Let me begin by saying I know there are worse places than Winnipeg. Being stuck on an elevator overnight with Miley Cyrus and realizing you forgot your ear plugs comes to mind.
But is Good Ol’ Hometown really as bad as National Hockey League players make it out to be?
Apparently so. It’s the dentist’s chair of their world. Root canal included.
Actually, no. It’s worse than that.
Step out of doors in Pegtown and you might as well go directly to an ER, because you’re just one frost-bitten breath away from hypothermia.
That’s right, they’ve noticed that it’s cold. Always.
And dirty. Winnipeg doesn’t have a sewer system. It is a sewer system. Or so they tell us.
I mean, what’s the first order of business for any brave NHL soul who survives his unfortunate experience on the frozen tundra? Why, he reaches for a bar of soap and starts scrubbing his face, of course. You know, to wash off the Winnipeg.
And did we mention depressing?
Oh, there’s plenty for the NHL scamps to do in Good Ol’ Hometown, it’s just that none of it’s exciting. Little wonder locals call Misericordia Health Centre the “Misery.”
In case you missed it, Emily Kaplan of ESPN talked to, or contacted, 50 players and asked a series of questions on matters ranging from Twitter accounts to Gritty fatigue to the blind eye that NHL mucky-mucks turn toward the use of recreational drugs. And there was this: “Which road city do you dread the most?”
The results were as predictable as Don Cherry wearing a bad suit and saying something stupid on Saturday night.
Winnipeg: 42 per cent
Buffalo: 34 per cent
Edmonton: 10 per cent
Calgary: 4 per cent
Ottawa: 4 per cent
Raleigh: 4 per cent
Columbus: 2 per cent
That’s us. Dreadtown. Worse than Buffalo. Which is like being told you and your neighbor both have rotten teeth, but you’re worse because you’ve got bad breath, too.
“It’s always cold,” one player griped about Good Ol’ Hometown. “It’s just dirty—you walk around the city and feel like you need to wash your face after you go outside.”
Hey, maybe that’s why Dustin Byfuglien went AWOL. He got tired of washing his face.
Naw. Can’t be that. After all, I’ve been away from Winnipeg for 20 years now, but I still wash my face every day. I’m guessing that Big Buff does, too, unless he’s in his fishing hut, in which case all bets are off.
Anyway, I’ve heard a lot of insulting comments about Pegtown over the years. Still do. But that face-washing thing is a new one on me. Like, Toronto’s the Big Smoke and we’re what? The Big Soap?
“Winnipeg is just depressing,” groused another player. “You don’t even want to leave the hotel to get a cup of coffee.”
Listen, man, I’ll concede that Good Ol’ Hometown has a bit of a Cold War-era Moscow vibe during the winter, but why do you think NHL brass doesn’t frown on rec drugs? They’ve seen downtown Winnipeg. Whatever gets you through the night, right?
Even the praise from at least one NHLer was faint.
“Wherever you go,” he said, “they always have TSN on.”
Oh joy. I’m sure Tourism Winnipeg will jump all over that as the theme for its next campaign to lure visitors to the Manitoba capital: “We’ve got the Museum of Human Rights, The Forks and Assiniboine Park Zoo, but come to River City for the TSN and stare at Jeff O’Dog’s butt cleavage during Trade Centre while hiding in your hotel room.”
You’d think us Peggers would be bummed out by a bunch of runny-nose millionaires describing our home as a scuzzbag burg, but no. Once you’ve been lampooned on The Simpsons, it takes more than a few cheap shots from the peanut gallery to put our frost-bitten noses out of joint.
Besides, those ESPN numbers could be a lot less flattering. I mean, had Emily reached out to the other 650-plus NHLers, I’m thinking Good Ol’ Hometown would have a higher disapproval rating than Justin Trudeau after the blackface pics surfaced.
So let’s be grateful for small sample sizes.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go wash my face.
Tuesday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and, in honor of its 35th birthday, I was going to list 35 things I like best about TSN, but I stalled when I couldn’t decide between Kaylyn Kyle’s hair and Jeff O’Dog’s butt cleavage and his food fight with Tradey…
Once upon a time, those of us who live in the colonies derisively referred to TSN as the Tranna Sports Network because, you know, it was like that old zen koan: If a tree falls outside the Republic of Tranna and there’s no TSN camera crew on site to record it, does the tree actually fall?
But, hey, just look at TSN today. No longer Tranna-centric.
Except, of course, for the daily Drake updates during the NBA season, the daily updates on Auston Matthews’ grooming habits, the daily Where’s Mitch Watch (which is the offspring of last year’s daily Where’s Willy Boy Watch), the daily Mike Babcock speaks-but-says-nothing feature, the daily Vlad the Gifted still isn’t speaking English report, the annual Day Of The Long Faces when they breathlessly and bitterly recount the night Wayne Gretzky used the blade of his hockey stick to part the hair on Doug Gilmour’s chinny-chin-chin, and the annual retro look at the Joe Carter dinger.
So, ya, TNS remains on Tranna overload, but at least they now have a camera handy if a tree falls in the colonies. And they even let Sara Orlesky or Farhan Lalji talk about it.
Okay, just kidding. I like TSN. A lot. It’s terrific, flaws and all.
I would rather, for example, listen to their natterbugs on all matters Planet Puckhead as opposed to the squawk boxes on Sportsnet, even if it means staring at O’Dog’s butt crack while he’s brawling over a bagel with Tradey.
I’d like to say the same about the Grid Guys, but they lost me last year when they morphed into teenage groupies with their cringeworthy, Beatlemania-like fawning over their favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel. By the end of the season, I believe Rod Black and Johnny Rotten were actually dating, although I haven’t been able to confirm it. The Transcona Kid (that’s Blackie) is still gushing over Johnny Train Wreck, so there’ll be more therapy sessions and, hopefully, Dr. Phil can have him detoxed by the time the Canadian Football League playoffs commence.
In the meantime, they’re celebrating 35 years on air, and I’d like to salute TSN with my personal Top 10 Reasons Why I Watch(ed):
10. Jim Van Horne, who let it be known in a recent tweet that he represented ground zero for TSN talking heads. “I was the first commentator hired by TSN. We hit the air 35 years ago today (Sept. 1). First media conference I went to with my TSN blazer was met with ‘what the fuck is TSN?’ I think the question has been answered. I had 17 yrs of fun there. Congrats to those who carry the banner proudly.” I recall golfing with Jim Van Mustache and the late Billy Powers in a charity tournament during the early 1980s, when all three of us worked in Calgary. I swear, at one point Jim was rolling on the ground, literally, in a fit of laughter. It was the funniest 4½ hours of my life.
9. Matt Dunigan. I sometimes wonder if Matty has tossed back a brown pop or two by the time the red light is switched on, but I get a kick out of the “let’s get ‘er done” former quarterback who often forgets that he’s in a TV studio or broadcast booth, not a locker room.
8. Skins. No, I’m not referring to the amount of flesh TSN’s bevy of cover girl teleprompter readers are told to flash. I’m talking curling. The made-for-TV Skins game was introduced in 1986 and it’s been must-see TV for us Pebble People ever since.
7. The women’s World Cup soccer panel of Kaylyn Kyle, Clare Rustad and Diana Matheson. Imagine that. Allowing women to do more than read a teleprompter. They were actually allowed to provide opinion. Strong opinion. So strong, in fact, that apologists for the Yankee Doodle Damsels were squealing in protest. What an overdue concept.
6. Kaylyn Kyle’s hair. Rapunzel ain’t got nothing on our soccer girl. Kaylyn’s mane is longer than a Winnipeg winter. And much prettier, which is okay to say because Kaylyn and her gal pals discussed makeup and girl crushes during the World Cup, so I don’t want to hear from the PC Police.
5. Jeff O’Neill, aka Jeff O’Dog. What can I say, the guy makes me laugh out loud, plumber’s cleavage and all.
4. The CBC did a dirty when it kicked Chris Cuthbert to the curb, but TSN was there to scoop him up, for which all Rouge Football fans should be grateful.
3. The CFL. I’m not sure Rouge Football as we know it would exist today if not for TSN.
2. Vic, Moosie, Russ, Linda and Cheryl. Show me your top game broadcast crew, any sport, and I’ll one-up you with TSN curling’s Vic Rauter, Moosie Turnbull and Linda Moore, followed by the current team of Vic, Hurry Hard Howard and Cheryl Bernard. Moosie’s left us, but he was one of my all-time favorite people, and it’s no coincidence that he called Winnipeg home.
1. James Duthie. As the Pepsi ad said (with the help of Tina Turner), “Simply the best. Better than all the rest.”
(FOOTNOTE: Many thousands of years from now, when archaeologists dig and sift through the ruins of our civilization, they will discover numerous subterranean hideaways full of sports memorabilia, nacho leavings, discarded pizza boxes, empty beer cans, flatscreen TVs the size of a Royal Family dinner table, and scientific proof of intense male bonding between members of the long-lost Jockosaurus species, who thrived in their secluded habitat without female companionship. After carbon dating, they will determine that—YES!—TSN and history’s first Man Cave arrived at the same time, on the same day, Sept. 1, 1984.)
Midweek musings on the edge of a fresh National Hockey League season…
There was good news and bad news at the NHL’s roster cut-down deadline this week. The bad news is that Joe Thornton’s chin whiskers became a casualty. That’s right, the San Jose Sharks forward had his mountain-man beard hacked off. The good news is that they discovered Jimmy Hoffa, Amelia Earhart’s airplane and a golf ball that Tiger Woods lost at last summer’s U.S. Open under all that scruff.
Looks like Seattle will be awarded an expansion franchise for the 2020 NHL season. Reaction to the news in Ottawa was swift: “Can we get one, too?”
You know that tired lament about how no one notices the goings-on in Good Ol’ Hometown? About how anyone who works and plays in River City flies under the radar? About how life sucks because everyone in the eastern time zone is tucked snugly into bed by the time they drop the puck out in the colonies?
Well, you wanted recognition for the Winnipeg Jets? You’ve got it.
Les Jets de Winnipeg have been in more headlines this week than anyone not being considered for a seat on the United States Supreme Court. They’re getting buzz from one of our two national newspapers, the Globe and Mail. They’re getting buzz from Yahoo! Sports. The “insiders” at Sportsnet are buzzing about our local hockey heroes. ESPN is boffo on les Jets. NBC/NBCSN will feature les Jets five times on Wednesday nights. Online and sports books in Las Vegas are bullish on Winnipeg HC.
Cripes, man, there’s even Jets buzz on TSN, where they could be found on the main page of the website on Tuesday morning. In three different headlines.
When I saw that, I immediately called up the Weather Channel.
“Is it true?” I asked a young woman who answered the phone.
“Is what true?” she replied.
“Has Hell frozen over?”
“By Hell, do you mean Ottawa and the Senators?”
“No. I mean Hell as in Hell. You know…Satan, hissing, misery, suffering, eternal inferno. That wretched place.”
“Sounds like Ottawa and the Senators to me. But if you mean the biblical Hell, the usual warm front persists and remains parked over most of it. Why do you ask?”
“Because TSN has three mentions about the Winnipeg Jets on the main page of the website and there’s nada—bupkus!—about TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel. They can’t possibly start a day without slobbering over Johnny Rotten, so I figure it can only be one of two things: 1) I overslept and it’s late November; 2) hell has frozen over.”
“No,” she assured me, “you didn’t sleep in and snowballs still don’t have a hope in Hell. Trust me, you and everyone else will know when Hell has frozen over.”
“There’ll be a Stanley Cup parade on Yonge Street in Toronto.”
According to the pundits hither and yon, Winnipeg HC, while not everyone’s flavor of the month, figures to be a very prominent player in its eighth crusade since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011.
Les Jets, who commence their 2018-19 journey vs. the Blues in St. Louis on Thursday night, are listed at No. 2 on the TSN power rankings, behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Those ratings, by the way, are determined by five talking heads—Ray Ferraro, O’Dog Jeff O’Neill, Craig Button, Jamie McLennan and Darren Dreger.) For its part, Yahoo! Sports ranks Winnipeg HC fifth, behind Tampa Bay, Nashville Predators, San Jose and the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.
Over at Sportsnet, meanwhile, 16 “insiders” are gaga for les Jets. * 9 pick them to win Stanley Cup;
* 10 pick them to win Western Division;
* 11 pick them as the Canadian outfit with highest points total;
* 1 (Kristina Rutherford) picks Blake Wheeler to win Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player;
* 5 pick Connor Hellebuyck to win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.
At The Athletic, 47 scribes/editors weighed in on the upcoming season and les Jets are the second favorite to cop the Cup; Puck Finn is the overwhelming pick to win the Rocket Richard Trophy; Connor Hellebuyck is the second choice for the Vezina; and even the head coach, Paul Maurice, is feeling the love as co-favorite to be named coach of the year (with Peter DeBoer of San Jose).
Not since the World Hockey Association have we witnessed such pre-season hype for Winnipeg HC. Those WHA outfits delivered the goods. We’ll know about these Jets in about nine months.
Interesting take on les Jets from Dave Shoalts of the Globe and Mail:
“Everybody has fallen in love with the Toronto Maple Leafs as the team to break Canada’s 25-year Stanley Cup drought. But it might just be the Winnipeg Jets who accomplish that. The Maple Leafs may be the darlings of the oddsmakers, but the Jets are big, fast, skilled and better than the team that went to last spring’s Western Conference final.
“With that experience under their belts, the Jets are now poised to take the next step. Their top line of centre Mark Scheifele and wingers Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor is one of the best in the league. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck played his way into the top tier of goaltenders with his work in the playoffs. At 25 years of age he, like his teammates, is only getting better.”
A couple things to peel away here:
I’m not convinced this Jets outfit is “better than the team” that lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final. The departure of Paul Stastny tells me it isn’t. Unless Bryan Little has a bounce-back season or Jack Roslovic is a revelation, Winnipeg HC is weaker at centre ice.
Hellebuyck, meantime, was terrific during a burdensome regular season and early in the playoffs. He did not, however, play admirably in the five-game ouster vs. Vegas. He was sketchy and Marc-André Fleury outperformed him by a wide margin, despite his repeated mantra that “luck” was Fleury’s greatest ally.
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, let’s ask the Tranna Maple Leafs if they’d like a do-over.
That is, given the opportunity to revisit the 2016 National Hockey League entry draft, would les Leafs still use their first shout-out to select Auston Matthews? Or would they choose Puck Finn, more commonly known as Patrik Laine?
Matthews and Laine went one-two, respectively, in the annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers in ’16 and, almost two complete crusades into their NHL careers, a case can be made that the Leafs chose the wrong guy. Laine, after all, has lit more lamps this winter than anyone other than Alex Ovechkin and a Kentucky coal miner. He’s just 10 shy of a 50-goal season as a sophomore. Only two players in history, Jimmy Carson and Dale Hawerchuk, scored more often as NHL teens.
In short, Puck Finn has come as advertised.
Matthews has as well, though, and going by the numbers the difference between the Leafs centre and the Winnipeg Jets winger is just six games, eight goals and a horrible mess of scraggly chin whiskers that make Laine look like an Amish bread, butter and egg man (worst…beard…ever). Matthews is 135-68-51-119; Laine is 141-76-51-127.
So, would the Leafs do things differently? Nope. Would the Jets want them to do things differently? Hell no.
I recall being puzzled by the results of a Postmedia preseason poll, whereby 25 NHL players were asked to read the tea leaves and predict the winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy, which goes to the league’s top sniper. Eight players were mentioned, not one of them named Patrik Laine. They were, in order, Sidney Crosby, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Ovechkin, Tyler Seguin, Steven Stamkos, Vladimir Tarasenko, Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel. (Seriously, Jack Eichel?) What is it, I wondered, that the players didn’t see in Laine? I mean, they’re on the ice with him. They have intimate knowledge of the shot that Puck Finn snaps off faster and is more lethal than a Donald Trump tweet. Surely they know more about pure talent than us lumps on bar stools. Guess not.
Speaking of lumps on stools, I direct your attention to The Quiz boys on TSN—Jeff O’Dog, Dave Poulin and Bob McKenzie. Quiz master James Duthie asked the three wise men to choose between Ovechkin (598 hockey goals) and Lionel Messi (600 soccer goals) as the greatest sniper of this generation.
O’Dog: “I’m going to pick Alex Ovechkin due to the fact I’ve never seen Messi play one second of a competitive soccer match…is that what they call it, the match?”
McKenzie: “I will go with Ovechkin. I’ve gotta go with the hockey answer simply because, as O said, I don’t have the context to provide for soccer. Don’t follow it close enough, so, I realize how great Messi is, but…”
Duthie: “You’re basically saying that you’re both ignorant to soccer.”
McKenzie: “That’s correct.”
O’Dog: “Don’t care about it either.”
Only Poulin got it right.
“Six hundred goals in soccer is like two million goals in hockey,” he advised the two blockheads sitting to his left.
Poulin’s point is well taken, even if his math is suspect. The difference between soccer snipes and hockey goals is probably more like dog years to human years—seven to one. Thus, Messi’s 600 is the equivalent of 4,200 hockey goals. You’d think someone named O’Dog would know about dog years.
There must be some Arctic air flowing into hell, because I’m going to agree with Damien Cox. The Toronto Star scribe is calling out the Hockey Hall of Fame for appointing “another older, white male” to replace legendary coach Scotty Bowman on its selection committee. “What was the hall thinking?” he asks. “What was (chairman Lanny) McDonald thinking?” They “blew it.” Cox figures the HHOF would be more in tune to the times had it chosen a woman or “person of color” to fill the vacancy, rather than broadcaster Pierre McGuire. He believes diversity and gender equality are “critical issues.” Hard to disagree. It is, mind you, odd to hear a Canadian sports scribe calling for “diversity” when his own business is largely old, white, male and exclusively heterosexual.
In acknowledgement of International Women’s Day, Donnovan Bennett of Sportsnet had a panel chin-wag with three female jock journalists—Laura Armstrong of the Toronto Star, Rachel Brady of the Globe and Mail, and Christine Simpson of Sportsnet. I’d like to report that the women provided considerable anecdotal insight about the challenges they face in what remains very much a man’s world, but it wasn’t much more than bland generalities. That to-and-fro came on the heels of Bennett’s gab fest with David Amber, Morgan Campbell, Eric Thomas and Rosey Edeh in recognition of Black History Month. It leaves me to wonder if he’ll gather together three or four gay sports writers during Pride Month in June. Oh wait. Scratch that thought. There are no gay sports scribes in Canada.
I can’t help but wonder what the reaction would have been had John Epping and his Ontario team won the Canadian men’s curling championship on Sunday. Epping is the only openly gay man to skip in the Brier, and many kudos to TSN for acknowledging his husband, Thomas Shipton, during Ontario’s semifinal loss to Brendan Bottcher of Alberta. That recognition might seem trivial to most, but it carries considerable significant to many in the LGBT community.
Interesting gimmick the Southern Professional Hockey League is adopting for its playoffs this year. The first-, second- and third-place teams get to choose their opening-round foes. Yup. Disregard the standings. The top dog decides if it wants to face off against team No. 5, 6, 7 or 8. Then the next two outfits sift through the leftovers and choose. Seems to me that it’s a risky bit of business for the teams making the call. Totally insulting and the ultimate bulletin board material. Can’t see that ever working in the NHL. But, then, I never thought I’d see the day when an NHL player would be given a minor penalty for scoring a goal (hello Brian Dumoulin). So all bets are off.
So, Tiger Woods didn’t win another golf tournament. Same old, same old. Except, this time, Woods only missed it by that much. One less swing and he’d have been in a playoff with eventual winner Paul Casey at the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Fla., on Sunday. Both Woods’ game and his body appear to be in fine fettle as we near the first tee at Augusta National. Ditto his attitude. I mean, is it my imagination or is Tiger smiling more? Is he interacting with his playing companions and the rabble more? It’s as if he’s adopted a “just happy to be here” mindset. He certainly seems less angry. It’s a good look.
And, finally, our Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. This week we find our man Steve wondering where Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin fit in among the NHL’s all-time best middlemen combos.
“Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier have been the gold standard for 1-2 punches playing centre for the same NHL team,” he writes.
“Oh, there have been other great combinations down the middle over the years. Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg in Colorado. Mario Lemieux and Ron Francis in Pittsburgh. Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov in Detroit. Stan Mikita and Phil Esposito in Chicago. Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard in Montreal.
“Gretzky and Messier won four (Stanley) Cups together in Edmonton. Should Crosby and Malkin pick up a fourth Cup—and maybe more than that—they will slide neatly right behind Gretzky and Messier in a very special place in hockey history.”
Excuse me? Gretzky and Messier are the “gold standard” because they helped the Oilers win the Stanley Cup four times? As if. Believeau and Richard hoisted hockey’s holy grail 10 times together. They were winning the thing before Simmons was in his mother’s womb. They’d won it five times before he was out of diapers. The “gold standard” is 10, not freaking four.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Kid Rock isn’t feeling the love.
Except, of course, from Jeremy Roenick, whose unfiltered voice and scatter-gun twaddle have increased in volume and mockability, if not temperament, since the end of his days as a National Hockey League worker who once informed disgruntled fans that they can “kiss my ass.”
“Kid Rock,” says Roenick, “is the most talented musician, I think ever, on the planet.”
He didn’t say which planet, but one could posit that, as a music critic, Roenick makes a swell hockey analyst, although the latter would be a matter of viewer appetite.
The point is, amidst the hurried and harsh pooh-poohing of the NHL for its hiring of rapper/rocker/rockabilly/country guy Kid Rock for the intermission gig at the Jan. 28 all-star frolic in Tampa, Roenick’s is the voice of a lone wolf howling amidst the din of dissent.
“I’m a huge Kid Rock fan. I love his music,” confessed the NBC gab guy. “It’s a great get.”
Perhaps not such a “great get” if it’s about more than the music, which, based on the intense social and mainstream media screeching that his appointment has inspired, it seems to be with Robert/Bob/Bobby Ritchie.
Here’s what I know about Kid Rock:
He’s filthy rich (about $80 million worth); he fancies himself as a beer-swilling, crap-kicking, womanizing American badass who’s been known to wrap himself in a Confederate flag; he likes to play with guns; he tosses out F-bombs like confetti at a wedding; he wears hats and sunglasses and is street chic scruffy; if there existed a period when he held relevance as a musician it surely ended about 10 years ago, basically the same time he and his ex-bride, Pamela Anderson, established some sort of record by exchanging wedding vows three times in one summer and filing for divorce 122 days later; he professes to have no problem with same-sex marriage but there’s a history of anti-gay/transgender diatribe that includes this nugget he once delivered to The New Yorker: “I don’t love anybody who acts like a fuckin’ faggot.” (The New York Times is “a little bit gay,” Twitter is “gay” and rap-rock is “pretty gay.”)
Much of which flies in the face of the NHL’s alliance with the You Can Play Project and the league’s Declaration of Principles, baring them both as so much window dressing.
“Most of the time, our acts are passionate hockey fans,” says Steve Mayer, an NHL suit who must carry considerable corporate heft since he has an 11-word job title. “It’s all about the entertainment at the end of the day for us, and this selection was purely based on that, and the fact that Kid Rock is a hockey lover.”
That is, as many have submitted, so very tone deaf on the NHL’s part. But, hey, isn’t that what you have to be to enjoy Kid Rock’s music? Tone deaf?
Talk about winning the lottery. Shannon Birchard didn’t even have to buy a ticket and she hit the jackpot when Jennifer Jones and her Manitoba champions sent out an SOS asking the young curler to sub for third Kaitlyn Lawes at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, which slides from the hack next weekend in Penticton. We’re talking curling royalty here. Jones, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen are Canadian, world and Olympic champions. It’s like being asked to sing with Adele, Pink and Lady Gaga. Tough gig. Nerve-inducing gig. May Shannon’s butterflies flutter in perfect formation.
I note that the Canadian Football League quarterbacks carousel is in full spin. For those of you keeping score at home, James Franklin has gone from Edmonton to Toronto; Zach Collaros wore out his welcome in Hamilton and made tracks for Regina; Kevin Glenn loaded up the U-haul in Regina and pointed it in the direction of Edmonton, his ninth CFL outfit; Josh Freeman, who hasn’t taken a snap since January 2016, hauled his hide off the unemployment line and skedaddled to Montreal; Darian Durant replaced Freeman on the unemployment line, then found his way to Winnipeg; and, of course, Johnny Manziel will be heading to a courtroom or rehab facility to be named later.
Let’s face it, no Winnipeg Blue Bombers loyalist wants to see Durant behind centre, because that means starter Matt Nichols is in the repair shop. Alas, few QBs get through a complete season in one piece, thus Nichols will be felled by an owie and we’ll be seeing Durant. If he can actually throw a pass to his receivers without the football bouncing two or three times, it’ll be a useful signing. Just don’t count on it.
On the subject of quarterbacks, an interesting social note: Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers is no longer dating actor Olivia Munn. His main squeeze now is GoDaddy’s in-your-face girl Danica Patrick, NASCAR’s departing, hot-headed diva who never knew a fender-bender that she couldn’t blame on someone else. Patrick never came close to taking a checkered flag in NASCAR, but she got into more scrapes than any of her fenders. Heaven help Rodgers if he accidentally puts a ding in the family SUV.
So, there are whispers that grappling guru Vince McMahon is toying with the idea of an XFL redux. How much fun would that be? Not much, if it’s as woeful and as blatantly sexist as the original go-round. Among other things, XFL Uno featured:
All eight teams were co-owned by McMahon of World Wrestling Entertainment (nee Federation) fame and NBC.
They each dropped $35 million in the first and only season.
Former WWF fake fighter Jesse (The Body) Ventura was part of the broadcast crew. He also had a day job at the time—governor of Minnesota.
Play-by-play dude Matt Vasgersian was demoted from the main crew (after the first game) by McMahon for his reluctance to say something suggestive and sexist about cheerleaders’ outfits.
Another broadcast team consisted of WWF announcers Jim Ross and Jerry (The King) Lawler, who advised his partner during one game that “You’re here for the football, J.R., I’m here for the cheerleaders. Whoa! Check ’em out!”
McMahon once ordered a camerman to invade the Orlando Rage cheerleaders dressing room at halftime to “capture the essence of whatever it is they do” in there.
There was no coin toss to determine the opening kickoff. Instead, two players scrambled for the football.
TV Guide listed the XFL as the third worst television show in history, behind only The Jerry Springer Show and My Mother the Car.
Speaking of lame humor, actor Will Ferrell continues to be hopelessly unfunny. He hijacked a John McEnroe-Roger Federer courtside interview at the Australian Open tennis tournament last week, asking the following questions of the great Swiss champion:
“Would you describe your game as a silky gazelle?”
“Are you a witch or a vampire?”
“There’s a rumor in the men’s locker room that you love coming to play in Melbourne and your secret to fitness is that you only eat wombat meat. Is that true?”
“I know how much this crowd means to you, they’re an amazing crowd, but does it get annoying when they just scream ‘C’mon Roger’ over and over again?”
For his part, Federer played along and provided some witty answers, but it was embarrassing.
There was mixed reaction when Tranna Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen called out some of his mates last week, saying, “We’ve got to figure out who wants to commit to playing for the team.”
Among those tsk-tsking the under-siege goaltender was the O Dog, Jeff O’Neill of TSN.
“I wouldn’t be happy with it,” he said. “We all know who he’s talking about…he’s talking about Jake Gardiner, William Nylander or Mitch Marner because he screwed up two games in a row. So if you have a problem with one of those two (sic) guys, clear it, clear the air in the dressing room after the game instead of going to the media when nobody’s around. If you remember, when Frederik Andersen got here last year, he stunk the joint out in October. This year he was terrible in October and not one person, not Mike Babcock said, ‘You know, it’d be nice if our goaltender gave us a save once in a while.’ They always said the same thing. They protected him. They said, ‘Frederik Anderson is our guy, we believe in him.’ And now there’s a target.”
But wait. Here’s Don Cherry:
“He said what had to be said,” maintainedHockey Night in Canada’s resident blowhard. “If nobody else was saying it, he said it and I don’t blame him. I’ve been waiting for somebody to say something like that. Call them out, get the guys out there. I don’t blame Andersen at all.”
I’m on Cherry’s side of the discussion. This world needs more athletes delivering juicy lip service.
Does Leafs bench maestro Mike Babcock appreciate all the coaching help he’s been getting from media in the Republic of Tranna? I swear, reading and hearing all the coaching expertise in print and on air makes me wonder how Babs ever won the Stanley Cup, two Olympic gold medals, a world title, a world Junior title, a World Cup title and a college title without tapping into all that shinny brain power sitting in the press box at the Air Canada Centre.
Does anybody really believe the Ottawa Senators will move out Erik Karlsson? The Swede was the best hockey player in the world during last spring’s Stanley Cup tournament, but I wouldn’t rule out a trade, not with Scrooge McDuck (owner Eugene Melnyk) in charge of the purse strings. If Melnyk does deal Karlsson, he can fold the franchise and ship it to Quebec City.
Apparently, there are 13 possible names for a Seattle NHL franchise: Totems, Seals, Cougars, Evergreens, Emeralds, Rainiers, Kraken, Sea Lions, Sockeyes, Whales, Eagles, Firebirds and Renegades. (I Googled Kraken and discovered it’s a giant, multi-armed sea monster.) I like Sockeye, as in salmon, even though it isn’t among the registered trademark names.
Openly gay figure skater Adam Rippon is off to South Korea with the U.S. Olympic team next month, which inspired this headline on the Kaplan Herald website: “Adam Rippon is U.S.’s first brazenly homosexual man to qualify for Winter Olympics.”Hmmm. One of Canada’s pairs skater, Eric Radford, is openly gay and he’ll also be in PyeongChang. No word on whether he plans to be “brazenly” gay while there or just gay.
I’ve admired a number of scribes from what I like to call the golden group of Canadian sports writers, foremost among them being the great wordsmith Trent Frayne, with whom I had the privilege of working in 1980-81. Jim Coleman, Milt Dunnell, Dick Beddoes, Jack Matheson, Scott Young and John Robertson were other giants when the NHL was still a six-team outfit. As was Red Fisher, longtime detailer of all things les Canadiens for the Montreal Star and Gazette. Red was a bit quirky (he refused to interview rookies) and a grump, but no scribe did hockey so well for so long as Fisher, who began working the Habs beat in 1955 and didn’t leave the building until 2012. He died at age 91 on Friday and Michael Farber delivered a terrific tribute to him in the Gazette.
This week’s Stevie-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “Milos Raonic out in first round of Aussie Open. Lost in four sets to somebody named Lukas Lacko.” Sigh. Instead of looking up Lack’s form chart on the Association of Tennis Professionals website and advise readers that Raonic was beaten by a Slovak ranked 86th in the world, Simmons chooses to insult him. I swear, the more I read Grandpa Simmons the more I’m convinced that someone dropped him on his head when he was a kid.
I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Oh woe is Blake Wheeler.
Those pesky news scavengers keep squirting in his Corn Flakes, causing the frowning, scowling il capitano no end of grief at the south end of yet another National Hockey League crusade that has found his Winnipeg Jets wanting.
There he stood in the Jets boudoir Thursday night, scant moments after the local lads had aroused the rabble at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie with a stirring, come-from-behind, 4-3 extra-time victory over the Disney Ducks. One seeker of sound bites had the bad manners (at least to Wheeler’s way of thinking) to wonder aloud how the Jets might “bottle up” their late-game magic and use it going forward in what remains of garbage time.
“Well…um…you know, it’s probably hard for you to understand how difficult it is to go through this again at a time like this,” began Wheeler, who now has failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby in five of his six seasons in River City. “You know, the fact we’re winning hockey games this time of year with nothing to play for says a lot about the group that we have, the guys that we have…um…you know, how we bottle that up…you know, we’ve won three in a row and six of our last eight with nothing to play for, so it’s a little frustrating you ask a question like that, to be honest with you. I’m proud of our group, to play a team like that who’s trying to win a Stanley Cup, to be down 3-1 with nothing to play for, come back and win 4-3, you know, I’d expect a little more positive line of questioning next time.”
He glared hard at his interrogator.
“Maybe you weren’t being too negative,” Wheeler continued, softening but still combative. “It’s just…you know, it’s just a little bit…I don’t know, a little bit undertone there, dude. Do you not agree?”
“No,” came the reply from Kevin Olszewski of CTV sports. “I wasn’t trying to be negative at all.”
“You asked me how do we bottle that up more consistently, which insinuates we don’t do that consistently. Am I making that up?”
“No, you’re not making that up. I think it might be miscommunication, though.”
“That’s fine. That’s fine. I want the message from tonight to be positive. I think our group deserves that.”
“That’s the way you guys need to play. That’s what you can do. That’s what I’m saying, you can prove that you can do that to those teams, right? So how do you guys, as a group, manufacture that night in, night out on a consistence basis where you can be where teams like the Ducks are?”
“Well, I think that was great. That was perfect. That was a perfect way to ask that question.”
Well, thank you Blake Wheeler for that crash course in Creative Communications 101. Perhaps you can land a teaching gig at Red River College while the rest of your teammates tee it up in another week or so.
Here’s what Wheeler fails to grasp: Few fans or media appear to have any quarrel with the team captain and his accomplices wearing Jets linen (the notable exceptions being whipping boys Chris Thorburn, Mark Stuart and anyone who has stood in the blue ice). Their beef is with the Fiddle-Farters Three—Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice, whose glacier-like pace in piecing together a playoff-worthy outfit has the rabble in a fit of pique. The faithful see outfits in Edmonton and Toronto rebuilt in two years while, in Winnipeg, the Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff have been trying to get this thing right for six years, without success. That’s the rub.
Here’s something else Wheeler would be wise to bear in mind: This is garbage time for the girls and boys on the beat, too. They’re expected to make these meaningless games—and the days between—sound interesting and significant, which these games most assuredly are not. News snoops aren’t paid to wave pom-poms and report at the same time, but most of what I’ve read—about the players—in the past few weeks of a lost season has been ultra-positive. Wheeler ought to find another tree to bark up.
Let me make something perfectly clear: I’m a Blake Wheeler fan. He’s very good at hockey. Love his intensity and determination. And, hey, any 30-year-old who can name all four of the Beatles is okay in my book. I just wish he would back off on the angry-young-man shtick. It’s an ugly look.
Veteran centre Bryan Little delivered a most-telling statement once the Jets had been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs: “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.” I wonder if the Fiddle-Farters Three are listening.
What’s the over/under on Dustin Byfuglien’s fat-cat contract becoming an anchor to the Jets? One year? Two? If the Jets are in the same position next season, they have to unload him. If, that is, someone is willing to pick up the $7.6-million tab for a rogue rearguard with little to no regard for structure.
Will the long-suffering wretches in the Republic of Tranna ever get over the Missed Call? Apparently not. TSN this week ran a nine-minute, 15-second feature on Wayne Gretzky high sticking Doug Gilmour in Game 6 of the 1993 Campbell Conference final between the Los Angeles Kings and Maple Leafs, with former player Jeff O’Neill interviewing the culprit, the victim and the guy who missed it all, referee Kerry Fraser. According to TSN, O Dog O’Neill “solved the mystery of what really happened the night of May 27, 1993.” Excuse me, but there was no mystery to solve. Fraser copped a plea to blowing the call in an article he wrote for the Players Tribune last summer. Time to move on, Tranna.
It was a year ago this week (March 27) that we lost one of the all-time great people, curler Vic Peters. I still think of Vic whenever I watch curling. He truly was a lovely man.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, whichmeans she is old and probably should think about getting a life.
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.
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.
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.