Let’s talk about the Freep’s record on the female file…Jennifer Jones keeps rolling along…Brooke deserved athlete-of-year honor…the Commander-in-Cheat…not-so-cheap seats at Aussie Open…and other things on my mind

Top o’ the morning to you, Jason Bell.

Is it too late for New Year’s greetings, Jason? Naw. It’s still January, so happy New Year to you and your stable of scribes in the toy department at the Drab Slab. Hope it’s a good one, full of scoops, fab features and smooth press runs.

Okay, now that the pleasantries are out of the way, let’s get down to business.

I read with interest your Jan. 20 email newsletter, in which you waxed on about your interaction with Winnipeg Free Press readers and, at the same time, gave yourself and staff an “atta boy” for a job well done. Notably, you cited curling as an area of substantial pride.

“I venture to say no media outlet in Canada makes it a priority to cover local curling like we do,” you wrote.

Well, Jason, I certainly agree that your attention to Pebble People is admirable and in keeping with a rich tradition, whereby daily newspapers in Good Ol’ Hometown treat the hurry hard crowd like deity. But I hope you didn’t hurt yourself with that vigorous pat on the back. I mean, you do well by today’s curlers, but it pales when compared to coverage of yore. (More on that in a bit.)

For now, let’s deal with the overall tone of your newsletter.

You invited readers to “keep those calls, letters and emails coming—and don’t hold back with your opinions of how we’re doing in the Free Press toy department’. Bring it with both barrels blazing.”

Well, okay, here’s one barrel: I’ve got some interesting numbers for you to digest, and they might be enough to make you choke on your Cheerios or poached eggs or dried toast (or whatever else is on your breakfast menu this morning).

Just so you know, I monitored the pages of your Drab Slab during 2022 in a quest to determine how much focus you, as sports editor, place on female athletes/teams hither, yon and in Good Ol’ Hometown, and I can’t say I’m surprised at my findings. They include:

  • Articles/briefs exclusive to male athletes/teams: 4,304 (358 monthly average)
  • Articles/briefs exclusive to female athletes teams: 657 (55 monthly average).
  • Monthly average of articles/briefs exclusive to local female athletes/teams: 12.
  • More than half of sports sections had zero (0) local female sports coverage.

So what’s your excuse, Jason?

The paper’s editor, Paul Samyn, likes to tell readers like myself that the Freep emphasis is on local, local, local. Perhaps that’s true in the other sections of the sheet, but the evidence confirms that home girls/women are getting short shrift on your sports pages.

Except for curlers, of course.

You love our female Pebble People, Jason. You worked the hurry hard beat (and did a boffo job) before landing the editor gig in the toy department, so you know where curling sits in the pecking order. And, hey, if you were to ignore the women you’d surely get an earful at the dinner table, since your bride, Allyson, is a two-time Manitoba Scotties champion.

Just don’t get your chest feathers too fluffed up.

Your coverage isn’t as voluminous or as thorough as back in the day, when Jack Matheson was churning it out for the Winnipeg Tribune and Don Blanchard at the Drab Slab. Hell, it wasn’t just Matty and Blanch. We all covered curling at the Trib. Every ink-stained one of us. Matty insisted on it. He had Davey Komosky as his right-hand man, and he also brought two local curlers on board, Ina Light and Marg Hudson, to scribble weekly columns on the women’s game. Blanch wasn’t flying solo at the Freep, either. His main accomplice was Ralph Bagley. Maybe it was over-the-top. I mean, devoting an entire broadsheet page to photos of all event winners in the annual MCA bonspiel? Who does that? We did. You don’t.

You don’t cover female athletes/teams, either, Jason. Not really. The scant space you devote to them smacks of “oh, by the way” tokenism.

Your predecessor, Steve Lyons, wrote this in October 2020: “We can’t control how many wire stories we get each day on women’s sports, so our solution to moving the needle in this area has always been to focus on being as equitable as possible on local sports.”

Ya, it was equitable under his watch like a nickel is worth a dollar.

I don’t expect you to answer for Lyons’ sins, Jason, but nothing’s changed with your hands on the wheel. Seriously, 12 local articles/briefs per month? You give Kyle Connor more ink than that just for brushing his teeth. Zach Collaros farts and it gets bigger play than the JFK assassination.

And I get it. The Jets and Bombers are the big dogs in town. People want to read about them. But c’mon, man. You can’t convince me that the girls/women who run, jump, tumble, swim, throw, catch, hit, shoot, kick or dribble a ball in Good Ol’ Hometown and environs are noteworthy just one dozen times a month. What, female accomplishments are less worthy?

Look, Jason, not every person is an athlete, but every athlete is a person. Don’t they all have a story to tell? Including the women/girls?

Perhaps the softness of female coverage is due to the makeup of your sports staff: Six dudes.

I mean, I’ve known male jock journos who’d rather clean up after the circus elephants than spend a chunk of their afternoon/evening watching girls/women throw, catch, kick or hit a ball. You might as well ask the guy to spend a weekend bingeing on those sappy Hallmark movies. I’d like to think your guys aren’t of that ilk, Jason, not even subconsciously.

But something is holding you back, because the numbers don’t lie.

It’s fair that I point out you’ve upped your game in the past six days, mainly because the Manitoba Scotties is right under your nose, but six days is a small sample size and I suspect it will be back to business as usual until the women gather in Kamloops for the national championship next month.

In the meantime, curiosity sent me on a fact-finding mission, Jason, and I examined our female coverage (articles and/or briefs exclusive to the girls/women) at the Tribune in January 1980 and compared it to your sports section’s work this month. Here are the numbers:

Tribune: 26 editions, 48 local female stories/briefs (19 curling)
22 of 26 editions included local female copy
Free Press: 28 editions, 20 local female stories/briefs (9 curling)
13 of 28 editions included local female copy

I’m not suggesting that you flip the calendar back four-plus decades, Jason. I’m just pointing out there’s room for improvement on the female file. You can do better. Much, much better.

The thing is, you might not feel obliged to be the best you can be. After all, Postmedia has reduced the Winnipeg Sun sports staff and section to bare bones—three guys, some days just three pages, zero travel budget. Postmedia is making them shovel the driveway with a spoon. You’ve got a front-end loader. So, hey, you might be feeling smug, with gusts up to arrogance. Why bust your onions, right? Except that would be cheating the business.

I realize the Freep can’t be all things to all people, Jason, but you have the staff and space to give girls/women a better shake. All you really need is the desire and commitment to do it.

Well, that’s one barrel blazing, Jason. And, remember, you invited the critique. Be careful what you wish for, man.

Jennifer Jones and her twentysomething gal pals— Karlee Burgess, Mackenzie Zacharias, Emily Zacharias, Lauren Lenintine—won the Manitoba Scotties today, and I think it’s fair to wonder when the Grand Dame of Pebble People will slow down. Jennifer is 48 and has no more curling mountains to climb, yet she’s still climbing curling mountains. Next up is Mount Scotties in Kamloops, where she’ll be hunting her seventh Canadian women’s title in her 17th appearance. She’ll be wearing the Manitoba buffalo on her back for the ninth time. Astonishing.

Brooke Henderson

Brooke Henderson’s win to open the Ladies Professional Golf Association season last weekend was a reminder that the chatterbugs and editors at The Canadian Press got it all wrong when they anointed Marie-Philip Poulin our country’s top female athlete for 2022. Poulin played a grand total of 14 meaningful hockey games in 12 months. Fourteen. In a two-country competition. She was not Canada’s leading scorer (Sarah Nurse), goal-scorer (Brianne Jenner) or tournament MVP (Jenner) at the Olympic Games. She was not Canada’s leading goal-scorer (Sarah Fillier) or its only all-star (Fillier) at the world championship. Henderson, on the other hand, teed it up in 22 LPGA tournaments (76 rounds) against truly global fields (players from 13 different countries won in 2022) and finished atop the leaderboard twice, including a major. Seems to me the gang at CP has officially reduced Brooke’s accomplishments to ho-hum status, and that’s a shame.

Blake Wheeler

Why do both dailies in Good Ol’ Hometown think it’s a big deal when one of the Winnipeg Jets is added to the field for the Manitoba Open? This year it’s Blake Wheeler’s turn to hack his way around Southwood, and there’s no reason to suspect he’ll be more successful than Rink Rat Scheifele (rounds of 86, 87, 78, 84) or Kyle Connor (94, 90). It’s a footnote at best, not a story.

Hey, maybe Wheeler can tear a page out of the Donald Trump book of golf hijinks. The Commander-in-Cheat claims to have won the recent senior championship at Trump International, except he was at a funeral in North Carolina when everyone else was playing the first round in West Palm Beach, Fla. Gives new meaning to the term “unplayable lie.”

Bill Gates

Mr. Money Pants Bill Gates was observed at the Australian Open tennis tournament, sitting courtside for the men’s singles final between Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas last night. You might be interested in knowing the sticker price for his seats in the hoity-toity section of Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne—$27,500. Who said money can’t buy you love?

On the subject of large coin, future Rouge Football hall-of-fame quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell has signed with the Hamilton Tabbies for $500,000 and change. Hmmm. Wonder how much they’d be willing to pay Bo Levi if he could still fling a football farther than he can spit.

And, finally…

Let’s talk about Ivan Provorov’s ol’ time religion and a God-awful lesson to learn

Now that the thunder-clap clatter has eased to a murmur, what are the lessons learned from L’Affaire Rainbow?

Well, we learned that the Philadelphia Flyers stand by their Russian Orthodox employees, because rearguard Ivan Provorov received not so much as a mild tsk-tsk for skipping out on a pregame warmup last Tuesday night.

While his playmates adorned themselves in rainbow-colored garments and wrapped the blades of their hockey sticks in rainbow-colored tape to signal support for the LGBT(etc.) community on Pride Night, Provorov remained in the Flyers changing room, alone in his gay-is-sin thoughts as his playmates participated in the 15-minute frolic.

Provorov later cited his old-time religion as the reason for his refusal to play Mr. Dressup, telling news snoops: “I respect everybody, I respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”

Oddly enough (but probably not surprising), the Russian Orthodox rearguard refused to elaborate on his choice of religion over rainbow, perhaps because further discussion might have been a bit dodgy, if not prickly. News snoops might have asked Provorov about Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus’, a man who believes a) his buddy Vlad (The Bad) Putin is a “miracle of God,” b) the Russian invasion of Ukraine is necessary to prevent an eastern-advancing scourge of gay Pride parades, and c) same-sex marriage is “a sin” and similar to “apartheid in Africa or Nazi laws.” Apparently, those are talking points Provorov would rather avoid.

Whatever, his true-to-religion soundbite was sufficient for Philly head coach, John Tortorella (“Provy did nothing wrong”), the organization (“The Flyers will continue to be strong advocates for inclusivity”) and the National Hockey League (“Players are free to decide which initiatives to support”). In other words, nothing to see here, kids.

So that’s another lesson learned: If an NHL player wishes to opt out of a team theme night (Pride, Military, Black Lives Matter, Indigenous, etc.), he need only dust off religious dogma to avoid the sin bin, and we have to assume that’s all-inclusive, meaning it’s an easy out available not only to Russian Orthodox but also Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. (I suppose an atheist would have to come up with a different angle, but I don’t know.)

L’Affaire Rainbow also reminded us that news snoops are quick to rally and kick up a mighty fuss, yet they’re just as lickety-split in finding a new toy to chew on.

I mean, opinionists hither and yon spent three days in full and loud yowl, most of them pooh-poohing Provorov and suggesting an appropriate level of punishment, like deportation to the bosom of Mother Russia or listening to Barry Manilow music 24/7. I swear, we haven’t heard the jock journo machine rage like this since two of its heroes, Bobby Orr and Jack Nicklaus, pledged unwavering devotion to Donald Trump.

Yet, today, mention of Provorov’s work clothing is scant and has been pushed to the back pages of sports sections and the back half of news programs.

But here’s what the scribes and talking heads are ignoring: How many Ivan Provorovs are in the NHL? One per team? Two? Five? Surely he isn’t a lone wolf.

The jock journos decline to pursue the issue for one basic reason: They aren’t gay. Thus they can’t relate and don’t care. They’ve delivered a good and proper bawling out to Provorov, positioning themselves as LGBT(etc.) allies, so they harbor no compulsion for a deep dive into the matter.

Similarly, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wants no portion of any anti-gay discussion, unless it provides him an opportunity to apply a coating of sugar.

“When you look at all of our players and the commitments that they’ve made to social causes and to making our game welcoming and inclusive, let’s focus on the 700 that embrace it and not one or two that may have some issues for their own personal reasons,” he told news snoops the other day.

Sure, Gary, and let’s focus on all the banks Bonnie and Clyde didn’t rob.

Perhaps some reminders would be appropriate right about now…

  • In January 2014, TSN ran a three-part documentary, RE/ORIENTATION, which attempted to pry the lid off the issue of gays in hockey.

“We struggled to get participation from players,” said series host Aaron Ward, a former NHL defenceman and TSN talking head. “Over a nine-month period, we reached out to 12 different National Hockey League teams. (We) could not get co-operation. It was a struggle to get guys to sit down and be comfortable and honest in front of a camera. Obviously, it’s easy to sit down and read words for a PSA, but it’s another thing to sit down and be honest and in-depth and be clear about how we feel about this process and this issue. It’s almost a barometer of where we are today.”

Nine months. Twelve teams. That’s more than 200 players. And only three—Andrew Ference, Ben Scrivens and Dustin Brown—agreed to a formal, on-the-record natter. None of the three are in the NHL today.

  • Last month, Hockey Canada revealed results of a study into incidents of on-ice discrimination across all levels and age groups during the 2021-22 season. There were 512 penalties called, 61 per cent involving sexual orientation or gender. Males accounted for 99 per cent of the fouls.

Some of those male shinny scofflaws might grow up to perform in the NHL, which, with its shoulder shrug in L’Affaire Rainbow, has given players the official okey-dokey to go rogue and show the LGBT(etc.) collective, or any marginalized group of their choice, the cold shoulder. They can be just like Ivan Provorov. All they need do is flash a rosary or spew the Lord’s Prayer, then wait out the brief media storm.

What a God-awful lesson to learn.

Let’s talk about the Rouge Football playoffs and the MOP…the Blue-and-Gold’s best in show head count…creepy things in sports that creep me out…Hot Dog! Phil’s the NHL Iron Man…a rinky dink rink…jersey fling in the Republic of Tranna?…and other things on my mind…

Forget about the CFL gas bags on TSN. For the best take on all things Rouge Football, lend an ear to my two favorite gridiron girls, Lady Portage and Dame Main, both unabashed admirers of large lads in blue-and-gold. Take it away, ladies…

Lady Portage: “Well, girlfriend, another Canadian Football League regular season has arrived at the finish line and we move on to the playoffs to see if our Winnipeg Blue Bombers can threepeat.”

Dame Main: “Oh, wouldn’t that be special?”

Lady Portage: “You know it. Not even the Bombers of the glory days brought the Grey Cup home three years in a row. The Bombers of Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis and Herbie Gray won the thing four times in five years back in the 1950s/60s, but not three straight.”

Dame Main: “If they pull it off, wouldn’t that make these the glory days?”

Lady Portage: “I suppose it would, for a younger generation. But it’s going to be a tall task.”

Dame Main: “You aren’t sold on the Big Blue?”

Lady Portage: “I am. They’ve got the best quarterback in the league, Zach Collaros, and that rookie receiver, Dalton Schoen, has made people sit up and take notice. Richie Hall’s D-dozen is as stout and as stingy as ever, and I imagine guys like Biggie Bighill and the J Men—Jefferson and Jeffcoat—are plenty geeked up about another championship ring. But I think the Calgary Stampeders will be a tough out. They’ve got a defence to match Winnipeg’s, and their running back, Ka’Deem Carey, is a beast. If the weather’s foul on Nov. 13, he could be the difference-maker. I like him more than our guy, Brady Oliveira.

Dame Main: “So you’re saying the Stampeders will take out the B.C. Lions in the semifinal next weekend?”

Lady Portage: “The Leos are done like burnt toast. Hey, I’m sold on Lions QB Nathan Rourke—fan-tabulous!—but I’m not sold on him as a QB who’s played part of one game since August.”

Dame Main: “He didn’t look like he was wearing a coat of rust against the Bombers on Friday night.”

Lady Portage: “No, but he didn’t look other-worldly, either. Not like before he suffered the foot owie that put him on the shelf for two months. If I can use just one word to describe his play, it would be ‘meh’. I fear he’s in for an afternoon of hurt courtesy the Stamps D-men. Total misery.”

Dame Main: “What do you think would have happened if Rourke hadn’t been injured? Think we’d be talking about Zach Collaros as Most Outstanding Player?”

Lady Portage: “What if Willie Jefferson had alligator arms instead of a wing span that stretches from Winnipeg to Kenora? I’m not into what-ifs, girlfriend. Rourke got hurt and played in 10 games. Zach didn’t get hurt and led the league in TD tosses and wins.”

Dame Main: “Ya, but the guy in Toronto, Mcleod Bethel-Thompson, had more passing yards and completions than Collaros. Maybe he’s the MOP.”

Lady Portage: “And maybe somebody spiked your tea. You and I will land a gig singing backup vocals for Lady Gaga before McBeth gets the nod as East Division MOP. The guy looks all-world for 30 minutes, then he looks like a kid trying to tie his laces with one hand. Sorry, but Eugene Lewis or Tim White deserves the East nomination. But, hey, the girls and boys on the beat are smitten with QBs, so…”

Dame Main: “I sure hope Zach wins. He seems like a wonderful young man, with an adorable family. And it’s so nice that he’s staying around for a few more years.”

Lady Portage: “As sure as O-linemen like second helpings of mashed potatos and anything that moos, Zach repeats as MOP, then it’s just a question of whether or not the Bombers threepeat. All they need is two more Ws—one vs. Calgary on our Frozen Tundra on Nov. 13, then vs. the Toronto Argos on the Flattest of Lands, Nov. 20.

Dame Main: “So that’s your call? Bombers-Boatmen? Who wins the Grey Grail?”

Lady Portage: “The good guys, of course. Best QB always wins, and that’s our boy Zach. He’ll be flinging TD passes while Bethel-Thompson is trying to figure out how to tie his boot laces with one hand.”

Dame Main: “Guess that’s a wrap for us, girlfriend. We’ll have to do this again Grey Cup week. Ya think the Calgary mob will bring a horse to Regina and clomp him into a hotel?”

Lady Portage: “For sure. And if the nag takes a dump in the hotel lobby, Rob Vanstone and the boys at the Regina Leader-Post can write it up as an editorial comment on the Saskatchewan Roughriders season.”

So, Milt Stegall tells us the Bombers have enjoyed “sellouts through the season.” I demand a recount. I mean, it’s nice that Milt wants to tout Winnipeg FC as the showcase franchise in Rouge Football, but he doesn’t need to fudge facts for the CFL on TSN panel. Here’s the reality: The folks in Good Ol’ Hometown packed the Football Field In Fort Garry twice this crusade, both times in September and both times with a Pil-swilling mob from the Flattest of Lands in town for a visit. But Milt’s correct about the Blue-and-Gold being a model operation, on and off the gridiron. Head counts this year:

26,002 (Ottawa)
23,600 (Hamilton)
29,746 (Calgary)
31,053 (Montreal)
30,062 (Calgary)
33,234 (Saskatchewan)
33,234 (Saskatchewan)
27,159 (Edmonton)
23,685 (B.C.)
Total: 28,641 average (best in show and up from 25,947 in 2021).

Zach Collaros

Dave Naylor asked this question of the TSN panel on Friday: “When’s the last time Zach Collaros stunk the joint out?” Answer: July 22, vs. Edmonton Elks when he was 7/16, 188 yards, 2 TD, 2 picks. But, hey, the Bombers still won, 24-10.

Collaros and Nathan Rourke aside, I can’t remember a more iffy crop of QBs in Rouge Football than what we’ve seen in the past two crusades. Bo Levi Mitchell and Cody Fajardo have become spare parts, Mcleod Bethel-Thompson is as uneven as the back roads in Alabama, we’re still trying to get a reading on Dane Evans, Jeremiah Masoli and Trevor Harris, and Tayler Cornelius might be the next Mike Reilly in Edmonton or the next Great White Nope.

Bytown RedBlacks QB Caleb Evans rushed for a QB record 16 TDs this season. Total yards traveled on those 16 TD rushes: 16.

It’s oft said that the CFL season doesn’t truly begin until the Labor Day weekend, so here’s how the nine teams stacked up in crunch time:

Ron MacLean

It’s Halloween eve and it’s scary out there, kids. Here are five things/people in sports that really, really creep me out:
1. Ron MacLean’s puns and librarian-like references to ridiculously obscure footnotes about historical events/people. The puns are mostly lame and the detours into the unknown are as baffling as they are painful. Just tell the guy to put on a cardigan, call his Hockey Night in Canada gig Mr. MacLean’s Neighborhood and be done with it. He’s become creepy, kids.
2. Conor McGregor. He’s rude, vulgar, obnoxious, a bully, objectionable on every level, and probably thinks mashed potatoes is finger food. Every time I see him on my flatscreen, I feel the need to hose down. He’s creepy, kids.
3. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. I don’t know which of the two aging, slower-than-Sunday NFL quarterbacks creeps me out more. My problem with Brady is simple: His ego is the size of Texas, thus his plan apparently is to force himself upon us until he’s older than every tortoise on the Galapagos Islands. (Fittingly, Brady and the turtles move at the same pace.) Rodgers, meanwhile, has a matching ego and seems to fancy himself as a svengali, determined to bend and shape the Green Bay Packers into his image with his every thought. Or maybe it’s his idea of a Zen thing, where he props himself up as the Dalai QB. I’m uncertain. And when they lose? Never his fault. But it’s creepy, kids.
4. Ever since Phil Mickelson teed it up on the Saudis’ LIV Golf Series, he always looks like he needs a bath. That’s creepy, kids.
5. The fawning by news snoops over Tiger Woods and Serena Williams, two more ego-fueled jocks who refuse to take the off-ramp. Woods has three tournament titles since 2013, his most recent in 2019, then he drove his SUV into a ravine. Williams has won one event since becoming a mom five years ago. Yet both are gabbed and written about like they’ve ended the scourge of global homelessness. Can Woods and Williams still win? I suppose, if all the planets align favorably, but they’re both deep on the downside of the slope and I wonder what part of over-the-hill do the talking heads and scribes not understand? They’re creepy, kids.

Tom Brady

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that Brady looks like he’s on a hunger strike? I realize he’s flying solo these days and probably can’t be bothered cooking for himself, but has he not heard of Skip the Dishes?

Things you don’t expect to read or hear in the same sentence: Donald Trump and humility. Andrea Bocelli and sour notes. Phil Kessel and NHL Iron Man. But a tip of the bonnet to Kessel, who hasn’t skipped a day of work since 2009, or 991 games ago. Not too shabby for a guy reportedly on a tube steak-a-day diet.

Hey, fans have stopped flinging $250 jerseys on the ice in Vancouver, which can only mean the Canucks are no longer playing like a bunch of ankle-benders. Most likely next stop for the Jersey Fling: The Republic of Tranna. The Toronto Maple Elites, after all, are second-last in the Atlantic Division and run the risk of going 0-for-California tonight vs. the Disney Ducks in Anaheim. Another L makes them a sub.-500 outfit, and that simply won’t do in a town where they’re accustomed to winning the Stanley Cup every October. Ladies and gentlemen, start your jerseys.

Nothing but positive dispatches from Mullett Arena, jazzy new playpen of the Arizona Coyotes in Tempe. It’s the size of a college dorm, which is fitting since it also houses college hockey, and we’re told those 5,026 fans crammed into the joint can really raise a ruckus. Well, so do kids in an elementary school playground, but that doesn’t make it college. A rinky dink rink is rinky dink rink is rinky dink rink.

Where did TSN dig up this Frankie Corrado dude? What are the bona fides that compelled TSN to prop him up as a hockey analyst? Well, Google tells me he spent time with 10 teams in 11 seasons of pro hockey, some of it in the NHL (76 games), some of it in Sweden and Russia, and that’s fine. But this is part of a recent Q&A Frankie did with Ben Kuzma of Postmedia Vancouver:
Kuzma: “Why are the Canucks struggling?”
Frankie: “I think that team is in trouble.”
Wow. Move aside, Sherlock Holmes. There’s a new super sleuth in town. And, yes, that’s sarcasm. I mean, the Canucks were the only NHL outfit without a W. What was Frankie’s first clue? If that’s the type of penetrating analysis he’ll bring to TSN, I’ll switch channels and listen to Ron MacLean’s puns.

In a dog-bites-man story, this headline from The Athletic: “PWHPA still working toward a new women’s pro hockey league.” In other news, WWII is over, JFK is dead, Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and The Beatles broke up. I mean, we’ve been hearing about a league for the Ponytail Puck renegades for nigh on four years. When will they tell us something we don’t know?

Dusty Baker

How ironic that the first World Series since 1950 with zero U.S.-born Black players on either roster might be won by a Black manager, Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros. I’ve liked Dusty ever since my one and only visit to Dodger Stadium in the 1980s. Every inning when he trotted out to his post in left field, he’d stop and natter with us fans in the bleachers. Nice man.

I want to go on record as saying I like Camila Cabello and Gwen Stefani on The Voice. John Legend is agreeable and Blake Shelton is Terry Bradshaw with a good head of hair, but not necessarily a better singing voice. Hee haw.

Here’s all you need to know about the Saudi/Greg Norman LIV Golf Series: PGA Tour defector Pat Perez was handed a four-year, $10 million deal, just to show up. “Look, I know I can’t beat those kids anymore. This was a great opportunity for me. I have nothing against the PGA Tour; they did a lot for me, but I had to earn everything I got out there.” What a concept. Earning your wages. Meantime, Peter Uihlein collected $11.3 million in seven LIV events, compared to $4 million in 126 PGA tournaments. But, remember, it isn’t about the money.

And, finally…

Let’s talk about the NHL’s COVID boogie…what they’re saying about the Winnipeg Jets…one Mike drops the mic and another Mike picks it up…Citizen Kane’s latest woes…the value of a good copy editor…and no mulligans for Trump

An early-week smorgas-bored…and happy hockeying everybody…

And so it begins Wednesday night, a modified National Hockey League crusade featuring fewer games, expanded rosters, a Hoser Division, and a killer pandemic.

Make no mistake, this NHL do-si-do shall boogie along to the whims and cadence of COVID-19, which has already put the Dallas Stars in drydock and isn’t likely to play favorites. We can expect more of same, and you can only hope the coronavirus doesn’t take its biggest bite out of your hockey heroes.

We’ve seen how it works, of course, thanks to other leagues.

Every quarterback with a pulse on the Denver Broncos roster was sacked. The Cleveland Browns lost three coaches and four players in advance of their National Football League playoff skirmish v. the Pittsburgh Steelers. It took Tony Romo out of the CBS Sports blurt box. Etcetera, etcetera.

In short, COVID-19 has taken down more NFL players than Michael Strahan, Mean Joe Greene, Reggie White and Dick Butkus in their best years. Combined.

Over in the National Basketball Association, the Boston Celtics-Miami Heat joust was called off Sunday when there weren’t enough healthy bodies to put a team on the hardwood. Two games were called off Monday. The Philly 76ers had the minimum of eight players available for their match v. the Denver Nuggets. The Dallas Mavericks closed their practice facility. Etcetera, etcetera.

So, really, all bets should be off before they drop the puck on the 2021 NHL season, even as Vegas bookies are offering odds on a Stanley Cup champion (the Winnipeg Jets, for those so inclined, were listed at 40/1 on Bodog last time I looked).

Similarly, it’s folly to engage in the reading of tea leaves and/or tarot cards.

That’s Gordie Tumilson, middle front row, beside Bobby Hull.

I mean, go ahead and toss out pre-play predictions if you like, but if COVID-19 were to slay Connor Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit, I don’t like the Jets playoff chances with a Zamboni driver in the blue paint and Gordie Tumilson as backup.

That’s no rap against old friend and former teammate Gordie, by the way. He’s one of my favorite people, but I’m guessing the reflexes aren’t quite as rapier-like as when he stopped rubber for the West Kildonan North Stars in 1969-70 and the Jets a few years later.

Thus, there shall be no prognostications from moi, except to say I expect the Toronto Maple Leafs to top the Hoser Division. (Then, as is their custom, they’ll be excused in the opening round of Beard Season.) Otherwise, it’s a complete crap shoot that, again, shall follow the dictates of COVID, whether we like it or not.

Let’s just call it the COVID19-2021 season.

The gang at NHL.com wasn’t shy about delivering predictions, and six of 15 observers believe the Jets have the right stuff to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. Adam Kimelman has the local lads finishing third, while Dave Stubbs, Shawn P. Roarke, Bill Price, Mike G. Morreale and Tracey Myers slot them in at fourth. USA Today, meanwhile, has the Jets penciled in for a sixth-place finish, ahead of only the Ottawa Senators.

Ray Ferraro

Here’s what they’re saying about the Jets hither and yon…

Ray Ferraro, TSN: “Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver, I’ve got those three kind of together (after Toronto, Montreal and Calgary). I’m not blown away by Winnipeg’s defence. That’s the one thing that gives me pause. But maybe one of those young guys is more ready than you think. Maybe you can climb a spot. Maybe you can put yourself in a different place. I don’t know, is Hellebuyck gonna do that again this year, ’cause, man, he was the best goalie in the league last year. If he can, great. That erases a lot of the shortcomings perhaps of that defence.”

Sean McIndoe, The Athletic: “The optimist’s take on the Jets is that they were pretty good last year despite lots of doom and gloom about their thin blueline, then looked like a playoff team and only lost in the qualifying round because everyone got hurt. The pessimist would point out that ‘pretty good’ isn’t all that great when you have a Vezina winner in goal, and the blueline isn’t significantly better. If Connor Hellebuyck stands on his head again, cool. If he does like a lot of Vezina winners and regresses to the mean even a little, they might fall out of the playoff hunt. I realize ‘they need their goalie to play well’ is an insight that would apply to every team in the league, but it really applies to the Jets.”

Greg Wyshynski, ESPN: “The Winnipeg Jets will ice another competitive team, backstopped by one of the league’s elite netminders in Connor Hellebuyck. But as the team looks to push for another long playoff run, dark storm clouds are overhead, as trade rumors persist involving goal-scoring wizard Patrik Laine. (Paul) Stastny can’t recapture the magic. On a contending team, Stastny is a valuable asset. He does a lot of the little things right that can make the difference in a playoff series. But the last time he was in Winnipeg, he was 32 years old and had a 0.65 points-per-game average between the Jets and Blues. Last season, in 71 games, that average dipped down to 0.54, the lowest of his career. Not a liability as a player, but maybe no longer the guy you want as your No. 2 centre. Then again, he did have impressive chemistry with (Nikolaj) Ehlers and Laine, so we could be wrong.”

Joe Thornton

Random observations: I’m not convinced it’s a given that the Ottawa Senators are destined to be Hoser Division bottom-feeders. Is it likely? Sure. Especially if bankroll Eugene Melnyk sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong. Just don’t sleep on them…The Montreal Canadiens are overrated. Ditto the Calgary Flames…When I submit that I expect the Maple Leafs to top the Hoser Division, it’s based on a belief that aligning greybeard Joe Thornton with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on the top line is a gimmick with a shelf life of about one week…How many people in the True North will pay attention to the standings south of the border? What the American teams do is irrelevant until the Stanley Cup tournament is down to the final four. So why tune in?…Just a reminder, the Jets were the last homebrew outfit to make it to the SC semifinals, in 2018. Seems like a decade ago, doesn’t it?

The What Was Your First Clue Sherlock Award goes to the Drab Slab for this headline on the Jets playing in an empty Little Hockey House On The Prairie this season: “Bell MTS Place won’t be same without fans.” Ya think?

Mike Milbury

So, the other shoe has finally dropped for Mike Milbury, the former player, coach and GM most noted for clubbing a New York Rangers fan on the head with his footwear. NBC Sports has decided it can get along without Milbury’s mumbled musings in the broadcast booth and/or studio this season, and they’ll hand his mic to another defrocked NHL coach, Mike Babcock. No word on what Milbury plans to do with his free time, but apparently he’ll begin a search for the real Space Needle. Hopefully, there’ll be no women on site to “disrupt” his concentration.

Evander Kane and the infamous money phone.

Remember that money phone pic Evander Kane posted from Las Vegas during the 2012-13 NHL lockout? You know, the one with the stacks of American 100 dollar bills? Well, today old friend Evander is $26.8 million in the glue, and hands up anyone who’s surprised to learn that he’s in trouble again? Didn’t think so. Kane, of course, isn’t the first high-salaried athlete to squander a fortune, and he won’t be the last. It’s just that it’s a particularly bad look for him, since a lot of the Jets faithful recall Kane flaunting his wealth with that money phone pic. Today he’d have to borrow a quarter to call someone who cares in Winnipeg, and that’s sad.

Hayley Moore

Say, here’s some good news: Add the name Hayley Moore to the growing list of women stepping into prominent positions in men’s professional sports. The American Hockey League has recruited Hayley as its Vice President of Hockey Operations, and she’ll be on the job early next month, once the National Women’s Hockey League Isobel Cup tournament wraps up in Lake Placid. At present, she’s president of the Boston Pride, after serving as team GM and deputy commissioner and director of player development for the NWHL.

There’s a very good reason why copy editors exist: They can save a writer’s bacon. Unfortunately, they were asleep on the rim when Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna filed this copy last weekend: “Yes, American hockey is pretty darn good,” he wrote. “And no, that’s not necessarily new. Twenty years ago, Sidney Crosby scored the Golden Goal in overtime. The opponent: Team USA, winner of the 1986 World Cup.” D’oh! Twenty years ago, Crosby was in Junior High and the World Cup of Hockey didn’t exist in 1986.

That reminds me of one of my worst gaffes, although not in a byline article. I referred to the Major League Baseball all-star game in July as the “annual Fall Classic.” Gus Collins was on the sports desk that night at the Winnipeg Tribune, and he didn’t catch the mistake. I noticed it at first light the following morning while eating breakfast. Scant seconds later, Gus was on the blower. “Did you see it?” he asked. To which I replied, “Sorry, Gus, I can’t talk right now. I just choked on my Cheerios.”

Donald Trump: No mulligans for you!

According to Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, Donald Trump is “gutted” over the PGA of America voting to remove its 2022 signature tournament from his Trump National golf course in Bedminster, N.J. Not to worry, Trumpsters. Apparently Rudy Giuliana is already on the case, arranging a press conference at a convenient Four Seasons Greenskeeper Shed, whereupon he will demand a mulligan for Trump and vow to challenge the vote in the highest Kangaroo Court he can find.

And, finally, golfers Gary Player and Annika Sorenstam accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Donald Trump last week, but New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, a one-time Trumpite, wants no part of the trinket. To get even for the betrayal, it’s believed Trump stomped his feet, shook his tiny fists, and demanded his MAGA hat back.

Let’s talk about Boomer and Rouge Football…Cris who?…ads on NHL unis…homophobia on the diamond and golf course…sticking to sports…and other things on my mind

A one and a two—the second Sunday morning smorgas-bored of 2021…and the year’s only going to get better, kids…

Oh, the humanity. CBS backup blurt box boy Boomer Esiason crapped on the Canadian Football League, and it was as if he’d peed on a Mountie’s horse. During the Musical Ride.

I swear, we haven’t heard this loud a hue and cry since Maggie Trudeau went clubbing with the Rolling Stones and hitched a late-night ride in Mick’s limo.

If you missed it, Boomer worked the L.A. Rams-Arizona Cardinals skirmish last Sunday, a National Football League growler featuring former Winnipeg Blue Bombers backup quarterback, Grey Cup champion and resident party boy Chris Streveler. As it happened, Streveler hurled an ill-advised, second-quarter pass that was taken the other way for a pick-six by Roy Hill of the Rams.

Boomer Esiason in the Bow Wow Bungalow.

“What a horrific mistake by Reveler (sic), barked Boomer, who was keeping the broadcast booth seat warm for disabled talking head Tony Romo. “This isn’t the Grey Cup. This isn’t the CFL. You can’t just take chances and throw the ball down the middle of the field and expect somebody not to come down with it. There’s just no reason to throw the ball there.”

Cue the outrage.

Players and coaches with the lived experience of actually suiting up in 12-man football took to social media and pounced on Boomer, like a panhandler spotting loose change on a sidewalk.

Many among the rabble and media pundits across the tundra also weighed in with wagging tongues and fingers, defending Rouge Football with the same fervor that Rudy Giuliani has Donald Trump’s back (only without the black shoe polish dribbling down their faces and audible farting).

“That’s a silly comment,” one-time DB Davis Sanchez said of Boomer’s cheap shot, in a natter with TSN’s Kate Beirness that was meant to be a tsk-tsking of Esiason but instead detoured into a negative riff on the Arizona QB, leaving me to believe Streveler doesn’t know how to bend down and tie his own boot laces, let alone fling a football.

“I get joy in watching guys in the CFL get a shot down there and succeed,” Sanchez continued in his peculiar brand of English, “but when I’m looking at all the high-level quarterbacks we have in the CFL, Chris Streveler’s not the guy I’m gonna put out there on display to represent the great quarterbacks we have in the CFL. They said that Chris Streveler, on the broadcast, was a star in Canada. Well, a little research may be necessary, Boomer. He wasn’t a star. He’s a star personality and a great athlete, but he was actually a backup quarterback. Actually, he was really the third-string quarterback, because when the quarterback got injured, instead of playing Chris Streveler at quarterback at the end of the season, they brought in a third-string quarterback, so he’s a third-string quarterback.”

Davis Sanchez

Way to keep it classy, Davis. Crap on one guy by taking an even bigger dump on the other guy.

Meantime, Sanchez’ loud-squawking colleague at TSN, Kayla Grey, tweeted, “the CFL slander has to stop.”

Or what? She’ll lecture Boomer with her phony southern “y’alls” and “thangs” at 150 decibels or higher?

Look, Rouge Football boosterism is great. Been there, been doing that since the 1950s. But let’s not get our knickers in a twist just because Boomer Esiason doesn’t know Flutie Flakes from Corn Flakes.

I mean, what do you expect? He’s an American, and most Americans couldn’t find Winnipeg if you plunked them down at Portage and Main. Think about it. Have you ever noticed the look on a Jeopardy! contestant’s face when the category is anything Canada? That’s right, it’s the same look a dog gets when it sees itself in the mirror for the first time. You know, head cocked to one side, blank stare, curious, no clue.

The difference, I suppose, is that it’s funny when a dog does it, not so much when it’s a high-salaried football analyst on national TV in the stooge role.

But, hey, we don’t kick the dog for being dumb. We laugh, call him over, rub his head and tell him he’s “such a good boy.”

Well, you’re such a good boy, Boomer. Now go play fetch and bring Tony Romo back.

Cris Collinsworth

Since I’ve mentioned Jeopardy!, if there’s any category that contestants know less about than Canada, it’s sports, a truism underscored on the game show last Thursday. The clue: “The announcers on NBC Sunday Night Football are Al Michaels and this former wide receiver.” None of the three contestants buzzed in to say, “Who is Cris Collinsworth?” even though the one-time Cincinnati Bengals pass-catcher has been providing the backup vocals for Michaels on the Peacock Network since 2009. A lot of women can relate. They talk and talk and talk, but their husbands/boyfriends don’t hear a word they say.

Phil Kessel

Now that you’ve asked, no, I don’t believe pasting corporate logos on players’ helmets or attaching corporate names to National Hockey League divisions is a sign that the apocalypse is nigh. Matter of fact, I fully expect to see brand names on jerseys before long, although it will be subtle as opposed to the vulgar, billboardish displays in European shinny or NASCAR. I actually think players ought to be allowed to sell themselves, like they do in tennis and golf. Phil Kessel could skate about the freeze with a Nathan’s Fabulous Franks patch on his Arizona Coyotes jersey. Auston Matthews, first at the NHL pay window, could be sponsored by Brinks. The possibilities are unlimited.

My first year in baseball, each of us kids on the Melrose Park Little League team had an individual sponsor, with the company name displayed on the back, directly above our uni number. Mine was Red Patch Taxi. By the end of the season, the C and H in Patch had disappeared, so I was Red Pat Taxi, something that did not escape the notice of my mom. “Why do you always come home with such a dirty and torn uniform when your brothers’ are clean?” she demanded to know one day. I had no answer. She washed my uniform, put it in my closet, and I got it dirty again.

Lasord Jr. and Lasorda Sr.

As one who has bled Dodgers blue since their final days as “Dem Bums” in Brooklyn, Tommy Lasorda became one of my all-time favorite characters in baseball, and his passing the other day at age 93 brought two things to mind—sound bites and the denial of his son’s homosexuality.

First the sound bites. These are my two favorite quotes from the longtime Los Angeles manager:

  • “I walk into the clubhouse today and it’s like walking into the Mayo Clinic. We have four doctors, three therapists and five trainers. Back when I broke in, we had one trainer who carried a bottle of rubbing alcohol, and by the seventh inning he’d already drunk it.”

  • Prior to the 1988 World Series between L.A. and Oakland, Lasorda approached A’s slugger Jose Canseco and said: “Jose, I just want you to know, if we don’t win this thing I hope you guys do.”

Now the gay son part. Most tributes to Lasorda were glowing in praise and completely ignored, or merely glossed over, his relationship with Tommy Jr., who died of complications from AIDS at age 33. A year after Tommy Jr.’s death in 1991, Lasorda Sr. told Peter Richmond of GQ magazine that his son “wasn’t gay. No way. No way. I read that in a paper. I also read in that paper that a lady gave birth to a fuckin’ monkey, too. That’s not the fuckin’ truth. That’s not the truth.” He also denied that Tommy Jr. had died of AIDS. When Tommy Jr. began chumming around with the Dodgers Glenn Burke, known to his teammates and others in Major League Baseball as gay, the outfielder was promptly banished to Oakland. Those are the kind of words and actions that keep young gay people in the closet. Still.

Justin Thomas

Justin Thomas is another reason why gay youth remain hidden. The world No. 3 golfer coughed up a hairball on a five-foot par putt at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii on Saturday, then expressed his annoyance by dropping the homophobic F-bomb. “It’s not who I am. It’s not the kind of person that I am,” he insisted while delivering a mea culpa. Except he went on to say it was only “when I was done with my round” that he realized he’d spewed the slur. That suggests this wasn’t a one-off. It’s just the first time he was caught on mic.

Tip of the bonnet No. 1: To Lance Hornby, who last week reached the 40-year signpost of scribbling boffo shinny stuff on the sports pages of the Toronto Sun. There are a lot of good people in jock journalism, and Lance certainly is one of them.

Tip of the bonnet No. 2: To Team USA’s Theresa Feaster, the first female to be part of a coaching staff to win the World Junior Hockey Championship. Asked by Fluto Shinzawa of The Athletic what message she has for mothers with young daughters, Feaster said: “Work hard and keep dreaming. Don’t let naysayers or obstacles get in your way. You can achieve great things. Put your head down and work hard. You can accomplish great things.” Exactly.

On the subject of ponytails and pucks, members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association spent the past three days in Florida, playing teenage boys from the United States Premier Hockey League. The women opened with a 5-3 win v. Tampa Bay Juniors, then dropped a 4-2 verdict to the South Shore Kings and absorbed a 5-zip whupping from the Philadelphia Hockey Club. It pains me to say it, but losing to teenage boys won’t convince many people that Ponytail Puck is worth buying into.

MeTV is showing classic cartoons every morning, Monday-Saturday, with all the usual suspects—Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Popeye and Bluto, Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner, etc. What, there wasn’t enough violence on TV already?

After 15 years together, Mookie Betts of the L.A. Dodgers has finally asked his childhood sweetheart Brianna Hammonds for her hand in matrimony. Talk about a human rain delay.

No surprise that there was plenty of political/social commentary from jock journos in the wake of the siege on the Capitol in Washington, D.C., last week, and I’m not one of those people who expect them to “stick to sports.” I figure if they have a platform, use it. And did they ever. Examples:

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star called Rudy Giuliani a “moron” and Donald Trump “the Orange Clown,” then attacked Ontario health officials and the government for allowing the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators to set up shop for the NHL season.

“WHY CAN THE NHL PLAY IN ONTARIO WHEN NONE OF US CAN PLAY A SPORT—ANY SPORT—INDOORS???” went his Twitter rant.

“Share your pain Damo,” Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette moaned in concert. “Had to cancel my tennis after QC locked down this week and my gym has been closed since March.”

Donald Trump in full incite mode.

Jack Todd of the Gazette on Trump: “One of the worst human beings who ever lived. Any country, any era. Given enough time and power, he would have gone into the history books with Hitler, Stalin and Caligula.”

Bob Irving, CJOB: “As I anxiously await this weekend’s NFL wildcard games, I also anxiously await the day when we’re not hearing about or talking about the worst human being to ever lead the most powerful country in the free world.”

Ken Campbell, The Hockey News: “Hockey icon Bobby Orr endorsed Donald Trump two months ago. Now it’s time for him to repudiate the man who incited the violence and anarchy that was unleashed on the U.S. Capitol Wednesday.”

Mad Mike McIntyre, the Drab Slab: “This is the America Trump created. This is the America Trump wanted. History will never forget that U.S. President Donald Trump said “we love you” today to a group of armed domestic terrorists who dropped pipe bombs and stormed the U.S. Capitol in his name (leaving at least one woman dead) while also calling them “very special.”

Troy Westwood, 1290 TSN: “Donald Trump has been a horrible human being his entire adult life. His history is well documented. Yet tens of millions of people line up behind him as if he has the virtues of Jesus Christ. Please Trumpsters, Christians, Evangelicals, explain this to me.”

Terry Jones, Postmedia Edmonton, after the Americans won gold at the World Junior Hockey Championship: “At least the USA has a fine group of young men with gold medals around their necks to be proud of today. Hard to believe they’re from the same country as those that were part of the mob in Washington, D.C.”

And finally, Space X guy Elon Musk is now richest man on the planet, with a worth of $188.5 billion. Just wondering: Do you think he’d be interested in bankrolling a quirky, three-downs football league? I really don’t want to go another year without watching all those Rouge Football quarterbacks that Boomer Esiason thinks are lousy because they throw the ball down the middle of the field.

Let’s talk about Winnipeg Jets young studs skipping town and training camp tardiness…fresh Chevy-speak and what it means…Tiz the Stud…a Twitter hissing contest…no radio/TV in the colonies…heavenly baseball…where’s the money?…and other things on my mind

The first Sunday morning smorgas-bored of 2021…and I can’t say how many more are to follow…

Puck Finn

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed a trend with the Winnipeg Jets? Consider:

Evander Kane wanted out.

Jacob Trouba wanted out/tardy to training camp.

Josh Morrissey tardy to training camp.

Patrik Laine tardy to training camp.

Kyle Connor tardy to training camp.

Jack Roslovic wants out/tardy to training camp.

All young. All first-round draft picks.

Josh Morrissey

Of that bunch, only Morrissey and Connor are locked in longterm with the National Hockey League club. Kane and Trouba vamoosed. Laine’s agents believe it would be “mutually beneficial” for Puck Finn and the Jets to part company, and if they’re saying it we can assume Laine put the notion in their noggins. Roslovic, meanwhile, will likely sign, then bide his time playing third- or fourth-line minutes—or eating popcorn in the press box—for a very modest wage until his wish for a new postal code is granted.

Losing four young studs isn’t how draft-and-develop is supposed to work. But when—yes, I said when—Laine and Roslovic are gone, it will have become the Winnipeg way. That’s not a good look.

But, hey, Blake Wheeler will still be there to ride shotgun for Rink Rat Scheifele, and I sometimes think that’s all that matters to the Holy Trinity of Jets co-bankroll Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice.

That’s not a good look, either.

Just a thought: Would the Holy Trinity ever part company with captain Wheeler the way the Boston Bruins discarded Zdeno Chara, the greybeard who wore the C for so many years? Not bloody likely. I say it’s even money that Wheeler is still captain of Winnipeg HC—and playing right wing on the first line if Maurice is still behind the bench—when he’s 43.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Always get a giggle out of Chevy’s gum-flappers, and he was in peak form last week during 40-plus minutes of to-and-fro with news snoops. The thing is, Chevy-speak usually requires de-coding because, when asked the time of day, the GM is apt to tell you how to build a watch. But that’s why I’m here. To translate his natter.

On Laine’s status and trade rumors lingering into the season…

What Chevy said: “I think, again, everybody is a professional and certainly, you know, I was a professional trying to do my job this summer in looking at all the different options, you know, to improve our team, and I think, you know, we have done that. As far as, you know, with Patrik, you know, again, I assume he’s probably gonna have one of the best years of his career, you know, given the group of players that we have and the professionalism that is there and the maturity level that, you know, that all players gain, you know, year over year over year, I think just, you know, helps us move forward.”

What Chevy really meant: “Sure other clubs called and asked if Patty’s available, but do the names Teemu Selanne and John Paddock mean anything to you? What do people remember John for? That’s right, for trading Teemu. You think I want them remembering me as the doofus who traded Patty for a couple of used jock straps? If he’s gonna score 50 goals, it’s gonna be here, not in Philly or Carolina.”

Sami Niku

On the Jets maligned blueline, which has added only Derek Forbort…

What Chevy said (take a deep breath, kids): “Well, you know, again, we’re excited, you know, the opportunity to have him. You know, he’s someone that when he was in L.A., he put up some top minutes before he had an injury, put up some, you know, really good years playing against some good players, playing, you know, some shutdown roles, you know, he relishes the penalty kill, which is, you know, something that we, you know, look at improving. Obviously we’re excited that Dylan DeMelo, you know, chose to stay with us, you know, from a free agent standpoint. I’m sure there was…I know there’d be lots of opportunity for him elsewhere, you know, judging by the phone calls I got after, you know, we got him signed, so, you know, again, excited about having that. Really excited about, you know, again, just the continuity of, you know, Josh taking another step and Neal Pionk taking another step. Tucker Poolman, you know, now got a year, you know, under his belt, Sami Niku, just, you know, really hope that he can, you know, just take, you know, use training camp as an opportunity to springboard because there’s so much I think more, you know, in his game that unfortunately through, you know, injuries and the like…I guess we just have to make sure he doesn’t drive to training camp so he doesn’t get in a car accident and, you know, to kick things off. And then, you know, we’ve got some young players that, you know, looking forward to seeing. Dylan Samberg has not had the benefit of coming to an NHL training camp yet, so we really have, you know, we’ve kind of been frothing at the mouth for a couple years to get him into the pro ranks and, you know, now the time is here. Ville Heinola has had the benefit of playing over in Finland, you know, so his game, you know, hopefully will be at a level that will, you know, turn heads here, you know, right away. Obviously he had a great training camp last year and, you know, we’re just looking for, you know, obviously for him to come in and have matured that much more, you know, over the course of time. And a player like Logan Stanley, who’s had the opportunity to play two years of pro, you’re looking for that development and you’re looking for those guys to take that next step. We think we’ve got great depth and we’ve got a couple of guys that we think there’s a lot of room to grow with.”

What Chevy really meant: “Fingers and toes crossed. It’s all on Connor Hellebuyck to, you know, give us Vezina Trophy goaltending again or, you know, we’re up Schitt’s Creek without a paddle.”

Why are news snoops referring to it as the 2020-21 NHL season when all games will be played in 2021?

Zdeno Chara

I agree, after his lengthy tenure with the Bruins, it’s going to be weird seeing Zdeno Chara in Washington Capitals garb this winter. It’ll be kind of like Pope Francis holding mass in Wrangler jeans, Tony Lama snake skin boots and a Stetson instead of his robe and pointy hat.

Is it too much for Sportsnet to tell Elliotte Friedman to drag a hair brush across his scalp? The man looks absolutely disgraceful and, again, there’s no chance a female broadcaster would be permitted to appear on camera looking like she spent the night sleeping in a back-alley dumpster.

Social note: Lindsey Vonn and P.K. Subban won’t be exchanging wedding vows after all. Engaged in 2019, the sports power couple called the whole thing off last week, and it’s hard to figure. After all, P.K. is one of the NHL’s most notorious divers. And now he’s not willing to take the plunge? Go figure.

Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law is now Tiz the Stud, and if you want the great bay stallion to service your mare the price tag is $40,000. Imagine that, $40,000 for sex. Tom Brady must feel ripped off. I mean, he screwed the New England Patriots and never got a dime for it.

Stevie Van Zandt

This is rich: In a Twitter hissing contest, Damien Cox of the Toronto Star scolded musician/actor Stevie Van Zandt, who had the (apparent) bad manners to trash talk news snoops for the lame questions they ask athletes. “Don’t criticize things you’ve never done,” the pompous Cox harrumphed. That just might be the dumbest tweet…by anyone… ever. It’s a hot, steamy pile of stupid. Unless, of course, I was sleeping during those years when Cox played in the NHL, MLB, NBA, NFL and MLS. Seriously. The guy’s made a career of crapping on athletes, coaches, managers, owners and officials. He’s a recreational golfer and wannabe tennis player who pooh-poohs pros of all stripes. He’s never spent five seconds in the White House, let alone presided over an entire nation, but he’s spent the past four years crucifying Donald Trump. But, hey, don’t you dare trash talk Cox or other news snoops unless you’ve held a notebook or microphone in a post-game scrum. As if. Like I said, a hot, steamy pile of stupid, and the Star continues to publish his alphabet farts.

Speaking of TorStar, it’s added former NHLer and current TSN gab guy Dave Poulin to its stable of sports scribes. That would be the same Dave Poulin who, in 2018, left Connor McDavid off his all-star ballot, even though the Edmonton Oilers captain was the NHL scoring champion and winner of the Ted Lindsay Award as the best player in the world. Note to self: Cancel Toronto Star subscription first thing on Monday.

Becky the bench boss.

It’s about Becky Hammon: Rock on, girl. Becky became the first female to coach a National Basketball Association team last week, taking the wheel of the San Antonio Spurs after bossman Gregg Popovich was told to leave the building in the second quarter of a skirmish v. the Los Angeles LeBrons. She joins a list of impressive “first” ladies in sports that includes Kim Ng, Katie Sowers, Kathryn Nesbitt, Callie Brownson and Alyssa Nakken, so don’t tell me that nothing good happened in 2020.

I don’t know about you, but I get a kick out of jock journos and others in the rag trade listing their top 10 or 20 articles/columns from 2020. Never mind that it’s a rather arrogant exercise in ego-stroking, it seems to me that it’s the readers who should decide something like that.

I can’t remember 10 of my posts from last year, let alone 20, and I doubt the five or six people who read this blog can either. So I’ll spare one and all my greatest hits.

Sean Fitz-Gerald of The Athletic lists his “top 10 Canadian sports media stories of 2020.” Nos. 9 and 10 are strictly about radio in the Republic of Tranna. Sigh. Only someone from The ROT would presume to believe those of us who live/work in the colonies actually give a damn. Oh, and apparently we haven’t been introduced to radio and TV, because not one of the “top 10” stories targets a Western Canada market. Or anywhere east of The ROT, for that matter. Double sigh.

There’s an old Righteous Brothers song with the lyrics “If there’s a rock and roll heaven, well you know they’ve got a hell of a band.” Well, we can say the same about baseball, because the Big Ballpark In The Sky gained a helluva team last year. Included among the legends leaving our mortal coil were Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Whitey Ford and Phil Niekro, and how would you like to go into a World Series with those four as your starting rotation? Backing them up would be an infield of Bob Watson at first, Joe Morgan at second, Tony Fernandez at shortstop and Dick Allen at third, with Al Kaline, Lou Brock and Claudell Washington patrolling the outfield. The only position the Grim Reaper didn’t tap on the shoulder was catcher.

Bo Levi Mitchell

Canadian Football League outfits are busy getting signatures on contracts for a 2021 season, and that’s good news. The not-so-good news is that nobody has explained how Rouge Football works without people in the pews. As you know, commish Randy Ambrosie went panhandling on Parliament Hill last year, hoping for a pogey cheque to cover the costs of an abbreviated season, but the CFL fell off the grid when Trudeau the Younger and the feds rejected the beg. So how can it be doable this year? Even with a COVID vaccine available, head counts will be limited. Every skirmish will look like a Toronto Argos home game. And what’s left of rainy day funds can’t possibly cover operating costs of a full season, especially for community-run franchises like our Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Some players across the dominion have rejigged their contracts, but where’s the revenue to pay Bo Levi Mitchell $541,000, Mike Reilly $525,000 and Cody Fajardo $405,000, to name just three high-salaried quarterbacks?

Count me as shocked when I called up the Winnipeg Sun this morning to see an article about girls high school volleyball on the sports front. The tabloid doesn’t do local, other than the pro teams and curling. It doesn’t do women’s sports. So it was a pleasant surprise. Having said that, the Drab Slab continues to wallop the Sun in female sports coverage. Here are the numbers for exclusively female content in the 30 publishing days of December:

Free Press
Sports front: 7
Articles/briefs: 32/11
Days with female sports coverage: 27 of 30.

Sun
Sports front: 1
Articles/briefs: 8/2 (plus one sentence on Sarah Fuller)
Days with female sports coverage: 10 of 30.

And finally, I keep reading and hearing people write and say if 2020 has taught us anything it’s to be kind to one another. Seriously? You needed a killer pandemic to learn that?

Let’s talk about Rob the Rube and the Exalted Guardians of the Lou Marsh Trophy…LP records and bubble gum card regrets…the $405 million Winnipeg Jets…the Drama in Bahama…hits and misses in the rag trade…mum’s the word for Kyrie…and Johnny Rotten’s on his way back

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and something tells me that Sarah Fuller’s 15 minutes of fame is about to end now that she’s kicked two converts…

There are a couple of things you need to know about the Lou Marsh Trophy.

Lou Marsh Trophy

First, it’s a Toronto Star in-house trinket, named after a former sports editor at One Yonge Street in the Republic of Tranna and voted on by a cadre of news snoops mostly living and working within spitting distance of the CN Tower.

Second, here’s what those big-city Tranna folk think of us out here in the colonies—hee haw!

That’s right, country bumpkins.

We’re the red-haired, freckle-faced, adopted daughters and sons of Confederation, all spread out in the wide-open sprawl of an oft-frozen tundra and hunkered down in a bunch of itty-bitty, backwater burgs named after animals and their body parts. Moose Jaw. Elkhorn. Pelican Narrows. Porcupine Plain.

Basically, they see us as Mayberry. You know, Andy, Barney, Goober, Floyd the Barber and Aunt Bee. Except we wear toques.

They think our idea of a high time is the Saturday night barn dance. Right after the big tractor pull. (That’s only partially true. Sometimes we save the tractor pull until Sunday afternoon, right after we’ve collected all the eggs and milked the cows.)

They also know they’ve got the tall, imposing CN Tower and powerful Bay Street, while we have grain silos and Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump.

Alphonso Davies

Little wonder, therefore, that the Exalted Guardians of the Marsh trinket limited the number of colonials in last week’s discussion/vote to determine the finest athlete in our vast land during the past 12 months. Wouldn’t want to give too many of the western rubes too loud a voice, right? Why, you get a whole passel of those hayseeds together and they’re apt to organize a Western Bloc vote and choose Troy Dorchester, or some little, ol’ gal who raised herself a prize-winning heifer at the Oxbow County Fair.

Next thing you know, One Yonge Street would be trying to explain to the world how a chuckwagon racer out of Westerose, Alta., came to be Canada’s athlete-of-the-year. Or—eeks!—a pig-tailed 4H-clubber with a cow. Can’t have that, now can we?

So the Exalted Guardians, headed by Damien Cox of the Star, played a game of eeny-meeny-miny-moe and plucked a fortunate four from the entire pool of jock journos who live and work west of Falcon Lake, which is just a hoot and a holler down the road from the Manitoba-Ontario divide.

“There’s more rep from the West now than for the first 60 years of the award,” Cox boasted in a tweet, as if he’d brought peace to the Middle East.

Oh my, what a dear, magnanimous man, permitting four among the great unwashed wretches of Western Canadian jock journalism to share his oxygen, albeit virtually. Alert the Vatican. Surely sainthood must be the reward for such unprecedented charity.

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

The thing is, the overwhelming majority of voices at last week’s virtual point-and-counterpoint—37 in number—belonged to news snoops who wouldn’t know a silo from a swather, and the final head count was East 33, West 4.

But, hey, can we really blame the Exalted Guardians for putting a quota on country bumpkins?

I mean, they really pushed the envelop by giving four western rubes a voice and a vote. It was high risk, like letting Mike Tyson loose in a sorority house. And, sure enough, just look at what Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post did. He brought a banjo to the symphony.

Eighteen news snoops voted for Alphonso Davies and 18 voted for Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. But not our boy Rob. He delivered his shoutout to breakout basketball star Jamal Murray. (By gosh, that means he must have watched some hoops. On TV. Who knew they had electricity on the Flattest of Lands? Must have got it the same day as the indoor plumbing.)

Those who know him say Rob is an all-timer on the roll call of good guys, but he had some serious ‘splaining to do. The Twitter hounds demanded answers. How could this sodbuster not possibly see what everyone else saw in Davies and Duvernay-Tardif?

Rob Vanstone

“My rationale: Murray had two 50-point games in the 2020 NBA playoffs, during which he helped the Denver Nuggets rally from 3-1 series deficits against the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers (see ya, Kawhi Leonard),” he wrote. “In 19 post-season games, the 6-foot-4 Murray averaged 26.5 points, 6.6 assists and 4.8 rebounds. That was after posting averages of 17.7 points, 4.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds during the regular season. Murray, from Kitchener, Ont., elevated his already impressive play when the games were most meaningful.”

Rob also tweeted something about it being “a coin flip” between Murray and Davies, but he didn’t really have to explain himself. In reality, he did everyone a favor. His vote meant joint top jocks, rather than one.

Atta boy, Rob the Rube. You’ve got a boffo story to tell at the next Saturday night barn dance. Hee Haw!

I have no quibble with Davies and Duvernay-Tardif sharing the Lou Marsh Trophy. For all I care, they can slice the thing in half or melt it down and make baubles, bangles and buckshot out of it. If not, I’m guessing it would make for a fabulous door stop or a paper weight. No matter, because this isn’t about footy phenom Phonsie or the good doctor, who chose to save lives this year rather than protect Patrick Mahomes’ backside in the Kansas City Chiefs’ bid to repeat as rulers of the National Football League. They’re champions and worthy winners, both of them, even if Phonsie did his thing on footy pitches on the other side of the world and Duvernay-Tardif did his thing in long-term care homes after collecting a Super Bowl ring. My issue is with the process. Is it truly a national award if half the country isn’t given a voice? Hell no, it ain’t. It’s total BS. Until the Exalted Guardians allow everyone to play, it’s a sham.

Something to ponder: For all the success we’ve had in Ponytail Puck, no female hockey player has ever won the Lou Marsh trinket. For all the success our Pebble People have had, no curler has ever won the Lou Marsh trinket. For all her accomplishments on the LPGA Tour, Brooke Henderson has never won the Lou Marsh trinket. Just saying.

A Wayne Gretzky rookie card fetched $1.29 million at auction last week. Every time I read a story like that, I cringe. How so? Because there was a bubble gum card in the back wheel of the Raleigh bike I sold to Dougie Cox for $10 while in high school in the 1960s. I don’t recall whose pic was on that tiny piece of cardboard, but it might have been Bobby Orr, and one of No. 4’s rookie cards sold for $204,000 last year. What did I do with the 10 bucks Dougie gave me for my bike? Bought the newest Beatles album, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. I still have the LP and bubble gum card regrets. I doubt Dougie has the bike.

Please don’t tell me you’re surprised that the Winnipeg Jets have been given preferential treatment from provincial politicos and Manitoba’s top docs in their quest to play hockey during a pandemic. You should know by now that there’s one rule book for the regular rabble and another for the filthy rich and fabulous.

Let me go on record and say any member of our national women’s hockey/soccer teams can call dibs and jump ahead of me in the vaccine queue if they feel so inclined. But the millionaire hockey players? Wait your turn, boys.

The Puck Pontiff

On the subject of wealth, the money crunchers at Forbes tell us the value of the Jets has dipped from US$420 million a year ago to $405M today. Put in perspective, the sticker price was $170M when co-bankrolls Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and David Thomson purchased the National Hockey League franchise in 2011. Still, there’s cause for concern. Assuming the NHL drops the puck next month, an empty Little Hockey House On The Prairie means no game-day revenue and staggering losses for Winnipeg HC and all NHL outfits. We know no one in the country has deeper pockets than Thomson, and there’ll be no tag days for the Puck Pontiff, but hearing the New York Islanders dropped $39M in 2020 makes me a bit skittish.

Here’s the Forbes breakdown on valuation for the NHL’s Canadian-based franchises (year-over-year change in parenthesis):
2. Toronto Maple Leafs-$1.5 billion (0%)
3. Montreal $1.34B (0%)
10. Vancouver $725 million (-2%)
14. Edmonton $550M (-4%)
20. Calgary $480M (-4%)
26. Ottawa $430M (-3%)
27. Winnipeg $405M (-4%)

Interesting that Bill Foley of the Vegas Golden Knights felt obliged to snuff out trade talk involving forward Max Pacioretty. “We’re not shopping Patches,” the Knights bankroll told news snoops. “We do have cap issues, and so some of those things have to be resolved as we go forward, we started getting into the season. But he definitely is not being shopped.” Is it just me, or does anyone else think that’s exactly the kind of language we should be hearing from the Puck Pontiff re Patrik Laine?

Trevor Berbick and Muhammad Ali.

Thirty-nine years ago Friday, I sat ringside and watched Trevor Berbick box Muhammad Ali’s ears for 10 rounds on a parched patch of earth on Paradise Island in The Bahamas. The great Ali was pathetic and Berbick, a Canadian by way of Jamaica, wasn’t much better. It was a sordid affair that involved criminals, con men and the many human barnacles and leeches who clung to Ali, still convinced there was a buck to be made off the aging and bloated man. I didn’t enjoy what I witnessed and heard that night, and thought it disturbing that Ali’s fist-fighting career should end in such an undignified manner. It was like watching royalty carted off in a compost cart. The Drama in Bahama never should have happened but, oddly enough, I’m glad I was there for Ali’s final bout.

It’s official: Donald Trump and his wackadoo legal team headed by Rudy Giuliani has now suffered more losses than the Washington Generals. The Generals, of course, were the longtime patsy and loser of more than 17,000 games to the Harlem Globetrotters.

Jeff Hamilton

Hit and Misses in the local rag trade…

Hit: Call off the search party. Bring back the bloodhounds. The Drab Slab’s fine, young scribe Jeff Hamilton is safe and scribbling again. We haven’t seen Jeff’s byline much this year, in large part due to the Canadian Football League falling off the grid, but he’s back with a six-part epic on Graham James, the sexual predator former hockey coach. Do we need to read more about creepy James and his criminal acts? Probably not. But if his victims are talking, they deserve to be heard. Some of Part 1 is painful to read, because what James did to teenage boys was horrific and the coverup was unforgivable, but it’s fabulous journalism from Jeff. Parts 2-6 in the series run online Monday-Friday and in print Tuesday-Saturday.

Miss: The Drab Slab couldn’t find room on its sports pages for this year’s list of inductees to the Manitoba Golf Hall of Fame—Rhonda Orr, 1967 junior men’s interprovincial team champions Steve Bannatyne, Dave Hill, Ken Redfern, Dwight Parkinson, Manfred Broavac, and builders Brian Gilhuly and Tom Kinsman—but there was ample space for articles on Northern Ontario canceling its curling championships, breakdancing becoming an Olympic sport, COVID-19 and the Tranna Jurassics, new co-GMs for the B.C. Lions, the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC, and two NFL game stories. That’s just wrong.

Miss: The Winnipeg Sun ran a brief on the golf hall-of-famers, but it should have been on the sports front rather than another bland, boring article on the Tranna Blue Jays written by a Tranna scribe. Seriously, what happened to putting local copy first and foremost?

Hit: Ted Wyman’s two-parter on the state of curling in Canada and the changes Pebble People would like to see at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier.

Kyrie Irving

So, Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets says he won’t be talking to news snoops (he calls them “pawns”) before, during or after the National Basketball Association season. Give me a quarter and I’ll call someone who might actually give a damn.

The NBA has fined Irving $25,000 for his cone of silence. Ya, like that’s going to unzip his lips. The guy’s due to collect $33 million for bouncing a ball in 2020-21.

And finally, according to TMZ, Johnny Manziel is about to sign a contract with the Zappers in something called Fan Controlled Football. Isn’t there a vaccine to make him go away permanently?

Let’s talk about Howie Meeker and raccoon droppings for $2,000, Alex…fake news and Leavenworth…Vlad the Gifted and Ball Park Franks…Sid and Connor say it’s okay to be gay…and other things on my mind

A Monday morning smorgas-bored…and I never realized how little I knew until Alex Trebek showed up on TV…

In honor of Canadian TV icon Alex Trebek, who left us at age 80 on Sunday, let’s play Jeopardy!

CLUE: Golly gee and Jiminy Crickets, this man was a National Hockey League rookie-of-the-year who scored five goals in one game, a four-times Stanley Cup champion, an all-star, a Member of Parliament, and a broadcasting icon on Hockey Night in Canada.

ANSWER: Who is Howie Meeker?

CLUE: Howie died at the age of 97 on Sunday, meaning this man is now the oldest living Toronto Maple Leaf.

ANSWER: Who is Joe Thornton?

Howie Meeker and Dave Hodge

I remember sitting in the media room of the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver one night many winters ago, gnoshing on a plate of free food while having a pre-game natter with either Friar Nicolson or Sod Keilback.

Actually, it might have been both of the Winnipeg Jets radio guys. No matter.

At some point, Meeker joined us at our table and the chin-wag focused on Dale Hawerchuk, the captain and centrepiece of a decent Jets outfit. I suggested that Ducky had been off his game a bit, but Howie would have none of it.

“Ah, you don’t know a hockey puck from a pinch of coon shit,” he informed me.

I’m not sure why, but hearing Howie Meeker pooh-pooh my hockey know-how somehow made me feel good. I mean, the Squeaker was already a legend of the Hockey Night in Canada blurt box by then, so it was an absolute honor to have him break bread with a stray scribe from the flatlands and, at the same time, confirm that my grasp of the game was no better than a pinch of raccoon droppings. Never before had someone so famous told me I was full of crap.

I thought perhaps Howie was going to pull out his telestrator and draw some squiggly lines to emphasize his point, or maybe even whack me upside the head with the thing.

But no. Howie wasn’t being mean. He was being Howie. Blunt.

That was my only inter-action with Meeker, so I never got to know him in any depth. But, like so many others, I knew him from his HNIC gig, where he’d break down a play and instruct one of the boys in the truck to “Stop it right there!” or to “Back it up!” or, when a defenceman was beaten badly, he’d show the replay and, in a scolding tone, squawk, “What’s he doing down on his knees looking for nickels?”

Howie wasn’t into tap dancing, and his tell-it-like-it-isms surely livened up HNIC intermissions. He gave the show juice and made it fun.

My mom, mind you, thought Howie to be quite the noisy and annoying know-it-all, and I’m sure she would have been horrified by his table manners. But I got a kick out of the guy, coon droppings and all.

Speaking of former HNIC squawkers, Dave Hodge made me giggle with this tweet after jock legends Bobby Orr, Jack Nicklaus and Brett Favre had raised their voices in support of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election: “Thanks to Orr, Nicklaus and Favre, Donald Trump says the only channel that doesn’t broadcast fake news is ESPN.”

Donald Trump

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star describes Trump as a “distinctly unpopular politician.” Ya, he’s so unpopular that only 70,903,094 Americans voted for him. That’s more than Barack Obama tallied in 2008 and ’12. It beats Hilary Clinton’s total in 2016. It’s more than double what JFK received in 1960. We should all be so “distinctly unpopular.”

The Washington Nationals want president-elect Joe Biden to toss the ceremonial first pitch at their Major League Baseball home opener in 2021. To which former broadcaster Peter Young tweets: “Trump counters with claim he’ll throw out the first pitch at Leavenworth.” That made me laugh.

Just wondering: Does Trump’s election loss mean Mexico doesn’t have to pay for his invisible wall?

Speaking of money, I read something the other day about Microsoft dude Bill Gates saying his three children would inherit only $10 million each from his $100 billion-plus fortune, because giving them “massive amounts of money is not a favor to them.” Excuse me? Ten million bucks isn’t a massive amount of money? C’mon, man, that’s like saying Babe Ruth was a singles hitter.

In the past MLB season, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. couldn’t hit his own weight. Literally. He arrived at Summer Camp a whopping 282 pounds, was promptly shifted from third to first base, and hit .262. But word out of Toronto Blue Jays Nation is that Vlad the Gifted is no longer Vlad the Bloated. That’s right, Vladdy’s lost 32 pounds of blubber and now tips the Toledo at 250, give or take a side order of Nathan’s Ball Park Franks. He also wants his old job back with the Tranna Nine, at third base. That would be quite a trip: From the hot dog stand to the hot corner.

Bayne Pettinger

I’m not convinced that the outing of player agent Bayne Pettinger moves the needle toward acceptance of an openly gay performer in the National Hockey League, but the enthusiastic support from Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid might carry some sway with a young, closeted gay kid who’s thinking of quitting the game. Both Crosby and McDavid are fully behind Pettinger, a former Hockey Canada operations manager now with CAA Hockey, and if the game’s greatest players say it’s okay to be gay, then it’s okay.

If the day dawns when an NHL player chooses to come out, he’d be wise to follow the Pettinger blueprint: Find a trusted news snoop to tell the story, which Pettinger did in Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, and do it during down time, which is to say the off-season. That way, the fuss and muss and circus is dispensed with long before training exercises commence, and he can simply get on with getting on.

Like most newspaper sports editors, Steve Lyons of the Drab Slab is expected to find room in his section for female sports. “It’s not always easy,” he wrote on Nov. 5. “The reality is there are less women participating in sports and there are less women’s pro leagues. That adds up—or I guess doesn’t add up to an equal number of stories to be written and published. We can’t control how many wire stories we get each day on women’s sports, so our solution to moving the needle in this area has always been to focus on being as equitable as possible on local sports. While I did once win a national award for a series on gender equity in sports, I’m a guy—and slow sometimes—so, I admit to needing to be poked and kept aware on this subject.” Toward that end, Lyons is bringing Andrea Katz on board, and she’ll be writing about the distaff side of the playground “once or twice a month.” That’s a good thing.

Rafa Nadal

Rafael Nadal didn’t triumph at the Paris Masters tennis tournament, but much was made of the fact Rafa joined the 1,000-win club and trails only Jimmy Connors (1,274), Roger Federer (1,242) and Ivan Lendl (1068) in career singles victories during the Open Era. Not true. Rafa and everyone else is still chasing the great Martina Navratilova and her 1,442 singles match victories. And before they catch Martina, they have to catch Chrissie Evert (1,309 Ws). Just saying.

And, finally, another example of the shameful Torontofication of the Winnipeg Sun could be found on the sports front Nov. 3. It was a piece on Jeffrey Knox Jr., and don’t feel bad if you’re not familiar with the name. A vagabond football player last seen in frolic with the Ottawa RedBlacks, Knox Jr. signed to join the Toronto Argos for a 2020 Canadian Football League crusade that never happened, and now he’s facing an attempted homicide rap, among other things, in the U.S. He never played in Winnipeg for the Blue Bombers. Yet one of the geniuses on the Postmedia sports desk decided that his tale of woe was what sports fans in Good Ol’ Hometown wanted to read first and foremost on Nov. 3, rather than Ted Wyman’s real-news piece on local sports facilities and rec leagues going dark for two weeks due to COVID-19. They tucked Ted’s article on Page 4. Sigh.

Let’s talk about Bobby Orr’s boot-licking…a rout for the Drab Slab…ignoring female sports…and other things on my mind…

A Monday morning smorgas-bored…and welcome to the 71st November of my lifetime…

So, I’m doing some research the other day and I stumble upon this May 9 headline from the Boston Globe:

“50 years later, Bobby Orr remains gracious, humble, and incomparable.”

Oops.

Robert Gordon Orr

Few have been describing Robert Gordon Orr as gracious, humble and incomparable in the past few days. More like dumb, ignorant and fallen idol.

All that because the great No. 4 has outed himself as a hard-core Trumpite who plans to scratch an X next to the name Donald Trump on his ballot for tomorrow’s U.S. presidential election.

Lest there be any doubt about his political posturing, Orr took out a full-page ad in the New Hampshire Union Leader last week to confirm his unwavering devotion to the current resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW in Washington, D.C., trumpeting Trump as “the kind of teammate I want.”

I’m not sure what Derek Sanderson or Eddie Westfall or Wayne Cashman or Pie McKenzie have to say about that, but I suspect one or two of Bobby’s former big, bad Bruins teammates might be cringing.

Many among the rabble and numerous pundits certainly are.

I mean, this is Bobby Orr. Canadian icon. Squeaky-clean boy next door. The greatest player in National Hockey League history on many scorecards, including mine. And he’s marching in lockstep with a man known to put children in cages, who believes groping women is harmless horseplay, who wouldn’t know the truth if it slapped him on his orange face? That’s who Bobby Orr has cozied up to?

What, he couldn’t find a better pair of boots to lick?

Donald Trump

The same could be said, of course, for golf great Jack Nicklaus and Brett Favre, one-time flinger of footballs and renowned flip-flopper. They, too, are confirmed Trumpites. But we don’t care about them so much on this side of the great U.S.-Canada divide.

It’s Orr who has taken a paddywhacking in print and on social media, as if he’s the product of Satan’s loins.

Some examples:

Stu Cowan, Montreal Gazette: “It’s always a sad day when your childhood sports heroes let you down. I’ll never again look at Orr with the same boyhood wonder. (The endorsement of Trump) hit me like an open-ice bodycheck. It shouldn’t have because I’ve been around pro sports as a journalist long enough to know that sometimes the less fans know about their heroes away from the field or arena, the better off they are. But this one did hurt. I’ll sadly scratch him off my hero list. The stain of Trump just won’t wash away.”

Damien Cox, Toronto Star: “Sadly, Orr’s comments reek of appalling ignorance, of a man who has watched too much Fox News. He says he just wants ‘my grandchildren to know the America that I know’ and then chooses to cast Trump as some sort of victim.”

Jack Nicklaus and Donald Trump

Ted Wyman, Winnipeg Sun: “It’s not easy for many sports fans to hear that men they have held as idols for the last half century would endorse a political candidate known for his racism, his sowing of divisiveness in his country and his thorough disregard of the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most golf fans, I’ve always revered Nicklaus. Like most Canadians, I’ve always idolized Orr. Like many, I’m bitterly disappointed in them.”

Bruce Arthur, the Toronto Star/TSN: “These guys are wealthy. They’re really rich and Donald Trump wants to airlift money from the poor to the rich, and that helps them. This tells you a lot about Bobby Orr and Jack Nicklaus, what they value in life and what they don’t have to worry about.”

Cathal Kelly, Globe and Mail: “On one level, Orr’s and Nicklaus’s statements took some stones. Neither of them needs the hassle. This opens them up to all sorts of nastiness from the other faction. On the other level, it is dumb beyond measure. Not because of their choice (though that is also dumb), but because two giants of their respective games felt the need to announce it. The United States is tilting sideways for a bunch of reasons. This is one of them.”

Well, let me say this about that: Must be nice to be so filthy rich that you can afford to take out a full-page ad in a newspaper. But I’ll robustly defend Bobby Orr’s right to be as horribly wrong about Donald Trump as any of the other lemmings wearing a MAGA cap. His choice. And if you don’t like it, don’t put halos on athletes.

Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe

Last week in America: The sports power couple of hoops great Sue Bird and soccer star Megan Rapinoe announced their wedding engagement and, one day later, U.S. senator and Trumpite bootlicker Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told “every young woman” that “there’s a place for you in America if you are pro-life, if you embrace your religion, and you follow traditional family structure.” Which means there’s no “place” in Graham’s America for a woman who’s won Olympic gold for Uncle Sam in basketball and another women who’s won Olympic gold for Uncle Sam in soccer, because they’re lesbians. Lindsey Graham is a special kind of messed up.

Why is it that whenever I watch men’s tennis highlights, there’s a trainer rubbing down one of Milos Raonic’s broken-down body parts, or either Denis Shapovalov or Felix Auger-Alliassime are tossing racquets?

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: The Drab Slab is kicking butt when it comes to coverage of lower-tiered sports in Good Ol’ Hometown. I know this because I monitored both the Freep and Winnipeg Sun sections during the past three months, and both rags do boffo work on the big-ticket beats—Blue Bombers, Jets, Moose, Goldeyes and Valour FC. But it’s a rout otherwise. Here’s the tally on coverage of local/amateur sports (excluding pro teams):

Free Press
August ……..32 articles, 6 briefs
September….39 articles, 6 briefs
October……..49 articles, 3 briefs
Totals……..122 articles, 15 briefs

Sun
August ……..1 article
September….7 articles, 3 briefs
October…….10 articles
Totals………18 articles, 3 briefs

Seriously, 122-18. That reads like a Harlem Globetrotters scoreline.

Do readers want more local coverage? My experience tells me they do, but the suits at Postmedia in the Republic of Tranna won’t let them have it in the Sun. And that’s wrong. So don’t point accusing fingers at the Sun’s Scribblers Three—Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman, Scott Billeck. It isn’t their fault. It’s a corporate call.

Steve Lyons

Here’s something I found interesting: In a recent edition of his morning Playbook feature on the Drab Slab website, sports editor Steve Lyons took issue with commissioner Randy Ambrosie and the aborted Canadian Football League crusade. “It’s been a little over two months since the CFL cancelled its 2020 season,” he wrote. “Since then, a Stanley Cup has been awarded; Game 1 of the World Series was last night; the NFL is into Week 7; LeBron James won another NBA title; heck, even the upstart CPL had a championship. The CFL? Silence.” Notice something missing there? That’s right, no mention of the Women’s National Basketball Association starting and completing a season, nor the National Women’s Soccer League commencing its Fall Series. Unfortunately, that’s the default position for too many upper-management people in sports media—female sports is an after-thought. Or no thought at all.

I’m still reading and hearing that the signing of Dylan DeMelo improves the Winnipeg Jets defence. That simply is not true. Repeat after me: DeMelo was with the Jets last season. That’s not an improvement. It’s status quo. So the glass-is-half-full pundits can cease with their false narrative any time now.

There’s talk of the Ontario Hockey League going to pure pond hockey this winter, which is to say no bodychecking. Hmmm. If they had that rule when I was a kid, I might still be playing.

And, finally, Agent 007, Sean Connery, is dead and I still don’t know what I’m missing, because I’ve never watched a James Bond movie. Loved Sir Sean in Finding Forrester and The Untouchables, though.

Let’s talk about the Jets and Canucks…craziness with the Yotes…another reason for Chris Streveler to celebrate…Ducky makes a kid’s day…sinking ships…a new kid on the MJHL block…the Joker goes wild at U.S. Open…Journalism 101…and other things on my mind

A bonus, Labor Day smorgas-bored…and it’s mostly short snappers because there’s tennis to watch and maybe some golf if Dustin Johnson hasn’t lapped the field…

Stop me if you’ve heard this before from two noted hockey observers:

“There’s a lot to be excited about.”

“This team is going to be a force for awhile in the West. Great young players.”

Sounds like they’re talking about the Winnipeg Jets, circa spring 2018, doesn’t it?

Brian Burke

But, no. Brian Burke and John Shannon were directing their hosannas toward the Vancouver Canucks, who recently vacated the National Hockey League bubble in Edmonton after coming up one shot/save short in a Stanley Cup skirmish v. the Dallas Stars.

And, sure enough, there’s reason for the jar-half-full gushing. The Canucks look to be an outfit on a favorable trajectory. You know, just like two years ago when the local hockey heroes went deep, advancing to the Western Conference final before receiving a paddywhacking from the upstart Vegas Golden Knights. The Jets haven’t been the same since, in large part due to the mismanagement of assets and a cap crunch that squeezed general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff into a corner.

Chevy lost half his blueline (Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, Dustin Byfuglien) in one foul swoop, and only the retreat of Big Buff was not of his own authorship. He also couldn’t or wouldn’t keep rent-a-centres Paul Stastny or Kevin Hayes, either of whom would have been more than adequate playing second fiddle to Mark Scheifele.

Jim Benning

So that’s the cautionary tale for GM Jim Benning in Lotus Land. It can unravel very rapidly.

Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson and Alex Edler will be looking for new deals whenever the next NHL crusade ends and, as Burke emphasized on Hockey Night in Canada, “they’re gonna need a math professor from Harvard to figure this out.”

Chevy hasn’t been able to figure it out in Good Ol’ Hometown. The hope on the Left Flank has to be that Benning has better bean counters.

Pierre McGuire

I’ve long wondered what it would take to pry Jets 1.0 out of the Arizona desert, and anointing Pierre McGuire GM of the Coyotes just might be the thing to do it. If we’re to believe Chris Johnston of Sportsnet, Yotes ownership has been pitching woo to Pierre as a replacement for defrocked GM John Chayka, and that sounds like a recipe for disaster. Pierre has spent the past 20 years rinkside or in the studio for TSN and NBC, and I can’t see how sucking up to players and mansplaining the game to Kendall Coyne Schofield makes him GM worthy.

So, another year without a Stanley Cup champion for the True North, and did you know that’s “humiliating?” That, at least, is Cathal Kelly’s take on Canada’s drought, which dates back to the spring of 1993. “The hockey of Canadian hockey? That is not working out so well,” he writes in the Globe and Mail. “It’s beginning to seem as though the building of an NHL winner is planting it somewhere in the United States where no one cares. Then you have happy employees and the luxury of a free hand to shuffle them around.” Ya, that’s worked out soooo well for the Winnipeg Jets-cum-Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes.

Chris Streveler

Speaking of Arizona, I note that Chris Streveler has survived final cuts with the Arizona Cardinals. The former Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback and party boy is listed third on the depth chart, so Lord help them if they win the Super Bowl. There won’t be enough beer in the entire state to handle that celebration.

Just wondering: What was the first thing Alain Vigneault read or watched after his Philly Flyers were ushered out of the NHL bubble in the Republic of Tranna? Do you think he knows that Black Lives Matter yet?

Randy Ambrosie

Did you know that it takes eight to 10 hours to deep clean each hotel room once they’ve been vacated in the Edmonton and ROT bubbles? Hmmm. Wonder how long it will take Randy Ambrosie to clean up the mess he’s made.

The Montreal Canadiens now have $15 million tied up in two goaltenders, Carey Price and Jake Allen. Hmmm. That would pay for half a Canadian Football League shortened-season.

Enjoyed this tweet from Terry Jones of Postmedia E-Town: “If I ever own a race horse I might name him ‘Pink Fred’. That’s what Hugh Campbell called Pink Floyd when he announced a change in the Edmonton EE schedule to accommodate the then very hot act.”

Coolest recent tweet was delivered by Rob Vanstone of Postmedia Flatlands: “How amazing was Dale Hawerchuk? I wrote to him c/o Winnipeg Jets in 1982, requesting an autograph. Yes, I got the autograph—and so much more! He must have been deluged with fan mail, but he still made time to go above and beyond.” What made the tweet so special was the pic that Rob attached. It helps explain why there were so many long faces the day Ducky died.

Rob’s tweet brought to mind my first experience as an autograph seeker. I was a sprig of no more than 10 years, living on Melbourne Avenue in Good Ol’ Hometown. One day I took pic of broadcasting pioneer Foster Hewitt from a hockey magazine and mailed it to his radio station in the Repblic of Tranna, asking for a signature. Two weeks later, a brown envelope arrive in the mail box, and there it was…Foster Hewitt’s autograph. He called me “a real hockey fan.” I don’t know what became of that autographed pic, but Foster’s gesture made me want to get into sports journalism.

Mark Spector

Mark Spector of Sportsnet E-Town is confused: “It’s official: the term ‘learning lesson’ has replaced ‘irregardless’ as my pet peeve,” he tweets. “Can someone define a ‘lesson’ from which the recipient did NOT ‘learn?’ Are their ‘non-learning lessons’ out there?” Yo! Mark! As the venerable Zen master Dalai Jocklama tells us, “A lesson taught is not always a lesson learned.” As my mom was wont to say, I hope you’ve learned your lesson.

According to Donald Trump, canned soup is now the weapon of choice for bad guys because bricks are too heavy to throw. I can just hear it next time I’m in my local market: “Clean up on the ammunition aisle! Clean up on the ammunition aisle!”.

They held a Lake Travis Trump Boat Parade off the shore of Auston, Texas, the other day and at least four craft went glub, glub, glub to a watery grave. There’s no truth to the rumor that the Milwaukee Bucks were among the sunken ships, but they have sent out a Mayday signal.

Andy Murray

Cathal Kelly likes to write about tennis, but I’m not sure how much tennis he actually watches. I mean, he claims that our guy Felix Auger-Aliassime put “an end to the whole idea of the Big Four in men’s tennis” when he whupped Andy Murray at the U.S. Open last week. Apparently, Kelly hadn’t noticed that there’s only been a Big Three—Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic—for the past three years. Andy Murray last won a Grand Slam tournament in 2016. He hasn’t been a top-10 player since 2017, when he was world No. 3 in October. He hasn’t been in the top 100 for more than two years. He’s beaten just one top-10 player since 2017. He’s part of a Big Four like Miley Cyrus is one of the Beatles. What part of all that does Kelly not understand? Furthermore, he listed Djokovic as the “reigning champion” at Flushing Meadows. That will come as news to Rafa Nadal.

A wounded lines judge gives Novak Djokovic the stink eye.

Djokovic’s departure from the U.S. Open on Sunday was sudden and deserved. Tennis players can be a right petulant lot, few more so than the Serb. He’s long been prone to bouts of pique, and it caught up to him when, in another hissy fit, he whacked a ball that struck a female line judge in the throat. Automatic ouster. Even if it wasn’t deliberate. Why it took officials 10 minutes to convince Djokovic that he wouldn’t be allowed to play on is a mystery, but I’m sure he’ll put his tin foil hat back on and figure it out in time for the French Open later this month.

ESPN certainly had the perfect guy in the blurt box to talk about poor on-court manners Sunday—John McEnroe. The one-time brat of tennis called Djovik’s hissy fit “bone-headed,” and Johnny Mac ought to know more about that than most.

Hey, there’s a new kid in town. The Manitoba Junior Hockey League has added a second Winnipeg-based franchise for its 2020-21 crusade, and that’s interesting news for those of us who can remember an MJHL that included four outfits in Good Ol’ Hometown. 50 Below Sports + Entertainment is the money behind the freshly minted outfit, to be dubbed the Freeze according to Mike Sawatzky of the Drab Slab, and I can only hope they aren’t hitting parents with a $12,000 tab to have their kids play Junior shinny.

Steve Nash

The appointment of Steve Nash as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets stirred up considerable controversy, given that his experience as a bossman totals zip and, significantly, he’s a White man in the very Black National Basketball Association. “Two words that never, ever, should be attached to Steve Nash: White privilege,” Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna harrumphed in his always-pompous weekly alphabet soup column of odds and ends. “But there they were, the screamers of black and white, somehow insisting that Nash’s surprising hiring as coach of the Brooklyn Nets was yet another example of white privilege in North American professional sports.” What that is, folks, is “another example” of shoddy journalism. Simmons failed to identify the “screamers of black and white,” nor did he tell us what they said or what they’re saying. We’re talking Journalism 101 here, folks: Who, what, when, where and why. Apparently that doesn’t apply to big-shot columnists who refuse to burden themselves with the pesky details.

I have often lamented the lack of lower-level local sports coverage in the two Winnipeg dailies, most notably the Sun, which has been ransacked by Postmedia. To underscore how woeful it has become, I monitored the amount of ink devoted to outfits not named Jets, Blue Bombers, Moose, Goldeyes and Valour FC in August. The results are discouraging, but not surprising:
Drab Slab (31 editions)—32 articles, 6 briefs (Assiniboia Downs, amateur hockey, junior hockey, amateur golf, university volleyball, curling, junior football, junior baseball, tennis, sports books).
Winnipeg Sun (30 editions)—1 article (junior football).

At least sports editor Steve Lyons and his boys on the beat at the Drab Slab are trying, but the Sun surrendered to the whims and dictates of Postmedia suits in the Republic of Tranna long ago. I mean, one local story in an entire month? That isn’t just sad, it’s wrong. Amateur Sports Matters, dammit.

And, finally, I’ll conclude this holiday edition of the RCR with a Matty-ism from my first sports editor Jack Matheson: “You don’t have to be strange to live in B.C., but it helps.” Hey, I resemble that remark.