Let’s talk about goals and lumps of coal in the toy department

Yes, it’s a return of the Sunday smorgas-bored, but with a slight twist: Sports Santa arrives on Wednesday and he’s given us a sneak peak at what he’s tucked inside his bag, so let’s see if it’s Goal or a Lump o’ Coal for the good and not-so-good girls and boys in the toy department of life…

GOAL: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers ended the longest dry spell since prohibition, so all hosannas to the Canadian Mafia—Wade Miller (CEO), Kyle Walters (GM) and Mike O’Shea (head coach)—who brought the Grey Cup home to River City and turned Chris Streveler into a flesh-flashing party animal. I don’t recall Kenny Ploen getting half naked and noodle-legged during Grey Grail celebrations back in the day, but good on Streveler for letting his wolf loose. After all, this sort of thing only happens every 29 years.

LUMP O’ COAL: Andrew Harris. Ya, I realize the local product was top dog in the Canadian Football League championship game, but he became a tainted tailback by failing a mid-season pee test. Harris claimed innocence, but don’t they all when caught using PEDs?

GOAL: Dayna Spiring became the first female board chair in the 89-years history of the local three-down football outfit, and the lady is a champ. You might have seen Dayna down on the field at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, hoisting the Grey Grail after the Bombers had waffled the Hamilton Tabbies on the final Sunday in November, and that’s girl power, baby.

LUMP O’ COAL: Actually, make it an entire coal bin for Glen Suitor, the TSN gasbag whose swooning over singer-of-songs Keith Urban during the Grey Cup telecast registered 10 on the creep-me-out meter. We haven’t seen or heard teenage-girly gushing like that since John, Paul, George and Ringo worked their first Ed Sullivan Show gig. I truly believe Suitor wet his pants.

GOAL: All aboard the Bianca Andreescu Tennis Express. First she won the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, then the Rogers Cup in the Republic of Tranna, then the U.S. Open in Gotham, where she slayed neighborhood bully Serena Williams in the final. Along the way, former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber called Bianca the “biggest drama queen ever,” and you know you’re doing something right when the claws come out.

LUMP O’ COAL: Apparently the ‘C’ on Blake Wheeler’s sweater stands for “cantankerous cuss,” because the Winnipeg Jets captain went full-on potty mouth at the close of business last April, telling Winnipeg Sun scribe Paul Friesen to “fuck off.” And don’t talk to me about a heat-of-the-moment comment after a tough loss. Fifteen teams were eliminated from the Stanley Cup runoff last spring, and only one captain told a news snoop to “fuck off.” Look, Wheeler doesn’t have to like the questions, he doesn’t even have to answer ever question, he doesn’t have to get warm and fuzzy with news snoops, but civility also starts with a ‘C’. Hopefully he’ll try it on for size when the Jets are ousted next spring.

GOAL: I’m not sure there’s anyone in sports more delightful than Brooke Henderson, our Lady of the Links who won two more tournaments to become the most successful hoser golfer on either the LPGA or PGA tours. That’s nine titles for Brooke now, and I hope we never take her for granted because there should be nothing ho hum about winning two events every year. Brooke is a bringer-of-joy and a national treasure.

LUMP O’ COAL: The U.S. women’s national soccer side established new, disturbing standards for rub-it-in-their-faces hoorawing during a 13-0 rout of lowly Thailand. The Yankee Doodle Damsels celebrated each of their scores as if they’d retaken France from Hitler’s Nazis, and their over-the-top, cringeworthy carry-on after goals eight through 13 was an ugly pock mark on an otherwise masterful World Cup performance in Paris and the surrounding French countryside.

GOAL: I have two words for the TSN World Cup panel of Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson—c’est magnifique. Actually, I have more than two words for them: Brisk and blunt, feisty, fiery and unafraid to put noses out of joint, the trio provided commentary as insightful as it was entertaining, and it didn’t matter if they were talking about hand balls or Marta’s shade of lipstick. TSN gave three women a voice and they knew what to do with it. What a concept. Add Kyle’s killer hair to the mix and it all worked.

LUMP O’ COAL: Donald Trump picked a Twitter fight with America’s leading lady on the pitch, Megan Rapinoe. Seriously, what’s up with that? I mean, wasn’t Trump too busy separating Mexican mothers from their kids to worry about a fitba diva?

GOAL: Katherine Henderson, CEO of Curling Canada, wanted to bring equal pay to the pebble and she’s done it. Prize purses at both the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier will be $300,000, with each winning outfit collecting $105,000. Hurry hard to that pay window, girls. You’ve earned it.

LUMP O’ COAL: Auston Matthews of the Tranna Maple Leafs and some of his boozed-up buddies thought it would be a swell idea to act like damn fools and prank a female security guard at 2 o’lock in the morning last summer in Scottsdale, Ariz. They attempted to climb into her locked car, then got all leaky-mouthed when she turned them back. When last seen, Matthews had dropped his trousers and was mooning the guard. What a charmer.

LUMP O’ COAL: Many mainstream jock journos wrote off L’Affaire Matthews as nothing more than the yuk-it-up, boys-will-be-boys hijinks of youth, and that’s because too many mainstream jock journos are guys who relate to frat-boy hijinks. I imagine the narrative would have been different had it been their mother, sister, wife or daughter sitting alone in that car.

GOAL: Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell brought the Western Hockey League back to Winnipeg, playing out of a cramped Wayne Fleming Arena at the U of M. Nice. Now, if only Greg and Matt would do something about ditching the Sasquatch logo and changing the team name to something more River City-centric.

GOAL: When Murat Ates joined The Athletic to work the Jets beat, I feared he’d be too heavy on numbers and too light on storytelling. Turns out he’s found an acceptable mix. I still won’t read him if I need an abacus, because that’s just typing, not writing, but I don’t turn away when he’s spinning a good yarn. Murat has a nice way with words. Boffo addition to the beat.

GOAL: Bob Cameron. Blue Bombers. Ring of Honour. Brilliant.

GOAL: Jennifer Jones became the most successful skip in Scotties history, nailing down win No. 141 last winter in Sydney, and I really wish everyone would get past that whole Cathy O thing. C’mon people, can’t we just talk about Jennifer as the greatest female curler ever?

GOAL: The Seattle To Be Named Laters have yet to play a game, but they’ve already scored big by bringing Cammi Granato on board as a fulltime pro scout, a first for the very male, very old boys club known as the National Hockey League.

LUMP O’ COAL: Hockey Day in Canada is a celebration of our great game, which is supposed to be for everyone, but the tall foreheads at CBC and Sportsnet couldn’t find a way to squeeze a women’s match into their 12-hours marathon last February. Oh, sure, the natterbugs mentioned Ponytail Puck, but the Tranna Furies-les Canadiennes joust should have been part of the package.

LUMP O’ COAL: Never mind that Ron MacLean enabled Don Cherry’s pulpit bullying for 33 years, the Hockey Night in Canada host confessed to not recognizing “the structural racism or sexism that’s going on” in hockey. I don’t believe for a nanosecond that MacLean is truly that naive. He saw it and heard it. He just ignored it.

GOAL: Richie Hall had been the most maligned man in Good Ol’ Hometown since taking command of the Bombers defensive dozen, but it was Richie’s D that ruled the day in each of Winnipeg FC’s playoff victories. Winning the Grey Cup looked good on him.

GOAL: Anyone who purchased and scarfed down a Walby Burger at a Bombers game deserves a lifetime supply of Tums or Pepto. And maybe a cardiologist to be named later. I mean, that sucker was a heart attack in the making—six meat patties, six chicken strips, six wieners, six hunks of bacon, cheese, French fries, pickles, lettuce, onions, tomatoes and special sauce stuffed between two buns the size of an umbrella.

LUMP O’ COAL: CFL commish Randy Ambrosie has been flitting about the globe, making nice with Mexicans, Europeans and Aussies, but it seems he’s forgotten about his own back yard. The CFL lost more than 76,000 customers between 2018 and ’19 and, notably, even the longtime flagship franchise in Edmonton took a huge hit at the box office (minus-15,898). Commish Randy doesn’t appear to have a plan to make Rouge Football a happening again in Vancouver or the Republic of Tranna, but, hey, I hear he’s big in Frankfurt and Vienna.

LUMP O’ COAL: The Green Bay Packers-Oakland Raiders adventure at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry was a gong show from the get-go, and we have some dude named John Graham to blame for that. Ticket prices were $75-$340 (plus tax/fees), which was never going to work in a burg that only buys wholesale; Oakland punter A. J. Cole arrived wearing a Winnipeg, Alberta, t-shirt; the Packers sat 33 starters; they found potholes in the end zones, thus the field for the faux football game was reduced to 80 yards in length. Oh, and did I mention there were fewer than 20,000 customers in the ball park? Graham blamed it all on the media, naturally, and he had the bad manners to attempt to boot Paul Friesen from the press box. Friesen stayed, the National Football League didn’t. And four-down football will never be back.

GOAL: Paul Friesen continues to crank out his Night Before Christmas sports poem, a tradition started by Uncle Vince Leah back in the day at the Winnipeg Tribune. I resurrected it for the Winnipeg Sun in the 1990s (or was it the ’80s?), so I’m delighted that Paul picked up that pen. I assume it’ll be featured in the tabloid’s Tuesday edition and, like most of his stuff, it’ll be boffo.

LUMP O’ COAL: Mad Mike McIntyre turned the Drab Slab into gossip central by telling us that the Jets changing room was “rotten to the core.” He mentioned something about “multiple sources,” but neglected to tell us what his “multiple sources” actually told him. Thus, galloping gossip among the rabble ensued. That was April 5. On April 17, he advised us that there was “unity among teammates, both in the room and on the ice,” but by April 20 the players apparently couldn’t stand the sight of each other again. In May, he informed us that any “ruffled feathers” in the room belonged to Rink Rat Scheifele, and in June he once again told us that the Jets were “a fractured bunch.” But wait. In August, he advised us that there was “nothing going on that winning couldn’t fix.” Confused yet? So was I. More latterly, which is to say last week, he insisted that AWOL defender Dustin Byfuglien was the root of all evil, because was was siphoning too much alpha oxygen out of the room. Meanwhile, his stooge-in-laws at the Freep, Steve Lyons and yesterday’s man Paul Wiecek, told us that captain Blake Wheeler was the rottenest of all apples in that barrel. All that and, nine months later, they’ve yet to provide a shred of evidence to support the “rotten to the core” narrative, other than one late-season, closed-door-meeting, which is commonplace in the NHL. Apparently, innuendo and back-fence gossip trump facts and anecdotal evidence at the Drab Slab.

And, finally, GOAL: To everyone who indulged an old lady by stopping by for a read of the River City Renegade. We hit 48,000 views this year, and that’s a high-water mark. So thanks. Happy Christmas, happy New Year, and happy trails to you.

About Commish Randy’s flag football and NFL Lite…an “effing crazy” tennis champion for Canada…equal coin for female curlers…it’s criminal what the Bruins did…the CWHL final on Sportsnet…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and, no, I don’t have a St. Patty’s Day hangover because I was in bed before they started pouring the pints…

Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie was already up my nose, but he’s digging in deeper and deeper.

Randy Ambrosie is playing a different kind of flag football.

I mean, the guy’s globetrotting and making nice with people who’ve never seen the pointy end of a three-down football was an annoying bit of business, but Commish Randy is playing a dangerous game of flag football when there’s talk of reducing the number of Canadian starters—seven down to five—for each game-day lineup and adding two “global” spots to each overall roster. That’s just wrong.

I’d like to think that Justin Dunk of 3DownNation received bad intel when sources advised him that our homebrews are under attack. But I fear he’s spot on about the Canadian-import roster ratio.

Curt, Terry, Howie, Michael and Jimmy

Homeys are at the very core of our game and ought not be used as bargaining chips in negotiations for a fresh Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and the CFL Players Association. If Commish Randy and U.S. players want fewer Canadian starters, let’s get rid of the rouge, too. And while we’re at it, let’s shrink the field, adopt the fair catch and four downs, eliminate that pesky 12th man on defence so American QBs like Johnny Manziel aren’t confused, and replace the CFL on TSN panel with Curt, Terry, Howie, Michael and Jimmy. We can call it NFL Lite.

That might sell tickets in the Republic of Tranna, but I doubt it will wash on the Prairies, which is the heartland of the CFL.

Bianca Andreescu

So, how do we like our “effing crazy” tennis champion so far? I like her a lot.

It’s one thing to wow ’em with an assortment of shots and gritty stick-to-itness on court, but Bianca Andreescu also wowed ’em in the press chat room scant moments after she had toppled Angelique Kerber, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, in the championship match of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, Calif., on Sunday.

“A year ago I’d been struggling a lot with my tennis and with my body, so it’s crazy what a year can do,” the 18-year-old from Mississauga told news snoops. “I was playing $25Ks (tournaments) in Japan and now I’m the…can I say the F-word? No I can’t…I’m the effing champion of Indian Wells. Crazy. Crazy is the word of the tournament for me. Just crazy.”

For those of you who give tennis no more than a passing glance, this was no rinky-dinky tournament. Indian Wells is huge, one of the premier events on the calendar with most of the elite women and men on site. It’s a notch below the four Grand Slams. So where does Bianca’s achievement rank in Canadian tennis history? Numero uno in singles play. Milos Raonic has won eight titles on the men’s tour, Darling Carling Bassett and Hurricane Helen Kelesi had two each on the distaff side, and Genie Bouchard once racked up a W (that seems like a very long time ago). But what Bianca accomplished on Sunday—unparalleled.

Genie Bouchard

I know what some of you might be thinking, or at least hoping—that Bianca doesn’t go all-Genie on us. Bouchard, of course, was the flavor of the month on the Women’s Tennis Association Tour in 2015, rising as high as world No. 5, but then she started taking her clothes off for Sports Illustrated and putting on the ritz. As a consequence, her game has gone kaflooey. I don’t see Andreescu falling down that same rabbit hole. No “effing” way.

For those of you keeping score at home, Bianca has now beaten four Grand Slam champions this year—Kerber, Garbine Muguruza, Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki. Heady stuff for a kid.

I realize most of our vast land still remains covered in white stuff, so is it too early to anoint Bianca Andreescu our top athlete for 2019? Seriously, who’s going to trump the tennis neophyte’s astonishing run at Indian Wells? I suppose golfer Brooke Henderson might have something to say about it, but it will take some doing.

Chelsea Carey, third Sarah Wilkes, second Dana Ferguson, lead Rachel Brown with $32,000 worth of trophy.

Chelsea Carey has it all wrong and she’s selling herself and all elite female curlers in this country short.

Our Chelsea and her gal pals from the Glencoe Club in Calgary are over in Denmark right now, having swapped their Wild Rose of Alberta for the Maple Leaf to defend Canada’s rank as the global pebble power, but she left some interesting sound bites behind before crossing the big pond. Like her take on payouts at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier.

“I think,” she said, “from a financial standpoint, from a business standpoint, it’s hard to demand exactly equal money. That would be great, but it does need to get closer.”

No, Chelsea. It has to be equal, not just closer.

Kevin Koe, B.J. Neufeld, Jumpin’ Jack Flasch, Ben Hebert with $70,000 worth of trophy.

I mean, same number of teams. Same number of games. Same hard work to get there and stay there. Same TV appeal (the Brier in Brandon had more viewers than the Scotties in Sydney during round-robin play, but the women had better numbers for the playoffs and blitzed the Brier in final vs. final audience—762,000-659,000).

True, the boys at the Brier did better business at the box office, but Kevin Koe and his Glencoe team earned $70,000, so that’s what Carey and her Scotties champions should have collected, not $32,000.

If Curling Canada has to rob Peter to pay Paula, so be it.

Interesting comment from Reid Carruthers after he and his fellow Buffalo Boys—Mike McEwen, Derek Samagalski, Colin Hodgson—had crashed and burned at the Brier. “It’s hard to put a team together and all of a sudden win in its first year,” the Manitoba third said. I’d buy that except for one thing—Koe won the Brier with a first-year team, and Carey won the Scotties in her first year with new teammates.

Conor McGregor

Let me see if I’ve got this straight: Conor McGregor, the most vulgar and vile man in sports, was arrested in Miami Beach and charged with strong-arm robbery and criminal mischief after he stole and smashed a tourist’s cellphone. That was scant days after the former UFC champion and lousy boxer had completed community service obligations as punishment for hurling a dolly through a bus window in Brooklyn last year. (His lawyers arranged a plea deal on charges of assault, attempted assault and criminal mischief.) And that’s the guy the Boston Bruins trotted out—to considerable pomp and fanfare—for a ceremonial faceoff last week? They celebrated a criminal? What, O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson weren’t available?

If you have a hockey-playing daughter who’s inclined to hang ’em up in her mid-teens because she doesn’t think there’s anywhere for her to go, you’ll want to give young Jeff Hamilton’s excellent piece on girls’ shinny a read in the Drab Slab. There’s such a thing as the Manitoba Women’s Junior Hockey League, and the championship was decided on Saturday night when Prairie Blaze beat the Silvertips in a shootout.

And, finally, on the matter of distaff shinny, it’s terrific that Sportsnet will air the Canadian Women’s Hockey League title skirmish featuring the Calgary Inferno and Les Canadiennes de Montreal on March 24, but what’s with the noon ET faceoff time? Does someone have a plane to catch? Like, they couldn’t drop the puck in mid-afternoon to give the Clarkson Cup reasonable air time across the country? That’s no way to sell the women’s game.