Let’s talk about the aging of the Winnipeg Jets…to Tokyo in denim…Aaron Rodgers’ sticky notes…MLB grappling with lack of sizzle…old friend Big Jim takes a paddywhacking…Canadian Football Hall of Fame gets it right…what about Tricky Dick Thornton?…nightmare on TSN…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and still no word on the if and when of a CFL season, but here’s something else that’s real iffy…

Stop me if you’ve heard this before:

“I believe we’re close to having a team that has a chance to challenge for the Stanley Cup, and I’m really looking forward to that…we’re a lot closer than some people will give us credit for…I look forward to these next five years.”

Sound familiar? It should.

Blake Wheeler said much the same as Adam Lowry scant seconds after scratching his John Hancock on a six-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets.

Blake Wheeler

“I believe in people like (owner) Mark Chipman and Chevy, what everyone stands for and especially in my teammates. I have believed since I got here that we have what it takes to get to the next level, so this is just a part of that process. I truly believe that great things are in store for this group,” the then-future captain told news snoops.

Wheels was 26 at the time. There will be 35 candles on his birthday cake in August.

Lend an ear to Rink Rat Scheifele who, upon agreeing to an eight-year contract in 2016, expressed a robust belief in “the organization, in the players on the team, in the future prospects.”

The Rink Rat was 23. He’s now 28.

Connor Hellebuyck, the Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender, locked in for six years and said, “The tools are in this locker room to be a championship team. I love it here and I want to be here and I really believe this team has what it takes.”

Hellebuyck was 25. He turns 28 next month.

Adam Lowry

And now we have another long-hauler, Lowry, parroting his teammates’ faith in a process that began in 2011 and has delivered the grand sum of two post-season series victories, both in the spring of 2018.

Lowry is 28. The freshly minted contract he signed on Friday will take him to 33.

So what’s my point? Just this: Unless your name is Evander Kane, Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, Patrik Laine or Jack Roslovic, the Jets have all gulped down the Kool-Aid in a cultish-like obedience. They believe. And that’s the reason what went down at last week’s National Hockey League shop-and-swap deadline rankles.

We know Kevin Cheveldayoff kicked some tires on top-four defencemen, and we know the sticker price sent the Jets general manager running like a guy trying to stay two steps ahead of a loan shark.

We can assume his contemporaries were eager to fleece him and take Ville Heinola, Cole Perfetti and other shiny objects off his hands in exchange for their lame, halting and hard of seeing, but that was never going to happen because Chevy places premium value on his young studs. You might have a better chance of prying his bride, Janet, and their two kids away from him.

Chevy

So it was no sale. Chevy allowed the NHL trade window to close with a whimper, and the Jets are no closer to the Stanley Cup today than a week ago, unless you consider a bottom-end, plug-in blueliner (hello, Jordie Benn) a shiny object.

Oddly enough, many among the rabble, also some news snoops, have given Chevy a tip of the chapeau and a slap on the back for his do-little day, because he “protected assets,” meaning he clung to young wannabes Heinola, Perfetti and others like gum to the bottom of a shoe.

Well let me tell you something about assets: They don’t stay forever young.

Chevy is protecting the future when most of the parts are in place for today’s Jets team. Add the right top-four defender and we might be talking about a parade route. But the Jets GM chose to stand still, even as time refuses to stand still for his significant core workers.

Wheeler’s prime years have been wasted. Scheifele and Hellebuyck are into prime time. Same with Lowry, Andrew Copp and Dylan DeMelo. And don’t look now, but Josh Morrissey is 26.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Which begs this question: If the Jets GM was unwilling to go all-in now, when?

This was the time for derring-do, an opportunity for Chevy to orchestrate what could have become his signature moment, lifting the Jets to that “next level” Wheeler spoke of all those years ago.

Well, here’s something else the captain said, when he re-upped in September 2018: “It kind of looks like that (Stanley Cup) window is opening up.”

Apparently Chevy missed the memo.

I don’t know if the GM will reflect on this crusade five years from now and view it as the one that got away, but Blake Wheeler might. Rink Rat Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck and others like Lowry who’ve committed long term might, as well.

Chevy should be kicking himself. Right in the assets.

Something Bryan Little said when the Jets’ playoff aspirations had been dashed in March 2017 is haunting: “It’s another year of your career that you can’t get back. Some of the best players in this room are the youngest. There’s definitely a bright future, but some guys are older and want to do something right now. That’s the thinking going into next year.” Little was 29. He’s now 33, wounded beyond repair, and there is no next year. Not for him. But why must it always be “next year” for Scheifele, Hellebuyck, Lowry et al?

As I was saying last week, I don’t buy into the Jack Campbell hype that news snoops in the Republic of Tranna have been spreading like thick, gooey peanut butter. He’s been a career backup goaltender for a reason, and Maple Leafs loyalists are beginning to see why. For all their talent, the Leafs are vulnerable in the blue paint, whereas Hellebuyck gives the Jets the best puck stopping in the Hoser Division (yes, including Carey Price). And we all know what that means when the boys begin to play for keeps, which is the very reason Chevy shouldn’t have dithered last week.

I don’t know about you, but I’m digging the threads our Canadian athletes will be wearing for the closing ceremonies at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, if there is a Tokyo Olympics, that is. Ya, sure, you can say the denim jacket looks like a teenage graffiti artist had a moment of madness, but I look at it more as a stroke of genius. There’s a youth-cool vibe to the kit, something you might wear on a pub crawl, or wherever it is that our young people go these days. It’s totally boffo compared to the get-ups that noted needle-and-thread guy Ralph Lauren designed for our American friends. I can’t tell if he’s dressed the U.S. team for the next space shuttle mission or an expedition to the South Pole.

I’ll take nose-pickers for $2,000, Alex. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has completed his gig as guest host on Jeopardy!, and he let us in on a little secret about the sticky notes he used to aid his performance. One of them read: “Don’t pick your butt/nose.” Seriously. He needs a sticky note to remind himself not to pick his nose on camera? And the Packers trust Rodgers to call audibles in the red zone?

Curt, Terry, Howie, Michael and Jimmy.

Apparently, producers of Fox NFL Sunday were so impressed with Rodgers’ work on Jeopardy! that they plan to equip Terry Bradshaw with sticky notes to improve his work:
1. “Remember, this ain’t Hee Haw.”
2. “Powder shiny head during every commercial break.”
3. “Do not mention gap in Michael’s teeth.”
4. “Do not laugh at Howie’s 1950s haircut because at least he has hair.”
5. “Resist all urges to muss up Jimmy’s hair.”
6. “Do not tell Rob Riggle he isn’t as funny as Frank Caliendo.”
7. “Remember, guy sitting beside you is Curt, not James.”
8. “Jay Glazer is human, he just looks like a garden gnome.”
9. “Mention four Super Bowl rings whenever Jimmy mentions two Super Bowl rings.”
10. “When in doubt, always refer to sticky note No. 1.”

Favorite headline of the week was delivered by the New York Post: “How Yankees can address their crappiness.” Anything that combines New York Yankees and “crappiness” is right by me, although I’m sure George Steinbrenner’s son Hal wouldn’t agree.

If your product needs to add some sizzle and pizzazz, who you gonna call? Well, Major League Baseball has called Brian Stedman, now responsible for strategy and development. That would be the same Brian Stedman who, for the past seven years, carried the sizzle-and-pizzazz portfolio for Vince McMahon’s cast of characters in World Wrestling Entertainment. That will be quite an adjustment for Stedman. I mean, the play actors in wrestling are allowed to hit each other with everything including the kitchen sink, but the Yankees can’t hit anything.

Old friend Big Jim Bender took a bit of a paddywhacking on Twitter last week, after he made a flippant remark about the Brendan Bottcher foursome failing to win a trinket at the world curling championship but securing an Olympic berth for Canada. “Was the very least they could do,” Big Jim wrote. The Pebble People pounced. Darren Moulding, third on the Bottcher team, called the former Winnipeg Sun scribe “a joke,” adding, “You’re a stain on our country, not me.” Harsh. Olympian and TSN talking head Cheryl Bernard weighed in, describing Bender’s comment as “crap.” Oh my. Who knew the delightful Cheryl could be so undelightful? Anyway, not that he plans to call me to the stand as a character witness, but let the record show that Big Jim is a friend of curler’s everywhere. He’s spent more time in chilly two-sheeters than most people I know, so, as Strother Martin told Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

Rachel Homan

Speaking of Pebble People, Rachel Homan played in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts title match on the final day of February while eight months pregnant. She then went home to bring daughter Bowyn into the world, and now the former Canadian/world champ has returned to the fray, skipping her team in the Humpty’s Champions Cup just three weeks after giving birth. Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard won’t be available to the L.A. Clippers today because he needs a rest—after sitting the last four games. I swear, if men could get pregnant and give birth, there would be no male sports.

Nobody asked me, but I’d say the selection committee for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame got it right when they chose Marv Levy, Nik Lewis, Will Johnson, Mike Walker, Orlondo Steinauer, Don Wilson and Doug Mitchell as this year’s inductees. These things are always ripe for debate, of course, and we usually hear some squawking whenever a sports body salutes the best of the best, but I don’t hear any arguments about the class of 2021, nor should there be.

And that’s not to ignore broadcasters Bernie Pascall and Bob Hooper, who got the nod from the Football Reporters of Canada and will go into the CFHF media wing. Hooper was a long-time Hamilton Tabbies play-by-play voice, and Pascall’s career chatting about Rouge Football on radio and TV spans decades. Unfortunately, Bob’s not around to enjoy the honor, but Bernie’s still with us, so he has something fresh to talk about with the neighbors on beautiful Vancouver Island.

Ashley Prest

The CFHF media wing is the ultimate boys’ club. By my scorecard, there are now 101 members, all men. Yup, 101-0. I realize there haven’t been a lot of women on the beat, but in my 19 years covering the Canadian Football League in three cities (Winnipeg, Calgary, Republic of Tranna), I can recall sharing a press box at Grey Cup games with Ashley Prest of the Drab Slab and Joanne Ireland of the Edmonton Journal. Ashley also knew her way around the University of Manitoba campus to cover coach Brian Dobie’s Bisons, and there might be some high school grid in her resumé, too, because that’s what most of us did back in the day. We started at the bottom and worked our way up. So it seems to me that the boys on the beat should find room for trailblazers like Ashley or Joanne.

Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna has made his annual plea for Dick Thornton’s induction to the CFHF, and I can’t disagree with Sy. Tricky Dick certainly has the bona fides, including two Grey Cup victories with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and multiple all-star salutes, and he also happens to be one of the more colorful characters in CFL lore. Legendary Bombers coach Bud Grant once said this of his defensive back/wannabe quarterback/kick returner/kicker: “When most players arrive in a new town, the first thing they do is phone a girl. When Dick Thornton arrives, he phones a sports writer.”

Tricky Dick had an ego the size of a football field, and here’s how the great columnist Jack Matheson once described him in the Winnipeg Tribune: “The writers and broadcasters treat No. 14 with considerable respect because he’s hot copy, in or out of uniform. His eccentricities are always guaranteed to liven a dull scene and for conversation Thornton holds all records for Blue Bombers of the modern era. The conversation always seems to revolve around Dick Thornton, but he has a magnetism and I’ve never seen anybody walk away from Dick Thornton when his mouth was open.” Another time, Matty wrote this of Thornton: “An incurable extrovert who played harder with his larynx than his limbs.”

Final note on Dick Thornton: The Bombers traded him to the Toronto Argos the same day the Maple Leafs cleared the track and sent Eddie Shack to the Boston Bruins. I guess the Republic of Tranna just wasn’t big enough for two clown acts.

Gino Button and James McKenzie, or is it Craig Reda and Bob Duthie? Either way, it’s scary, kids.

Still getting creepy vibes from those face mashups TSN featured on its NHL trade deadline coverage. It’s clever work by Matty Go Sens, but morphing the faces of Gino Reda and Craig Button into one is the kind of stuff that will keep kids awake at night. Ditto the James Duthie/Bob McKenzie blending. I haven’t been so frightened since Alfred Hitchcock had all those nasty birds attack Tippi Hedren.

This from Steve Simmons: “The top four goaltenders in all-time wins are Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Roberto Luongo and now Marc-Andre Fleury. All of them Quebecois. And there’s not a single Quebec goalie of consequence (apologies to Jonathan Bernier) playing in today’s NHL.” Hmmm. Last time I checked, Marc-Andre Fleury was still a Quebecois and leading the NHL in shutouts.

Patrick Marleau will lace ’em up for his 1,768th NHL skirmish on Monday night, moving past Gordie Howe for most games played. It’s a terrific achievement. Worth noting, however, are their birth certificates. Howe was 52 when he finally shut down, Marleau is 41. And, at 52, Howe was a significant contributor for the Hartford Whalers, scoring 15 goals and 41 points in 80 games, plus another two points in three playoff jousts. Marleau is 4-4-8 in what looks to be another lost season for the San Jose Sharks.

And, finally, on the subject of legendary performers, I discovered a DVD of Tony Bennett: An American Classic at a local video story the other day, and I snapped it up immediately. Fan-freaking-tastic. Tony’s duets with Barbra Streisand and our Canadian songbird k.d. lang brought on the water works (sheer brilliance renders me very emotional), and there was only one sour note struck—the November 2006 TV special was far too short, just 42 minutes. I wanted at least an hour more.

Let’s talk about Patrik Laine the happy camper…Puck Finn still playing second fiddle…pooping and the puckstopper…glorifying goon hockey on Sportsnet…brain farts and tripe-bogeys…Ponytail Puck set for a faceoff in Lake Placid…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and you’re advised to read this blog with an abundance of caution…

Kevin Cheveldayoff and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman have one task. Just one: Put a happy face on Patrik Laine.

Do whatever it takes.

If that means putting Puck Finn first in the pay queue, back up the Brinks truck. If he wants to skate alongside Rink Rat Scheifele, tell Paul Maurice to join them at the hip. If he wants to challenge Twig Ehlers to a rousing game of Fortnite between shifts, set up a PlayStation gizmo at the end of the bench.

Just get it done.

Unless, of course, it’s irreparably undone

Maybe there’s no longer a way for Chevy and the Puck Pontiff to sell Laine on the merits of Winnipeg and the Jets. Maybe the Tour de Finn we witnessed last Thursday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie—two goals, OT winner, one assist, one scuffle in a 4-3 victory over the Calgary Flames—was a prelude to what the faithful will be missing once the big winger swans off down the road.

Whatever the case, this is a crossroads moment for the Winnipeg franchise.

Chevy and the Puck Pontiff

Make no mistake, short of a Stanley Cup parade, how Chevy and team co-bankroll Chipman handle L’Affaire Laine will be the defining moment for the tallest thinkers in the National Hockey League’s smallest market, and time is already an adversary.

Puck Finn is a restricted free agent this summer, and if he and Chevy/Puck Pontiff can’t find common financial ground, an arbitrator will do it for them and that’s an exercise that seldom lends itself to warm-and-fuzzy pillow talk. Laine will listen while someone in an expensive suit informs him of his many misgivings, at the same time emphasizing that his goal totals (36, 44, 30, 28) are already in decline. And whatever he delivers this season will be dismissed as the sketchy product of a runted crusade due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If the kid wants out now, imagine how he’ll feel after hearing from a team rep that he’s barely a beer-leaguer, so I’m assuming that’s a path the Jets aren’t anxious to travel.

In the meantime, pundits hither and yon continue to laud Chevy for the deliberate, slow-moving manner in which he generally manages the Jets.

And it’s true. Chevy has the patience of a man who genuinely believes the cheque is in the mail.

Players march into his office and inform him they desire a new postal code, or an agent beaks off to news snoops about a client’s dissatisfaction and the need for a fresh start, but Chevy doesn’t flinch. His knees never jerk. Oh, they might twitch a mite, but not so you’d notice.

He waits and waits and waits, patiently, refusing to be bullied.

But then someone tosses a track suit into a tub of ice water and Chevy budges, recognizing he has no option but to tell a 30-goal scorer to leave the building. Evander Kane is then shuffled off to Buffalo. Similarly, Chevy took a measured tactic with Jacob Trouba, not moving his top-pair defender to Gotham until the free-agency clock was soon to strike midnight.

Now we have the only GM in Jets 2.0 history confronted with the stiffest challenge of his watch, and all I can see is Chevy standing in a corner with a can of paint and a brush, looking for a way out.

And that’s not to ignore Jack Roslovic’s pout.

Chevy’s allowing Roslovic to rot at home in Columbus, with no inclination toward granting his young forward’s wish for opportunity elsewhere. Chevy can move him on a whim, on his terms and on his timetable, and the longer the Roslovic Rot lasts the more likely it is that he becomes a forgotten man. Few among the faithful will be bent out of shape at the loss of a player who might fit in as a top-six forward in other colors, but not in Jets linen.

It’s different with Laine.

Puck Finn is their signature selection through a decade of draft-and-develop. He’s a star performer, a game-changer who, were he to commit long term, would become the face of the franchise.

Chevy and the Puck Pontiff are already 0-for-2 with young studs who’ve demanded a one-way ticket out of Dodge, and Laine’s performance v. the Flames was a not-so-subtle hint that they should move mountains to prevent it from being 0-for-3.

What will it take to put a happy face on Puck Finn? None of us knows. But, surely, Chevy and the Puck Pontiff have an idea, and that begs one question: Why aren’t they doing it?

Puck Finn

Got a giggle out of pundits suggesting Laine’s show-stopper v. the Flames snuffed out swap talk. “Laine silences the trade rumors” and “Laine mutes trade talk for now” were the headlines in the Winnipeg Sun. Ya, good luck with that. If anything, it ramped up speculation. I mean, what was Eric Duhatschek scribbling about in The Athletic the following morning? That’s right, a potential Laine trade. What were Gino Reda and Craig Button nattering about on TSN two days later? That’s right, a potential Laine trade. What were David Amber and Brian Burke prattling on about on Hockey Night in Canada last night? That’s right, a potential Laine trade. Trust me, L’Affaire Laine will linger until one of two things happens: 1) Puck Finn commits to Good Ol’ Hometown for the long haul; 2) Chevy and the Puck Pontiff tell him to pack his bags. I’m still betting on the latter scenario—and we’ll know for certain if he signs another bridge deal this summer—so don’t expect the whispers to go away anytime soon.

So, you’re Paul Maurice, the Jets potty-mouth head coach. You have a 22-year-old right-winger, Laine, who shredded the Flames, and you have a 34-year-old right winger, Blake Wheeler, who’s doing his best to keep up with the pace of play. Who you gonna call on? I agree, it should be Laine. But Coach PottyMo still had Puck Finn playing second fiddle to the aging Wheeler, on the ice for a whopping 21:27, including 4:50 on the powerplay, in the opener. Laine was limited to 16:20 and 2:53. Any wonder why Puck Finn’s agents believe it would be “mutually beneficial” for him to move on? Curses to you, Coach Potty Mouth.

Took a dive into James Duthie’s book Beauties last week, and I was giggling four paragraphs into Roberto Luongo’s forward, whereby the former Vancouver Canucks goaltender describes an in-game bout of poopy pants. “I never get stomach aches during a game,” he writes. “Before the game is a different story. I go to the bathroom five times on game day. I’m talking number two here. I may have been a number one goalie most of my career, but I’m all about number two on game days. I go once in the morning when I get up, once at the morning skate, once after I wake up from my nap, once after the pre-game meeting, and once after warm-up, just in case. I don’t want any accidents during the game. It’s a skill. The guys on my team all know about it. They see my big-ass toes sticking out from under the stall door and say, ‘Lui’s goin’ again.’” That probably falls under the category ‘too much information,’ but Luongo goes on to explain missing the start of overtime in a playoff series v. Anaheim due to the runs, and it’s more than a one-yuk-per-page read. I’m 68 pages into the book and only the Paul Bissonnette yarn is a yawn. Overall, a highly recommended read.

The more things change, the more things stay the same. An example would be Anthony Stewart’s analysis of last week’s Montreal Canadiens-Toronto Maple Leafs skirmish on Sportsnet. Stewart, of course, is the least insightful among the natterbugs on Hockey Night In Canada and, like Brian Burke, he tends to glorify goon hockey. Thus it was no surprise to hear him cite Wayne Simmonds as the difference-maker in the Leafs’ 5-4 victory, simply because he exchanged bare knuckles with Ben Chiarot of the Habs. It was 3-1 Montreal when the lads dropped the mitts, and Stewart informed us that the Leafs scored “right after” the tiff. Wrong. The game turned when the Habs took three consecutive penalties and the Leafs scored twice with the man advantage—7½ minutes after the Simmonds scrap. But, hey, why let facts get in the way of a false narrative? Meanwhile, over at TSN, Craig Button was asked what shifted the game toward the Leafs. “Power play,” he said. Two nights later, he added, “the Leafs’ skill bailed them out.” Correct.

The search was on for Bryson DeChambeau’s ball.

So now we know why Bryson DeChambeau was feeling woozy and bombed out at The Masters in November: Brain fart. “The frontal lobe in my brain was working really, really hard,” the bulked-up golfer explains, adding a combination of things “escalated my brain, overworking and just giving out.” And here I thought it was that lost ball and a triple-bogey seven on the third hole at Augusta that made him sick. Silly me.

Interesting that quarterback Aaron Rodgers is among the notables to land a gig as celeb host on Jeopardy! once the Green Bay Packers are finished playing football. Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t hire ESPN squawker Stephen A. Smith. He believes he has all the answers.

Bill Murray

Speaking of celebrities, the Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament will have no pro-am component this year. Which makes it what? The Pebble Beach Bill Murray Has To Go Somewhere Else To Act Like A Complete Jackass Open?

Quitter James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets described himself as “an elite leader” at his introductory natter with New York news snoops the other day, just scant hours after mailing it in one more time and informing his former Houston Rockets teammates that they’re a bunch of scrubs. Ya, that’s an “elite leader” like Kareem Adbul Jabbar is a jockey.

Montreal Impact of Major League Soccer are now Club de Foot Montreal. Seriously? A soccer side with “club foot” in the name. They might want to send that one back to the marketing department. It’s like a brewery branding its newest product Flat Warm Beer.

On the subject of peddling product, if you’re scoring at home—and I’m sure you aren’t—a Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association team wrapped up a six-game series v. teenage boys in Florida the other day, and they left the Tampa hub with a 2-4 record. All but two games (5-0, 7-2 losses) were competitive, but I fail to see how losing to teenage boys advances the cause of Ponytail Puck.

Speaking of which, Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star found room for Ponytail Puck in his Pucks In Depth notebook on Friday, which is a good thing. If only he wasn’t so thin on facts and short on insight.

Women’s professional hockey ramps up this month,” he wrote. “The NWHL, with its Toronto expansion team The Six (I like the nickname, but I have been programmed by our Olympians not to root for the NWHL) will play its entire season, playoffs and championship in a bubble in Lake Placid, N.Y., with some games televised (and most streamable if you know how to do that). There’s something coming out of the ashes of the CWHL, with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (which I’m programmed to root for since it’s basically the national teams of Canada and the United States). The women now represent cities, and have big sponsors. So that sounds positive. I believe COVID is getting in the way of their plans, which leads to some confusion. Are they a league? Is it tournament-based? Weekend exhibitions with grassroots ourtreach?”

A few things to peel away here:

  1. The National Women’s Hockey League’s Isobel Cup tournament runs from Jan. 23-Feb. 5 in Lake Placid, with the semifinals and final to be broadcast live on NBCSN. Why McGran chose not to share those pertinent details with readers is a mystery.

  2. I don’t know if he was writing tongue-in-cheek when admitting he’s been “programmed by our Olympians not to root for the NWHL,” but, if true, shame on them and him. (Given that PWHPA membership spent its first year of existence trash talking the NWHL, I’m guessing it’s true.)

  3. The PWHPA and its Dream Gappers emerged from the ashes of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in 2019, so it’s not new. The makeup is different, in that there are now five hubs—Calgary, the Republic of Tranna, Montreal, New Hampshire, Minnesota—but there’s no “confusion.” It is not a league. The people at Secret Deodorant have diverted a portion of their attention and dollars from smelly armpits to Ponytail Puck, sponsoring a 2021 Dream Gap Tour to the merry tune of $1 million. The plan is a series of six weekend showcase tournaments (dates and sites to be determined), and the players will share prize money and award the Secret Cup to the top team at the conclusion of their barnstorming frolics.

All that information is readily available if you know where to look, or pick up a phone. Mind you, not a word has been posted to the PWHPA website since before Christmas, so a visit there is a waste of time. If you’re interested in all things Ponytail Puck, check out The Ice Garden, the Women’s Hockey Tribune or The Victory Press.

And, finally, nice off-the-beaten-path piece on Kerri Einarson from Jason Bell of the Drab Slab last week. Jason caught up with the reigning Canadian curling champion on the planet’s largest curling rink—Lake Winnipeg—where she and rinkmate Shannon Birchard have been working out the kinks in preparation for defence of their title, Feb. 19-28 in a Calgary bubble.

About the Henrik Stenson-Phil Mickelson epic…flag football…tennis hot takes… and other things on my mind

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

Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson.
Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson.

My goodness, what a glorious finish to the Open Championship at Troon, Scotland.

It was mano-a-mano, Henrik Stenson vs. Phil Mickelson for the honor of being introduced by some stiff British upper lip as “golf champion of the year.” Mickelson played bogey free, shooting 65. When you’re in the final pairing on a Sunday at a golf major and you take just 65 swings, you expect to be holding a trophy and a winner’s cheque on the 18th green.

Not this time, though. Mickelson’s 65 wasn’t good enough. Not by two strokes!

Stenson, whose closing, record-equaling 63 made him the first Swede to win the Claret Jug, and Mickelson delivered an epic. It was as riveting a final round of golf as you’re apt to see.

The Tom Watson-Jack Nicklaus duel of 1977 was classic. This was Classic-plus.

I don’t know about you, but I was root, root, rooting for Stenson to claim the Claret Jug, in part because he’d never won one of golf’s majors and I have a soft spot for Swedish people. But there’s also something about Phil Mickelson that I find grating. Perhaps it’s Lefty’s goody-two-shoes persona. Maybe it’s his prissy fist pump and his dainty putting grip. I know, I know…that’s dumb. But I can’t help it. He’s too squeaky clean for me.

So, Rory McIlroy smashes his 3-wood in a momentary hissy fit at the Open Championship and the club head snaps off. The Irishman’s little temper tantrum was met with ho-hum indifference by most, while the boys in the booth shared a few giggles about it on Sunday. Now, had that been Tiger Woods, what do you suppose the reaction would have been? He’d have been crucified.

A typical scene at a CFL game.
A typical scene at a CFL game.

So, I’m watching a Canadian Football League game and (penalty flag) Kevin Fogg is hauled down after a 15-yard punt return (penalty flag), and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (coach’s challenge) are told to move half the distance (coach’s challenge) toward their goal line before they can scrimmage the football (penalty flag). After (TV timeout) play resumes, quarterback Drew Willy (penalty flag) flings the football in the direction of Darvin Adams (coach’s challenge) and there’s jostling on the sidelines (penalty flag), where order is restored before (three-minute warning/timeout) one of the Bombers (coach’s challenge) does something stupid (injury/TV timeout).

Total time playing football: 15 seconds.
Total time for penalties, coach’s challenges, injury/TV/three-minute warning delays/timeouts: 25 minutes.

Just wondering: Is Chris Jones still a genius, or is he only a genius when Mike O’Reilly is his quarterback? Jones, of course, went to Edmonton and turned water into Molson Canadian when his Eskimos went from Sad Sacks to Grey Cup champions. Now he’s trying to work similar hocus-pocus in Saskatchewan, but it isn’t going so well for the Roughriders head coach and grand poobah of everything football related. Gang Green, at 0-3, are all that’s keeping the Bombers our of the basement.

Department of irony: Bobby Orr wants to slow down the game of hockey. What’s next? Don Cherry calling for a ban on fisticuffs and high collars? It’s true, though. No. 4 Bobby Orr, the revolutionary rearguard who made all others appear to be standing still while he went about the business of winning two National Hockey League scoring titles, wants to open up the game by slowing it down. “We’re losing too many players, too many injuries,” he tells TSN’s Gino Reda. Thus, he advocates bringing the centre-ice line back into play. I don’t know about you, but when Bobby Orr speaks I think we ought to listen.

Serena Williams is not the greatest athlete.
Serena Williams is not the greatest athlete.

ESPN tennis gab guy Patrick McEnroe is not unlike many TV commentators who tend to get caught up in the moment and spew inflated superlatives that defy logic and stand in conflict with reality. McEnroe stared into the camera last weekend and declared Serena Williams to be “the greatest athlete of all time.” Oh, shut the front door, Little Mac. I doubt very much that Williams is a superior athlete to any man who’s ever won the world/Olympic decathlon or any women who’s won the world/Olympic heptathlon. Williams, who claimed her 22nd Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon, is not even the best tennis player of all time. She would be hard pressed to win a game, let alone a set, off either of the two chaps who contested the gentlemen’s final, Andy Murray and Milos Raonic. If you want to rate Williams as history’s finest female tennis player, fine. But let’s not get carried away.

Based on her scribblings, Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star is not fond of the Murrays, Andy and his bride Kim. According to rambling Rosie, Wimbledon champion Andy is “utterly humourless” and Kim is “prissy—except when mouthing obscenities.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t say that I know a whole lot of “prissy” potty-mouth girls.

Yo! Don Cherry! I think most hosers agree that Remigio Peirera struck a sour note when he turned the Tenors’ version of O Canada into a political statement at the Major League Baseball all-star game. But to suggest the rogue tenor’s solo act makes all the “left-wing weirdos happy” is a bit much. I mean, you can call me a left-wing pinko, but don’t ever call me weird.

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

 

Oh, woe is TSN…cutting off Kevin Cheveldayoff in mid-sentence…trading to land Auston Matthews…and putting the C on a Winnipeg Jets jersey

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

Note to self: Get a life.

I mean, I tuned in to TSN’s Trade Centre at the crack of 5 o’clock Monday morning and didn’t pull the plug until the clock struck midnight (figuratively) on the deadline for National Hockey League players to be dispatched hither and yon. Actually, make that hither and yawn.

Jennifer Hedger
Jennifer Hedger

I’m not sure what rates as the main highlight during the first 5 1/2 hours, listening to Jennifer Hedger tell us what the O’Dog, Jeff O’Neill, was having for lunch (apparently, wrapping cheese around munchies is “genius”), or Hedger catching a cotton missile Marty Biron launched from the T-shirt cannon.

Host James Duthie described it as “painful.” Yup, that bad.

Oh, well, I suppose it beat watching Gino Reda herd lamas in the parking lot (see 2015 TSN Trade Centre).

Truer words have never been spoken: When asked by Duthie what to expect from the Winnipeg Jets at the NHL trade deadline, TSN reporter Sara Orlesky answered, “I’m not expecting much.” Many of us have learned to never expect much from Jets management. Ya, okay, that’s a bit of a cheap shot, but it doesn’t make it any less true. They’ve made one NHL player-for-NHL player in five years.

What was unofficial general manager Mark Chipman telling the fawning faithful in Jets Nation when he gave official GM Kevin Cheveldayoff the okie-dokie to send captain Andrew Ladd on his merry way to the Toddlin’ Town last week? Try this: Those first five years in River City? Ignore them, kids. We’re starting over.

How typical, also dismissively rude, of TSN to cut off Cheveldayoff in mid-sentence during his post-deadline presser and go directly to the Republic of Tranna so we could hear the precious bleatings of Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello. Doesn’t matter that Cheveldayoff was saying a whole lot of nothing. Lamoriello said even less.

So, the people who own the Jets have unveiled plans for True North Square in River City. There’ll be four towers built, the first of which is to be completed by the summer of 2018 and the others by the end of 2019. Terrific. True North Sports & Entertainment can change the entire face of downtown Winnipeg in less than four years but they can’t win a playoff game in five years.

Is it just me or does anyone else find it odd that Jets head coach Paul Maurice says Chipman will have a say in which skater has the C stitched onto his Jets jersey? “We’re going through a process,” PoMo told news scavengers when asked about an heir to departed captain Ladd. “We have some strong candidates and management and ownership will be involved.” Is Saint Mark really that much of a control freak? I mean, it seems to me that choosing a team captain would be down to the players and coaching staff. Why would anyone outside the changing room be given a voice?

I get a kick out of people who’d never heard of Marko Dano the day before the Chicago Blackhawks shipped him to the Jets in barter for Ladd and are now telling us what a brilliant prospect he is. Spare me. Dano is only 21 and he’s being passed around like a reefer at a 1960s pot party. Something doesn’t add up.

Auston Matthews
Auston Matthews

The Jets will have two first-round shouts in the NHL auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers in June. Assuming they don’t win the draft lottery, I say they package those two picks in a deal that fetches them the No. 1 overall selection. It’s the only way they’ll land Auston Matthews.

No surprise that Peter Chiarelli would wait until the draft lottery in April before making sweeping changes to the Edmonton Oilers roster. I mean, if the Oilers win the lottery and lay claim to first call (for the gazillionth time) in the entry draft, GM Chiarelli would be positioned to pluck Matthews from the pool of hot-shot teens, which would make it a whole lot easier to part with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle or even Taylor Hall in exchange for the blueline/goaltending help he desperately needs.

Would there be enough ice time in Edmonton for both Matthews and Connor McDavid playing centre? Well, the Oilers made it work back in the day with Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. So, sure.

I know there’s a rule about tampering in the NHL, so shouldn’t someone in the ivory tower in Gotham have a chat with Florida Panthers’ co-bankroll Doug Cifu about him flapping his gums re Andrew Ladd before the trade that sent him to Chicago? “He’s a great player, a character guy, obviously Dale (GM Tallon) knows him very well,” Cifu told the Florida Sun-Sentinel. “I’m not going to comment on discussions, but he’s a great character, a great hockey player, he really is.” If that isn’t tampering, it’s as close as damn is to swearing.

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

 

Winnipeg Jets bound for playoffs; Ron Wilson bound for a career in TV

The Winnipeg Jets can begin printing playoff tickets. Today.

Let there be no more angst. No more gnashing of the teeth. You can make book that meaningful matches shall be staged at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie post-April 11, which means an awful lot of us were wrong. If not about the Winnipeg Jets, we were certainly wrong about Kevin Cheveldayoff.

I know I was.

I mean, before they dropped the puck on this National Hockey League crusade, you couldn’t find five people willing to wager their lunch money on the Jets participating in this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament. Not if Cheveldayoff and his head coach, Paul Maurice, insisted that Ondrej Pavelec was their starting goaltender. Not if the same core that rolled into River City from Atlanta in 2011 continued to rule the roost in the players’ changing room. Not if Cheveldayoff’s modus operandi continued to be management-by-paralysis.

I don’t think that pre-season prognosis was inaccurate. If it was going to be same-old, same-old, which it surely appeared to be back in early October, the end result would also be same-old, same-old.

So how is it that the Jets have a firm grip on a playoff position this morning? What happened?

Well, a buy-in happened. The players bought the Kool-Aid coach PoMo was pouring. Michael Hutchinson happened and Pavelec, who, it must be emphasized, has not been horrible, has taken a seat. Dustin Byfuglien happened. Evander Kane’s track suit happened. Most significant, the general manager happened.

Cheveldayoff spent his first 3 1/2 years as GM of the Jets in the fetal position. No NHL player-for-player trades. No bold strokes. No dash and no daring. Just some dabbling with the waiver wire and the odd toe-dip into the free agency pool. Basically, he was Dudley Do Nothing. But just look at him now. He’s into binge trading. First it was Jay Harrison. Then Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford. Then Jiri Tlusty. Now Lee Stempniak comes on board. All but Harrison in less than a month. And the price he has paid? Exactly one player from his active roster—Zach Bogosian (remember, Kane was already gone for the season when dealt to the Buffalo McDavids).

It didn’t matter that Cheveldayoff shifted into idle on trade deadline day, because his work was done. And it ought to be enough.

Surely, the Jets will finish no worse than fifth in the Central Division. That will qualify them for the tournament, because it would take too much smoke and too many mirrors for either the Calgary Flames or San Jose Sharks to overhaul good, ol’ Home Team for a Western Conference wild-card spot.

The Flames, of course, have been a feel-good story this season, but it’s been hockey hocus pocus. An illusion. Reality is about to bite. The Sharks, meanwhile…they’re chronic underachievers.

The Jets are in. Trust me.

TV TAKEAWAYS: Since I have a life (sort of), I wasn’t glued to my TV for the entirety of TSN’s exhaustive trade deadline coverage, but I confess to spending the early-morning hours with James Duthie and his cast of thousands while they awaited breaking news that never really broke. It was, for the most part, grim. I mean, Gino Reda herding llamas in a parking lot? Llamas in-studio? What next? The Dalai Lama as a guest panelist? I’m all for off-the-wall humor, but this was just plain dumb…Duthie, who is terrific, assured us that musician Lester McLean was “not a gimmick.” Oh yes he was. A bad gimmick. McLean’s tunes all sounded the same—lame…Who decided that Cabbie is funny? He isn’t. His updates on social media activity were weak attempts at jocularity. Does he actually get paid for his schtick?…On the plus side, two big thumbs up to former Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson and ex-goaltender Marty Biron. Their bits with Darren Dutchyshen were terrific for their humor, their candor, their anecdotal insight and Wilson’s curmudgeonly carriage. I doubt Wilson has a future in hockey after confessing that a former NHL general manger once directed him to tank the season in order to secure first pick in the entry draft, but he surely has one in broadcasting…Also on the plus side was Dennis Wideman, who punk’d TSN Trade Centre with a faux phone call that led one an all to believe a trade for the Calgary Flames defenceman was imminent…Gary (La La) Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press got some face time on TSN and he gave Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff an ‘A’ grade for his pre-deadline dealings. Ditto Craig Button. Can’t disagree with that…Never switched the channel to Sportsnet. Not once. Can’t handle Glenn Healy or Nick Kypreos on an empty stomach. Or a full stomach, for that matter.

 

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.