Let’s talk about Winnipeg as the NHL’s Dreadtown

Let me begin by saying I know there are worse places than Winnipeg. Being stuck on an elevator overnight with Miley Cyrus and realizing you forgot your ear plugs comes to mind.

But is Good Ol’ Hometown really as bad as National Hockey League players make it out to be?

Apparently so. It’s the dentist’s chair of their world. Root canal included.

Actually, no. It’s worse than that.

Step out of doors in Pegtown and you might as well go directly to an ER, because you’re just one frost-bitten breath away from hypothermia.

That’s right, they’ve noticed that it’s cold. Always.

And dirty. Winnipeg doesn’t have a sewer system. It is a sewer system. Or so they tell us.

I mean, what’s the first order of business for any brave NHL soul who survives his unfortunate experience on the frozen tundra? Why, he reaches for a bar of soap and starts scrubbing his face, of course. You know, to wash off the Winnipeg.

And did we mention depressing?

Oh, there’s plenty for the NHL scamps to do in Good Ol’ Hometown, it’s just that none of it’s exciting. Little wonder locals call Misericordia Health Centre the “Misery.”

In case you missed it, Emily Kaplan of ESPN talked to, or contacted, 50 players and asked a series of questions on matters ranging from Twitter accounts to Gritty fatigue to the blind eye that NHL mucky-mucks turn toward the use of recreational drugs. And there was this: “Which road city do you dread the most?”

The results were as predictable as Don Cherry wearing a bad suit and saying something stupid on Saturday night.

Winnipeg:   42 per cent
Buffalo:      34 per cent
Edmonton: 10 per cent
Calgary:       4 per cent
Ottawa:        4 per cent
Raleigh:       4 per cent
Columbus:   2 per cent

That’s us. Dreadtown. Worse than Buffalo. Which is like being told you and your neighbor both have rotten teeth, but you’re worse because you’ve got bad breath, too.

“It’s always cold,” one player griped about Good Ol’ Hometown. “It’s just dirty—you walk around the city and feel like you need to wash your face after you go outside.”

Hey, maybe that’s why Dustin Byfuglien went AWOL. He got tired of washing his face.

Naw. Can’t be that. After all, I’ve been away from Winnipeg for 20 years now, but I still wash my face every day. I’m guessing that Big Buff does, too, unless he’s in his fishing hut, in which case all bets are off.

Anyway, I’ve heard a lot of insulting comments about Pegtown over the years. Still do. But that face-washing thing is a new one on me. Like, Toronto’s the Big Smoke and we’re what? The Big Soap?

“Winnipeg is just depressing,” groused another player. “You don’t even want to leave the hotel to get a cup of coffee.”

Listen, man, I’ll concede that Good Ol’ Hometown has a bit of a Cold War-era Moscow vibe during the winter, but why do you think NHL brass doesn’t frown on rec drugs? They’ve seen downtown Winnipeg. Whatever gets you through the night, right?

Even the praise from at least one NHLer was faint.

“Wherever you go,” he said, “they always have TSN on.”

Oh joy. I’m sure Tourism Winnipeg will jump all over that as the theme for its next campaign to lure visitors to the Manitoba capital: “We’ve got the Museum of Human Rights, The Forks and Assiniboine Park Zoo, but come to River City for the TSN and stare at Jeff O’Dog’s butt cleavage during Trade Centre while hiding in your hotel room.”

You’d think us Peggers would be bummed out by a bunch of runny-nose millionaires describing our home as a scuzzbag burg, but no. Once you’ve been lampooned on The Simpsons, it takes more than a few cheap shots from the peanut gallery to put our frost-bitten noses out of joint.

Besides, those ESPN numbers could be a lot less flattering. I mean, had Emily reached out to the other 650-plus NHLers, I’m thinking Good Ol’ Hometown would have a higher disapproval rating than Justin Trudeau after the blackface pics surfaced.

So let’s be grateful for small sample sizes.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go wash my face.

About the Blue Bombers coughing up a hairball…Jacob Trouba’s shelf life with the Winnipeg Jets…shoddy journalism…liars, liars in sports…happy 25th to the Goldeyes…a female voice on jock talk TV…a really dumb question about Serena Williams’ pregnant pause…who’s the duchess of what?…Joey Votto and a rat’s ass…numbers crunching in The Athletic Winnipeg…and other things on my mind

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

Loved the headline in the Winnipeg Free Press after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers coughed up a 17-point hairball and lost 20-17 to the Lions at B.C. Place Stadium on Saturday night: GOOD GRIEF!

Good grief, indeed, Charlie Brown.

Winnipeg FC had no business losing to the inferior Leos, but that’s what happens when you play and coach stupid football. Seriously. Three roughing-the-passer violations? Twice ignoring a gimme three points? That’s dumb, dumber and dumbest.

Asked post-game why he twice gambled on third-and-short rather than kick field goals, head coach Mike O’Shea said: “To me it’s a no-brainer.”

Exactly. No brains.

Connor Hellebuyck

I don’t know about you, but I look at the signing of Connor Hellebuyck as an appetizer, something for the rabble to nibble and nosh on until the main course arrives, hopefully later this week.

I mean, yes, the freshly minted agreement between the Winnipeg Jets and their all-star goaltender takes care of the blue paint for the next six National Hockey League crusades. It’s a favorable development. But the real intrigue in Jets Nation is on the blueline, in the form of Jacob Trouba and, to a much lesser degree, his running mate, Josh Morrissey.

Trouba is the X factor.

Given his history that includes a training-camp/early-season work stoppage and a trade request, skeptics abound when it comes to the 24-year-old defender. They won’t be convinced that Trouba is, as they say at the Vegas poker tables, “all-in” with Winnipeg and les Jets until they know his signature is at the bottom of a contract. Long term. As in six or eight years.

Trouba has an audience with an arbitrator scheduled for the morning of July 20, a bargained-for option exercised by 43 other NHL players this summer. If dealings with les Jets stall this week and he meets with the arbitrator, all bets are off on his shelf life in Good Ol’ Hometown.

My guess? Trouba stays. Six years. Then he leaves.

Jacob Trouba

Apparently, Paul Wiecek has insider intel on Trouba. If only he’d be kind enough to let the rest of us in on the scoop. But no. When Wiecek writes that “Trouba is a problem. Again.” it’s his little secret. He isn’t prepared to share the gory details. We have to guess what it is that makes No. 8 “a problem. Again.”

Well, here’s the actual problem: Wiecek harbors a stalker-like obsession with Trouba, one that began in September 2016 and has become an obscenity.

Twice in the past 10 days, Wiecek has launched gratuitous, factless attacks on the Jets young defender. First the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist informed us that “Trouba, for one, has a long track record of doing what’s right for Trouba, even when it’s been what’s wrong for Trouba.” (It’s uncertain exactly how Wiecek could possibly know what’s right and what’s wrong for Trouba, but, hey, perhaps the guy’s got a life-coaching gig on the side.) He then doubled down with his cryptic “Trouba is a problem. Again.” Ah, but Wiecek provided not a sliver of evidence to prop of his allegation.

Why is Trouba so far up Wiecek’s nose?

Is it the arbitration thing? Naw. Can’t be. Forty-three other NHL players filed for arbitration, including four of Trouba’s teammates. I hardly think that qualifies any of them as a problem child.

Dale Hawerchuk

Maybe it was the trade demand two years ago. Naw. Can’t be that either. Plenty of people have wanted out of Winnipeg, the great Dale Hawerchuk among them. No one thought of Ducky as a problem child.

So what is it? Simple. During the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, Trouba told Wiecek a mistruth. Said he was happier than a pig in slop to be playing in River City, and he hoped to be on board for the long haul. Shortly thereafter, Trouba was a no-show at training camp and he was AWOL through the first month of the season. So he had lied (just like everyone else in hockey, including writers). Wiecek took it as a personal affront and he’s waged a one-man, two-year vendetta to discredit Trouba, branding him a liar, petulant, a malcontent, impetuous, the biggest loser, reckless, greedy, phony and, most recently, selfish and a problem.

It’s irresponsible, tawdry journalism, and someone high on the food chain at the Freep ought to step up and nip it in the bud.

John Ferguson

I had issues with fibbers during my time in sports. Jets GM John Ferguson once told myself and Friar Nicolson a flat-out lie about Bobby Hull. It was a whopper. So I called him out, in print. Fergy was steamed. I was, too. We didn’t talk to each other for two weeks. Not at the rink. Not on the team bus. Not at the airport. Not on the phone. He would just glare down the gun barrel that passed for his nose, and I would ignore him. I don’t recall how we arrived at détente, but Fergy and I eventually got along just fine. Whatever fibs he told me thereafter were little and white. The worst was Sam Katz, owner of the Winnipeg Goldeyes. Sammy was a carnival barker. He would tell the boys at the Free Press that a baseball was round, then he would tell us at the Winnipeg Sun that a baseball was a hockey puck. I couldn’t believe anything that fell from that man’s mouth, so I simply stopped interviewing him and took to calling him The Unmentionable Man in print. Sammy and I were cordial when our paths crossed, but we never warmed to each other. No big deal. I didn’t need him to do my job and he didn’t need me to fill seats in the Ballyard At The Forks.

Speaking of Sammy, his Goldeyes celebrate their 25th anniversary this season. There were ample doubters at the beginning for the independent ball club—and I still wish he’d named his rounders side something other than Goldeyes—but Sammy pulled it off and the Fish have been a rousing success at the box office and between the foul lines with four titles. So good on him and them.

More kudos to Sportsnet for putting Caroline Cameron on the Tim & Sid show while Tim and Sid are goofing around off-set. She was co-hosting with Donnovan Bennett last week and, among many issues, they discussed the eventual return of Roberta Osuna, the Tranna Blue Jays relief pitcher who faces a court hearing on a domestic violence charge and is under suspension by Major League Baseball.

Bennett: “Are you okay with him being back with the Jays before the actual court case is resolved?”

Caroline Cameron

Cameron: “No I’m not, and for a few reasons. If the Blue Jays see this as a baseball decision, it’s not simply that. A situation like this never is. And in sports at lot of time we see that it mirrors what’s happening in society, and that includes the things that are going wrong with society. And the nice thing about sports—and excuse my use of the cliché—is sports you can play by your own rules, right? You can make your own decisions and figure out how you want to deal with these societal, moral issues. If the Jays bring Osuna back because they think they need his arm in a season that’s already lost, what message are you sending to the fans? And even on the flip side, innocent until proven guilty, do you want to have Roberto Osuna out there, out on the field, out in the bullpen when this is not resolved? What kind of reaction do you think he’s going to get? I just think you have an opportunity—and I’m not saying the Blue Jays have to set a precedent—but someone at some point has to set a precedent or else change will not happen and this will continue to be just a ‘baseball move’ as opposed to what it actually is.”

Imagine that. A woman, rather than a man, giving voice to a topic so significant to so many women. On a Canadian TV sports gab show. That’s as rare as a Serena Williams loss on Centre Court Wimbledon. Most of the women on Canadian jock talk TV get to read a teleprompter, nothing more. This is refreshing.

Mark Masters

Did one man, Mark Masters of TSN, really ask another man, ESPN tennis analyst Darren Cahill, to put the past year of Serena Williams’ life into “context?” Yes. Yes he did. Which means Masters wins the award for the dumbest question ever, ever, ever. I mean, how in the name of Mama Liv Walton can a man possibly give context to carrying a fetus for nine months, giving birth to a six-pound, 13-ounce girl, breast feeding, then returning to play in the ladies’ championship match of a tennis Grand Slam tournament? Only three people—Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Kim Clijsters—can answer that question, and none of them are men. What will Masters do next? Ask John McEnroe what it’s like to be a lesbian on the tennis tour? To his credit, Cahill politely answered the questionable question about Williams’ pregnant pause, saying, “You can’t put that into context” before mentioning that Clijsters and other women have put their careers on hold to start a family and returned to win Slam titles.

Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber

I suppose with a soon-to-be 37-year-old mom navigating her way to the Wimbledon final in just her fourth post-childbirth tournament, pundits will be slagging the quality and depth of women’s tennis. But in besting Williams on Saturday, 6-3, 6-3, Angelique Kerber became the seventh different champion in the past seven majors. So, I’d say the distaff side of the sport is just fine, thank you. The real issue is on the men’s side, where all four semifinalist at the All England Club are 30somethings. Generation Next simply cannot break through.

The Duchesses of Something

I don’t know about you, but I can’t tell my British duchesses without a program. Is Kate the Duchess of Cambridge and Meghan the Duchess of Sussex, or is Kate the Duchess of Sussex and Meghan the Duchess of Cambridge. If they’re going to sit in the Royal Box at Wimbledon, I think they should be obligated to wear duchess name tags.

Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds swatted his 266th home run last Monday to climb above Matt Stairs on the all-time dinger list for Canadians in Major League Baseball. He now stands second to Larry Walker. Well, to borrow Votto’s words when he piddled on our Corn Flakes earlier this year, “I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about that,” and I won’t give “a rat’s ass” if he goes on to surpass Walker’s record of 383 HRs.

Dave Poulin

I heard Dave Poulin gabbing about the Connor Hellebuyck contract on TSN the other day, and I had to tune out because the guy no longer has street cred. Not after he was one of seven voters to leave Connor McDavid off their all-star ballot. I mean, McDavid was the scoring champion, for cripes sake. And Poulin is telling us he wasn’t among the top three centre-ice men last season? What would he have us believe next? That Bobby Orr was a slowpoke? Sidney Crosby needs to work on his hand-eye coordination? Bobby Hull never wore a rug? It’s one thing for shinny scribes/broadcasters to dumb down, but there’s no excuse for a former NHL player to be such a d’oh boy. If you’re wondering, the other geniuses who made their ballots a no-McDavid zone were Dave Shoalts (Globe and Mail), Mike Colageo (New Bedford Standard Times), Stephen Conroy (Boston Herald), Emily Kaplan (ESPN), Gann Matsuda (Frozen Royalty), and Arthur Staple (The Athletic New York). Off with their press passes!

There’s a lot of good reading in The Athletic, but I’m deeply disappointed in the Winnipeg content. A chap named Murat Ates is the man about the Jets, and he’s advertised as someone who delivers a blend of “modern hockey analysis with engaging storytelling.” Sorry, but what I’ve seen to date is nothing but number crunching. All the “engaging storytelling” must be hidden in the math and, since I’m not a numbers geek, his copy is a total, also lengthy, yawn. Reading all those numbers makes my eyes glaze over. I don’t say that to be mean, but math and I have been at odds since Grade 1 at St. Alphonsus, and I believe sports is more about people than salary dumps and contract term. Meanwhile, if The Athletic Winnipeg has someone on the Bombers beat, he or she must be in a witness protection program. I realize the online newspaper is still looking for good people, but giving the Canadian Football League short shrift when Winnipeg FC is the only game in town until September is bad form. The Athletic Winnipeg needs a jolt of creative juice. Pronto.

And, finally, I note that 680 CJOB in Good Ol’ Hometown is getting back into the jock talk business. All sports director Kelly Moore needs now is a host, and I find myself wondering if he’d be brave enough to do something radical. You know, like hire a female as the lead voice on the gabfest. Actually, I wonder if any women will bother to apply. As mentioned earlier, jock talk in Canada is very much an old boys club.