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 Janine Beckie and Christine Sinclair kicking it…a soccer swan song?…girl talk on TSN…all hail Hayley…CFL turnstile troubles…the sports menu in River City…the cost of hockey dreams…and Mike Reilly’s chin whiskers

A mid-week smorgas-bored…and I’ve only been red-carded twice this week…

Right off the hop, a few words about Janine Beckie: Classy, classy, classy.

Janine, of course, lost a 1-v-1 showdown with Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl on Monday in France, and that squandered opportunity was the centrepiece of a 1-0 loss that ushered Canada out of the women’s soccer World Cup. Crushing. Yet there she was scant seconds later, explaining her failed penalty kick to a nation that had hoped for so much more.

“I thought I hit it well, I thought she made a really good save,” Beckie told Laura Daikun of TSN.

Her eyes were red and damp, her wound and emotions naked and raw. She fought off tears, the way the Swedish side held off the wave of Canadians who forged forward in search of an equalizing score in the frantic final thrusts of the skirmish.

“You know, it’s the big moments, it’s the moments that you live for and you get all the glory if it goes in and you take the blame, it feels like, when you miss, so that’ll stay with me for a long time,” she continued. “Christine asked me if I wanted to take it, and that’s a big moment for me and, ya, it’s gonna be hard for a while.”

I wanted to reach into my flatscreen and give her a big hug.

Janine Beckie didn’t have to agree to that interrogation while still munching on such a bitter pill. She could have acted like some of our millionaire athletes and taken refuge in the showers, or, at the least, begged off for an appropriate cool-down to arrest her emotions before facing the music. So, yes…classy, classy, classy.

Should captain Christine Sinclair have ceded the critical spot kick to Beckie? Well, she either had supreme confidence in Beckie or not enough in herself, otherwise Sinclair wouldn’t have thought to yield. So, yes, if the second most-prolific goal-scorer in women’s soccer had a twinge of self-doubt, she did the right thing in bowing to Beckie’s boot.

Christine Sinclair

The haunting for Beckie and our women’s soccer side will continue until next summer, when redemption is available at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, but it remains uncertain if the journey will include Sinclair, the grand dame of Canadian soccer. At age 36, she certainly wasn’t a dominant force in France, and it seemed to me that Father Time was calling for a substitute, even as coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller didn’t. But if this was her swan song on the world stage, what a wonderful career. She’s a national treasure and we won’t see another like her for many years.

Things you won’t hear discussed by a male broadcast panel during the next men’s World Cup (or any major men’s event): Broken nails, hot-pink nail polish, lipstick shades and braided hair. That’s what Kaylyn Kyle, Diana Matheson, Clare Rustad and host Kate Beirness brought to the TSN talk table the other day. Inappropriate? Not at all. It was a fun exchange. But if they’re going to talk about their appearance, they become fair game for others to do the same. I’m not sure that’s what female talking heads want.

Hayley Wickenheiser

So nice to see Hayley Wickenheiser take her rightful place in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and I find it interesting that so many male essayists are tripping over their run-on sentences to praise the former captain of Canada’s national shinny side. As if they actually give a damn. Many of the boys wouldn’t walk across the street to watch women’s hockey. It’s their version of slumming it. Unless, of course, an Olympic gold medal is part of the package. Then they’ll hold their noses and do it. But if they believe Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford, Angela James, Danielle Goyette, Geraldine Heany, Cammi Granato and Angela Ruggiero are Hall of Fame worthy, isn’t the girls’ game worth covering? Just asking.

On that subject, The Ice Garden reports that 30 women plan to buck the boycott and are on board for the 2019-20 National Women’s Hockey League crusade. Here’s the up-to-date scorecard: Boston Pride 11, Minnesota Whitecaps 6, Metropolitan Riveters 4, Connecticut Whale 6, Buffalo Beauts 3. That tally includes seven Canadians and the highest disclosed salary is Lexi Bender’s $13,000 with the Pride.

As the large lads in pads prep for their third week of three-down slobber-knocking, I am reminded of a Yogi-ism:

“If the people don’t want to come out to the ball park, nobody’s going to make them.”

Yogi Berra wasn’t talking about the Canadian Football League, but head counts soon could become a major talking point among those who, like myself, prefer three downs and the rouge over four downs and the fair catch.

I wouldn’t label early numbers from turnstile counts across the land in this freshly minted season alarming, but they are concerning, most notably in Edmonton where, compared to last season, the faithful are staying away in droves. Year v. year, the Eskimos have performed in front of 11,995 fewer fans through their first two assignments at Commonwealth Stadium, and that included a marketing department’s dream game last week featuring the return of the prodigal quarterback, Mike Reilly. Just 24,016 checked in to watch the $2.9-million QB receive a serious rag-dolling.

League-wide, the head count is down 13,461, although we’ve yet to hear from the two outfits that occupy the flattest of lands—Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Oddly enough, the Tranna Argonauts are one of two clubs to show an increase in attendance from their 2018 home opener. The Boatmen really put on the ritz in an attempt to woo customers, with an adios salute to retired QB Ricky Ray, a Derel Walker bobblehead doll giveaway, $5 beer and $3 hot dogs. That brought a whopping increase of 284 customers to BMO Field. It won’t help, however, that the Argos were whupped, 64-14, by the dreaded Hamilton Tabbies. But, hey, I’m thinking if they reduce the price of beer to $2 and hot dogs to .50 cents and wear Raptors jerseys, the Argos might crack that coveted 17,000 head count.

Old friend Peter Young offers this tweet in explaining any decline in attendance: “Sadly we’ve entered an era where 25,000 at CFL game is a luxury (except Tranna where 15,000 will have to do). Too much else to do. See it better on TV (see NASCAR down 50%). Oh, and even adults have discovered Netflix and HBO.” I could be cheeky and ask: What else is there to do in Winnipeg? But that would be rude and I don’t need the rabble in River City to red card me. Fact is, Peter is right, there’s plenty on the sports entertainment menu in Good Ol’ Hometown, and they don’t normally need $3 beer and .50 cent hot dogs to sell it.

Individual ticket prices in Winnipeg (taken from team websites):

Jets:              $68-$301
Bombers:     $18-$175
Moose:         $22-$32 (plus fees)
Valour FC:  $16.27-$57.57
Ice:               $16.15-$19.97 (based on $549-$679 season ticket pricing/34 home games)
Goldeyes:     $14-$26
Ass. Downs: Free admission

Your best buy might be a day watching the ponies run at Assiniboia Downs, because you can walk out with more jingle in your jeans than when you walked in. Then, again, you can leave without your shirt. That iffyness is part of the attraction, though, and I can say that I’ve never spent an afternoon or evening at the Downs that I didn’t enjoy.

Speaking of costs, can it really be true that parents are required to pony up $12,000 for their 17- and 18-year-old kids to skate with Winnipeg Blues in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League? That, according to an article by Taylor Allen in the Drab Slab, is up from $3,000 last season. I don’t make a habit of telling folks how to spend their money, but in this case I will: Are you people nuts? That’s a lot of coin for a handful of hope. I mean, if the goal for your boy is the National Hockey League, you might be better off buying $12,000 worth of lottery tickets. I don’t blame parents for dreaming, though. The bad guys here are the mucky-mucks at 50 Below Sports + Entertainment. That $12,000 price tag is just wrong.

Mike Reilly

And, finally, B.C. Lions quarterback Mike Reilly has shaved off his heavy growth of facial hair. Two things about that: 1) There was a handsome man hidden under all that thick scruff; 2) if the Lions offence goes into the tank, is Reilly guilty of a points-shaving scandal? (I agree, that’s a real groaner.)