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 the Chevy/Puck Pontiff voodoo vibe…Drab Slab still flogging their fake news…Zen Master PoMo and the true meaning of ruffled feathers…Blake Wheeler calls out fake news and fake news snoops…Puck Finn on Swiss time…Rink Rat Rags…the Winnironto Sun…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I hope no black cats crossed your path while you were walking under a ladder on Friday the 13th

So here’s what I’m thinking: Kevin Cheveldayoff and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman have a voodoo vibe going.

No kidding.

The Puck Pontiff and Chevy.

They get a player and his agent in a spooky, candle-lit, incense-filled room cluttered with occultish nick-nacks, and Chevy starts chanting and dancing and shaking chicken bones while the Puck Pontiff feeds them a mysterious concoction that looks like Red Rose tea but is actually a blend of special ingredients from the Cheech & Chong Collection of brain-bending herbs.

The player’s mind turns to mush and he suddenly believes Winnipeg is Shangri-la. Or, better yet, Woodstock. Soon he’s on his feet, chanting and dancing and singing In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida with Chevy, while his agent slumps in a smoky corner, spaced out and giggling like the town fool as he fiddles with love beads hanging from his neck. He becomes most agreeable.

“Like, man, you can’t ever leave this place,” the agent tells the player in a dreamy voice. “Like, look at all those beautiful palm trees and those white, sandy beaches and the ocean and all those topless girls with flowers in their hair.”

“Like, I see them too, man,” the player replies. “Like, where’d Portage and Main go, man?”

The agent then looks at the Puck Pontiff and asks, “Where do we sign, Cheech?”

That voodoo pitch worked on Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Connor Hellebuyck, Blake Wheeler, Big Buff, Bryan Little and now Josh Morrissey, who’s agreed to spend the next nine winters in Good Ol’ Hometown, tall snow banks, square tires, frozen car batteries and all.

Cheech & Chong

Only Evander Kane and Jacob Trouba have been strong-minded enough to ward off the Cheech and Chong approach to contract negotiations, and I suspect Patrik Laine will continue to be a hard sell.

But we can probably expect an announcement any day now that Kyle Connor has fallen under the Chevy/Puck Pontiff spell, and he’ll be scoring his 30 goals in Winnipeg Jets livery for the next six National Hockey League seasons.

Chances are they’ll also get Connor at a wholesale price, just like Morrissey, because it’s Winnipeg and that’s what we do.

And, yes, $50 million with an AAV of $6.25M is wholesale in the hockey market for a defender of Morrissey’s level, especially given that he likely hasn’t arrived at peak performance. It would be for Connor, too, because you don’t find 30-goal men at the bottom of a Crackjack box and Kyle’s already made a habit of it.

Having said that, it’s hard to imagine Connor accepting a nickel less than the $7.15 AAV the Arizona Coyotes have agreed to pay their 14-goal man, Clayton Keller. But, hey, Kyle and his agent have yet to sample the chanting, dancing and funny tea in the Chevy/Puck Pontiff voodoo den.

The Morrissey signing tells us a number of things, including this: All that noise we’ve been hearing about the Jets changing room being as toxic as a buffalo’s breath? Ya, the air in there is so rancid that young Josh will only put up with it for another 3,285 days.

No surprise that the boys at the Drab Slab, Mad Mike McIntyre and Jason Bell, continue to flail away with their “rotten to the core” and “fractured locker room” narrative.

“(Head coach Paul) Maurice raised some eyebrows last spring in his exit meeting with the media when he mentioned there were some ‘ruffled feathers’ within the room that will need to be smoothed out going forward,” they wrote in a training camp preview. “Couple that with a late-season collapse, closed-door players’-only meeting a week before the playoffs and a quick first-round exit and it’s clear all was not right in Jetsville. These were teammates that needed a break from each other.”

Really? Here’s what Mad Mike had to say just three days before les Jets’ playoff ouster vs. the St. Louis Blues: “Another positive to emerge for the Jets is the increased talk of unity among teammates, both in the room and on the ice.”

So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: He told us the Jets felt incredible warm and fuzzies for each other, on and off the freeze, like never before on April 17 but they couldn’t stand the sight of each other on April 20. Apparently Mad Mike doesn’t realize how stupid that sounds.

Pterodactyl

Welcome to Camp Grasshopper, where today you shall discover the inner meaning of “ruffled feathers” from venerable Zen Master PoMo, who arrives with bird in hand. “I’m picturing this bird with a couple little feathers out, and you just kinda slide your hand and they’re gone,” Zen Master PoMo says. “You seemed to be thinking more pterodactyl where I was thinking more sparrow at the time. It wasn’t that big a deal. Bad analogy, I guess. When you lose, when you think that ya got a chance—not that you should win, because I don’t think that happens in the NHL; when you get to the playoffs, all these teams are good—when you think you got a chance and you lose, there’s a lot of emotion that goes into that, right? A lot of anger and frustration. So, ya, you want some pissed off guys at the end of the year. You’re grumpy. That’s a really intense environment, right? Lose the last game, walk in ‘Boy, that was fun.’ That didn’t happen. Ya…all the sparrows are fine.” It is with the sound of two hands clapping that the lesson ends.

Here’s what I found myself wondering after listening to Maurice go all zen master in translating, once again, his original “ruffled feathers” comment for news snoops: How many of the scribes had to dig out their dictionary and look up the correct spelling of p-t-e-r-o-d-a-c-t-y-l? I’m guessing 100 per cent of them.

I once played on a club with a kid named Sparrow in goal, but I don’t recall being teammates with anyone named Pterodactyl.

The Drab Slab’s two ace sleuths, Mad Mike and Bell, have had 5½ months to gather and produce evidence of infighting among the Jets, and what have they unearthed? Nada. Squat. Diddly. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson they ain’t. And no, a players-only meeting outside earshot of news snoops doesn’t cut it as verification. Athletes muttering and barking at one another behind closed doors is as commonplace as jock rash, and an absence of proof makes it fiction, the kind of stuff Mad Mike wouldn’t have been allowed to write while on the cops-and-robbers beat. Question is, why does jock boss Steve Lyons let him get away with it in the toy department?

Blake Wheeler

Perhaps Jets captain Blake Wheeler was talking about Lyons when he went off on shoddy journalism during a frank and revealing natter with TSN’s Sara Orlesky last week.

“I think there was just, unfortunately, a lot of incorrect stuff coming out about our team after last year,” he told Sara, who struck all the appropriate notes in her nine-minute probe. “I think the media has a certain accountability that has to be held, and it was lost after last year. There was a lot of stuff written that just simply wasn’t true. You know, I mean, things were written about Scheif after the year about our exit interview…I was in the room, you know, people were upset that he didn’t talk. They asked him one question. So what, is he just gonna stop people and make a statement? So that disappointed me.

Sara Orlesky

“You know, write whatever you want about me, I know what I am, I’m pretty comfortable where I’m at. If you think I’m the problem…I might be. I don’t think I am, but I know that after you fail to meet expectations, you’re gonna write about me, and that’s fine, I know that’s the position I’m in. But at least be accurate, at least, you know, do enough work and be in the room enough to get a sense of what you’re talking about. People are writing stuff that, they’re in the room once or twice a year. I’ve met these guys maybe twice and I’ve been here nine years. So that upset me a little bit. But, like I said, it was just in the sense of you totally missed the boat. Write about how bad we played in Game 6, that would be accurate. We didn’t show up. And if you think that’s because of bad leadership, then maybe that’s a conversation to be had. But you can’t have it both ways. So let’s kinda get back on track a bit.”

I’m not a fan of the way Wheeler sometimes interacts with news snoops. I think he’s a boor. But his remarks are spot on. And that was boffo work by Sara, who got the captain to speak with sledgehammer bluntness.

Lyons and his paid pen pal, retired columnist Paul Wiecek, authored a nasty hit piece on Wheeler in the fallout of the Jets playoff ouster last April with this headline: “Jets problems begin with Wheeler.” Unless I’m mistaken, Lyons and Wiecek saw the inside of the Winnipeg HC boudoir last season about as often as Donald Trump sees the inside of a gym, but Lyons supposedly “asked around” and was advised that Wheeler had “lost the room.” What, he “asked around” by texting Mad Mike and Bell? Oh, wait, Lyons is probably too old for texting. He likely phoned his beat boys. Whatever, from the top of the Drab Slab food chain to the bottom, the reporting has been reckless, irresponsible and totally mockable gossip mongering.

The boys on the beat at the Winnipeg Sun also touched on the matter of team disunity (very briefly), and it went like this:
Ted Wyman: “If they did have some issues last season, they have to make sure that’s resolved.”
Scott Billeck: “The strife in the locker room, we don’t know for sure, for certain. I mean, if that was the case, often times when teams kinda go down people will just start saying things, and there’s been a lot of rumors this summer that are completely unfounded. There’s just no proof to them.”
Correct. So let’s turn to another page in the songbook, shall we Grasshopper?

Patrik Laine

Voter turnout in the Manitoba provincial election was a low 50 per cent. The other 50 per cent formed a search party and went looking for Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor.

Turns out Puck Finn put away his Fortnite gizmos and has been located in Switzerland, which is as good a place as any to sit out a war. I’ve never met Puck Finn, but he strikes me as a different head of lettuce who listens to the beat of his own drum, and I can see him hooking up with his old pal, Jesse Puljujarvi, and spending the winter in Finland. Just guessing, of course, but he might be the last of the NHL’s bumper crop of unsigned restricted free agents still standing when most of the dust settles.

To be clear, neither Puck Finn or Connor are “holding out” as a Drab Slab headline incorrectly informed us. They aren’t under contract.

Those who know Rink Rat Scheifele tell us he’s the kind of guy who’d give you the shirt off his back, so we shouldn’t be surprised that the Jets centre arranged to outfit teen members of the Winnipeg Ice with new Sunday-go-to-meeting duds for their Western Hockey League crusade. Solid gesture. Solid guy. And I think it would make for a boffo fashion label: Rink Rat Rags.

Good grief. Wednesday’s edition of the Winnipeg Sun looked like the Tranna Sun. Yes, again. The first two pages were devoted to Auston Matthews’ ghastly Cuban lounge lizard mustache, with news on the Jets buried inside. I don’t know if sports editor Teddy Football, columnist Pencil Neck Friesen and Scott Newby are embarrassed by the repeated Torontofication of their product, but I would be and I’d probably raise a stink about the Winnironto Sun.

Headline in the National Post: “Ken Holland’s layer cake is ready for the oven, but will it rise?” Yikes! Who’s working the NatPo sports desk? Betty Crocker or Martha Stewart?

Harry Potter doppelganger Kyle Dubas said he wouldn’t talk about Mitch Marner’s contract until it had become a fait accomplis. “Radio silence,” the Tranna Maple Leafs GM called it. As if anyone still listens to the radio.

And, finally, just wondering: If you could climb into anyone’s head, whose would it be? For me, it’s Bob Dylan. The man’s a lyrics genius, and I’d like to wander around his attic to find out exactly what the hell goes on up there. Speaking of Bob, he supplied the official soundtrack to this post—Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits on Spotify.