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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bo Levi Mitchell

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

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

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

Bianca Andreescu

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

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

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

Clayton Keller

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

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

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

Coach Potty Mo

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

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

Blake Wheeler aka Captain F-Bomb

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Wiebe

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

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

Rink Rat and Wheeler

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

Pierre and Kendall

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

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

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

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.