Now that the thunder-clap clatter has eased to a murmur, what are the lessons learned from L’Affaire Rainbow?
Well, we learned that the Philadelphia Flyers stand by their Russian Orthodox employees, because rearguard Ivan Provorov received not so much as a mild tsk-tsk for skipping out on a pregame warmup last Tuesday night.
While his playmates adorned themselves in rainbow-colored garments and wrapped the blades of their hockey sticks in rainbow-colored tape to signal support for the LGBT(etc.) community on Pride Night, Provorov remained in the Flyers changing room, alone in his gay-is-sin thoughts as his playmates participated in the 15-minute frolic.
Provorov later cited his old-time religion as the reason for his refusal to play Mr. Dressup, telling news snoops: “I respect everybody, I respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”
Oddly enough (but probably not surprising), the Russian Orthodox rearguard refused to elaborate on his choice of religion over rainbow, perhaps because further discussion might have been a bit dodgy, if not prickly. News snoops might have asked Provorov about Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus’, a man who believes a) his buddy Vlad (The Bad) Putin is a “miracle of God,” b) the Russian invasion of Ukraine is necessary to prevent an eastern-advancing scourge of gay Pride parades, and c) same-sex marriage is “a sin” and similar to “apartheid in Africa or Nazi laws.” Apparently, those are talking points Provorov would rather avoid.
Whatever, his true-to-religion soundbite was sufficient for Philly head coach, John Tortorella (“Provy did nothing wrong”), the organization (“The Flyers will continue to be strong advocates for inclusivity”) and the National Hockey League (“Players are free to decide which initiatives to support”). In other words, nothing to see here, kids.
So that’s another lesson learned: If an NHL player wishes to opt out of a team theme night (Pride, Military, Black Lives Matter, Indigenous, etc.), he need only dust off religious dogma to avoid the sin bin, and we have to assume that’s all-inclusive, meaning it’s an easy out available not only to Russian Orthodox but also Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. (I suppose an atheist would have to come up with a different angle, but I don’t know.)
L’Affaire Rainbow also reminded us that news snoops are quick to rally and kick up a mighty fuss, yet they’re just as lickety-split in finding a new toy to chew on.
I mean, opinionists hither and yon spent three days in full and loud yowl, most of them pooh-poohing Provorov and suggesting an appropriate level of punishment, like deportation to the bosom of Mother Russia or listening to Barry Manilow music 24/7. I swear, we haven’t heard the jock journo machine rage like this since two of its heroes, Bobby Orr and Jack Nicklaus, pledged unwavering devotion to Donald Trump.
Yet, today, mention of Provorov’s work clothing is scant and has been pushed to the back pages of sports sections and the back half of news programs.
But here’s what the scribes and talking heads are ignoring: How many Ivan Provorovs are in the NHL? One per team? Two? Five? Surely he isn’t a lone wolf.
The jock journos decline to pursue the issue for one basic reason: They aren’t gay. Thus they can’t relate and don’t care. They’ve delivered a good and proper bawling out to Provorov, positioning themselves as LGBT(etc.) allies, so they harbor no compulsion for a deep dive into the matter.
Similarly, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wants no portion of any anti-gay discussion, unless it provides him an opportunity to apply a coating of sugar.
“When you look at all of our players and the commitments that they’ve made to social causes and to making our game welcoming and inclusive, let’s focus on the 700 that embrace it and not one or two that may have some issues for their own personal reasons,” he told news snoops the other day.
Sure, Gary, and let’s focus on all the banks Bonnie and Clyde didn’t rob.
Perhaps some reminders would be appropriate right about now…
In January 2014, TSN ran a three-part documentary, RE/ORIENTATION, which attempted to pry the lid off the issue of gays in hockey.
“We struggled to get participation from players,” said series host Aaron Ward, a former NHL defenceman and TSN talking head. “Over a nine-month period, we reached out to 12 different National Hockey League teams. (We) could not get co-operation. It was a struggle to get guys to sit down and be comfortable and honest in front of a camera. Obviously, it’s easy to sit down and read words for a PSA, but it’s another thing to sit down and be honest and in-depth and be clear about how we feel about this process and this issue. It’s almost a barometer of where we are today.”
Nine months. Twelve teams. That’s more than 200 players. And only three—Andrew Ference, Ben Scrivens and Dustin Brown—agreed to a formal, on-the-record natter. None of the three are in the NHL today.
Last month, Hockey Canada revealed results of a study into incidents of on-ice discrimination across all levels and age groups during the 2021-22 season. There were 512 penalties called, 61 per cent involving sexual orientation or gender. Males accounted for 99 per cent of the fouls.
Some of those male shinny scofflaws might grow up to perform in the NHL, which, with its shoulder shrug in L’Affaire Rainbow, has given players the official okey-dokey to go rogue and show the LGBT(etc.) collective, or any marginalized group of their choice, the cold shoulder. They can be just like Ivan Provorov. All they need do is flash a rosary or spew the Lord’s Prayer, then wait out the brief media storm.
By now you’ve likely had it up to your eyeliner or chin whiskers with New Year’s predictions, but Nostradumbass has yet to weigh in on what shall transpire in the next 12 months. Here’s what the Nostradumbass Prophesies say about athletes and teams from Good Ol’ Hometown…
It’s a double whammy for Manitoba’s elite Pebble People, with the Kerri Einarson and Matt Dunstone rinks winning the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier.
“It’s about bloody time,” says Dunstone. “I know winning’s old hat for Kerri and the gals from Gimli. That’s their fourth Scotties title in a row. Damn well done, ladies. But it’s fresh territory for us Buffalo Boys. Let’s face it, Manitoba men have sucked at curling this entire century, except for 2011 when Jeff Stoughton won the Brier. One Brier win in all that time? Total BS. So I’m happy that we could end the drought. Does it make me want to move back to Manitoba permanently? Naw. My home’s in Kamloops. You can’t beat the B.C interior for beauty, especially in and around The Okanagan. We also get better WiFi there.”
Meanwhile, Dunstone accepts a challenge from Einarson, and the two championship teams meet in a mid-summer one-off. It’s a rout: Gimli Gals 9, Buffalo Boys 3.
“I feel a bit sorry for them,” Einarson admits. “I mean, all four of us girls are preggers, so maybe they were distracted by our baby bumps. It’s not like guys know what to do when a woman’s pregnancy hormones are raging, so between all the bathroom breaks, the food cravings and the totally bonkers mood swings, they didn’t know if they were in a curling game or a Hitchcock thriller.
“I’m sure when Val (Sweeting) ordered that bucket of KFC and got in a scrap with Briane (Harris) over the last drumstick during the fifth-end break, it threw them off their game. I’m guessing you lose something from your draw weight after watching two hormonal-crazed women go all Animal House and throw coleslaw at each other.”
Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and the 3rd Baron Thomson of Fleet, disheartened by a fairweather fan base and empty seats in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, sell the Winnipeg Jets—lock, stock and Ducky Hawerchuk statue—to rock ‘n’ roll fossils Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman.
The first order of business for Cummings and Bachman is to rebrand the National Hockey League club.
“We’re now the Winnipeg Canned Wheat,” Cummings announces at a press conference that includes the 3rd Baron and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “It’s a salute to the Guess Who’s fifth studio album.
“We always thought Jets was a dumb name. What do airplanes have to do with Winnipeg? There isn’t even an airport here. If Winnipeg’s known for anything other than winter and Slurpees, it’s the rock ‘n’ roll scene in the 1960s and ’70s. We had great bands…the Squires, the Deverons, the Crescendos, the Quid, the Orfans, the Shondels, the Pallbearers, the Syndicate, the Eternals, Chad Allan and the Expressions, The Gentlemen Royal, the Dawgs, the House Grannies, the Feminine Touch, the Fifth, Finders Keepers, the Jury. That’s what I’m talking about. And, of course, there was me, Randy, Jimmy Kale and Garry Peterson in the Guess Who. Some of the Guess Who’s best stuff is on our Canned Wheat album—Laughing, Undun, No Time. Those songs are classics, like me and Randy. I was brilliant on them, and Randy was pretty good, too.”
Asked about fan support, Cummings harrumphs and says: “Not to worry. We’ve still got a long wait list for season tickets, but let’s just say if support goes soft the whole thing will come Undun (see what I did there?). We’ll move the team to Moose Jaw, and Mr. Bettman will support us 100 per cent.”
“They can squeeze 4,700 into the Moose Jaw rink,” the NHL commish says with a nod. “And, hey, if that number works for the Coyotes in an Arizona desert, it can work for the Canned Wheat on the bald prairies. Besides, Moose Jaw has better WiFi than Winnipeg.”
Local legal beagle David Asper, following the lead of Cummings and Bachman, bows to pressure and renames his Canadian Elite Basketball League franchise.
“Ever since I announced we had the team, all I’ve heard is ‘Sea Bears is stupid, Sea Bears is stupid.’ It’s been non-stop,” Asper says to a smattering of news snoops who had nothing better to do that day. “I haven’t had this many people PO’d at me since the 2005 Banjo Bowl, when I stormed into the Blue Bombers locker room after a loss and told the head coach he didn’t know a quarterback from a Q-tip. Now that was stupid. But I didn’t think naming a summertime hoops team after an Arctic predator was stupid. What was I supposed to call it? The Winnipeg Skeeters? The Winnipeg Potholes?
“Anyway, I heard from a lot of people and I listened, which I don’t normally do. I usually just listen to the sound of my own voice. But I eventually came around to the notion that Sea Bears was kind of dopey. So, as of today, we are the Winnipeg Riverboat. I remember riding the Paddlewheel Queen and the Paddlewheel Princess on the Red River when I was a kid. Good times. Just like a night watching my basketball team.”
A numbers crunch hits the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and CEO Wade Miller is forced to break up the Canadian Mafia by parting company with general manager Kyle Walters and replacing him with former news snoops Bob Irving and Ed Tait.
“Toughest decision I’ve had to make,” says Miller. “Kyle, coach Mike O’Shea and I are fast friends and we did great things together, winning two Grey Cups and playing in a third. But there’s an operations cap in the Canadian Football League, and we were banging our head on the ceiling. Kyle is the odd man out, and we wish him well when he replaces Pinball Clemons with the Argonauts.
“Some of you probably think I’m off my rocker, hiring two former media guys as co-GMs. Fine, but let me remind you that you thought I was a bit loopy when I hired Mike O’Shea to coach the team. How’s that worked out?
“Knuckles and Eddie have been part of the CFL for about as long as the rouge, and they’re what you call cheap dates…Knuckles is working pro bono, and Eddie’s already on staff for chump change. Hey, what can I say? It’s Winnipeg. We do things wholesale or on the real, real cheap. I would have hired Sarah Orlesky, too, because a pro sports franchise can never have enough burned-out news snoops on staff. But the Jets beat us to Sarah and she probably wouldn’t have worked for food stamps.”
Both Irving and Tait are unavailable for comment due to a previous commitment: Fixing the WiFi in Miller’s office.
The pride of Stony Mountain, Aaron Cockerill, takes the money and runs to the LIV Golf Series.
“All I have to do is show up with a bag of golf clubs and a caddy and play three rounds of stress-free golf. I don’t have to worry about making cuts and I’ll have more cashola than any player on the Jets roster,” Cockerill says. “I’m not going to say how much coin Greg Norman and the Saudis are giving me, but I can buy all of Stony Mountain and the rest of Rockwood if I want.”
“We think Aaron is a real up-and-comer, a rising star,” says Norman. “He’s ranked 346th in the world, so he’s no Rory or Scottie Scheffler, but he’s the kind of player we want in LIV Golf. He’s young, talented and eager. And don’t talk to me about blood money. His hands will be clean when he cashes his cheques. We’ve all got clean hands at LIV Golf. If anybody’s got dirty hands, it’s Rory and those dirty, rotten scoundrels who run the corrupt PGA Tour. They wouldn’t have a pot to pee in if it wasn’t for old golfers like me! If I sound bitter, it’s because I am bitter. I just don’t know why I’m so bitter.”
The Vancouver Canucks shed themselves of good guy Bruce Boudreau and introduce Barry Trotz as head coach.
“I know I said I wanted to coach an Original Six team,” says Trotz, “but I’m happy to be with an Original 14 team. Especially one in such a beautiful locale. I’m just a prairie boy, but I’ve been around some. I mean, I’ve seen the inside of the White House and the Grand Ole Opry, so you need to take the long way around the barn to impress me. And that’s what Vancouver does…it impresses me. Looking out my window and seeing mountain and ocean views every morning is a long hike from Dauphin, let me tell you.”
Asked to comment on the roster he’s inherited, Trotz says: “As Shania Twain sang, that don’t impress me much.”
There’s a huge shakeup on the local media landscape, with (a) the suits at Postmedia in the Republic of Tranna shutting down the Winnipeg Sun without notice, (b) the resurrection of the Winnipeg Tribune, and (c) the Winnipeg Free Press converting to a tabloid format.
The unexpected chain of events begins when the geniuses at Postmedia stop the presses at the Sun.
“What the hell, we haven’t shut down a newspaper or laid off hundreds of workers for at least six months, so we were overdue for some blood-letting,” says a company spokesperson. “And, let’s face it, the Winnipeg Sun had become the Toronto Sun, especially in the sports section. Think of it this way: We didn’t kill a newspaper, we saved a few forests.”
Out-of-work Sun employees aren’t out of work for long, thanks to a group of local business leaders fronted by Gail Asper, who’s named publisher of the new, employee-owned Winnipeg Tribune.
“My dad, Izzy, loved the old Trib,” she says. “He loved everything about it. Our plan is to bring it back to its original glory, and that might even include hiring some of the people who were on staff when the paper folded in 1980. I’m just not sure how many of them are still alive. But our new sports editor, Paul Friesen, has been tasked with tracking them down, and he’s been told to offer them their old jobs back.”
Friesen discovers a handful of ex-Tribbers scattered hither and yon in old-folks homes across the Frozen Tundra, but has no luck luring them back to Good Ol’ Hometown.
“Every time I thought I had one of them convinced to come back, my WiFi went on the fritz and I never heard from them again,” he explains. “Damn Winnipeg WiFi. No wonder the Jets can’t sign any decent free agents.”
Meantime, freshly minted publisher at the Winnipeg Free Press, David Asper, announces the switch from broadsheet to tabloid format, and it includes a daily Sunshine Girl.
“I know what you’re going to ask me. You’re going to ask why a tabloid after 150 years as a broadsheet,” Asper says at the launch of his newest toy. “Well, I like the size and feel of a tabloid. It isn’t as unwieldy as a broadsheet, especially when you’re reading the paper on a bus or at a snack bar. Nobody needs some stranger’s newspaper flapping in their face when they’re trying to eat a corned beef sandwich at Oscar’s.
“As for the Sunshine Girl, I plead innocence. That wasn’t my call. And don’t think my little sister Gail hasn’t filled me in on what a cad I am. She gave me an earful. In both ears. I realize a Sunshine Girl isn’t in step with the social climes of the 21st century, but it went to a vote of the Board and I don’t have a veto. We’re going to make it up to all the girls and women who read our sports section. I’ve directed sports editor Jason Bell to start covering female sports on a daily basis, and suggested in strong terms that he think about hiring a woman the next time there’s an opening in his toy department. That would be a refreshing change, wouldn’t it?”
The Freep asks Hockey Night In Canada commentator and Olympic champion Jennifer Botterill to appear as its first Sunshine Girl, and it’s a non-starter.
“Oh, yuck,” she says. “I have enough trouble dealing with the frat boys on Hockey Night without them having something like that to throw in my face every Saturday. Can you imagine what Kevin Bieksa would say? That guy creeps me out at the best of times.”
I must say, you sure know how to make a splash without doing anything, other than flapping your gums. The rest of us flap our gums and…crickets. But, hey, you’re a big-time Hollywood star, and a sound bite from a big-time Hollywood star is all it takes to get other gums flapping, especially if you’re perched on a chair beside Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
(Quick aside, Ryan: I’m not a Jimmy Fallon fan. I guess he’s a talented guy and people seem to like him, but not as many as in 2014 when he landed The Tonight Show gig and 11 million people tuned in. Today his audience is 2 million, or thereabouts, a dramatic dip that suggests it’s not just my own self who’s found him to be a fawning fool as a host on late-night gab TV.)
Anyway, Ryan, this isn’t about your buddy’s ratings. It’s about you telling Jimmy that you’re on the sniff for a “sugar mommy or sugar daddy,” a filthy rich someone willing to dip into her/his pockets and aid you in a bid to buy the Ottawa Senators.
I caught your natter with Fallon and here’s what I thought, Ryan: It’s only fitting that an actor wants to purchase Ottawa HC. After all, the Senators have been play-acting as an National Hockey League team for the past five seasons.
Ya, I went for a cheap laugh, Ryan, (Ta-dum! We’re here all week, folks.) just like you did with your quip to Jimmy F. about buying U.S. senators on your Tonight Show bit.
Seriously, though, this is what I really thought of your notion: What does it say when a guy worth $150 million needs a “sugar mommy or sugar daddy” to help him get a shiny, new toy? I mean, folks worth $150M shouldn’t be looking for sugar mommies or daddies. People ought to be coming to you for handouts, Ryan.
But I get it.
Forbes, after all, put a sticker price of $525 million on the Senators a year ago, and Sportico pegged the franchise at $655 million just last month, so it’s not like you’re looking to buy a newly knitted ugly Christmas sweater or a dinky toy (do they still make those things?) to put under the tree next month. Even if you and your bride, Blake Lively, coupled your fortunes, $180 million will only get you a tank of gas for the Zamboni. And maybe a backup goaltender, although he’d have to moonlight and drive the Zamboni.
So, sure, bring on the sugar mommy and/or daddy if that’s what it takes, Ryan. We can’t have enough Hollywood celeb owners.
I think John Candy was the last one we had up here on our Frozen Tundra, when he threw in with Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall to bankroll the Toronto Argos. That worked out okay. The Boatmen won the Grey Cup and Candy was a delightful diversion for all who follow Rouge Football. And I suppose Humpty Harold Ballard qualified as a celeb bankroll while paying the bills for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Hamilton Tabbies, but I don’t recall anyone ever calling him Hollywood Harold. More like Hoosegow Harold.
No doubt they’d love you as a front man in Bytown, Ryan, because you’re a nice blend of Tinsel Town star power and aw shucks, home boy charm, a guy who does right by others without being phony or loud about it.
I hope it works out for you, Ryan. And, hey, if you find your sugar mommy or daddy, don’t let them talk you into doing something totally daft. You know, like selling the next Daniel Alfredsson or Erik Karlsson for a bag of pucks. Don’t be like Eugene.
That was quite an emotional pre-game scene on Friday night in the Republic of Tranna, where Toronto Maple Leafs great Borje Salming stepped front and centre (with assistance from Darryl Sittler) and received a warm greeting from the gathering at Scotiabank Arena. Salming is suffering from ALS, so send a kind thought his way.
I was a perfect 0-2 in forecasting the opening salvo of the Canadian Football League playoffs last weekend, and I blame it all on TSN natterbug Davis Sanchez, because he confuses me. Chezy aside, I like the Winnipeg Blue Bombers over the B.C. Leos in Good Ol’ Hometown this afternoon, and the Toronto Argos over the Montreal Larks at a half empty BMO Field. (I actually think the Larks will prevail, but I don’t fancy Danny Maciocia’s smugness, so I want him to lose.)
During the buildup to today’s Argos-Larks skirmish, the Toronto Sun devoted a full page to the pipe-dream prospect of the NFL chipping in to construct an NFL-worthy stadium in the Republic of Tranna. “CHEERING FOR T.O.” was the headline. Surely to gawd they could have chosen a better time to run that piece. Like, oh I don’t know, never! But I guess The ROT’s obsession with four-down football will never end, and the tabloid is happy to play along.
Interesting how newspapers with dogs in the fights played the Rouge Football division finals in their sports sections today: Winnipeg Sun: Front page of paper, sports Pages 1-8. Winnipeg Free Press: Sports P. 1-2. Vancouver Province: Sports P. 6-8. Toronto Sun: Sports P. 6-7. Toronto Star: Sports P. 8. Montreal Gazette: Sports P. 2. In Good Ol’ Hometown, the tabloid Sun absolutely mauled the broadsheet Drab Slab with its coverage.
Okay, once again, why do the squawk boxes on TSN insist on lying to us about head counts for Rouge Football games?
I mean, to listen to Glen Suitor last Sunday, half the people in Vancouver were crammed into B.C. Place Stadium to witness the Leos-Calgary Stampeders grass-grabber. More than once he mentioned the place was “packed” (there was repeated reference to an audience numbering “close” to 40,000) and that the Leos had created the “template” for turning around a sagging franchise.
The ballyard in Vancouver accommodates 54,500. Attendance: 30,114. That’s not “close” to 40,000 and, if my math is correct, it’s 24,386 empty chairs. Ergo, not “packed.”
So let’s deal in facts rather than the fiction Suits was spewing:
The Leos attracted 20,387 customers per game during the regular season, a notable hike of 7,879 from a year ago. That’s boffo stuff. They twice sold out the lower bowl at B.C. Place Stadium, first for the home-opener that featured a OneRepublic concert, and for last weekend’s West Division semifinal. Again, boffo stuff.
That tells us team bankroll Amar Doman and his worker bees have done a remarkable and praiseworthy job in their quest to make the Leos relevant on the Left Flank of the land again, so accentuate the positive but spare us the bedtime fairy tales.
What’s the over/under on how often Suitor mentions “three chords and the truth, baby” during today’s Blue Bombers-Leos skirmish for bragging rights in the West Division? Whatever it is, I’ll take the over.
As the Grey Cup game approaches, I find myself wondering if this is the year the Football Reporters of Canada finally vote a female scribe/talking head into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. I’ve been touting Robin Brown, Joanne Ireland, Judy Owen and Ashley Prest as hall-worthy for years, because they have the bona fides and it’s wrong that the media wing of the CFHF remains an all-boys club this deep into the 21st century. If the world’s oldest golf club, the Royal Burgess in Edinburgh, has finally opened its doors to women, surely the FRC can, too.
At a time when more and more toxicity in sports is being unearthed, Judy Owen’s piece on the Bombers culture is a refreshing read. Judy’s been churning out Rouge Football copy, on and off, for more than a quarter-century, and it’s nice to know she still has the touch.
On the subject of the write stuff, Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab delivers a major takeout on Winnipeg FC QB Zach Collaros. It’s an easy, informative read, so pour yourself a cup of java, settle in, and enjoy Jeff’s scribbling.
The Drab Slab has gone PBS on us, panhandling online by asking 1,500 readers and/or friends to pony up $150 apiece and join something called the Free Press Patron program. The annual $225,000 cash grab is (supposedly) required due to lost advertising revenue and no more feeding at the public trough, and it will (supposedly) “safeguard the future of the Free Press and journalism that matters.” Hmmm. If I’m going to donate $150 of my meager pension to a panhandling newspaper, I want them to hire a sports columnist who stays home to write about the Bombers instead of swanning off to Calgary and Seattle for ho-hum games No. 13 and 14 of the Winnipeg Jets 82-match marathon. That’s just wrong. Every local sports columnist from Rouge Football playoffs past must be spinning like a lathe in his grave, even those who aren’t yet in the grave.
Watched both TSN SportsCentre and Sportsnet Central in the small hours this morning, and couldn’t help but notice the avalanche of American college football highlights. Meantime, there was no mention of Canadian U Sports football playoffs on TSN, and Sportsnet showed highlights from two skirmishes in Eastern Canada and ignored the University of Saskatchewan Huskies 23-8 victory over the UBC Thunderbirds. Typical, also pathetic.
The removal of the ‘C’ from Blake Wheeler’s jersey was the most obvious indication that the Jets no longer have their wagon tied to the veteran winger, and additional evidence can be found on the freeze. He’s now a second-line performer whose ice-time allotment averaged 19:12 a year ago but has been slashed to 17:08 through 13 skirmishes this time around, with no negative impact on his production. Hmmm. Why didn’t Paul Maurice think of that? Whatever, the Wheeler Window has been closed, and it appears the Jets have a better chance of doing some damage in the Stanley Cup merry-go-round next spring with the former captain in a supporting role.
Just curious: If Dusty Baker can manage the Houston Astros—and win the World Series—at age 73, why did many among the rabble think Rick Bowness was too long-in-tooth for the Jets coaching gig at age 67? How do you like the old man so far, people?
Sideshow Gary Bettman was in Good Ol’ Hometown last week, and the NHL commish informed news snoops that empty seats in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie is no biggie. “I don’t think there’s an attendance issue,” he said. Hmmm. I suppose when you have another franchise that maxes out at 5,000 customers in the Arizona desert, 13,000+ doesn’t look so bad.
I’m guessing Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, the 3rd Baron Thomson of Fleet and the bean counters at True North Sports + Entertainment don’t view 1,000+ unoccupied chairs in the Little Hockey House the same as Commish Gary. I’m guessing they think it’s “an issue” and it sucks. But, since the Puck Pontiff delivers fewer sound bites than a street mime, we really don’t know what he’s thinking.
What kind of scheduling is this? The Calgary Flames put the wrap on a three-games-in-four-nights road swing on the East Coast, then they were required to scurry across the continent from Boston to Calgary, where a Jets outfit that had played one game in six nights sat in wait. So how did Winnipeg HC conspire to lose 3-2 last night?
An aside to those among the rabble in E-Town who’ve soured on Jack Campbell’s goaltending and demand to see Mike Smith back in the blue paint for the Oilers: That’s like asking Bonnie and Clyde to guard your valuables.
Hey, former defenceman P.K. Subban has landed a job talking about all things NHL on ESPN. Apparently his contract includes a clause that allows him to step outside the studio and slew foot anyone on the street whenever he’s feeling frisky.
Did you know there’s a National Toy Hall of Fame in the U.S.? Yup, true story. It’s in Rochester, N.Y., and they just announced the newest inductees—the spinning top, Masters of the Universe and Lite Brite. I’d say the salute to the top is long overdue, because the twirling toy has been around for about 5,000 years, or the same amount of time it’ll take Pete Rose to get into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
There’s been a lot of yakkety-yak lately comparing Flightline to Secretariat. Well, let me say this about that: Whoa Nellie! I watched Flightline romp to the wire in the Breeders Cup Classic last weekend, and it was gobsmackingly brilliant, but my measuring stick for race horses is the giddyup they show in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. Until a pony comes along and betters Secretariat’s record in all three gallops, I’ll take Big Red every time.
Oh, dear, the universe is not unfolding as the U.S. women’s national soccer side would have it. Motormouth Megan Rapinoe and the Yankee Doodle Damsels were beaten 2-1 by Germany the other night in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., their third consecutive L in friendlies and first on their star-spangled homeland in more than five years. The team only an American can like had gone unbeaten in 71 successive matches inside U.S. borders. Longtime national team member Carli Lloyd suggests accountability has taken a hit in the U.S. side, saying it “has been slowly fizzling away. Wanting to win has taken on a different meaning.” Meantime, our Canadian women have won five friendlies in a row, the latest a 2-1 verdict over Brazil in Santos on Friday, so the stars and planets are aligning on our side of the great U.S.-Canada divide.
Just a thought: If George Steinbrenner was still picking up the tab for the New York Yankees would he have allowed home run king Aaron Judge to reach free agency? Over George Costanza’s dead body.
From the department of You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Houston Astros managed to win the World Series earlier this month without using garbage cans to cheat (we think), then, scant days later, they tied the can to GM James Click and assistant GM Scott Powers. What, they didn’t cheat enough?
There are loud rumblings that the most bitter of men, grumpy Greg Norman, soon will be out as mouthpiece for the Saudi-moneyed LIV Golf Series. The Saudis deny they plan to DQ the Shark. But, hey, they also deny killing people.
Such a shame you had to be the first Hockey Canada domino to fall (okay, the second if we want to include Michael Brind’Amour excusing himself as board chair in early August). But, geez, after coughing up that great gob of twaddle during your fireside chat with the gang from Parliament Hill last week, it couldn’t have ended any other way but you stepping down as interim board chair.
You scored an own goal, Andrea. One of the worst in hockey history.
It’s one thing to drink the Kool-Aid, but your defence of Scott Smith was astonishing, and I don’t mean that in a positive way. I mean it was astonishing the way Joey Chestnut can eat 70 hot dogs in 10 minutes is astonishing. I swear, at times you sounded like a MAGA-hatted kook at a Trump rally.
I mean, you actually told the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage that every frozen pond in the Great White North is apt to go dark should CEO Smith and his cabal of minions exit—stage disgraced—and leave Hockey Canada in the hands of people who believe sex assault is a crime, not an inconvenience best kept on the QT while dispensing boatloads of Canadian coin to victims. And you said it with a straight face.
This was your exact quote, Andrea: “I think that there is a significant risk to the organization if all of the board resigns and all of senior leadership is no longer there. I think that will be very impactful in a negative way to our boys and girls who are playing hockey. Will the lights stay on in the rink? I don’t know. We can’t predict that, and to me that’s not a risk worth taking.”
To repeat: You, the interim board chair of Hockey Canada, said there’s a very real danger that the ouster of Smith and Co. would lead kiddies across our Frozen Tundra to pack up their hockey sticks and pucks, tuck them away in a closet and pursue the pleasures and rewards of—oh I don’t know—twiddlywinks perhaps? Oh, the humanity. What will we do with all the idle Zambonis?
Nothing was lost in translation, Andrea. Maintenance crews are still scraping jaws off floors.
Sad thing is, Andrea, you didn’t stop there. When asked to grade Smith’s work, you dispensed more flapdoodle, professing to be a “hard marker” yet scrawling an ‘A’ on his report card. Well, if you mean to say his mandate was to keep sexual assault and victim payouts hush-hush for decades, then, ya, he warrants an ‘A’. (If only I had such “hard” teachers. Mine insisted on giving me ‘C’s and ‘D’s’ instead of the ‘A’s you pass out like Halloween candy, so I grew up to become a lowly jock journo instead of someone real important. You know, like a hockey executive who pays off victims of sexual assault.)
Anyway, your support of Smith and cohorts was so unyielding, so cult-like that the leader of all the land, PM Trudeau II, said it “boggles the mind,” and I thought only Pierre Poilievre could do that to Trudeau the Younger. The PM later suggested Hockey Canada has “completely lost the confidence of Canadians,” but not you, Andrea. You told the politicos that those among the rabble demanding to see executive heads roll are “extremists.”
So that’s what we’re calling hockey parents these days, Andrea? Extremists? Interesting.
Maybe Tim Hortons is extremist, too, because it bailed as a major sponsor of the HC men’s program. Ditto Scotiabank and Telus and Janes Family Foods and Canadian Tire and Esso and Sobey’s and The Keg and Skip the Dishes and Nike. Oh, yes, financial partners skedaddled faster than scalded dogs. They made the Jamaican 4×100 relay team look like slowpokes. And HC can’t expect any more slush fund coin from Hockey Quebec or Hockey Nova Scotia or Hockey New Brunswick. By the time the dust settles, Andrea, your pal Scott Smith won’t be able to afford a double-double at Tims.
But, hey, you stood by your man, telling us that, in a land of 38 million frost-bitten citizens, he’s the sole soul wise enough, intelligent enough and bold enough to purge the toxins from Hockey Canada’s misogynist, cover-up culture. (Good grief, woman. Even Jesus had a Judas.)
So let’s be clear, Andrea: A secret stash of coin to gag victims of sex assault (we’re told the tab is $10 million-plus since 1989) is not a good idea, and I don’t care if you want to call it the National Equity Fund, the Participants Legacy Trust Fund or the Coo Roo Coo Coo Coo Coo Coo Coo Fund. It’s terribly wrong, and it “boggles the mind” that it’s a hill the remaining band of mooks at Hockey Canada has chosen for their last stand.
Maybe the ol’ boys at HC set you up to take the fall, Andrea. It’s been known to happen to women in a man’s world. But I believe other dominoes shall fall. You can’t be the sole scapegoat in this sordid, rotten affair.
I figured Skinner would be as smooth as a baby’s tush on the witness stand. After all, she’s a lawyer and legal beagles are supposed to be smart, clever and cagey. But then I remembered Rudy Giuliani is also a lawyer.
What’s a Hockey Canada executive’s worst nightmare? Seeing the name Rick Westhead pop up on their caller ID. The TSN snoop-and-scoop journo is a pit bull on a pork chop, and right now he’s on a feeding frenzy. I imagine he makes them as jumpy as a barefoot frog in a hot frying pan.
Question: How many Hockey Canada executives did it take to change the burnt-out light bulb? Answer: They couldn’t do it. They saw Westhead’s car in the parking lot and ran for cover.
Here’s a question that keeps gnawing at me: If Hockey Canada execs are to be tarred and feathered for covering up sex crimes and a hush fund, why is Kevin Cheveldayoff still GM of the Winnipeg Jets? Chevy was a member of the Chicago Silent 7 that kept the Kyle Beach assault on the QT for a decade, and I still don’t buy NHL commish Gary Bettman’s baloney that Chevy was a mere go-fer fetching coffee and donuts. He was a Blackhawks assistant GM.
Just wondering: What would a classy guy like the great Jean Beliveau think about the Montreal Canadiens signing a sex offender, Logan Mailloux? Not only that, the Habs did it the same week Hockey Canada makes like Humpty Dumpty and takes a great fall for sex scandals. Ugh.
Oh dear. I believe Glen Suitor’s man crush on Keith Urban is no more. The TSN natterbug is now swooning over Shania Twain, or at least he was during Saturday night’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers-Edmonton Elks skirmish in Good Ol’ Hometown. The boys in the truck showed flashback video of Shania arriving on a dog sled for her halftime gig at the 2017 Grey Cup game in snowy Ottawa, and Suits gushed “she’s the GOAT.” Hmmm. Apparently he hasn’t heard of Patsy or Dolly or Loretta or Reba or Emmylou or Alison.
Okay, the Winnipeg Jets will drop the puck on another National Hockey League crusade on Friday vs. captain Jacob Trouba and his Broadway Blueshirts, and here’s what the tea leaves tell me about the Western Conference: 1. Colorado 2. Edmonton 3. Winnipeg 4. Minnesota 5. Calgary 6. Nashville 7. St. Louis 8. Los Angeles 9. Anaheim 10. Vegas 11. Vancouver 12. Seattle 13. San Jose 14. Dallas 15. Chicago 16. Arizona Yes, I tout the Jets to grab a seat on the Stanley Cup merry-go-round next spring. Keep this in mind, though: I spent about as much time mulling this over as I spend in church, but feel free to discuss among yourselves.
Our two national jock networks, TSN and Sportsnet, gathered a collection of “experts” and “insiders” to determine the elite of the elite in the National Hockey League, and here’s how it shakes down:
Craig Button walks among the TSN “experts,” and he believes Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby still belong in the top five. Get a grip, Craig. Both Sid the Kid and Ovie remain on the upper crust, but top-fivers? Sure, and SNL is still must-see TV.
TSN also gave a nod to Ponytail Puck, with its panel of “experts” determining the top 25 players on the distaff side of rink. Naturally, our golden girl Marie-Philip Poulin tops the list, but here’s the unfortunate part of the breakdown: Just six of the chosen 25 are from outside North America. Disparity has long been the bugaboo in women’s hockey, and the gap doesn’t appear to be narrowing. (The men’s top 25 is basically a 50/50 split.) Here’s the crème de la crème of the women:
1. Marie-Philip Poulin, Canada 2. Sarah Fillier, Canada 3. Ann-Renée Desbiens, Canada 4. Brianne Jenner, Canada 5. Megan Keller, U.S. 6. Brianna Decker, U.S. 7. Mélodie Daoust, Canada 8. Taylor Heise, U.S. 9. Jocelyne Larocque, Canada 10. Jenni Hiirikoski, Finland
This from Rory Smith of the New York Times: “It is the United States and England, after all, who have ‘stretched clear’ of the pack, as Megan Rapinoe put it, and who stand as the two undisputed powerhouses of women’s soccer.” Excuse me? England last tasted defeat in April 2021. Vs. Canada. Prior to Friday night’s friendly at Wembley Stadium in London, the Yankee Doodle Damsels’ last lost in August 2021. Vs. Canada. And, if I’m not mistaken, our Canadian women are the reigning Olympic champions. Hmmm.
Attention those who insist that female sports doesn’t sell: The U.S.-England futbol friendly on Friday attracted an audience of 76,893 to Wembley. The match sold out in less than 24 hours, two months before the first touch of a ball.
So, Aaron Judge finished the Major League Baseball season with 62 dingers, topping Roger Maris’ previous record by one, and the guy who caught HR ball No. 62, Cory Youmans, has been offered $2 million for the thing. Imagine that. A cool $2M for two small strips of cowhide and some fancy stitching. Meanwhile, the poor sap who actually hand sewed the ball in Costa Rica probably works for 10 cents a day.
Quote of the week was delivered by legendary jock voice Al Michaels, who, during the second half of the dreadful Indianapolis Colts-Denver Broncos skirmish on Thursday Night Football, cracked wise: “It’s first-and-goal, words I thought I would never speak tonight.” The Colts won, 12-9 in OT. Everyone watching had fallen into a football-induced coma by halftime.
Sad to report that Pebbles, the world’s oldest dog, has died. A four-pound toy fox terrier, she was 22 years, 7 months old. That’s about 175 in Tom Brady years.
Speaking of Brady, the end is nigh for the Tampa Bay Bucs QB, and it has nothing to do with the number of candles on his birthday cake. It’s because his bride, Gisele Bundchen, is a witch. An unhappy witch. So say the Witches of TikTok. Apparently only Gisele’s power of hocus-pocus has kept Brady on the playing field this long, but now that their marriage is headed for splitsville her spells have lost their magic and Tom boy is on his own. His career is doomed, and not even a potion with a heaping of deflated footballs, a spoonful of Boston chowder, and a pinch of Gronk can save him.
The latest edition of Game On magazine is fresh off the presses and, as usual, it’s boffo. There’s 164 pages of news and chatter, including a piece from Scott Taylor on my former teammate and West Kildonan North Stars alumni, Gordie Tumilson, the Goalie Whisperer. It’s all fabulous stuff.
It’s Thanksgiving weekend on our soon-to-be Frozen Tundra, and turkey time is all about family, friends, food and blessings. So let the record show that I’m thankful for sports scribes, because I’m still a newspaper junkie and I love reading sports pages from across our vast land. Special nod to the three-man team at the Winnipeg Sun—Paul Friesen, Teddy Wyman and Scott Billeck, who continue to fight the good fight, even as the suits at Postmedia in the Republic of Tranna tie one hand behind their backs.
Give a thought to Jason Bell, head of the toy department at the Drab Slab. He informed subscribers to his twice-a-week newsletter that he’s been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Stay strong, Jason.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and let’s salute the girls and ladies of sports on the eve of International Women’s Day…
I spent 30 years in the rag trade and worked alongside four women—Peggy Stewart and Rita Mingo at the Winnipeg Tribune, Mary Ormsby at the Toronto Sun, and Judy Owen at the Winnipeg Sun.
Oh, wait. There was a fifth.
We had a summer intern at the Calgary Sun, although her name escapes me. I recall that she failed to surface for her first day of work (something about her car breaking down in Banff on a long weekend—nudge-nudge, wink-wink), and that was our initial clue that she might have made a wrong turn on her career path.
Hey, I get it. Cars break down all the time. Been there, done that and had the hefty repair bills to prove it. Happens to us all. But in Banff? On a long weekend? How positively convenient.
I jokingly informed sports editor John Down that I would have crawled from Banff to Calgary if it meant arriving to my first assignment at the designated hour, but Downsy was as laid back as a Sunday afternoon on the porch, and he let it slide. Alas, that young lady with the pleasant personality one day showed up to cover a golf tournament a bit too uncovered. She was wearing hot pants and stilettos, and she sashayed onto the practice green in her spiked heels, puncturing the immaculately groomed lawn.
Her internship was aborted shortly thereafter.
Not because of her wardrobe malfunction, understand. That would have been an unacceptable double standard, even in the early 1980s.
I mean, none of my male colleagues back in the day were GQ cover material, the exception being Shakey Johnson, who knew how to hang a three-piece suit. The rest of the lot were borderline slobs. Some looked like they’d spent the night sleeping with a raccoon family under a bridge. Their idea of evening wear was a white shirt with anything less than three ketchup or mustard stains. But sartorial slobbery was a non-issue.
So, no, the young lady intern’s dismissal wasn’t about one ghastly fashion foible. It was her lack of zest for the job, the absence of an all-in mindset, and iffy subject knowledge. Let’s just say it became readily apparent that writing sports at the Sun wasn’t meant to be her calling.
Anyway, there were four full-time female sports scribes during my tour of duty, and I can’t imagine any of them considered wearing a pair of Daisy Dukes to the golf course, rink, ball park or stadium.
Rita, Judy and Mary all enjoyed lengthy, admirable careers in journalism, but I don’t know what became of the ever-smiling Peggy Stewart, hired by Jack Matheson as the first female to write sports full time at a major daily newspaper in Western Canada.
Today, the landscape in Good Ol’ Hometown is barren, with zero females in the toy departments at either of the daily newspapers.
Why is that? I’m uncertain. It could be that the rag trade has become too much of a bad bet. Maybe it’s still too much of a boys club. Perhaps it’s a reluctance to enter man caves and deal with brooding, boorish male athletes and/or coaches
“You know, it may just be a lack of interest in writing sports, rather than doors being closed for them,” Judy Owen suggests in an email. “After all, sports hours—when the world is normal—are kind of crappy and the sometimes-crazy deadline writing isn’t very appealing to a lot of journalists.”
Good point. The hours really do suck and often mean you’re not hopping into the kip until well after the pumpkin hour on game nights.
Whatever the case, the female sports scribe is extinct in Winnipeg, so here’s to those who were once there—Judy, Rita, Ashley Prest, Barb Huck and Melissa Martin.
How are we doing with coverage of women’s sports? Not so good. A 2019 U.S. study tells us that 40 per cent of athletes are female, yet the distaff side of the playground receives just 4 per cent of ink and air time. What about in Good Ol’ Hometown, though? Are the Winnipeg Sun and Drab Slab giving the ladies a fair shake? Well, I monitored both sheets for three months—November, December, January—and the findings aren’t favorable. The evidence:
Women on the sports front
Free Press 16 of 90 editions.
Sun 3 of 89 editions.
Copy on female sports
Free Press 74 articles, 30 briefs.
Sun 20 articles, 7 briefs.
Editions with coverage of female sports
Free Press 63 of 90.
Sun 24 of 89.
Naturally, the numbers were jacked up in February during the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but I suspect coverage will revert to same old, same old moving forward.
TSN’s ratings for the Scotties final last Sunday took a face plant from a year ago, with an average of 682,000 sets of eyeballs checking out Kerri Einarson-Rachel Homan II, a sequel to the 2020 championship match that attracted 979,000 viewers. I trust no one is surprised, because it’s an industry-wide reality for major events during the COVID pandemic. Here are the facts, ma’am:
Stanley Cup final: -61%
U.S. Open golf: -56%
NBA final: -49%
Kentucky Derby: -49%
U.S. Open tennis: -45%
World Series: -31%
Super Bowl: -15%
I didn’t tune in to every draw of the Scotties, but I can report that I never heard one F-bomb, or any other salty language, from the lady curlers in the draws I watched. Somehow I doubt I’ll be able to say the same of the men at the close of business at this week’s Brier. They can be quite potty-mouthed Pebble People.
Gather ’round the campfire, kids, old friend Peter Young has a curling tale to tell. It’s all about a Snake and the longtime broadcaster faking it, which is to say Pete covered a Brier in Ottawa from the Forum in Montreal. True story. I don’t know if that makes him the Father of Zoom, but he surely was ahead of his time.
If the Columbus Blue Jackets send head coach John Tortorella packing, please don’t tell me there’s a job waiting for him on Sportsnet or TSN.
Jennifer Botterill is fantastic on Sportsnet’s hockey coverage. Just saying.
Muhammad Yaseen of Alberta’s provincial Hee-Haw Party has introduced a bill in the Legislature proposing that rodeo become the official sport of Wild Rose Country. He sees it as a “beacon of hope.” Animal rights activists, meanwhile, see it as a steaming pile of BS. They figure if you’re going to pay homage to a bunch of big, dumb animals that work for no more than eight seconds a day, why not the Calgary Flames?
When you think about it, Yaseen’s pitch makes sense for Alberta, where Wrangler jeans and straw hats are considered formal attire. Each year the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association sanctions approximately 50 events in Wild Rose Country, and there are probably just as many rodeos that fly under the radar. Hmmm. That’s a lot of road apples to clean up. About the biggest mess since Flames GM Brad Treliving took on Milan Lucic’s contract.
Actually, the Looch is having a decent year. He has more goals (six) than National Hockey League luminaries Nathan MacKinnon, Evgeni Malkin, Jack Eichel, Claude Giroux and Taylor Hall, so maybe I should stop picking on him. On second thought, naw.
Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield claims he observed a UFO while driving home from dinner in Austin, Texas, last week. He described the object as a “very bright ball of light.” UFO experts immediately pooh-poohed the sighting, claiming Mayfield had actually just seen the top of Terry Bradshaw’s head.
Archaeologists continue to make amazing discoveries in the ruins of Pompeii, the ancient Roman city buried by volcanic spewings in 79 AD. The latest finding has them really excited. It’s a ceremonial chariot that features ornate decorations of bronze and tin medallions, although they don’t know what to make of the Tom Brady rookie card stuck in the spokes of one of the wheels.
Speaking of Brady, his National Football League rookie card sold for $1.32 million at auction last week. Remind me once again how money is tight during this pandemic.
On the subject of high finance, some people think Fox Sports is nuts for agreeing to pay annoying squawkbox Skip Bayless $32 million over the next four years. I don’t know about that. When you break it down, it’ll work out to only 50 cents an insult.
Baseball is peanuts, Crackjack and hot dogs. And beer, of course. But how much booze? Well, the folks at njonlinegambling.com talked to 2,631 Major League Baseball fans to determine which team’s following is the booziest of the bunch, and nowhere do they swill more suds than on the south side of Chicago. White Sox loyalists chug down 4.2 drinks per nine innings, spending $46 on their libations, so you know they’re well-juiced by the seventh-inning stretch. Blue Jays fans, meanwhile, are middle of the pack when it comes to drinking (3 per game, $25), but they top one category: 70 per cent of them get into the grog before the opening pitch. Yup, they feel the need brace themselves for what’s to come.
TSN’s favorite washed-up quarterback, Johnny Manziel, apparently has used up all his Mulligans in football, so he plans to devote the next 12 years of his troubled life to earning his way onto the PGA Tour. As what? Tiger Woods’ chauffeur?
While saluting friend and former teammate Chris Schultz, who died of a heart attack on Friday, did Pinball Clemons really refer to the Toronto Argonauts as Canada’s Team? Sure enough, he did. Someone ought to share that little secret with the citizenry in the Republic of Tranna. That way the Boatmen might attract more than friends and family to BMO Field next time they grab grass, whenever that might be.
Watched the movie Creed a few days ago. I won’t make that mistake again. Total rubbish. Yo! Adrian! Tell Rocky to do us all a favor and find another hobby.
If you’re a fan of Ponytail Puck (guilty, yer honor), there’s good and not-so-good tidings.
First, select members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association have assembled in Chicago to continue the renewal of their Dream Gap Tour and pose for the mandatory photo-ops with Billie Jean King.
It’s the sequel to last weekend’s engagement at historic Madison Square Garden in Gotham.
That the Dream Gappers have returned to the freeze is a favorable development, to be sure, even if they can’t seem to blow their noses without borrowing a Kleenex from BJK.
Not so good, on the other hand, is the setup.
These are glorified scrimmages, featuring many of the top female players on the planet. There is no league. Nothing is at stake, save for bragging rights, some post-match bottles of bubbly, and a share of the $1 million pot Secret Deodorant has donated.
There is no rooting interest, either. Unless, of course, Team adidas throwing down on Team Women’s Sports Foundation gives you the urge to break out the pom-poms.
I think we can agree that identity is vital in sports. We (mostly) pledge allegiance to our local sides/athletes, whether on a community, national or international level. We like to have a dog in the fight because it gives us a sense of ownership and allows us to get sucked up in rivalries (Red Sox-Yankees, Canada-Russia, Ali-Frazier, Chrissie-Martina, Arnie-Jack, Canada-U.S. in women’s hockey, Habs-Leafs, Tiger-Phil, Rafa-Roger, Serena-nobody, etc.).
Alas, there’s nothing compelling about the Dream Gap Tour structure. They play their friendlies, they pat themselves on the back for existing, then they sit back and listen to their pals in the media heap praise on the product but ignore the problem.
Those of us who want Ponytail Puck to work (one viable league) have yet to see or hear a doable business plan from the Dream Gappers. The mission remains as it was at the PWHPA start-up in May 2019: Bury the National Women’s Hockey League and wish, hope and cross fingers that the NHL is prepared to adopt approximately 125 orphans.
Trouble is, unless there’s something developing behind closed doors that we aren’t privy to, that isn’t about to happen anytime soon. The NWHL has shown no inclination to cede the territory it’s staked out in the past six years, and NHL commish Gary Bettman has made it abundantly clear that he harbors no eagerness to further muddy the waters of a divided women’s game.
Which brings us back to the matter of identity sports.
Who are the Dream Gappers? Well, they’re barnstormers. A curiosity piece. A novelty act, if you will, much like the Harlem Globetrotters or Stars On Ice. But that isn’t who they want to be. It isn’t what fans of Ponytail Puck want them to be.
Unfortunately, they’ve trapped themselves in a contradiction of their own creation. That is, they want to play hockey in a professional league, but they refuse to play in the only professional league available to them.
Thus, without an attitude adjustment, they’re destined to be nothing more than a sideshow.
And that’s a shame.
And, finally, can we call for a moratorium on broadcasters using the word “unbelievable” to describe everything from Auston Matthews’ mustache to a five-point game from Connor McDavid? I mean, Darryl Sittler once scored 10 points in a match, so why is five points unbelievable? Nothing in sports is unbelievable if it’s already happened, and when something happens for the first time it has to be believable because it’s happened. So knock it off.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and it’s the rainy season where I live, so here’s a downpouring of some watered-down notions…
During a pandemic that shows no inclination toward surrender, men with tall foreheads and bulked-up bankrolls plot strategy, concocting ways to make a 2021 National Hockey League crusade doable.
And, by doable, that means as minimal a financial wallop as possible.
In the most-desired timeline, they’ll drop the first puck on a runt of a season on New Year’s Day, on both sides of our closed border. Alas, they’ll do so in empty buildings, which means zero gate revenue, zero concessions revenue, zero game-day merchandise revenue, and zero parking revenue. Meanwhile, the millionaire players expect at least 72 per cent of their pay from the billionaire owners.
In a best-case scenario, squints in lab coats will discover a vaccine that brings COVID-19 to heel early in 2021, allowing the faithful a safe return to the rink and a revenue stream, however weak, for the owners as they complete a season of no fewer than 48 games and no more than 72.
But all of that is as iffy as Donald Trump’s quest to overturn the will of 78,662,167 people who voted him out of the Oval Office.
It’s a guessing game. I mean, if Moses were to trundle down from Mount Sinai during this pandemic with an updated edition of the 10 Commandments, it would be written in pencil on a paper napkin, not etched in big, stone tablets, because what’s gospel today won’t necessarily be gospel tomorrow.
Which brings me to the point of this essay: Survival and the Winnipeg Jets.
Good Ol’ Hometown is the smallest market in the NHL and the Jets frolic in the smallest barn, with room for 15,321 rumps in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie. Co-bankrolls Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and David Thomson haven’t seen any game-day revenue since March, when the coronavirus put sports on lockdown, and there doesn’t figure to be any ka-ching in their immediate future.
Therefore, I remind you of something NHL commish Gary Bettman muttered on May 31, 2011, the day the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City and officially became the Winnipeg Jets:
“To be candid, this isn’t going to work very well unless this building is sold out every night.”
We know not every game at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie was SRO during the 2019-20 crusade, and it’s a certainty that there’ll be zero customers to begin a shortened 2021 season, even as the Puck Pontiff and/or Thomson cut six- and seven-figure cheques for their on-ice work force. So what’s the financial breaking point?
Yes, of course, I realize Thomson is the wealthiest man in Canada, with a net worth of $35.7 billion. But he didn’t build that bankroll by being stupid.
And here’s something else to consider:
In the Winnipeg Sun annual survey of the Jets faithful, readers were asked if they’ll attend games once health officials give the okie-dokie to return. Of the approximately 1,200 respondents, 38.2 per cent will be back, 36.5 per cent will return only once there’s a COVID-19 vaccine, while 25.2 per cent are done with the Jets.
Do the math: Even after the squints in lab coats have done their job, Winnipeg HC is looking at a post-pandemic audience of 75 per cent capacity, or 11,490 customers per game.
Sources have told Larry Brooks of the New York Post that there are three to five owners who insist their franchises won’t survive a makeshift season, not if it means empty or near-empty buildings and paying players 72 per cent of their contracts. I’d like to think that doomsday scenario doesn’t apply to the Jets, but we can’t be certain because the Puck Pontiff has less to say than a street mime.
It’s also important to note that, even at the best of times, he’s bringing in Canadian dollars and paying out American greenbacks, so can he make a go of it at 75 per cent capacity? Commish Bettman says no.
The question, therefore, is this: How much of a bath are the Puck Pontiff and Thomson prepared to take?
Nobody asked me, but I say there’s nothing about an all-Canadian division in the NHL that should keep the Jets awake at night. Oh, sure, the Toronto Maple Leafs look boffo on paper, but we all know what happens to the multi-millionaires in blue-and-white when the games really matter. That’s right, pratfall. The Leafs are paper tigers until they prove otherwise, but I’ll concede them first place in a runted season of 48 games, or thereabouts. After that, it’s a crap shoot in Hoser Hockey. Seriously. Edmonton has Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and a bunch of spare parts. Vancouver has lost its goaltender. Marc Bergevin has given the Montreal Canadiens an interesting makeover, but I wonder what’s left in Shea Weber’s tank. Ottawa is on training wheels. What about Calgary? Can you say Milan Lucic, kids? Having said all that, I’d like the Jets a whole lot better if GM Kevin Cheveldayoff would give his head a shake and do something about his blueline. Chevy’s dithering in that area is rather disturbing, also extremely negligent.
Interesting survey of 21 NHL player agents in The Athletic. Asked to name a high-profile player most likely to change work clothes in the next year, our guy Patrik Laine and Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres topped the list with four votes each. I’m okay with Chevy dealing Puck Finn, but he better receive a package that includes a legit top-pair defenceman in barter, otherwise he’ll never be able to go grocery shopping in Good Ol’ Hometown again.
So, I’m watching Dustin Johnson bring Augusta National to its knees in the first three rounds of The Masters, and I’m wondering if he has a pulse. I mean, he golfs with all the enthusiasm and urgency of a guy whose wife has asked him to get off the couch and change a light bulb.
Johnson strikes me as the kind of guy who’ll take one look at The Masters champion’s green jacket and ask, “Does it come in different colors?”
I don’t know if Johnson walks with a strut or a swagger, but I’m pretty sure the Earp boys and Doc Holliday were walking with the exact same stride when they headed toward the O.K. Corral.
I can’t explain why the Incredible Bulk, Bryson DeChambeau, bugs me so much, but he really gets up my nose. Maybe it’s the deformed body. Maybe it’s the uppity attitude and him pooh-poohing Augusta National as a par-67 golf course when everybody else is playing to par-72. Maybe it was him asking a marshal if his lost ball would be declared a lost ball on third hole Friday, as if a different set of rules applies to him. Whatever the case, I don’t normally root for athletes to fail, but I didn’t mind watching him implode at The Masters.
Phil Mickelson at The Masters: “I’m driving like a stallion.” Ya, and putting like a donkey.
For some reason, the talking heads on ESPN and CBS golf insist on telling us that Tiger Woods made the “greatest comeback in sports history” by winning The Masters last year. I have two words for them: Ben Hogan. The great Hogan lost an argument with a Greyhound bus in 1949 and suffered a double fracture to his pelvis, a fractured collar bone, a fractured left ankle, a chipped rib, lifelong circulation difficulties, and he required blood transfusions. Oh, and did I mention that he almost died due to blood clots? He won the U.S. Open the following year, and another five Grand Slam tournaments after that. Tiger battled back from self-inflicted public humiliation and numerous physical challenges, but nothing life-threatening. The talking heads know all this, so why do they continue to prop Tiger up as a mythical creature?
Apparently Tokyo officials are toying with idea of a no-cheering policy at the Olympic Games next summer. That’s right, fans will be instructed to refrain from rowdy behavior and not allowed to cheer, although muttering is acceptable. Hmmm, muttering but no cheering. Sounds like a New York Jets home game.
What’s up with Tony La Russa? The Chicago White Sox manager was pulled over last week and slapped with a DUI charge, his second, after wheeling his vehicle into a curb and then becoming uppity and belligerent with cops. “Do you see my ring?” he asked. “I’m a Hall of Famer baseball person. I’m legit. I’m a Hall of Famer, brother. You’re trying to embarrass me.” That’s so lame. The only guy who can use the “Do you see my ring?” defence wears a pointy hat and rides in the Popemobile, and he can only get away with it if the arresting cop is Catholic.
Yes, I agree, it’s fantastic that Kim Ng has been anointed GM of the Miami Marlins, the first female to hold that lofty position with a Major League Baseball team. But let’s not get carried away with comparisons to Jackie Robinson. Ng’s is a signature appointment, to be sure, and hopefully it’ll open a door for other women, but she’s been in the game, and accepted, for 30 years. Numerous women have owned MLB franchises. Others have served in different administration roles, and on coaching staffs, and in the broadcast booth. This is nothing like a Black man entering MLB in 1947.
Murat Ates of The Athletic has pulled away from the keyboard to clear his head after suffering a third concussion. He won’t be sharing his fine prose with us until December, and I can only hope he recovers fully. Concussions can be a tricky bit of business and, yes, I speak from lived experience. I’ve had 10 of them. So nothing but good wishes for Murat.
“The year was 1971 and Hockey Night in Canada had just fired Ward Cornell and was looking for a younger and more dynamic replacement. The way former executive producer Ralph Mellanby tells it, five candidates made the short list. One of them was Dave Hodge, who ultimately got the job and hosted the show for 16 years. Another was Trebek, who had joined the CBC after graduating from the University of Ottawa and was best known for hosting a high school game show called Reach for the Top. He had also hosted broadcasts of horse racing and figure skating. ‘We wanted to get younger and more vibrant,’ Mellanby said. ‘And one of the guys I got from Ottawa was Alex Trebek. He was doing some sports and other things. I really liked Trebek.’ Mellanby said he was in the office of his boss, Ted Hough, the former president of the Canadian Sports Network, which produced Hockey Night. As Hough and Mellanby watched the audition tapes of the five finalists, the more Mellanby wanted Trebek to fill the chair. But he was overruled by his boss, who had a strict rule that immediately eliminated Trebek from the running. ‘We’re watching (Trebek’s) audition and I said, ‘Ted, that’s the guy I really want,’ Mellanby said. ‘And he said, ‘We’re not hiring him. We don’t hire guys with moustaches!’ So I hired Dave Hodge.’”
I note that Neil Young turned 75 last week. Many of us from Good Ol’ Hometown lay claim to Neil as one of our own, because he went to high school at Kelvin and he began his music career at our teen dances. My favorite Neil Young tune: Harvest Moon. Favorite Neil Young album: Old Ways.
And, finally, I think it’s only fair to warn you that the shelf life of the River City Renegade has almost expired. I turn 70 at the end of the month, and I think that’s as good a time as any to cut back on my peculiar brand of silliness. I won’t be quitting cold turkey, but the end is nigh.
A Tuesday morning smorgas-bored…and it’s 3 a.m. and I’m tired, so I think I’ll try to get some shuteye…
The other day I mentioned how ironic it is that numerous jock essayists have been giving the National Hockey League a stern tsk-tsking for its brazen, unapologetic bid to control the message.
Scribes hither and yon have been beating that drum like John Bonham gone bonkers and, officially, there are now more noses out of joint on press row than you’ll see at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. Or any other boxing gym for that matter.
The scribes’ squawk can be summed up in eight words: Commissioner Gary Bettman is a dirty, rotten scoundrel.
Emperor Gary, you see, has decreed that only house organs (read: scribes on NHL or member team payrolls) shall be permitted inside the Edmonton and Republic of Tranna player bubbles during the Stanley Cup runoff. All others, sorry, but they won’t get any closer to an actual hockey player than heaven is to hell. They’ll have to be satisfied with pressing their noses against a window and squinting in.
Oh, sure, the girls and boys on the beat are allowed to attend matches and perch themselves in the press box, located way up there where noses begin to bleed, but that doesn’t cut it. They want more. They asked for more, but Emperor Gary turned them down in less time than it takes to stick a swab up their nose.
As a consequence, the mainstream media mob insists the playing surface isn’t level. NHL-approved news snoops will be privy to activity and conversation that isn’t available to them. And that, in turn, will result in “sanitized” coverage of the 24-team tournament because, as many have emphasized in their critiques, the various house organs aren’t allowed to mention things like concussions or fisticuffs in their copy.
“If anything unusual, untoward, troublesome, or remotely negative happens in the bubble, will we ever hear about it?” asks Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun. “Likely not. That’s a shame.”
Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab provides the backup vocals, writing: “If a star goes down in a heap during a drill and has to be carried off the ice, there’s a good chance you won’t hear about it beyond the coach eventually identifying them as being ‘unfit to play’ when they’re not on the ice at puck drop. If teammates get into a dust-up during practice—remember when Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler and Ben Chiarot dropped the gloves a couple of years ago?—you can bet you won’t hear a peep.”
Doesn’t say much for their reporting skills if they need to see it to know about it, does it? Whatever became of inside contacts?
Look, I totally get it. Mainstream jock journos want equal access so they can deliver unfettered, unpolished dispatches during the risky business of conducting a major sporting event while the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to kill people and send others to the infirmary. That’s a fair ask. But when they trot out the “control the message” argument, as Mad Mike did (the NHL will be “drunk with power in this situation”), they lose me.
I mean, there’s the irony I wrote about the other day. They’re bellyaching because the NHL insists on controlling the message, yet that’s exactly what newspapers do 24/7, 365 days of the year (minus holidays).
When was the last time anyone from either the Winnipeg Sun or Drab Slab asked you what you wanted to see on the sports front? Or the front page, for that matter? When was the last time either Wyman or Mad Mike asked you for a column idea, then wrote it? When was the last time someone at Postmedia asked if you want all that copy from the Republic of Tranna in the Winnipeg Sun sports section? When was the last time you were invited to a daily newsroom meeting? When was the last time an editor-in-chief asked you what slant to put on a story?
They don’t ask because they don’t want you controlling their message. You might say, they’re drunk with power.
Interesting that both Wyman and Mad Mike concede that the rabble likely view their gripe as “whining.” There’s a reason for that: It is whining.
Mad Mike’s essay was approximately 1,000 words, most of it condemning the NHL, but here’s how he sums up: “Here in Edmonton, it will be business as usual for me, even if the situation itself is anything but usual. It’s not ideal, but it won’t hamper my ability to bring you compelling daily stories, features and columns from the hub and document an event we’re all going to remember for the rest of our lives. And I will happily do it from outside the bubble.” If that’s the case, why the 1,000-word whinge about the horrors of not being in the bubble? I’m sorry, but that’s just stupid.
Similarly, but not as dense, Wyman writes this: “As a member of the independent media, representing readers who want original stories, columns and features that are not league presentations, I say what the NHL is doing is wrong.” But here’s the deal: No one is preventing him from scribbling those original stories, columns and features. And therein lies the challenge. He must come up with something that Mad Mike and the in-house scribes aren’t doing. He has to be creative. Inventive. He has to offer his readers something we can only find in the Sun. I’m sure he’s up to the task.
Would I think differently were I still in mainstream media? No. You deal with what’s in front of you.
There was one interesting nugget of information in Mad Mike’s piece: He hasn’t had a chin-wag with the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, in his four years on the beat. He’s asked for an audience, but the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll or one of his minions has repeatedly declined. “Frankly, I don’t really care, nor am I losing any sleep over it,” Mad Mike scribbles. Nor should he.
I’d like to hear from the Puck Pontiff more often. I wouldn’t want him to be a Eugene Melnyk or a Humpty Harold Ballard type of owner, but an annual state-of-the-union would be nice, especially this year with the quirky Stanley Cup tournament that’s about to commence. I’d also really like to know if he’d consider operating a franchise in the National Women’s Hockey League.
The Miami Marlins have been shut down by COVID-19. The Philadelphia Phillies have been shut down. So how totally dumb does the Ontario government and its health authority look today? They were prepared to welcome the Marlins and other Major League Baseball outfits to the Republic of Tranna this summer, where they could wander about willy-nilly and spread their germs. Trudeau the Younger wouldn’t have any of it, though, and he instructed the Blue Jays to find another playground. Finally, something the PM doesn’t have to apologize for.
Just wondering how many COVID-19 positives it will take to shut down the NHL’s reboot.
A British boxer, James Hawley, has been dropped by his management team for spewing anti-gay/anti-transgender bile. But, hey, he can’t possibly be homophobic or transphobic. After all, he’s okay with lesbian sex and, more important, he has “friends who are gay and I have a cousin who is gay.” Sigh. And people wonder why most gay male athletes are stuck in the closet.
And, finally, if you saw Dr. Anthony Fauci’s ceremonial first pitch last week in Washington, you’ll know it was grim. But there’s a reason. Seems the good doctor over-prepped for his moment in the sports spotlight, and he “completely miscalculated the distance from the mound.” According to the New York Times, Dr. Fauci had gone to a local school for a toss-around to get the feel of hurling a baseball again. “I pitched and pitched,” he said. “I threw my arm out. I hadn’t thrown a baseball literally in decades. After I practiced, my arm was hanging around my feet.” He also mis-measured. A Major League Baseball pitching rubber is 60 feet, six inches from home plate, but Dr. Fauci mistakenly hurled his practice pitches from 40 feet. Catcher Sean Doolittle “looked to me like he was like 500 feet away.” So now you know the rest of the story.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and today’s post is dedicated to my lovely friend Beverley, who died earlier this month and always appreciated my quirky sense of humor…
According to those who like to track the whereabouts of little green men, UFO sightings were up in Manitoba last year, with folks in Winnipeg observing the third most in the entire country.
Says local Ufology researcher Chris Rutkowski: “People are seeing things for the first time that they may not have noticed before.”
Ya, it’s called the Grey Cup.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister dug into his slush fund and came up with $2.5 million in support of Good Ol’ Hometown as the Canadian Football League’s official hub city should there be a 2020 season. Hmmm. That ought to take care of Chris Walby’s bar tab, but it won’t leave much for COVID-19 testing.
Greybeard boxers Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. have signed to go dukes up sometime in September, and they’ve agreed to wear head protection. So let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Two fiftysomething guys with a combined 133 fights behind them think it’s a swell idea to exchange punches for another eight rounds. Seems to me it’s a little too late to be thinking about head protection.
So, the orphaned Tranna Blue Jays have finally found a home for their 2020 Major League Baseball crusade. They had hoped to play in the Republic of Tranna, of course, but when that notion was nixed by Trudeau the Younger, the Tranna Nine sought Pittsburgh as a playground, then Baltimore, before landing in Buffalo. That’s kind of like trying to book John Lennon or Paul McCartney or George Harrison to play your birthday gig, but settling for Ringo.
Big league ball players are kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner. Hoops stars are kneeling. Fitba’s best are kneeling. NFL players have vowed to kneel. I feel a Donald Trump Twitter rant coming down in 3, 2, 1.
Seriously. Why are they even playing the national anthem at fan-free sporting events? Come to think of it, why do they play it when patrons are in the pews?
Nice ceremonial first pitchby America’s favorite doc, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the other night at the Washington Nationals-New York Yankees opener in DC. Flame-Thrower Fauci he ain’t. The ball never made it halfway to home plate and dribbled into foul territory on the first base side of the field. It was the worst. You know, like Donald Trump’s COVID strategy.
Former NBC gab guy Jeremy Roenick is suing the Peacock Network for wrongful dismissal, claiming his lewd comments about lusting after a co-worker’s “ass and boobs” and having sex with a male co-worker had nothing to do with his ouster. He was punted because he’s an ungay guy, don’t you know. It’s an interesting gambit. I don’t know if Roenick’s “I’m a straight man” case will ever get to court, but I have a pretty good idea what Judge Judy would tell him to do with it.
Roenick also claims his removal was due, in part, to his support of Donald Trump. Again, more about an ass and a boob.
Fanless, TV-only sports has arrived, which makes the following comment eerily prophetic: “I’m fully prepared to hear not more than 10 years from now that a hockey game, for instance, will be played behind the locked doors of an arena. The only people in the place will be the players, two cameramen, a floor director, a script assistant, a sound technician, a play-by-play man, a color man and two guards on the door. The guards will have a simple duty. They’ll intercept loiterers and old-fashioned hockey fans and put them to flight. The vagrants will be advised they have exactly 15 minutes to get to the nearest television set.” That, girls and boys, is a passage from a column written by the great Jack Matheson for the Winnipeg Tribune on Nov. 14, 1964. Today it’s so very real.
Kevin McGran has a gripe. The Toronto Star shinny scribe is miffed because Commish Gary Bettman has ruled mainstream news snoops persona non grata in the National Hockey League’s two playoff hub bubbles, Edmonton and the Republic of Tranna. Only in-house scribes need apply. In a lengthy grumble, McGran grouses that there will be “no colour from inside the room.” Right, we’re all going to miss those emotional renderings from players reminding each other to “keep our feet moving.” McGran closes with this: “Don’t get me wrong. This access isn’t about us. It’s about you. The reader. We do this for our readers. We want to do it the best we can, and now the NHL is not letting. They are shortchanging you, the fans.” If McGran listens closely enough, he’ll hear the sound of readers not giving a damn.
Some of us saw this day coming quite some time ago, it’s just that the COVID-19 pandemic hastened its arrival. This is what I wrote in January 2017: “Pro sports franchises will find fresh ways to increase the disconnect between press row and their inner sanctums, thus making it more difficult for news scavengers to perform their duties. What must newspapers do to combat this? Well, bitching won’t help. They can caterwaul about lack of access as much as Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice whinges about the National Hockey League schedule, but that doesn’t solve anything. They have to be innovative. Newspapers must stop choking on their indignation and feeling sorry for themselves. It isn’t up to pro sports franchises to revert to the old ways of doing business, it’s up to the newspapers to discover new and better ways of doing business.” So there.
It’s rather ironic, don’t you think, that news snoops have their boxers in a bunch because the NHL will control the message during its Stanley Cup runoff when, in fact, no enterprise this side of Vlad (The Bad) Putin controls the message more than media?
I am an unfamous person, therefore there is no interest in my health chart.
If I catch the sniffles or develop a mild case of fanny fungus, it’s my business. If my kidneys go kaput, you could squeeze the number of people who’d actually give a damn into a phone booth, and there’d still be enough room for a couple of circus clowns.
But pro athletes are not unfamous. Well, okay, some are. But, in general, the faithful like to know everything about their sports heroes, from their fave brand of toothpaste to whether or not they hoarded toilet paper at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rabble is keen on knowing about owies, too, especially if it impacts their fantasy leagues or office pools. But usually they’re satisfied to learn how long Sidney Crosby or David Pastrnak will be on the shelf.
Jock journos, meanwhile, demand to know the details, as if it’s a birthright.
Crosby and Pastrnak are “unfit to practice?” Sports scribes demand to know if it’s cancer, a canker sore or COVID-19. Except the NHL is shy on health specifics these days, a policy that continues to put so many knickers into so many knots. Numerous news snoops like Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna and Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab have flailed at Commish Bettman for his don’t-ask, don’t-tell directive on absenteeism during the attempted reboot of the paused 2020 crusade. Basically, they’d like him to take his hush-hush dictate and shove it where you won’t find any daylight.
The thing is, the NHL and its member clubs are under no obligation to make jock journos, or the rabble, privy to the personal health information of workers. It’s no different today than in the 1960s, when Frank Mahovlich went from the hockey rink to the hospital.
The Big M’s disappearance from the Toronto Maple Leafs’ lineup on Nov. 12, 1964, was sudden and mysterious. Officially, he was in sick bay for “constant fatigue,” which, in today’s parlance, translates to “unfit to practice.”
“If you want any information on my condition you will have to talk to Dr. Smythe,” he told news snoops.
So that’s what they did, only to discover that Dr. Hugh Smythe was no more forthcoming when prodded by the pen-and-paper pack.
“Without discussing the diagnosis, I can say there’ll be no embarrassment to Mr. Mahovlich or myself when the nature of it is known,” he explained.
The specifics of what ailed Mahovlich remained shrouded in secrecy by the time he returned to the fray on Dec. 9, yet somehow the media mob managed to file their daily copy. If privy to the particulars, they kept it on the QT.
Similarly, in the small hours of the morning on Nov. 2, 1967, the Big M walked off a sleeper car at Union Station in the Republic of Tranna and went directly to hospital, while his teammates departed for Detroit.
“I realize this is a difficult thing to request, but the less said by the press, radio and TV people about the reason he is in hospital, the better it would be for Frank,” Dr. Smythe informed news snoops.
Turns out Mahovlich had suffered a nervous breakdown, and the boys on the beat were informed that he might be hors de combat for two weeks, two months or for the duration of the season. He was “unfit to practice.” Case closed. Nothing more to see.
Fast forward to the present, and we have had many mysterious disappearances. Or mysterious no-shows. All explained as “unfit to practice.”
Well, that’s all anyone need know until such time as the athlete and/or team choose to come clean. What part of that do news snoops not understand?
Simmons’ pout on the NHL’s posture re players deemed “unfit to practice” was truly silly, and I had to laugh at Mad Mike’s take. In a 1,000-word whinge, he suggests that the cone of silence is ill-conceived because it leads to “speculation.” Oh, the horror! Stop the presses! Sports scribes forced to speculate! That, my friends, is a wholly bogus take. What does Mad Mike think he and the rest of them have been doing for the past four months? They’ve speculated about hub cities. They’ve speculated about playoff formats. They’ve speculated about life in a bubble. They’ve speculated about a Canadian Football League season. They’ve speculated about Trudeau the Younger tossing CFL Commish Randy Ambrosie some spare change. They’ve speculated about a roost for the orphaned Blue Jays. They’ve speculated about Donald Trump’s head exploding if one more athlete takes a knee. Sports is, if nothing else, speculation, and so is sports scribbling. It’s a large, and fun, part of the gig. Get a grip, man.
Geez, that last item included my third mention of Donald Trump this morning. This makes it four. I promise that the remainder of this post will be a Trump-free (five) zone.
To all the sports scribes who insist there’s no stigma attached to a positive COVID-19 test, tell that to Hutterites in Manitoba.
Say, those Seattle Kraken unis are spiffy. Love the logo, love the design, love the colors, love the name. Now we wait for some self-interest group like PETA to bellyache about cruelty to sea monsters and demand a name change.
On the subject of fashion, who’s responsible for dressing the women on Sportsnet Central, which returned to air last week? I swear, Carly Agro looked like a giant, upholstered chocolate bar, while Martine Gaillard and Danielle Michaud wore outfits that someone must have dug out of the freebe box at a thrift store. Either that or they’ve hired Don Cherry’s former tailor.
A tip of the bonnet to Scott Oake of Hockey Night in Canada and old friend and colleague Bob (Doc) Holliday. Scotty’s one of the truly good guys among jock journos, so it’s no surprise that he’s included in this year’s inductees to the Order of Manitoba, while Doc, one of my all-time favorite people, has had a street in St. Vital named in his honor—Bob Holliday Way. I’m not sure where you’d find Bob Holliday Way in St. Vital, but it’s probably the first stop on a Streetcar Named Retire, just past the Red Top Drive-In.
Both Bob and Scotty, by the way, are also members of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, so their trophy rooms are getting cluttered.
I once dreamed of being in the MHHofF, but my dad ran off with my hockey equipment one day and I never played another game.
Nice to see the Winnipeg Sun back to publishing on Mondays, and I must say that the Winnipeg Free Press package on Saturdays is first rate. I’m not just talking about sports in the Drab Slab. It’s the entire Saturday sheet, from front to back. Terrific stuff.
Kudos to Alyssa Nakken, who became the first female to coach on-field in a Major League Baseball game. Alyssa worked first base for the San Francisco Giants v. the Oakland A’s last week, and I think that’s fantastic.
Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun is convinced that Connor Hellebuyck was snubbed in Hart Trophy balloting for the NHL’s most valuable performer. Scotty submits that being a goaltender worked against the Winnipeg Jets keeper, opining, “if your name isn’t Dominik Hasek, it’s not an easy code to crack.” Wrong. Carey Price cracked the code in 2015.
And, finally, as we approach the back end of July and I look out my window to gaze upon the Olympic Mountains in the United States, I note that there’s still snow on the peaks. What’s up with that? Is it something I should be telling Greta Thunberg about?
Another Sunday smorgas-bored, and it’s mostly quick hits this morning because my attention span is like the golf season in Good Ol’ Hometown—short…
Okay, as far as I can determine, this is the National Hockey League road map to a reboot and the coronation of a 2020 Stanley Cup champion:
Summon the boys from hither and yon, put 24 teams in a “bubble” in a couple of “hub” cities, stick swabs up hundreds of noses every morning, noon and nighttime for three months, and play summer-stretched-into-winter shinny until either Alexander Ovechkin or Brett Hull is too drunk to stand during the post-playoff celebration.
Ya, sure, works for me.
Except I’m not on the beat.
There’s no sports editor instructing me to pack my bags and take enough clothes for a 90-day stay in one of those two “hub bubbles,” and it seems to me that news snoops are the forgotten, or ignored, element in the NHL’s quest to stem its financial blood-letting and, at the same time, determine a pandemic puck champion.
We know the rabble won’t be invited inside the “hub bubbles,” but what about sports scribes and natterbugs? Are they also persona non grata? Will those assigned to report on the goings-on in the “hub bubbles” be granted access to players, coaches, managers, etc.? If not (which is the most likely scenario), why bother going? If so, how many news snoops are willing to put their health, if not their lives, at risk?
I mean, people with medical diplomas on their office walls tell us that we can expect a surge of COVID-19 cases in the autumn, so do you really want to be in proximity to a bunch of guys who’ve been spitting and sweating on each other all day? That might be a tough sell on the home front.
A similar thought process would apply if the Canadian Football League sorts out its mess and establishes “hub bubbles” in two-to-four Prairie locales, for an abbreviated season that would commence in September and conclude in December.
I’ve long held that the toy departments of newspapers must discover fresh ways of doing business, given the immediacy of Internet news, the personal disclosures of athletes on social media forums, and the near-maniacal obsession of pro sports teams/organizations to control the message, so it could be that the COVID-19 pandemic will give sports editors no choice but to remake their sections in a significant way.
Same old, same old is done. Probably forever. Creativity must rule the day, and that will be a good thing.
Let’s say you’re a news snoop on the Winnipeg Jets beat and you’re told to tag along with the team to a locale in the United States sometime late this summer/early autumn, when the NHL reboots. Maybe our Yankee Doodle neighbors will have a handle on the coronavirus by then. Maybe not. Maybe the streets of America will no longer be flooded with clashing rioters and storm-troopers after another rogue cop executes another Black man, seemingly for sport. Maybe they will be. So do you go?
Good work by a clever headline writer at the Drab Slab re the proposed Stanley Cup tournament cooked up by the mad scientists in NHL Commish Gary Bettman’s lab: “The Franken-playoffs.” It’ll certainly be different, if only because the lads will be playing in echo chambers dressed up as hockey rinks.
Whichever outfit wins the Stanley Cup, it’ll be the first time in history that no one from the winning outfit will shout, “We couldn’t have done this without our fans!”
My favorite tweet last week was delivered by Shannon Szabados, our longtime women’s national team goaltender: “Happy the NHL will be back, but without fans how do we expect players to know when to shoot the puck? How will opposing goalies know they suck?” That’s my kind of humor.
I’ve never subscribed to the “stick to sports” mantra as it relates to jock journos, because societal issues and sports have been intersecting since David took out his slingshot and coldcocked Goliath. Think heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson and his white wives. Think Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson and whites-only baseball. Think Muhammad Ali and the Vietnam War. Think Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the Mexico Olympics. Think Colin Kaepernick on one knee. Think Billie Jean King being outed as a lesbian. Think racist team names, like Washington’s Redskins, and team logos, like Cleveland’s clownish Chief Wahoo. Think Johnny Manziel, Ray Rice, Bobby Hull and numerous other male athletes and domestic violence. So good on Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun for straying beyond the accepted boundaries of sports scribbling to serve up a column on the current ugliness and nastiness south of the great Canada-U.S. divide. Paul had a natter with former Winnipeg Blue Bombers DB Jovon Johnson, many times a victim of racist acts and language, and he wonders why white people aren’t raising their voices against systemic racism while Minneapolis-St. Paul and other U.S. burgs burn and protesters are trampled by the hooves of cops’ horses. It’s a boffo read.
Why don’t more sports scribes/sections tackle societal issues like racism, gender equality, homophobia, misogyny, domestic violence? Because most of them can’t relate to the marginalized among us. Consider these numbers from the most recent Associated Press Sports Editors Racial and Gender Report Card (2018, a study of 75 newspapers/websites in Canada and the U.S.):
90 per cent of sports editors were male;
85 per cent of sports editors were white;
88.5 per cent of reporters were male;
83.4 per cent of columnists were male;
82.1 per cent of reporters were white;
80.3 per cent of columnists were white;
44 women were columnists at ‘A’ level newspapers/websites, and 38 worked for ESPN. If the ESPN female columnist were removed, the percentage of female columnists would drop to 2.9 per cent.
Curious tweetre U.S. rioting from Terry Jones of Postmedia E-Town: “No I wasn’t endorsing police firing rubber bullets at members of the media. I just can’t comprehend the racism that’s behind all of this. It got Trump elected. And isn’t this where I came in back in the 60s? Forget the cops. I’d bring in the fire department and turn on the hoses.” I’m not sure what to make of that, but, as a product of the 1950s and ’60s, I know I don’t like the optics.
There’s talk about a third fist fight between former heavyweight boxing champs Iron Mike Tyson and Evander (The Real Meal) Holyfield. Or, as Tyson likes to call it, “Leftovers.”
Hey, look who’s blah-blah-blahing about the CFL—Johnny Manziel. That’s right, TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback went on something called Golf’s Subpar podcast the other day, and he informed listeners that he “loved Canada,” even if the business side of Rouge Football is “a little bit ticky-tacky.” Well, if anyone knows “tacky,” it’s Johnny Rotten. The former Montreal Larks/Hamilton Tabbies QB also confirmed his fondness for females and nightclubs, and added, “I got a good heart, I’m a good dude. I treat people the right way for the most part. Deep down, I truly am a good person.” Ya, except for beating up and threatening to kill women, he’s a swell guy.
Speaking of complete dinks, if any of you girls out there are looking to get that special man in your life something unique, how about Elvis Presley’s old jockstrap? Straight goods. The very garment that once holstered the King’s jewels in the 1970s is up for auction by Paul Fraser Collectibles, and this is no ordinary jockstrap. It’s rhinestone-studded, “sexually potent” and, according to auction rep Daniel Wade, “the new owner won’t be able to resist wearing it out on a Saturday night—the Elvis magic will work wonders.” Oh, for sure, that’s what every woman is hoping to discover about her man on a first date—his underwear is half a century old.
Seriously, why was Elvis the Pelvis even wearing a jockstrap? Was there a chance his boys were going to pop out of his jumpsuit?
Oh, one final thing about Elvis’ jockstrap: It’s a size Medium, so maybe the King wasn’t really the king after all, if you catch my meaning. (Thank you, thank you very much.)
CFL Commish Randy Ambrosie continues to panhandle on Parliament Hill, asking the feds for welfare payments from $30 million to $150 million. PM Trudeau the Younger can just send the cheque to Rouge Football headquarters at the new mailing address: c/o 2020 Skid Road.
The adult website Stripchat, which boasts of 60 million monthly visitors for its live webcam sex shows, is offering $15 million for naming rights to the Superdome in New Orleans, home of the National Football League Saints. Hearing that, CFL Commish Randy immediately contacted the porn masters at Stripchat and said, “Give us $15 million and we’ll put your live sex shows on our Jumbotrons during TV timeouts. Hell, for an extra $15 million, we’ll have our guys play naked, except the O-lineman, of course. Nobody wants to go there.” We can just call it Commish Randy’s naked bootleg.
Coolest thing I’ve seen in a long, long time was John Fogerty celebrating his 75th birthday by singing Centrefield in centrefield at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. He was joined by his kids Shane, Kelsy and Tyler, with Fogerty playing a custom-made Louisville Slugger guitar. Centrefield is only the best baseball song. Ever. And how cool it must be to have a 75-year-old dad that cool.
I’m not big on all the retro stuff that we’ve been force-fed during the pandemic, but Taylor Allen has a good read on Laurie Boschman in the Drab Slab.Bosch was one of the genuinely good guys to ever wear Jets linen.
Also good to see is a new feature in the Winnipeg Sun, Ted’s Talk, which debuted on Saturday. Ted Wyman takes a wordy walkabout through the sports neighborhood, touching on a variety of issues, and I have to say it’s bloody well time. I don’t know how sassy, cheeky or irreverent Teddy Football plans to be with his new toy, but I hope he has fun with it. And takes no prisoners.
In late April, Postmedia slashed 80 jobs and shut down 15 papers. Last week, it was revealed that there’ll be another 40 “permanent” reductions across the chain. Again, I wonder if Postmedia will be printing two papers in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver by the time the COVID-19 pandemic has run its course.
And, finally, alot of us can use a little good news these days, and watching the SpaceX rocket leave the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center and roar off into the wild, blue yonder on Saturday was quite an emotional moment. There wasn’t a dry eye in my house. God speed to the two astronauts.
There’s been much natter about National Hockey League millionaires returning this summer to perform in front of empty seats in four select cities, none of which will be named Winnipeg (reportedly).
That’s a deep concern because the NHL is a gate-driven enterprise.
There is, however, a greater fret and threat looming. Try this: How many of those empty seats will remain unoccupied once the faithful have been given the okie-dokie to gather in groups and return to rinks hither and yon?
The Jets have made due with 15,000 and change at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie since 2011 and, once they’ve finished feeding at the public trough, it’s believed there’s black ink on the bottom line of the balance sheet. The profit is likely minimal, but we don’t know for certain because True North Sports+Entertainment has never been eager to open its books, even as it smugly expects the rabble to continue opening their wallets.
Unfortunately, the scourge that is COVID-19 has many thousands of workers also feeding from the public trough, and some of them won’t have a job at the far end of the pandemic.
It’s tough to part with thousands of dollars in support of the players’ millionaire lifestyles when you’re on pogey.
So let’s say the Jets lose 1,000 customers post-COVID-19 and can’t replace them. Is the NHL doable in Good Ol’ Hometown with just 14K in the pews? Well, when the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011, I seem to recall NHL commish Gary Bettman saying something about sellouts and SRO audiences being the absolute, no-margin-for-error requirement.
If so, 14,000 customers won’t cut it.
Oh, sure, the Jets boast of a robust wait list, so any available tickets would be scooped up faster than toilet paper at the start of the pandemic. But whoa Nellie. That was pre-COVID-19. The game has changed. It costs $100 (non-refundable) per annum to stay on that list, and $50 (non-refundable) to get on that list. Know anyone with a spare C-note or 50-dollar bill lying around these days, just in the hope of spending in excess of $1,000 to watch the millionaires frolic on the local freeze?
This isn’t meant to be a doomsday essay. It’s simply a cautionary note that once there’s a vaccine and the NHL arrives at its “new normal,” crowd concern might not be limited to warm-weather locales like Sunrise, Fla, and Glendale, Ariz. It might hit hard at the frost-bitten heart of the continent as well.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been catching up on my reading during the COVID-19 lockdown. So far, these have been my favorite books:
My Pants Were Always Lower Than My Score: The Sex Scandal That Sank Tiger Woods, In His Own Words.
If It’s Too Late for a Prenup, I’m Totally Screwed: The Tiger Woods Tell-All About Infidelity and Divorce (with special forward by Elin Nordegren).
I Bit Off More Than I Could Chew: Mike Tyson Recounts the Night He Made a Snack Out of Evander Holyfield’s Ear.
D’oh Canada! The Duping of a Dope: The Rise and Fall of Ben Johnson at the Seoul Olympics.
Deflated: Who Really Let the Air Out of Tom Brady’s Balls (with special forward by Gisele Bundchen)?
The Dead Speak Scrolls: Complete Transcripts of Everything Bill Belichick has Ever Said that the Media Understood (Total number of pages-2).
I’ll Shove This %$#% Ball Down Your *%$#% Throat: Memoirs of Serena Williams at the U.S. Open.
Grey Cup and the Groupie: E! News Canada Takes A Deep Dive Into the Glen Suitor-Keith Urban Broadcast Booth Bromance (with special forward by Nicole Kidman).
You People: The Official Don Cherry Code of Conduct for Wannabe Canadians, where the former star of Coach’s Corner explains Milk & Honey & Poppies & EVERYTHINK LIKE THAT!
Still Searching In A White Ford Bronco After All These Years: O.J. Simpson Takes Us to Various Golf Courses In His Hunt for the Real Killers.
Speaking of golf, it looks like some courses across the land will be opening next month (a few in my neck of the woods never closed). I haven’t swung the sticks in more than 12 years, but I’ve been thinking about my ideal foursome were I ever to tee it up again. This is it: Moi, Alison Krauss, Babs Streisand and, of course, Jesus, because I figure that walk-on-water thing might come in handy given my skill level.
Oh drat. The Scripps National Spelling Bee in the U.S. has fallen victim to COVID-19, canceled for the first time since World War II. Such a shame. I was really looking forward to watching 10-year-old kids make me feel like a complete doofus again. Or is that spelled d-u-f-u-s? Or d-o-o-f-a-s? Or d-u-f-is? Or d-u-f-f-a-s? Geez, where’s a 10-year-old whiz kid when you really need one?
I note that Scotiabank Arena in the Republic of Tranna is now a kitchen, where they’re cooking 10,000 meals a day for front-line health workers, their families and the needy. Just wondering: How will the Tranna media make that feel-good story about Drake?
So, the National Women’s Hockey League has added an expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna and, not surprisingly, at least one of the Dream Gappers (Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association) couldn’t resist the urge to take a cheap shot at the team to be named later. That would be Liz Knox, who attempted to paint NWHL execs as uncaring, tone-deaf oafs for conducting business during the pandemic. “It’s difficult to imagine expansion being at the forefront of many business strategies,” she snarked in a text message. Oh, for sure, Liz. No businesses should look ahead to the day COVID-19 is behind us. The NHL shouldn’t make plans to finish its season or begin the 2020-21 crusade. The National Football League shouldn’t have conducted its draft last week. And, hey, Roger Federer has no business talking about a marriage between the women’s and men’s pro tennis tours. All sports operations should just sit and twiddle their thumbs. What a pathetic take, but totally in line with the PWHPA hate-on for the NWHL, which refuses to get out of the Dream Gappers’ way.
Tim & Sid granted air time on Sportsnet to another Dream Gapper, Natalie Spooner, who informed the boys that the PWHPA will “keep fighting for what we deserve.” Part of what they claim they “deserve” is a living wage, but none of the Dream Gappers has ever explained how anyone can pay for it.
Second worst take on the NWHL franchise in The ROT came from (who else?) Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna.
“It has been officially announced that Toronto has been awarded an expansion team in the National Women’s Hockey League,” he scribbled without allowing his grey matter and fingers to connect. “What hasn’t been announced: the team’s name; the team’s logo; the team’s venue. And some of those things, if not all of them, can make an outsider rather skeptical and troubled about the future of this kind of endeavour. You don’t gain credibility by announcing a team with no name, no place to play, and no big-name players. When you have all that in place, then make the announcement. The press release referred to the expansion team as a ‘first class team of professionals.’ Time will answer that, but the new Toronto Whatevers are not off to a great start.”
Really? There’s no credibility without a team name, a team logo or big-name players? Like the NHL’s expansion franchise in Seattle? The one that was announced in December 2018 and, 16 months later, remains without a team name, a team logo or any players. Or like the NHL Las Vegas expansion franchise that was announced in June 2016 without a team name, a team logo or any players? Or like the Jets, who arrived in Winnipeg sans a team name or a team logo in 2011?
Or does that lack of “credibility” only apply to female shinny outfits with no name, no logo and no big-name players at startup?
Simmons is on record as saying Ponytail Puck is a “charade,” so he’d be wise to concentrate on Golden Boy Auston Matthews’ mustache, Phil Kessel’s hot dog stand and Drake’s clown act, and leave the women’s game to news snoops who actually care and know something about it.
This week in jock journalism…
Jason Bell of the Drab Slab wins the prize for best off-beat yarn, with his piece on a Charolais bull named after Chris Streveler, former Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback and party boy. Streveler the bull is 1,499 pounds of pure Western Manitoba beef on the hoof—about the same as the entire Bombers O-line—and the brute recently sold for a whopping $45,000 at the Nykoliation family auction. The way Jason tells the story, 50 bulls were sold that day for $335,000, or about the value of a Tier-II starting QB in the Canadian Football League…I monitored bylines in the Winnipeg Sun from last Sunday through Saturday, and here’s the scorecard: Postmedia bylines 32; Toronto bylines 21; Winnipeg bylines 15; lady rassler bylines (Natalya Neidhart) 1. I swear, if I ever win Lotto Max, I’ll offer Postmedia the $1 Cdn. that the tabloid is worth today and convert it back to a local newspaper with local stories and enough scribes to actually cover the city…The NFL’s remote draft received favorable reviews from Bombers play-by-play guy Knuckles Irving and Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab. Here’s Knuckles on Twitter: “Watching the NFL draft and once again it’s completely apparent that no sports entity in the world can deliver elaborately choreographed, brilliantly produced, dragged out, mind-numbing TV hype like the NFL. Man are they good at it. Gotta be impressed.” And here’s Mad Mike: “You’ve got to hand it to the National Football League. Real life handed the league a lemon—in this case, the COVID-19 pandemic—but they showed why they’re the world’s most popular and successful sports operation by turning it into glorious, refreshing lemonade.” I never watched one second of the production, so I’ll just have to take their word for it…Laura Armstrong of the Toronto Star misses sports and feels guilty about it. I don’t miss sports and feel guilty about it. Hmmm. I never thought of COVID-19 as a guilt trip, but apparently that’s what it is.
And, finally, I went on a Jesse Stone movie binge last week. Watched all nine of the made-for-TV flicks. Jesse, played by Tom Selleck, is a scotch-swilling, non-smiling wreck of a cop so hung up on his ex-wife that he talks to her long distance every night. Between benders, sessions with his ex-wife’s shrink, and trying to figure out how to work a cellphone, Jesse always catches the bad guys in Paradise, Mass. He probably drinks too much caffeine, but Jesse’s coffee breath isn’t a turnoff to the ladies in Paradise. Apparently the woman who can resist his dimples has yet to be born. Jesse always gets the girl. And I do mean always. Tall, short, black, white, young, old…every woman falls prey to Jesse’s dimples and must dine or do lunch with him. Even a nun, Sister Mary John! It’s quite silly stuff, really. So why do I like it so much?