Let’s talk about Hal Johnson outing TSN…Where’s Waldo’s Sister?…Beep! Beep! There goes Alphonso!…Rouge Football takes a knee…Yippee for Youpii!…big bucks, baseball and bickering…the best of the Blue Bombers…Herb Carnegie gave the New York Rangers a pass…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and Happy Summer to you all…

Now that Hal Johnson has ‘outed’ TSN for racist hiring practices that included a limit on the number of Black reporters (one maximum) in 1988, here’s a question that needs to be answered:

What is the Black quota in 2020?

We know it’s more than one, because Farhan Lalji, Jermain Franklin and Kayla Grey are part of Team Yakety-Yak at TSN, but, in offering a lame mea culpa to Johnson the other day, the network’s spin doctors neglected to confirm or deny that a ceiling on the number of minority hires remains in place.

“There is still much work to do to improve our commitment to on-air and editorial diversity,” was part of a pre-fab statement on Twitter.

So, is what happened to fitness guru Johnson in 1988 still happening today?

Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod

If you missed it, here’s the Coles Notes version of Johnson’s TSN tale: Hired in the morning. Fired in the afternoon. By a suit in the ivory tower who believed adding a second Black news snoop was bad for business. So thanks for dropping in, Hal, and you can pick up your parting gifts on the way out. Oh, and by the way, we’d be happy to air your boffo Body Break fitness show with Joanne McLeod, but only if you hire a white actor to replace yourself because we can’t have an interracial couple exercising and having fun together on TV.

The spin doctors describe that as “a shameful part of our past,” (ya think?) but 32 years later TSN remains almost as white as a bowl of rice. It’s a sea of bleached faces, with a few former football players, Grey and John Lu in the mix.

All of which has provided pause for ponder.

The popular thing to do today is discuss diversity, also all the isms and phobias that are a pox on society. Suddenly, everyone has a tale to tell, and the great unwashed nod in enthusiastic agreement whenever it’s mentioned that discrimination, racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia and bullying are bad manners.

Many have been drawn into the conversation out of genuine concern, a yearning to understand and a will to effect change, while others have felt obliged to participate for fear of a tsk-tsking. Even though mistreatment of the marginalized is older than the ink on the Dead Sea Scrolls, only now are they gazing into the looking glass.

It will be interesting to learn what they discover and, more important, what they’ll do about it.

Be certain that TSN isn’t flying solo here. Denise Balkissoon has written an essay for Chatelaine on racism at the Globe and Mail, and Morgan Campbell hasn’t been shy about detailing his experience with racism at the Toronto Star.

Meanwhile, I’ve been squawking about the lack of diversity in jock journalism for much of this 21st century, and when I look at the sports landscape in the rag trade I see that it’s still whiter than a box of Titleist golf balls. Not only that, finding a female face among jock journos at our daily newspapers is like playing a game of Where’s Waldo’s Sister?

So what’s the scoop? Is there a restriction on hiring females? Or is it a hesitancy owing to the horse-and-buggy notion that women can’t possibly know sports?

The last time there was an opening in the toy department of the Winnipeg Sun, more than 30 wannabes applied. Four of them were women. Scott Billeck landed the gig. It’s proven to be a beneficial hire, even as he’s become the tabloid’s Virus Boy, but it’s worth noting that the Sun’s stable of sports scribes hasn’t included a female since the turn of the century, when Judy Owen discovered better things to occupy her time and left the building.

As for gay jock journos, I know of two in this country’s mainstream—the terrific curling writer Devin Heroux of CBC, and Scott MacArthur of Sportsnet 590 The Fan.

It terms of diversity, it’s a rather bleak scorecard.

Our guy Alphonso Davies set gums a-flapping with his eye-popping lickety-split in a recent Bundesliga soccer match, dashing up the pitch at a dazzling 36.5 km/h. Not sure what the big deal is, though. I mean, I know sports writers who run a lot faster than that every time the bar tab arrives.

Hey, I’m not saying jock journos are cheap, but there’s a reason why Canada took the penny out of circulation—sports scribes had them all squirreled away.

I must confess that I can do without all the fuzzballs that romp around sports facilities, but I’ve always liked Youppi!, one-time mascot of the Montreal Expos and now the official furball of les Canadiens. Youppi! has been inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame (yes, there really is such a thing, in Whiting, Indiana), and I suppose that makes him this country’s best two-sport big-league star since Gerry James, aka Kid Dynamite. For those of you who haven’t been introduced, Kid Dynamite played for both the Tranna Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, sometimes in the same year. He also won hockey’s Memorial Cup and football’s Grey Cup. Youppi! won neither, but kids really like him and that has to count for something.

I’ve been writing about the Canadian Football League since 1980—Toronto Sun, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and now as a blogger—so I must report that, yes, not having anything but Commish Randy Ambrosie’s awkward mutterings to opine about these days is a total bummer. Like all who follow the goings-on of Rouge Football, I would rather be discussing passers and pass rushers than Commish Randy’s panhandling on Parliament Hill, but it should be obvious to all that the large lads in pads will not be grabbing grass and growling this year. And that truly is a shame.

North American professional team sports in 2020: An unhealthy scratch.

Take a knee, Donald.

Things that make me go Hmmm, Vol. 1: Donald Trump vows he won’t watch soccer or National Football League games if players are allowed to kneel during the U.S. national anthem. Hmmm. Something tells me they’ll all be watching when he takes a knee in November.

While in ponder of diversity, equality and inclusiveness, I found myself wondering if the Football Reporters of Canada will make this the year they finally vote a female into the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. At present, it’s the ultimate boys’ club, with 100 per cent male membership, and that’s something that needs correcting.

By golly, I do believe TSN nailed it with its all-time Blue Bombers team. As long as Bud Grant is the coach, Kenny Ploen is the quarterback, and Leo Lewis is one of the running backs, you can’t go wrong. If I have a slight quibble (of course I do), it’s the absence of Ernie (Zazu) Pitts among the receivers. Pitts is on my team before Rick House every time, but I’m not going to sue TSN for giving Houser the nod.

Just curious: Is baseball still a thing? Seriously. By the time Major League Baseball’s millionaire players and billionaire owners have finished bickering over who deserves how many bucks for playing however many games, nobody will give a damn. Maybe they’ve already arrived at that point.

Dr. Cheryl MacDonald

Things that make me go Hmmm, Vol. 2: In a chin wag last week with Ron MacLean of Sportsnet, sports sociologist Dr. Cheryl MacDonald claimed to have interviewed “openly gay men’s hockey players who’ve played at elite levels.” Hmmm. We shouldn’t be surprised that Doc MacDonald didn’t name names, but I found myself wondering if she meant National Hockey League players. That seemed the logical next query to me, but MacLean declined to pursue that line of questioning. Frankly, his natters have become long on fluff and short on substance.

The lady doctor also suggested that the lack of out gay men in major team sports “might be even a masculinity thing.” Might be? What was her first clue?

It’s incredible how many people are just now discovering that hockey is not for everyone. The latest example of this ‘awakening’ is an essay on the Colored Hockey League by Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star. “Canadians call hockey ‘our game.’ But history tells us it hasn’t been everybody’s,” he scribbles. It’s a well-written, informative piece, but we don’t have to go back 100 years to realize that men’s hockey isn’t an inclusive enterprise. Its lack of acceptance is right in front of us today.

I’m a doctor of absolutely nothing, so COVID-19 is a mystery. I do, however, know that I’d prefer NHL players to be as far removed from me as possible during this pandemic, which means Vancouver is too close for my comfort. We haven’t had an active case of COVID-19 on Vancouver Island in more than a month, so I’m fine with the NHL choosing Edmonton or the Republic of Tranna as hub bubbles for the Stanley Cup tournament, thank you very much.

I like Murat Ates. A lot. He does boffo work for The Athletic. I like Sara Orlesky. A lot. She does boffo work for TSN’s Winnipeg bureau. But I believe Murat’s recent Q&A with Sara is a sure signal that he’s struggling for story ideas this deep into the pandemic.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a jock columnist? Well, let’s have Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna tell us: “Life as a columnist. On Thursday, I write about my dad and Father’s Day and everybody loves me and thinks I’m great. On Friday, I break the (Auston) Matthews (COVID-19) story and I get called every name in the book and some that haven’t gotten there yet. On Saturday, I’m putting this notes column together, which is next to impossible with no games going on. On Sunday, thankfully, I exhale. And now on to next week.” The poor dear. I wonder if he’d like some cheese with that whine.

True, the gig can be a grind, but it isn’t “next to impossible” to churn out a notes column “with no games going on.” I do it every Sunday. I just do it in a different format and, unlike Simmons, I don’t get paid for it.

Simmons also continues to present himself as a hockey historian, even though his lived experience with the game doesn’t predate the 1960s. Commenting on Herb Carnegie, he writes: “Carnegie was more than good enough to play in the National Hockey League in the late 1940s, early ’50s. The Maple Leafs and the rest of the NHL wouldn’t sign him. He never got the chance to play at the highest level because he was black.” Actually, Carnegie did have the chance, even though he was Black. According to Cecil Harris’ book, Breaking the Ice: The Black Experience in Professional Hockey, the New York Rangers invited him to their 1948 training camp, and he stayed for 11 days, during which time the club presented three contract bids that would have had him begin the season in the minor leagues— $2,700 to play in Tacoma, $3,700 to play in St. Paul, $4,700 to play with the Rangers’ American Hockey League affiliate in New Haven. In other words, Carnegie was offered the same path to the big leagues that Jackie Robinson took with baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers. Start in the minors, graduate to the show. But Carnegie rejected each of the Rangers’ bids for his services, preferring to earn $5,100 with the Sherbrooke Saint-Francois of the Quebec Senior Hockey League. His choice.

And, finally, I note that Paul McCartney turned 78 last week. It seems like only Yesterday that I was watching him and the other three Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. They were fab…yeah, yeah, yeah.

Let’s talk about death threats and bomb threats in Good Ol’ Hometown…the Buddha and Brees…Jackie Robinson and the American flag…Chris Cuthbert goes over the wall…another jock journo out of work…the Winnipeg Sun’s six-pack…and Fidel Castro’s angst

At first blush, the inclination was to suggest that Khari Jones had it all wrong. That he was misremembering.

Khari Jones

I mean, death threats? To the Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback? Naw. Can’t be.

Look, I realize the football faithful in Good Ol’ Hometown can be a demanding lot. They’ll turn on a starting QB faster than Judas on Jesus (hello Dieter Brock, Matt Nichols, etc.), and they’ll get louder and more ornery as the beer snakes grow longer and longer in the fourth quarter of a losing skirmish.

But threaten to snuff him out? That’s something you’d rather not believe.

Except as Jones told the tale the other day, his nose wasn’t growing and his pants weren’t on fire.

He delivered his revelation in a calm, matter-of-fact cadence, like he was telling us what he had for lunch or what his kids ordered the last time at a McDonald’s drive-thru. He even smiled, almost as if he recognized that some among the rabble might suggest there was a tich of far-fetchedness to the disturbing narrative of his 2002 Canadian Football League crusade.

“In Winnipeg,” Jones began, “I received death threats, you know, because my wife is a different color than me. We had police officers staying at our house, kinda patrolling our house while I was at away games. There was a series of letters, and I still have those letters.”

I don’t know about you, but those words produce chilling imagery for me:

Justine Jones

A woman—Jones’ bride Justine—home alone with her newborn, Jaelyn, while hubby and dad is flinging footballs hundreds of miles away, unable to protect his family from a wingnut lurking in the shadows of a darkening night. The stalker might have a gun. Or a knife. Maybe both. Stealth, slow-moving cop cars appear in the haze of dimly lit lamp posts, then disappear into the same darkness that protects the unseen scoundrel, prepared to pounce. It’s positively Hitchcockian.

It was just one person, we’re told, a racist who believes black and white belong together on piano keyboards, salt-and-pepper shakers and Oreo cookies, but not in the skin hue of a married couple. He penned a dozen letters to Jones, each peppered with vulgar language and threats. He was never caught.

Eighteen years later, Jones is finally talking about it because racism is the topic du jour in North America and he recognizes that his is a story people need to hear, even if they’d prefer not to hear it.

It’s the kind of stuff that gives pause for ponder, and you try to convince yourself that such a level of hate can’t possibly exist in Good Ol’ Hometown.

I was born, raised and spent most of my working life in Winnipeg and, sure, I recognize that racists, bigots, homophobes, etc. walk among the throng, but death threats because a quarterback is black and his bride is white? Come on, man, isn’t that supposed to be a 1960s Alabama thing? If only.

Truth is, I had my own close encounter with one of the wackos back in the day.

It was late March of 1979 and, with the Parti Québécois beating the separatist drums with gusto, the political climate was a tinderbox. Anti-Québec sentiment flowed freely in Western Canada and peaked in full, ugly voice the night the Finnish National B shinny side was in town for a friendly with the Winnipeg Jets, then still the World Hockey Association’s flagship franchise but soon to be a charter member of the National Hockey League.

Because the skirmish was televised locally on the CBC’s English and French channels, public address announcements were delivered in both our official languages. That didn’t work so well.

Each time PA announcer Germain Massicotte would parlez vous, the audience of 10,113 filled the Old Barn On Maroons Road with a robust chorus of boos, which ramped up in volume with each word he uttered en francais. By the time Morris Lukowich scored in overtime, Massicotte’s voice had totally disappeared beneath the might of the anti-Québec outpouring.

“It was kind of rude,” said young Rich Gosselin, a product of nearby St. Malo and one of two francophones wearing Jets linen that night.

Bobby Guindon

“I just consider the source,” muttered Bobby Guindon, the veteran forward who, a year ealier, had been anointed most valuable player in the Jets championship crusade.

Like Gosselin and Guindon, I was unamused, so I scribbled as essay in the Winnipeg Tribune, giving the booing, bigoted boors a stern tsk-tsking.

“Winnipeg, if this is how you’re going to act next season when you’re in the National Hockey League, then you don’t deserve to see the Montreal Canadiens,” is how I signed off.

The following morning, the ringing of my kitchen telephone stirred me from slumber. It was a man. An angry man. He didn’t appreciate the tone of my column and volunteered to provide me with one-way passage to the Great Beyond. Yup, he’d bomb my house. Blow it up, me and my family with it. Apparently, that’s what you do with a “frog lover.”

Unlike Khari Jones, I didn’t call the cops. I told the boys at work about the bomb threat and we had a giggle, although I must confess mine was a bit of a nervous chuckle and there was some skittishness to my step for a few days.

But, hey, that house on Leighton Avenue in East Kildonan is still standing, a block away from the Red River, and I’m still ticking, so I guess the guy had a bad batch of dynamite or he was a graduate of the Wile E. Coyote School of Mayhem.

I don’t know if you’ve been following Paul Friesen’s work on the Khari Jones file for the Winnipeg Sun, but it’s boffo stuff. Top drawer in every way. Makes me proud that I played a part in poaching Paul from CJOB all those many years ago, and it all began with a chance meeting in a checkout line at the Safeway on Roslyn Road in Osborne Village. So, if you like Paul’s work, kudos to him. If you don’t like it, blame me.

Really hard to believe the boys at the Drab Slab basically ignored the Jones death-threat narrative, except to run one Canadian Press piece. That’s shoddy. Or lazy. Maybe both.

The Donald and Drew.

Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks are supposed to be bright guys. They aren’t allowed to be the dullest knife in the drawer, although Terry Bradshaw tests that theory every time he opens his squawkbox on Fox Sports NFL coverage. So what’s Drew Brees’ excuse for being such a D’Oh Boy? I mean, seriously, he thought Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protest was about the American flag and not social injustice and police brutality? That’s like believing the Bible is porn. But wait. The New Orleans Saints QB experienced an awakening, as if he’d shared a bodhi tree with the Buddha, and a couple of days after dumbing down he was schooling Donald Trump, advising the Commander-in-Chaos that kneeling protests have “never” been about the Stars ‘n’ Stripes. I swear, we haven’t seen a retreat that rapid since Tiger Woods’ wife came at him with a 9-iron. Makes you wonder how Buddha Brees ever mastered the Saints playbook.

Every time I hear someone like Brees rage against Kaepernick and other National Football League kneelers, branding them as disrespectful ingrates, I am reminded of this excerpt from baseball legend Jackie Robinson’s book, I Never Had It Made: “There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only the principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.” So there.

Jennifer Hedger

The other night on TSN SportsCentre, anchor Jennifer Hedger said racism is an “uncomfortable” conversation. Why? And who’s uncomfortable? Before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down social gatherings, my friends and I discussed racism, bigotry, homophobia, sexism, etc. on numerous occasions, with zero discomfort.

Big shakeup in the Tower of Babble On, with Chris Cuthbert defecting from TSN football to Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada. Initial reaction: Geez, can he take Glen Suitor with him?

Apparently Suitor was unavailable for comment on his longtime sidekick’s departure. “He’s still in rehab after having his nose surgically removed from Keith Urban’s butt,” a TSN spokesperson familiar with the situation confirmed.

Chris Cuthbert

Seriously, this is an opportunity for TSN to bring a new, fresh sound to its Canadian Football League broadcasts. Surely there’s a vibrant, young voice out there who can slide behind Cuthbert’s play-by-play mic and, at the same time, they can spare us another season of groupie Glen’s gushing over Urban. If they insist on going with the old guard, I say give the job to Gord Miller, who’s solid whenever he calls Rouge Football. And, for gawd’s sake, keep Kate Beirness away from the CFL on TSN panel.

Oh, dear, the body count continues to grow in the toy department, and Ken Wiebe is among the latest casualties. The Athletic slashed salary and scribes the other day, handing out 46 pink slips, and that leaves Murat Ates to fly solo on the Jets beat. I never met Ken, but I’m told he’s one of the good guys, and we can only wonder when this carnage will end and who’ll be left standing.

The Winnipeg Sun made it through the week without anyone heading to the pogey line, but the overlords at Postmedia have decided to eliminate one day of the week—Monday. Commencing June 22, the tabloid will become a six-days-a-week print publication (Tuesday-Sunday), which means they’ll be a day late and a dollar short whenever something big breaks on the Sabbath. You know, like the Bombers winning the Grey Cup. Or—dare to dream—the Jets hoisting the Stanley Cup on a Sunday.

And, finally, news that the Sun is becoming a six-pack provided reflection on my time with the tabloid.

Now in its 40th year (the official anniversary date is Nov. 5), the Sun wasn’t supposed to have a shelf life longer than four months, never mind four decades, but a three-days-a-week sheet bulked up to a seven-day production in 1992, and they’ve been going toe-to-toe with the Goliath on Mountain Avenue every morning since.

You don’t survive that long unless you deliver something the rabble is looking for and, in the case of the tabloid, that’s meant a heavy emphasis on cops and robbers, entertainment and, of course, sports scribbling served with sizable portions of sass, irreverence and 200-point headlines.

Oops. Almost forgot Page 3 (or was it Page 2?), which once featured a damsel in her scantilly-clads and heels as high as a giraffe’s forehead.

The Sunshine Girl was just one of the oddball things we did at the Sun. I also recall management’s curious fascination for Panda bears, and there was a cheeky promo during the 1999 Pan American Games that attracted the attention of El Presidenté, Fidel Castro.

Fidel Castro

Seems ol’ Cigar Breath was so distraught over Cuban defectors prior to/during the Games that it became the focal point of his annual Revolution Day natter, with the Bearded One barking about “traps and tricks” and “schemes” and “filth.”

We ran a “guess the number of Cuban defectors” contest, offering airfare and a one-week vacation in Havana, cigars not included.

“If this is a goodwill gesture, it is a perverse one,” noted José Fernandez, president of the Cuban Olympic Committee.

I don’t recall if it was eight or 10 Cubans who went over the wall during the Pan Ams, but that was us—the perverse paper.

Let’s talk about the silence of live sports…walking in Michael Jordan’s old sneakers…the NHL doesn’t know spit…the “journalism big leagues”…a voice of reason in Ponytail Puck…and other things on my mind

If live sports returns and no one is there to see it, does it really happen?

I mean, this weekend there was UFC bloodletting in Florida. Footy in Germany. The good, ol’ boys were bending fenders in Darlington, S.C. Ponies were at full giddyup at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. Men showing skin played Skins golf at Juno Beach, Fla.

All that without a paying customer in sight. Anywhere.

I didn’t watch any of the live stuff live, but I caught the highlights and there was a creepy weirdness to it all, which is not meant as a commentary on Robin Black’s wacko hair and his odd facial gymnastics during TSN’s UFC post-fights package.

It’s just that sports without an audience and live soundtrack doesn’t work for moi. It’s tinny and hollow, like your cable TV guy forgot to connect a wire or two.

Will we become accustomed to the sounds of silence? I suppose. After all, there’s not much choice. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a cork in the regularly scheduled hoorawing of the rabble, and that won’t change if and when Major League Baseball and other big-league sports are given the okie dokie to proceed next month, or later in the summer.

Besides, it’s not like we’ve never seen sports played in empty ball parks before. But enough about the Toronto Argonauts.

Donald Trump

Sounds like Donald Trump is also a fan of fans. The American president gave his Twitter thumbs a five-minute rest on Sunday, and had a telephone natter with Mike Tirico during NBC’s coverage of Skins golf featuring Dustin Johnson/Rory McIlroy v. Rickie Fowler/Matthew Wolff. Among other topics, he discussed the absence of a gallery. “We want to be back to normal where you have the big crowds and they are practically standing on top of each other and enjoying themselves. The country is ready to start moving forward,” he said. That’s right, Make America Sick Again.

Interesting to see the boys wearing short pants during the Skins match. Just don’t expect it to become commonplace on the PGA Tour. When it comes to breaking from tradition, men’s golf moves about as fast as a sloth in quicksand.

Hey, a pair of Michael Jordan’s old sneakers from 1985 sold at auction for $560,000. Apparently, the running shoes actually cost just $1. The remaining $559,999 went toward a lifetime supply of Odor Eaters.

Once all the beans had been counted, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers came out $588,860 on the right side of the ledger on their 2019 operations. You know what $588,860 will buy you these days? That’s right, a pair of Michael Jordan’s smelly, old sneakers.

There’s continued talk that the National Hockey League will reboot its 2019-20 season, perhaps in July with very strict COVID-19 guidelines for player conduct. For example, they’ll no longer be allowed to spit. Ya, that’ll happen when dogs stop peeing on trees.

David Braley

In the department of Telling It Like It Is, I present David Braley: “I really believe if we don’t play this year, there’s a very good chance that we won’t survive,” says the owner of the B.C. Lions. And he meant the entire Canadian Football League, not just his Leos. I don’t think Braley is being alarmist, nor do I believe it’s his sly way of inserting himself into the argument for federal funding to save Rouge Football. But, as I wrote more than two weeks ago, if COVID-19 kills our three-downs game something will rise from the ashes, a structure that will look very much like it did in the 1950s and ’60s.

My, oh my, the things we discover when poring over a newspaper.

For example, not until I read the Drab Slab the other day was I aware that I had spent the largest portion of my 30 years in the newspaper dodge slumming. How so? Well, I had the bad manners to work for two River City dailies not named the Winnipeg Free Press.

The Freep, you see, is “the journalism big leagues,” meaning the Winnipeg Tribune was not, and the Winnipeg Sun is not.

We know this to be so thanks to Mad Mike McIntyre, who chose the occasion of his 25th anniversary in the rag trade to reach around with both hands and deliver himself a hearty pat on the back. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. It’s a noteworthy milestone, especially given that much of his time was spent documenting the gritty misdeeds of scofflaws who like to spill blood on the streets.

If only he had confined his essay to self-admiration.

But no.

After mentioning that he had received his baptism at the Sun, working the cops-and-robbers beat for two-plus years, Mad Mike offered this nugget of pure piffle: “I got my call up to the journalism big leagues in the fall of 1997 when the Free Press welcomed me into the fold.”

So there you have it, folks. Broadsheet equals “journalism big leagues.” Tabloid equals…well, Mad Mike doesn’t tell us if the Sun is Triple AAA, Double AA or a sandlot operation. It just ain’t “the journalism big leagues.”

I’ve long held that inordinate levels of pompous assness is part of the Drab Slab’s DNA, but this particular whiff of arrogance cranks it up a notch. It’s ignorant and insulting to the very people at the Sun who were good enough to give a wet-eared Red River CreCom grad his kick start in the rag trade.

I swear, the wonder of the Freep is not that they put out a quality product, it’s how they manage to squeeze all those fat egos into one newsroom.

Nobody’s keeping score at home but, for the record, since Mad Mike defected from the Sun to join the “journalism big leagues” at the Drab Slab, 10 sports scribes from the tabloid have been inducted into the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Roll of Honour and only seven from the Freep. He might want to have a rethink on that “big leagues” bunk.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that there have been more women’s hockey games on TV during the two months of the COVID-19 sports shutdown than I saw live during the past decade, Olympic Games excluded. Ponytail Puck never has been a priority for either TSN or Sportsnet, and I say they should be ashamed of themselves for using “dead” games as a convenient filler after ignoring the women when they were “live.”

On the matter of Ponytail Puck, it’s interesting to note that the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association has been moving some furniture around, reducing its training bases from eight to five. The Dream Gappers will set up shop in the Republic of Tranna, Calgary, Montreal, Minnesota and New Hampshire, with groups of 25 players in each. Do the math: That’s 125 total. Last year it was 150 (approximately). So it’s addition by subtraction, I guess, although the 25 women who’ll be left out in the cold might not see it that way. Odd bit of business, that.

How ironic that we didn’t hear from PWHPA main squawk box Liz Knox during the restructuring. I mean, when the National Women’s Hockey League announced its expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna, Knox was quick to tsk-tsk them for conducting business during the COVID-19 crisis. “It’s difficult to imagine expansion being at the forefront of many business strategies,” she pooh-poohed. But apparently it’s okay for the Dream Gappers.

Digit Murphy

If it’s a voice of reason you’d like to hear from in the mess that is Ponytail Puck, try Digit Murphy, president of the Tranna NWHL franchise. In a natter with Roger Lajoie, George Rusic and Rob Wong on Sportsnet 590, she had this to say:

“I really don’t play for either side. I play for the growth of the game mindset. So I’ve reached out to players on the Dream Gap Tour, I’ve talked to them, told them what I’m doing and, again, this isn’t an either/or, it’s an and. The players can do the Dream Gap Tour and we can do an NWHL. It doesn’t have to be exclusive. To think that hockey’s an exclusive game on one side or the other just isn’t in the conversation. It’s how do we include everyone that wants to be a women’s sports fan, a women’s hockey fan, because those are the words you really need.

“We’re in a tiny pond, a very, very small pond in women’s sports and we need to expand it and do whatever we can to grow it and not tear anyone down. Let’s build them up, empower them and let’s all work together toward a bigger goal.”

Digit made similar comments in a chin-wag with Emily Kaplan of ESPN, and it’s refreshing.

And, finally, I’m walking home from the market the other day and felt a sudden need to lighten my load. So, I plunked my weary and over-burdened bones on a bench two blocks from home. I hear a loud voice cry out from the nearest side street. “A woman!” an angry man shouts, glaring in my direction. “You’re just a bitch!” How charming. In another time and another place, I might have been wounded. But now? I just assume the guy reads this sports blog.

Let’s talk about the Legend of Big Buff and a few other things on my mind

Yes, Dustin Byfuglien was a trip.

Whether the rogue rearguard was rag-dolling foes, or simply having a rollicking good time playing unharnessed pond hockey rather than the rigid north-south style preferred by coaches who frowned on freelancing, Big Buff was the whole nine yards.

Many years from now, folks will gather around the campfire and talk about him as some mythical creature, if they aren’t already.

They’ll speak in hushed tones, describing a man-beast on blades, untamed and as tall as a grain silo, as wide as the Canadian Prairies, hairy and swift and capable of Paul Bunyanesque feats of strength. And they’ll talk about his habitat, how he roamed from one fishing hole to the next, catching muskellunge and walleye and trout while the smaller and less adventurous of his hockey species grazed on golf courses or took root in front of their PlayStations.

“I was there the night Big Buff rag-dolled those two Vegas Golden Knights,” someone will whisper with due reverence. “Took one of ’em in each of his big paws and yanked ’em right out of a scrum. Shook ’em and dragged ’em around like they were pom-poms.”

“Same thing one night against Nashville,” another will say, nodding. “Took two Predators by the scruff of the neck, one in each hand, and shook ’em like salt-and-pepper shakers.”

The folklore will include tales of derring-do, rink-length dashes by this hulking figure of few words, a force the likes of which had never been seen on a National Hockey League freeze. There’ll be mention of an ice tub and Evander Kane’s clothing, and the sonic boom of a slapshot that served the Winnipeg Jets so well for eight winters.

And it’ll all be true, even if delivered with a side order of embellishment.

Big Buff truly was unique. He didn’t have a pregame meal like the rest of the Jets. They simply tossed him a salt lick. That’s what you do when a guy is 6-feet-8 (on skates) and 260 pounds, give or take a late-night snack.

I always thought the whole Big Buff shtick would have made for a great sitcom. He could have played himself, except he’d have had to speak, and we all know Big Buff has less to say than a street mime with a mouth full of cotton. It’s kind of tough to do a talkie when the leading man won’t talk. Still, he’s got that impish grin and his peculiar ways, which certainly became more peculiar in the past eight months.

Big Buff’s divorce from the Jets, official on Friday, is the part of the legend that didn’t produce any yuks.

More to the point, Byfuglien was robustly villainized by many among the rabble and some news snoops when he took a powder on the eve of training camp last September. The Jets wanted and expected Big Buff to play hockey, but his druthers were to gaze at his navel while squatting in an ice-fishing hut. His adios left Winnipeg HC in a penny pinch, in that his $7.6 million cap hit was still on the books, and he put them in an on-ice pickle, with a hole the size of his appetite on the right side of the defence. For that he was branded “selfish” and an ingrate.

Well guess what? Life happens. Flames flicker out.

If we are to believe the way Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff tells the tale, Big Buff’s passion for banging heads, quarterbacking the powerplay and goofing around with the guys had run its course. To paraphrase a Yogi Berraism: Buff came to a fork in the road and he took it. Family and fishing won out over Winnipeg HC and shinny.

Was the most popular of the Jets guilty of bad timing? I don’t think Buff was guilty of anything. His life, his timetable. But, sure, from the club and fan perspective he could have picked a better time to bug out. No doubt there would have been a different twist to Chevy’s off-season tactics had he known about Buff’s Tour de Navel before September, except the universe doesn’t always unfold as an NHL GM would like it to.

I don’t know if Buff plans to confirm or deny Chevy’s version of events now that the divorce is a fait accompli, but I’m guessing the big defender will let us inside his head about the same time Lake Winnipeg runs dry.

And, really, he doesn’t owe us the skinny on everything that went down since September. Nor is there any obligation for him to convince us that he isn’t a complete numbskull for walking away when there was a sizable chunk of change ($14 million) still on the table for his taking.

He leaves on his own terms (some of us can relate to that) at age 35, and we should just let it be part of the folklore.

I don’t really like to say I told you so, but sometimes I can’t resist the urge. So, I’ll remind you that this is what I wrote on Oct. 9 last year: “Retire or return, Byfuglien has excused himself from the Jets’ future. I mean, if he lacks the jam to join them for this crusade, I can’t imagine he’ll feel any differently a year from now. Let’s face it, he’s done as a useful member of Winnipeg HC.” So there, I told you so.

Byfuglien has been called a riddle. An enigma. A puzzle. But is he really that hard to figure out? Okay, he’s a hockey hybrid. He has ox-like strength and no one his size has any business looking so light on his feet while skating on two blades barely wider than a butter knife. But that made him unique, not complicated. He also did a lot of freelancing, which led to crippling brain farts that resulted in pucks in the wrong net. But that made him a defensive liability, and there’s an abundance of those players in the NHL. So what is it about Big Buff that’s so confounding? Well, he seemed to play the game with a wink and a nod and, often, with a kid-like glee. He shunned news snoops like they’d give him cooties, but he was aw shucks and warm and fuzzy with a fawning faithful. It’s been oft written and said that he marched to the beat of his own drum, and hockey players aren’t programmed to go their own way. But the only truly unusual thing he’s done is turn his back on $14 million. That doesn’t make him an enigma. It makes him real.

Quick question: Will the rabble think differently about Big Buff if he takes his eroding talents to another NHL outfit? Seems to me they might. The storyline will go from “he didn’t want to play hockey anymore” to “he still wanted to play hockey, just not for the Jets.” Which means some might add another descriptive to the big man: Phony. But I don’t see him playing again.

Over at the Drab Slab, there seems to be some confusion about Big Buff’s legacy, at least that’s the way I read Mad Mike McIntyre’s take on the matter. Here’s what he’s written:

Feb. 3: “A re-charged and rehabilitated Byfuglien was expected to be a pillar on the back end. Instead, his selfish actions created nothing but chaos and uncertainty. Unfortunately for Byfuglien, the entire soap opera has tarnished the legacy of one of the most unique athletes we’ve ever seen in the city.”

April 17: “Forgive me if I have a hard time painting anyone who willingly walks away from US $14 million as selfish,” and “In my eyes, no legacy has been tarnished here, nor should it be.”

So he’s selfish, but he isn’t selfish. He’s tarnished, but he isn’t tarnished. Mr. Flip, meet Mr. Flop.

Frankly, I doubt Big Buff gives a damn what jock journos think or write about him. Just like they don’t give a damn what he thinks about them or their scribblings. It’s a mutual Don’t Give A Damn Society.

Hey, check it out. My man young Eddie Tait has a book out, For the W, the story of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ gallop to the Grey Cup last year. If young Eddie’s doing the scribbling, you know it’s a top-drawer product, and I’m told he has a boffo editor in Rheanne Marcoux. Winnipeg FC radio voice Knuckles Irving of CJOB says the book is “sensational,” and that’s good enough for me. It sells for $54.99 and you can grab a copy at the Canadian Football League club’s shop or online.

This week in jock journalism…

I make an early-morning tour of newspapers and sports websites hither and yon, always searching for something fresh and different, and I found it in a Rob Tychkowski column. Rob’s with Postmedia E-Town, and he did a parody on the recent conference call between Donald Trump and various pro sports leaders. It’s laugh-out-loud funny…I never know what to expect when I call up the Winnipeg Sun, but some issues are more disappointing than others. Today, for example, there are eight pages of sports. Total number of local stories: 0. Total number of local bylines: 0. Total number of bylines from the Republic of Tranna: 4…No, I don’t think sports is important while COVID-19 has us in lockdown, but if you insist on doing it, do it right for gawd’s sake…Not sure what the dumbest story of the week was, but here are the candidates, all from the Drab Slab: 1) Andrew Berkshire’s graphs and numbers-crunching on the Jets’ odd-man rushes and counter-attack plays last season; 2) Mad Mike McIntyre’s top-10 goals in Jets 2.0 history; 3) Mad Mike’s suggestion that the entire NHL (all 31 teams) gather in Good Ol’ Hometown to complete the 2019-20 season sometime this summer. My vote goes to article No. 3. It’s just stupid.

And, finally, Scott Billeck went from the toy department to newsside for the Winnipeg Sun when COVID-19 took grip, and his work has been boffo. Bruce Arthur has done the same thing for the Toronto Star. I’m not sure how many sports scribes could pull that off, but Scott and Bruce are getting it done.

The Hens In The Hockey House “hurry hard” to a discuss Chevy’s handiwork…Coach PoMo’s porn star…a wild card playoff spot…and Coach PoMo’s shelf life

Another National Hockey League trade deadline has come and gone, so what you see is what you get with the Winnipeg Jets. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, who better to sort out general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s handiwork than our all-knowing Two Hens In The Hockey House.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: You sure you want to natter about the Jets this morning, girlfriend? Shouldn’t we be talking about Kerri Einarson and her gal pals instead?

Answer Lady: You might have a point. Kerri, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur did boffo business in Al Capone’s old hangout—that’s Moose Jaw, girlfriend—and you have to go a long, long way back to find a Manitoba skip not named Jennifer Jones or Connie Laliberte who won the Canadian women’s curling title.

Question Lady: Any idea how long ago it was?

Answer Lady: I’ll give you some hints: You and I were both in training bras. Papa Pierre Trudeau was PM. The Winnipeg Tribune was still publishing. The Bee Gees had the No. 1 hit, Stayin’ Alive. The event wasn’t called the Scotties Tournament of Hearts back then. It was the Macdonald Lassie and the sponsor was a tobacco company.

Question Lady: So who was the skip?

Answer Lady: Cathy Pidzarko. She and her twin sister Chris got together with Iris Armstrong and Patti Vandekerckhove to win the Lassie in The Soo. And here’s what’s noteworthy: Patti Vandekerckhove became Patti Vande, then became Patti Wuthrich and she was coach of the Einarson team in Moose Jaw last week. Talk about coming full circle. Oh, one more thing: The Pidzarko twins and I went to the same high school—good, ol’ Miles Mac Collegiate in East Kildonan.

Question Lady: Well, we’re just full of trivia this morning, aren’t we?

Answer Lady: Many people have told me that I’m full of something or other, and it was never meant as a compliment.

Question Lady: Fine. But can we talk about the Jets now?

Answer Lady: Fire away, girlfriend.

Question Lady: Are you giving GM Chevy thumbs up or thumbs down for his tinkering at the NHL trade deadline?

Answer Lady: It’s more like the sound of one hand clapping. I mean, it’s not like I expected Chevy to go out and trade one of his young, blue-chip forwards in exchange for a top-four defenceman and a Zamboni driver to be named later. He knew one more piece wasn’t going to make his club Stanley Cup worthy.

If we’re being honest, the Jets are playing with house money. They probably have no business being in the playoff discussion today, not when you consider the numerous nights during the first five months of the fray when head coach Paul Maurice’s blueline had the hand-me-down look and feel of an old hobo’s coat. It hasn’t been “next man up” for Coach PoMo, it’s been Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk and “eeny, meeny, miney, moe.”

Mind you, it figured to be this way after the defections of Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot and Dustin Byfuglien. But still. Does any combination of Anthony Bitteto, Nathan Beaulieu, Luca Sbisa, Dmitry Kulikov, Ville Heinola, Sami Niku, Tucker Poolman and Carl Dahlstrom scream out “playoff defence” to you? Didn’t think so.

Yet here they are this morning, just a chin whisker away from qualifying for Beard Season.

Question Lady: Can a guy like Dylan DeMelo be the difference between the playoffs and an early tee time?

Answer Lady: You mean Coach PoMo’s porn star? Actually, Dylan DeMelo is kind of a porn star-sounding name, isn’t it? It’s not quite Long John Holmes quality, but I think it has marquee value.

Question Lady: Can you believe that PoMo said watching DeMelo play hockey is coach’s porn?

Answer Lady: Makes you wonder what goes on at a coaches’ bachelor party, doesn’t it? What do they do, sit around watching old film of Denis Potvin and Larry Robinson breaking up two-on-one rushes? Or maybe they get their jollies by watching raunchy film of Nick Lidstrom poke check the puck off Brett Hull’s stick. They sound like a real fun bunch.

Question Lady: Ya, but as long as Coach PoMo keeps delivering those kind of quotes, the scribes and talking heads will continue to be completely hornswaggled. They love the guy, and they’ll be loving him for another three years. Was his contract extension warranted?

Answer Lady: Well, we both knew that Coach Sound Bite was safe this year, even if some of the meatheads in the media thought his seat was a bonfire. But just because a guy signs for three years, it doesn’t mean he gets to coach for three years. I doubt Coach PoMo makes it to the end of his freshly minted deal. I’d almost wager that we’ll be listening to his sound bites on TSN Trade Centre two years from now.

Question Lady: Which brings us back on topic. Chevy made two moves just before the deadline, bringing in DeMelo and Cody Eakin. Is that enough to guarantee there’ll be meaningful matches played at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in April?

Answer Lady: I already had the Jets pegged for a wild card team, and they’re better with those two guys. So, ya, I don’t see Nashville, Minny or Chicago squeezing them out.

Question Lady: What about the Calgary Flames?

Answer Lady: Have you been paying attention this season, girlfriend? Those young millionaires look like they’re already on the first tee at the hoity-toity Calgary Golf & Country Club.

Question Lady: Question is, are the Jets good enough to make some noise in the Stanley Cup runoff, or will it earn Winnipeg HC nothing more than a third one-and-done participation pin?

Answer Lady: Ideally, this is how it would shake down for the Jets: They secure the first wild-card spot, which means they’d avoid either St. Loo or Colorado in the opening round of Beard Season and meet the Pacific Division winner. Is there anything to fear in the Vancouver Canucks? Nada. How about the Edmonton Oilers? Connor McDavid, Leon D. and a whole lot of McNothing. The Vegas Golden Knights would be problematic, but if either the Canucks or Oilers can hold up their end of the bargain, I can see the Jets getting through to the second round. That might sound crazy, but I believe it’s doable.

Question Lady: Gotta say, girlfriend, that does sound a bit nutso. You’re really convinced the Jets can beat the Canucks or Oilers in a seven-game series?

Answer Lady: As sure as Donald Trump likes Twitter.

Question Lady: If you say so. But I’d feel more comfortable if Chevy had landed a top-four defenceman at the deadline. And if that meant sacrificing one of his young, blue-chip studs, don’t you think he should have done it?

Answer Lady: Unlike many among the rabble, I don’t squirm at the thought of Chevy tossing Jack Roslovic or even Twig Ehlers into the pot, but this wasn’t the right time to do it. It wasn’t going to push them over the top.

Question Lady: So we’re supposed to be satisfied that it’s status quo?

Answer Lady: Hell no. You should be properly PO’d at Chevy and Mark Chipman, because it didn’t have to be this way. When the entire right side of your defence and a quality guy from the left side disappear in one foul swoop, that’s totally on the GM/owner. Just like they’ve known for more than two years that they don’t have a No. 2 centre, they’ve known since last July that they needed an upgrade on the blueline. Waiting until the trade deadline to acquire Coach PoMo’s porn star doesn’t quite cut it as proactive management. That dithering is the reason the Jets weren’t ever going to be anything better than a wild card outfit.

Question Lady: And what do they do with Dustin Byfuglien?

Answer Lady: That’s a discussion for another day, girlfriend. For now, let’s see how this season plays out, then we’ll talk about Big Buff.

Question Lady: Fair enough. What’s up next for you?

Answer Lady: More curling. The Brier’s on deck. If either Mike McEwen or Jason Gunnlaugson can get the job done next week in Kingston, that means Manitoba runs the table this season—world mixed, two world Junior, Scotties and Brier champions. It doesn’t get better than that.

Let’s talk about things I’m not going to write about…

I was going to write about Dustin Byfuglien this morning.

I was going to say that I don’t live in his grey matter, nor am I a fly on Kevin Cheveldayoff’s office wall, so most of what I’ve read and heard about Big Buff since he chose to gaze at his navel rather than play hockey this winter is equal parts gossip, falsehood and speculation.

Big Buff

News snoops, of course, have spent countless hours trying to get the skinny on Big Buff’s retreat from the fray last September, but they’ve been unable to drill to the nub of the matter because a) True North Sports+Entertainment is less revealing than a nun’s habit, and b) Byfuglien takes his right to remain silent more seriously than a guy handcuffed in the back seat of a cop car.

So I was going to suggest we just call it the Great Untold Story of this Winnipeg Jets crusade, and accept that it’s apt to remain that way.

I mean, Big Buff has always made like a street mime, and general manager Chevy’s lips are forever tighter than a pensioner’s budget, so why would we expect them to suddenly spill the goods? It’s not like they owe the rabble the wherefore and why of the one-of-a-kind defenceman’s refusal to join his mates in their teeter-totter National Hockey League season.

Or do they?

The faithful, after all, are invested in the Jets, financially and/or emotionally, so an argument can be made that True North is obligated to come clean on the Byfuglien file. I agree.

Except that’s not how this will play out.

Chevy

TNSE is a private company, even as it pigs out at the public trough, and it won’t fall prey to any urge or moral obligation toward full disclosure re the intimate details that have led to the expected termination of Big Buff’s contract. It will be strictly need-to-know tidbits of Chevy-speak while someone else at True North reminds the rabble that, “Hey, we slashed beer and hot dog prices not so long ago, and you want the truth, too?”

Byfuglien, meanwhile, has a right to his privacy, even if he’s been the biggest fish in the smallest of the NHL’s ponds since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011.

So go ahead and point accusing fingers at TNSE or Chevy or Byfuglien if you feel the need to vent and identify villains, but none of us knows the true story, and we’ll see Don Cherry back on TV talking about poppies and immigrants before we ever hear sound bites from Big Buff on his wonky ankle, the $14 million in salary he’s sacrificed, his favorite fishing hole, or his innermost thoughts.

And I’m totally okay with that because, as captain Blake Wheeler was saying the other day, “He doesn’t owe anyone anything.”

But I’m not going to write about any of that.

Kyle Connor

I was going to write about trade rumors this morning, because the NHL’s shop-and-swap deadline is only two weeks away and that usually means we’re apt to find James Duthie kneeling on a nearby church pew, praying that nothing significant goes down before his annual marathon and time-filling buffoonery on TSN.

James, for example, will be offering a few Hail Marys that the Jets don’t ship their perennial 30-goal man Kyle Connor to the Colorado Avalanche in barter for Bowen Byram in advance of D-Day on Feb. 24, but Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab informs us that Duthie might want to toss a few Our Fathers and at least one Apostles Creed into his prayer mix. He’s been hearing chatter, you see, and it’s all about Connor for Byram, a wet-eared rearguard with Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League. Although “loathe to play the role of gossip monger,” Mad Mike does that very thing because a “source” advises him that a Connor-for-Byram swap “has legs.” Mad Mike adds that he doesn’t see the deal happening, but what the hell, why not fling it out there and see if it sticks because, you know, he’s “loathe to play the role of gossip monger?”

But I’m not going to write about that this morning, because stranger things have happened (see: Gretzky, Wayne) and Mad Mike might be on to something. Or not.

Willie Jefferson

I was going to write about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this morning, because one quarterback, Chris Streveler, has swanned off to Arizona and another, Matt Nichols, bolted to the Republic of Tranna, where he might be joined by defender extraordinaire Willie Jefferson.

I was going to say I don’t blame Nichols, because he was no longer the flavor of the month in River City, but I’m not sure where Willie’s head is at. I mean, the Bombers are champs of Rouge Football and the Tranna Argos are Grade A chumps with a following you can fit in a phone booth, with room to spare for a couple of circus clowns. Maybe Willie thinks he can stretch a $200,000-plus salary as far in The ROT as he can in Good Ol’ Hometown, and I suppose that’s doable if he doesn’t mind living in a lean-to.

But I’m not going to write about that, because it’s Willie’s business and the Canadian Football League’s most outstanding D-man has managed to get along just fine without my input. I just hope he doesn’t get stuck in traffic on the way to that empty ballyard the Boatmen play in.

Bill Murray

I was going to write about the Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament this morning, because Nick Taylor will be in the final pairing with ol’ Lefty, Phil Mickelson this afternoon, and you might not know that Nick was born in Good Ol’ Hometown. He honed his skills in Abbotsford, B.C., but we can still claim him as one of our own.

But I’m not going to write about that, because my guess is the CBS cameras will be showing us more of Bill Murray making an ass clown of himself than the Nick and Phil duel.

Mike McEwen and Reid Carruthers

I was going to write about curling this morning, because there’s a very real possibility that someone not named Mike McEwen or Reid Carruthers will win the Manitoba men’s championship this very day. Jeff Stoughton was the last skip not named McEwen or Carruthers to wear the Buffalo on his back at the Brier, and that takes us back to 2014.

Jason Gunnlaugson sits in the catbird seat today, already booked into the final at Eric Coy Arena in Charleswood, and I submit that a changing of the guard would be a refreshing bit of business.

But I’m not going to write about that, because I wouldn’t bet against McEwen and Carruthers.

The scene at the Honda Center in Anaheim on Saturday night.

I was going to write about Ponytail Puck this morning, because the American and Canadian national sides wowed the rabble on the final three stops of their Rivalry Series. The Yankee Doodle Damsels got the better of our women twice (4-1 for the five-game series), but the real story was the head counts: 7,006 in Victoria, 8,467 in Vancouver, and 13,320 in Disneyland on Saturday night. Boffo stuff.

But I’m not going to write about that, because one reader called me a hypocrite for failing to fork out $20-$30 and walk across the street to watch the Victoria skirmish. I explained to him that I’m an old-age pensioner on a fixed income, living below the poverty line, and if the choice is between a hockey ticket and food I’ll take the hot meal every time. I’m not sure he bought my reasoning, but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I was going to write about our terrific soccer and hoops ladies this morning, because both outfits have qualified for this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, and I’m not sure we’ll be saying the same thing about our men’s sides.

But I’m not going to write about that, because I’ll probably be called a hypocrite if I don’t purchase air fare to Japan and watch the women in person.

Charlie Hustle and the Hustler

I was going to write about Donald Trump this morning, because the American president and noted hustler is campaigning to Make Pete Great Again. That would be Pete Rose, listed as persona non grata by Major League Baseball for gambling on games while skipper of the Cincy Reds. The Donald believes Charlie Hustle got a raw deal when he was blackballed, so he wants Rose on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot.

But I’m not going to write about that, because The Donald knows a good hustle when he sees one and this is fake news.

And, finally, I was going to write about that Skip The Dishes guy this morning, because I find myself wondering if I’m the only person who thinks he’s become the most annoying man on TV.

But I’m not going to write about that, because I’m too tired to write about anything.

Let’s talk about the rise, fall and rise of Ponytail Puck…the NHL or bust for women…get a grip, Mitch…puffball from Tim & Sid…the return of Peter Puck…good reads…Coach PoMo’s grip…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and the NHL all-star game was rubbish and some of you might think the following is too…

People are gushing about Ponytail Puck again.

Oh, yes, they are. Just like last year at this time, when Kendall Coyne-Schofield made her wowza dash around the freeze during National Hockey League all-star hijinks in San Jose.

Kendall Coyne-Schofield

Once she had completed her lap in the lickety-split time of 14.346 seconds and eyeballs were popped back into sockets, the hosannas rained down from the highest perches and from every corner of Planet Puckhead.

Bravo Kendall!

It didn’t matter that she was slower than all but one participant in the fastest-skater competition. After all, they were guys—the NHL’s elite—and Kendall’s a she. Thus, jaws dropped and people who, until that moment, truly believed girls and women only wear white skates with picks on the blades gave ponder to the notion that Ponytail Puck might be something worth checking out.

And so it was on Friday night at the Enterprise Center in St. Loo. This was the 2020 NHL all-star festival. A showcase event. Packed barn. Party atmosphere. And the women had the spotlight all to themselves for 20 minutes, playing a bit of loosey-goosey but quite earnest 3-on-3 pond hockey.

It didn’t really matter that 10 Canadians beat 10 Americans 2-1. It only mattered that there was a there there.

Cassie Campbell-Pascall

“I think the women’s game knocked down a door,” gushed Cassie Campbell-Pascall, the former Olympian who called the exercise in concert with play-by-play man Jim Hughson. As the game expired, she talked about “the magnitude of what has happened. It’s a big moment, it really is. That’s an understatement.”

“Cassie,” Hughson responded, “all I can say after watching that is ‘find these players a place to play.’”

And that’s the rub, isn’t it?

The Coyne-Schofield dash a year ago is considered a signature moment for Ponytail Puck. Indeed, just last week, this was the headline on an Emily Sadler article for the Sportsnet website: “How Kendall Coyne-Schofield’s clutch All-Star performance changed the game.”

But did it really?

Post-Kendall, the distaff side of the game gained all the momentum of a stalled Zamboni being pushed up the side of a mountain. First, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League folded, then between 150 and 200 of the planet’s premier performers snubbed their noses at the National Women’s Hockey League, refusing to play for pauper’s pay. So they gathered under the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association banner and created the barnstorming, hit-and-miss Dream Gap Tour, which has been met with a meh by the masses and mainstream media.

Basically, they’ve reduced themselves to a novelty act, much like the Harlem Globetrotters, but without the wizardry, the cornball antics and the packed houses.

And, yes, Friday’s 3-on-3 exhibition was a novelty within a novelty, because the NHL all-star festival is nine parts gimmickry and one part substance. I mean, if the NHL cancelled its annual glitz fest, I’m not sure anyone over the age of 13 would produce anything that resembles a pout.

But this edition was significant and special because of the women.

Question is: Will they seize the moment and take advantage of renewed interest, or will they squander it like summer wages? You know, the way they did last year.

“I think they sent a message that if you haven’t watched women’s hockey you better start,” Campbell-Pascall said in her wrap on Sportsnet.

Well, Cassie might want to have a quiet word with her sisters about that.

I mean, really, what can the Dream Gappers do to build on the St. Loo experience? They have a product to sell but nowhere to sell it. And that’s of their own doing. They quit the NWHL. Thus, they won’t make themselves available to the masses again until the final day of February, when they stage more of their glorified scrimmages in Philadelphia. After that, who knows? The events calendar on the PWHPA website is blank.

Talk about a buzz kill. And they have no one to blame but themselves.

It’s quite evident that the PWHPA has a one-prong strategy: Wait for NHL owners to step up and claim them in hockey’s version of an adopt-a-pet program, because that’s what they “deserve.” But hoping/expecting multi-millionaires and billionaires to gamble on an enterprise guaranteed to lose large boatloads of money is a questionable gambit at best and a fool’s bet at worst. NHL bankrolls don’t have to be told the CWHL was buried in a money crunch, or that only one NWHL outfit, the Minnesota Whitecaps, has shown a profit. I’m sure they’ve also heard National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver talk about dropping an average of $10 million per year on the WNBA side of the business. Thus the reluctance/refusal of NHL owners to skate down that rabbit hole. Plus, commish Gary Bettman has repeatedly stressed that there’d be no NHL women’s league unless he had an open landscape. So the next step is obvious: The PWHPA and the NWHL need to engage in meaningful dialogue and find a common road to travel, not separate paths. What part of that do the Dream Gappers not understand?

The aforementioned Hughson shouts about finding the Dream Gappers “a place to play,” but he (and many others) ignores the reality that the NWHL would be a seven-team league today, with franchises in Montreal and the Republic of Tranna, if not for their boycott.

The award for the dumbest comment on the women’s 3-on-3 game goes to Mitch Marner of the Tranna Maple Leafs. “I think a lot of those players can play in (the NHL),” he said, apparently with a straight face.

The Dream Gappers certainly have friends in the media, but it doesn’t really help the cause when people like Tara Slone, Ron MacLean and Tim & Sid do nothing but wave pom-poms and toss out puffball questions and hosannas. For example, Tim & Sid invited Campbell-Pascall for a natter last week, and she had this to say: “I believe we have at least 10 NHL franchises that want a team. I truly believe behind the scenes the NHL is ready for it. It’s well overdue in my opinion. I really hope that this is sort of the step to what we will see in the WNHL and I believe that it’s more imminent than it’s ever been before.” That went unchallenged. They should have asked her this: If there are 10 teams that “want” to bankroll a women’s club, why haven’t they done it? Are any of the 10 outfits in Canada? Where are the others located? Why are you waiting on the NHL instead of working with the NWHL to form a super league? Exactly what do you consider a “livable” wage? How can you convince the rabble to buy Ponytail Puck in enough numbers that a WNHL is viable and the players earn the $50,000 to $100,000 wages that Pascall-Campbell likes to talk about? I mean, you can’t make adults eat their Brussels sprouts and you can’t make them watch professional women’s hockey. But the jock journos refuse to ask pointed/fair questions because it’s considered bad manners and a betrayal of the cause. And that’s lame.

SRO in Minny.

The finish of the Minnesota Whitecaps-Boston Pride skirmish on Saturday produced a classic call from the broadcasting tandem of Kelly Schultz and Alexis (Oh My God, I’m Sweating!) Pearson, not to mention some colorful commentary on Twitter. The Whitecaps won 4-3 with a final-minute goal, ending the Pride’s undefeated season (19-1), and the game was an SRO sellout at Tria Rink in St. Paul. It’ll be the same today when the teams do it all over again. It’s also noteworthy that the Pride sold out their two most recent matches at Warrior Ice Arena in Beantown, so the NWHL is getting along just fine without the Dream Gappers.

Had to laugh at this take on Ponytail Puck from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “Here’s what I’d like to see. A six-team WNHL. Use the Original Six cities—or pick whichever six you want—and begin the process of building a steady, stable, sound, professional hockey league for women. But an NHL-backed league would have a shot. It’s still a gamble. It’s not a hugely expensive gamble. But it’s worth pushing for and pursuing. In a one-step-at-a-time kind of way.” That from a guy who has called Olympic women’s shinny a “charade” and advocated for it to be removed from the Winter Games. With allies like Simmons and Tie Domi, Ponytail Puck doesn’t have a prayer.

Of course the NHL 3-on-3 games were rubbish. What did you expect? Major League Baseball is the only big-time sport that puts on a watchable all-star game.

Peter Puck

Also rubbish was that snake-like, Magic Marker puck tracker thingy used during some of the 3-on-3 activity. If it’s all the same to Gary Bettman and the geniuses in Gotham, I prefer my hockey without squiggly, black lines on the freeze, thank you. What’s next, the return of Peter Puck to tell us why the ice in the goal crease is blue?

Brett Hull made a cameo appearance during the all-star skills competition, and what a coincidence: The Golden Brett scored 741 goals in the NHL and he weighs 741 pounds today.

Murat Ates

Department of good reads: 1) Murat Ates’ look at the Winnipeg Jets for The Athletic; 2) Mad Mike McIntyre’s essay on the Jets’ moms in the Drab Slab. Murat’s piece on a Jets players’ poll is a totally fun read, the kind of thing I’d like to see in the two River City dailies. It’s a good reason to subscribe to The Athletic, and that’s not a paid advertisement. It’s the truth.

For those of you who keep squawking about Paul Maurice needing a makeover, I remind you of something the Jets head knock said about his coaching style last June: “I’m not going to change the grip. We hit the ball down the fairway an awful lot. We had one go in the water on us in the playoffs, but I’m not sure that I’m changing my clubs or my grip yet.” So don’t say you weren’t warned.

Hey, lookee here. The Winnipeg Ice sit atop the East Division tables in The Dub, and I’d like to think that the rabble have noticed the new kid on the block. It’s just too bad they don’t have a bigger barn to play in. I mean, it’s a shame they can only squeeze 1,600 into Wayne Fleming Arena when there are more than 3,000 watching the Wheat Kings a hoot and a holler down the road in Brandon.

Why are so many people shocked when Serena Williams loses a tennis match? Nobody is afraid of her anymore, except perhaps line judges and umpires who’d rather not have a fuzzy ball shoved down their throats.

Zach Collaros

That’s quite the pickle the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are in. It’s reported that the Canadian Football League club wants to make Zach Collaros their main man behind centre, which would leave Matt Nichols out in the cold and his nose out of joint. For the record, I think they’d be doing the dirty to Nichols if they punt him, but it’s just another example of how cruel pro sports, especially football, can be.

And, finally, Sweet Home Alabama! Neil Young really is a Southern Man now. The Kelvin High dropout officially became a citizen of the United States the other day, just in time to vote Donald Trump out of the White House. I don’t know about you, but I won’t hold that against him.

Let’s talk about Kevin Sawyer, Jared Spurgeon and Saran Wrap…clashing opinions on the sports pages…newspaper competition…Coach PoMo sounding like Coach Claude…Mathieu Perreault’s retreat…Sheriff George’s gaffe…giving Trump the finger…remembering Al Davies and other terrific people at the Winnipeg Sun…and other things on my mind

A Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and I wish the Packers and 49ers were the early game today, because it’ll be past my bedtime by the time they finish…

So, now we’re told it was just a 16th birthday prank. You know, teenage hijinks 14 years ago.

And, according to Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, “many laughs were had” and it was something that Jared Spurgeon “still chuckles about to this day.”

Except for this: There were adults in the room when Spurgeon’s teammates with the Spokane Chiefs thought it would be a hoot to strap the Western Hockey League rookie to a pillar, his tiny feet dangling high off the ground.

Kevin Sawyer

Kevin Sawyer, a 31-year-old assistant coach at the time, has admitted to being among those adults. He did nothing to stop it.

More to the point, Sawyer yukked it up with the teenage boys back then, and he still believed the incident to be a great source of humor two weeks ago when he spun this “favorite” Spurgeon story during the TSN broadcast of a Winnipeg Jets-Minnesota Wild skirmish.

“He was a 15-year-old, two months into the season we Saran wrapped him to a pillar in the arena, about six feet up in the air,” he told viewers. “He was tiny. He looked like he was 12.”

Yup, that’s some kind of fun.

The thing is, it isn’t such a knee-slapper anymore, because Sawyer has been ragdolled pillar to post (pun intended) in the past two weeks, first on social media and now by a mainstream media that has finally weighed in. The TSN gab guy, who hasn’t been heard from since, has some serious explaining to do, and apparently he’ll have his say during a Tuesday night broadcast from Carolina.

What will he tell the masses? Try this:

“I was wrong to make light of what many consider a hazing incident. In no way do I condone hazing in sports or anywhere else in society. That’s not who I am. Hazing was wrong then and it’s wrong now, and I regret what happened to Jared Spurgeon and I regret talking about it in a joking manner. I’ve already spoken to Jared, and I apologize to TSN, the Winnipeg Jets, and the National Hockey League for my inappropriate and misguided comments.”

Then it will be back to regularly scheduled sugar coating of Jets’ missteps for Sawyer.

Should that, however, be the end of it?

Jeremy Roenick

I mean, if NBC Sports pulls the plug on Jeremy Roenick because of glib remarks about his sexual fantasies on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast, shouldn’t TSN discipline Sawyer for tee-heeing about a hazing incident dressed up as birthday buffoonery? Shouldn’t Bell Media at least say something?

After all, TSN had no hesitancy in trotting out its stable of squawk boxes to report on and gasbag about Bill Peters and Mike Babcock and Marc Crawford when those National Hockey League coaches were outed as racists and/or bullies. And, lord knows, they used up two weeks worth of oxygen dissecting Don Cherry’s very public views on poppies and immigrants.

Yet not a peep about one of their own boasting about hazing. Go figure.

Meanwhile, it’s about the Jets. Forget that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s signature isn’t on Sawyer’s paycheque. He’s their guy. Their broadcaster. If they consider his remarks offensive and inappropriate (they should), why wouldn’t they lean into TSN and suggest they zip his lips?

But, again, not a peep.

Mind you, that’s nothing unusual for True North Sports & Entertainment, which makes Dustin Byfuglien seem like a big blabbermouth. If the Puck Pontiff and TNSE have something to say, you can be sure they won’t say it.

In this case, what they aren’t saying pretty much says it all: They and, by extension, the NHL are okay with a team broadcaster who jokes about the hazing of a 16-year-old boy.

Mad Mike

This is what I like about a two-newspaper town: Differing opinions. And both of the main sports columnists at the two River City rags delivered contrary views of the Sawyer incident.

Here’s Mad Mike McIntyre: “The only thing Sawyer appears guilty of here is butchering the way he told a story and causing a massive misunderstanding that has been allowed to rage out of control.”

The headline on the website said the incident was a “big deal that isn’t,” and Mad Mike basically wrote it off as a meh moment. He also informed us that no adults were involved, but then totally contradicted his own narrative by writing, “Everyone gathered around to sing Happy Birthday, including Sawyer and other team staff.” So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: No adults were involved, but adults were involved. And he accuses everyone else of being misinformed? Good luck with that. Fact is, Sawyer admitted on air that he was present. Mad Mike also insists that Spurgeon “still chuckles about it to this day,” yet he provides no supporting quotes. We’re simply supposed to take his word for it, just like his “rotten to the core” narrative about the Jets last season.

Paul Friesen

Now here’s Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun: “It doesn’t matter if it was a birthday prank or a rookie prank. To say Spurgeon hadn’t complained about the incident and therefore it wasn’t serious is a moot point. A 15-year-old away from home for the first time being ridiculed by adults from a team that he needs to advance his career isn’t likely to speak out if he feels threatened or intimidated. Viewers of that Jets game were rightfully offended by the message Sawyer’s story sent to the kids watching. There was nothing funny about it. There never is when people are singled out to be mocked.”

Friesen is spot on.

I should point out that, according to Friesen, Sawyer called Spurgeon the night he made his regrettable remarks. If it was no big deal, as Mad Mike submits, why would Sawyer reach out?

Mad Mike totally lost the plot with this line: “Would such an incident be acceptable here in 2020? That’s debatable.” No. It isn’t. It’s debatable to say Nathan MacKinnon is a better hockey player than Connor McDavid, but there’s nothing debatable about the practice of hazing. It’s wrong. If Mad Mike thinks otherwise, I suggest he gather the boys in the Drab Slab newsroom and they Saran wrap a summer student intern to a convenient pole, six feet up in the air, outside the Winnipeg Free Press building. Then he can scribble a column telling us about all the yuks they had at the kid’s expense. Let’s see how well that plays in 2020.

Good Ol’ Hometown is fortunate to have competing dailies. The Sun-Drab Slab dynamic doesn’t exist anywhere else in the western colonies and, being a newspaper junkie, I feel cheated when I call up the rags in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatchewan. Don’t get me wrong. There are quality scribes who crank out quality copy in those locales, but no contrasting viewpoints. The boys and girls on the beat don’t have to kick the other guy’s ass. Too often it’s one voice for two papers. I read Terry Jones in both the E-Town Sun and E-Town Journal. I read Ed Willes in both the Vancity Province and Vancity Sun. So, ya, as much as I rag on Mad Mike (he’s such an easy target), I’m glad he’s there to provide an opposing slant on issues.

So here’s something the rabble probably didn’t want to hear after their hockey heroes had been paddywhacked 7-1 by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie: “I don’t have an explanation for you. We were, I think, moving right and then we got to 2-0 and now we’re waiting for the puck to come to us. That’s the best explanation I can give you. I don’t know,” confessed Paul Maurice, the Jets head coach who’s paid to know. The last guy to talk like that after ugly losses was Claude Noel, and we all know what happened to him. That’s not to suggest Coach Potty Mouth is on his way out of Dodge, but when I hear him say, “I don’t know,” it sure sounds like an echo of Coach Claude’s “I can’t give you the answers to why” we lose.

Mathieu Perreault

That was an impressive hissy fit Mathieu Perreault had after Jake Vertanen of the Vancouver Canucks fed the Jets forward a left elbow for a late-night snack last week, and I can’t say I blame the guy for being PO’d. Total cheap shot. “Player safety my ass,” he snorted. Equally impressive was Perreault’s retreat after threatening to use his stick for a pitch fork the next time some scoundrel decides to give him a noogie. “Obviously I wouldn’t slash anyone in the face. I’d like to take that back for sure,” he told news snoops. I haven’t heard anyone swallow words back that fast since Richard Nixon admitted he really was a crook.

Sheriff George

Not surprisingly, NHL player safety dude George Parros has felt more heat than a donut in a deep fryer for refusing to punish Vertanen. Perreault and the Jets are PO’d, the rabble (at least in Good Ol’ Hometown) is PO’d, news snoops (at least in Good Ol’ Hometown) are PO’d, and Prince Harry and Meghan might even be PO’d. But let’s not lay it all on Sheriff George’s lap. NHL players have a dog in this fight, and if they showed a bit more respect for each other’s well-being, we wouldn’t see such a steady parade of ne’er-do-wells marching to the principal’s office.

The Canucks are in first place. Go figure. The Tranna Maple Leafs, who could feed five third world countries for the next 10 years with the signing bonuses they’re paying, are below the playoff line. Go figure.

Conor McVulgar

The most vulgar man in sports, Conor McGregor, won in his return to the UFC octagon on Saturday night, and those who follow the game say he’s a changed man. Apparently, he’s kinder, more gentle, more soft spoken. I’m not convinced. I mean, immediately after the bout, McGregor demanded a rematch with that old man he thumped out in an Irish pub last year.

This is rich (but not at all surprising): When the Florida Panthers deep-sixed head coach Gerard Gallant, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna described them as the “most clueless front office in the NHL.” When the Vegas Golden Knights gave Gallant his walking papers last week, he tweeted, “If they believe a coaching change was necessary, then I will give them the benefit of the doubt.”

The International Olympic Committee has officially warned athletes that any form of political protest will be a strict no-no at this year’s Summer Games in Tokyo. Rule 50 outlaws messaging on signage and/or armbands, and there’ll be no hand gestures, kneeling or refusal to follow the IOC’s uptight protocol at venues or in the Olympic Village. But apparently American soccer star Megan Rapinoe is still allowed to flip Donald Trump the bird if he shows up.

Al Davies

And, finally, one of the Winnipeg Sun’s founding fathers, Al Davies, died recently, and a lot of us should be thankful for what Al, Tom Denton, Frank Goldberg and Bill Everitt started on Nov. 5, 1980. The tabloid isn’t everyone’s rag du jour and has long been mocked and ridiculed as a poor man’s version of the National Enquirer, but it offers another voice and that’s important. I enjoyed most of my time there, working with terrific people like Dave Komosky, young Eddie Tait, Tom Brennan, Ketch, John Kendle, Homer Connors, Judy Owen, Paul Friesen, Jon Thordarson, Pat Stevens, Rhonda Brown, Rhonda Hart, Paul Robson, Big Jim Bender and so many others. Fabulous group.

Let’s talk about sports in 2020: Megan Rapinoe for VP…Bemidji Buff…Coach PoMo’s dog days…Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB situation is a zoo…curling and diaper duty…and other things in the crystal ball…

No looking back. Only looking ahead.

And who better to do that than Madame Redneck, my bony recluse friend who lives above the timber line with 12 cats on Vancouver Island and grants me an audience once a year, as long as I supply the Kokanee?

She’s a crazy, old girl—I suppose in polite company we’d call her eccentric—but she possesses the best psychic powers this side of Nostradamus. She’s my personal Nostra Damn-Miss.

I spent an afternoon with her on the weekend, and here’s what she saw in her crystal ball for 2020…

  • The Yankee Doodle Damsels win soccer gold at the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo and, once again, loud mouth lesbian Megan Rapinoe is the star of the show and the most popular athlete in the U.S. Seeing this as an opportunity to boost his sagging approval rating, Donald Trump ditches VP Mike Pence and asks Rapinoe to join him as his running mate on the GOP ticket in the presidential campaign.

Megan Rapinoe

“It’s only right that I have a gay running mate, because nobody’s been a better friend to the gay community than me…nobody,” Trump says. “Megan knows it. All the gays know it. You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve done for the gays. Even the gays don’t believe it. Just ask them. They’ll tell you I’ve done things like they’ve never seen. I’ve done so many things for the gays that I actually wish I was gay, just so I could take advantage of all the things I’ve done for the gays. I’ve told Melania that. She thinks I’d make a great gay. I’d be a gay like you’ve never seen. I was at the Stonewall Riots, by the way. I threw the first brick. I freed the gays the same way Lincoln freed the slaves. There wouldn’t have been a gay pride movement if I hadn’t tossed that first brick at the cops. Me and Harvey Milk, we’re the most influential people in gay history. The gays know that.”

Asked if she would accept Trump’s overture, Rapinoe says: “Sure, as soon as he paints the White House pink.”

  • Dustin Byfuglien continues his rehab in an ice fishing hut at Lockport, but the Winnipeg Jets reluctant blueliner decides to retire from the National Hockey League and buys a fishing lodge near Bemidji, Minn.

Dustin Byfuglien

“There’s been a lot of talk about ruffled feathers,” general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff tells news snoops, “but, again, I can assure you that Buff’s feathers were never ruffled. Frankly, my feathers are a bit ruffled because you people keep asking me about ruffled feathers. Again, we would have preferred that Buff rejoin us for our drive to the playoffs. Again, we like Buff. Unfortunately, he likes fishing and hunting more than he likes us. But, again, that doesn’t mean his feathers are ruffled. We wish Buff all the best and, again, this had nothing to do with ruffled feathers.”

When contacted by reporters at his Lockport Buff Hut, Byfuglien says he has nothing to say.

  • Chevy and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman re-sign Paul Maurice, thus snuffing out speculation that Coach Potty Mouth plans to join the expansion Seattle To Be Named Laters.

Coach Potty Mo

“Again, Paul was never going anywhere,” Chevy says. “It’s my understanding that he’s building a big-ass house somewhere in the city. That would be a crazy commute to Seattle. Again, I don’t know how these rumors start. Again, just because Paul is friends with Ron Francis doesn’t mean he was leaving. Again, Paul has many friends in hockey. I like to think I’m one of them. Again, if we all worked for our friends, there would only be one team in the NHL. Again, you guys slay me with your rumors.”

Asked about re-upping with the Jets, Maurice says: “I look forward to making as many people as possible cry in that effing dressing room.”

  • Three days after the announcement of Maurice’s new contract, the Jets are forced to fire him.

Chevy

“We thought we had done our due diligence during the vetting process,” Chevy explains, “but we later discovered that Paul kicked a teammate’s dog when he was playing PeeWee hockey as a 10-year-old. Again, with the league’s new policy on squeaky-clean conduct by coaches, we had no choice but to let him go. I realize it happened 42 years ago, but, again, kicking a dog is kicking a dog is kicking a dog, and it doesn’t matter that poor Spot has been dead for a quarter century. Again, we endorse the league’s witch hunt of coaches guilty of wrong-doing, no matter how far back we have to look.”

Asked where he would find a replacement for Maurice, Chevy mutters: “Maybe it will have to be an altar boy to be named later, because, again, all the known saints are dead.”

  • Ron MacLean is removed as host of Hockey Night in Canada and replaced by David Amber.

Ron MacLean

“First they got Don Cherry, now they got me,” says MacLean. “Grapes lost his job because of poppies, and I lose my job because I’m a white guy. Go figure. I mean, what’s the NHL about if it isn’t about old white guys running everything? I might be the first white guy in hockey to lose his job because of his skin color. Don’t get me wrong, David is a talented young guy, but let’s face it, he’s got my job because I’m white and he isn’t. I just recently noticed that he wasn’t an old white guy. Oh, well, at least I’ve still got Hometown Hockey with Tara Slone. Funny thing is, I didn’t even notice she was a woman until last year. I guess there’s been a lot of stuff I didn’t notice.”

  • QB Zach Collaros takes his Grey Cup ring and runs to the Republic of Tranna, where he becomes the starter with the Boatmen.

Zach Collaros

“I loved playing for coach O’Shea and coach LaPolice, and I loved playing with all the guys, and I loved being a Blue Bomber and winning the Grey Cup,” he says. “But it’s Winnipeg. Not a lot going on there. I mean, how many times can you go to the zoo?”

  • QB Matt Nichols decides to forego free agency and signs a fresh three-year deal with the Bombers.

“Like, as if I really had a choice,” he says. “Take a look around the league. There aren’t any openings for a starter. Except maybe Ottawa. If it’s between Ottawa and Winnipeg, I’ll take Winnipeg every time. I mean, I just can’t get enough of that zoo, man.”

  • QB Chris Streveler sobers up in time to strut his stuff for a handful of National Football League outfits, but he returns to Canada and signs with the Ottawa RedBlacks, now coached by Paul LaPolice.

Chris Streveler

“I enjoyed working out for those NFL teams,” he says, “but it’s too much of a zoo down there.”

  • Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie amps up his CFL 2.0 initiative by announcing working agreements with organizations in Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Falkland Islands.

“One day you’ll be seeing Fijians, New Guineans and Falklanders on CFL rosters,” he boasts.

Asked how that will increase interest and attendance in the league’s weakest markets, Toronto and Vancouver, Commish Randy replies: “We have teams in those cities? Who knew?”

  • CFL on TSN talking head Glen Suitor turns in his microphone and becomes tour bus driver and resident groupie for singer and heatthrob Keith Urban.

Chris Cuthbert, Keith Urban and groupie Glen Suitor.

“After meeting Keith at the Grey Cup and sucking up to him the way I did on national TV, I couldn’t turn down this opportunity,” Suitor says. “How many guys can say they get to drive Keith Urban’s bus and lick his boots every day? Just me. He might even give me a bit part in his next music video. Eat your heart out, Nicole Kidman.”

  • Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman expands his True North Sports & Entertainment empire when granted a National Women’s Hockey League expansion franchise, called the Jettes.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman

“This is something I should have done a long time ago,” Chipman says. “I like women. I married one. And I have three daughters. All of them play or played hockey. I’d love it if one day one of them, or one of my granddaughters, could play for the Jettes. Based on the NWHL pay scale, it’d be cheaper than giving them an allowance.”

  • New moms Rachel Homan and Joanne Courtney win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and, along with Lisa Weagle and Emma Miskew, become the first women to earn a purse equal to the Brier champions.

Rachel Homan

“It’s the 20th century,” says Homan. “About time. But we’ve already won this thing three times. You don’t suppose they could make the pay retroactive, do you? Diapers cost more than I thought.”

  • The boys on the hockey beat at the Drab Slab overhear a neighbor talking to a butcher who talked to a school teacher who talked to a cab driver who talked to a bartender who talked to a nurse who overheard Rink Rat Scheifele’s hair stylist mention a travel agent, so they scribble an article saying the Jets centre has demanded a trade.

“Now we know for certain whose feathers are ruffled,” they write. “If you can’t believe a hair stylist, who can you believe?”

  • I retire from scribbling the River City Renegade blog, but I return for more.

“What can I say?” I say. “As long as those mooks at the Drab Slab keep writing their fiction, I’m going to keep cranking out my BS.”

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.