About Planet Puckhead and social media…another WTF Tranna scribe is up my nose…have a thought for Pick…Burkie at his best…Grapes and karma…Ovie’s hangover…more dumb stuff from the East…and CFL free agents

The first Sunday smorgas-bored of the year…and so far 2019 doesn’t feel any different from 2018…

Back in the day, when people actually paid me to write this crap, I scribbled something about the intense pressure placed upon pimple-face teenagers wearing our Maple Leaf on their chests and hearts on their sleeves.

I didn’t think the expectation and suffocating scrutiny was fair in 1999. Still don’t today.

I mean, okay, I get it. This is Planet Puckhead. We do hockey like Criss Angel does magic. We expect to win. All…the…time. At…every…level.

But, hey, sometimes a Criss Angel illusion or magic trick goes kaflooey. Sinatra didn’t always sing on key. Not every Beatles or Rolling Stones tune is a classic. Not every episode of Seinfeld was belly-laughing, knee-slapping funny. And sometimes we lose at shinny.

Like in the just-concluded World Junior Hockey Championship.

Our teenagers were found wanting in the 10-nations tournament. They didn’t earn a gold, silver or bronze trinket. Nada. They finished sixth. In our own bailiwick. That’s like the Pope skipping Sunday mass at the Vatican. So there’s hand-wringing, navel gazing, considerable gnashing of the teeth, autopsies performed in print and on airwaves, with perhaps a royal commission into the state of Canadian shinny affairs to follow.

If root, root, rooting for the home side isn’t exhausting, the fallout from failure surely is.

Maxime Comtois: No goal.

Worst of all, of course, is the cauldron of rot known as social media, which exploded like Noah Dobson’s hockey stick during added time in a 2-1 quarterfinal misstep vs. the plucky and, yes, fortuitous Finnish teens. (Seriously, they tied the game when the puck took more turns than the magic JFK bullet.) This reality that Finland was the beneficiary of more luck than a leprechaun with a fistful of four-leaf clovers was lost on the cyber bullies who assailed our reps, most notably Maxime Comtois.

Young Max, who wore the ‘C’ on his black True North jersey, had the bad manners to: a) perform a series of Neymar impersonations in the early skirmishing of the event; b) flub a penalty shot in OT vs. Finland; c) be born French-Canadian.

Add it all up and, apparently, he’s the worst captain since E.J. Smith steered the Titanic into that big ice cube near the shores of Newfoundland.

It is, of course, a load of hooey.

Neymar

Comtois’ misguided play-acting like a Brazilian soccer star aside (we’re Canadian; we don’t dive on frozen ponds), the avalanche of abuse heaped upon him was as exaggerated as it was unfair. Yes, he coughed up a hair ball on that penalty shot, but not because he calls the opening between a goaltender’s pads “le cinq trou” instead of the five hole. He missed. Stuff happens. In both official languages.

Post-ouster, we’ve learned that Comtois was playing with a separated shoulder, and I can already hear the braying of the jackals: “Did he hurt it taking one of his dives?”

I’m sorry, but I don’t hold with the crucifixion of kids playing a game. Especially when wearing the Maple Leaf.

Look, our guys tried. They came up short because, in case you hadn’t noticed, the other guys are good. It’s been that way since the Russkies paddywhacked the best of our best (sans B. Orr and B. Hull) in Game 1 of the Summit Series in 1972.

We’re no less a nation of puckheads today because of this WJHC result. We can just hope we do better next time—on the ice and, especially, on social media.

Next time one of our genius jock journos tells us that women’s hockey is a joke because of lopsided scores, remind him of these results from the world junior tournament: 14-0, 11-2, 8-2, 8-3, 7-4, 6-1, 5-0, 5-1, 5-1. Denmark played six games and scored in just one of them, a relegation skirmish vs. Kazakhstan, which was outshot 69-13 in one round-robin game and 57-10 in another. They surrendered an average of 56 shots per match in their four prelims.

Canada’s gold medal curlers at the 2018 Olympic Games.

Speaking of genius jock journos, you wonder why scribes from the Republic of Tranna get up my nose? Because they write rubbish like this item from Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail: “Canada’s never won a major international team tournament at anything that wasn’t hockey.” That’s not just incorrect, it’s ignorant. It’s a total WTF comment. I mean, last time I looked, Winter Olympic Games curling was a “major international team tournament,” and Canada has been on the top step of the podium six times! We’ve also won 18 global men’s and women’s curling championships since 2000. If you’re scoring at home, that’s 24 wins at a “major international team tournament” that “wasn’t hockey.” But, hey, Kelly is a Tranna-based writer and curling rates somewhere between tiddlywinks and rec-room ping pong on the scale of importance in The Rot. He writes about our curlers only when they gag at the Olympics or get drunk at a weekend bonspiel and, based on his scribblings from the Winter Games last year, he doesn’t know a burned rock from burnt toast.

The legend Bob Picken.

Wonderful piece from Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun on broadcasting legend Bob Picken, who’s bedded down in his River Heights home in a fight for his life against the dreaded cancer. I don’t know how much time Pick has left, but I do know you’ll not meet a nicer man and you’ll not hear a better set of pipes. Pick’s always been one of those glass-half-full people, forever armed with a kind word and sage counsel. He’s an absolute treasure. And when he’s gone, it will close the book on what Friesen aptly describes as the “golden age” of sports media in Good Ol’ Hometown. I doubt he’s in a hurry to join Matty, Cactus Jack, Witt, Siggy and Coconut Willie on the other side, but you can be sure they’re anxious to see him.

Brian Burke

Brian Burke continues to be the best hockey voice on TV in the Great White North, if not North America. Burkie was in peak harrumphing form on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night, taking aim at bellyaching player agent Allan Walsh for his whining tweets about client Michael Frolik’s ice time allotment with the Calgary Flames. “Put a sock in it,” Burke barked before describing Walsh’s antics as “clownish behavior.” He added: “Nobody’s gonna pay the slightest bit of attention to this. This will be ignored by management. Agents don’t advise teams on how to run teams, trust me. Go have a meeting with the GM, get behind closed doors, air your differences and see if you can work something out.” Good stuff.

Don Cherry

The Lord of Loud, Donald S. Cherry, weighed in on Canada’s demise at the world junior tourney during the Coachless Corner segment of HNIC, suggesting that our guys were beaten as payback for running up the score (14-zip) vs. Denmark. “You don’t beat them down like that or you pay the price,” he said. “I’ve said it before, the hockey gods will get you or karma will get you.” If karma has anything to say about it, Grapes will be wearing nothing but a loin cloth in his next life as punishment for those gawdawful suits he exposes us to on Saturday nights.

Mitch Marner

There are a few things in life that concern me. Whether or not Kevin Hart hosts the Oscars and whether or not Madonna has had butt implants are not among them. Nor is Mitch Marner’s exclusion from the National Hockey League all-star soiree, which Sportsnet refers to as the “great snub.” I believe Marner put it best when he said: “There’s bigger things in the world to think about than that.” Agreed. But I doubt opinionists in The ROT will let it go.

Alex Ovechkin is taking a pass on the all-star game because his chassis needs a rest. Is that the real reason, or is Ovie still hungover from his Stanley Cup celebration?

There’s stupid and then there’s Eastern Canada kind of stupid. “The Alouettes’ slogan (indeed the slogan of the entire CFL) should be “Fans?—What Fans?” writes Jack Todd of Postmedia Montreal. Excuse us? The entire Canadian Football League? Don’t think so. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Saskatchewan Roughriders and Bytown RedBlacks played to 96.8, 96.1 and 94.4 per cent capacity in 2018. Attendance for playoff games (in Hamilton, Regina, Bytown and Calgary) was 91.4 per cent of a full house. It was SRO at the Grey Cup game, with 55,819 wedged into Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. The average head count for the Eskimos was 31,107. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Calgary Stampeders were well above the league attendance average. What part of that does Todd not understand? The CFL has three trouble spots: Montreal, the Republic of Tranna, and Vancouver. The other six markets are doing just fine, thank you.

Mike Reilly

If I’m Ed Hervey, general manager of the B.C. Lions, I’m calling for an all-out blitz and going after both Mike Reilly and Adam Bighill when the CFL free-agent market opens next month. And if I’m Leos’ bankroll David Braley, I’m letting him do it. Guaranteed that would put people in the pews at B.C. Place Stadium.

Is Kyle Walters doing his job as general manager of the Bombers if he doesn’t go after Reilly, assuming the Eskimos QB doesn’t choose to stay in E-Town? Nope. I like Matt Nichols, but Reilly would be a serious upgrade behind centre and Walters must pursue him.

And, finally, this blog reached an all-time high for reads in 2018: 23,801. My thanks to all who stopped by for a visit. Let’s all meet again at my place every Sunday in the new year. Drinks are on moi. But, remember, if you’re going to drink, don’t drive.

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About Claude’s boy Brendan going off his nut…Beastmo Bighill for MOP…fifth Beatle Ty Long…Andrew Harris had to get the ball…a new headset for Coach LaPo?…Sportsnet drops the ball on U football…the Bosox beer toss…Clayton K is no Sandy K…a good read on No. 4 Bobby Orr…and just say no to Slava

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and keep in mind that no one has ever won a bar bet based on anything I write…

Top o’ the morning to you, Brendan Lemieux.

Well, I guess it’s true what they say—you’re a chip off the old blockhead. That’s right. Your old man, Claude, was a cheap-shot artist of the tallest order, and now here you are, just 18 games into your National Hockey League career, and already you’re facing a suspension for attempting to rearrange Vincent Trocheck’s facial features.

Brendan Lemieux

Mind you, what you did to Trocheck of the Florida Panthers on Friday in Finland was the equivalent of a paper cut compared to the bludgeoning Papa Claude laid on Kris Draper in 1996.

I’m sure you know all about that, Brendan. Probably seen the video. Heck, you and the old man might have had a giggle or two watching it on YouTube. Just to refresh, though, Papa Claude drove Draper into the boards—from behind—and broke his face. That’s not an exaggeration. The force of the blow shattered an orbital bone, a cheekbone, Draper’s nose and his jaw.

That’s the signature moment of your old man’s career, Brendan. A goon act.

Oh, sure, some folks talk about his Stanley Cup victories, the Conn Smythe Trophy, the 19 game-winning goals in the postseason. But the conversation always comes back to Kris Draper and the night Papa Claude went all Pearl Harbor on the Detroit Red Wings forward.

You once told a reporter that you want to be seen as a “young Claude Lemieux,” and “every time I’m compared to my dad, it’s a compliment.”

The Claude Lemieux goon show.

Sorry, Brendan, but you don’t want to run off with the notion that folks are speaking favorably when they draw parallels between you and Papa Claude. More than likely they’re calling you a couple of dipsticks. Sure there are positive similarities. There’s tree bark to your game, just as there was to his. You can be a useful, disruptive irritant. But I’m certain fly-by muggings are not what the Winnipeg Jets had in mind when they brought you on board.

Your attack on Trocheck wasn’t just wanton and lawless, it was selfish. It was game-changing in a destructive way.

So here’s the bottom line, Brendan: I think it’s great that you’re proud of your old man, but just because Papa Claude had a tendency to go off his nut, it doesn’t mean you have to.

Straighten up and fly right, kid.

I’ve long held that a player like young Lemieux was a missing element to les Jets makeup. I reckoned they needed someone of the Nazem Kadri ilk. You know, a guy with serious skill but also a royal pain in the ass. Sadly, Lemieux isn’t even a reasonable facsimile. Although only 22, he might already be an NHL writeoff.

Puck Finn

Nice to see Patrik Laine rediscover his scoring touch during Winnipg HC’s two-game tour of duty in Finland, but let’s make something perfectly clear: Criticizing Puck Finn’s play early in this crusade does not make anyone a “Patrik Laine hater” or a “Patrik Laine naysayer.” It’s fair comment. The guy’s been gawdawful most nights, something he copped to post-hat trick in Winnipeg HC’s 4-2 victory over the Panthers on Thursday. “I’ve been a pretty bad player,” he admitted. So let’s keep this in mind: Laine still has yet to score at even strength with a goaltender in the net. That’s not hating on Puck Finn. It’s reporting the facts.

Fashion note: Saw one of those horrid Jets aviator alternate jerseys in a sports merchandise shop last week. The thing is selling for $134. That’s a lot of coin to spend on ugly. Sales dude told me nobody’s buying them out here on the west flank of the land. “People prefer the Jets heritage sweaters,” he said. Ya think?

Adam Bighill

I’ve studied the list of nominees for most outstanding player in the Canadian Football League and I don’t see anyone whose work has been more boffo than Beastmo Bighill, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers ransackish, plundering linebacker. Beastmo won’t win the vote, though, because the Football Reporters of Canada have a thing for guys who play the glam or diva positions. You know, the quarterbacks, receivers and running backs. Only once since they began doling out the MOP trinket in 1953 have news snoops broken ranks and saluted a pure defender. That was Solomon Elimimian of the B.C. Lions in 2014. So, if my math is correct, another defensive player isn’t due to win the MOP award until 2076, by which time we hope Winnipeg FC head coach Mike O’Shea finally has figured out when—and when not—to gamble on third down.

The Beatles

The Lions’ MOP candidate this year is Ty Long. He’s a punter/placekicker. No knock against Long, but that’s kind of like nominating Ringo Starr as the most outstanding Beatle. (For you kids in the audience, the Beatles were a rock band in the 1960s and Ringo was the drummer. The other band members were John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Two of them are in the grave, and Ringo still isn’t the most outstanding Beatle.)

O’Shea did the right thing by starting Andrew Harris in the Bombers’ meaningless matinee vs. the Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium in E-Town on Saturday. Sure there was a risk he’d suffer an owie that would put him on the shelf for the Grey Cup runoff, but you’ve gotta give the ball to a guy who’s eight yards shy of another rushing title. It’s said that Coach Mikey is a player’s coach, and that’s what a player’s coach does.

Paul LaPolice

So what are the odds of Paul LaPolice landing a CFL head coaching gig? There’s a vacancy in the Republic of Tranna, where the Argonauts kicked Marc Trestman to the curb (apparently for his failure to keep Ricky Ray vertical), and Wally Buono has had his fill of football in B.C. and anywhere else people grab grass and growl. Jason Maas’ status in E-Town is still iffy, and perhaps the same can be said for Mike Sherman in Montreal. If the Bombers inflict serious damage during this month’s sprint to the Grey Cup, guaranteed the Winnipeg FC offensive-coordinator will be on someone’s short list. More to the point, I’d expect to see him wearing a head set on the sidelines next year. If so, good on him because I still believe Coach LaPo got a raw deal from inadequate, trigger-happy GM Sleepy Joe Mack with the Bombers in 2012.

Marc Trestman

Here’s my take on the Trestman dismissal by the Argos: A lot of folks who follow three-down football outside the Republic of Tranna will give a damn; few in The ROT will even notice he’s gone. Such a shame.

Also a shame that Sportsnet totally ignored the Canadian university football playoffs, which commenced on Saturday. What kind of a national sports network doesn’t cover the postseason from start to finish? They won’t have their cameras and talking heads on site next weekend either. Pathetic.

The Bosox Beer Toss

Interesting tradition Boston sports fans have during title parades—the beer toss. Yup, the rabble gathered last Wednesday in downtown Beantown to greet their most recent conquering heroes, the World Series champion Red Sox, and Bud Light bombs were bursting in air. It was a 21-can salute from the fawning faithful to their baseball icons. At first blush, I thought it a horrible waste of beer, but then I realized it was American beer. I’d toss it away, too.

Clayton Kershaw, Sandy Koufax

Now that the Los Angeles Dodgers have been ushered out of the World Series for the second straight autumn, can the ill-informed cease with the Clayton Kershaw-Sandy Koufax comparisons? The great Sandy K. got the job done when it mattered most. Kershaw not so much. Koufax pitched in four World Series, going 4-3 with a 0.95 ERA and a 0.825 WHIP. The Dodgers won three of those series and Koufax twice was chosen WS MVP. Kershaw, meanwhile, has a losing record in money games (9-10 overall; 1-2 in the World Series), his ERA is a plumpish 5.40 and his WHIP is 1.163. Case closed.

Two questions: The Professional Golf Association Tour has begun its 2018-19 season. Will anyone notice before Tiger tees it up? And does the professional tennis season ever end, or do they just keep playing until everyone is injured and sent to the repair shop?

If you’re looking for some good reading (the kind you won’t find here), check out Bruce Arthur’s piece on Bobby Orr in the Toronto Star. It’s boffo stuff on the boffoest of all hockey players.

And, finally, disgraced defenceman Slava Voynov has applied to the NHL for reinstatement. How fast can 31 teams say “no” to the wife-beater? Any outfit interested in recruiting Voynov is soulless.

About peace in the Red River Valley…Jekyll and Hyde in the CFL…the cost of beer and bowels…dance moves…Johnny Average…coach’s choice…oh, baby…TSN’s top 50…hanky-panky in women’s hockey…a Stanley Cup parade in The ROT?…and let the NHL games begin

Another Sunday smorg on another lovely, albeit damp, autumn morning…

It’s about that quarterback controversy—the sound you hear is silence. It’s not even crickets.

Matt Nichols completed just 16 passes for 179 yards on Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium in E-Town. He failed to hurl the football for a touchdown. One of his 20 tosses landed in the wrong hands. Totally pedestrian numbers. The kind of numbers that had the rabble reaching for the torches and pitch forks two-three-four weeks ago.

Except this time Nichols’ work, however ordinary, was good enough and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were on the favorable end of a 30-3 score vs. the Edmonton Eskimos.

Matt Nichols

Thus, we don’t hear anyone squawking about Chris Streveler getting the next start, which, of course, always was a fool’s argument that the Bombers oft-misguided head coach, Mike O’Shea, properly ignored. The payoff has been two efficient work days for Nichols and two successive wins—including the Bombers’ first W this season against an outfit that actually has a pulse—and Winnipeg FC now holds joint custody of third place in the Canadian Football League’s West Division to-and-fro.

So we have a different narrative.

Nichols is no longer a bum and the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist might actually let a week go by without telling us that O’Shea and his sidekick, defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall, should be collecting pogey.

That all changes if the Bombers soil the sheets vs. the RedBlacks in Bytown next Friday, but for now there’s peace in the Red River Valley.

There’s certainly some Jekyll and Hyde in this Winnipeg FC outfit, although the same can be said about at least four other clubs—the Eskimos, B.C. Lions, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Bytown RedBlacks. I’m guessing it will be the Leos with their noses pressed against the window and looking in when the post-season fun commences on the second Sunday in November, leaving the Bombers and Eskimos to settle the argument for third place on the final day of the crusade. The loser gets the crossover playoff berth, which is your basic CFL death sentence. History records that no western club has advanced to the Grey Cup game via the eastern route, and beating the RedBlacks and Tabbies back-to-back in enemy territory in November might be doable but it’s highly improbable.

Jason Maas

The cost of a beer at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday: $5. The cost of a hot dog: $2. Seeing Eskimos head coach Jason Maas look like he had blocked bowels: Priceless.

I note the Hamilton Tiger-Cat had themselves a bit of a hissy fit after the B.C. Lions held a dance party on their logo at Timbits field in the Hammer. Such scandal. You’d think Fred Astaire had stepped on Ginger Rogers’ toes. Get a grip, boys.

I think it’s great that Alessia Cara will perform the halftime show at the Grey Cup game. But remind me to Google her so I can find out who she is.

Johnny Rotten

Doug Brown has forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know, so it was with considerable interest that I read the former defensive lineman’s take on Montreal Alouettes quarterback Johnny Manziel. “I would dare say, especially after watching a full four quarters of his work in the 31-14 loss against the Bombers, that he is not a first-round quarterback talent,” he wrote in the Drab Slab. “He is pretty accurate with the football, and has a quick release; he has a pretty average arm, and doesn’t always throw a great football. When Manziel operates from the confines of the pocket, which is the most important measurable of any quarterback—scrambling or otherwise—he looks to be of the ilk of a very average quarterback in the CFL.” Brown will never get a job as a gab guy on TSN if he’s going to dis Johnny Average like that.

Brian Burke

Interesting comment from Brian Burke, former National Hockey League general manager and now a talking head on Sportsnet: “Well certainly from my perspective, you’re going to fire the coach if he doesn’t win enough games,” he told Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver, “so you better let him pick the roster.” Makes sense, but I doubt that’s how it works in Winnipeg. I’d wager the rent money that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has a large say in who starts the season with les Jets.

Bob Cole

Apparently, Rogers believes there’s a sprinkling of “Oh, baby!” left in 85-year-old Bob Cole, so he’ll be at the play-by-play microphone for 10 games to be broadcast on Sportsnet this NHL season, his 50th on sid. But here’s my question: If Cole is still good enough to do 10 games, why not 15 or 20? We know he wanted to work the Stanley Cup tournament last spring, but Rogers shut him out. If there isn’t a health issue, Rogers is actually giving Cole the equivalent of a gold watch with his 10-game package. It’s a token gesture.

Having said that, Cole is definitely past his best-before date. He still has the great pipes, but he doesn’t recognize many players other than Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid.

Connor McDavid

So, TSN names its top 50 NHL performers, and here’s James Duthie to ask “the panel” how much of a talent gap exists between No. 1 Connor McDavid and everybody else, including runnerup Sidney Crosby.

“Substantial,” says Dave Poulin. “You put McDavid No. 1, then you start thinking about No. 2. There’s a gap after McDavid and there’s another gap after Crosby.”

Well, excuuuuuse me all to hell, but wasn’t it Poulin who left leading scorer McDavid off his all-star ballot last spring? Why, yes it was. He voted for Nathan MacKinnon, Anze Kopitar and Evgeni Malkin as the best centre-ice men in the game. Yet there he was last week, unflinching and insistent that McDo-it-all is not only superior to that troika—he’s two gaps greater.

Based on what? How many catfish and muskee McDavid caught during his summer vacation?

Seriously. The Edmonton Oilers captain played zero hockey between late May and early September, so how did he go from being no better than the fourth-best centre in the NHL to the absolute premier performer after three months of doing squat?

He didn’t. He was No. 1 then, and he’s No. 1 now. Poulin has some explaining to do, but I doubt we’ll hear it.

Gillian Apps and Meghan Duggan

It’s about hockey and hanky-panky. We know that the American and Canadian women knock the bejeebers out of each other once the puck is dropped. They maintain one of the most intense, heated rivalries in sports. But it’s the passion that goes on off the ice that’s interesting. One of our most-decorated shinny stars, Olympic gold medalist Gillian Apps, wed Meghan Duggan of Team USA last weekend in Maine, that less than a year after former Canadian captain Caroline Ouillette and former U.S. captain Julie Chu became moms by welcoming baby daughter Liv into the world. Puts a different twist on the old bromide about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, doesn’t it? Beautiful stuff.

There are two thing I’m quite certain I’ll never see in my lifetime: 1) The captains of the Canadian and U.S. men’s Olympic hockey teams exchanging “I do’s” and raising a child together; 2) another Stanley Cup parade in the Republic of Tranna. And if I had to make a wager, I’d bet on the same-sex marriage happening first.

Speaking of Lord Stanley’s silver goblet, this from Stephen Whyno of the Associated Press: “Toronto appears to have the best chance to end Canada’s Stanley Cup drought that dates back a quarter century to 1993.” So, the addition of John Tavares to the Maple Leafs roster makes Jake Gardiner a better defenceman? Ron Hainsey a better defenceman? Frederik Andersen a better goaltender? Don’t think so. I still like les Jets to do it.

And, finally, 30 NHL teams begin their quest for the Stanley Cup this week. Meanwhile, in Ottawa, the Senators begin their quest for Jack Hughes.

About Winnipeg Blue Bombers coaches Tar & Feather…Matt Nichols, game manager…counting heads in the CFL…Johnny Rotten, American beer and more TSN gushing…the morphing of Josh Morrissey…a nightmare on Donald Street…homeless in Detroit…the great Gretzky getaway to La La Land…dial Mark Stone for “exhausted”…and a Christmas Day “snub”

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

I think I know what some of you were thinking.

You were thinking that Richie Hall’s defence would become Richie Hall’s defence. Oh yes you were.

Richie Hall

As the Hamilton Tiger-Cats gnawed away at a substantial deficit Friday, you were convinced that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive dozen was about to fall back on bad habits and, thus, a hot, steamy evening at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry would conclude with the local lads squandering 19-7 and 26-10 leads like a teenage kid with his first summer wages. I was thinking the same thing.

Not this time, though.

On a night when quarterback Matt Nichols kept flinging the football to empty spaces instead of willing hands, the oft-crucified Hall and his oft-crucified group secured the Bombers’ fifth W in their eight skirmishes this Canadian Football League crusade, and their 29-23 success means the defensive coordinator is good to flit about town this week sans disguise.

Same goes for the head coach, Mike O’Shea, who today is a .500 head coach.

Mike O’Shea

How long has it been since the oft-skewered O’Shea last saw anything other than the dark side of the moon? Well, Sam Katz was still the mayor. Jeff Stoughton was still king of Manitoba’s curlers. Evander Kane was still dining and dashing. It was Sept. 13, 2014. The Bombers were 6-6 and soon to be 6-7. That pit eventually grew so deep that O’Shea had to carry a canary to work. He’s finally come up for air. His record, once 13-28, now stands at 40-40. The canary’s work is done.

Yup, life is good for coaches Tar & Feather. For now. There’s another game in five days. The jackals are forever crouching at their door.

Make no mistake, much of the criticism heaped on whipping boys O’Shea and Hall has been warranted, most notably on those occasions when the head man was guilty of mind-numbing buffoonery. Like attempting a season-halting, no-chance-in-hell, 61-yard field goal in the dead air of B.C. Place Stadium. Coach Mikey will wear that particular moment of madness until he actually wins a playoff game, but, in the meantime, shouldn’t the rabble—and all knights of the keyboard—acknowledge that he and Hall are getting the job done?

Matt Nichols

What’s up with Matt Nichols? I mean, the guy missed more long-range targets on Friday night than an Iraqi scud missile. His receivers would have required arms longer than Pinocchio’s nose to latch onto some of his passes. It brought to mind something a CFL coach or GM told Kirk Penton of The Athletic when discussing the league’s premier QBs: “Nichols is just a game manager.” And that’s the best you can say about his work against the Tabbies—he managed to win the game. But isn’t that the bottom line for quarterbacks?

Commonwealth Stadium

This from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet: “There was a great deal of chest-thumping last week when Edmonton announced a crowd of 35,623 for a game against Saskatchewan, the CFL’s biggest live audience of the season. Given that Commonwealth Stadium was still 40 per cent empty, you might wonder what all the celebrating was about. Twenty years ago, nobody would have got excited about that kind of crowd.”

A couple layers to peel here: First, I didn’t read or hear about anyone dancing in the streets of The Chuck because of that head count. If there was a celebration, I missed it. Second, what a mook. I mean, had Cox taken five minutes for research, he’d know that seven of the eight CFL franchises averaged less than 30,000 customers per home date “20 years ago.” Half the league (Hamilton, Toronto, Montreal and B.C.) averaged less than 20,000. Thus, I submit that every club, save possibly for the Eskimos, would have been very “excited” about an audience of 35,623. More to the point, they’d have been shouting about it from the rooftops if it happened the first week of August, which is not exactly prime time for spending an evening sitting at the 55-yard line.

Just the facts, ma’am. They aren’t hard to find.

I note that a record number of our friends south of the great U.S.-Canada divide tuned in to witness TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel, make his CFL debut on Aug. 3. Yup, 406,000 sets of peepers watched in wonder as Johnny Rotten fell flat on his face in his three-down baptism. Best ever ESPN2 audience for a CFL skirmish. Confirming, of course, that American football fans’ taste in quarterbacks is much like their taste in beer—watered down.

Trevor Harris

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Trevor Harris of the Ottawa RedBlacks flung the football 54 times on Saturday night. Forty-four of those passes—44!—landed in the right hands. That’s the second highest, single-game completion total in CFL history. Those passes/catches covered 487 of terrain, and one went for a touchdown in Ottawa’s 24-17 victory over the Montreal Alouettes. And yet, once the dust had settled, we had Rod Smith and Davis Sanchez of TSN flapping their gums about Johnny freaking Manziel, the losing quarterback whose performance was noteworthy only for the fact he didn’t toss four interceptions? “On a night where Trevor Harris throws for nearly 500 yards, it seems kind of crazy to be talking about the other quarterback, but that’s the Manziel world now in the CFL,” said Smith. No, Rod, it isn’t “kind of crazy.” It’s stupid and insulting, and TSN’s credibility is taking a big hit with its relentless and shameful gushing over a National Football League washout.

Josh Morrissey

For two years, Jacob Trouba has been so far up Paul Wiecek’s nose that a team of U.S. Navy SEALs wouldn’t be able to rescue him. Now we find Josh Morrissey up the other nostril.

Oh, yes, if Trouba is Darth Defenceman, Morrissey is Darth Lite.

And what heinous trespass has the young defender committed? Well, in a plot-thickening essay seemingly plucked out of River City’s hazy, sticky summer air and primarily designed to get tongues wagging, Wiecek informs us that Morrissey, like Trouba before him, is playing by the rules. The nerve.

Morrissey, to date, has declined to accept whatever hometown discount the Winnipeg Jets have asked him to accept in contract discussions, and thus he remains listed among the National Hockey League’s unsigned restricted free agents. That simply won’t do. Never mind that he’s merely exercising his bargained-for rights. Playing by the rules, in the world according to Wiecek, is bad manners, especially if it means you might upend a cart of apples.

Moreover, the Winnipeg Free Press scribe tells us that Morrissey is displaying a “darker side.” He’s morphed from Ned Flanders into Mr. Burns. Surely, Wiecek hints, there’s something foul afoot. “It’s no accident we’ve reached this point,” is his cryptic conclusion.

Good grief. The heat certainly affects people in peculiar ways, doesn’t it?

Look, there’s no story here. Not unless Wiecek has inside intel that he isn’t sharing, which I doubt. If Morrissey remains unsigned by the time the local lads assemble next month for their training sessions, then sure, let’s talk. Until then, let’s dispense with the flights of fantasy (read: fake news) and try to keep it real.

Jacob Trouba

Naturally, Wiecek couldn’t pen a piece about the Jets without skewering Trouba. Referencing the 24-year-old defenceman’s recent contract negotiations, which resulted in an arbitrator-awarded salary of $5.5 million, he wrote: “You knew that was going to be a nightmare.” So let’s recap. Trouba became a restricted free agent. He filed for arbitration, as is his right under the terms of the NHL-NHL Players Association contract. When his agent, Kurt Overhardt, and Jets ownership/management agreed to disagree on wage/term, it went to an arbitrator. Both parties signed the awarded one-year deal. Trouba will report to training camp and be a significant contributor to the group on its next Stanley Cup crusade. Exactly what part of that is a “nightmare?”

Hey, check out what Craig Custance of The Athletic Detroit has to say about our local hockey heroes. “If I had to bet the mortgage on a team right now to win the Stanley Cup, it’d be Winnipeg,” he writes. I’d take that bet in a heart beat, except I don’t want to live in Detroit and I’d hate to see Custance out on the street.

Weeping Wayne

Geez, it’s been 30 years since the Los Angeles Kings landed the biggest fish of them all, reeling in Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers. Where were you the day No. 99 broke down and wept when informed he’d be neighbors in La La Land with Tom Hanks, Michael Douglas and Jodie Foster? I was in my late 30s and vacationing at a cottage somewhere in the wilds of the Whiteshell, but I interrupted my hiatus long enough to take my toes out of the water and scribble a column for the Winnipeg Sun. It was probably a lousy essay that offered little insight, but, hey, I had other fish to fry that day. Literally.

Mark Stone

Some interesting thoughts on contract negotiations from homeboy Mark Stone, who recently settled on a one-year, $7.35 million pact with the Ottawa Senators to avoid arbitration at the 11th hour. “It’s lots of hours, you’re spending a lot of time on the phone and you’re thinking about what you should do and how you should approach things. It’s actually mentally exhausting,” said Stone. Ya, such a hardship. I once worked the phones for 7 1/2 hours a day, five days a week for a year and a half in the Cordova Bay Golf Course pro shop. I think they paid me 12 bucks an hour. Stone spent a few days on the phone and his NHL club will pay him about $30,000 an hour. And he’s exhausted?

And, finally, I don’t get it. Why are some people on our side of the border bent out of shape, saying and writing that the NBA has “snubbed” the Tranna Raptors by not including them on the Christmas Day TV menu? Seriously. That’s what people do on Christmas now? They watch a bunch of multi-millionaire stringbeans play bouncy-bouncy on the hardwood when there’s probably a feel-good Jimmy Stewart or Bing Crosby movie on TV? I shudder. And if that makes me sound old, it’s because I am old.

About cheering for Matt Nichols…bloggers vs. mainstream media…cops putting the cuffs on Kane…a cheeseless Cheesehead…and other stuff on my mind

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

Matt Nichols
Matt Nichols

I don’t mind admitting that I’m root, root, rooting for Matt Nichols to get the job done this week when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers haul their sorry butts into Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.

Hey, I’m not in mainstream jock journalism anymore, so I’m allowed to wave pom-poms and type at the same time now.

Actually, true confession: I always did cheer for certain athletes. Just like every sports scribe then and now. Oh, they’d have us believe that they’re flatliners when it comes to partisanship, but that’s a load of hooey for two reasons: 1) The beat is more enjoyable to work when writing dispatches about a winning outfit, because the to-and-fro with jocks tends to be less adversarial; 2) writers develop a fondness for some players—especially the “good quotes”—so they wish for them to succeed.

They’re just supposed to keep it on the QT and not allow it to leak into their copy, that’s all.

Here in the blogosphere, on the other hand, we’re not bound by that unwritten code. We can lash them or we can laud them based on our biases.

I’m partial to the Bombers. My personal history with them dates back to the beginning of the glory years in the late 1950s; ergo, my preference is that they once again become something other than the free space on the Canadian Football League bingo card. Is Nichols the quarterback to take them where they haven’t been since 1990? One can hope, so one can cheer for him.

Bobby Hull and former bride Joanne
Bobby Hull and former bride Joanne

Interesting to note the difference between how bloggers and mainstream media tackled the announcement that Bobby Hull would be among the first three inductees to the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame. Bloggers Mitch Kasprick at Winnipeg Hockey Talk and Cara at Arctic Ice Hockey addressed the matter of Hull’s history of domestic violence head on, whereas mainstream jock journalists didn’t touch it. Cara’s piece spurred a healthy debate among AIH readers and contributors, which makes me wonder what opinionists at the Winnipeg Sun and Winnipeg Free Press were afraid of.

Also interesting are the literary gymnastics that Paul Wiecek has performed on the sports pages of the Freep during the past few months. I hope he didn’t hurt himself. I mean, in mid-April, he was advocating contract extensions for the losing tandem of Bombers general manager Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea. Earlier this month, he advised us that O’Shea was not to be faulted for the local football heroes stumbling out of the gate. And now? It’s all Mikey’s mess. Apparently CEO Wade Miller has held up his end. Ditto Walters. So Mikey has to wear that 1-4 record. I make no secret that I’m a Wiecek fan, but I’m concerned when he goes all Gary Lawless on us.

So I have just one question after seeing that photo of Buffalo cops slapping the bracelets on old friend Evander Kane and charging him with several counts of wrong-doing that involved the physical mistreatment of women: Has Sabres Tim Murray called his counterpart with the Winnipeg Jets, Kevin Cheveldayoff, and asked, “Any possibility of a do-over on that trade, ol’ pal, ol’ buddy?” I feel bad for Murray. I mean, how’s he going to off-load Kane to another National Hockey League outfit now?

Aaron Rodgers the Cheesehead
Aaron Rodgers the Cheesehead

Can this be true? Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, has cut cheese from his diet? The main Cheeshead going cheese free? In Wisconsin? What’s next? Winnipeggers stop eating Sals nips and shopping wholesale?

Okay, if you hadn’t heard of Rosie MacLennon prior to last week, you’re forgiven. Not forgiven, however, is Steve Simmons of Postmedia for his catty and crass comments of Rosie’s selection to carry the Canadian flag at the opening of next month’s Olympic Games in Rio. In the world according to Little Stevie Blunder, a trampolinist has no business leading our athletes into the five-ring circus. He submits that her sport is “more backyard than Olympian.” If I’m reading him right, he’s telling us that if kids can do it in the backyard, then it doesn’t belong in the Olympics. Good thing Walter Gretzky didn’t know about that when he built that backyard hockey rink for his boy Wayne.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: How long a leash will Mike O’Shea give Matt Nichols?

As I was saying last week in the wake of another Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ wedgie, Drew (One Hop) Willy would be the first sacrificial lamb placed on the spit because Mike O’Shea had no choice but to fire his starting quarterback.

Mike O'Shea: End of the line?
Mike O’Shea: End of the line?

So the head coach did that very thing on Sunday.

Quite possibly (more than likely?), the move to flip-flop Willy and Matt Nichols was strongly suggested to the stubborn O’Shea by a voice from above, because he did mention something about “conversation” being part of the decision-making process. He didn’t say whom that tete-a-tete involved, but nothing speaks louder than roughly 9,000 empty seats at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, so club CEO Wade Miller might have whispered a not-so-sweet something in his ear.

That, mind you, is pure speculation.

Maybe Miller wasn’t being a buttinski and O’Shea made this call sans pressure from on high. After all, the much-maligned man might be mule-like, but stubborn isn’t stupid. He doesn’t need to see the wall to read the writing on it that tells him he has arrived at coaching’s cliff edge.

Something had to give. It was Willy. And, yes, this smacks of Hail Mary-ism.

I mean, sideline stewards are loath to turn to their No. 2 QB when No. 1 is in fine physical fettle, and all indications support the notion that Willy is free of any owies that might prevent him from taking the starter’s snaps. Thus, sacrificing Willy’s job to perhaps salvage his own is a nervy gambit by O’Shea. Also necessary. His troops, after all, are 1-4 and, while many gaze upon him as a dead man coaching, there are other culprits responsible for the shoddy start to this Canadian Football League crusade.

Matt Nichols: Behind centre, but for how long?
Matt Nichols: Behind centre, but for how long?

Foremost, at least in the consideration of many among the rabble, is Willy. His numbers suggest he’s doing boffo business, but we know better, don’t we. Much, if not the most generous portion, of his yardage has been collected in garbage time. When it most matters, he flings the football like someone has sucked all the air out of the thing. Or he’s afraid it’ll give him the cooties. Seriously. There are penguins with better hang time than a lot of Willy’s passes.

Which is why the Bombers will have $411,000 worth of QB standing on the sidelines at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on Thursday night, and a backup with a losing record attempting to outwit the Eskimos defensive dozen.

Or will they?

Color me skeptical, but I’m not convinced O’Shea will grant Nichols a long leash. After all, the coach knows that if his universe is not unfolding as it should early in the skirmish with the Eskimos, not even a dip into the healing waters of Lourdes will keep him out of the unemployment queue. So, it’s my guess that he’ll turn to Willy faster than Knuckles Irving can say “another two and out for the Bombers.”

Willy got five games. Nichols might get five minutes. If this is to be O’Shea’s last waltz, he’ll finish it with the QB he brought to the dance.

Drew Willy: Down but not necessarily out.
Drew Willy: Down but not necessarily out.

The ginger-haired head coach said nothing of the sort during his brief chin-wag with news scavengers post-practice on Sunday. Not in so many words. But he went to great lengths to emphasize his unwavering faith in ol’ One Hop. Not that anyone expected O’Shea to kick the poor guy when he’s down, but he made it sound very much like he believes beyond all reasonable doubt that this is but a blip in the Willy career arc.

More to the point, I found his answer—or non-answer—to this point-blank question extremely telling: Does Matt Nichols give this team the best chance to win?

This week, absolutely, he gives us a good chance to win. For sure,” O’Shea said.

The answer I had expected to hear was, “Of course he does. That’s why he’ll be starting against the Eskimos. We need a win and he gives us our best shot.” Instead, it was “a good chance” to win rather than “the best” chance to win. Call it splitting hairs, if you like, but what he didn’t say told me more than what he did say.

If Nichols stubs his toe in The Chuck, he’ll be holding a clipboard again. Bet on it.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

The boys on the football beat in Winnipeg are second to none

It occurs to me that…

There is no city in the Great White North with as superb a stable of scribes detailing all things three-down football than River City.

Start with Ed Tait of the Winnipeg Free Press. Best beat writer in the whole land. His accomplice at the Freep, Paul Wiecek, and Kirk Penton over at the Winnipeg Sun complete a menage-a-terrific that keeps readers fully informed of the goings-on of not only the Winnipeg Blue Bombers but the entirety of the Canadian Football League.

I also like Herb Zurkowsky in Montreal and the tandem of Rob Vanstone and Murray McCormick in Regina, but the quality and quantity that Messrs. Tait, Wiecek and Penton churn out is unmatched.

* There were fewer, if any, finer people on the Winnipeg/Manitoba sports scene than Frank McKinnon.

Frank McKinnon
Frank McKinnon

Frank, who passed away at age 80 last week, was the first person I interviewed and quoted in a byline story as a rookie reporter for the Winnipeg Tribune. It was at a Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association annual meeting, and he was gracious, obliging and generous with his time. We spoke often over the ensuing 30 years and the former head of hockey in the province never changed. He always was a delight.

When I reflect on all the truly wonderful people I met during my time in mainstream jock journalism, Frank’s name is at the top of the good-guy list, alongside former player agent Don Baizley and University of Manitoba Bisons football coach Brian Dobie.

* I’m wounded. Crestfallen. And it’s all Gary (La La) Lawless’s doing.

La La, you see, has made an attempt to find a proper place in the pecking order of hockey homebrews for Jonathan Toews, the Chicago Blackhawks centre who’s three wins away from adding to his collection of Stanley Cup rings. The main mouthpiece in the Freep sports section reckons that legendary goaltender Terry Sawchuk is the pre-eminent Manitoba born-and-bred shinny star. How did he arrive at this conclusion? Well, he claims to have talked to a number of writers and former scribes who cover(ed) the local shinny scene.

Well, I’ve been following hockey in Winnipeg since the 1950s. I’ve been scribbling about it for the past 44 years. Nobody’s been at it longer. Alas, my phone still isn’t ringing, so I assume it still ain’t La La calling. Perhaps I was out or in the shower when his call came. Or maybe he just didn’t call.

This hurts, Gary. You never write or phone anymore. Is it something I wrote?

* If you’re looking for an example of what some sports scribes do when they’re bored with themselves, take a looksee at this Cathal Kelly offering in the Globe and Mail last week.

Cathal Kelly
Cathal Kelly

Kelly piddles on our prairie cousins in Edmonton because…well, because, in the world according to Cathal, Edmonton has the bad manners to not be the Republic of Toronto. Apparently, Edmonton is supposed to behave like the backwater burg Kelly believes it to be and excuse itself from hosting elite sporting events. You know, like the FIFA Women’s World Cup that commenced with Canada’s 1-nil verdict over China on Saturday afternoon at Commonwealth Stadium in The Chuck.

He cites the 2011 WWC as an example of how things ought to be done. That footy extravaganza was showcased in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, a stately, magnificent structure that, again, in the world according to Cathal, makes Commonwealth seem like a shelter for the homeless.

“It’s actively ugly,” crows Cathol, a bald, bespectacled man of horn-rims that some might describe as, well, actively ugly. “The field is circled by a track—the perfect bush-league touch that says ‘high school.’ “

Berlin Olympic Stadium, complete with track around soccer pitch.
Berlin Olympic Stadium, complete with track around soccer pitch.

Ah, yes. Nothing says high school like a running track around a football pitch. You know, just like the running track that encircles the football pitch in the BERLIN OLYMPIC STADIUM!

We wouldn’t want the facts to get in the way of a good hissy fit, though, would we, Cathal? You just go right ahead and rant. Stomp your little feet and hold your breath. Perhaps one day your beloved Republic of Toronto will grow up to become a city big enough to host a prestigious event like the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

For now, though, it’s shut out of the soccer circus and I’m afraid you’ll have to settle for the Pan American Games in July. Those would be the same Games that Winnipeg has already hosted. Twice.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.