Let’s talk about The Lady & The Trump…unplugging the TSN live mic…bye-bye Bobby Loooo…the Toronto Star and BS…give that Muppet a Cookie…the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Lucky strike…CFL boos and booze…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, in a salute to the women’s World Cup, it’s a red card for you and a yellow card for you and a goooooal for all the straight shooters in the past week…

Goooooal! Somehow, the women’s World Cup became a story of The Lady & The Trump last week, and it provided a delightful bit of symbolism, in that Megan Rapinoe has done to Donald Trump what she hopes American voters will do next year—give him the boot.

After being called out by the U.S. president for (apparently) dissing Betsy Ross’ stars-n-stripes needlework, the Team USA co-captain hoofed the only two balls that found the back of the net for the Yankee Doodle Damsels in a 2-1 victory over France on Friday in Paris, sending them forward to a semifinal date with the Lionesses of England.

So there’s your basic difference between Trump and Rapinoe: He puts his foot in his mouth, she let’s her feet do the talking.

Red Card: Donald freaking Trump. What a cad. You’d think that a dustup with Iran, a trade squabble with China, border wall bickering, and a trip to Asia would be enough to occupy the American president’s time, but no. He had to pick a fight with Rapinoe two days before she led her side onto the pitch for the quarterfinal skirmish v. the French. His timing was most peculiar. But, then, Trump is a most peculiar fellow. His Twitter hissy fit stemmed from a months-old clip of Rapinoe saying “I’m not going to the fucking White House” should the Americans win the soccer tournament. Well, why would she want to go? I mean, she has two strikes against her in the Trumpiverse: She’s a she and she’s lesbian. Those aren’t bad things in the real word, but that isn’t where Trump resides.

Goooooal! Rapinoe wasn’t the only U.S. player who refused to back down from the Bully-in-Chief. Ali Krieger, also a lesbian, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with her teammate in this tweet: “In regards to the ‘President’s’ tweet today, I know women who you cannot control or grope anger you, but I stand by @mPinoe & will sit this one out as well. I don’t support this administration nor their fight against LGBTQ+ citizens, immigrants & our most vulnerable.” Love it.

Yellow Card: TSN has announced plans for 18 live mic games during the Canadian Football League season. This was a good gimmick. Once. It soon became extremely irritating, with gusts up to unlistenable last year. Honestly, I’d rather lend an ear to the squawking of Rod Black, Duane Forde and Glen Suitor. Yup, that’s how bad a live mic game is.

Goooooal! Hayley Wickenheiser and Roberto Luongo. Hayley becomes the seventh female player to enter the Hockey Hall of Fame, and I should say so. She wore the Maple Leaf for 23 years, helping Canada collect four Olympic Games gold medals and seven world titles along the way. Bobby Loooooo, meanwhile, also has world and Olympic championships on his resumé, so he’s earned his day of rest after 20 winters of getting in the way of 95-100 m.p.h. pucks for the New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, Vancouver Canucks and, of course, his home and native land. He also does boffo work on Twitter.

Red Card: The Toronto Star continues to provide Damien Cox with a soap box for his misguided and illogical spewings. In his latest alphabet fart, served up on Twitter, Cox pooh-poohed two National Hockey League trinkets: “Selkes and Lady Byngs are the biggest bullshit consolation prize awards. They mean squat when it comes to who are the true stars.” Let’s see, the following have won the Selke and/or Lady Byng trophies: Pavel Datsyuk, Anze Kopitar, Patrice Bergeron, Steve Yzerman, Sergei Federov, Ron Francis, Doug Gilmour, Bobby Clarke, Bob Gainey, Johnny Gaudreau, Martin St. Louis, Alexander Mogilny, Joe Sakic, Wayne Gretzky, Paul Kariya, Brett Hull, Mike Bossy, Jari Kurri, Rick Middleton, Butch Goring, Marcel Dionne, Jean Ratelle, Gilbert Perreault, Johnny Bucyk, Alex Delvecchio, Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, Dave Keon, Red Kelly. To the best of my knowledge, not one of those “true stars” declined his “bullshit consolation prize.” So someone is definitely full of BS, and in this case it isn’t the NHL.

Goooooal! The New York Yankees paid tribute to the LGBTQ community with a plaque acknowledging the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn uprising. It was placed in Monument Park next to markers honoring Jackie Robinson and Nelson Mandela. The baseball club, along with Stonewall Inn co-owners Stacy Lentz and Kurt Kelly, also awarded five $10,000 college scholarships to graduating high school kids, one from each of New York City’s boroughs. Nice.

Goooooal! The Chicago Cubs recruited good, ol’ Cookie Monster from Sesame Street to warble Take Me Out to the Ball Game during the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field on Thursday. It’s believed that Cookie is the first Muppet to perform the ritual since Don Cherry.

Goooooal! and a Yellow Card: TSN and Sportsnet will combine to broadcast 19 WNBA games this season (that’s the goooooal!), but where were the two networks when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League was starving for attention (that’s the yellow card)? Televising a game a week might not have saved the CWHL from the dumpster, but I guess we’ll never know, will we.

Red Card: Sportsnet has punted Doug MacLean from its roster of hockey natterbugs. It doesn’t matter that Mac’s one great flaw was describing everything and everyone in the NHL as “unbelievable!” He and Brian Burke were terrific together on Hockey Central at Noon, especially during the Ask the GM segment on Fridays, and I suppose his dismissal means extra servings of the resident meathead, Nick Kypreos, as well as spare parts like Anthony Stewart and Mike Zigomanus. Ugh.

Goooooal! Gotta close this segment on a positive note and, once again, I salute TSN’s soccer panel of Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson. Those girls are insightful, instructive, knowledgeable, blunt and playful, and it doesn’t bother me that they discuss cosmetics or hair styles or losing an earring on occasion. Why would that bother anyone? (Having said that, host Kate Beirness needs to turn down the volume. Not everything is worth shouting about.)

Connie Laliberte, Janet Arnott, Cathy Gauthier and Cathy O back in the day.

Such sad news that Janet Arnott has passed away. We’re talking curling royalty, kids. Janet was a seven-time provincial champion (five as lead for her sister, Connie Laliberte, and one each with Jennifer Jones and Cathy O), a world champion, and she coached the Jones team during its gold-medal journey at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Whenever there’s a discussion about legendary Pebble People from Manitoba, the name Janet Arnott has to be part of the conversation. More important, by all accounts she was a lovely person.

Speaking of legends, and lovely people, a word to the wise: Do not, under any circumstances, ask Winnipeg Blue Bombers play-by-play dude Knuckles Irving about provincial health care. Just don’t.

Lucky Whitehead

Lucky Whitehead showed some serious lickety-split and catch-me-if-you-can escapability in the Bombers 28-21 W over the E-Town Eskimos on Thursday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, and I think we can all agree that Winnipeg FC might have found the big-play dude it lacked in recent seasons. I’m not sure what impressed me the most, though. His two touchdowns or Lucky’s long red locks. The guy has to have the best hair in the CFL. Or any league for that matter.

Richie Hall

The Bombers were out-numbered by a wide margin v. the Eskimos. They were out-run, out-passed, out-kicked, out-possessioned, out-turnovered and out-sacked. But not outscored. And that’s the question I asked back in February, right after GM Kyle Walters convinced Willie Jefferson that he’d look better in blue-and-gold than green-and-white: Who’s going to score on the Bombers? Ya, I realize they allowed E-Town quarterback Trevor Harris to move the Eskimos up and down the field like a halftime marching band, but guess what? The band didn’t score any touchdowns and neither did Harris and Co. You won’t be beaten too often when limiting the opposition to three-pointers, and Richie Hall’s defensive dozen has surrendered 10 field goals against just one touchdown in two matches. Works for me.

Matt Nichols

The Bombers are 2-nada on the season, one of three unbeaten sides, yet the wolves are at the door. QB Matt Nichols? Meh. The defence? Flimsy. The coaching? A notch below meh. Tough crowd. My favorite commentary is this: There’s “room for improvement.” Well, duh. That isn’t exactly penetrating analysis. It’s like telling a bald man there’s room for hair on his head. He knows already.

CFL outfits are struggling to find new customers, and it appears they’re trying to ply them with liquor. To date, the Tranna Argonauts and Bombers have sold suds on the cheap in a bid to put people in the pews, and the Eskimos plan to do the same next month. So those won’t be boos you hear, it’ll be booze. (I’m giving myself a red card for that groaner.)

Did Rod Black really call Hamilton Tabbies quarterback Jeremiah Masoli “the Great 8” on Friday night. Yes. He did. C’mon, Blackie. There’s only one Great 8 and he doesn’t throw footballs in the Hammer. A yellow card for you!

Kirk Penton

Really enjoying Kirk Penton’s scribblings in The Athletic, notably the raw content provided by anonymous CFL coaches and managers. Two samples from Kirk’s most recent offering:

* “When Saskatchewan signed Solomon Elimimian, that GM in BC (Ed Hervey) threw him under the bus. No need to disrespect a player who’s been wearing your colours. Maybe he’s done. Maybe he isn’t. He isn’t playing yet for the Riders, so it’s hard to say. But the tape tells us B.C. doesn’t have a middle linebacker to replace him. They’re not very good on defence as a football team. Not close to what (DeVone) Claybrooks had in Calgary. As coaches, you can’t ask us to make chicken salad out of chicken shit.”

* “I didn’t like how Montreal handled their business, firing (Mike) Sherman before he coached a game. Nothing against Khari (Jones), but I hope Hamilton sticks a boot so far up their asses that a mickey won’t ease their pain.”

Tip of the bonnet to good Canadian boy Russell Martin. The former Tranna Blue Jays catcher took the mound the other night for the Los Angeles Dodgers and retired the Arizona Diamondbacks in order. It’s the second 1-2-3 inning of his career, which is no doubt a record for a position pitcher.

And, finally, oddest headline of the week was served up by Global News, and it had nothing to do with sports: “Cities get hotter during heat waves.” Who knew?

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Let’s talk about Janine Beckie and Christine Sinclair kicking it…a soccer swan song?…girl talk on TSN…all hail Hayley…CFL turnstile troubles…the sports menu in River City…the cost of hockey dreams…and Mike Reilly’s chin whiskers

A mid-week smorgas-bored…and I’ve only been red-carded twice this week…

Right off the hop, a few words about Janine Beckie: Classy, classy, classy.

Janine, of course, lost a 1-v-1 showdown with Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl on Monday in France, and that squandered opportunity was the centrepiece of a 1-0 loss that ushered Canada out of the women’s World Cup. Crushing. Yet there she was scant seconds later, explaining her failed penalty kick to a nation that had hoped for so much more.

“I thought I hit it well, I thought she made a really good save,” Beckie told Laura Daikun of TSN.

Her eyes were red and damp, her wound and emotions naked and raw. She fought off tears, the way the Swedish side held off the wave of Canadians who forged forward in search of an equalizing score in the frantic final thrusts of the skirmish.

“You know, it’s the big moments, it’s the moments that you live for and you get all the glory if it goes in and you take the blame, it feels like, when you miss, so that’ll stay with me for a long time,” she continued. “Christine asked me if I wanted to take it, and that’s a big moment for me and, ya, it’s gonna be hard for a while.”

I wanted to reach into my flatscreen and give her a big hug.

Janine Beckie didn’t have to agree to that interrogation while still munching on such a bitter pill. She could have acted like some of our millionaire athletes and taken refuge in the showers, or, at the least, begged off for an appropriate cool-down to arrest her emotions before facing the music. So, yes…classy, classy, classy.

Should captain Christine Sinclair have ceded the critical spot kick to Beckie? Well, she either had supreme confidence in Beckie or not enough in herself, otherwise Sinclair wouldn’t have thought to yield. So, yes, if the second most-prolific goal-scorer in women’s soccer had a twinge of self-doubt, she did the right thing in bowing to Beckie’s boot.

Christine Sinclair

The haunting for Beckie and our women’s soccer side will continue until next summer, when redemption is available at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, but it remains uncertain if the journey will include Sinclair, the grand dame of Canadian soccer. At age 36, she certainly wasn’t a dominant force in France, and it seemed to me that Father Time was calling for a substitute, even as coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller didn’t. But if this was her swan song on the world stage, what a wonderful career. She’s a national treasure and we won’t see another like her for many years.

Things you won’t hear discussed by a male broadcast panel during the next men’s World Cup (or any major men’s event): Broken nails, hot-pink nail polish, lipstick shades and braided hair. That’s what Kaylyn Kyle, Diana Matheson, Clare Rustad and host Kate Beirness brought to the TSN talk table the other day. Inappropriate? Not at all. It was a fun exchange. But if they’re going to talk about their appearance, they become fair game for others to do the same. I’m not sure that’s what female talking heads want.

Hayley Wickenheiser

So nice to see Hayley Wickenheiser take her rightful place in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and I find it interesting that so many male essayists are tripping over their run-on sentences to praise the former captain of Canada’s national shinny side. As if they actually give a damn. Many of the boys wouldn’t walk across the street to watch women’s hockey. It’s their version of slumming it. Unless, of course, an Olympic gold medal is part of the package. Then they’ll hold their noses and do it. But if they believe Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford, Angela James, Danielle Goyette, Geraldine Heany, Cammi Granato and Angela Ruggiero are Hall of Fame worthy, isn’t the girls’ game worth covering? Just asking.

On that subject, The Ice Garden reports that 30 women plan to buck the boycott and are on board for the 2019-20 National Women’s Hockey League crusade. Here’s the up-to-date scorecard: Boston Pride 11, Minnesota Whitecaps 6, Metropolitan Riveters 4, Connecticut Whale 6, Buffalo Beauts 3. That tally includes seven Canadians and the highest disclosed salary is Lexi Bender’s $13,000 with the Pride.

As the large lads in pads prep for their third week of three-down slobber-knocking, I am reminded of a Yogi-ism:

“If the people don’t want to come out to the ball park, nobody’s going to make them.”

Yogi Berra wasn’t talking about the Canadian Football League, but head counts soon could become a major talking point among those who, like myself, prefer three downs and the rouge over four downs and the fair catch.

I wouldn’t label early numbers from turnstile counts across the land in this freshly minted season alarming, but they are concerning, most notably in Edmonton where, compared to last season, the faithful are staying away in droves. Year v. year, the Eskimos have performed in front of 11,995 fewer fans through their first two assignments at Commonwealth Stadium, and that included a marketing department’s dream game last week featuring the return of the prodigal quarterback, Mike Reilly. Just 24,016 checked in to watch the $2.9-million QB receive a serious rag-dolling.

League-wide, the head count is down 13,461, although we’ve yet to hear from the two outfits that occupy the flattest of lands—Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Oddly enough, the Tranna Argonauts are one of two clubs to show an increase in attendance from their 2018 home opener. The Boatmen really put on the ritz in an attempt to woo customers, with an adios salute to retired QB Ricky Ray, a Derel Walker bobblehead doll giveaway, $5 beer and $3 hot dogs. That brought a whopping increase of 284 customers to BMO Field. It won’t help, however, that the Argos were whupped, 64-14, by the dreaded Hamilton Tabbies. But, hey, I’m thinking if they reduce the price of beer to $2 and hot dogs to .50 cents and wear Raptors jerseys, the Argos might crack that coveted 17,000 head count.

Old friend Peter Young offers this tweet in explaining any decline in attendance: “Sadly we’ve entered an era where 25,000 at CFL game is a luxury (except Tranna where 15,000 will have to do). Too much else to do. See it better on TV (see NASCAR down 50%). Oh, and even adults have discovered Netflix and HBO.” I could be cheeky and ask: What else is there to do in Winnipeg? But that would be rude and I don’t need the rabble in River City to red card me. Fact is, Peter is right, there’s plenty on the sports entertainment menu in Good Ol’ Hometown, and they don’t normally need $3 beer and .50 cent hot dogs to sell it.

Individual ticket prices in Winnipeg (taken from team websites):

Jets:              $68-$301
Bombers:     $18-$175
Moose:         $22-$32 (plus fees)
Valour FC:  $16.27-$57.57
Ice:               $16.15-$19.97 (based on $549-$679 season ticket pricing/34 home games)
Goldeyes:     $14-$26
Ass. Downs: Free admission

Your best buy might be a day watching the ponies run at Assiniboia Downs, because you can walk out with more jingle in your jeans than when you walked in. Then, again, you can leave without your shirt. That iffyness is part of the attraction, though, and I can say that I’ve never spent an afternoon or evening at the Downs that I didn’t enjoy.

Speaking of costs, can it really be true that parents are required to pony up $12,000 for their 17- and 18-year-old kids to skate with Winnipeg Blues in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League? That, according to an article by Taylor Allen in the Drab Slab, is up from $3,000 last season. I don’t make a habit of telling folks how to spend their money, but in this case I will: Are you people nuts? That’s a lot of coin for a handful of hope. I mean, if the goal for your boy is the National Hockey League, you might be better off buying $12,000 worth of lottery tickets. I don’t blame parents for dreaming, though. The bad guys here are the mucky-mucks at 50 Below Sports + Entertainment. That $12,000 price tag is just wrong.

Mike Reilly

And, finally, B.C. Lions quarterback Mike Reilly has shaved off his heavy growth of facial hair. Two things about that: 1) There was a handsome man hidden under all that thick scruff; 2) if the Lions offence goes into the tank, is Reilly guilty of a points-shaving scandal? (I agree, that’s a real groaner.)

About TSN’s CFL gab guy Milt Stegall getting it wrong…the Winnipeg Boo Bombers…O Canada, Brooke’s the champion…Maple Leafs like the ladies…the Paris fashion police…where’s Josh?…and other things on my mind

Cold pizza and some weekend leftovers for a Monday morning breakfast

These are the worst of times for Matt Nichols. First, his elbow was bruised. Then his ego. And now his eyesight has betrayed him.

Milt Stegall

I mean, how else do you explain the pass he tossed to Ja’Gared Davis late in the fray Saturday afternoon at McMahon Stadium in Cowtown? Davis is as large as a prairie silo, for cripes sake. He’s visible from outer space. Yet Nichols didn’t see him when he flipped the football in the direction of Nic Demski. End result: Pick six.

This, of course, was salt-to-the-wound stuff, because the Calgary Stampeders had matters well in hand before Davis arrived in the end zone, but that play served as a snap shot of Nichols’ life on and off the field for the past 10 days.

To recap, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers starting quarterback was booed by some of the faithful in a sub-standard performance in a losing cause vs. the Ottawa RedBlacks. He allowed that to get under his thinning skin and felt obliged to expose his frayed feelings to news snoops. Discussion ensued for much of the week in advance of the skirmish with the Stampeders, prompting Nichols to suggest his gripe with Winnipeg FC loyalists was “way blown out of proportion.” Then came Calgary and a 39-26 paddywacking, followed by a tsk-tsking from two of three talking heads on TSN’s panel of retired grid guys. They accused him of hurling his teammates under the bus because he mentioned something about “finding no one open.”

Matt Dunigan

“I just think that he’s gotta check himself, get his emotions under control because the pressure’s only gonna get hotter. Get used to it,” said Matt Dunigan, the old QB.

“He needs to come out there and play and keep his mouth shut,” added Milt Stegall, the old receiver who, it should be pointed out, does not own a Grey Cup ring.

Dunigan is right about the pressure. Stegall is full of horse hooey.

Nothing Nichols said in his post-joust discussion with Knuckles Irving on CJOB, or during his scrum with news snoops, was a hatchet job on his pass-catchers or his running backs. If anything, he acknowledged the skill of Calgary’s defensive dozen, which takes no prisoners and is, by the numbers, the stingiest group in the Canadian Football League.

But Nichols is under siege. He might want to consider a witness protection program this week.

Here’s the deal, though: He still provides the Bombers with their best opportunity to win. His understudy, neophyte Chris Streveler, is more popular than Christ in a cathedral, but he’s still as raw as garden vegetables.

Chris Streveler

Could and should head coach Mike O’Shea utilize Streveler more often? Totally. It’s not like Nichols has been lighting it up lately. Streveler can fling the football and he’s definitely got better wheels than Nichols (so does a sloth), so allowing him rot on the sideline is non-productive. Also dopey. But that’s O’Shea—a sometimes very dopey coach.

O’Shea says the whole Boo Bombers thing re his QB was “driven by the media,” as if that’s a bad thing. “There’s comments made and it’s probably easy to make news out of that,” he says. Ya think, Mikey? That’s kind of how the news thing works. People in prominent positions, like Nichols, do and say things. News snoops record and report it. The rabble talks about it. And they’ll continue to talk about Winnipeg FC quarterbacking in the leadup to the Labor Day weekend joust vs. the Saskatchewan Roughriders. That’s the main narrative.

In Winnipeg, a game between the Roughriders and Bombers is called the Banjo Bowl. In Saskatchewan, a game between the Riders and Bombers is called “another win.”

Coordinator Richie Hall’s defence has surrendered 1,016 yards of real estate in the past two games. That’s the equivalent of nine football fields. It’s a $25 cab ride. Just spitballing here, but Richie might want to try something different when the Bombers arrive in Regina.

Interesting that no one at TSN has noticed how truly unremarkable Davis Sanchez is as a gab guy on the CFL panel. The former defensive back offers nothing but poorly delivered, fractured thoughts, and he allowed Stegall to bully him into silence on Saturday.

Brooke Henderson

Meet Brooke Henderson, my new favorite athlete. It’s still August, but with her victory in the Canadian Open golf tournament, distaff division, the delightful young woman from Smiths Falls, Ont., has ended any discussion about this country’s athlete of the year. No one can touch her. And I find myself wondering how many little girls will want to pick up a golf club now that Brooke has won our national championship. What she did Sunday was beautiful and inspiring.

Speaking of inspirational women, there’s something special going on in the Republic of Tranna, where the Maple Leafs added three females to their payroll—Haley Wickenheiser, assistant director of player development; Noelle Needham, amateur scout; and Dr. Meg Popovic, director of athlete well-being and performance. I don’t know if that gets them any closer to a Stanley Cup parade, but you have to know that Humpty Harold Ballard is spinning like a lathe in his grave.

Serena Williams

I note that the Paris fashion police have outlawed Serena Williams’ black catsuit at the French Open. So here’s my question: Would French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli and cronies have banned the form-fitting catsuit if glam gal Maria Sharapova had arrived at Roland Garros wearing one? Of course not. It would have taken the grounds crew the entire French fortnight to mop up their drool.

If pro golfers had to tote their own bags, I think Brooks Koepka would win every tournament. The guy is a beast.

Josh Morrissey

It’s Aug. 27, Jets Nation: Do you know where Josh Morrissey is?

I suppose he might be in a gym, refining his fettle for the rigors of an advancing hockey crusade. Or he might be on the first tee somewhere in the urban forestry of Winnipeg. Or he might be at his favorite fishing hole on one of Manitoba’s 100,000-plus large puddles, impaling a big, fat, juicy, wiggly worm on a hook.

Bait? Did I mention bait? Well, yes I did, and Morrissey has yet to take it.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Whatever temptation Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his main point man, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, have dangled in front of their young defender has been ineffective. They’d have more success getting a rainbow trout to swallow a football. Thus Morrissey remains an unsigned chattel of les Jets, less than a month in advance of their annual gathering of National Hockey League incumbents and wannabes.

And speculators speculate.

Oh, yes, the blah, blah, blah machine has been operating at full throttle—must be contentious negotiations; Morrissey must be demanding too much term and money; les Jets must be offering too little, in both term and compensation; Morrissey’s another Jacob Trouba and won’t report to training camp; could be that some prickliness has developed between the two sides.

“No, not at all. None whatsoever,” Morrissey informed Jason Bell of the Winnipeg Free Press last week. “At the end of the day, everything’s been going great.

“Everyone’s confident (a fresh contract) will be handled and done, definitely in time for the season. I think things have really started to progress. For me, I love being here, I love playing here. You look at the playoff run last year that we had and just the support from the fans, I love being a Winnipeg Jet.”

Jacob Trouba

I’ve never met Josh Morrissey. Probably never will. So I have no cause to doubt him. When he says he’ll be part of the group that commences another Stanley Cup crusade next month, I don’t think his pants are on fire or his nose is longer than a Winnipeg winter. I expect it’ll be business as usual, with Morrissey working in tandem with Trouba on les Jets back line.

Then we all can move on to a fresh narrative. Like what kind of coin it will take to keep captain Blake Wheeler on board. That ought to hold our attention for the next 10 months.

Morrissey’s hyper-positive comments to Bell stand in stark contrast to the scribblings of Freep sports columnist Paul Wiecek. Exactly two weeks earlier, the Drab Slab’s resident ray of sunshine (not!) suggested there was something foul afoot, advising us that the young defenceman’s “darker side is on display this summer” and “it’s no accident we’ve reached this point.” It was, of course, a sourceless serving of codswallop that placed responsibility for any contract obstruction on Morrissey’s doorstep. Like, Chipman and/or Cheveldayoff could never be the hangup. It has to be the worker. As if. Again, that essay is yet another example of why jocks don’t trust jock journos.

A social gathering at The Little Hockey House On The Prairie in Winnipeg.

And, finally, Wiecek also took out another of his favorite chew toys last week—rich people. Apparently, there’s a gap between the wealthy and poor among us. Who knew? That’s like telling me there’s some empty space between Donald Trump’s ears. But here’s where Wiecek lost me: He dismissed the social worth of athletes and sports, like a horse’s tail swishing away a barn fly.

“Look, rich people are allowed to spend their money any way they want,” he writes. “If you can find someone dumb enough to give you millions of dollars a year just because you can shoot a frozen disc into a six-by-four foot net, that buys a lot of freedom. I wish I had a skill that was in high demand despite serving no useful social purpose.”

Say what? No useful social purpose? I suppose that’s why city, provincial, state and national governments devote so much money to the construction and upkeep of sports facilities. Because they serve “no social purpose.”

Sorry, but nowhere in our society does the rabble assemble in greater numbers and on a more frequent basis than at sporting events. They are the ultimate social gatherings, the notable exceptions being rock concerts and religious revivals when Billy Graham was still alive to preach the word.

The notion that skilled athletes serve “no useful social purpose” is totally daft.

Victoria HarbourCats keeping the Claire Eccles girl-vs-boys story on the down low; gets first start on Sunday

At first blush, I’ll admit that I was skeptical and cynical about the signing of Claire Eccles. It reeked of gimmickry. Sexist gimmickry.

I mean, the girl-vs-boys angle is the simplest sideshow to sell in sports. It’s also one of the media’s favorite chew toys. For evidence, look no further than Billie Jean King, Manon Rheaume, Annika Sorenstam, Michelle Wie, Mo’ne Davis, Hayley Wickenheiser and Danica Patrick.

Yes, sir, put a Jill in with the jocks and it’s news copy gold. And, hey, it’s a bonus for the marketing wizards if she’s what the lads call a “looker.” (Do you really think Patrick has been showered with all that publicity because she’s made a habit of getting her race car to the finish line ahead of the good, ol’ boys on the top NASCAR circuit? She leads the league in long hair and lipstick, not top-10 finishes.)

Claire Eccles

So what better way for the Victoria HarbourCats to put rumps in the pews of their quaint ballpark than to trot a girl-next-door type out to the pitcher’s mound and have her strike out all those hot-shot college boys from Trumpsylvania? Curiosity seekers are guaranteed to flock to Royal Athletic Park on the edge of downtown Victoria and cheer lustily each time Eccles is beckoned to make the hike to the hill, with the hip-hop beat of Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl accompanying her every step. Ka-ching!

Except that isn’t how the Claire Eccles baseball-with-the-boys tale is unfolding.

Oh, sure, there was an avalanche of attention from the Fourth Estate—hither and yon—upon the Surrey southpaw’s arrival in the B.C. capital. ESPN, the Washington Post, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, Sportsnet and MSN.com, among many others, eagerly glombed onto the Eccles story at the outset. But a week into the 19-year-old’s West Coast League experience, she has been summoned by head coach Brian McRae exactly once. For a two-inning gig.

If that’s a publicity stunt based on gender, the HarbourCats are failing miserably at Marketing 101.

That’s the point, though. Other than the announcement of Eccles coming on board, the HarbourCats have resisted any urge to play the gender card in an effort to inflate ticket sales. Bravo for them. She’s a baseball player, not a promotional circus act.

Mind you, that might be about to change, because McRae did the chin-wag thing with MSN.com 120 Sports on Tuesday morning and he declared Eccles his starter when the Kitsap BlueJackets come calling for a non-league game this weekend at RAP.

We’re gonna give her a shot, just like we give all the other guys that are here, to compete for innings,” McRae said. “She’s gonna start for us next Sunday and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

That sound you hear is the publicity machine cranking up.

I can’t imagine the pre-game noise being any louder than in July 2010, though. That’s when the Chico Outlaws and their so-called Knuckle Princess paid a visit to Royal Athletic Park. As it turns out, Eri Yoshida’s knuckler didn’t knuckle so well. The Japanese hurler allowed just one hit, but it was a grand slam, and she also walked seven batsmen and hit three others in her 2 1/3 innings of work. The thing is, advance hype attracted 4,753 to the ballpark that night, the largest gathering in Victoria Seals history.

Brian McRae

By contrast, when Eccles emerged from the bullpen last week to become the first female to pitch in the WCL, the head count was approximately 800. (She mopped up in a 9-0 loss to the Wenatchee RedSox and produced this pitching line: 2 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 0 K, 9.00 ERA.)

It’s a safe bet that the HarbourCats Hollaback Girl will be hucking the rawhide in front of an audience three to five times that size on the afternoon of June 18 at the local ballyard.

I think having people like Claire come in and show everybody out there that it’s not a publicity stunt, that she’s getting an opportunity because she has a chance to be successful and help us, I think, in turn, that empowers other girls. I think you may see more and more women trying to play baseball,” said McRae, who clearly sees both the short- and long-term pictures. “Pitching is about the only thing I think, if a woman were to be able to play pro ball, where they could compete with the males, would be on the mound.”

And if Eccles, a University of British Columbia student who also pitches for Canada’s national women’s team, has designs on playing pro baseball?

She’s gotta get a little bit stronger, add some miles-an-hour to her fastball,” said McRae, who played 10 years in Major League Baseball. “We think she could throw 80 miles-an-hour if we cleaned up her mechanics and got her to use her lower body a little bit better. Her fastball tops out about 71, 72 miles-an-hour right now, and her knuckleball is in the mid-60s or so, but we think there’s more there that can get her to throw a little bit harder and be a little bit more effective.”

In the meantime, “It’s been kind of cool having her around.”

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, but she now lives one block from Royal Athletic Park in Victoria and might cross the street to watch Claire Eccles throw a baseball.

 

About a Hall pass for “hell-ya!” girl Hayley Wickenheiser…keeping it behind closed doors for the Winnipeg Jets…fickle fans…and a new turn for the CFL quarterback carousel

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

I suppose the manner in which Hayley Wickenheiser walked away from hockey says something about the women’s game, if not her: Under-stated. Under the radar.

Hayley Wickenheiser
Hayley Wickenheiser

There was no ballyhoo. No emotion-charged, tear-jerker live press gathering on TV or streaming across the Internet. Just a simple tweet from Wickenheiser at 4:02 in the afternoon on a Friday the 13th , stating, “Dear Canada. It has been the great honour of my life to play for you. Time to hang ’em up!! Thank you!”

In the world’s greatest hockey nation, that’s how the greatest of all our female players bid adieu. A 22-word tweet, almost one for each of the 23 years the product of Shaunavon, Sask., wore the Maple Leaf with Canada’s national women’s team. As farewells go, you can’t do it at a lower volume than that, unless you say nothing at all.

That’s the nature of the beast, though.

I don’t believe I’d be off the mark were I to submit that female hockey operates under the radar three out of every four winters. We get geeked up about the girls’ game only when the Olympics arrive. Then it roars into our consciousness, like a hell-bent Hayley Wickenheiser dropping a shoulder and driving to the net against those always troublesome American girls.

Think Sochi 2014. Anything at those Games more dramatic, breath-halting and inspiring than the finish to the women’s gold-medal game? Nope. At least not for us. Our neighbors to the south, no doubt, don’t share such romantic sentiments.

The point is, we genuflect in the direction of the women’s game during the five-ring circus that is the Winter Olympics, otherwise it’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind venture.

The two main organizations in North America—the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the National Women’s Hockey League that operates in the northeastern U.S.—basically function in anonymity. I mean, until the Wickenheiser tweet on Friday, the only headlines in female shinny this season were the coming out of Harrison Browne, a transgender forward with the Buffalo Beauts, and the Edward Scissorhands-like slashing of NWHL salaries.

Not many people were shocked to read about a transgender hockey player or a 50-per cent cut in wages—they were gobsmacked to learn that something called the NWHL actually existed.

I doubt many are aware that the CWHL, in which players are not paid, is enjoying its 10th season.

All hail Hayley.
All hail Hayley.

So, Wickenheiser doing her thing on the down low was rather in lockstep with the women’s game, but no doubt any and all tributes that accompany her into retirement won’t be so muffled.

Wickenheiser is deserving of fanfare, not merely because of the unprecedented numbers (168 goals, 379 points in 276 games with the national side) or the gold trinkets she collected at the Olympics (four) and world hockey championships (seven). Most significant, it’s about what she has done for girls and women who wish to play hockey without being viewed as freakish or not quite right.

It wasn’t so long ago when boys wore the black skates and girls wore the white skates with the toe picks. It was considered the natural order of things. Any deviation was viewed with cynicism, if not open ridicule and bullying. Indeed, Wickenheiser speaks of her early days on the frozen ponds of Western Canada, when she felt obliged to conceal her identity in order to play hockey.

I remember when I was a kid, I hid in the bathroom and tucked my hair up so no one would know I was a girl,” the 38-year-old told Donna Spencer of The Canadian Press. “I just went through hell really, to play. Girls don’t have to go through hell anymore to play hockey.”

No they don’t. And much of that is Hayley Wickenheiser’s doing.

Does she belong in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Hell ya, girl! And that will be worth more than a 22-word tweet.

I’m not sure what’s worse, being paddywhacked 7-4 by the Montreal Canadiens or surrendering four first-period goals to the Arizona Coyotes. I mean, the Desert Dogs are the only National Hockey League outfit that has yet to reach double digits in wins this season. They’ve collected nine Ws in 41 assignments. But here’s the deal: The Winnipeg Jets, in dropping a 4-3 verdict to the ‘Yotes on Friday night, now have 22 losses for their 2016-17 crusade. Only one club, the Colorado Avalanche, has more Ls. Grim.

So, the Jets were late in allowing news snoops to enter their inner sanctum at Gila River Arena on Friday, because they thought it would be a swell idea to discuss their misgivings amongst themselves before captain Blake Wheeler surfaced to share a terse bon mot with the media. Next up was a chin-wag with head coach Paul Maurice on Saturday morning in Tinseltown. It’s official, then: The Jets have had more emergency meetings than wins this week.

It has come to my attention that there are those among us in Jets Nation who believe much-maligned goaltender Ondrej Pavelec is the remedy for what ails the local hockey heroes. Yes, oh ye fickle fans, and Donald Trump will fix the great racial divide in the U.S.

Oops newspaper headline of the week comes from the Winnipeg Sun: “Jets catching Canadiens at right time.” D’oh. I’m guessing Paul Maurice would disagree, since coach Potty-Mo has expressed nothing but four-letter displeasure in the wake of the 7-4 wedgie the Habs gave the Jets at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie on Wednesday night.

I note there might be a starting quarterback vacancy in Saskatchewan, where Roughriders’ chief cook and bottle washer Chris Jones parted company with Darian Durant by dispatching him to the Montreal Alouettes for a song. One line of logic suggests this is an opening for Matt Nichols, potential free agent QB. That might make sense if not for the fact Jones tossed Nichols into the dumpster when they were both with the Edmonton Eskimos. Once the Canadian Football League QB carousel stops spinning, I believe you’ll find Nichols where he was last year—behind centre with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.