About Planet Puckhead and social media…another WTF Tranna scribe is up my nose…have a thought for Pick…Burkie at his best…Grapes and karma…Ovie’s hangover…more dumb stuff from the East…and CFL free agents

The first Sunday smorgas-bored of the year…and so far 2019 doesn’t feel any different from 2018…

Back in the day, when people actually paid me to write this crap, I scribbled something about the intense pressure placed upon pimple-face teenagers wearing our Maple Leaf on their chests and hearts on their sleeves.

I didn’t think the expectation and suffocating scrutiny was fair in 1999. Still don’t today.

I mean, okay, I get it. This is Planet Puckhead. We do hockey like Criss Angel does magic. We expect to win. All…the…time. At…every…level.

But, hey, sometimes a Criss Angel illusion or magic trick goes kaflooey. Sinatra didn’t always sing on key. Not every Beatles or Rolling Stones tune is a classic. Not every episode of Seinfeld was belly-laughing, knee-slapping funny. And sometimes we lose at shinny.

Like in the just-concluded World Junior Hockey Championship.

Our teenagers were found wanting in the 10-nations tournament. They didn’t earn a gold, silver or bronze trinket. Nada. They finished sixth. In our own bailiwick. That’s like the Pope skipping Sunday mass at the Vatican. So there’s hand-wringing, navel gazing, considerable gnashing of the teeth, autopsies performed in print and on airwaves, with perhaps a royal commission into the state of Canadian shinny affairs to follow.

If root, root, rooting for the home side isn’t exhausting, the fallout from failure surely is.

Maxime Comtois: No goal.

Worst of all, of course, is the cauldron of rot known as social media, which exploded like Noah Dobson’s hockey stick during added time in a 2-1 quarterfinal misstep vs. the plucky and, yes, fortuitous Finnish teens. (Seriously, they tied the game when the puck took more turns than the magic JFK bullet.) This reality that Finland was the beneficiary of more luck than a leprechaun with a fistful of four-leaf clovers was lost on the cyber bullies who assailed our reps, most notably Maxime Comtois.

Young Max, who wore the ‘C’ on his black True North jersey, had the bad manners to: a) perform a series of Neymar impersonations in the early skirmishing of the event; b) flub a penalty shot in OT vs. Finland; c) be born French-Canadian.

Add it all up and, apparently, he’s the worst captain since E.J. Smith steered the Titanic into that big ice cube near the shores of Newfoundland.

It is, of course, a load of hooey.

Neymar

Comtois’ misguided play-acting like a Brazilian soccer star aside (we’re Canadian; we don’t dive on frozen ponds), the avalanche of abuse heaped upon him was as exaggerated as it was unfair. Yes, he coughed up a hair ball on that penalty shot, but not because he calls the opening between a goaltender’s pads “le cinq trou” instead of the five hole. He missed. Stuff happens. In both official languages.

Post-ouster, we’ve learned that Comtois was playing with a separated shoulder, and I can already hear the braying of the jackals: “Did he hurt it taking one of his dives?”

I’m sorry, but I don’t hold with the crucifixion of kids playing a game. Especially when wearing the Maple Leaf.

Look, our guys tried. They came up short because, in case you hadn’t noticed, the other guys are good. It’s been that way since the Russkies paddywhacked the best of our best (sans B. Orr and B. Hull) in Game 1 of the Summit Series in 1972.

We’re no less a nation of puckheads today because of this WJHC result. We can just hope we do better next time—on the ice and, especially, on social media.

Next time one of our genius jock journos tells us that women’s hockey is a joke because of lopsided scores, remind him of these results from the world junior tournament: 14-0, 11-2, 8-2, 8-3, 7-4, 6-1, 5-0, 5-1, 5-1. Denmark played six games and scored in just one of them, a relegation skirmish vs. Kazakhstan, which was outshot 69-13 in one round-robin game and 57-10 in another. They surrendered an average of 56 shots per match in their four prelims.

Canada’s gold medal curlers at the 2018 Olympic Games.

Speaking of genius jock journos, you wonder why scribes from the Republic of Tranna get up my nose? Because they write rubbish like this item from Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail: “Canada’s never won a major international team tournament at anything that wasn’t hockey.” That’s not just incorrect, it’s ignorant. It’s a total WTF comment. I mean, last time I looked, Winter Olympic Games curling was a “major international team tournament,” and Canada has been on the top step of the podium six times! We’ve also won 18 global men’s and women’s curling championships since 2000. If you’re scoring at home, that’s 24 wins at a “major international team tournament” that “wasn’t hockey.” But, hey, Kelly is a Tranna-based writer and curling rates somewhere between tiddlywinks and rec-room ping pong on the scale of importance in The Rot. He writes about our curlers only when they gag at the Olympics or get drunk at a weekend bonspiel and, based on his scribblings from the Winter Games last year, he doesn’t know a burned rock from burnt toast.

The legend Bob Picken.

Wonderful piece from Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun on broadcasting legend Bob Picken, who’s bedded down in his River Heights home in a fight for his life against the dreaded cancer. I don’t know how much time Pick has left, but I do know you’ll not meet a nicer man and you’ll not hear a better set of pipes. Pick’s always been one of those glass-half-full people, forever armed with a kind word and sage counsel. He’s an absolute treasure. And when he’s gone, it will close the book on what Friesen aptly describes as the “golden age” of sports media in Good Ol’ Hometown. I doubt he’s in a hurry to join Matty, Cactus Jack, Witt, Siggy and Coconut Willie on the other side, but you can be sure they’re anxious to see him.

Brian Burke

Brian Burke continues to be the best hockey voice on TV in the Great White North, if not North America. Burkie was in peak harrumphing form on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night, taking aim at bellyaching player agent Allan Walsh for his whining tweets about client Michael Frolik’s ice time allotment with the Calgary Flames. “Put a sock in it,” Burke barked before describing Walsh’s antics as “clownish behavior.” He added: “Nobody’s gonna pay the slightest bit of attention to this. This will be ignored by management. Agents don’t advise teams on how to run teams, trust me. Go have a meeting with the GM, get behind closed doors, air your differences and see if you can work something out.” Good stuff.

Don Cherry

The Lord of Loud, Donald S. Cherry, weighed in on Canada’s demise at the world junior tourney during the Coachless Corner segment of HNIC, suggesting that our guys were beaten as payback for running up the score (14-zip) vs. Denmark. “You don’t beat them down like that or you pay the price,” he said. “I’ve said it before, the hockey gods will get you or karma will get you.” If karma has anything to say about it, Grapes will be wearing nothing but a loin cloth in his next life as punishment for those gawdawful suits he exposes us to on Saturday nights.

Mitch Marner

There are a few things in life that concern me. Whether or not Kevin Hart hosts the Oscars and whether or not Madonna has had butt implants are not among them. Nor is Mitch Marner’s exclusion from the National Hockey League all-star soiree, which Sportsnet refers to as the “great snub.” I believe Marner put it best when he said: “There’s bigger things in the world to think about than that.” Agreed. But I doubt opinionists in The ROT will let it go.

Alex Ovechkin is taking a pass on the all-star game because his chassis needs a rest. Is that the real reason, or is Ovie still hungover from his Stanley Cup celebration?

There’s stupid and then there’s Eastern Canada kind of stupid. “The Alouettes’ slogan (indeed the slogan of the entire CFL) should be “Fans?—What Fans?” writes Jack Todd of Postmedia Montreal. Excuse us? The entire Canadian Football League? Don’t think so. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Saskatchewan Roughriders and Bytown RedBlacks played to 96.8, 96.1 and 94.4 per cent capacity in 2018. Attendance for playoff games (in Hamilton, Regina, Bytown and Calgary) was 91.4 per cent of a full house. It was SRO at the Grey Cup game, with 55,819 wedged into Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. The average head count for the Eskimos was 31,107. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Calgary Stampeders were well above the league attendance average. What part of that does Todd not understand? The CFL has three trouble spots: Montreal, the Republic of Tranna, and Vancouver. The other six markets are doing just fine, thank you.

Mike Reilly

If I’m Ed Hervey, general manager of the B.C. Lions, I’m calling for an all-out blitz and going after both Mike Reilly and Adam Bighill when the CFL free-agent market opens next month. And if I’m Leos’ bankroll David Braley, I’m letting him do it. Guaranteed that would put people in the pews at B.C. Place Stadium.

Is Kyle Walters doing his job as general manager of the Bombers if he doesn’t go after Reilly, assuming the Eskimos QB doesn’t choose to stay in E-Town? Nope. I like Matt Nichols, but Reilly would be a serious upgrade behind centre and Walters must pursue him.

And, finally, this blog reached an all-time high for reads in 2018: 23,801. My thanks to all who stopped by for a visit. Let’s all meet again at my place every Sunday in the new year. Drinks are on moi. But, remember, if you’re going to drink, don’t drive.

Advertisements

About the Winnipeg Wade Bombers…Turtle Man…Kelly McCrimmon…the Rat Pack…and record freefalls

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

Wade Miller
Wade Miller

So, Wade Miller gives Paul Wiecek the brush off—not once but twice—and you probably don’t care.

Not your issue, right? I mean, if Miller makes it more difficult for Wiecek—or anyone in the Fourth Estate—to perform his job it’s no skin off your hiney, right? You’re inclined to say “tough titty, Paul; here’s a quarter…call someone who cares.”

Well, okay. It’s agreed: Let there be no sympathy for the devil or the media, who, in the minds of many, were separated at birth but remain close kin.

Except we should care, if we care about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

It matters not if you are a fan of Wiecek’s work in the sports section of the Winnipeg Free Press, or if you consider his scribblings to be alphabet excrement. Wiecek’s worth as a wordsmith is not at issue. The reality that he twice requested an audience with the chief executive officer of the Bombers in recent days and twice was told to get lost is the issue.

Wiecek—again, appreciate his journalistic contributions or not—is an agent of Josephine and Joe Phan. He has access you don’t enjoy. When things go south for the Bombers, which had been the case until the blind squirrel found an acorn in Edmonton on Thursday night, he’ll want to tell you why. Sometimes he’s inclined to believe that requires a word or two from on high and, with the Bombers, you don’t get any higher than Miller. Oh, sure, the CEO supposedly answers to a board of directors, but, since the BOD answers to no one, no one actually answers to anyone.

This, of course, is a peculiarity of the Winnipeg Football Club. No person owns the Canadian Football League franchise. No entity owns it. There are no shareholders. It just is.

Yes, we like to think of the Bombers as community owned. A team of the people, by the people and for the people. Well, that’s a romantic notion with a side order of naivete. The club is community owned like Miller is Mr. Rogers. Thus, if he chooses to establish himself as feudal lord of his own personal fiefdom, so be it. He can be as prickly, standoffish, dismissive and as unreachable as suits him. Miller is bottom line, not bosom buddy.

The CEO doesn’t feel the need to cozy up to Wiecek or any other news scavenger, because that’s the way of the sports world today. Professional franchises have in-house emissaries who spread the word, using the club’s language. No muss, no fuss and no touchy questions on touchy subject matter. Like a head coach’s best-before date.

I doubt very much that Wiecek sought to satisfy some deep, personal need when inquiring about Mike O’Shea’s shelf life or if the head coach had accomplices in the decision to replace starting quarterback Drew (One Hop) Willy with Matt Nichols. He was doing his job so that he might inform and enlighten the rabble. So, in turning heel and walking away, Miller, the official mouthpiece of a supposedly community-owned team, was telling the Freep sports columnist that Blue Bombers’ business is none of his business.

By extension, he was telling everyone in Bombers Nation the same thing.

That’s interesting because, last time I looked, the football club was still called the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, not the Winnipeg Wade Bombers.

Look, no one expects Miller to be at the media’s beck and call 24/7. He isn’t required to answer every question about the football club’s soft underbelly, either. It’s his choice. But being a jerk is also a choice.

Milt Stegall
Milt Stegall

Good on Milt Stegall, the next inductee into the Bombers Ring of Honour. Never mind that Milt, unlike his fellow ROH members Chris Walby, Ken Ploen and Gerry James, never brought the Grey Cup home in his 14 seasons with the Blue and Gold. Nobody ever looked as good losing as the Turtle Man. Just ask him.

We’re told that longtime Wheat Kings’ Mr. Everything, Kelly McCrimmon, is prepared to trade Brandon for a team to be named later. That, of course, would be the National Hockey League expansion entry in Las Vegas, where Kelly Mac would sit at the right hand of general manager George McPhee. If those reports are accurate, Manitoba is losing a genuine hockey icon. Remember one thing, Kelly: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, so if you rub elbows with Wayne Newton or Celine Dion we really don’t want to hear about it.

The Rat Pack's big three—Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra.
The Rat Pack’s big three—Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra.

Rumors persist that the Las Vegas team will be named Knights or Black Knights, although in a Las Vegas Review-Journal poll readers chose Outlaws as the preferred handle. I’d still go with Rat Pack. You can’t go wrong saluting Sinatra, Dino, Sammy and the boys.

I don’t know about you, but I got a rush out of watching chuteless skydiver Luke Aikins jump from an airplane and plummet 25,000 feet into a net on Saturday. That was the most spectacular fall I’ve seen since Tiger Woods.

Just for the record, Aikins’ two-minute freefall was not the longest in history. The Toronto Maple Leafs have been in freefall since 1967 and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers since 1990.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

It’s -30- on Shakey Johnson’s sports writing career…say it ain’t so, Postmedia

Scant years after the 20th century had arrived at its midway mark, author Truman Capote appeared on the television show Open End, whereupon he lashed out at the Beat Generation of American writers who delivered notable works in the 1950s.

“None of these people have anything interesting to say and none of them can write, not even Jack Kerouac,” he told host David Susskind. “It isn’t writing at all. It’s typing.”

Whether his was an accurate appraisal of the scribblings of Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Herbert Huncke and others among the Beat wordsmiths is, of course, open to interpretation, but the core of Capote’s critique is unassailable: Some people write, others just type.

I am reminded of the In Cold Blood author’s quote due to the blood-letting that has taken place this week on the sinking ships we know as daily newspapers in Canada.

georgejohnson
George (Shakey) Johnson

Included in the Postmedia carnage that killed competition in four major cities and left approximately 90 people out of work was George (Shakey) Johnson, whose poetic way with words has graced sports sheets across the nation ever since he walked out of a Red River Community College classroom and into the Winnipeg Tribune newsroom in the 1970s.

Shakey Johnson doesn’t type. He writes.

Which makes the Postmedia resolve to deep-six him not simply callous and cold-hearted but mystifying in the extreme.

I mean, it’s one thing to merge the two newsrooms of supposedly competing papers in each of four bergs in the True North, which Postmedia has done in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa, but surely the fallout from fiscal folly ought not to include your best and brightest people.

Shakey Johnson is among the best. And brightest. Still.

Shakey is unlike any sports scribe I have known, something I recognized early, when we were both novices learning our trade at the knee of Jack Matheson at the Trib. He would prattle on about his fave jocks like Ali and Jack Nicklaus, with the odd genuflection toward Davey Keon and Italian fitba, but he really got off on the theatre and movies. He was as apt to work Sir Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton or Judy Garland and Streisand into a lede as Wayne Gretzky or Lanny McDonald. And don’t even think about getting him started on Sinatra. Ol’ Blue Eyes was, is and always will be his main man.

That’s what makes Shakey special, at least to my way of thinking. It isn’t all about pucks and pigskins and point guards. He comes at sports writing from a different angle. He’s both high-end and high-brow. And he does it with such elequence and knock-’em-dead dry wit.

It’s why, as sports editor at the Calgary Sun in the early 1980s, I lured him away from our sister paper in Edmonton and installed him as our National Hockey League beat writer, his main focus being the Flames. I knew Shakey would deliver the same sterling stuff I’d read in the Trib and Winnipeg Sun, where he was among the plucky rogues and rebels who brought a newspaper to life out of the Tribune ashes.

That Postmedia cannot see this same talent is mind-boggling.

Sure, go ahead and merge the Calgary Herald and Sun newsrooms. Kill the competition. But do not kill the quality.

Shakey Johnson has been a chronicler of Calgary sports for more than three decades, first at the Sun then the Herald, and he’s done it with unparalleled polish. His choice of wording is as his choice of wardrobe—impeccable. Thus, it is most discouraging and disheartening to think he’s arrived at the end of the ride because some suit doesn’t know a noun from a nincompoop. Shakey still has so much more to share. Surely we haven’t seen the last of Sinatra, Streisand or Sir Laurence in the lede of a sports story.

If it is over for Shakey, I offer another Truman Capote quote: “To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.”

I don’t know what inner music Shakey hears when he writes, but what I’ve always heard in reading his words is a beautiful symphony.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.