About Sleepy-Eye Joe Mack passing on Mike Reilly…TSN’s continuing love affair with Johnny Rotten…the King of Clay…intrigue in women’s tennis…Secretariat still the greatest…a Capital way to party…the skier and the hockey player…expensive cardboard…and other things on my mind

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

It’s Darian Durant’s fault. A pox on his house for taking the money and running to retirement!

No. Wait.

It’s Joe Mack’s fault.

The statute of limitations hasn’t run out on Sleepy-Eye Joe’s stupidity, has it? Nope. So, whenever the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ universe isn’t unfolding as it should, the former general manager and everyone’s favorite whipping boy is still fair game for blame. He’s the reason the Big Blue will begin their 2018 Canadian Football League crusade with a starting quarterback on training wheels.

I mean, think about it.

Mike Reilly

Had Sleepy-Eye Joe reeled in Mike Reilly in 2013, we wouldn’t be talking about Matt Nichols’ wonky wheels and a QB pool that has all the depth of an Archie-Jughead plot line. Well, would we? Reilly, after all, is Marlboro Man rugged, even when he’s wearing one of his funny, little hats. He’s voted annually by his peers as the toughest hombre in the three-down game, and he hasn’t missed a beat due to an owie since the first week of September 2015.

The sad thing is, Mack could have had Reilly for a song.

The sticker price the B.C. Lions listed for Reilly was a swap of second-round picks in the 2013 CFL college draft, plus a second-rounder in ’14. The Edmonton Eskimos were willing to pay it. Mack didn’t even want to kick the tires. Sleepy-Eye Joe remained convinced and confident that Buck Pierce was the answer at quarterback, and his backup plan was putting the legendary Justin Goltz behind centre. Or Max Hall.

As history records, that worked out about as well as New Coke.

To say Pierce was injury prone is to say Bill Gates has a bit of money. When fit enough to actually start a game, they didn’t strap a play chart to Brittle Buck’s left wrist. It was an IV needle. He didn’t survive the first month of the ’13 season, leaving various body parts and what was left of his marbles strewn on the field.

Sleepy-Eye Joe

That QB fiasco, among other things, cost Mack his job generally mismanaging the Bombers, and Pierce finished that season in B.C., from whence he came. He’s now an assistant coach in Pegtown. No word on the whereabouts of Goltz and Hall, but I suspect they’re asking customers if they’d like fries with their Big Macs and Quarter Pounders.

As for Reilly, well, I’m sure you’re familiar with his story after the Eskimos lured him away from the Lions: Grey Cup champion and Grey Cup game most valuable player in ’15; CFL’s most outstanding player in ’17; two-time West Division all-star; one-time league all-star. And, perhaps most significant, Reilly is still with the Eskimos. No drive-thru orders for him. He’ll be barking signals and gutting it out on Thursday night when the Green-and-Gold engage the Bombers in a season-opening frolic at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

Reilly remains the ‘what could have been’ and ‘what should have been’ for the Bombers. That’s Sleepy-Eye Joe’s legacy.

Matt Nichols and Mike Reilly

None of the above is meant to disparage Nichols. Hey, he’s a tough dude, too. And he’s a keeper. Trouble is, he’s developed a most curious habit of falling down without being touched. His left leg caved on him in a game last October, and his right leg collapsed in a training session last week. Officially, he’s run out of legs that work properly. This, of course, is where Durant was expected to fit in. The Bombers paid the veteran QB $70,000 up front to serve as a safety net, thus, with Nichols in the repair shop for as few as four weeks and as many as six, it would have been his show. Alas, instead of playing catch with an interesting array of receivers, Durant is at home changing his new-born daughter’s dirty diapers, and the Bombers are unlikely to grovel at the feet of man who jilted them on the eve of training camp and trolled them on Twitter. Would Durant be an upgrade on Alex Ross, Bryan Bennett or Chris Streveler, the three lads who auditioned for the starter’s role on Friday night against the Lions in Vancouver? Naw. When last seen, which is to say with the Montreal Alouettes in 2017, Durant seldom delivered a pass without the football bouncing once or twice before landing at a receiver’s feet. He’s spent.

Welcome to TJMN—The Johnny Manziel Network, formerly known as The Sports Network. Seriously. TSN has gone loopy over Manziel. Last week, following a CFL debut that consisted of nine completed passes and zero points, TSN featured nine—count ’em, nine!—Johnny Rotten videos. One video per completion. Sunday morning, after he was good on a dozen of 20 pass attempts (including a TD toss), there were five more Johnny Rotten videos on the main TSN web page. They also featured something called Johnny Football Watch. All that for a guy who won’t start a game for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats unless Jeremiah Masoli is wounded or implodes.

Winner and still champion on clay, Rafa Nadal.

Can you say undécima, kids? Rafael Nadal can. His 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 paddywhacking of Dominic Thiem in the men’s singles final Sunday was his 11th French Open title, and I can’t think of an athlete—in any sport—who is more dominant than the muscular Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros. What the Spanish maestro has accomplished in Paris is insane. He’s 86-2. Eighty-freaking-six and two! Nobody goes 86-2. Except the Harlem Globetrotters, and their games are as rigged as a Vegas slot machine. Nadal on clay is a one-off. Never seen anything like him. Never will. (By the way, here’s the answer to the trivia question: Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic are the only two men to have beaten Nadal at Roland Garros.)

Simona Halep

The Big Four in men’s tennis is no more, but the Big Two remains. While Andy Murray is MIA and Djokovic is trying to sort out things in his head, if not other parts of his body, the younger generation of hot-shot racqueteers can’t kick Nadal or Roger Federer to the curb. Each of the 30somethings has won three of the past six Grand Slam championships and, Federer’s allergy to red clay notwithstanding, there’s no sign of surrender in either man. One suspects Wimbledon will be another episode in the Rafa-and-Roger show. All of which means the distaff side of tennis is much more intriguing. Check it out: In the past six GS tournaments, there have been six different champions—Serena Williams, Jelena Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep. Wimbledon will be another complete crapshoot, even if a healthy Williams joins the field.

Secretariat romping to the wire in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

On the subject of great champions, 45 years to the day that Secretariat completed horse racing’s Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes, Justify romped wire-to-wire at Belmont to become the 13th Triple Crown winner. But let’s provide some perspective. Justify ran the mile and a half in 2:28.18 on Saturday. Secretariat did it in 2:24.0 in 1973. In other words, Secretariat would have beaten Justify by more than 20 lengths. Big Red’s Belmont victory (he won by 31 lengths) remains the single greatest sporting achievement I have witnessed.

Perhaps Damien Cox would prefer it if the Washington Capitals partied like Canadian women.

Starring in the role of grumpy grandpa this week is Toronto Star and Sportsnet gasbag Damien Cox. On the heels of the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup conquest of the Vegas Golden Knights, Alex Ovechkin and the boys have been tooting about in full celebratory mode, carousing and fussing and sharing the moment with the rabble on the streets of D.C. Oh, they’ve also been drinking. How positively scandalous. And that just won’t do in Damien’s delicate, little world. There’s no room for random, unharnessed merriment. Or booze. “Rafael Nadal won his ELEVENTH French Open today,” Cox tweeted in a pious, tsk-tsking tone Sunday morning. “No video yet of him drunkenly rolling around in a public fountain because apparently some believe that’s how champions should behave.” Well, excuuuuuse the Capitals for having fun. I wonder if Damien Cox awakens some mornings and regrets being Damien Cox.

P.K. Subban and Lindsey Vonn

Social Note: It must be spring because sports power couples keep popping up. Not so long ago, noted flinger of footballs Aaron Rodgers and fast-car driver Danica Patrick were observed canoodling in public, and now it’s hockey’s diving diva, P.K. Subban, and Lindsey Vonn, glam gal of the ski slopes and one-time main squeeze of golfer Tiger Woods. Don’t know if going from putters to pucks is a dating step up or a step down for Vonn, but she probably won’t get any late-night calls from P.K. asking for bail money. (For the record, my fave sports power couple is Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe, with Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi a close second.)

I note that a Connor McDavid rookie card recently sold at auction for $55,655. That’s a lot of coin for a small hunk of cardboard. But it made me wonder if kids still stick trading cards in the spokes of their bike wheels. Better question: Do kids still ride bikes, or are they too busy texting each other?

Serena Williams

Zero female athletes appeared on the Forbes list of the top 100 money-makers in sports for the first time, but we shouldn’t be surprised. The annual Forbes 100 is based on earnings from June to June, a period of almost total inactivity in 2017-18 for Serena Williams, who slotted in at No. 51 a year ago with total income of $27 million. Her haul this time around was $18M, all via endorsement deals. Maria Sharapova, meanwhile, once was a regular on the Forbes 100, but, after being caught with her hand in the illegal-drug jar, some sponsors abandoned her and she has yet to return to championship form. Sharapova is hardly a pauper, though. Her estimated worth is well in excess of $100 million.

And, finally, an interesting albeit indelicate quote from the elegant Garbine Muguruza, who, after routing the equally elegant Sharapova, 6-2, 6-1, in the French Open, described the five-time Grand Slam champion as “an old-time player.” Ouch. Sharapova just turned 31.

Advertisements

About Johnny TMZ and jock journos going ga-ga over a backup QB…Matty gushing on TSN…the Anna Kournikova of car racing departs…mom’s the word for Serena in France…ultra-hyper Shapo…put some clothes on, Celine…Chevy and Coach Potty-Mouth don’t have much to say…Jacob Trouba’s pants are on fire…the “second-rate” Jets…a novelty act in Tranna…and standing for the anthem in pubs

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

Johnny Manziel. Johnny Football. Johnny Magic. Johnny Be Good. Johnny Rotten. Johnny Backup. Johnny TMZ.

By any name, it’s all Johnny all of the time, and even media giants in the Republic of Trump are taking notice of our quirky brand of football now that Johnny Manziel is using his hands for something other than providing fingerprints for police, hoisting shot glasses and hitting women.

Indeed, ESPN and USA Today dispatched news snoops to Timbits Field for Manziel’s debut with the home-standing Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday night, while other outlets—Dallas Morning News, NBC Sports, New York Daily News, New York Post, etc.—have been dutifully recording his every move since he became the Canadian Football League’s latest American reclamation project.

Johnny TMZ

Manziel, of course, was a total washout with the Cleveland Browns in the National Football League. He was even more of a washout as a human being. Drugs. Booze. Bar brawls. Beating up women. Arrests. A grand jury. Court appearances. We need not go into the gory details. Suffice to say, he was Prince Charming like Roseanne Barr is Miss Manners. He was, by numerous accounts, a snot-nose rich kid.

So now that someone has tidied him up, Manziel is on our side of the great U.S.-Canadian divide, at his Last Chance Saloon, and the media are on a feeding frenzy.

Manziel did nothing extraordinary as a backup quarterback in the Tiger-Cats loss to the Toronto Argonauts on Friday night. He flung the football 11 times, with nine completions for 80 yards and zero points on the board, but Johnny Ordinary still appeared at the top of the page on the TSN website—with nine freaking videos! Sportsnet had him at the top as well, with two videos. He made the ESPN front page. Ditto USA Today. Also the Dallas Morning News. He was the lead football story on the New York Post website. Etcetera.

And let’s be clear here: This was a flipping exhibition football game, the most mind-numbing, sleep-inducing exercise in sports! Manziel was the backup QB! In a flipping exhibition game!

The sports media has lost whatever was left of its mind.

I don’t think Manziel should be in the CFL. You beat up a woman, you don’t qualify. But, hey, I didn’t get a vote. Just like I didn’t get a vote when they allowed bad actors Dexter Manley, Lawrence Phillips and Ricky Williams to cross the border back in the day. Is the CFL really so desperate that any player with a salable name is welcome, regardless what it says on his rap sheet? And are jock journos so desperate for a story that they gleefully play along with the CFL’s folly?

Matt Dunigan

Totally dumbest comment about Manziel was delivered by Matt Dunigan, the CFL on TSN gab guy who talks like he’s still in a locker room. After Manziel’s do-nothing performance, Dunigan absolutely gushed, saying, “On the off-script plays, boy, it’s magic, it’s Flutie-esque.” Oh FFS. He actually compared a backup QB to Doug Flutie, arguably the best player in CFL history. Shut the hell up, Matty. At least Milt Stegall was honest in his assessment of Manziel. “Not bad,” the Hall of Fame receiver said.

The absurdity of the Manziel fixation reached its peak when Matthew Scianitti of TSN took to Twitter last week and posted a play-by-play account of the backup QB’s performance—complete with passing statistics—in practice. Seriously? Play-by-play and passing stats from a training exercise with the Ticats second team offence and defence? You might want to think about getting a life, Matthew.

Danica Patrick

Speaking of overhyped athletes, Danica Patrick has taken her leave from the world of fast car racing, and she did so, perhaps appropriately, in a mangled wreck on the 68th lap of the Indianapolis 500. The bottom line on her exaggerated, 13-year career behind the wheel: 307 starts, one victory (1-for-116 in IndyCar, her sole victory coming in a skeletal, 18-car field in 2008; 0-for 191 in NASCAR with zero top-five finishes and only seven top-10s). If she led either series in anything, it was self-indulgence and hissy fits. She was never involved in an accident that she couldn’t blame on another driver. “More than anything I just hope they remember me as a great driver,” Patrick said prior to the Indy 500. Nope. Doesn’t work that way. Many framed the GoDaddy girl as a pioneer who would lead other women to the race track, but it simply hasn’t happened. Unfortunately, she was Anna Kournikova with Quaker State motor oil under her fingernails.

Evonne Goolagong Cawley

Had Serena Williams won the French Open, she wouldn’t have broken new ground as a Grand Slam-winning mama, but she would have been in select company. Margaret Court became the first mother to win a Grand Slam tennis tournament in the open era, claiming the Australian, French and U.S. Opens in 1973, a year after giving birth to her first child. Another Aussie, the graceful and delightful Evonne Goolagong Cawley, won the Aussie Open the same year (1977) she gave birth to her first child. And Kim Clijsters gave birth to the first of her three children in 2008 and won the U.S. Open the following two years and the Australia Open in 2011.

I suppose this is treasonous to say, but I have great difficulty watching our guy Denis Shapovalov play tennis. Bouncing the ball between his legs and bouncing on the balls of his feet before every serve is mildly annoying, but his fist-pumping after every winning point is too much. I swear, that boy is going to suffer a nervous breakdown right on court.

Celine Dion

Canada’s gift to Glitter Gulch, songstress Celine Dion, is so excited about the Vegas Golden Knights being in the Stanley Cup final that she wore a team jersey during a recent performance. Trouble is, she forgot to put on the rest of her clothes. Nice legs, though.

Is anyone actually watching the National Hockey League championship series between the Golden Knights and the Washington Ovies? I must confess that I tuned out the moment les Jets de Winnipeg were ushered out of the Stanley Cup runoff. Haven’t watched a minute of the final. If I had any rooting interest, it would be behind the Washington bench, where Barry Trotz paces. He’s a homebrew who cut his coaching teeth at the University of Manitoba and with Dauphin Kings in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

How do we know the Jets had a successful season? Kevin Cheveldayoff and Paul Maurice had less to say at their exit chin-wags with news snoops. Last year, general manager Chevy and Coach Potty-Mouth held separate gab sessions and flapped their gums for a total of one hour, 14 minutes and 22 seconds. This year, they sat side-by-each. Total chin-wag time: 0:32:20.

Jacob Trouba

Jets very capable defenceman Jacob Trouba tells the rabble that his desire is to remain in Good Ol’ Hometown for the long haul. “The quicker the better,” he told news snoops when asked about signing a long-term deal before they drop the puck next autumn. Paul Wiecek says he’s a liar. Yup. Says Trouba’s pants are on fire. Says he’s a regular Pinocchio. “I was struck how excited everyone was that Trouba told reporters he really wants to stay in Winnipeg and play for the Jets,” Wiecek wrote in the Winnipeg Free Press. “For the record, that is the exact same thing Trouba told me at the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto in 2016—a week before his agent announced he wanted out and Trouba proceeded to hold out for four weeks of the 2016-17 season. Trouba told reporters what they wanted to hear this week—his agent will be telling Chevy something very different, which is that if the Jets want to lock down Trouba for years to come it is going to cost them, big time.” Little wonder the relationship between athletes and scribes is often adversarial.

Worth repeating: “We have some good young players,” Chevy said in April 2017. “We will make the necessary steps and necessary decisions to keep those good young players. That’s been our promise, that’s been our mandate, that’s been something we’ve said since day one. And that day is coming.” That day is here, Chevy.

There was nothing “second rate” about the WHA Jets.

Someone might want to give Dan Lett a lesson in local hockey lore. The political scribe at the Freep, Lett had this to say in a recent siss-boom-bah, rah-rah-rah piece about the Jets and Winnipeg “Before they bolted for Arizona, the previous incarnation of the Jets was a source of frustration and, at times, embarrassment. There were some good teams, but they always fell to teams from cities that seemed larger, more successful, more complete. Our second-rate team seemed to reinforce the idea that Winnipeg was a second-rate community.” Yo! Danny boy! That “second-rate team” won three World Hockey Association titles. I suppose Lett can be forgiven, though. He’s from the Republic of Tranna. What could he possibly know about championship hockey?

Evander Kane

Seriously? Evander Kane signs with the San Jose Sharks for $49 million over seven seasons? For real? He’s never had a 60-point season. He’s scored 30 goals once. He’s.never played an entire 82-game schedule. Kane, now 27, just completed his most productive season, with 57 points. By way of comparison, Kyle Connor of the Jets ( 31-26-57) did that as a 20-year-old rookie. Twig Ehlers, 22, already has two 60-point seasons and two 82-game seasons. Puck Finn has had 64- (36 goals) and 70-point (44 goals) seasons as a teenager. Rink Rat Scheifele, 25, has had three 60-point seasons and a 32-goal season. They all collect less coin than Kane. Either Chevy is a genius or Sharks GM Doug Wilson is a fool.

Okay, officially the Tranna Blue Jays are no longer a baseball team. They’re a novelty act. I mean, Russell Martin playing shortstop? Kendrys Morales pitching? “We really don’t have a true shortstop on the team,” says beleaguered manager John Gibbons. That’s a fine job Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins have done since since defecting from Cleveland to take the wheel of our country’s Major League Baseball outfit. They’ve turned an American League East Division champion into a clunker in less than three seasons.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump tells National Football League players who kneel during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner that “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem. Or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.” I’ll agree that kneeling during the anthem is disrespectful only when I see people in pubs put down their pint mugs and stand when they’re watching a game on TV. And how many guys haul their big butts off the sofa to stand for the anthem at home? None that I know.

About Johnny Rotten in the Hammer…media giving Manziel a pass on domestic violence…a rat’s ass on the diamond…Chevy getting his due…a fall guy in goal for the Winnipeg Jets…quick fixes in the NHL…playing the race card and pretty white girls in sports…and some fresh Steve-isms

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

Colleen Crowley

Her name is Colleen Crowley. Johnny Manziel dragged her by the hair. Rag-dolled her. He beat her up. He threatened to kill her. She felt obliged to file a restraining order against him. It was granted. Charges were filed, then disappeared when Manziel (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) promised to be a good boy.

I was lucky to have survived. I fought for my life,” Crowley has said of her relationship with Manziel.

And that’s the man who would be starting quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

The Ticats added Johnny Rotten to their stable of bad-boy QBs on Saturday, and they did so with the blessing of the Canadian Football League, an organization that likes to include itself among the angels in the fight against domestic violence but, in reality, is more aligned with the dark forces if it means getting a former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback on its wider and longer fields.

The Tabbies and CFL don’t want to hear chatter about Manziel beating up women when there are games to win and over-priced merchandise to peddle.

Johnny Manziel and his guard dog June Jones.

Indeed, Drew Edwards of the Hamilton Spectator attempted to discuss the elephant in the room during Manziel’s meet-and-greet on Saturday, but the Ticats head coach, June Jones, sitting beside his freshly minted QB like a big, scary guard dog, would have none of it.

There’s a time for that,” he harrumphed, intercepting the question like a cornerback jumping on a Jeremiah Masoli wobbler. “We’re talking football right now. Ask us about football stuff. That other stuff, we’ve done everything we can to appease the protocol.”

Well, actually you haven’t done “everything” about that “other stuff,” June.

According to an excellent article written by Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press, at no time in the vetting of Manziel did anyone with the Tiger-Cats or the CFL seek an impact statement from the woman who was on the receiving end of his anger and the back of his hand—Colleen Crowley. Apparently, a woman being beaten up and fearing for her life isn’t worth a visit or a phone call from anyone in the CFL’s ivory tower.

So, if they’re unwilling to discuss Manziel’s history of thumping women with his victim, why would they have any desire to wash his dirty laundry in public?

The CFL and Ticats are turning the calendar back to the 20th century, when pro sports leagues pretended “that stuff” never happened. So trust them, kids. Johnny Football is a really, really, really good guy. A humble guy (just ask him). All that Colleen Crowley “stuff?” Not to worry. She’s moved on with her life. She has a boyfriend who doesn’t beat her up. Nothing to see here, kids. So just get out there and buy all those Johnny Manziel jerseys and everyone will live happily ever after.

Well, it’s sad and the CFL looks pathetic.

Chris Cuthbert

Kudos to the Spec’s Edwards for attempting to address the domestic violence issue, but it appears his brethren in mainstream media, like the Ticats and CFL, are prepared to give Manziel a free pass. No surprise, really, since none of the news snoops are women who’ve been rag-dolled by men. Some samples from the welcoming committee:

Stephen Brunt, Sportsnet: “There is no down-side here.”

Chris Cuthbert, CFL play-by-play voice on TSN: “Looking forward to seeing Johnny Manziel play in the CFL. Win-Win for the CFL.”

Matthew Scianitti, TSN: “Whatever you think of Johnny Manziel, the attention he’ll bring to the CFL won’t hurt.”

Dan Barnes, Postmedia Edmonton: “It will be fun for everyone to watch.”

Steve Simmons, Postmedia Tranna: “Welcome to Canada, Johnny Football. Johnny Football is coming to Canada. And where do I sign up?”

I don’t know about you, but when I hear someone describe themselves as “humble,” which Manziel did on Saturday, I’m convinced he’s humble like a football has four corners and a handle. Humble people don’t brag about being humble. They allow others to make that call. Manziel, to be sure, struck all the right notes during his meet-and-greet with news snoops, but beneath all the puffery you know he believes a move to the CFL is slumming.

Joey Votto

Some rat’s ass took a terrible beating last week. I mean, first Joey Votto said he doesn’t give a “rat’s ass” about baseball in Canada. Then, upon further review, he said he does, indeed, give a rat’s ass about baseball in Canada, and the Cincinnati Reds first sacker delivered a mea culpa that, to me, sounded sincere. Others bought in, too. Richard Giffin, baseball columnist at Toronto Star, described Votto’s apology as “thorough and heartfelt.” Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail wrote, “Votto’s apology was that true rarity—one that not only showed contrition, but also made sense.” Then there was our favorite glass-is-half-empty scribe Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, who cannot resist finding dark clouds in silver linings. The apology “rings hollow for me,” he tweeted. Something tells me that Votto doesn’t give a rat’s ass what Simmons thinks of his mea culpa.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Tip of the bonnet to Kevin Cheveldayoff, one of the finalists in voting for the National Hockey League’s top general manager. By my count, Chevy makes it three members of the Winnipeg Jets who’ve been nominated to collect a trinket at the NHL awards soiree next month in Vegas—captain Blake Wheeler is up for Mark Messier Leadership Award and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck is up for Vezina. Perhaps the scribes at the Winnipeg Free Press can tell us once again how everything flies “under the radar” in Pegtown.

Connor Hellebuyck

Interesting that many among the rabble in Jets Nation had their fall guy even before the local hockey heroes came up short in their Stanley Cup crusade—the aforementioned Hellebuyck. Is that fair? Perhaps not. Is it an accurate analysis? Absolutely. Goaltending was the critical difference between the Jets and Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Western Conference final, which wrapped up Sunday afternoon at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie. Hellebuyck wasn’t horrible, but a couple of iffy moments (some would call them total blunders) vs. Vegas represented the fine line between success and failure. At the other end of the rink, Marc-André Fleury was, as they say, lights out in four of the five games it took Vegas to oust les Jets in the best-of-seven series. He was one save from perfect in the clincher on Sunday, a 2-1 Vegas win, and you wouldn’t want to bet against him in the Stanley Cup final vs. either Tampa Bay Lightning or Washington Capitals. 

Chris Johnston of Sportsnet writes this of the NHL: “There are simply no quick fixes in this league anymore.” Really? Tell that to the Golden Knights, who went from non-existent to a 109-point season and the Western Conference final in less than 12 months. Tell it to the Tranna Maple Leafs, who went from a 69-point outfit to a 105-point club in the three seasons since Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock set up shop. Tell that to the Colorado Avalanche, who went from 48 to 95 points in one season. Quick fixes are doable. You just need the right people working the wheel.

Francoise Abanda

Francoise Abanda is probably correct—she’ll never receive the exposure provided Canadian tennis diva Genie Bouchard. But she loses the plot in her reasoning.

(It’s) because I am black. It’s the truth,” she says, which is her way of calling Tennis Canada and/or the media racist.

Here’s some truth for young Francoise: The top money-earner among all female athletes on this planet is Serena Williams, a black woman. According to Forbes, she collected $27 million between June 2016 and June 2017, $19 million of her haul accumulated off-court. Her sister Venus, also unmistakably a black woman, was No. 5 on the Forbes list in overall earnings ($10.5 million) and No. 2 in off-court income ($7 million).

Anna Kournikova: The look of marketability.

Now, it’s also a truth that news snoops and advertising agencies are, of course, fools for pretty, blonde, white female athletes with cover girl looks, whether they’re successful or not (see: Bouchard, Genie; Kournikova, Anna), and the media remain guilty of fawning over Bouchard even as she’s in free fall in the Women’s Tennis Association rankings and has accomplished little of note in the past two years, other than to remove most of her clothing for Sports Illustrated. So, yes, being a pretty, white girl comes with benefits. Maria Sharapova, for example, wasn’t the top-earning female athlete 11 years running because she was superior to Serena Williams on the tennis court. Although a multiple Grand Slam champion, her income was mostly about blonde hair, long legs and marketability.

Abanda can’t count on that for greater exposure. She’ll first need a signature moment. Like what Denis Shapovalov delivered at the Rogers Cup last summer. People didn’t notice Shapo because he’s white. It’s because he beat Rafael Nadal.

At present, Abanda is the world No. 128, top-ranked among Canadian women, and other than giving Jelena Ostapenko a bit of a scare last summer at Wimbledon, her body of work on the WTA main circuit is non-descript. Nothing she’s done screams 150-point headline. It’s that black and white.

Genie Bouchard: The look of marketability.

If you’re curious, behind the Williams sisters at the 2016-17 endorsement/special fees pay window were all the pretty white girls (Forbes 2017 list).

Genie Bouchard (tennis): $6.5 million.
Danica Patrick (auto racing): $5 million.
Angelique Kerber (tennis): $5 million.
Caroline Wozniakcki (tennis): $5 million.
Garbine Muguruza (tennis): $3.5 million.
Ronda Rousey (UFC): $3 million.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 1): “Don’t know what’s more disappointing—the Jets losing tonight or the Jets not selling out in the smallest arena in the NHL.” That from a guy who lives in the Republic of Tranna—population 6.4 million—where they can’t scrounge up more than 14,000 to watch the Tranna Argonauts play football. Where they had to give away 2016 Grey Cup game tickets with pizza to fill the pews at BMO Field. Where employees at TSN and Bell were offered free tickets. Where they had to slash ticket prices. And where they still couldn’t fill the joint, with the lowest head count for the CFL title match in 41 years.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 2): “Been a Winnipeg supporter going back to 99 Pan Am Games. Enjoyed Grey Cups there.” Really? Here’s what Simmons wrote in November 2015: “My report card of Grey Cup Week in Winnipeg: Just so-so. Not as much fun as Winnipeg usually is at Grey Cup time. A touch disappointing.”

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 3): “Forgot how much fun it is to cover boxing. Have really enjoyed the past few days.” Ya, wouldn’t we all just love to hang out with that fun bunch at the light-heavyweight title fight on Saturday in The ROT? The champion, Adonis Stevenson, once was jailed for pimping out women; the challenger’s promoter, Floyd Mayweather Jr., is a convicted wife beater who beat up the mother of his children before their very eyes. Fun for the entire family.

 

About the McKenzie Brothers (Bob, Doug and Scott)…shootouts bite…a session with a shrink…Uncle Sam’s beer league curlers…poking fun at Canada…Tessa, Tessa, Tessa…gold-medal writing from Bruce Arthur…and other Olympic stuff on my mind

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

Bob, Doug and long-lost brother Scott—the McKenzie Brothers.

Scott Moir—beauty, eh?

Who knew a fancy skater (and an ice dancer at that) could be such a party animal? Who knew there was a third McKenzie Brother?

Moir’s beer-fuelled antics during the women’s hockey gold-medal match between Canada and the United States at the Olympic Games of Snow and Ice Sports were straight out of the SCTV playbook. It was Bob and Doug McKenzie do PyeongChang. It couldn’t have been more Canadian if it was a Mountie eating back bacon while reading a Pierre Berton book and listening to a Gordon Lightfoot album.

Coo-roo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo!

Shootouts suck! Sound like a batch of sour grapes? Probably. But it isn’t. The Americans were worthy winners of the women’s gold hockey trinket in South Korea. They were the superior side through 80 minutes of actual hockey and, had the championship match continued to a second period of sudden-victory overtime rather than the shootout, surely Uncle Sam’s girls would have prevailed. It seemed to me that the Canadians had begun to run on fumes. Thus, the 3-2 U.S. victory was a just result. The Games methodology, however, is greatly flawed. The shootout never was, never will be a good idea. Next time, what do you say we ask the Canadian and U.S. women if they’d rather continue playing hockey until someone scores a goal? Let’s leave the shootouts to soccer.

Joceleyne Larocque, third from left.

If I’m Jocelyne Larocque, I’m not apologizing for a damn thing. I mean, it’s not like she did something stupid. You know, like get drunk, steal a Hummer, race around PyeongChang like Danica Patrick on uppers, then spend some quality time at a cop shop. Do something stupid like that (hello Willie Raine, Dave and Maja Duncan), you apologize and hope you get a judge who goes easy on drunk drivers. But do what Larocque did and…meh. So she removed a silver trinket that had been wrapped around her neck by some Olympic Games mucky-muck at a most awkward moment—during the lengthy parting-gifts ceremony post-match. Big flipping deal. Larocque was PO’d. The loss to the Americans was a fresh, open wound, and silver wasn’t a suitable salve. So she held it in her left hand. And for that the Canadian rearguard receives an online scolding from Miss Manners wannabes on both sides of the great divide? That’s why she offered a mea culpa? As if. Raw emotion is the very reason I buy into the Olympic Games. Sometimes that means tears of joy. Sometimes it’s tears of sorrow. In Larocque’s case, it meant an angst-of-the-moment act of defiance. I don’t see the problem. Stop piling on.

Lucy Van Pelt

Should we book a session with Dr. Phil? Or maybe Charlie Brown’s shrink, Lucy Van Pelt. Either way, I’m thinking some of us might need to vent. I mean, our hockey women had to settle for silver. Our hockey men had the gall to lose to Germany at a most inopportune time. Our women’s and men’s curling teams? Bupkus.

I swear, this is the biggest downer since Nickelback landed the halftime gig at the 99th Grey Cup game.

But let’s save the shrink fees and accept that hockey and curling haven’t been Canada’s personal play things for much of the 21st century? Consider what has transpired since 2000:

Hockey

World championship titles—Canada 10, Rest of World 21
Olympic titles—Canada 7, Rest of World 3
Total—Canada 17, Rest of World 24.

Curling World championship titles—Canada 17, Rest of World 19
Olympic titles—Canada 5, Rest of World 6
Total—Canada 22, Rest of World 25.

British coach Glenn Howard.

Ya, sure, this is still Planet Puckhead. We’re very good at hockey. The best. Our women and men aren’t supposed to lose. When they do, we lower our psyche to half staff and share a group hug that stretches from Tofino to St. John’s. We don’t commit to as much navel gazing when our curlers slip on a banana peel, yet we do give some pause whenever our Pebble People don’t occupy the top step of the podium.

But let’s spare ourselves a National Day of Teeth Gnashing.

I’m singing the backup vocals for Glenn Howard when he suggests we all just chill after what transpired in South Korea.

Settle down folks,” said Howard, a Canadian and world champion curler who coached Eve Muirhead’s Great Britain team that ushered our Rachel Homan outfit out of playoff contention. “Canadians have to understand that these teams outside of Canada are really good.”

Been that way for a long time.

Rachel Homan

Most stinging (and over the top) criticism of our women curlers came from Paul Wiecek. The Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist aimed his poison arrows not only at Homan and her gal pals from Ottawa, but also at “that most worthless species in all of sports, the curling coach.” He explained: “As far as I’m concerned, the Homan team’s problems here begin with their coach, Adam Kingsbury, an academic with zero curling background who the Homan team has nonetheless ascribed a Koreshian-like influence in recent years. Homan has been putting the ‘less’ in ‘joyless’ since she was curling juniors and Kingsbury has just made that worse from my vantage point, turning these women into walking robots. If they were having any fun competing at an event they had devoted their lives towards, I saw no evidence of it. And if you’re not having fun playing a sport for which the monetary reward is somewhere between nothing and next to nothing, then what’s the point?” That’s cruel and mean in spirit.

America’s gold-medal curlers: Tyler George, John Landsteiner, John Shuster and Matt Hamilton.

Nothing says Monday night beer league curling like the four men who struck gold for Uncle Sam in South Korea.

Seriously. How much did they spend on their outfits? A buck fifty at a thrift shop? Third Tyler George wears eight-year-old sneakers. They’re full of holes. And U.S. second Matt Hamilton doesn’t use a belt to hold up his trousers. That’s Secretariat’s old girth strap. But, hey, if a guy of Hamilton’s dimensions can win an Olympic Games gold medal I wouldn’t rule out an Ed Werenich comeback.

All of which made them easy to like.

These Yankee doodle dandies are a throwback to the 1970s. I kept waiting for one of ’em to break out a pack of smokes and light up. On the ice.

Their back story is brilliant. A few years ago, USA Curling wanted them in their program like Donald Trump wants to tick off the NRA. But now John Shuster, George, Hamilton and lead John Landsteiner are Olympic champions. We’re apt to see them chatting with one of the gab guys on late-night TV, and there’s probably marketing possibilities. Who knows, they might make enough cash on the side to get rid of their slo-pitch uniforms and purchase actual curling duds.

Headline writers south of the 49th parallel are having great sport at our expense. A New York Times headline reads: “Canada’s Curling Is Crumbling! Or Something Like That.” The accompanying article suggests our double donut on PyeongChang pebble “would be comparable to the United States men’s and women’s basketball teams failing to win a medal at the Summer Olympics.”

Other samples of American cheek:

Washington Post (after the U.S. beat us in both men’s curling and women’s hockey on the same day): “For six glorious hours, the United States owned Canada like a Tim Hortons franchisee.”

Wall Street Journal: “Canadian Grief: Curling and Hockey Losses are ‘Terrible, Terrible, Terrible’.”

MarketWatch: “Hug a Canadian, urges German Foreign Office after dramatic ice-hockey upset.”

Quick! Someone get a match! Let’s burn down the White House again!

Whiteboard Willie Desjardins

As predicted, jock journalists were quick to apply a coat of tar and feathers to head coach Whiteboard Willie Desjardins in the wake of Canada’s mournful, 4-3 semifinal shinny loss to Germany.

Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star opined the “coaching was a mess.”

Dave Feschuk, also a Star scribe, wrote: “What went wrong? Maybe it was Desjardins’ infectious nervousness, or his odd overreliance on his bottom-six grinders, playing the old-time Saskatchewan stereotype to a tee. Even in a 4-on-4 situation needing desperately to score, Desjardins tossed out (Eric) O’Dell and Maxim Lapierre, his skill-challenged energy guys.”

Not to be out-nastied, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna added: “Desjardins had much to answer for. He didn’t change lines. He didn’t change styles. He didn’t adjust to the Germans’ trapping ways. He didn’t shorten his bench when he needed to. He continued to use ineffective players. The coach, Willie Desjardins, froze.”

And what did the natterbugs of negativity have to say about Desjardins after Canada’s bounce-back, 6-4 win over the Czech Republic in the bronze-medal match? Crickets. Nothing but the sound of crickets. Mooks.

(That unfortunate loss to the Germans doesn’t seem like such a stunner today does it? Not after they took Russia to OT in the title match.)

Tessa Virtue

I’m not sure what it is about Tessa Virtue, but I cannot turn my eyes away from her when she’s on TV. It doesn’t matter if she’s skating, marching into the stadium or standing on the podium, holding a stuffed toy in one of her dainty hands. I am hypnotized. And it’s been that way for years.

She is a spellbinding temptress, sexy, sensual and seductive. As playful as a kitten and as smoky as a femme fatale, she is Snow White with come-hither tease and erotic athleticism. As she floats about the ice, her lissome body bending, twisting and twirling to the whims of her dance partner, Scott Moir, I wonder what world she has disappeared into. Her smile tells us it must be a pleasing place, full of passion and Zen-like serenity.

Others skate as well as Virtue. Perhaps better. But no one else has her ‘it’ factor.

She and Moir will leave South Korea with two gold medals, adding to a collection of Winter Games trinkets that now numbers five, more than any other fancy skaters in history. Alas, we might never see the Canadian couple skate together again, after 20 years. But what a beautiful trip they took us on.

Matthew Scianitti of TSN shares a lovely to-and-fro he enjoyed with Virtue, scant seconds after she had arrived in the mixed area following her gold-medal skate with Scott Moir in the ice dance last Wednesday.

Virtue (to assembled news scavengers): “How are you guys?”

Scianitti: “You mean us?”

Virtue: “Ya.”

Scianitti: “Dude, you just skated in front of the world and won a gold medal. Doesn’t matter how we are.”

Virtue: “Yes it does. The Olympics are tough on everyone.”

Can you say classy, kids? Totally.

Going from a beauty to a beast, it’s about Mike Milbury. The NBC gab guy’s filter between his grey matter and tongue was on the fritz during a Russia-U.S. men’s hockey game. Discussing Russkie rearguard Slava Voynov, he said: “This guy was a special player, and an unfortunate incident left the Los Angeles Kings without a great defenceman.” So, that’s what we’re calling wife-beating these days? An “unfortunate incident.” Voynov was sentenced to nine months in the brig for beating the hell out of his wife, and he served two months before slithering back to his hole in Russia. He shouldn’t have been allowed to participate in South Korea any more than Milbury should be allowed near a microphone.

Kirstie Alley

Actor Kirstie Alley took a bit of a pummelling on social media after she tweeted that curling is “boring.” I don’t understand the great hue and cry. Fact is, she’s right. I love curling, but I acknowledge that it sometimes can push the needle high on the bore-o-metre. Then, again, so can baseball, football, hockey and hoops. Oh, and most any movie/TV show that Kirstie Alley has ever appeared in.

I never covered an Olympics. Had no desire to. So I have to wonder: When did news scavengers in South Korea find time to sleep? Did they sleep? I mean, new stuff seemed to pop up on the Internet every half hour. It was non-stop scribbling. Thus, I harbor considerable admiration for everyone who went through that grind. Tough gig. And they’re still cranking out the good stuff. Best of last week was delivered by…

Gold medal: Bruce Arthur for the truly Canadian story that is Brigette Lacquette, the first Indigenous player on the Canadian women’s hockey team.

Silver medal: Arthur again, for his piece defending Jocelyne Larocque’s behaviour during the women’s hockey medal ceremony.

Bronze medal: Arthur one more time, for his piece on Canada’s Pride House and the LGBT scene at the Winter Games.

Had there been any doubt, Arthur’s work in South Korea confirms his position as this country’s top sports columnist. Nobody’s close to him.

About a tone deaf NHL and Kid Rock…Birchard curling with royalty…the CFL QB carousel…Aaron Rodgers’ new main squeeze…the XFL part II…an unfunny Farrell…Freddy calling ’em out in Tranna…media coaching the Maple Leafs…a “brazenly” gay figure skater…so long Red…and a few other things on my mind

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

Kid Rock

Kid Rock isn’t feeling the love.

Except, of course, from Jeremy Roenick, whose unfiltered voice and scatter-gun twaddle have increased in volume and mockability, if not temperament, since the end of his days as a National Hockey League worker who once informed disgruntled fans that they can “kiss my ass.”

Kid Rock,” says Roenick, “is the most talented musician, I think ever, on the planet.”

He didn’t say which planet, but one could posit that, as a music critic, Roenick makes a swell hockey analyst, although the latter would be a matter of viewer appetite.

The point is, amidst the hurried and harsh pooh-poohing of the NHL for its hiring of rapper/rocker/rockabilly/country guy Kid Rock for the intermission gig at the Jan. 28 all-star frolic in Tampa, Roenick’s is the voice of a lone wolf howling amidst the din of dissent.

I’m a huge Kid Rock fan. I love his music,” confessed the NBC gab guy. “It’s a great get.”

Perhaps not such a “great get” if it’s about more than the music, which, based on the intense social and mainstream media screeching that his appointment has inspired, it seems to be with Robert/Bob/Bobby Ritchie.

Here’s what I know about Kid Rock:

Kid Rock and Pam Anderson

He’s filthy rich (about $80 million worth); he fancies himself as a beer-swilling, crap-kicking, womanizing American badass who’s been known to wrap himself in a Confederate flag; he likes to play with guns; he tosses out F-bombs like confetti at a wedding; he wears hats and sunglasses and is street chic scruffy; if there existed a period when he held relevance as a musician it surely ended about 10 years ago, basically the same time he and his ex-bride, Pamela Anderson, established some sort of record by exchanging wedding vows three times in one summer and filing for divorce 122 days later; he professes to have no problem with same-sex marriage but there’s a history of anti-gay/transgender diatribe that includes this nugget he once delivered to The New Yorker: “I don’t love anybody who acts like a fuckin’ faggot.” (The New York Times is “a little bit gay,” Twitter is “gay” and rap-rock is “pretty gay.”)

Much of which flies in the face of the NHL’s alliance with the You Can Play Project and the league’s Declaration of Principles, baring them both as so much window dressing.

Most of the time, our acts are passionate hockey fans,” says Steve Mayer, an NHL suit who must carry considerable corporate heft since he has an 11-word job title. “It’s all about the entertainment at the end of the day for us, and this selection was purely based on that, and the fact that Kid Rock is a hockey lover.”

That is, as many have submitted, so very tone deaf on the NHL’s part. But, hey, isn’t that what you have to be to enjoy Kid Rock’s music? Tone deaf?

Shannon Birchard

Talk about winning the lottery. Shannon Birchard didn’t even have to buy a ticket and she hit the jackpot when Jennifer Jones and her Manitoba champions sent out an SOS asking the young curler to sub for third Kaitlyn Lawes at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, which slides from the hack next weekend in Penticton. We’re talking curling royalty here. Jones, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen are Canadian, world and Olympic champions. It’s like being asked to sing with Adele, Pink and Lady Gaga. Tough gig. Nerve-inducing gig. May Shannon’s butterflies flutter in perfect formation.

Darian Durant

I note that the Canadian Football League quarterbacks carousel is in full spin. For those of you keeping score at home, James Franklin has gone from Edmonton to Toronto; Zach Collaros wore out his welcome in Hamilton and made tracks for Regina; Kevin Glenn loaded up the U-haul in Regina and pointed it in the direction of Edmonton, his ninth CFL outfit; Josh Freeman, who hasn’t taken a snap since January 2016, hauled his hide off the unemployment line and skedaddled to Montreal; Darian Durant replaced Freeman on the unemployment line, then found his way to Winnipeg; and, of course, Johnny Manziel will be heading to a courtroom or rehab facility to be named later.

Let’s face it, no Winnipeg Blue Bombers loyalist wants to see Durant behind centre, because that means starter Matt Nichols is in the repair shop. Alas, few QBs get through a complete season in one piece, thus Nichols will be felled by an owie and we’ll be seeing Durant. If he can actually throw a pass to his receivers without the football bouncing two or three times, it’ll be a useful signing. Just don’t count on it.

Danica Patrick: Always in someone’s face.

On the subject of quarterbacks, an interesting social note: Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers is no longer dating actor Olivia Munn. His main squeeze now is GoDaddy’s in-your-face girl Danica Patrick, NASCAR’s departing, hot-headed diva who never knew a fender-bender that she couldn’t blame on someone else. Patrick never came close to taking a checkered flag in NASCAR, but she got into more scrapes than any of her fenders. Heaven help Rodgers if he accidentally puts a ding in the family SUV.

So, there are whispers that grappling guru Vince McMahon is toying with the idea of an XFL redux. How much fun would that be? Not much, if it’s as woeful and as blatantly sexist as the original go-round. Among other things, XFL Uno featured:

  • All eight teams were co-owned by McMahon of World Wrestling Entertainment (nee Federation) fame and NBC.

  • They each dropped $35 million in the first and only season.

  • Former WWF fake fighter Jesse (The Body) Ventura was part of the broadcast crew. He also had a day job at the time—governor of Minnesota.

  • Play-by-play dude Matt Vasgersian was demoted from the main crew (after the first game) by McMahon for his reluctance to say something suggestive and sexist about cheerleaders’ outfits.

  • Another broadcast team consisted of WWF announcers Jim Ross and Jerry (The King) Lawler, who advised his partner during one game that “You’re here for the football, J.R., I’m here for the cheerleaders. Whoa! Check ’em out!”

  • McMahon once ordered a camerman to invade the Orlando Rage cheerleaders dressing room at halftime to “capture the essence of whatever it is they do” in there.

  • There was no coin toss to determine the opening kickoff. Instead, two players scrambled for the football.

  • Players received flat, per-game pay: Quarterbacks $5,000; running backs $4,500; kickers $3,500.

  • TV Guide listed the XFL as the third worst television show in history, behind only The Jerry Springer Show and My Mother the Car.

The unfunny Will Ferrell and the great Roger Federer.

Speaking of lame humor, actor Will Ferrell continues to be hopelessly unfunny. He hijacked a John McEnroe-Roger Federer courtside interview at the Australian Open tennis tournament last week, asking the following questions of the great Swiss champion:

Would you describe your game as a silky gazelle?”
“Are you a witch or a vampire?”
“There’s a rumor in the men’s locker room that you love coming to play in Melbourne and your secret to fitness is that you only eat wombat meat. Is that true?”
“I know how much this crowd means to you, they’re an amazing crowd, but does it get annoying when they just scream ‘C’mon Roger’ over and over again?”

For his part, Federer played along and provided some witty answers, but it was embarrassing.

Frederik Andersen

There was mixed reaction when Tranna Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen called out some of his mates last week, saying, “We’ve got to figure out who wants to commit to playing for the team.”

Among those tsk-tsking the under-siege goaltender was the O Dog, Jeff O’Neill of TSN.

“I wouldn’t be happy with it,” he said. “We all know who he’s talking about…he’s talking about Jake Gardiner, William Nylander or Mitch Marner because he screwed up two games in a row. So if you have a problem with one of those two (sic) guys, clear it, clear the air in the dressing room after the game instead of going to the media when nobody’s around. If you remember, when Frederik Andersen got here last year, he stunk the joint out in October. This year he was terrible in October and not one person, not Mike Babcock said, ‘You know, it’d be nice if our goaltender gave us a save once in a while.’ They always said the same thing. They protected him. They said, ‘Frederik Anderson is our guy, we believe in him.’ And now there’s a target.”

But wait. Here’s Don Cherry:

“He said what had to be said,” maintained Hockey Night in Canada’s resident blowhard. “If nobody else was saying it, he said it and I don’t blame him. I’ve been waiting for somebody to say something like that. Call them out, get the guys out there. I don’t blame Andersen at all.”

I’m on Cherry’s side of the discussion. This world needs more athletes delivering juicy lip service.

Mike Babcock

Does Leafs bench maestro Mike Babcock appreciate all the coaching help he’s been getting from media in the Republic of Tranna? I swear, reading and hearing all the coaching expertise in print  and on air makes me wonder how Babs ever won the Stanley Cup, two Olympic gold medals, a world title, a world Junior title, a World Cup title and a college title without tapping into all that shinny brain power sitting in the press box at the Air Canada Centre.

Does anybody really believe the Ottawa Senators will move out Erik Karlsson? The Swede was the best hockey player in the world during last spring’s Stanley Cup tournament, but I wouldn’t rule out a trade, not with Scrooge McDuck (owner Eugene Melnyk) in charge of the purse strings. If Melnyk does deal Karlsson, he can fold the franchise and ship it to Quebec City.

The Seattle Kraken?

Apparently, there are 13 possible names for a Seattle NHL franchise: Totems, Seals, Cougars, Evergreens, Emeralds, Rainiers, Kraken, Sea Lions, Sockeyes, Whales, Eagles, Firebirds and Renegades. (I Googled Kraken and discovered it’s a giant, multi-armed sea monster.) I like Sockeye, as in salmon, even though it isn’t among the registered trademark names.

Openly gay figure skater Adam Rippon is off to South Korea with the U.S. Olympic team next month, which inspired this headline on the Kaplan Herald website: “Adam Rippon is U.S.’s first brazenly homosexual man to qualify for Winter Olympics.” Hmmm. One of Canada’s pairs skater, Eric Radford, is openly gay and he’ll also be in PyeongChang. No word on whether he plans to be “brazenly” gay while there or just gay.

Red Fisher

I’ve admired a number of scribes from what I like to call the golden group of Canadian sports writers, foremost among them being the great wordsmith Trent Frayne, with whom I had the privilege of working in 1980-81. Jim Coleman, Milt Dunnell, Dick Beddoes, Jack Matheson, Scott Young and John Robertson were other giants when the NHL was still a six-team outfit. As was Red Fisher, longtime detailer of all things les Canadiens for the Montreal Star and Gazette. Red was a bit quirky (he refused to interview rookies) and a grump, but no scribe did hockey so well for so long as Fisher, who began working the Habs beat in 1955 and didn’t leave the building until 2012. He died at age 91 on Friday and Michael Farber delivered a terrific tribute to him in the Gazette.

This week’s Stevie-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “Milos Raonic out in first round of Aussie Open. Lost in four sets to somebody named Lukas Lacko.” Sigh. Instead of looking up Lack’s form chart on the Association of Tennis Professionals website and advise readers that Raonic was beaten by a Slovak ranked 86th in the world, Simmons chooses to insult him. I swear, the more I read Grandpa Simmons the more I’m convinced that someone dropped him on his head when he was a kid.

Victoria HarbourCats keeping the Claire Eccles girl-vs-boys story on the down low; gets first start on Sunday

At first blush, I’ll admit that I was skeptical and cynical about the signing of Claire Eccles. It reeked of gimmickry. Sexist gimmickry.

I mean, the girl-vs-boys angle is the simplest sideshow to sell in sports. It’s also one of the media’s favorite chew toys. For evidence, look no further than Billie Jean King, Manon Rheaume, Annika Sorenstam, Michelle Wie, Mo’ne Davis, Hayley Wickenheiser and Danica Patrick.

Yes, sir, put a Jill in with the jocks and it’s news copy gold. And, hey, it’s a bonus for the marketing wizards if she’s what the lads call a “looker.” (Do you really think Patrick has been showered with all that publicity because she’s made a habit of getting her race car to the finish line ahead of the good, ol’ boys on the top NASCAR circuit? She leads the league in long hair and lipstick, not top-10 finishes.)

Claire Eccles

So what better way for the Victoria HarbourCats to put rumps in the pews of their quaint ballpark than to trot a girl-next-door type out to the pitcher’s mound and have her strike out all those hot-shot college boys from Trumpsylvania? Curiosity seekers are guaranteed to flock to Royal Athletic Park on the edge of downtown Victoria and cheer lustily each time Eccles is beckoned to make the hike to the hill, with the hip-hop beat of Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl accompanying her every step. Ka-ching!

Except that isn’t how the Claire Eccles baseball-with-the-boys tale is unfolding.

Oh, sure, there was an avalanche of attention from the Fourth Estate—hither and yon—upon the Surrey southpaw’s arrival in the B.C. capital. ESPN, the Washington Post, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, Sportsnet and MSN.com, among many others, eagerly glombed onto the Eccles story at the outset. But a week into the 19-year-old’s West Coast League experience, she has been summoned by head coach Brian McRae exactly once. For a two-inning gig.

If that’s a publicity stunt based on gender, the HarbourCats are failing miserably at Marketing 101.

That’s the point, though. Other than the announcement of Eccles coming on board, the HarbourCats have resisted any urge to play the gender card in an effort to inflate ticket sales. Bravo for them. She’s a baseball player, not a promotional circus act.

Mind you, that might be about to change, because McRae did the chin-wag thing with MSN.com 120 Sports on Tuesday morning and he declared Eccles his starter when the Kitsap BlueJackets come calling for a non-league game this weekend at RAP.

We’re gonna give her a shot, just like we give all the other guys that are here, to compete for innings,” McRae said. “She’s gonna start for us next Sunday and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

That sound you hear is the publicity machine cranking up.

I can’t imagine the pre-game noise being any louder than in July 2010, though. That’s when the Chico Outlaws and their so-called Knuckle Princess paid a visit to Royal Athletic Park. As it turns out, Eri Yoshida’s knuckler didn’t knuckle so well. The Japanese hurler allowed just one hit, but it was a grand slam, and she also walked seven batsmen and hit three others in her 2 1/3 innings of work. The thing is, advance hype attracted 4,753 to the ballpark that night, the largest gathering in Victoria Seals history.

Brian McRae

By contrast, when Eccles emerged from the bullpen last week to become the first female to pitch in the WCL, the head count was approximately 800. (She mopped up in a 9-0 loss to the Wenatchee RedSox and produced this pitching line: 2 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 0 K, 9.00 ERA.)

It’s a safe bet that the HarbourCats Hollaback Girl will be hucking the rawhide in front of an audience three to five times that size on the afternoon of June 18 at the local ballyard.

I think having people like Claire come in and show everybody out there that it’s not a publicity stunt, that she’s getting an opportunity because she has a chance to be successful and help us, I think, in turn, that empowers other girls. I think you may see more and more women trying to play baseball,” said McRae, who clearly sees both the short- and long-term pictures. “Pitching is about the only thing I think, if a woman were to be able to play pro ball, where they could compete with the males, would be on the mound.”

And if Eccles, a University of British Columbia student who also pitches for Canada’s national women’s team, has designs on playing pro baseball?

She’s gotta get a little bit stronger, add some miles-an-hour to her fastball,” said McRae, who played 10 years in Major League Baseball. “We think she could throw 80 miles-an-hour if we cleaned up her mechanics and got her to use her lower body a little bit better. Her fastball tops out about 71, 72 miles-an-hour right now, and her knuckleball is in the mid-60s or so, but we think there’s more there that can get her to throw a little bit harder and be a little bit more effective.”

In the meantime, “It’s been kind of cool having her around.”

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, but she now lives one block from Royal Athletic Park in Victoria and might cross the street to watch Claire Eccles throw a baseball.