About the rise and fall of Ponytail Puck…mainstream media no friend of CWHL…Puck Finn’s shot-blocking style…Ice’s man playing Peggers for rubes…spit happens in golf…tennis teens…banjo pickin’…and other things on my mind

April Fool’s Day coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I guess the joke’s on me because I’m still writing this crap when I could be doing diddly in my dotage…come to think of it, that would be a good title for a book: Doing Diddly In My Dotage…

Anybody remember the heady days of women’s hockey?

Of course you do.

Kendall Coyne Schofield

I mean, who can forget all those jaws dropping as Kendall Coyne Schofield raced the dudes around the freeze during the National Hockey League all-star hijinks, followed by her landing a gig on NBC as rinkside chin-wagger with Pierre McGuire? (Let’s forgive Pierre for talking to Kendall as if she’d just stepped off the boat from Bimbo Island and accept that her presence/voice was high exposure for the women’s game.)

Then there was this:

  • The three-game exhibition Rivalry Series between the national sides of Canada and the United States was contested in front of an SRO audience in London and crowds numbering approximately 9,000 in the Republic of Tranna and Detroit.

  • Minnesota Whitecaps of the National Women’s Hockey League sold out each of their home assignments at TRIA Rink in St. Paul, and turned a profit.

  • The Canadian Women’s Hockey League championship skirmish between the Calgary Inferno and Les Canadiennes de Montreal attracted a record 175,000 sets of eyeballs to flatscreens across the land.

Yup, those were the days.

And now, just eight sleeps after the Inferno had collected the Clarkson Cup at Coca Cola Coliseum in The ROT? Nothing but long faces. The CWHL has disappeared from Planet Puckhead.

But wait. Let’s not be so hasty in passing out the black arm bands scant hours after the CWHL’s deep thinkers announced they won’t be dropping the puck next autumn, after 12 years of trying to convince the rabble that their product is worth a looksee.

I simply don’t believe the collapse of the CWHL is the death knell for Ponytail Puck in this country.

Will it look the same when the leaves are on the ground again in October? Of course not. There won’t be six teams stretching from Boston to Montreal to The ROT to Calgary to China, but I struggle to accept that Montreal and the Republic of Tranna are about to fall off the women’s shinny map. Not going to happen. Perhaps Calgary still fits into the puzzle, as well, although geographic isolation makes that a challenge. Mind you, being in the middle of nowhere didn’t hurt the Whitecaps in Minny. Ten games, 10 sellouts.

So, ya, they’ll re-calibrate and we’ll have women’s pro hockey on Planet Puckhead again. That might mean NWHL expansion north, or it might mean a Women’s National Hockey League built from ground zero by Gary Bettman and the NHL. And it will definitely mean a league that’s two-thirds U.S.-based. But, hey, that’s always worked for the NHL, so why not the WNHL?

Sami Jo Small

Here’s the question I asked myself when word of the CWHL collapse began to spread on Sunday morning: How much blame do we assign to mainstream media?

Basically, MSM treated the CWHL like a leper league. Same can be said for women’s hockey in general. Unless it’s played under the Olympics banner or, to a lesser degree, at the world championship, Ponytail Puck gets less ink/air time than darts, poker and the Mitch Marner-Auston Matthews performance in The Nutcracker.

TSN broadcast all three of the Rivalry Series skirmishes, but it stuck them on the boondocks channels and not all of us subscribe to the complete TSN package. How many CWHL matches did Sportsnet televise? Two? Four? Our  national celebration of shinny—the marathon Hockey Day In Canada—shockingly did not include a women’s game, even though a Tranna Furies-Montreal joust was available.

It’s no different on the print side. Actually, it might be worse. If any of our flowers of jock journalism scribbles as many as two essays on women’s hockey in Olympic off-years, it’s considered an avalanche of copy. Indeed, Furies general manager Sami Jo Small lamented the lack of exposure in conversation with Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star not so long ago.

“People are supportive of women’s hockey,” she said. “They love to watch it, but they don’t know how to watch it. That’s one of my biggest battles, to get people to know where to watch these games, how to watch these games, where to buy the tickets, and get them into the venue. Not just watching the Olympics.”

Let’s be clear, MSM indifference wasn’t the official cause of death, but it helped nudge the CWHL toward the graveyard.

Here’s rich irony: Sports scribes and talking heads spend the time between Winter Olympics pretending women’s hockey doesn’t exist, but when the CWHL caved on Sunday they rapidly rallied to the cause. Pierre LeBrun, Elliotte Friedman, Jeff Marek, John Shannon, Gord Miller, Bob McKenzie and James Mirtle, among others, were found on Twitter, bemoaning the development. Guilty conscience, boys?

It’s shameful that Sportsnet basically ignored the demise of the CWHL on its Hometown Hockey broadcast Sunday night. They didn’t even attempt to pretend to be a news outlet. It was more important to air fluff— like a sappy interview with an actor I hadn’t heard of before the pre-game show—than dig into the top shinny news story of the day. A terrible blunder.

Puck Finn

I don’t know about the rest of the rabble, but I’m not prepared to rule out the possibility of another long spring run by the Winnipeg Jets. True, they’ve looked a lot like a fire drill gone bad lately and the advantage of home ice is in jeopardy, but I’m keeping the faith. As long as they don’t depend on Patrik Laine to block shots, there’s hope. I mean, what can I say about Puck Finn’s shot-blocking effort on Jeff Petry’s goal Saturday vs. Montreal Canadiens? He looked like some poor shmuck on a street corner, trying to dodge the spray from a huge puddle of water as a car speeds by. Easily the most comical shot-block attempt since Guy Lafleur did the flamingo vs. the Russians.

Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun did the Q&A thing with Matt Cockell and, among other things, the Winnipeg Ice (will never like that name) general manager had this to say: “At the end of the day, the passion for hockey is really what’s exciting about Winnipeg. When you look across Canada, there really isn’t another city that embraces hockey the way Winnipeg does. We really believe it’s the hockey capital of Canada.” Whoa boy. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Good Ol’ Hometown has already let one NHL franchise get away (no, it wasn’t Gary Bettman’s fault) and two Western Hockey League outfits. Pegtown is the “hockey capital of Canada” like Pierre’s boy Justin is a man of all the people. And that’s coming from someone born and raised in River City, someone who recalls seeing a lot of empty seats in the old barn on Maroons Road. Yes, I realize that Cockell is going to say all the right things in order to sell his freshly minted WHL franchise to the rabble, but I’m not sure that faux flattery is the way to go about it. Peggers are hockey wise, they aren’t rubes.

Paul Azinger

Turned on the PGA Tour match play final on Sunday, just in time to hear NBC lead analyst Paul Azinger say this about eventual champion Kevin Kisner: “He spits like a baseball player. Impressive.” And to think, a lot of folks figured Zinger wouldn’t be worth spit as a replacement for Johnny Miller.

If you’re looking for an excellent read, check out Stephen Brunt’s ode to Charlie Montoyo on the Sportsnet website. Like most everything Stephen scribbles, his yarn on the Tranna Blue Jays first-year skipper is boffo.

A tip of the bonnet to our own Leah Hextall, who became the first woman to call play-by-play for a men’s NCAA playoff hockey game on ESPN. Leah worked the East Regional semifinals and final on the weekend in Providence, R.I.

Felix Auger-Aliassime

Some classic stuff from Steve Simmons, the Postmedia Tranna columnist who offered this on Twitter after our teen sensation, Felix Auger-Aliassime, spoon fed the boring John Isner a victory with a series of ill-timed double faults in their semifinal match at the Miami Open tennis tournament: “Felix served for both the first and second sets in Miami and couldn’t pull it off in either set against John Isner. That’s what happens when you’re 18.”

Really? It didn’t happen to 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu in the semifinal or final at Indian Wells two weeks ago. It didn’t happen to Denis Shapovalov a couple of years ago when he beat Rafa Nadal. It didn’t happen to Bjorn Borg, who won 10 ATP events, including the French Open, at age 18. Mats Wilander, Boris Becker, Michael Chang, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Maria Sharapova, Tracy Austin, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams all won Grand Slams before turning 19.

So, no, our Felix didn’t lose because he’s 18. He lost because of a seriously flawed service game.

Kenta Nilsson

Sigh. The young talking heads on TV continue to refer to a sleight-of-hand goal as “the Forsberg,” as if Peter Forsberg created the move. As I have written, old friend Kent Nilsson is the first person I ever saw perform that particular bit of hockey hocus-pocus, and there’s video evidence to prove he did it before Forsberg arrived in the NHL. Ditto another old friend, Alexei Zhamnov, who showed us his wizardry more than once while in Winnipeg Jets linen. So knock it off, girls and boys. It’s the Nilsson, not the Forsberg.

And, finally, numbers cruncher Derek Taylor is leaving TSN to become the play-by-play voice of the Saskatchewan Roughriders on CKRM in Regina. Who knew Taylor played the banjo?

About Paul Romanuk’s Where’s Wheeler? gaffe…Brooke Henderson, national treasure…Les Lazaruk’s a beauty guy…Bob Cole is silenced…take me out to the brawl game…god and golf…on bended knee and beating women…he’s sorry but not really…and other things on my mind

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

Okay, Paul Romanuk had himself a serious “D’oh!” moment on Friday morning when, in a media scrum, he called out to Blake Wheeler by shouting, “Mark! Mark!”

Paul Romanuk

Major blunder. It shouldn’t happen because, as Paul Wiecek correctly points out in his Winnipeg Free Press column that exposed the incident, Romanuk’s one job is to “tell the players apart.” He’s a play-by-play guy, for cripes sake. He has the call for Wheeler’s Winnipeg Jets in their Stanley Cup skirmish with the Minnesota Wild on Sportsnet.

So, ya, he ought to know. I mean, this isn’t a Where’s Waldo? kind of thing. Wheeler is easily recognized: He’s the guy with a ‘C’ on his Jets jersey and scowl on his face.

But here’s my question for you, dear readers: Did Wiecek cross an ethical line?

That is, should he have used his platform to embarrass the veteran broadcaster in a front page piece guaranteed to attract the attention of the rabble, if not incite them? Isn’t there some sort of unspoken honor-among-thieves code with the sports media?

Apparently not.

Personally, I have no problem with jock journos calling each other out. I’d prefer they do it more often. But where I think Wiecek went wrong, was in using the Romanuk affair as (shocking and damning) anecdotal evidence to prop up his ongoing case that no one east of Falcon Lake and west of Elkhorn gives a damn about Winnipeg and its Jets. Not only does the rest of the country not give a damn, Wiecek submits, they don’t even know who they don’t give a damn about.

“And so it still goes for a team that had the second-best record in the NHL this season, but apparently still needs to pin ‘Hello, My Name Is…’ stickers on its players,” Wiecek writes.

Romanuk’s astonishing gaffe would be the smoking gun in that argument.

Blake Wheeler

But I believe it’s at this point that I’m obliged to point out that, hey, brain farts happen. Wiecek, for example, once referenced the 1991 and 2006 Grey Cup games in Winnipeg, scribbling, “both of those games were played at the downtown stadium.” Oops. Totally wrong. The closest thing River City has had to a downtown football facility, Osborne Stadium, lost an argument to a wrecking ball in 1956. But somehow Wiecek had two Grey Cup matches being contested there, 35 and 50 years after the walls came tumbling down. So there’s that. Last year, meanwhile, he described Wally Buono as a “former” coach, even as Buono stood on the sideline coaching the B.C. Lions. So there’s also that.

None of that excuses Romanuk, but there’s something to be said about pots calling kettles black.

I’ll tell you something else Wiecek and his newly expressed “we” and “us” homerism is wrong about—the Jets and national attention. When I hopped on the Internet surfboard at 2:30 Saturday morning (yes, I’m mobile at that hour), here’s what I discovered on various websites:

Globe and Mail—two Jets stories at the top of the page.
National Post—four Jets-related stories at the top of the page.
Sportsnet—three Jets stories and two videos at the top of the page.
TSN—top of the page story and five of the top six videos.
Toronto Star—one of the five stories at the top of the page.

It was much the same after Game 1 of the Jets-Wild series and, frankly, some might think of that as Jets overkill. But not Wiecek and the Freep. It isn’t enough to satisfy them.

“The rest of the country is still struggling to pay attention to a team—and a city, for that matter—they’ve grown accustomed to ignoring for so long,” he writes.

Oh, pu-leeze. What Wiecek and the Freep are serving up is Fake News 101.

Sorry, but I simply do not understand this desperate, irrational need for the love of outriders. Somehow I thought Winnipeg was comfortable in its own skin since the National Hockey League returned in 2011. It was running with the big dogs again. So, when did River City require the “rest of the country’s” acknowledgement, approval and endorsement? For anything. And what exactly do Wiecek and the Freep expect from “the rest of the country?” A parade? Pep rallies from Tofino to St. John’s? A gold star like the teacher gives to the kid who wins a Grade Three spelling bee?

Look, the story that Pegtown and les Jets are authoring in their Stanley Cup crusade isn’t some zen koan about a tree falling in the forest. It’s happening. In real time. It’s loud enough that anyone with a pair of ears can hear. And the national media are reporting it. In depth.

Using Paul Romanuk’s misstep to suggest there’s nationwide snubbery at play is not only inaccurate and misguided, it’s dishonest and stupid.

Brooke Henderson

Brooke Henderson is a national treasure. There’s no other way to put it. Just 20, she has six victories (including a major) on the Ladies Pofessional Golf Association Tour, her latest success a wire-to-wire romp in the Lotte Championship in Hawaii. She has won in four consecutive seasons. Did I mention she’s only 20? If one of our male golfers had won six times in four seasons before the age of 21, surely there’d be a statue. And Brooke’s always struck me as a delightful, young person, a notion supported by her post-event remarks in Hawaii. “It’s extremely sad, a terrible tragedy what happened up there,” said Henderson, dedicating her victory to victims and survivors of the Humboldt Broncos bus accident. “I know it kind of affected my whole country. Everybody really took it kind of personal. For all the survivors that are still fighting through it all and the ones who have passed away, I want to show them that we’re here for them and we’re supporting them. They’re always going to be in our thoughts and prayers.” Beautiful kid, our Brooke, who, I hasten to add, is the same age as some of the kids on that bus.

Ronnie Lazaruk

On the subject of beauties, a major tip of the bonnet to old friend Les Lazaruk. Ronnie has come up with a boffo idea to honor Tyler Bieber, the Humboldt play-by-play voice who was among the Fallen 16 on the team bus involved in the fatal crash nine days ago. Now the mouthpiece of the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, Ronnie has volunteered to sit in the play-by-play seat for one game during the Broncos 2018-19 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League season, as a tribute to Bieber. No fee. No expenses. He’s suggested other broadcasters do the same, and look who’s on board with the idea—Chris Cuthbert, Gord Miller, Dave Randorf, Kelly Moore, Rob Faulds, Brian Munz, Jamie Campbell, Roger Millions, Darren Pang and Peter Young, among many other notable voices. It truly is a beautiful thing that Ronnie is doing. No surprise, though. He’s one of the genuinely good guys in the biz. (If you wondering, those of us who worked at the Winnipeg Tribune call him Ronnie because back in the day he had a head of hair just like Ronald McDonald’s.)

Bob Cole

On the matter of hockey broadcasters, you might have noticed that the voice of Bob Cole has been silent during this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament. NHL rights holder in Canada, Rogers, has shut down the 84-year-old. “The decision sure wasn’t mutual,” Cole tells Michael Traikos of Postmedia. “It was right out of the blue. Rogers decided to go with other teams and I have to live with that. But it was their decision—not mine.” Oh, baby! No question Cole has lost a step, but his ouster is sad, nonetheless.

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet refers to the Ted Lindsay Award as the “NHLPA vote for MVP.” Not true. The Lindsay trinket goes to the NHL’s “most outstanding player,” as determined by members of the players’ association. If the media can’t get these things right, why are they allowed to vote for seven award winners?

Last Wednesday night in sports: NHL teams toss everything but hand grenades at each other as the Stanley Cup tournament begins. Number of bench-clearing brawls: 0. Major League Baseball teams throw baseballs at each other. Number of bench-clearing brawls: 3. Yet hockey still gets a bad rap for being a goon sport. Go figure.

Yogi Berra-ism of the week comes from Nazem Kadri of the Tranna Maple Leafs, suspended three games for his predatory hit on Boston Bruins Tommy Wingels: “I certainly wasn’t trying to hit him when he was down like that, I just felt like he, uh, I was already committed to the hit.”

Tweet of the week comes from Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun, following a media exchange with Jets head coach Paul Maurice:

Media: “If Jack Roslovic was the Beatles and (Mathieu) Perreault was the Rolling Stones, what song would you be humming this morning?”

Maurice: “It’s all Led Zeppelin. It usually is.”

Masters champion Patrick Reed on fighting off challenges from Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler at Augusta last Sunday: “It’s just a way of God basically saying, ‘Let’s see if you have it.'” Question: If God was at Augusta National watching golf last Sunday and helping Reed win an ugly green jacket, who was watching over my church?

Colin Kaepernick

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: The Seattle Seahawks cancel a workout for outcast quarterback Colin Kaepernick because he might take a knee during the national anthem, yet Reuben Foster is still a member of the San Francisco 49ers after punching his girlfriend eight to 10 times, dragging her by the hair and rupturing her eardrum. Foster is charged with felony domestic violence, inflicting great bodily injury, forcefully attempting to prevent a victim from reporting a crime, and possession of an assault rifle. He faces up to 11 years in the brig. But, unlike Kaepernick, he’s good to go. So that’s your NFL: Take a knee, go home; beat the hell out of a woman, play on. And they wonder why people aren’t watching anymore.

Today is Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball, so it’s worth noting that there were only 63 Blacks on opening-day rosters this year. That’s 8.4 per cent of all players. And for pure irony, consider this: The Kansas City Royals were one of two teams sans a Black player—K.C. is home to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Mark McGwire tells The Athletic that he could have swatted 70 home runs in the 1998 MLB season without the benefit of steroids. “Yes. Definitely,” the former St. Louis Cardinals slugger says. Right, Mark, and Rosie Ruiz would have finished the 1980 New York Marathon without riding a subway for 26 of the 26.2 miles. And she would have won the 1980 Boston Marathon if she had run all 26.2 miles, not just .2 miles.

Marc Savard, right, on the set with Daren Millard and John Shannon.

When is a mea culpa not an apology? When Steve Simmons delivers it. The Postmedia Tranna columnist last week expressed a callous disregard for Marc Savard’s mental health issues, slamming the freshly minted Sportsnet commentator for failing to make time for media while dealing with post-concussion symptoms. And now? “What I wrote about Savard had nothing to do with concussions or his personal battles. But what I wrote about him was improperly worded and far too harsh. For that, I apologize. For not welcoming new media members who have treated the industry disrespectfully, I don’t apologize.”

And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons: “I’ll never understand the NHL. Playoff series starts tomorrow. Patrice Bergeron not available for 50 or so media members, many of whom just flew into Boston this morning.” The poor dear. Marc Savard wouldn’t take his phone calls and now Bergeron of the Bruins is unavailable. Oh, the humanity.