About three Sundays in November…the CFL playoff format…the Prairie Football League…news snoops snubbing Mike Reilly…the Gott Guzzle…the Golden Boy and Sugar Ray…the high price of Looch’s one goal…passing on $300 million…and bravo to Paul Edmonds

The usual Sunday smorgas-bored…with an extra-large helping of three-down football…

Okay, right off the top, let’s read the tea leaves and see how it’s all going to shake down when the large lads grab grass and growl in today’s two Canadian Football League playoff skirmishes.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Saskatchewan Roughriders: Gang Green will require at least two touchdowns from its defence and/or return teams, plus five field goals to have any hope of beating Winnipeg FC. That isn’t going to happen. The rout is on. Blue Bombers by 17 (or more).

B.C. Lions at Hamilton Tiger-Cats: The better quarterback wins, and that’s Jeremiah Masoli, even if he won’t be playing catch with Speedy B. Travis Lulay will start for the Leos, but he won’t finish. Tabbies by 14.

Is there anything more compelling in Canadian sports than three-down football’s fall frolic? I think not. Fifteen days, five sudden-death games. It doesn’t get any better than what the CFL delivers for three successive Sundays in November.

As if on cue, Messrs. Hue & Cry have been in full voice since the close of the CFL’s regular-season business, demanding a dismantling of the current playoff format in favor of something more equitable.

They note, correctly, that the 8-10 Tiger-Cats have been rewarded with a home game at Timbits Field in the Hammer, even though the Lions were 9-9. The Edmonton Eskimos, meanwhile, also finished the regular session with a 9-9 record, yet there they are with their noses pressed against the window, peeking in at all the fun that’s about to begin in the runoff to the Grey Cup.

They’re right. It doesn’t seem fair.

One of the pundits, Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun, suggests the CFL toss the West-East division structure onto the scrap heap. Lump all nine outfits into one group, top six advance to the playoffs. Well, okay, let’s do that. Here’s how it looked at the finish of the 2018 season:

Calgary 13-5
Saskatchewan 12-6
Ottawa 11-7
Winnipeg 10-8
B.C. 9-9
Edmonton 9-9

So, the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders would earn first-round byes, leaving these two games: Edmonton vs. Ottawa; B.C. vs. Winnipeg.

Let’s take it one step further and say the Eskimos were to eliminate the Bytown RedBlacks. That would leave Calgary, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg and Edmonton. Welcome to the Prairie Football League.

You think anyone in the Republic of Tranna would be watching? Anyone in Bytown or Steeltown? Anyone in Quebec? Anyone east of the Manitoba-Ontario boundary?

Alienation of Eastern Canada, most notably the large Southern Ontario TV market, is the risk the CFL takes if it eliminates its traditional geographic makeup. Two consecutive November Sundays of football played only on the frozen tundra of the Prairies would be a ratings doomsday.

If the game isn’t already dead in The ROT, that would surely kill it.

The CFL has featured two all-Prairie Grey Cup games in the past 17 years—Winnipeg and Calgary in 2001, Winnipeg and Saskatchewan in 2007. Where do those two matches rank for TV ratings this century? You guessed it—at the bottom of the heap. Here are the gory details.

2009 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6.1 million average (English and French TV)
2010 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6M
2012 Calgary-Toronto 5.8M
2002 Montreal-Edmonton 5.2M
2011 B.C.-Winnipeg 4.6M
2013 Hamilton-Saskatchewan 4.5M
2003 Edmonton-Montreal 4.4M
2015 Ottawa-Edmonton 4.3M
2017 Toronto-Calgary 4.3M
2014 Hamilton-Calgary 4.1M
2006 B.C.-Montreal 4M
2005 Edmonton-Montreal 4M
2004 Toronto-B.C. 4M
2016 Calgary-Ottawa 3.9M
2008 Calgary-Montreal 3.65M
2007 Winnipeg-Saskatchewan 3.5M

(Note: The 2012 game had a 5.5 million average audience on TSN, making it the most-watched Grey Cup ever on English TV.)

The most-compelling argument against a revision of the playoff format is, of course, the end result. Supposedly inferior outfits from the East Division have won the large game the past two Novembers, so let’s not talk about it until a western club actually proves it’s best when it really matters.

Mike Reilly

Question in Double Jeopardy: In whose universe does the guy with the best numbers not rate as the most outstanding player in the CFL? Answer: What is the Football Reporters of Canada, Alex?

Oh, yes, the boys and girls on the beat snubbed Mike Reilly, instead giving the West-East MOP nominations to quarterbacks Bo Levi Mitchell of the Stampeders and Jeremiah Masoli of the Ticats. That despite the fact the most basic of stats indicate the news snoops are misguided.

Head-to-head-to-head, here’s how the three QBs stack up:

If you were to base that on a 3-2-1 point system, the final scorecard would read: Reilly 16, Mitchell 11, Masoli 10.

I don’t know about you, but I’d say the news snoops have some explaining to do.

So, O-lineman Jon Gott of the Bytown RedBlacks turned a football game into a tailgate party by chug-a-lugging a tall can of beer after a touchdown, and now the CFL has banned booze from TD celebrations. The new get-tough, anti-debauchery policy also includes drugs. Players are not permitted to light up a joint and pass it around in the end zone. Apparently that would be one toke over the line.

Sugar Ray and the Golden Boy

Has it really been 30 years since Donny Lalonde and Sugar Ray Leonard exchanged haymakers at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas? Yup. Sugar Ray scored a ninth-round KO over Winnipeg’s Golden Boy on Nov. 7, 1988, but our guy got in some good licks before biting canvas. Lalonde floored Leonard in the fourth round and was actually ahead on one judge’s scorecard when they got off their stools to begin the ninth. I covered that tiff for the Winnipeg Sun alongside my favorite boxing scribe, Tom Brennan, and my most vivid recollection is of Sylvester Stallone’s annoying voice rising above 13,000 others. “First Vinnie! First Vinnie!” was his ringside plea/instruction to Vinny Pazienza every time Roger Mayweather boxed one of his ears in a bout on the undercard. Alas, Rocky Balboa’s pleas went unrewarded. His guy Vinny lost on a decision. Bob Dylan was also on site, but I never heard or saw him. I sometimes wonder if he saw me.

Just wondering: When are the New York Islanders supposed to start missing John Tavares? Do they even notice that he’s gone?

The Looch

Also wondering how that Milan Lucic thing is working out for the Edmonton McDavids. Isn’t $6 million a season supposed to buy you more than one goal and four points in 16 games? The lumbering Looch’s contract is by far the worst in the National Hockey League.

So this is the world we now live in: A guy who plays a kid’s game for a living feels comfortable turning down $300 million and no one bats an eyelash. I don’t know what’s worse, Bryce Harper snubbing his nose at the $300 million the Washington Nationals had put on the table, or the fact another Major League Baseball outfit will offer him more money.

Good guy Paul Edmonds

And, finally, a big tip of the bonnet to good guy Paul Edmonds, among the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame inductees for 2019. The radio play-by-play voice of the Winnipeg Jets on TSN 1290, Paul earned his chops by trudging across the tundra with baseball’s Winnipeg Goldeyes for 19 years. That’s a lot of lonely hours on the lonely road. Now he flies hither and yon with les Jets. So, yes, he’s definitely earned his wings.

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About foggy football…foggy grey matter…the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are in the playoffs…QB Joe Ordinary…looking for a scapegoat and a unique daily double in E-Town…pulling the plug on live mic CFL games…searching for Puck Finn in Finland…remembering daytime baseball…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning and another smorgas-bored featuring opinions that might also be yours (but I doubt it)…

It was a dark and foggy night….sorry, couldn’t resist opening with that cornball lede. But, hey, it truly was a dark and foggy night when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Calgary Stampeders gathered to grab grass and growl at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Friday.

1962 Fog Bowl

I swear, twas the best Bombers game I haven’t seen since the 1962 Fog Bowl in the Republic of Tranna. Winnipeg FC won that one, too. Beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 28-27 in the only Grey Cup game that started on a Saturday afternoon and ended after Sunday mass. We watched it but didn’t really see it. Same thing on Friday. Much of what went down in the second half was scarcely visible to my aging eyes. Fortunately, Chris Cuthbert was there in the TSN Tower of Babble On to inform me what he couldn’t see either.

Anyway, ya, the Bombers are great foggers. Not only did they overcome the pea soup that drifted into Football Follies Field to paddywhack the tobogganing Stampeders, 29-21, they also saw their way through the fog between Mike O’Shea’s ears.

Oh, yes, Coach Mikey almost got in his own way again, because he just won’t learn from his blunders.

Mike O’Shea

This time, the Bombers were confronted with a third-and-one on their own 28-yard stripe. They had a two-score lead, 29-18. The clock showed four minutes and 26 ticks remaining. Thus, the prudent course of action was to have Justin Medlock hoof the football far afield and force Bo Levi Mitchell and the Stampeders offence to go to great lengths to score twice against Richie Hall’s very stingy defensive dozen.

Not Coach Mikey, though. He had a different notion. He did his riverboat gambler thing. Again. And it failed miserably. Again.

Dave Dickenson

Fortunately for the home side, Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson also had fog on his grey matter and, rather than kick a gimme three-pointer to reduce his deficit to one score, he frittered away the gift turnover with his own ill-advised third-down gamble. Game, set and on to the Canadian Football League playoffs for the Bombers.

“I won’t shy away from doing it again,” O’Shea said matter-of-factly when news snoops inquired about his decision-making.

That’s what makes me a bit of a nervous Nellie.

Coach Mikey has a history of significant risk-and-reward failures, including a brain cramp that turned an iffy West Division semifinal into a rout for the Edmonton Eskimos last November. He doesn’t do safe. He’d go all in with a fistful of nothing at a Las Vegas poker table. He’s Evel Knievel trying to leap the Snake River Canyon on a skateboard.

Well, that’s one (the main?) reason why he’ll enter next month’s Grey Cup runoff searching for his first post-season W in five years as the Bombers sideline steward.

O’Shea’s latest failed gamble isn’t much of a talking point today because it wasn’t punitive. Do it on the second, third or fourth Sunday in November, however, and it’s guaranteed that gums will be flapping in River City. There’s no backup plan for failure then.

As mentioned at the top, the Bombers have played in a thick fog before. Those of us who lived through it call it the Jeff Reinebold Era.

Winnipeg FC will be required to beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Stampeders—on enemy soil—to advance against the East Division survivor in the Grey Cup game in Edmonton. Tall order. But doable. After all, they laid a licking on both of their Prairie rivals and the Bytown RedBlacks during their late-season, 5-0 roll. But Coach Mikey will have to get out of his own way.

Matt Nichols

If you’re going to feel good about someone going to the Grey Cup tournament next month, make it Bombers quarterback Joe Ordinary. It wasn’t so long ago, remember, when the rabble at Football Follies Field had the bad manners to mightily boo Matt Nichols when his bearded mug appeared on the big screen in a public service announcement about the hazards of drinking and driving. The Bombers haven’t lost in five skirmishes since, and that’s due in large part to a timely September bye week that provided Nichols ample time to pull his head out of his butt and place it back on his stooped shoulders. Joe Ordinary has been extremely efficient with the football, tossing seven touchdown passes against one pick in the five Ws, and his calm cannot be measured. Good on him.

Coach Mikey, of course, gets a tip of the bonnet for his handling of the QB situation when Nichols was lower than whatever’s beneath a snake’s belly. The rabble and some news snoops were calling for change—and we can only wonder what kind of pressure he was under from his overlords in the Bombers bunker on Chancellor Matheson Road—but he didn’t flinch. Mind you, there’s a term for head football coaches who are influenced by the braying of fans and media—ex-coach.

TSN can pull the plug on its live mic broadcasts next season. It was interesting initially and I’m not offended by F-bombs from football players in the throes of combat, but the gimmick has become annoying and interrruptive. If the people in the Tower of Babble On are going to talk over the QBs and head coaches, what’s the point?

Jason Maas

So who takes the fall in Edmonton? Eskimos volcanic head coach Jason Maas? D-coordinator Mike Benevides? General manager Brock Sunderland? Surely one of those three will be the scapegoat after a crusade that wasn’t supposed to end until the final Sunday in November at Commonwealth Stadium in E-Town. I mean, when you’re the only West Division outfit that fails to qualify for the Grey Cup runoff something has to give. Is there a Paul LaPolice in the Eskimos’ future?

It occurs to me that E-Town’s two major sports outfits are chasing a unique daily double this year. Connor McDavid, most outstanding player in the NHL—Oilers missed the playoffs.
Mike Reilly, favorite to win CFL most outstanding player award—Eskimos missed the playoffs.
Has that happened before? Anywhere?

Why is it that the Winnipeg Jets were beaten by the Tranna Maple Leafs twice in four days but I still feel like our home side is the better outfit? I know, I know. Les Jets were a no-show at The Little Hockey House On The Prairie last Wednesday, and they coughed up a hefty hair ball in a 3-2 loss Saturday night in the the Republic of Tranna. Still, when the dust settles on this National Hockey League season, I’d put my money on Winnipeg HC advancing further along the Stanley Cup trail than les Leafs.

Puck Finn

For those of you keeping score at home (and I know you are), les Jets two PlayStation Pals—Twig Ehlers and Puck Finn—still have only four goals between them. Good thing Winnipeg HC is making a pilgrimage to Patrick Laine’s homeland later this week. Perhaps Finnish authorities can tell us who stole Puck Finn and what they did with him.

Seriously, does Laine have an evil twin brother who was switched with the real thing last summer? Do les Jets have Puck Twin instead of Puck Finn?

Damn Yankees

Couldn’t keep my eyelids open long enough to see Max Muncy of the Los Angeles Dodgers end the longest game in World Series history with an 18th-inning walkoff dinger vs. the Boston Red Sox on Friday night. The zzzzzzzs kicked in after the 14th inning. Made me yearn for the days when baseball’s championship games were played as it was meant to be—in the afternoon. Still remember being in class at St. Alphonsus School in Good Ol’ Hometown, listening to Game 7 of the 1962 World Series between the Giants and Yankees on Sister Somethingorother’s transistor radio. As I recall, it marked the first, but not the last, time the term “Damn Yankees!” escaped my lips. Fortunately, my expletive didn’t travel far enough to reach Sister Somethingorother’s ears, thus my tiny, dainty hands were spared her thick leather strap.

Donald Trump

And, finally, I note that Donald Trump took time out from lashing out at the “enemy of the people” (journalists) to second guess manager Dave Roberts’ handling of the Dodgers pitching staff during their 9-6 loss in Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday. I have no problem with that. People second guess Trump on a daily basis. But I really think his time would be better served by second guessing laws that allow bad people to play with guns in the U.S.

About therapy for the Tranna Maple Leafs jugger-not…the price ain’t right for Willy…boneheaded coaching in the CFL…Johnny’s still rotten and having a hissy fit…CFL power rankings down the stretch…Johnny Miller pulling the plug…Johnny Mo bidding adios…RiRi keeping her clothes on…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in three, two, one…

The bloom is off the petunia in the Republic of Tranna.

We know this to be so because it finally has occurred to easily swayed news snoops in The ROT that Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr don’t actually skate with the Maple Leafs.

Auston Matthews

Turns out it was a case of mistaken identity. Auston Matthews is actually Auston Matthews, not No. 99. Morgan Rielly is actually Morgan Rielly, not No. 4. Les Leafs are actually a work in progress, not the 1980s Edmonton Oilers. Pond hockey is fun to watch but not actually sustainable. The juggernaut is actually a jugger-not! Who knew?

Certainly not the scribes and natterbugs in The ROT who’d been howling hosannas about Matthews and Rielly at a deafening and, yes, annoying volume. It was as if the two youthful Leafs had invented vulcanized rubber, the Zamboni and Coach’s Corner.

Alas, troubled times have arrived.

Les Leafs seemingly became National Hockey League d’oh! boys overnight. There were zero goals in a stumble against the Pittsburgh Penguins. There was one score in a faceplant vs. the St. Louis Blues.

Mike Babcock

In an attempt to dig to the root of these missteps, les Leafs, normally off duty on the Sabbath, were summoned and assembled yesterday. Not for a practice, though. This was what multi-millionaire head coach Mike Babcock described as a “reality therapy meeting.”

No word if Dr. Phil was brought in as a guest coach, or if Oprah was on standby with her couch.

So when les Leafs arrive at The Little Hockey House On The Prairie for their Wednesday night skirmish with the Winnipeg Jets, be gentle with them, kids. They’re in therapy, don’t you know.

Les Leafs, of course, come to town sans gifted forward William Nylander, who remains back home in Europe awaiting a contract offer he can’t refuse. I hope he isn’t holding his breath. I mean, let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that reports of the unsigned restricted free agent’s asking price are accurate. Hmmm, $8.5 million. That’s Leon Draisaitl money. Well, just because the Edmonton Oilers are stupid doesn’t mean the Maple Leafs have to be.

Mike Sherman

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: The Montreal Alouettes were down to their final play on Saturday afternoon, scrimmaging on the Tranna Argonauts’ 48-yard stripe, thus it was Hail Mary time in a 26-22 game. And what does Larks head coach Mike Sherman do? He yanks his starting quarterback, Johnny Manziel, and inserts a cold Antonio Pipkin behind centre because he had “fresh legs.” What exactly did Sherman expect Pipkin to do? Toss the football with his feet? Unless Johnny Rotten is incapable of flinging a football 50 yards, Sherman’s reasoning makes no sense at all. It was boneheaded coaching.

Johnny Manziel

Manziel showed us what he’s all about when he dashed away in a huff the moment Pipkin’s fresh legs failed to avoid the Argos’ pass rush and he was sacked on the final play in the Larks’ loss. No mingling with the boys on the field after the fact. No hand shakes or job-well-done words for his mates and foes. Just sprint and pout (his legs look real “fresh” as he ran away). Hey, I don’t blame the guy for being PO’d, but scurrying off in a hissy fit is a bad, spoiled-brat optic. And it confirms that Johnny Rotten is all about Johnny Rotten.

An unidentified Canadian Football league coach or GM delivered this gem to Kirk Penton of The Athletic: “Manziel’s better than you think. No quarterback can win with that group of offensive linemen Montreal is putting out there.” Not true. Pipkin won two of four starts with the O-lineman that the Alouettes are “putting out there.” It’s just the 0-6 Johnny Rotten who can’t win with them.

Why is the CFL keeping the head count for the Als-Argos skirmish at BMO Field a secret? I mean, so what if you see more people at Chris Walby’s backyard BBQ? Give us the attendance figure already.

This week’s CFL power rankings…
1. Calgary (12-4): Still the team to beat.
2. Saskatchewan (11-6): Where did that offence come from?
3. Winnipeg (9-7): Back to work this week.
4. B.C. (9-7): Winning for Wally.
5. Ottawa (9-7): A playoff bye for Bytown?
6. Hamilton (8-8): Losing Speedy B is huge.
7. Edmonton (8-9): Wholesale changes are a-coming.
8. Toronto (4-12): Blah, blah, blah.
9. Montreal (3-13): Yadda, yadda, yadda.

If you’re a parent with a child playing football, you might want to take a peek at the latest issue of The Manitoba Teacher, where you’ll find an excellent feature by one of my favorite people and former colleague Judy Owen. She gets into the safety measures local leagues are taking in an attempt to curb injuries, and Winnipeg Blue Bombers greats Chris Walby and Troy Westwood offer input. It’s good stuff.

Still no freshly minted sports columnist to replace the departed Paul Wiecek at the Winnipeg Free Press. I thought they’d have had someone in place the moment Wiecek walked out the door, because a sports section without a columnist is like a church without prayer. A pub without pints. Sinatra without a song. As good as the Drab Slab’s foot soldiers are in the toy department—and they are good—the section needs a lead voice. Someone to arouse the rabble. And I need someone to critique.

Johnny Miller

So, Johnny Miller plans to pull the plug on his golf analyst gig with NBC Sports after the Phoenix Open in early February next year. Shame. Although pompous, Miller is blunt and goes directly to the point. He’s never been afraid to ruffle feathers. He and tennis great John McEnroe are the two most honest game analysts/color commentators on sports TV. Apparently Paul Azinger will move into Miller’s seat at NBC. He’s good, but he’s going to hear a lot of “He’s no Johnny Miller” when he cushions his comments.

Johnny Mo

John Morris tells Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun that his hurry-hard days in men’s curling are done, and he’ll now focus on mixed doubles. That’s one of those good news, bad news things. It’s good that Johnny Mo will continue to curl, because he’s a colorful guy who knows how to fill news snoops’ notebooks and deliver quality sound bites. But, since mixed doubles is still in its infancy and sits on the periphery of the game, he won’t be as visible. So file that part of his decision under not so good.

The low-key, subdued farewell is among the quirks of world-class curling. Johnny Mo steps away from the men’s game and there’s no fanfare, even though he is among the most-decorated Pebble People of all time. Intense (sometimes to a fault) and combative, Johnny Mo did it all on the pebble. This is a hall of fame curler. His resumé includes multiple Olympic, world and Canadian championships and, of course, he collaborated with Kaitlyn Lawes to reach the top step of the podium in the inaugural mixed doubles event at the Winter Games in South Korea last February. But there will be no teary-eyed press gathering like we see when a hockey, football, baseball or hoops great bids adios. Legends like Morris, Kevin Martin, Jeff Stoughton, Elisabet Gustafson, Colleen Jones, Dugie et al go quietly into the night. Or to the broadcast booth. It’s the curler’s way.

And, finally, Rihanna apparently rejected an offer to headline the halftime show at next year’s Super Bowl, so we’re stuck with Adam Levine and Maroon 5. Personally, I’m not into either performer’s music, but I know whose wardrobe I’d like to see malfunction.

About hocus-pocus with Mike O’Shea…is it west or east for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers?…are the B.C. Lions for real?…the McDavid-Matthews debate is over…fancy stats on Twig Ehlers are bogus…Puck Finn is no Finnish Flash…Josh Mo is the Winnipeg Jets main man on D…let’s play ball…and other things on my mind

If it’s Sunday, it must be time for another sports smorgas-bored…all opinions are mine except those that the devil made me write…

Top o’ the morning to you, Mike O’Shea.

Has the fog lifted? Can you see clearly now? Do you recognize what’s in front of you? Ya, that’s right. A playoff spot. It’s there for the taking, like a nerdy school kid’s lunch money. Just beat the suddenly very beatable Calgary Stampeders on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry and your Winnipeg Blue Bombers are in.

Mike O’Shea

So here are your instructions, Mikey: Now is not the time for one of your dumb-ass brain farts.

You know what I’m talking about. But just so we don’t have a failure to communicate, I’ll spell it out for you: Do not attempt a field goal from 61 yards out unless Hurricane Helen is at Justin Medlock’s back; do not fake a punt when a) scrimmaging deep inside your end of the field, and b) when holding a lead.

In other words, Mikey, stay the hell out of your own way.

Now, I realize that you’re fond of hocus-pocus football, but here’s the deal: You’re a football coach, not Penn & Teller. Darcy Oake isn’t your special teams coordinator. Still, I’m guessing you’ll feel the urge to attempt some trickery and gimmickry vs. the Stampeders. Well, fight it off like Chris Walby pushing away from the dinner table when there’s still chicken and dumplings on his plate. If you can’t, just use your smoke and mirrors at the right time and place.

Aside from that, Mikey, you’re on your own.

Darcy Oake

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t trust the Winnipeg FC head coach to steer clear of his own mad scientist impulses. During O’Shea’s five-year run as sideline steward in River City, he’s made a habit of allowing his kooky notions to interfere with logic. In both the 2016 and ’17 West Division semifinals, for example, he self-destructed with flim-flammery. Canadian Football League champions are seldom born of magic acts. Unless, of course, your quarterback is named Doug Flutie. Thus, O’Shea would be wise to get the ball into Andrew Harris’ hands early and often and leave the illusions to Penn, Teller and Oake.

So, pick your poison. Would you rather have Winnipeg FC try their playoff luck on the Prairies or take the scenic route in the east? Finish third and the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Stampeders are in front of them on the road to the Grey Cup game. Cross over into Ontario and the Bytown RedBlacks and Hamilton Tiger-Cats lie in ambush. My advice: Go west, young men.

Travis Lulay

Okay, I confess, I had the B.C. Lions written off halfway through this CFL crusade, yet the Leos qualified for the Grey Cup runoff with a thoroughly convincing victory over the Edmonton Eskimos on Friday night. So why is it that I’m still not convinced they’re legit? Perhaps it’s because the starting QB, the very capable Travis Lulay, is as brittle as a piece of burnt toast.

Having said that, I think the Grey Cup would be a lovely parting gift for Leos head coach Wally Buono.

The discussion has begun about the Bombers nominee for most outstanding player. If I had a vote, which I do not, it would go to beastly linebacker Adam Bighill. I’m confident that the boys and girls on the Winnipeg FC beat will get it right.

Connor McDavid

On the subject of outstanding jocks, it’s about the Connor McDavid-Auston Matthews who’s-the-best debate: Both Sidney Crosby and Rink Rat Scheifele have entered the fray and say McDavid is the National Hockey League’s leading man.

Here’s Crosby: “I think McDavid has set himself apart just based on the awards and the accolades he’s gotten and the consistency he’s had. I think it’s fair to say it’s an easy pick just because of that. It’s hard to argue (against McDavid). He’s been really consistent, he’s won scoring titles, MVPs. So, ya, that’s an easy one to pick.”

Here’s the Rink Rat: “Matthews is a star in this league and he’s going to get better. But he’s not at McDavid’s level just yet.”

That’s good enough for me. Case closed.

Question about the Winnipeg Jets: Is Bryan Little dragging down Twig Ehlers and Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine, or are they dragging him down? Please discuss among yourselves.

Twig Ehlers

Out of curiosity, I read one of Andrew Berkshire’s offerings in the Winnipeg Free Press last week and, not surprisingly, it included a whack of numbers and a couple of charts to interfere with all the words. Basically, those numbers and charts were designed to assure the rabble that all is well with Twig Ehlers. “He’s doing all the right things to create goals,” Berkshire wrote. He added that Twig is “One of the most dangerous players (in the NHL) once the puck crosses the blue line.” Well, sure…if your idea of “dangerous” is zero goals and three points in eight games. That translates into a 30-point season. I have no quarrel with the crunching of fancy numbers in hockey, but Ehlers is paid $6 million a year to provide offence, and no amount of fancy stats can sugar-coat the reality that Twig isn’t delivering. Zero goals is zero goals. Those are the only numbers that matter. No charts required.

Puck Finn

Still can’t get over the play of Ehlers and Puck Finn on the goal that gave the Edmonton McDavids a 5-4 extra-time win over les Jets last Tuesday. It was shocking. I mean, it’s one thing to make an ill-advised pass (Ehlers) that turns the puck over to Darnell Nurse in the Edmonton end of the freeze. Hey, brain cramps happen. But the effort by both Jets forwards once Nurse arrived at the home side’s blueline was pathetic. Puck Finn made a feeble, ultra-lazy, one-handed wave of the stick, as if trying to tickle Nurse, then coasted. Ehlers performed an Ice Capades routine inside the zone, making a quick side step and a dainty wave with his stick. Unacceptable effort. Yo! Boys! That isn’t PlayStation hockey. It’s the NHL. Hard work isn’t an option. It’s mandatory.

Am I wrong to suggest Laine is a great goal-scorer but an average player? That’s my reading on him this month. At times he’s looked lazy, at times he’s looked very slow, at times he’s looked clumsy, at times he’s looked out of shape, at times he’s looked like he doesn’t have a clue. And, to think, many were calling him Finnish Flash II when he arrived in River City. That was an insult to Teemu Selanne then and it is today.

Weed became legal in Canada on Wednesday. The striped shirts handling the Vancouver Canucks-Jets joust the following night celebrated by stinking out the joint.

Josh Morrissey

If I’m the people in Seattle and I’m allowed to take any of les Jets defenceman to start my expansion club, it’s Josh Morrissey. Kid’s got game. When I look at the tea leaves, I see numerous 50/60-point seasons ahead for the young rearguard. With gusts up to 70-75 points.

On a whim, I visited the Winnipeg HC website to see what, if any, tickets were available for the Saturday afternoon set-to vs. the Arizona Coyotes. Turns out there were plenty. Lowest single-ticket price $59.90; top price $235. If you wanted to take a date, though, you were looking at a $206-$470 hit (for two tickets). My reaction: What kind of a loser has $470 to spend and takes a date to see the Coyotes?

Jackie Bradley Jr.

Suitable that the turning point in the Boston Red Sox-Houston Astros series was the grand slam surrendered to Jackie Bradley Jr. by Roberto Osuna in Game 3. Houston ownership/management, which trumpets a zero-tolerance policy on domestic violence, believed they needed Osuna’s right arm to successfully defend their Major League Baseball title. They found out differently. So the question now is this: How long before the hypocritical Astros unload their woman-beating relief pitcher like he’s yesterday’s potato peelings?

And, finally, we have a throwback World Series, featuring the Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers, the favored team of my youth. For me, this is like comfort food. Two traditional outfits, wearing the same classic unis as they did in the 1960s, and frolicking in two of the three oldest ballparks in MLB. Buy me some peanuts and crack me a beer. Let’s play ball! (And go Dodgers!)

About the big, bad Blue Bombers defence…turkeys on Turkey Day…Chris Streveler vs. Johnny Rotten…a Bolt in soccer…Brees doesn’t make the top 10…domestic violence and the NHL…and Connor McJesus

Another Sunday smorg full of cheap shots, short shots and shots of sarcasm…

Zero points. Richie Hall’s defensive dozen surrendered zero points. In a Canadian Football League skirmish.

Do you realize how rare that is? There’s a better chance of Brad Pitt leaving a singles bar alone at closing time. I think Jack Delveaux, Herb Gray and Gordie Rowland were part of the D-Dozen the last time the Winnipeg Blue Bombers hung a donut on a foe at home.

Actually, it doesn’t date back to the Bud Grant era. It was in ’86, when Winnipeg FC paddywhacked the Saskatchewan Roughriders 56-nada at their gradually decaying stadium on Maroons Road. Bill Norrie was mayor in River City. Howard Pawley was Manitoba premier. Brian Mulroney was leader of all the land. And a star really was born that year—Lady Gaga.

Adam Bighill

So it was a touch of deja vu all over again on Saturday afternoon at Football Follies in Fort Garry. The scoreboard carnage wasn’t as extreme. Just 31-zip this time. But the Bombers’ ragdolling of the Riders was every bit as severe.

As ass kickings go, this was right up there with the Six Day War and Tiger Woods’ divorce settlement.

It helped, of course, that the Riders offence is only a rumor. The Gang Green 12 are so inept that Johnny Manziel might be an upgrade at quarterback. Yup, that woeful. Also a rumor is their place kicker, some dude named Brett Lauther. If he exists he must have entered a witness protection program, because not once was he required to swing his right leg at the football. Never attempted a field goal. Never kicked off.

The Sask. QB, Zach Collaros, likely wishes he’d been given the day off, too. If he wasn’t seeing Adam Bighill in his nightmares last night, it was Taylor Loffler.

Bighill, the beastly linebacker who signed on with Winnipeg FC at the 11th hour, is a force of nature. A tornado does less damage. He and Collaros spent more time together Saturday than newlyweds. Three of his eight tackles were sacks. He forced Kyran Moore to spill a football that was eagerly gobbled up by Anthony Gaitor, who promptly skedaddled 45 yards to the house. Game, set and match, as it turned out.

Matt Nichols

On the other side of the ledger, QB Joe Ordinary put up another set of modest numbers (10 for 18, 155 yards), but Matt Nichols is no longer in self-destruct mode. He even completed a deep ball that Darvin Adams accepted and carried to the house for a 72-yard score, prompting a comical Conor McGregor-like swagger from the QB.

Nothing but fun and games when you’re on the favorable end of a 31-nada score.

Here’s the bottom line for Winnipeg FC, though: Nothing has changed. The Bombers entered the fray holding down third place in the mosh pit that is the West Division, with an outside shot at a home playoff date. And that’s where they sit this morning because the Edmonton Eskimos and the surprising B.C. Lions refuse to co-operate. One of those two outfits will have pulled even with the Bombers by the time they come back to work on Oct. 26 (it’s Winnipeg FC’s bye week), and this mess might not be sorted out until the final weekend of the crusade. The good news for the Bombers is this: They don’t need any favors. There are two spots remaining on the local lads’ dance card (at home vs. the suddenly vulnerable Calgary Stampeders and vs. the Eskimos in E-Town). Win them both and they’re in. A split probably gets them in, too, but it might mean heading east in the Grey Cup tournament.

Final scores from the two Thanksgiving Day skirmishes in the CFL: 12-6, 19-12. Three of the four teams failed to produce an offensive touchdown. We have a name for games like that—National Football League.

Jason Maas

Why is Edmonton Eskimos oft-unhinged head coach Jason Maas allowed to walked 20 yards onto the football field to bitch at game officials? Isn’t that the very definition of unsportsmanlike conduct? Somebody toss a flag at that man.

Just once I’d like to hear one of the geniuses on TSN tell the truth about their favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel, rather than make feeble excuses and apologies about feeble-fingered receivers and a leaky offensive line. Here’s the truth: Antonio Pipkin started four games for the Montreal Alouettes and went 2-2. Johnny 0-Fer has started five games and he’s 0-5. Both QBs have operated behind the same O-line and with the same pass-catchers.

Chris Streveler

Here are some numbers to digest for two first-year CFL QBs:
Chris Streveler (three starts and a bit of spot duty):
77/125, 944 yards, 10 TDs, 5 Int., 343 rush yards, 8 rush TDs
Johnny Manziel (five starts):
72/116, 872 yards, 2 TDs, 6 Int., 139 rush yards, 0 rush TDs.

Streveler has outpassed and outrun Johnny Rotten in considerably less time on the field. And keep in mind that he is a true freshman. He never played a down of professional football until this season with the Bombers. Manziel, on the other hand, spent two non-noteworthy years with the Cleveland Browns of the NFL.

Johnny Rotten

Is it possible that the Johnny Rotten novelty act has worn thin everywhere but in the TSN broadcast booth and studio? I mean, the head count at Percival Molson Stadium for the Larks’ skirmish with the Calgary Stampeders on Turkey Day was 16,764. That’s down 1,606 from their preceding home assignment, vs. the Roughriders. Even the locals have figured it out.

World’s fastest man and retired Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt scored two goals in his professional soccer debut with the Central Coast Mariners of the Australian A-League. Brazilian star Neymar was so impressed that he apparently said Bolt’s performance “knocked me off my feet.” Like, who doesn’t?

Drew Brees has flung a football farther than any quarterback in the history of the four-down game, but who among us would choose him as the starting QB in a must-win match ahead of NFL greats Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, John Elway, Steve Young, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Johnny Unitas, or even Terry Bradshaw? No one. I doubt Brees would make many top-10 QB lists.

Austin Watson, right.

I don’t like to hear women blame themselves after a man roughs them up, which, unfortunately, is what Jenn Guardino is doing. It isn’t her fault that Austin Watson of the Nashville Predators hit her last summer and consequently received a 27-game suspension from National Hockey League commish Gary Bettman (reduced to 18 by a lame arbitrator). A witness told police that he observed Watson “swat” Guardino. That’s assault. The official police report noted that Guardino said Watson caused the scratches on her chest. Her left shin was bruised and bloody. She also told police that Watson sometimes gets “handsy.” Now she’s taking the rap for Watson’s abuse, insisting he would “never hit or abuse” her, even though he’s admitted doing that very thing. I don’t care how drunk she was or what she said. It isn’t her fault that a 6-feet-4, 204-pound man swatted her, shoved her or laid hands on her in any harmful manner. She’s the victim.

Shame on the Predators for trotting Watson out for the pre-game ceremonies at their home opener last week. The guy is on probation after a no-contest plea on a charge of domestic violence.

How positively hypocritical of Postmedia columnist Steve Simmons to call for the NHL to create a domestic violence policy in the wake of the Watson suspension fooferaw. “A strong policy needs to be in place and soon,” he sermonizes. This is the same guy who, in September 2017, wrote: “Personally, I think the CFL is stronger, maybe more fun, possibly more fan-appealing, with Manziel playing or trying to play the Canadian game.” In May of this year, under the headline “Welcome to Canada, Johnny Football,” he wrote: “Johnny Football is coming to Hamilton. And where do I sign up?” Manziel beat up his former girlfriend and threatened to kill her. Yet it’s “Welcome Johnny!” and get rid of louts like Austin Watson. Too dumb.

Just wondering: How’s that stand-pat thing working out for the Edmonton McDavids?

Connor McDavid

The Edmonton Oilers have scored five goals. Connor McDavid has five points. If management doesn’t do something to provide McDavid with a better supporting cast, it’ll go down as the greatest waste of talent since Jesus stopped walking on water.

And, finally, I would call these little notes that I patch together each week “musings,” except that would imply that I actually think before I type. And we certainly wouldn’t want that.

Two Hens in the Hockey House: All about Sir Paul, the Rink Rat, Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and how much the Winnipeg Jets will miss Paul Stastny

Let the games begin!

The Winnipeg Jets open their 2018-19 National Hockey League crusade tonight against the Blues in St. Louis, and they have a tough act to follow. After advancing to the Western Conference final last spring, it has to be Stanley Cup final or bust for the locals.

Do they have it in them to take that next step? The Two Hens in the Hockey House have the answer. Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, the quest is about to begin and I haven’t been this jacked up about anything since Paul McCartney stepped back on stage for a rousing encore the other night at the local hockey palace. How about you?

Answer Lady: You went to see Sir Paul in concert?

Question Lady: You bet your Beatles bubble gum cards I did. He’s been my main man since the lads first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. The guy’s a rock ‘n’ roll legend and can still get after it at 76 years of age. You don’t like Macca?

Answer Lady: Meh. His best post-Beatles work was Band On the Run. That was released in 1973. He’s been in a slump ever since. You know, kind of like the Jets since the World Hockey Association days.

WHA champion Jets, circa 1978-79.

Question Lady: Will you old farts ever let go of that Jets/WHA nonsense?

Answer Lady: Nonsense? You call it nonsense? Wash your mouth out with granny’s lye soap, girlfriend! Those were the glory days—three championships, five trips to the final in seven seasons, kicked the Russian Bear’s butt, best forward line in all of hockey…neither version of the NHL Jets has accomplished anything to compare. It’ll be 40 years next spring since the last victory parade rolled down Portage Avenue, and we haven’t had a whiff of glory since.

Question Lady: Which brings us to the current edition of the Jets. Plenty of buzz about these boys. They’re among the morning-line favorites to win le Coupe Stanley. Do you think the hype is warranted?

Answer Lady: Absolutely. All the ingredients seem to be in place. I believe they’ll romp through the regular season, maybe even win the President’s Trophy, and then, hopefully, they’ll borrow on the experience gained and lessons learned from last spring and get the job done next April, May and June.

Question Lady: Any chance of the Jets doing a face plant like the Edmonton McDavids performed last season?

Answer Lady: Sir Paul will be back in town with Ringo, John and George in tow before that happens, and since two of the Fab Four are pushing up daisies it ain’t gonna happen. There’s too much depth, too much talent. There aren’t any Looch’s in the Jets’ lineup to drag everybody else down. There’s no one like that anchor Milan Lucic in E-Town.

Question Lady: So this season will be a cake walk?

Answer Lady: Not at all. It’s not like the other outfits on this side of the continent have been twiddling their thumbs. The St. Louis Blues ought to be better. Ditto the Dallas Stars. San Jose Sharks upped their game with Erik Karlsson. The Nashville Predators are still nasty. But, ya, the Jets are the best of the bunch.

Bryan Little

Question Lady: Any weaknesses?

Answer Lady: Yup. Down the middle. Maybe. Rink Rat Scheifele is a legit No. 1 centre, but it’s iffy after that. I’ve long been a Bryan Little fan and I believe he’ll suitably fill the second slot. But what if his best-before date has already passed? Is Jack Roslovic a ready-for-prime-time centre? We don’t know. We can only guess. It could be a repeat of last season when general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff felt obliged to seek help from beyond. We might be looking at another Paul Stastny scenario.

Paul Stastny

Question Lady: What you’re saying is that this Jets team isn’t as good as the one that reached the Western Conference final last May?

Answer Lady: Do the math. Stastny gave the Jets 13 points in 19 regular-season games and, more significant, 15 points in the Stanley Cup tournament. Can either Little or Roslovic deliver that kind of production? From October through March? Sure. April-May-June I’m not convinced. And remember, it isn’t about the regular season for the Jets anymore. It’s about what goes down in the tournament. The playoffs, that’s their measuring stick. Everything else is window dressing.

Twig Ehlers

Question Lady: Any other misgivings?

Answer Lady: Twig Ehlers. The guy’s dynamic, but he’s a 35/40-goal scorer dressed up as a 25/29-goal scorer. His retreats into the twilight zone are mysterious and frustrating. Maybe it’s that whole PlayStation thing. Maybe the Vancouver Canucks are on to something by banning PlayStation and Fortnite on road trips.

Question Lady: Are you serious? You think Ehlers’ trips to la la land are linked to an obsession with video games? That’s crazy talk, girlfriend. Patrik Laine is one of those PlayStation goomers and he scored 44 goals last season.

Answer Lady: I’m just spitballing, girlfriend. If Puck Finn scores 44 goals every winter they’ll let him play Fortnite until his thumbs fall off. But there must be a reason why Twig vamooses for chunks of time. I mean, four goals after March? Zero in 15 playoff games? And people thought Howard Hughes disappeared. Maybe that’s what I should call Ehlers instead of Twig—Howard.

Blake Wheeler

Question Lady: You’re being kind of hard on the kid, don’t you think?

Answer Lady: All I’m saying is he has 35-goal talent (or more) and his Invisible Man routine is beginning to wear thin. On the plus side, he’s young and can learn about the mental side of the game from a guy like captain Blake Wheeler.

Question Lady: Speaking of Wheeler, do you see another 91-point crusade out of him?

Answer Lady: I don’t see why not. Playing with Rink Rat Scheifele and Kyle Connor, he ought to get a point a game by accident. The guy’s a stud.

Question Lady: Any bold predictions?

Patrik Laine

Answer Lady: Yup. Puck Finn will win the Rocket Richard Trophy with 57 goals. The Rink Rat will reach the 100-point plateau and finish second to Connor McDavid in scoring. Connor Hellebuyck will win the Vezina Trophy. Paul Maurice will be a finalist for coach of the year.

Question Lady: What about the playoffs?

Answer Lady: Can’t say. Too much can change by then, and I expect it will. Chevy will do something at, or just before, the trade deadline. It’ll involve centres and defencemen.

Question Lady: Okay, gotta go. I’d say let’s do lunch, but I’m going home for a soak and to listen to the latest McCartney album. How about you?

Answer Lady: I think I’ll just watch old film of the Jets’ last WHA championship.

 

 

About peace if the Red River Valley…Jekyll and Hyde in the CFL…the cost of beer and bowels…dance moves…Johnny Average…coach’s choice…oh, baby…TSN’s top 50…hanky-panky in women’s hockey…a Stanley Cup parade in The ROT?…and let the NHL games begin

Another Sunday smorg on another lovely, albeit damp, autumn morning…

It’s about that quarterback controversy—the sound you hear is silence. It’s not even crickets.

Matt Nichols completed just 16 passes for 179 yards on Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium in E-Town. He failed to hurl the football for a touchdown. One of his 20 tosses landed in the wrong hands. Totally pedestrian numbers. The kind of numbers that had the rabble reaching for the torches and pitch forks two-three-four weeks ago.

Except this time Nichols’ work, however ordinary, was good enough and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were on the favorable end of a 30-3 score vs. the Edmonton Eskimos.

Matt Nichols

Thus, we don’t hear anyone squawking about Chris Streveler getting the next start, which, of course, always was a fool’s argument that the Bombers oft-misguided head coach, Mike O’Shea, properly ignored. The payoff has been two efficient work days for Nichols and two successive wins—including the Bombers’ first W this season against an outfit that actually has a pulse—and Winnipeg FC now holds joint custody of third place in the Canadian Football League’s West Division to-and-fro.

So we have a different narrative.

Nichols is no longer a bum and the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist might actually let a week go by without telling us that O’Shea and his sidekick, defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall, should be collecting pogey.

That all changes if the Bombers soil the sheets vs. the RedBlacks in Bytown next Friday, but for now there’s peace in the Red River Valley.

There’s certainly some Jekyll and Hyde in this Winnipeg FC outfit, although the same can be said about at least four other clubs—the Eskimos, B.C. Lions, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Bytown RedBlacks. I’m guessing it will be the Leos with their noses pressed against the window and looking in when the post-season fun commences on the second Sunday in November, leaving the Bombers and Eskimos to settle the argument for third place on the final day of the crusade. The loser gets the crossover playoff berth, which is your basic CFL death sentence. History records that no western club has advanced to the Grey Cup game via the eastern route, and beating the RedBlacks and Tabbies back-to-back in enemy territory in November might be doable but it’s highly improbable.

Jason Maas

The cost of a beer at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday: $5. The cost of a hot dog: $2. Seeing Eskimos head coach Jason Maas look like he had blocked bowels: Priceless.

I note the Hamilton Tiger-Cat had themselves a bit of a hissy fit after the B.C. Lions held a dance party on their logo at Timbits field in the Hammer. Such scandal. You’d think Fred Astaire had stepped on Ginger Rogers’ toes. Get a grip, boys.

I think it’s great that Alessia Cara will perform the halftime show at the Grey Cup game. But remind me to Google her so I can find out who she is.

Johnny Rotten

Doug Brown has forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know, so it was with considerable interest that I read the former defensive lineman’s take on Montreal Alouettes quarterback Johnny Manziel. “I would dare say, especially after watching a full four quarters of his work in the 31-14 loss against the Bombers, that he is not a first-round quarterback talent,” he wrote in the Drab Slab. “He is pretty accurate with the football, and has a quick release; he has a pretty average arm, and doesn’t always throw a great football. When Manziel operates from the confines of the pocket, which is the most important measurable of any quarterback—scrambling or otherwise—he looks to be of the ilk of a very average quarterback in the CFL.” Brown will never get a job as a gab guy on TSN if he’s going to dis Johnny Average like that.

Brian Burke

Interesting comment from Brian Burke, former National Hockey League general manager and now a talking head on Sportsnet: “Well certainly from my perspective, you’re going to fire the coach if he doesn’t win enough games,” he told Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver, “so you better let him pick the roster.” Makes sense, but I doubt that’s how it works in Winnipeg. I’d wager the rent money that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has a large say in who starts the season with les Jets.

Bob Cole

Apparently, Rogers believes there’s a sprinkling of “Oh, baby!” left in 85-year-old Bob Cole, so he’ll be at the play-by-play microphone for 10 games to be broadcast on Sportsnet this NHL season, his 50th on sid. But here’s my question: If Cole is still good enough to do 10 games, why not 15 or 20? We know he wanted to work the Stanley Cup tournament last spring, but Rogers shut him out. If there isn’t a health issue, Rogers is actually giving Cole the equivalent of a gold watch with his 10-game package. It’s a token gesture.

Having said that, Cole is definitely past his best-before date. He still has the great pipes, but he doesn’t recognize many players other than Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid.

Connor McDavid

So, TSN names its top 50 NHL performers, and here’s James Duthie to ask “the panel” how much of a talent gap exists between No. 1 Connor McDavid and everybody else, including runnerup Sidney Crosby.

“Substantial,” says Dave Poulin. “You put McDavid No. 1, then you start thinking about No. 2. There’s a gap after McDavid and there’s another gap after Crosby.”

Well, excuuuuuse me all to hell, but wasn’t it Poulin who left leading scorer McDavid off his all-star ballot last spring? Why, yes it was. He voted for Nathan MacKinnon, Anze Kopitar and Evgeni Malkin as the best centre-ice men in the game. Yet there he was last week, unflinching and insistent that McDo-it-all is not only superior to that troika—he’s two gaps greater.

Based on what? How many catfish and muskee McDavid caught during his summer vacation?

Seriously. The Edmonton Oilers captain played zero hockey between late May and early September, so how did he go from being no better than the fourth-best centre in the NHL to the absolute premier performer after three months of doing squat?

He didn’t. He was No. 1 then, and he’s No. 1 now. Poulin has some explaining to do, but I doubt we’ll hear it.

Gillian Apps and Meghan Duggan

It’s about hockey and hanky-panky. We know that the American and Canadian women knock the bejeebers out of each other once the puck is dropped. They maintain one of the most intense, heated rivalries in sports. But it’s the passion that goes on off the ice that’s interesting. One of our most-decorated shinny stars, Olympic gold medalist Gillian Apps, wed Meghan Duggan of Team USA last weekend in Maine, that less than a year after former Canadian captain Caroline Ouillette and former U.S. captain Julie Chu became moms by welcoming baby daughter Liv into the world. Puts a different twist on the old bromide about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, doesn’t it? Beautiful stuff.

There are two thing I’m quite certain I’ll never see in my lifetime: 1) The captains of the Canadian and U.S. men’s Olympic hockey teams exchanging “I do’s” and raising a child together; 2) another Stanley Cup parade in the Republic of Tranna. And if I had to make a wager, I’d bet on the same-sex marriage happening first.

Speaking of Lord Stanley’s silver goblet, this from Stephen Whyno of the Associated Press: “Toronto appears to have the best chance to end Canada’s Stanley Cup drought that dates back a quarter century to 1993.” So, the addition of John Tavares to the Maple Leafs roster makes Jake Gardiner a better defenceman? Ron Hainsey a better defenceman? Frederik Andersen a better goaltender? Don’t think so. I still like les Jets to do it.

And, finally, 30 NHL teams begin their quest for the Stanley Cup this week. Meanwhile, in Ottawa, the Senators begin their quest for Jack Hughes.