawn.

Her internship was aborted shortly thereafter.

Not because of her wardrobe malfunction, understand. That would have been an unacceptable double standard, even in the early 1980s.

Rita Mingo

I mean, none of my male colleagues back in the day were GQ cover material, the exception being Shakey Johnson, who knew how to hang a three-piece suit. The rest of the lot were borderline slobs. Some looked like they’d spent the night sleeping with a raccoon family under a bridge. Their idea of evening wear was a white shirt with anything less than three ketchup or mustard stains. But sartorial slobbery was a non-issue.

So, no, the young lady intern’s dismissal wasn’t about one ghastly fashion foible. It was her lack of zest for the job, the absence of an all-in mindset, and iffy subject knowledge. Let’s just say it became readily apparent that writing sports at the Sun wasn’t meant to be her calling.

Anyway, there were four full-time female sports scribes during my tour of duty, and I can’t imagine any of them considered wearing a pair of Daisy Dukes to the golf course, rink, ball park or stadium.

Rita, Judy and Mary all enjoyed lengthy, admirable careers in journalism, but I don’t know what became of the ever-smiling Peggy Stewart, hired by Jack Matheson as the first female to write sports full time at a major daily newspaper in Western Canada.

Today, the landscape in Good Ol’ Hometown is barren, with zero females in the toy departments at either of the daily newspapers.

Ashley Prest

Why is that? I’m uncertain. It could be that the rag trade has become too much of a bad bet. Maybe it’s still too much of a boys club. Perhaps it’s a reluctance to enter man caves and deal with brooding, boorish male athletes and/or coaches

“You know, it may just be a lack of interest in writing sports, rather than doors being closed for them,” Judy Owen suggests in an email. “After all, sports hours—when the world is normal—are kind of crappy and the sometimes-crazy deadline writing isn’t very appealing to a lot of journalists.”

Good point. The hours really do suck and often mean you’re not hopping into the kip until well after the pumpkin hour on game nights.

Whatever the case, the female sports scribe is extinct in Winnipeg, so here’s to those who were once there—Judy, Rita, Ashley Prest, Barb Huck and Melissa Martin.

How are we doing with coverage of women’s sports? Not so good. A 2019 U.S. study tells us that 40 per cent of athletes are female, yet the distaff side of the playground receives just 4 per cent of ink and air time. What about in Good Ol’ Hometown, though? Are the Winnipeg Sun and Drab Slab giving the ladies a fair shake? Well, I monitored both sheets for three months—November, December, January—and the findings aren’t favorable. The evidence:

Women on the sports front
Free Press    16 of 90 editions.
Sun                3 of 89 editions.

Copy on female sports
Free Press    74 articles, 30 briefs.
Sun              20 articles, 7 briefs.

Editions with coverage of female sports
Free Press    63 of 90.
Sun              24 of 89.

Naturally, the numbers were jacked up in February during the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but I suspect coverage will revert to same old, same old moving forward.

The TSN curling squawk squad: Cheryl Bernard, Vic Rauter, Russ Howard, Bryan Mudryk, Cathy Gauthier.

TSN’s ratings for the Scotties final last Sunday took a face plant from a year ago, with an average of 682,000 sets of eyeballs checking out Kerri Einarson-Rachel Homan II, a sequel to the 2020 championship match that attracted 979,000 viewers. I trust no one is surprised, because it’s an industry-wide reality for major events during the COVID pandemic. Here are the facts, ma’am:

Stanley Cup final:     -61%
U.S. Open golf:         -56%
NBA final:                -49%
Kentucky Derby:      -49%
U.S. Open tennis:      -45%
World Series:            -31%
Scotties:                    -30%
Super Bowl:              -15%

I didn’t tune in to every draw of the Scotties, but I can report that I never heard one F-bomb, or any other salty language, from the lady curlers in the draws I watched. Somehow I doubt I’ll be able to say the same of the men at the close of business at this week’s Brier. They can be quite potty-mouthed Pebble People.

Gather ’round the campfire, kids, old friend Peter Young has a curling tale to tell. It’s all about a Snake and the longtime broadcaster faking it, which is to say Pete covered a Brier in Ottawa from the Forum in Montreal. True story. I don’t know if that makes him the Father of Zoom, but he surely was ahead of his time.

If the Columbus Blue Jackets send head coach John Tortorella packing, please don’t tell me there’s a job waiting for him on Sportsnet or TSN.

Jennifer Botterill is fantastic on Sportsnet’s hockey coverage. Just saying.

Muhammad Yaseen of Alberta’s provincial Hee-Haw Party has introduced a bill in the Legislature proposing that rodeo become the official sport of Wild Rose Country. He sees it as a “beacon of hope.” Animal rights activists, meanwhile, see it as a steaming pile of BS. They figure if you’re going to pay homage to a bunch of big, dumb animals that work for no more than eight seconds a day, why not the Calgary Flames?

When you think about it, Yaseen’s pitch makes sense for Alberta, where Wrangler jeans and straw hats are considered formal attire. Each year the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association sanctions approximately 50 events in Wild Rose Country, and there are probably just as many rodeos that fly under the radar. Hmmm. That’s a lot of road apples to clean up. About the biggest mess since Flames GM Brad Treliving took on Milan Lucic’s contract.

Actually, the Looch is having a decent year. He has more goals (six) than National Hockey League luminaries Nathan MacKinnon, Evgeni Malkin, Jack Eichel, Claude Giroux and Taylor Hall, so maybe I should stop picking on him. On second thought, naw.

Terry Bradshaw

Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield claims he observed a UFO while driving home from dinner in Austin, Texas, last week. He described the object as a “very bright ball of light.” UFO experts immediately pooh-poohed the sighting, claiming Mayfield had actually just seen the top of Terry Bradshaw’s head.

Archaeologists continue to make amazing discoveries in the ruins of Pompeii, the ancient Roman city buried by volcanic spewings in 79 AD. The latest finding has them really excited. It’s a ceremonial chariot that features ornate decorations of bronze and tin medallions, although they don’t know what to make of the Tom Brady rookie card stuck in the spokes of one of the wheels.

Speaking of Brady, his National Football League rookie card sold for $1.32 million at auction last week. Remind me once again how money is tight during this pandemic.

On the subject of high finance, some people think Fox Sports is nuts for agreeing to pay annoying squawkbox Skip Bayless $32 million over the next four years. I don’t know about that. When you break it down, it’ll work out to only 50 cents an insult.

Twelve bottles of beer on the wall…

Baseball is peanuts, Crackjack and hot dogs. And beer, of course. But how much booze? Well, the folks at njonlinegambling.com talked to 2,631 Major League Baseball fans to determine which team’s following is the booziest of the bunch, and nowhere do they swill more suds than on the south side of Chicago. White Sox loyalists chug down 4.2 drinks per nine innings, spending $46 on their libations, so you know they’re well-juiced by the seventh-inning stretch. Blue Jays fans, meanwhile, are middle of the pack when it comes to drinking (3 per game, $25), but they top one category: 70 per cent of them get into the grog before the opening pitch. Yup, they feel the need brace themselves for what’s to come.

TSN’s favorite washed-up quarterback, Johnny Manziel, apparently has used up all his Mulligans in football, so he plans to devote the next 12 years of his troubled life to earning his way onto the PGA Tour. As what? Tiger Woods’ chauffeur?

While saluting friend and former teammate Chris Schultz, who died of a heart attack on Friday, did Pinball Clemons really refer to the Toronto Argonauts as Canada’s Team? Sure enough, he did. Someone ought to share that little secret with the citizenry in the Republic of Tranna. That way the Boatmen might attract more than friends and family to BMO Field next time they grab grass, whenever that might be.

Watched the movie Creed a few days ago. I won’t make that mistake again. Total rubbish. Yo! Adrian! Tell Rocky to do us all a favor and find another hobby.

Billie Jean King and the Dream Gappers.

If you’re a fan of Ponytail Puck (guilty, yer honor), there’s good and not-so-good tidings.

First, select members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association have assembled in Chicago to continue the renewal of their Dream Gap Tour and pose for the mandatory photo-ops with Billie Jean King.

It’s the sequel to last weekend’s engagement at historic Madison Square Garden in Gotham.

That the Dream Gappers have returned to the freeze is a favorable development, to be sure, even if they can’t seem to blow their noses without borrowing a Kleenex from BJK.

Not so good, on the other hand, is the setup.

These are glorified scrimmages, featuring many of the top female players on the planet. There is no league. Nothing is at stake, save for bragging rights, some post-match bottles of bubbly, and a share of the $1 million pot Secret Deodorant has donated.

There is no rooting interest, either. Unless, of course, Team adidas throwing down on Team Women’s Sports Foundation gives you the urge to break out the pom-poms.

I think we can agree that identity is vital in sports. We (mostly) pledge allegiance to our local sides/athletes, whether on a community, national or international level. We like to have a dog in the fight because it gives us a sense of ownership and allows us to get sucked up in rivalries (Red Sox-Yankees, Canada-Russia, Ali-Frazier, Chrissie-Martina, Arnie-Jack, Canada-U.S. in women’s hockey, Habs-Leafs, Tiger-Phil, Rafa-Roger, Serena-nobody, etc.).

Alas, there’s nothing compelling about the Dream Gap Tour structure. They play their friendlies, they pat themselves on the back for existing, then they sit back and listen to their pals in the media heap praise on the product but ignore the problem.

Those of us who want Ponytail Puck to work (one viable league) have yet to see or hear a doable business plan from the Dream Gappers. The mission remains as it was at the PWHPA start-up in May 2019: Bury the National Women’s Hockey League and wish, hope and cross fingers that the NHL is prepared to adopt approximately 125 orphans.

Trouble is, unless there’s something developing behind closed doors that we aren’t privy to, that isn’t about to happen anytime soon. The NWHL has shown no inclination to cede the territory it’s staked out in the past six years, and NHL commish Gary Bettman has made it abundantly clear that he harbors no eagerness to further muddy the waters of a divided women’s game.

Which brings us back to the matter of identity sports.

Who are the Dream Gappers? Well, they’re barnstormers. A curiosity piece. A novelty act, if you will, much like the Harlem Globetrotters or Stars On Ice. But that isn’t who they want to be. It isn’t what fans of Ponytail Puck want them to be.

Unfortunately, they’ve trapped themselves in a contradiction of their own creation. That is, they want to play hockey in a professional league, but they refuse to play in the only professional league available to them.

Thus, without an attitude adjustment, they’re destined to be nothing more than a sideshow.

And that’s a shame.

And, finally, can we call for a moratorium on broadcasters using the word “unbelievable” to describe everything from Auston Matthews’ mustache to a five-point game from Connor McDavid? I mean, Darryl Sittler once scored 10 points in a match, so why is five points unbelievable? Nothing in sports is unbelievable if it’s already happened, and when something happens for the first time it has to be believable because it’s happened. So knock it off.

Let’s talk about chess with Swamp Dog…bravo Jennifer Jones…flush go the Habs…TSN’s flawed ‘Toba Top 10…Shaq’s name game…Ali vs. Tiger…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, sadly, one of the old gang from the Trib, Swamp Dog Rauw, has left us…

The thing I remember most fondly about Murray Rauw is playing chess in the small hours of the morning, after we’d put the sports section to bed at the Winnipeg Tribune.

Swamp Dog and I would unwind from the grind by retreating to my modest dwelling on Leighton Avenue in East Kildonan, whereupon I would crack open the brown pops while he cracked open one of my many chess sets.

There’d be Beatles music playing in the background—on the down low since all others in the house were in slumber—and I would quietly sing along with the Fab Four while Swamp Dog contemplated a next misguided move that surely would lead to checkmate or stalemate. I sometimes wondered if my singing disturbed his thought process, but he never offered so much as a mumble in protest.

Swamp Dog

Swamp Dog seldom complained, although a small flap of fuss is how he earned his delightful nickname.

I was in the cockpit one night, laying out the Trib sports pages, while others wrote their stories, edited copy, wrote headlines, handled the phones and did rewrites. Swamp Dog, still reasonably new to staff, had two or three things on the go.

“Murray,” I said at one point, interrupting his work, “I need you to do something.”

“Me?” he yelped. “Me? I’m swamped!”

“You’re swamped?” I responded, snickering. “Let me tell you something about being swamped.”

I informed him how it worked in the Trib sports department. We were all multi-taskers, often expected to handle more than one beat on the same day. It was not uncommon for a select few of us to cover an event in the morning or afternoon, write our article, then design a six- or seven-page sports section that night. It made for long shifts, but it was an accepted part of the gig. Besides, most of us were young, full of P and V and eager to earn a “damn good stuff” from our sports editor, Jack Matheson.

“That’s okay,” I told Swamp Dog. “You just do what you’re doing. I’ll take care of the rest, because you’re swamped! You’re our Swamp Dog.”

Swamp Dog became a fabulous multi-tasker, skillfully covering everything from badminton to boxing to backing up Matty on the Blue Bombers beat, until Southam had the bad manners to stop the Trib presses for the final time in August 1980.

And now Swamp’s ticker has stopped.

Swamp Dog died last Sunday in Calgary, after a lengthy illness, and I spent much of the past week sifting through recollections of him and our cast of kooky characters at the Trib. (We would have made for a boffo sitcom.)

An unpretentious, fun guy, I can’t think of a former colleague who harbored a greater, more genuine appreciation for landing a sports writing gig than Swamp Dog. He was like a kid who sneaked in and out of the ice cream parlor every night without getting caught, and he never tried to hide his appreciation for his good fortune.

Swamp Dog made me laugh without trying. His eyeglasses, for example, were a trip. Back in the 1970s, they would sit at a 45-degree angle on the bridge of his nose, the large lenses plastered with very visible fingerprints from his constant but failed attempts to make the specs fit his face. His mustache drooped and would go months without a much-needed pruning. Then there was the day I learned he had tagged the lovely lady who would become his bride, Maureen, with the most unflattering of nicknames: Mush.

“Geez, Swamp, I don’t know many women who’d fancy being called Mush,” I said. “Doesn’t it bother Maureen?”

“Why would it?” he answered as if I had asked a very dumb question. “She’s my Mush.”

Once the Trib folded, both Swamp Dog and I found our way to Calgary, first him at the Herald and then myself at the Sun a couple years later. I didn’t know a soul, other than Swamp Dog, Maureen and the two people who had hired me. Swamp Dog promptly set me up to play slo-pitch on one of the city’s elite outfits, and he dragged me to his raquetball club. After our always-enjoyable matches, we’d sometimes retire to his home and Maureen would be kind enough to feed us.

Oddly enough, Swamp Dog and I never played another game of chess. I guess that was our Winnipeg thing. But we’d get together for some giggles, or he’d get serious on occasion and discuss his MS. He’d unfailingly inquire about my Uncle Dennis, who’d been confined to a wheelchair due to MS since I was a sprig.

After I left Calgary and returned to Good Ol’ Hometown, we seldom saw each other, basically when road assignments would take us to the Grey Cup, the Brier or Stanley Cup playoffs. The Canadian Football League and curling were his main beats, and he was among the best at both.

Foremost for me, though, are the personal recollections, and I smile at the memory of us shifting chess pieces across the board, his knight taking my rook or my bishop taking his queen. Eventually, one of us would notice the morning sun peeking through my living room drapes, and he’d take his leave.

Now Swamp Dog is gone permanently, but I’d say his sun is still shining—through Maureen and the kids, Josh and Cayley, and granddaughter Charlotte.

Rest easy, old friend.

The Grim Reaper has now fetched Matty, Swamp Dog, Gus Collins Uncle Vince Leah, and freelancers Harold Loster and Ronnie Meyers from our 1970s toy department at the Trib. And that’s not to forget photog Jon Thordarson, whom I always considered one of us. Those of us still drawing oxygen are in our 60s and 70s, or older, so Dave Komosky and I often wonder who’ll be next. My kidneys are suggesting it might be moi. If that’s how it shakes down, in lieu of flowers send laughter.

Jennifer Jones

Big tip of the bonnet to Jennifer Jones, who’s now won more games at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts (159) than any curler. Ever. By the time she’s finished, Jen’s collection of Ws might be unbeatable, although I suppose Rachel Homan will have something to say about that. For now, though, Jen is the standard, and I say it’s only fitting and proper that someone from Winnipeg stands atop the heap. After all, Good Ol’ Hometown is the curling capital of the world, no matter what some folks in Alberta might want you to believe.

Is it just me, or does anyone else get the impression that the women at the Scotties have a whole lot more fun than the men at the Brier? Just saying.

Some people haven’t been impressed with the quality of play at the Scotties in Calgary. Too many flubbed shots. Iffy strategy. Well, what did you expect? I mean, they’d been away from the pebble for a year, and I’m guessing we’ll see a similar number of hairballs coughed up when the boys gather for the Brier at the end of this week.

Apparently it’s been so quiet at the fan-free Scotties that Saskatchewan skip Sherry Anderson says she “heard the toilet flush” while on the pebble the other day. But, hey, let’s not talk about the Montreal Canadiens.

I’m not saying the Habs’ hope for a successful crusade is down the toilet. If they can get rid of the imposter wearing Carey Price’s jersey, they might yet qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. Then again, maybe O.J. will find the real killers.

Paul Stastny poached a goal from Twig Ehlers to give the Winnipeg Jets their 2-1 OT win over the Habs on Saturday night. You just don’t do that. It’s chintzy.

Patrik Laine

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Patrik Laine wanted first-line minutes skating alongside Rink Rat Scheifele, but Jets head coach Paul Maurice would have none of it. So they shipped him to Columbus. Now Pierre-Luc Dubois, the guy the Jets received in barter for Puck Finn, is getting first-line minutes skating alongside Scheifele. What am I missing here?

Dumb headline in the Winnipeg Sun: “Coach, teammates like new Jet Dubois.” Well, duh. What does anyone expect them to say? That he’s a sloth? Bring Patty back? Now that would be a story. The fact the Jets have warm-and-fuzzy feelings for the new kid in town isn’t newsworthy.

Good stuff from Mad Mike McIntyre in the Drab Slab on local Black shinny players who found their way to the upper levels of professional hockey. Among those he chatted with are Bill Riley and Ray Neufeld, one of the nicest men to wear Jets linen. It’s worth a look.

So why is it that I don’t believe Canadian Football League commish Randy Ambrosie when he tells us there’ll be Rouge Football this year, but I believe Winnipeg Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller when he says the same thing? Maybe it’s because Wade transformed Winnipeg FC from a laughing stock into a Grey Cup champion, whereas Commish Randy couldn’t sell a spare tire to a guy with a flat.

Bernie Parent and Bobby Clarke (right)

Nice touch by TSN to serve up a Top 10 moments for Manitoba athletes last week. Except they should have consulted someone from the Keystone Province before revealing the list. There was no Clara Hughes collecting medals at both the Summer and Winter Olympics. There was no Donny Lalonde knocking Sugar Ray Leonard to the canvas. There was no George Knudson winning on the PGA Tour. There was no Bobby Clarke, the first captain of a National Hockey League expansion outfit to hoist the Stanley Cup. There was no Reggie Leach, scorer of 80 goals in the 1975-76 NHL season/playoffs. There was no Don Duguid going unbeaten to win consecutive world curling titles. No Jeff Stoughton. No University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen hoops team winning 88 consecutive matches. But Anthony Coombs made the grade with a catch in a meaningless game for the Toronto Argos. Skeleton guy Jon Montgomery was featured drinking beer and pretending to be an auctioneer. Corey Koskie cracked the list for catching a foul ball in a game no one remembers. And Andrew Harris was featured running the ball for the B.C. Lions in a game no one remembers. Totally lame.

Shaq

Shaquille O’Neal has taken some heat for his work as a TV analyst. It seems Shaq is unfamiliar with the first names of numerous National Basketball Association players, including Pascal Siakam of the Tranna Jurassics. “Oh, I never knew his first name,” Shaq confessed in a panel natter with Ernie Johnson in a recent NBA on TNT broadcast. I guess that makes Siakam the ultimate player to be named later.

Tim and Sid are no more. Well, okay Tim is still Micaleff and Sid is still Seixeiro, but they’re no longer Tim & Sid, after 17 years together on Sportsnet. Sid’s next gig is Breakfast Television in the Republic of Tranna and, given his penchant for goofing around, the show might become known as Dog’s Breakfast Television. Tim & Sid was sometimes-see TV for me, never must-see TV, but you don’t last that long without doing something right. Having said that, Tim drew a parallel between he and Sid breaking up and Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David parting ways. Uh, no. You don’t want to go there, man.

James Duthie

I’ve long admired James Duthie’s work on TSN. Who hasn’t? He’s witty, clever, knowledgeable and doesn’t take himself seriously. And he’s done it all without perfect hair and perfect teeth.

But when he waxed on about Tiger Woods last week…well, let’s just say he was showing his age.

“There’s not another…he’s the most famous athlete of our lives,” Duthie said of Woods in a squawk with Rod Smith. “Maybe you can make an argument Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, but there has been no more fascinating, complex character in sport in our lives.”

Good grief. Tom Brady is about as complex as Grade 1 arithmetic. He throws a football, wins the Super Bowl, then paints the town bland. The most fascinating thing he’s ever done is get drunk and hurl the Lombardi Trophy from one boat to another. Jordan? Best hoops player ever. Full stop.

Duthie wants fascinating and complex? Let me introduce him to Muhammad Ali, the boxer once known as Cassius Clay.

There were more layers to Ali than an onion. Let’s start with the name change, the Nation of Islam and the shift to Sunni Islam. Let’s talk about political activism and civil rights. Let’s talk about the U.S. government taking away his livelihood and untold millions of dollars for 3½ years because he refused to travel across the world to kill people in Vietnam. Let’s talk about his willingness to go behind bars rather than spray bullets. Let’s talk about the anger and hostility, then the warm admiration, of a nation. Let’s talk about a unanimous victory in the Supreme Court. Let’s talk about the Grammy nominations. Let’s talk about the movies and the Broadway musical. Let’s talk about whimsy, doggerel and rapping before rap was a thing. Let’s talk about the campus speaking tours. Let’s talk about the battle with Parkinson’s. Let’s talk about winning the world heavyweight title three times when it actually meant something. Let’s talk about the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manila. Let’s talk about media savvy. Let’s talk about showmanship and the oversized personality. Let’s talk about the multiple marriages and infidelities. Let’s talk about the irony of being meaner and more cruel to Black boxers than white fist-fighters.

Duthie is 54, which means he missed the opening act of the theatre that was Ali. He can’t relate to the Vietnam War or the civil rights movement of the 1960s, just as those who weren’t there when John Paul, George and Ringo invaded America can’t truly understand and appreciate Beatlemania.

But when he speaks of “our lives,” I have to assume that includes myself and those of my vintage.

Tiger Woods is arguably the finest to ever strike a dimpled ball. We marveled at his wizardry, how he would make the best in the game wither before they even teed it up on a Thursday. He was fascinating to watch. Gobsmackingly so. But whereas Ali allowed us inside his world, Woods tried to keep most everyone out. Except his many mistresses.

Other than his genius at golf, we knew nothing of Woods the person until caught with his trousers down and the tabloids exposed him as a raging philanderer. And, of course, he’s made headlines for getting behind the wheel of a luxury vehicle when it wasn’t wise. But cheating on your spouse and reckless driving hardly makes one fascinating or complex. It makes him one of a million guys.

So let’s put it this way: Given one word to describe Tiger Woods, it would be “golf.” Given one word to describe Muhammad Ali, it would be…sorry, can’t do it in one word. He was too fascinating and complex.

And, finally, looks like this will be a pizza-and-pebble day, because I’m hitting the couch and won’t budge until either Jen Jones or Kerri Einarson has (hopefully) won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts this evening.

Patrik Laine: Four games as a Blue Jacket and bully coach Torts turns him into a garden gnome

Top o’ the morning to you, Patrik Laine.

So how’s that Columbus gig working out for you? After Monday night, I imagine it’s one of those “be careful what you wish for” things, eh?

I mean, you wanted out of Winnipeg for reasons that remain sealed, so the Jets peddled your disgruntled butt and your other-wordly one-timer to Columbus, and it doesn’t get much more backwater than that. At least not in hockey terms.

Patrik Laine and Cameron Johnson, the garden gnomes.

Hey, I’ve never set foot in the Ohio capital, so I can’t speak to its charms. I’m sure there are many. It’s just that when I think National Hockey League, there are 30 other locales I’d rather be. Actually, make that 29. Buffalo isn’t my idea of Shangri-la, either. I’ve been to Buffalo. The wings are fabulous. Otherwise, I’ll give it a hard pass.

Mind you, I’m guessing folks in Columbus and Buffalo think much the same of Winnipeg. Most of them couldn’t find Good Ol’ Hometown on a map, but they’d likely tell you that it’s the capital city of Middle Of Nowhere.

Anyway, Patty, you wanted to put River City in your rear-view mirror after four winters and 140 goals for the Jets. Your wish was granted. Kevin Cheveldayoff and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman obliged, sending you and Jack Roslovic to Columbus for Pierre-Luc Dubois and some unknown kid who’ll probably never see the inside of the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.

The early returns were favorable. You scored three goals in your first three games in Blue Jackets linen…then John Tortorella did John Tortorella. He glued you to the pine. In a tie game.

You spent the final 6:19 of the second period and the entirety of the third keeping backup goaltender Cameron Johnson company at the end of the bench on Monday night, both of you sitting there like a couple of garden gnomes. (Too bad they don’t allow PlayStation on the bench, eh Patty?)

Much like your reasons for desiring a new mailing address remain a matter of conjecture, no one outside the Blue Jackets man cave knows why Torts turned you into a garden gnome, Patty. Most of us thought it was punishment for dogging it on a Carolina Hurricanes goal, but the bully coach insisted there were elements more sinister involved.

Torts

He muttered something about “the discipline of being a pro” and “team concept” and “how we do things here,” which, translated, means the Torts Way or the highway.

“There’s a number of things that come into play with that,” he told news snoops. “That’ll stay in the locker room.”

Not to worry though, Patty. Torts also indicated that the two of you will have a fireside chat, and he’ll “listen” to what you have to say about discipline and being a pro and team concept and the way they do things in Columbus. Be sure of one thing, though: Torts will have the final word.

You can ask Pierre-Luc Dubois about that. Matter of fact, Patty, you might want to exchange notes with Dubois before your one-on-one natter with Torts. Given that Pierre-Luc was the bully coach’s whipping boy before you came along, he’d likely have some useful and usable insight.

The thing is, this clash of personalities was predictable, and most of us didn’t need the Houston Astros trash can lids to know it was coming.

In the meantime, it’s about you signing long-term with Columbus, Patty. Doesn’t seem like such a swell idea today, does it? By all accounts, you’re a laid-back kind of dude, so can you imagine spending the next 10 years or so with someone barking in your ear? If that’s what you want, just get married.

Jarmo Kekalainen

We know Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen wants you there for the duration, Patty, and I imagine he was gasping for air when he saw you twiddling your thumbs on Monday night. You were his target at the 2016 NHL auction of teenage talent, so it follows that he’d be prepared to move heaven and hell to keep you.

Question is: Will Jarmo move Torts if it becomes a case of irreconcilable differences?

I hope it all works out for you, Patty. I really do. I’m not among the rabble who take glee in your discomfort. You performed admirably for the Jets, and I wish there’d never been a parting of ways. So the last thing I want to see is you, or anyone, being bullied.

No, I don’t believe a benching is bullying, Patty. But when Torts says there’s more to it than just dogging it in the defensive zone, I fear the worst.

Let’s talk about Patrik Laine’s adios…what the boys on the beat are saying…Grapes for GG of Canada…Bobby Hull dining on table scraps…Hammerin’ Hank…the Mets and their oinker GM…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and this blog is officially listed as day-to-day…

First of all, Patrik Laine wasn’t a swing and a miss for Kevin Chevldayoff and his bird dogs.

When the ping pong balls bounced their way at the National Hockey League’s 2016 draft lottery, they wisely used that good fortune to claim Puck Finn with the second shoutout at the annual auction of teenage wannabes.

Patrik Laine

The kid’s a stud, and there’s been scant second-guessing the Winnipeg Jets’ choice, even if hindsight suggests a case can be made that Matthew Tkachuk might have been a better way to go.

Laine mostly delivered as the Jets had hoped, with 36-, 44-, 30- and 28-goal crusades, plus two more snipes in the opening gambit of his fifth season, which has been temporarily derailed due to an undisclosed upper-body owie of unknown origin.

Unfortunately, somewhere and somehow, the Jets-Laine union hit a very large pothole and we’re left to wonder what went wrong.

None of the usual suspects were willing to drill down to the core of the matter on Saturday after Chevy had completed his latest bit of handiwork, sending Laine to the Columbus Blue Jackets in barter for Pierre-Luc Dubois. Puck Finn spoke. General manager Chevy spoke. Potty-mouth coach Paul Maurice spoke. Captain Blake Wheeler spoke. Trouble is, it was nothing but hollow blah, blah, blah. We still don’t know why a 22-year-old stud with 140 notches on his shooting stick was expendable.

So we speculate, and here’s my guess: Coach PottyMo and Wheeler chased him out of town.

Puck Finn and Blake Wheeler.

In his sole frolic this season, Laine was given 16 minutes, 20 seconds of ice. Wheeler logged 21:27. Maurice stubbornly insists that the 34-year-old captain is a better bet at right wing, and that wasn’t about to change. No matter the numbers either player put up. So Puck Finn put a bug in his agent’s ear, whispering something about the desire for a new zip code, and he’ll now be collecting his fan mail at 200 W Nationwide Blvd., Columbus, OH 43215.

And that isn’t a good optic for Chevy.

None of us knows for certain what it would have taken to make Laine happy, but we can assume that Chevy wasn’t prepared to instruct Coach PottyMo to up the big Finn’s ice time. We can also assume that the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, had a sizable say in the matter, because you don’t part company with a player of Laine’s loft without the owner signing off on the deal. Which means he’s okay with the reality that he’s now had four first-round draft picks and/or their reps walk into the GM’s office and request and receive a one-way ticket out of town—Evander Kane, Jacob Trouba, Puck Finn and Jack Roslovic.

So, rather than a mantra of draft-and-develop, it’s become draft-develop-defect.

Paul Maurice

Oh, yes, I realize that a handful of the Jets young studs have locked in for the long haul, but having four walk away is at least three too many. And, in Laine’s case, it didn’t have to shake down this way.

Rather than reward Wheeler with a ridiculous five-year extension (including a No-Move Clause) in 2018 and stunt Laine’s growth, Chevy and the Puck Pontiff should have cut the captain adrift. He would have fetched a handsome return, certainly better than he would today or two years from now given the dog ears on his birth certificate.

Instead, they opted to keep the senior citizen over the young gun, which I’m sure makes no sense to most of us outside the Jets think tank.

Hey, anyone can be traded, including Patrik Laine. And the Jets will learn to live without Puck Finn. But that doesn’t mean anyone should be traded. Chevy and the Puck Pontiff bungled this one. Badly. And if they can’t convince Dubois to sign up for the long haul, they’ll really wear it.

Paul Stastny

Remember last October when Chevy brought Paul Stastny back on board? According to the pundits, it was a move designed to put a happy face on Laine. Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, for example, wrote this: “One thing I no longer expect to see based on this week’s events is a trade involving Patrik Laine. The Jets didn’t bring Stastny and his big cap hit in just to send their Finnish sniper packing. They brought him in to play with Laine, a paring (along with Nikolaj Ehlers) that had great chemistry during the 2018 run to the Western Conference final.” Others provided backup vocals. So how’s that working out?

I always enjoy reading what the boys on the beat have to say about these big trades. Here’s a sampling:

Paul Friesen, Winnipeg Sun: “The Winnipeg Jets’ trading of Patrik Laine to the Columbus Blue Jacks is an abject organizational failure.”

Ken Wiebe, Sportsnet: “By strengthening themselves down the middle, the Jets have taken an important—and necessary—step to widening their collective window of contention. It came at a significant cost, but this blockbuster was a risk worth taking for the Jets.”

Murat Ates, The Athletic: “What does this acquisition mean for the rest of Winnipeg’s roster? The shortest, simplest read is that the Jets want to build strength down the middle and just traded a power-play star at right wing for an even-strength star at centre. It also gives Winnipeg the best player in the trade, while acknowledging that Laine’s potential for growth is as big of a wild card as he is.”

Ted Wyman, Winnipeg Sun: “Cheveldayoff has to bear responsibility for what has happened here—the trading of a very popular young star. He was unable to get Laine signed to a long-term deal before last season and the Jets salary cap situation—based on long-term deals given to other players—made it unlikely they’d be able to do so after this season. The cost, as it turns out, is the Jets traded two first-round draft picks for a player who was taken third overall. On paper, it simply looks like too much. The pressure will be immense on Dubois to make it look more even.”

Has there been a bigger swap involving local jocks than Laine-Dubois? I can think of just one—Dieter Brock to the Hamilton Tabbies for Tom Clements in 1983. Hall-of-fame quarterback for hall-of-fame quarterback. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers won the Grey Cup with Clements behind centre one year later, beating Brock and the Tabbies.

This is rich: Rebel News has started a petition to have disgraced hockey-talker Don Cherry succeed the disgraced Julie Payette as Governor General of Canada.

“He’s a loyal monarchist, perhaps the most loyal monarchist in the county!” the far-right wingnuts at the Rebel write. “And he upholds our Canadian values. Unlike Payette, he represents what it means to be Canadian. There is nobody more dignified and worthy of filling this historic and noble role for Canadians than Don Cherry.”

Hoo boy. That’s a whole lot of stupid.

When last seen and heard, Grapes was on Hockey Night in Canada, demonizing “you people that come here” (read: immigrants) because they enjoy “our milk and honey” but have the (apparent) bad manners to not wear poppies for Remembrance Day. After decades of similar rants peppered with bigotry, zenophobia, misogyny and anti-Quebec sentiments, they finally took away the Lord of Loud’s bully pulpit, yet now the Rebel would have him become Queen Liz’s official rep and take up residence in Rideau Hall. What next? Ron MacLean at 24 Sussex Drive?

I’m sure Queen Liz has enough worries with the royal litter without having to explain Don Cherry and his wardrobe to her loyal subjects loitering outside Buckingham Palace.

Big tidings from the Toronto Blue Jays camp last week, with the addition of outfielder/slugger George Springer, late of the cheating Houston Astros. Apparently Springer leaked the news of his signing by banging on the lid of a trash can.

Bobby Hull

There’s a fabulous anecdote about Bobby Hull, his boy Brett and Kelly Chase in James Duthie’s book Beauties, whereby they let the wolf loose after a game one night in Chicago, returning to the Drake Hotel at 2 o’clock in the a.m.

“The Drake has this elderly gentleman working the elevators, all dressed up with white gloves on,” Chase says. “He recognizes Bobby right away and says, ‘Mr. Hull, pleasure to meet you.’ Bobby says, ‘Good evening, young man. Could you press floor one for me?’ And Brett goes, ‘No, dad, we’re on three.’ Bobby says, ‘Goddamnit, I said press one!’ And out he goes on the first floor.

“We go up to our room, and a few minutes later, in walks Bobby with this food tray. He’s got a quarter of a clubhouse sandwich, a piece of pizza and a couple of chicken wings. I’m like, ‘What the…?’ And Bobby says, ‘Wasteful bastards! This is how Stan Mikita and I ate in the old days. He took the even floors, I took the odd!’

“This is my idol! Then they bring the cot up, and Bobby is insisting on sleeping on the cot. Well, there is no way I am letting Bobby Hull sleep on a cot, so I take it. Bobby goes into the bathroom, comes out, whips the rug off his head, hangs it on the bedpost and gets in bed. The first time I meet my idol, and he’s eating off food trays left outside people’s doors and his hair is hanging on the bed!”

Ya, that sounds about right.

Can’t let the day slip away without mentioning Henry Aaron, because the home run champ’s death on Friday meant another chunk of my youth has been snatched away.

Hammerin’ Hank, you see, was my older brother Richard’s favorite baseball player. Mickey Mantle was my younger brother Mick’s main man. Mine was Sandy Koufax. We’d squabble the way kids do, nattering about who was the best of the three—the rakish Black man from Mobile, Ala., the brawny Okie who spent his early off-seasons working in lead and zinc mines with his dad, or the soft-speaking Jewish kid from Brooklyn.

None of us budged from our positions. Still won’t.

I do, however, concede and conclude that Aaron traveled a more challenging path to baseball immortality because, whereas both Mantle and Koufax wrestled with chronic ailments, it was death threats for Hammerin’ Hank. Not just to him, but his family.

The nearer Aaron came to reeling in Babe Ruth and laying claim to the greatest record in sports—714 career home runs—the greater the peril for the Atlanta Braves outfielder. Not all of America was prepared to accept a Black man usurping the Sultan of Swat. Not in the 1970s. Yet Aaron soldiered on, swatting dingers and chasing the larger-than-life Bambino until the night of April 8, 1974, when he sent an Al Downing pitch over the left-field fence and into the Braves bullpen. He had touched ’em all for the 715th time.

“What a marvelous moment, for baseball, what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia, what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. It’s a marvelous, wonderful, enjoyable moment here in Atlanta,” is how legendary broadcaster Vin Scully described it.

Shortly thereafter, I made my way to the Winnipeg Tribune building, anxious to lay out and design the next day’s sports section. Even though the Jets had opened a playoff series vs. Houston Aeros that night, I relegated them to the inside pages. The sports front was reserved for the great Henry Aaron. Every inch of it.

Jared Porter

Jared Porter has been outed as an oinker of the highest rank and, thankfully, the New York Mets squandered nary a nano-second in defrocking their creepy general manager.

Mind you, it’s not like the Amazins had any choice.

I mean, Porter’s one-man crusade to bed an unidentified female reporter while overseeing the Chicago Cubs stable of scouts in 2016 was as relentless as it was disturbing. More than 60 times he hounded the woman with come-hither texts and pics, the last of which brought an erect penis into focus, and it doesn’t matter that he claims the erect-penis pic he sent wasn’t a pic of his erect penis.

“The more explicit ones are not of me,” Porter assured ESPN. “Those are like, kinda like joke-stock images.”

Oh, ya, unwelcomed graphic porn is a real knee-slapper, Jared.

Listen, most women I know appreciate a man with a healthy sense of humor, but some scuzzball visiting porn sites and playing copy-and-paste with images of boners doesn’t qualify as giggle-worthy.

It’s sad, pathetic, dangerous and no one’s idea of slapstick.

Fortunately, the Mets did every female news snoop a solid by kicking Porter to the curb, and I can’t imagine any other Major League Baseball team bringing him and his baggage on board.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown weary of Postmedia treating the Winnipeg Sun like the red-hair, freckle-face step-child of the chain. When I call up the Postmedia tabloids in the Republic of Tranna, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, I normally find seven or more pages in the sports section. In Good Ol’ Hometown it’s usually four pages. Some days just two. Other days there’s two pages of sports near the front of the rag and two more near the back. Ridiculous.

And, finally, I don’t like to say I told you so, but I did. At least six times between February 2019 and last week, I warned you that Patrik Laine would not finish his career in Good Ol’ Hometown. Moreover, I posed this question in June 2016, days before the Jets drafted him: “Is the Flamboyant Finn and his loose lips a fit for the Winnipeg Jets or will he give them fits?” Puck Finn conceded on Saturday that “it wasn’t the right fit for me and for the team.”

Let’s talk about a ruckus on press row…flush that scrum lurker…Burkie’s still blunt but making no sense…and other things on my mind

A long weekend, Monday morning short version of the smorgas-bored…and I wonder how many people will spend the day on the couch watching hockey…

Auston Matthews pulled his pants down to his ankles and mooned a female security guard at 2 o’clock in the morning.

Now he’s delivering lectures on ethics.

I agree, that takes balls.

I mean, what’s next? Tiger Woods touring the countryside to preach fidelity? Adam Sandler telling Martin Scorsese how to make a good movie? One of the Kardashians explaining what it’s like to have a real job?

Morgan Rielly and Auston Matthews

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t blame Matthews for going off on Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, scant moments after the initial volley in an argument between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets. That, after all, would be the same Simmons who, in mid-June, outed the Leafs centre as a COVID-19 victim and, to this day, cannot grasp the concept of personal health information remaining private unless the afflicted choose to release the details.

So there was Matthews on Sunday night, sitting alongside teammate Morgan Rielly in one of those awkward Zoom chin-wags with news snoops, their side having just been stifled, 2-0, by the Blue Jackets in the opening go-round of the National Hockey League’s quirky playoffs before the playoffs.

Simmons identified himself, then asked Matthews for his thoughts on the suffocating defensive tendencies of his foes.

Steve Simmons

“Well, first of all, it’s unfortunate that I’m getting a question from you at this point, Steve,” the Leafs wonder boy began in a tone about as warm as a Winnipeg winter. “I just wanted to say I didn’t really appreciate the article you wrote about me a couple months ago. I thought it was a bit unethical to be honest.”

There you have it. Mr. Drop My Drawers goes Miss Manners.

Naturally, it didn’t end there. Twitter does not allow for the natural death of hissing contests. It inflames them. Thus the rabble threw down, mostly on Simmons, although some thought that perhaps Matthews might have had other things on his mind, like the 0-1 hole les Leafs have dug themselves in the best-of-five skirmish v. the Ohioans.

Oddly enough, Simmons seized the moment to drag James Mirtle into the fray.

James Mirtle

“This would never happen to James Mirtle,” he tweeted about The Athletic editor-in-chief. “He never asks a question. Never. But he uses everybody else’s quotes. He was asked the other day on radio who the best player at Leaf camp was. He answered without hesitating. Never mind that he hadn’t been at Leaf camp once.”

Scott Wheeler of The Athletic would not have his boss be bullied.

“The Leafs’ best player spoke candidly in a scrum,” he roared back at Simmons. “James transcribed it. It was already widely reported, clipped, and shared before and after James did. For you to respond like this and make it personal is unprofessional, Steve.”

Others weighed in.

Simmons’ buddy at Postmedia Tranna, Steve Buffery, described the original COVID-19 story as “good reporting.”

Not true says Greg Wyshynski of ESPN.

“There was no justification for its publication,” he tweeted. “It was trivia. Nothing about how it affected travel, his status with the Leafs, his ability to attend training camp, long-term health effects. That’s on top of the debate about the ethics of reporting a positive test in a pandemic.”

Bruce Arthur

Meanwhile another of Simmons’ buddies and a TSN colleague, Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star, had a go at Matthews, tweeting, “I would’ve liked him to explain why he thought it was unethical.”

Arthur is an intelligent guy and a terrific scribe, so playing the D’Oh Boy doesn’t suit him. He knows exactly why Matthews was offended.

Then there was Rosie DiManno of the Star, chiming in with this: “There are scrum lurkers who never ask questions. Even worse, they immediately tweet the answers.”

Oh, the horror. The nerve of those scrum lurkers. They’re the worst. Why, they have no business using the same cookie-cutter, “move-our-feet” quotes as everyone else if they aren’t prepared to wade in and ask the same dumb, cookie-cutter questions as everyone else.

I’m not sure how this will play out, but jock journos eating their own is as rare as spectators at these pre-playoff playoffs, so I’m loving it.

Frank Orr, right, with Don Cherry.

The mention of scrum lurkers brings to mind a playoff game back in the day. The precise details are lost on me, but a gaggle of us news snoops had gathered in the washroom area of a team man chamber, interrogating some poor sap about the night’s events. Included in our group was a tall, awkward and loud guy from New York City, Norm MacLean, who always toted a tape recorder the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Some found him somewhat scattered and annoying, because he had a habit of wedging himself into the front of the pack, also asking questions longer than a Sunday sermon. Not this night, though. No one was budging. So Norm skirted the scrum and stepped inside one of the stalls, standing on the toilet and draping his right arm and tape recorder microphone over the wall, directly behind the player’s head. Noting Norm’s iffy perch atop the toilet, Frank Orr of the Toronto Star announced, “If anyone hears a splash, flush!”

Brian Burke

When Brian Burke hired on as one of Sportsnet’s talking heads, I thought he was terrific. He was blunt, insightful and colorful. And now? Not so much. Oh, he’s still blunt, but that’s only good if it makes sense. Here’s Burkie’s take on Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice calling Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames a dirty, rotten rat: “I think he crossed the line here. He’s questioning the character of a character player. Matthew Tkachuk is not a dirty player. He crosses the line and thank gawd we still have players that cross the line in our league. This is an unfortunate result but it wasn’t a dirty play and it’s really crossed the line for me.” So, in sum, it’s boffo stuff when Tkachuk crosses the line but distasteful if Maurice crosses the line. Okay, got it.

The Rock is part of a group that’s purchased the XFL. Apparently their next buy will be deck seats on the Titanic.

I’ve been watching Happy Days lately, and I find myself wondering why it was such a popular show. It isn’t particularly funny, and what’s with the Fonz? He’s a high school dropout in his late 20s who has nothing better to do than hang out with teenage girls and boys.

And, finally, as a folo to Sunday’s post on sports coverage in the two Winnipeg dailies, here’s the tally for the Drab Slab this long weekend, excluding professional teams: Saturday, 1 local article (Assiniboia Downs), Sunday 0, Monday 0. That’s correct. Just one read on local sports other than the Jets or Blue Bombers. In 17 pages. At the Sun, the total was zero in two days and 11 pages. I realize we’re in the grip of a pandemic, but you’ll never convince me there’s nothing to write about other than the Jets, Bombers and Goldeyes.

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.

About no fear…the “experts” being wrong…Winnipeg Jets go from Team Bicker to Team Good Ship Lollipop?…getting paid to be wrong…and other Stanley Cup things on my mind

A mid-week smorgas-bored…and I might wear white tonight but I won’t be anywhere near downtown Pegtown…

So, how do you like the Winnipeg Jets now, kids?

More to the point, do you see an outfit still standing in the Stanley Cup tournament that the local hockey heroes should fear? I don’t either.

Oh, sure, the Vegas Golden Knights are an imposing group. Big, strong, swift, superb in goal. Washington? No, you wouldn’t want to wager a large wad of paper money against the Capitals successfully defending their championship and spending another summer engaged in liquor-fueled hijinks. Boston? Tranna? Calgary? Columbus? Colorado? The Islanders? Nashville? Meh.

Naturally, the St. Louis Blues still have something to say about les Jets’ shelf life in the National Hockey League annual spring runoff, and we wouldn’t want to get ahead of ourselves. However, after what we witnessed in two skirmishes in the Show Me State, it should be apparent that the lads from St. Loo can match Winnipeg HC’s work ethic but not its skill.

Connor Hellebuyck

And that includes the boys in the blue paint, now that Connor Hellebuyck is turning away pucks as adeptly as he rejects objectionable questions and any suggestion that his stuff stinks.

In leveling their best-of-seven playoff series with a 2-1 W—on the strength of Kyle Connor’s OT tally and Hellebuyck’s gaffe-free goaltending on Tuesday night at the Enterprise Center—les Jets absorbed the best of the Blues and didn’t flinch. They just kind of shrugged and went about their business. And they now return to the Little Hockey House On The Prairie for tonight’s Game 5, confident that they’ve found their stride and convinced that Jordan Binnington is no longer the boogyman everyone made him out to be.

But, yes, it’s fair to wonder where these guys have been all year, and to ask if the phantom turn-off, turn-on switch that we keep hearing about really does exist.

I mean, going into this fray, les Jets had more skeptics than Christ in his heyday and, after dropping the first two jousts vs. the Blues, the bandwagon was emptying faster than a classroom on the last day of school.

Gord Stellick

Craig Button of TSN, for example, described Winnipeg HC as “the weakest team going into the playoffs.”

Over at Sportsnet, 10 of 16 “experts” in a preseason poll predicted a Western Conference crown for les Jets, but that number was reduced to just one—Gord Stellick—when 22 “experts” sifted through the tea leaves in a playoff poll.

Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, meanwhile, cited “multiple sources” to inform us that les Jets were “rotten to the core,” with discontent spreading through the changing room like a flesh-eating malignancy.

Yet here we are today with this “rotten” and “weakest” and “dysfunctional” team coming home with swagger after imposing its will on the Blues in St. Loo.

Shows you what the “experts” know.

Exactly what do the “experts” really know? No more than you and I or most lumps on bar stools. In the Sportsnet playoff poll, here’s how 22 “experts” saw the first round of the Stanley Cup tournament:

Tampa Bay vs. Columbus: 22-0 for TB. D’oh!
Pittsburgh vs. Islanders: 16-6 for Pitt. D’oh!
Boston vs. Tranna: 16-6 for the Bs.
Washington vs. Carolina: 21-1 for the Caps.
Calgary vs. Colorado: 22-0 for Cowtown.
Vegas vs. San Jose: 16-6 for Glitter Gulch.
Nashville vs. Dallas: 13-9 for Twang Town.
St. Loo vs. Winnipeg: 14-8 for the U.S. gateway.

Meanwhile, 21 of 22 had Tampa Bay winning the Eastern Conference and 18 of 22 predicted the Stanley Cup being paraded through the streets of Tampa in June. Only Kristina Rutherford (Boston), Stellick (Winnipeg), David Amber (Calgary) and Nick Kypreos (St. Louis) chose other outfits.

In short, they know squat.

Interesting that Drab Slab “expert” McIntyre is singing from a different songbook today, suggesting les Jets now are one big happy family.

Here’s what he told us on April 5: “Things appear to be rotten to the core with this team in a way that goes beyond the often lethargic, uninspired play we’ve seen on the ice far too many nights lately.” Mike M added that “multiple sources” informed him and fellow beat writer Jason Bell that “things are anything but rosy” and “there’s no joy to be found.”

Here’s what he’s telling us now: “Another positive to emerge for the Jets is the increased talk of unity among teammates, both in the room and on the ice. Having been around this team all season, you get a pretty good sense of where the mood is at on a daily basis. Without question, players are as laser focused and locked in as they’ve been all season.”

Imagine that. All that alleged friction (“chaos”), all that alleged animosity (“infighting”), all that alleged rot (“dysfunction”) vanished faster than summer wages. Team Bicker has morphed into Team Good Ship Lollipop. Why, it’s a tap water-into-Molson Canadian miracle. Which one of the guys in that room wears sandals and walks on water? Blake Wheeler? Rink Rat Scheifele? Big Buff? Josh Morrissey?

It’ll make for a boffo story if les Jets pull this thing off. Except former cops-and-robbers reporter McIntyre apparently has the innuendo but not the facts, ma’am.

Puck Finn

Quickie question 1: Does the regular season bore Patrik Laine? I mean, the Puck Finn I’ve been watching in Beard Season isn’t the same Puck Finn I watched from October to April. Maybe the mystery Miracle Worker in les Jets changing room sprinkled him with happy dust. Or threatened to huck his track suit into the ice tub.

Just for the record, I’m not wearing a pair of Hindsight Goggles when I say les Jets will get by the Blues. I remind you of something I scribbled on Feb. 26, one day after the NHL shop-and-swap deadline: “What about the St. Louis Blues, you ask? What about them? Don’t be fooled by their run of good fortune. Once the puck stops hitting Jordan Binnington, they’ll be back to run-of-the-mill.” I also mentioned something about a Nashville-Winnipeg skirmish in the second round. And, as recently as last week, I wrote that the local lads were not “a writeoff” even though they were in a 0-2 hole vs. the Blues at the time. But, hey, what do I know? I mean, I’ve never seen the inside of of their changing room to monitor the “mood” and I don’t have “multiple sources” like Mike M at the Drab Slab. I do it the old-fashioned way. I examine the rosters, watch the games, listen to some of the players wag their chins, then call it as I see it. The difference between the “experts” and me? They get paid to be wrong, I don’t.

Nazem Kadri

Quickie question 2: If Nazem Kadri is made available by the Tranna Maple Leafs once this Stanley Cup business is out of the way, should les Jets put in a bid on the loose cannon? No. Too much of a wingnut.

Check out the top three point-producers in the Stanley Cup tournament: Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny, all added to the Vegas Golden Knights roster by general manager George McPhee in the past 10 months. Can you say GM of the year, kids?

Mitch Marner

Quickie question 3: When the time comes to talk turkey, how can les Leafs possibly argue that Mitch Marner doesn’t deserve as much coin as Auston Matthews? Unless they pay by the chin whisker, there’s no measure by which Matthews is worth more than Marner.

Headline in the Globe and Mail after Game 3 of Leafs-Bruins series: “Auston Matthews grabs the playoff spotlight for Maple Leafs.” Good grief. Marner and John Tavares were les Leafs best players, not Matthews.

And, finally, rumor has it that there’ll be a gathering in late May to acknowledge the 40th anniversary of les Jets third and final World Hockey Association championship. Will the current Jets still be in business by then? Yes. Absolutely. But remember, I’m no expert.

About the Winnipeg Jets playing keep-away vs. the St. Loo Blues…what a ripoff in the women’s world hockey final…Tiger, Tiger burning bright, but not the greatest comeback…and what’s up with Tampa Bay?

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I’d make a comeback just like Tiger Woods, except no one is dumb enough to hire me…

Two main takeaways from Game 3 of the Winnipeg Jets-St. Loo Blues skirmish on Sunday night in the Show Me State:

1) Now we know what happens when the puck stops hitting Jordan Binnington.

2) Les Jets discovered a rather unique, yet simple, tactic to remedy Connor Hellebuyck’s leaky goaltending—refuse to let the Blues have the puck.

Big Buff: Let me rag-doll you.

Oh, sure, there were other reasons why les Jets got off the schneid with a 6-3 W on a night when losing was not an option. Like, Kyle Connor and Kevin Hayes grew weary of being bystanders and decided it would be a swell idea to join the fray. And Dustin Byfuglien was in one of his I’m-gonna-rag-doll-someone moods.

But, let’s face it, it’s usually about the guys in the blue paint once the lads start sprouting chin whiskers.

Goaltending won Game 1 for St. Loo and lost Game 2 for Winnipeg HC, and les Jets were determined to reverse that before it became a disturbing trend that scuttled their Stanley Cup aspirations. They did so by playing keep-away with the puck, spending most of their time with it in the offensive zone at Enterprise Center, and it was a superb example of damage control. The less Hellebuyck saw of the little, round disc, the better their chances.

It also helped, of course, that Binnington was in an obliging mood at the opposite end of the freeze. Although magnificent in the initial 20 minutes, we now know the National Hockey League rookie with the Midas touch isn’t actually the reincarnation of Georges Vezina. Or the second coming of Mike Liut.

That’s not to say the kid’s a fraud, but les Jets made him look awful ordinary on Sunday night, and I didn’t see any of them shaking their heads in frustration and disbelief at the final bell.

Maybe it was a one-off and Binnington will return to form in Game 4 of this best-of-seven skirmish on Tuesday, but at least les Jets know the formula for success and a way out of their 1-2 deficit—keep the puck away from the Blues. And Connor Hellebuyck.

Even with limited work, Hellebuyck couldn’t get through the game without a colossal gaffe. He continues to handle the puck like he’s afraid of catching the cooties from the thing, and he almost coughed up the biggest hair ball of them all in the third period. Fortunately for les Jets, Patrick Maroon of St. Loo is lacking in the lickety-split department, so damage was avoided.

Ref signals it’s a goal for Finland in OT.

I began watching hockey in the mid-1950s. I haven’t seen everything, but I’ve seen a lot—brilliant stuff, lousy stuff, strange stuff, questionable stuff, stupid stuff, nasty stuff, idiotic stuff, zany stuff. But I don’t recall ever seeing anything so totally messed up as the call on what should have been Finland’s winning goal in the Women’s World Hockey Championship on Sunday.

To provide the Cole’s Notes version of events, Petra Nieminen scored in sudden-death overtime. The referee nearest the swirl of activity indicated it was a good goal. Game over. The Finnish players, coaches, support staff and fans in Espoo lost their minds, believing they had beaten the mighty United States, 2-1, for the first world title in the country’s history.

But wait…someone hiding in a video room wanted a second look at the winning tally. He or she determined that Jenni Hiirikoski of Finland had interfered with American goaltender Alex Rigsby. Thus, the goal was voided. Play on, girls. Except the U.S. was required to play on shorthanded because Rigsby was penalized for tripping Hiirikoski, who supposedly had interfered with the U.S. keeper as she scrambled to secure a loose puck outside the blue paint. Huh? Confused? Weren’t we all.

Bottom line: Finland was ripped off by a video judge who had no business over-ruling the on-ice officials, and a historic moment for women’s hockey was dashed.

While confusion reigned in Finland, I kept wondering why the two TSN voices on site, Rod Black and Cheryl Pounder, refused to tell the truth. Finland got royally screwed. Say it. In those words.

Tiger Woods and his fifth ugly green jacket.

Yes, now that you mention it, I was among the numerous naysayers who insisted that Tiger Woods would never win another golf major. Thanks for reminding me. But on the heels of Tiger’s fifth Masters title, I was hoping I wouldn’t hear too many over-the-top platitudes. Sigh. Too late.

The moment I clicked on the Internet in the small hours this morning, I was reading headlines about Tiger’s victory being the “greatest comeback in sports history.”

Look, I was caught up in the drama of Tiger’s victory at Augusta National on Sunday, and I admire his talent and stick-to-itness as it relates to golf. It’s just that I don’t think 30something-year-old sports scribes like Jon McCarthy of Postmedia are positioned to determine the best of anything, except perhaps Justin Bieber’s greatest hits.

You want to talk about comebacks? Okay.

  • Try golfer Ben Hogan, who lost an argument with a Greyhound bus in 1949 and suffered a double fracture to his pelvis, a fractured collar bone, a fractured left ankle, a chipped rib, near-fatal blood clots, lifelong circulation problems, and required blood transfusions. He won the U.S. Open the following year, and another five Grand Slam tournaments after that.
  • Try Muhammad Ali, banned from boxing for 3½ years due to the political climate of the day, then returning to win the heavyweight title.

  • Try Monica Seles, stabbed in the back with a nine-inch knife by a crazed Steffi Graf fan during a tennis match, disappearing for more than two years due to depression and the fear of another attack by a man who never spent a day in jail, then returning to win the Australian Open.

  • Try Mario Lemieux, who won a battle with cancer and returned to the NHL to win multiple scoring titles.

  • Try driver Niki Lauda, hauled out of a fire-engulfed car and his head and face burnt to a crisp, then returning to win the Formula 1 driving title one year later and again five years after his first retirement.

Woods battled back from self-inflicted public humiliation and numerous physical challenges that could have ended his career, but nothing life-threatening. His is a terrific story, to be sure. But the greatest comeback ever? Not even close.

And, finally, if the Tampa Bay Lightning don’t win a playoff game vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets, did their record-breaking season really happen?