Winnipeg Sports 1970-present: The top-50 movers and shakers

Something a little different today, kids.

Rather than the usual Sunday morning smorgas-bored, I give you the top 50-plus movers and shakers in Good Ol’ Hometown over the past half century.

This isn’t one of those hum-drum, greatest-athlete lists. We’re talking positive impact, what a sports figure did to enhance the local sporting landscape, whether that meant the wow factor of Teemu Selanne’s 76-goal rookie season or Harvey Warner keeping the ponies at a full gallop out at Assiniboia Downs.

And, while our play-for-pay jocks tend to gobble up the big headlines on a day-to-day basis, it’s often the owners and managers and coaches and administrators who make things happen when we aren’t staring at the scoreboard, and that also means our amateur playing fields, where we have a rich tradition of magnificence and the impact has been significant.

So here’s the list of the 50-plus most-impactful movers and shakers in Winnipeg sports dating back to 1970, and I should warn you that this list includes jock journos, because once upon a time before the Internet, 24-hour TV and social media, there was a gadget called the radio. Not every game was televised or live streamed. We needed our newspapers and radios to take us to the action.

One final note: Remember, this is only one person’s opinion, so don’t get your knickers in a twist if you don’t see the name of one of your faves.

Ben Hatskin, the day he signed Bobby Hull at Portage and Main.

1. Ben Hatskin: Well, this is the ultimate no-brainer. It’s like naming Pope Francis to an all-Catholic team. I mean, Benny didn’t just bring the Winnipeg Jets and the World Hockey Association to Good Ol’ Hometown in 1972, he hijacked Bobby Hull from the Chicago Blackhawks in a shocking coup that reshaped the shinny landscape. Without Benny’s derring-do, there would have been no National Hockey League Jets 1.0 and no Jets 2.0.

2. Mark Chipman: The Puck Pontiff filled the void left by the 1996 departure of the Jets to Arizona, but his Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League and the American Hockey League were just the appetizer. Aided by billionaire David Thomson’s bulging bankroll, there was an NHL rebirth in River City in 2011, with the Atlanta Thrashers moving north. Oh, and did I mention that along the way Chipman and Thomson built a downtown arena?

3. Bobby Hull: The Golden Jet informed Hatskin and the other WHA renegade owners that it would take $1 million dollars for him to leave the Blackhawks and pull on a Jets jersey in ’72. Done deal. The Hull signing legitimized the WHA, and other top-level players soon followed. And, remember, Robert Marvin was also part of the ownership group that took the Jets into the NHL.

Michael Gobuty

4. Michael Gobuty/Barry Shenkarow: I know, I know. Michael is the guy who let Wayne Gretzky get away. Mook. But don’t hold that against him. Michael and his ownership group kept the Jets afloat in the late 1970s, allowing for one final, rewarding whirl in the WHA by purchasing the contracts of a group of Houston Aeros, including Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich, Rich Preston and Scott Campbell. He also recruited John Bowie Ferguson, and Michael offered a loud and influential voice in the NHL’s decision to absorb the Jets and three other WHA franchises in 1979.  As for Barry, talk about shooting the messenger. By the time the whole thing went south for Jets 1.0, he was front man for the ownership group that sold the club to American buyers, who then loaded up the truck and bugged out to Arizona, lock, stock and jock. So Barry became the fall guy. But it’s a bad rap. No locals were willing to dig into their deep pockets to purchase the franchise and lose millions of dollars every year, so he/they really had no choice.

Cal Murphy

5. Cal Murphy: Cantankerous, curmudgeonly and very funny, Cal ruled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers roost with an iron fist from 1983-96, as either head coach or general manager. Along the way, there were three Grey Cup championships, one heart transplant, and one human rights kerfuffle over female news snoops in the locker room. He also brought the Grey Cup game to Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time, and became a vocal advocate for organ donations. Today there’s a pigeon perch of Kindly Cal outside Football Follies Field In Fort Garry.

6. Wade Miller: The leader of the Canadian Mafia inherited a Sad Sack, laughing stock-level Bombers team and the longest title drought in the Canadian Football League when he was anointed CEO in 2013. He was more like the CE-D’oh! in the early years, but Wade ignored the wolves howling at his door and stuck by his fellow hosers, GM Kyle Walters and sideline steward Mike O’Shea. Today the Bombers reign as Grey Cup champions, with money in the bank, and only the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Miller down.

Anders Hedberg, agent Don Baizley and Ulf Nilsson.

7. Dr. Gerry Wilson/Billy Robinson/Don Baizley: No North American shinny side tapped into the European hockey market as swiftly, deeply and as eagerly as the Jets, and it was this trio of forward-thinkers that brought the first wave of Scandinavians to Good Ol’ Hometown in the mid-1970s. Dr. Wilson caught the first glimpse of Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson and alerted Robinson, the Jets main bird dog. Robby scampered across the big pond to Sweden and liked what he saw, signing both players pronto. Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Curt Larsson came along for the ride, and player agent Baizley took them under his wing. Championship parades ensued.

8. Anders/Ulf/the Shoe: It’s no exaggeration to suggest Anders and Ulf revolutionized the game once in partnership with Hull. They made magic with their swashbuckling, freestyle frolicking on the local freeze, but it was Sjoberg—the Shoe—who stirred the drink from the back end. Together, they dominated the WHA and—damn them!—also provided Glen Sather with the blueprint for his Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s.

John Ferguson and Ducky at the 1981 NHL entry draft.

9. John Ferguson: So, here’s the irony—he was the cad who lured the ultra-popular Hedberg and Nilsson away from Portage and Main to make them stars on Broadway, then the Rangers fired Fergy and he joined the Jets to oversee their final WHA title and aid the entry into the NHL. Go figure. Full of bluster and occasional rage, Fergy made certain that life around the Jets camp was never boring, which sometimes meant kicking holes in walls and dumping buckets of ice on the opposing team’s bench. As Jets GM, he assembled a string of formidable NHL outfits during the 1980s, even if he couldn’t quite get them over the hump. Stars like Dale Hawerchuk, Teemu Selanne, David Babych, Thomas Steen and Dave Christian were drafted during his watch, and we won’t talk about Jimmy Mann.

10. Clara Hughes: When they name parks, playgrounds and schools in your honor, and when they put your pic on a postage stamp, you know you’ve done something right. Clara is a two-sport Olympian—speed skating and cycling—and the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. But it’s her advocacy on behalf of mental health and children’s sports/recreation that makes Clara truly impactful. She’s a leading voice in the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and she’s donated/raised many thousands of dollars for various causes.

11. Cindy Klassen: She has as many shiny Olympic trinkets as Clara Hughes (six), including one gold medal, so Clara’s two-sport bona fides is all that separates the two world champion speed skaters.

12. Chris Walby: If ever there’s been a larger-than-life athlete, it was Bluto—all 6-feet, 7-inches and 300-plus pounds of him (give or take a Big Mac and a six pack). Bluto grabbed grass and growled for the Bombers from 1981-96, collecting three Grey Cup rings, nine CFL all-star nods, two top O-lineman awards, and a bust in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. But it wasn’t just what he did on the field and his size that made Bluto stand out. He was among the great characters in Rouge Football, a good-time Charlie and a deliverer of delicious quotes. No surprise he became a talking head on CBC’s football coverage, even if English sometimes seemed to be his second language.

13. Dale Hawerchuk: He came to the Jets as a freshly scrubbed 18-year-old from Cornwall, and much was expected of Ducky. He delivered. Winnipeg HC went from the free space on the NHL’s bingo card to the best shinny outfit this side of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and Ducky was the centrepiece.

Jennifer Jones and Jill Officer

14. Jennifer Jones: The only thing Jennifer hasn’t won is the Brier, and that’s only because the boys won’t let her play. There’s never been a finer female curler in our country, even if some in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia might want to point to Sandra Schmirler and Colleen Jones and debate the issue. Well, let ’em hash it out. We know they’re wrong.

15. Jill Officer: It will be interesting to monitor how Jennifer gets along without Jill throwing second stones. They were together almost as long as Mick and Keith, but Officer retreated from competitive curling in 2018. Jill’s haul is the same as Jen’s: An Olympic gold, two world championships and six Scotties titles in her trophy case. Also one park named in her honor.

Teemu Selanne and the Calder Trophy

16. Teemu Selanne: Like Anders and Ulf, the Finnish Flash wasn’t in Good Ol’ Hometown for a long time, but it sure was a good time. Those 76 goals in his freshman NHL crusade had the burg in a buzz, and it’s a record that will stand as long as there are frozen ponds for kids to skate on. Teemu might have been the most popular Jet ever, give or take Ducky.

17. Don Duguid: The Digit toddled off to two world curling championships as a skip and never lost a game. Yup, 17-0. Dugie then thought it would be a swell idea to go on TV and tell the rest of us how to curl, which he did for 29 years until someone at the CBC had a brain fart and let him go. And just the other day he was made a member of the Order of Canada for his wonderful work as a curler and teacher of the game.

Moosie Turnbull

18. Ray Turnbull: His friends called him Moosie, and he had scads of friends in and beyond the curling community. A true visionary, Moosie’s impact began at the Mother Club on Granite Way, but his influence spread across the globe when he buddied up with Don Duguid for instructional clinics to curling curious nations beginning in the 1970s. So he’s largely to blame for the rest of the world catching up to us on pebbled ice. A broadcasting icon with TSN from 1984 to 2010, Moosie coached no fewer than 17 world champions.

19. Frank McKinnon: Those who knew him best would probably tell us that Frank never slept, because he didn’t have time for zzzzzzs. How busy was he? Let me count the ways: Five years president and 20 years on the executive board of Hockey Manitoba; 10 years commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League; founding father of the Centennial Cup tournament and the inaugural World Junior championship; first chairman of the board of Hockey Canada; two years director Sports Federation of Canada; four years vice-president Canadian Olympic Association; founding member of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. Frank was based in Carman, but he spent enough time in Good Ol’ Hometown to qualify for this list.

20. Donny Lalonde: The Golden Boy was in the ring with Sugar Ray. Yes, that Sugar Ray, as in Leonard. He even put the boxing legend on the canvas—one of only two men to do so—scoring a fourth-round knockdown in their 1988 bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Alas, Sugar Ray ruled the day, battering Lalonde about the ears in the ninth round and scoring a TKO. But it’s enough that the Golden Boy went from working out in the old firehall gym on Talbot Avenue in Elmwood to champion of the boxing world’s light heavyweights.

21. Jeff Stoughton: It’s easier to break out of jail than win the Manitoba men’s curling championship, but Jeff wore the Buffalo on his back 11 times. Crazy, man. A two-time world champion and three times the best at the Brier, Jeff also has two Canadian Mixed titles on his resume. Once he retired his tuck delivery and his spinorama showtime shtick, he took to coaching and administration, first helping Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris strike gold in Mixed Doubles at the Seoul Olympics, and he’s now coach and program manager for the national men’s team.

Coleen Dufresne and Garth Pischke.

22. Coleen Dufresne: When you spend 17 years coaching and another 15 as athletic director at the University of Manitoba, you’ve had an impact on more young people than you can count. Coleen, who wore the Maple Leaf as a player at the 1976 Olympic Games, coached U of M Bisons women’s basketball teams to three national championships and five Great Plains Athletic Conference titles. She is a member of the Basketball Manitoba Hall of Fame in three categories—builder, coach and player—and the Canada West Hall of Fame.

23. Garth Pischke: Tom Hanks talked to a volleyball in the movies, but Garth made people talk volleyball in real life. Nobody put the W in the word “win” like Garth. He won a staggering 1,353 games in his 38 seasons as mastermind of the U of M Bisons men’s volleyball team, losing just 414 times. Chew on that and digest it—1,353-414. Who does that? Only Pischke, the winningest coach in collegiate V-ball history, on either side of the border. A two-time Olympian and six-time MVP at the Nationals as a player, Garth coached the Bisons to nine national titles and was named the Manitoba amateur athlete of the 20th century.

Brian Dobie

24. Brian Dobie: If this was just about being a nice guy, the U of M Bisons football coach would be at, or near, the top of the heap. Lovely man. He’s been sideline steward of the Herd since 1996, a gig that came on the heels of a 21-year watch with Churchill Bulldogs in high school grid. Do the math. Coach Dobie has been impacting the lives of teenagers and young men for close to half a century. Oh, and he’s also a five-time Canada West coach-of-the-year and a USports coach-of-the-year, plus he brought the Vanier Cup to the Fort Garry campus in 2007.

25. Vic Pruden: There was no women’s or men’s intercollegiate basketball program at the University of Winnipeg (nee United College) until Vic came along, so all the hoops glory stems from there. The annual Wesmen Classic was Vic’s brain child, ditto the Fort Garry Invitational. The Wesmen Classic became such a landmark event that it had to be shuffled from Riddell Hall to the Winnipeg Arena, and was televised nationally. Vic was also founder and first president of the Manitoba Basketball Coaches’ Association.

Tom Kendall and his U of W Lady Wesmen

26. Coach Tom Kendall/University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen: Few took notice of women’s hoops back in the day, but then along came coach Kendall and his fabulous University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen who, from October 1992 to November 1994, never lost a game. Eighty-eight teams tried to topple them, and 88 teams failed. Even fabled UCLA coach John Wooden was talking about the Lady Wesmen. Under Kendall’s watch, the Lady Ws went 101-2, with three national titles.

27. Coach Mike Burchuk/U of W Lady Wesmen volleyball team: The U of W women’s hoopsters received the 250-point newspaper headlines for their 88-game winning streak, but the women on the volleyball court trumped them with 123 consecutive Ws from January 1987 to January 1989. That included a 58-0 record in 1987-88 and, along the way, the ladies won six consecutive national titles and beat the NCAA champion Texas Longhors and a pro team, the Minnesota Monarchs.

Jennifer Botterill

28. Jennifer Botterill: It should be enough to say that Jennifer is the only female player ever inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, but we’ll also mention that she’s a three-time Olympic champion, five times a world champion, two times the Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the top player in U.S. women’s college hockey, twice the MVP at the world championship, and she once had an 80-game scoring streak (beat that, Connor McDavid!). If young girls are looking for a role model, Jen’s it.

29. Paul Robson: Can a sports list be complete without a guy named Mad Dog on it? We think not. So come on down, Mad Dog Robson, architect of the Winnipeg Football Club’s return to glory in the 1980s, a Lazarus-like rebirth that included the 1984 Grey Cup championship crusade, the first in 22 years. His handiwork as assistant GM/GM included going stealth to lure Chris Walby out of Montreal, hiring Cal Murphy as sideline steward, and engineering the Dieter Brock-for-Tom Clements trade. Paul was also once publisher of the Winnipeg Sun, but we won’t penalize him for that.

Harvey Warner

30. Harvey Warner: It’s probably safe to say the ponies wouldn’t be galloping at Assiniboia Downs if not for Harvey and his Manitoba Jockey Club. Harvey is a founding father and current president of the MJC, which took possession of the Downs in 1993. It’s never been an easy ride for Harvey and cohorts like Darren Dunn and Sharon Gulyas out at the racing oval on the western edge of Good Ol’ Hometown, but they’ve managed to keep the barns open and the horses fed and watered. So, yes, the reins have been in the right man’s hands for 27 years.

31. Mike Riley: When Leo Durocher coined the phrase “nice guys finish last,” he certainly wasn’t thinking of a guy like Mike Riley. Aside from bringing the Grey Cup home twice in his four years as sideline steward of the Bombers, Mike might be the most decent man to ever coach a pro team in Good Ol’ Hometown (John Paddock would be second in line), and that counts for something on my scorecard.

Milt Stegall

32. Milt Stegall: The Turtle Man would be higher on this list, except for one thing—every time I look at his hands, I don’t see any Grey Cup rings. For all his personal accomplishments—all-time TD leader in CFL history with 147 and a Most Outstanding Player award—the Bombers had just four winning seasons in his 14 crusades. No player ever looked better while mostly losing, though, and he’d be the first to tell you that. Milt continues to be a Bombers booster as one of the gab guys on TSN’s CFL coverage, and that’s always a good thing.

33. Sam Katz: Full disclosure—I’m not fond of Sammy. I think him to be a snake oil salesman. If he told me today is Sunday, I’d double check the calendar. But he brought professional baseball back to Good Ol’ Hometown, and the Winnipeg Goldeyes frolic in a beautiful, downtown ballyard thanks to Sammy.

Andy Van Hellemond

34. Andy Van Hellemond: Whistleblowers don’t always get respect, but Andy Van did. The kid weaned on the frozen ponds of Isaac Brock was, arguably, the best man to ever pull on a striped shirt, and he was also a trend-setter, becoming the first on-ice official to wear a helmet, in 1984. The NHL made lids mandatory for the zebras four years later (a grandfather clause allowed some to officiate sans head protection until 2006-07). Andy Van refereed 1,475 regular season games, 227 in the playoffs and 19 Stanley Cup finals, all records. He was named Manitoba’s referee-of-the-century.

35. Sylvia Burka: Before Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen and Susan Auch, there was Sylvia Burka, three times a world speed skating champion. She has held over 40 Canadian speedskating records, and once set a world indoor cycling mark at one kilometer. She won 12 national cycling titles. But her true legacy can be found in the skate marks she left for others to follow.

36. Dawn McEwen: I suppose you could say Dawn is to Team Jennifer Jones what Ringo Starr was to the Beatles. She seems content in the background while Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Cathy Overton-Clapham attracted most of the attention, but without her lead stones and robust sweeping they wouldn’t have become the finest female outfit in Canadian curling history. Dawn has an Olympic gold medal, two world titles and five Scotties crowns in her trophy case, so don’t even think of her as a spare part.

Gold medalists Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris.

37. Kaitlyn Lawes: She branched out from throwing third stones for Jennifer Jones to strike Olympic gold with John Morris in the debut of mixed doubles at the Winter Olympic Games. So she has a nice collection of two gold trinkets, a world championship and a Scotties title.

38. Susan Auch: Although never making it to the top level of the Olympic podium, Susan made speed skating front page news in Good Ol’ Hometown with two silver medals and a bronze in the Winter Games, three gold in World Cup racing in 1995, three Manitoba athlete-of-the-year honors and a Canadian athlete-of-the-year salute. There’s a Susan Auch Oval out at the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex and a Susan Auch Park in Transcona, and she’s now CEO of Speed Skating Canada.

39. Troy Westwood/David Asper: Board member Asper came up with the concept and gave the Banjo Bowl it’s name, but it was the spinoff of a quote from Ol’ Lefty, the former Bombers place-kicker who, in an interview prior to a 2003 playoff skirmish, called Saskatchewan Roughriders fans “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds.” Much caterwauling from the Flattest of Lands ensued, and the Banjo Bowl was born in 2004. It’s the most-anticipated event on the local sports calendar every year, and it’s been strictly SRO since 2005. When he wasn’t trash talking Flatlanders, Ol’ Lefty was hoofing more field goals (617) and more points (2,745) than anyone in Bombers history.

40. Connie Laliberte: They called her the Ice Queen, but underneath that cucumber-cool exterior burned a competitive bonfire. Connie gave every female curler in Manitoba something to aim for when she became the first Buffalo Girl to win the world crown, in 1984. She also won three Scotties titles and today is the high performance director for Curl Manitoba.

Sandy Riley

41. Sandy Riley: The former sailor (1976 Olympic Games) and former president of the Manitoba Sports Federation served as chair of Winnipeg’s 1999 Pan American Games, an event that helped revive the sagging spirit of a city that had lost its NHL franchise only three years earlier. As a bonus, it attracted the attention of Ol’ Cigar Breath, Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, who used his Revolution Day address to go on a mini-rant about mysterious “traps and tricks and schemes and filth” that encouraged his athletes to clamber over the wall to freedom. Cuban defectors aside, the Pan Ams were an artistic and financial success. More latterly, the Riley family donated $500,000 toward construction of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.

42. Dayna Spiring: It doesn’t matter that Dayna wasn’t on the receiving end of any passes, nor did she hoof any field goals or tackle any running backs. The lady was a champ in her first year as Chair of the Blue Bombers board of directors, and she became the first woman to have her name engraved on the Grey Cup. For young girls and women, that makes her Dayna Inspiring.

43. Desiree Scott: A former star and coach with the U of M Bisons, the lady they call The Destroyer joined our national women’s soccer side in 2010, and she’s now just one of five to have earned 150 caps. Along the way, she’s collected two Olympic bronze medals and participated in three World Cup tournaments. Away from the competitive pitch, Desiree is heavily involved with soccer camps for KidSport and she’s an ambassador for the Homeless World Cup.

44. Bill Wedlake: A head coach for 32 years, first at St. John’s High where he won two provincial titles, then 16 years at the U of W, Bill was also athletic director at the downtown campus for eight years. A co-founder of the Winnipeg Invitational tournament, he’s written three books on coaching and is a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

45. Mo Glimcher: If you think it’s tough dealing with teenagers these days, consider Mo Glimcher’s gig—he had 30,000-40,000 kids under foot every year between 1975 and 2016. Mo retired after 41 years as Executive Director of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association, and I’d say he’s earned a master’s degree in babysitting.

46. Bob Picken: There are three major sports operatives in Good Ol’ Hometown—the Jets, the Blue Bombers, and curling. Yes, curling. Our Pebble People don’t make the big bucks like the Jets and Bombers, but they don’t want for media exposure, due in large part to jock journos like Pick. Pebble People have never known a better media friend than Pick, whose magnificent pipes blessed the airwaves of CJOB, CKY and the CBC for half a century. He played the game, served as president of the Manitoba Curling Association, worked with both the Canadian Curling Association and the World Curling Federation, and there’s a bonspiel at the Thistle named in his honor. Pick made certain that curling was never back-page news or filler at the end of a sportscast.

47. Jack Matheson: Admittedly, there’s bias in this choice, because Matty gave me my start at the Winnipeg Tribune, but his sassy and brassy sports column was the only absolute must-read in town during the 1970s. And when Furnaceman fired him up for his daily rants on CJOB, it was must-listening. Matty set an incredibly high bar as a sports scribe, and no one has come close to reaching it since the Trib folded.

Friar Nicolson and his former sidekick Sod Keilback.

48. Friar Nicolson: There’s no way of knowing how many young men and women went into broadcasting because of the curmudgeonly Friar, but I’d suggest the number is closer to 50 than one. The longtime play-by-play voice of the Jets, Friar is the man who lured Knuckles Irving to CJOB in 1973, and he also gave one-time do-everything CKY/CTV voice Peter Young his start in the gab game. That’s serious impact.

49. Bob Irving: When Knuckles became the voice of the Blue Bombers, Don Jonas and Chuck Ealey were the starting QBs and Dieter Brock was a little-known rookie who answered to the name Ralph. Bud Riley was the head coach, and there have been 14 more since Knuckles moved in behind the mic. So he goes back some, and he’s still going. At least he was until COVID-19 interrupted regularly schedule play-by-play. We assume (hope) the well-liked and highly respected Knuckles will be back for a 46th season once the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.

50. Don Wittman: How versatile was Witt? Well, we know he covered the CFL and the NHL and tennis and the Olympics and world-class track and top-flight curling during close to half a century with the CBC, but he also broadcast cricket. Ya, cricket. Witt traveled the globe and was on site to call the Ben Johnson race in Seoul and Donovan Bailey in Atlanta, but home base was always Winnipeg.

Let’s talk about the Buffalo Boys and the Brier…the Jets, the Oilers and Coach PoMo’s excuses…the NHL’s feel-good stories…Sid the Kid’s goal…Commish Randy’s road trip…Tony Romo’s gum flapping…power women in hockey…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and nobody dropped me on my head last week, so some of this might make sense…

Mike McEwen

I trust Mike McEwen and Jason Gunnlaugson realize what’s at stake at the Brier this week in Kingston. If not, someone needs to clue them in immediately that nothing less than the top step on the podium is acceptable.

I know, I know. That’s expecting a lot. But such is the Burden of the Buffalo. Especially on pebbled ice.

In case you hadn’t noticed, Manitoba curlers are on the mother of all rolls this season, winning three world titles and the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, and I’m assuming Messrs. McEwen and Gunnlaugson would rather not let the side down.

Colin Kurz certainly didn’t. He skipped his team to the world Mixed crown in Aberdeen, Scotland, last October. Next up were Mackenzie Zacharias and Jacques Gauthier, who double dipped at the world Juniors in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. Then along came Kerri Einarson and her gal pals out of Gimli to claim the national women’s championship in Moose Jaw.

So, over to you, Mike and Jason. Show us what you’ve got, boys.

Jeff Stoughton

Hard to believe, but our Buffalo Boys are 1-for-the-21st century at the Brier, with only Jeff Stoughton managing to get the job done in 2011. It pains me to say that Alberta outfits have had their way at the men’s championship, taking the Tankard home to Wild Rose Country 11 times since 2000, and I’m not sure I’d want to bet against either Brendan Bottcher or Kevin Koe claiming a 12th title next weekend. If they do, His Royal Smugness Terry Jones of Postmedia E-Town will be positively insufferable, and that’s one column I won’t want to read.

Interesting chin wag between Jay Onrait, Dan O’Toole and Ontario skip John Epping last week on TSN. According to O’Toole, curling is “uniquely Canadian.” Ya, tell that to the Scots, Danny boy. They only invented the bloody game and brought it to our shores.

Yes, now that you mention it, that was a spirited skirmish the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers delivered on Saturday night, and it left me wanting more of the same. It’s quite possible that these two outfits will meet in the initial jousting of the Stanley Cup tournament and, as I was saying last weekend, I’d like Winnipeg HC’s chances against the McDavids in a seven-game series.

Coach PoMo

Only one thing I didn’t like about the Jets 3-2 loss in E-Town—Paul Maurice’s post-match spewings. “I think it’s nine (games) in 16 (days) for us and a couple of time zone changes,” Coach PoMo told news snoops. Oh, boo flipping hoo. Everybody’s tired, everybody’s limping this deep into the National Hockey League season, so it’s no time for lame excuses about scheduling and travel.

Coach PoMo must be the envy of head coaches everywhere. He’s in danger of failing to qualify for Beard Season for the fourth time in seven crusades, yet he has a new, three-year, $9-million contract tucked in his hip pocket. You know, right beside the horse shoe, the four-leaf clover, the rabbit’s foot, the smoke and the mirrors.

Bobby Ryan

So who had the better feel-good story, Bobby Ryan or David Ayres? It has to be Ryan. Ya, sure, Ayres climbing down from a Zamboni to play goal for the Carolina Hurricanes and beat the Maple Leafs was boffo, but I saw it more as Sideshow Bob stuff. You know, something good for a few yuks at Tranna’s expense and, lord knows, a lot of us like to laugh at the Leafs. Ryan, on the other hand, had a hat trick in his return to Ottawa after three months on the shelf to put his life back in order, and I say a guy triumphing in his battle with the bottle trumps quirky every time. It had me reaching for the Kleenex.

David Ayres

Don’t get me wrong. I think the Ayres story is terrific, and there’s a very real human element to it. He has one of his mom’s kidneys, you see, and his new-born celebrity allows Ayres to raise awareness and funds for a disease that, according to the National Kidney Foundation, causes more deaths in the U.S. than breast or prostate cancer. One in 10 Canadians has kidney disease, and I happen to be among them. I’m at Stage 4, and there’s no cure for the silent killer. Not surprisingly, though, the kidney angle is too often an afterthought in the telling of the Ayres tale, because who thinks about their kidneys until they go on the fritz?

Just wondering: Would there have been as big a fuss over Ayres had he made his cameo appearance in San Jose against the New Jersey Devils instead of in the Republic of Tranna vs. the Leafs on Hockey Night In Canada? Somehow I doubt it.

Celebration time for Sid the Kid.

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet did the natter thing with Sidney Crosby, tripping back to Sid the Kid’s golden goal at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. “Everybody remembers where they were,” Friedman said of the moment when Crosby whipped the puck past American goalie Ryan Miller to win the tournament for the good guys. Well, I consider myself among the “everybody,” but I don’t have a clue where I was, who I was with, or what I was doing on Feb. 28, 2010. I remember where I was when Paul Henderson scored in 1972. And when Marie-Philip Poulin scored in 2014. But Sid’s goal escapes me. Does that make me unCanadian?

It seems to me that “tweener” goals in the NHL have become as commonplace as missing teeth. Those between-the-leg goals have gone from highlight reel to ho-hum.

Commish Randy

Canadian Football League commish Randy Ambrosie is on a to-and-fro across the country, hobnobbing with the rabble and nattering about a new playoff format proposed by Wade Miller, CEO of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Apparently the rank-and-file are fully on board with the notion of the top two outfits, West and East, earning first-round byes, and the next four clubs qualifying for the Grey Cup tournament regardless of locale. That, of course, could mean five West Division teams in the post-season. Hey, works for me. As for the idea of having the club with the best regular-season record choose its playoff foe, fuhgeddaboudit. It’s a very loud no-go. No surprise, really. Everyone would want to play the Cleveland Browns.

Tony Romo

Wow, CBS will be paying Tony Romo $17 million to flap his gums during National Football League games next season. Hmmm, I wonder how much it would take for Fox to get Terry Bradshaw to stop talking.

Loved this Twitter exchange between Danny Austin of Postmedia Calgary and Terry Jones of Postmedia Edmonton:
Austin: “Removing all politics from this statement, it is so embarrassing that in Calgary, Canada’s fourth biggest city, the LRT only comes every 15 minutes on weekends.”
Jones: “Yeah, but a chuckwagon comes by every 10 minutes.”
That’s cheeky, also very funny.

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that news snoops in the Republic of Tranna no longer tell us that Kawhi Leonard is God’s gift to the hardwood? Why do you suppose that is? Oh, that’s right, Kawhi is a traitor and doesn’t play in The ROT anymore.

Dani Rylan

And, finally, in the good reads department, Emily Sadler of Sportsnet has a piece on the 25 most powerful women in hockey, and I know what some of you are thinking: You didn’t know there were 25 women in hockey, right? Well don’t be cheeky. Emily has Kendall Coyne Schofield ranked No. 1, followed by Kim Davis of the NHL office and National Women’s Hockey League commish Dani Rylan. It’s worth checking out.

Let’s talk about things I’m not going to write about…

I was going to write about Dustin Byfuglien this morning.

I was going to say that I don’t live in his grey matter, nor am I a fly on Kevin Cheveldayoff’s office wall, so most of what I’ve read and heard about Big Buff since he chose to gaze at his navel rather than play hockey this winter is equal parts gossip, falsehood and speculation.

Big Buff

News snoops, of course, have spent countless hours trying to get the skinny on Big Buff’s retreat from the fray last September, but they’ve been unable to drill to the nub of the matter because a) True North Sports+Entertainment is less revealing than a nun’s habit, and b) Byfuglien takes his right to remain silent more seriously than a guy handcuffed in the back seat of a cop car.

So I was going to suggest we just call it the Great Untold Story of this Winnipeg Jets crusade, and accept that it’s apt to remain that way.

I mean, Big Buff has always made like a street mime, and general manager Chevy’s lips are forever tighter than a pensioner’s budget, so why would we expect them to suddenly spill the goods? It’s not like they owe the rabble the wherefore and why of the one-of-a-kind defenceman’s refusal to join his mates in their teeter-totter National Hockey League season.

Or do they?

The faithful, after all, are invested in the Jets, financially and/or emotionally, so an argument can be made that True North is obligated to come clean on the Byfuglien file. I agree.

Except that’s not how this will play out.

Chevy

TNSE is a private company, even as it pigs out at the public trough, and it won’t fall prey to any urge or moral obligation toward full disclosure re the intimate details that have led to the expected termination of Big Buff’s contract. It will be strictly need-to-know tidbits of Chevy-speak while someone else at True North reminds the rabble that, “Hey, we slashed beer and hot dog prices not so long ago, and you want the truth, too?”

Byfuglien, meanwhile, has a right to his privacy, even if he’s been the biggest fish in the smallest of the NHL’s ponds since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011.

So go ahead and point accusing fingers at TNSE or Chevy or Byfuglien if you feel the need to vent and identify villains, but none of us knows the true story, and we’ll see Don Cherry back on TV talking about poppies and immigrants before we ever hear sound bites from Big Buff on his wonky ankle, the $14 million in salary he’s sacrificed, his favorite fishing hole, or his innermost thoughts.

And I’m totally okay with that because, as captain Blake Wheeler was saying the other day, “He doesn’t owe anyone anything.”

But I’m not going to write about any of that.

Kyle Connor

I was going to write about trade rumors this morning, because the NHL’s shop-and-swap deadline is only two weeks away and that usually means we’re apt to find James Duthie kneeling on a nearby church pew, praying that nothing significant goes down before his annual marathon and time-filling buffoonery on TSN.

James, for example, will be offering a few Hail Marys that the Jets don’t ship their perennial 30-goal man Kyle Connor to the Colorado Avalanche in barter for Bowen Byram in advance of D-Day on Feb. 24, but Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab informs us that Duthie might want to toss a few Our Fathers and at least one Apostles Creed into his prayer mix. He’s been hearing chatter, you see, and it’s all about Connor for Byram, a wet-eared rearguard with Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League. Although “loathe to play the role of gossip monger,” Mad Mike does that very thing because a “source” advises him that a Connor-for-Byram swap “has legs.” Mad Mike adds that he doesn’t see the deal happening, but what the hell, why not fling it out there and see if it sticks because, you know, he’s “loathe to play the role of gossip monger?”

But I’m not going to write about that this morning, because stranger things have happened (see: Gretzky, Wayne) and Mad Mike might be on to something. Or not.

Willie Jefferson

I was going to write about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this morning, because one quarterback, Chris Streveler, has swanned off to Arizona and another, Matt Nichols, bolted to the Republic of Tranna, where he might be joined by defender extraordinaire Willie Jefferson.

I was going to say I don’t blame Nichols, because he was no longer the flavor of the month in River City, but I’m not sure where Willie’s head is at. I mean, the Bombers are champs of Rouge Football and the Tranna Argos are Grade A chumps with a following you can fit in a phone booth, with room to spare for a couple of circus clowns. Maybe Willie thinks he can stretch a $200,000-plus salary as far in The ROT as he can in Good Ol’ Hometown, and I suppose that’s doable if he doesn’t mind living in a lean-to.

But I’m not going to write about that, because it’s Willie’s business and the Canadian Football League’s most outstanding D-man has managed to get along just fine without my input. I just hope he doesn’t get stuck in traffic on the way to that empty ballyard the Boatmen play in.

Bill Murray

I was going to write about the Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament this morning, because Nick Taylor will be in the final pairing with ol’ Lefty, Phil Mickelson this afternoon, and you might not know that Nick was born in Good Ol’ Hometown. He honed his skills in Abbotsford, B.C., but we can still claim him as one of our own.

But I’m not going to write about that, because my guess is the CBS cameras will be showing us more of Bill Murray making an ass clown of himself than the Nick and Phil duel.

Mike McEwen and Reid Carruthers

I was going to write about curling this morning, because there’s a very real possibility that someone not named Mike McEwen or Reid Carruthers will win the Manitoba men’s championship this very day. Jeff Stoughton was the last skip not named McEwen or Carruthers to wear the Buffalo on his back at the Brier, and that takes us back to 2014.

Jason Gunnlaugson sits in the catbird seat today, already booked into the final at Eric Coy Arena in Charleswood, and I submit that a changing of the guard would be a refreshing bit of business.

But I’m not going to write about that, because I wouldn’t bet against McEwen and Carruthers.

The scene at the Honda Center in Anaheim on Saturday night.

I was going to write about Ponytail Puck this morning, because the American and Canadian national sides wowed the rabble on the final three stops of their Rivalry Series. The Yankee Doodle Damsels got the better of our women twice (4-1 for the five-game series), but the real story was the head counts: 7,006 in Victoria, 8,467 in Vancouver, and 13,320 in Disneyland on Saturday night. Boffo stuff.

But I’m not going to write about that, because one reader called me a hypocrite for failing to fork out $20-$30 and walk across the street to watch the Victoria skirmish. I explained to him that I’m an old-age pensioner on a fixed income, living below the poverty line, and if the choice is between a hockey ticket and food I’ll take the hot meal every time. I’m not sure he bought my reasoning, but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I was going to write about our terrific soccer and hoops ladies this morning, because both outfits have qualified for this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, and I’m not sure we’ll be saying the same thing about our men’s sides.

But I’m not going to write about that, because I’ll probably be called a hypocrite if I don’t purchase air fare to Japan and watch the women in person.

Charlie Hustle and the Hustler

I was going to write about Donald Trump this morning, because the American president and noted hustler is campaigning to Make Pete Great Again. That would be Pete Rose, listed as persona non grata by Major League Baseball for gambling on games while skipper of the Cincy Reds. The Donald believes Charlie Hustle got a raw deal when he was blackballed, so he wants Rose on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot.

But I’m not going to write about that, because The Donald knows a good hustle when he sees one and this is fake news.

And, finally, I was going to write about that Skip The Dishes guy this morning, because I find myself wondering if I’m the only person who thinks he’s become the most annoying man on TV.

But I’m not going to write about that, because I’m too tired to write about anything.

About the Curling Capital of the World…B.J. brings home the Brier bacon with Kevin Koe…a top 10 without Jeff Stoughton????…how much did those voters have to drink?…and happy birthday to CJOB

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and no forests were harmed in the production of this essay

So, I’m reading a piece on women’s curling the other day and I learned that Edmonton is (apparently) the “Curling Capital of the World.”

This was quite a startling revelation for me.

Don Duguid

I mean, my first sports editor, Jack Matheson, informed me at the front end of the 1970s that Good Ol’ Hometown was the curling capital of Canada, if not the entire planet. I believed him because…well, Matty said it, so it had to be true. And, sure enough, a number of years later the Digit, Don Duguid, doubled down and confirmed that River City is the very heartbeat of all things pebble.

It’s the centre of it all,” the two-time world champeen assured me during a chin-wag at his main hangout, the Mother Club (The Granite), which sits on the banks of the murky Assiniboine River, a splish and a splash across the way from Osborne Village in Winnipeg.

Yet, now, along comes Terry Jones to tell us that both Matty and the legendary Dugie were full of phooey.

Moosie Turnbull

Jones writes that recent Scotties Tournament of Hearts winners Sarah Wilkes, Dana Ferguson and Rachel Brown of Edmonton are the “latest champions from the Curling Capital of the World.” He’s even writing a book about Northern Alberta supremacy: World Capital of Curling, an ode to E-Town’s most celebrated Pebble People.

Well, doesn’t that just put my knickers in a twist.

Being one of the Buffalo People, you see, I subscribe to the Gospel According to Matty, Dugie and Moosie Turnbull, which states, without equivocation, that Manitoba is curling’s Mecca.

Thus I feel obliged to inform Jones that he is as wrong as Milan Lucic skating beside Connor McDavid.

Large

Before we go any further, I suppose I should introduce you to Jonesy. He’s a big-fun sports scribe of large girth and an equally large presence in E-Town. Hence the nickname Large. A good guy who began documenting the trials and tribulations of Edmonton jocks and jockettes before PM Justin’s poppa Pierre was the resident at 24 Sussex Drive in Bytown, Jonesy has heard and seen some things during his 50-plus years on the beat for both Edmonton rags, the Journal and Sun. Enough, in fact, to earn him membership in a handful of hallowed jock halls, including the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame. The lad’s got cred. Large cred (pun intended).

What he doesn’t have, however, is evidence to support his notion.

While it’s true that E-Town’s male Pebble People have been doing boffo business this century, the cold, hard fact is that they’ve been playing catchup to the Buffalo Boys for longer than Jonesy has been scribbling sports. And they still have some catching up to do. As for E-Town vs. our Buffalo Girls, ditto. It’s all catch us if you can. Check it out:

Brier champions: Winnipeg 25, Edmonton 18.
Scotties champions: Winnipeg 12, Edmonton 4.
World champions: (men) Winnipeg 6, Edmonton 7; (women) Winnipeg 3, Alberta 0.
Olympic champions: Winnipeg 2, Edmonton 1.
Totals: Buffalo People 48, Edmonton 30.

So here’s the deal: Scotland is the cradle of curling, but Good Ol’ Hometown is the Curling Capital of the World.

The notion that it’s Edmonton—sorry, Jonesy, that’s nothing but a (large) bunch of buffalo chips.

The self-proclaimed title “Curling Capital of the World” rings rather hollow when one considers that Edmonton and Northern Alberta have yet to produce a world women’s champion. The best they’ve managed is bronze, by Heather Nedohin and Cathy King.

I suppose it’s only fair to point out that the folks in E-Town turn out to watch curling in unparalleled numbers. They hold the record for highest head count at the Brier, the men’s world championship and the Roar of the Rings Olympic Trials. I’d be impressed, except that just tells me they got tired of watching the Oilers lose and decided to give curling a try.

2019 Brier champs: Kevin Koe, B.J. Neufeld, Colton Flasch, Ben Hebert.

Congrats to one of the Buffalo Boys, B.J. Neufeld, who slid third stones for Kevin Koe’s winning Alberta outfit at the Canadian men’s curling championship in Brandon. B.J. spent 11 years butting his head against a wall with Mike McEwen and pals playing out of the Fort Rouge Club in Good Ol’ Hometown, so it was boffo to see him get the job done. B.J.’s pop, Chris, was a member of Vic Peters’ Brier-winning team in 1992.

It’s interesting to note that none of the lads who won the Tankard on Sunday honed his craft on Alberta pebble. Koe is from Yellowknife, Neufeld from Winnipeg, Colton Flasch from Biggar, Sask., and Hebert from Regina. They all eventually found their way to the Glencoe Club in Calgary.

Jeff Stoughton

This just in: The 31 TSN “experts” who chose the 10 greatest male curlers of all time have lost their freaking marbles.

Either that or they just spent an entire week in the Brier Patch at Westoba Place in Brandon, doing non-stop elbow pumps.

I mean, good gawd. You’d have to be mind-numbingly pie-eyed to actually believe Dave Nedohin or John Morris were better curlers than Jeff Stoughton. You can include Wayne Middaugh and Marc Kennedy, as well. What will they tell us next? That Mr. Ed the talking horse had better giddyup than Secretariat?

Hey, no knock against Nedohin, a good Buffalo Boy. But no way does he come out of Manitoba 11 times like Stoughton. And he won two of his Brier titles when 18 of the top teams in the country were MIA, boycotting the event to earn a larger slice of the financial pie for curlers. As for Morris, he couldn’t cut it as a skip. Nuff said about him. Middaugh? Don’t even get me started. Kennedy? Good grief.

Fact is, giants of the game like the Howard boys, Russ and Glenn, and Brad Gushue wouldn’t have worn the Buffalo at the Brier 11 times had they been based in Manitoba.

I guess Stoughton and all those other Manitobans won 27 Briers by accident.

Kevin Koe

Just as astonishing as the Stoughton omission, Kevin Koe was absent from the top 10. Yes, I realize the 31 “experts” did their voting prior to his Brier championship run in Brandon on Sunday, but he’d already done enough to get the nod over some of the men I’ve mentioned. (Seriously, John Morris?) Now Koe has four Brier titles, with four different teams. A top-10 list without Koe or Stoughton? They might want to crumple that up, toss it in the trash bin and try again. And stop drinking!

For the record, here’s TSN’s top 10 greatest male curlers: 1. Kevin Martin; 2. Glenn Howard; 3. Randy Ferbey; 4. Russ Howard; 5. John Morris; 6. Ernie Richardson; 7. Wayne Middaugh; 8. Marc Kennedy; 9. Brad Gushue; 10. Dave Nedohin.

And here are the guilty parties, all 31 of the “experts” (they should be easy to pick out in a crowd—they’ll have the red faces):

TSN: Vic Rauter, Cheryl Bernard, Bryan Mudryk, Bob Weeks, Kevin Pratt, Scott Higgins.
B.C.: Elaine Dagg-Jackson.
Alberta: Warren Hansen, Con Griwkowsky, Renee Sonnenberg, Terry Jones.
Saskatchewan: Devin Heroux, Stefanie Lawton.
Manitoba: Jill Thurston, Ted Wyman.
Ontario: Greg Strong, Mike Harris, George Karrys, Kevin Palmer, Mary Chilvers, Lorie Eddy.
Quebec: Guy Hemmings, Marie-France Larouche.
Nova Scotia: Mark Dacey, Mary Mattatall.
New Brunswick: Heidi Hanlon.
Prince Edward Island: Nancy Cameron.
Newfoundland and Labrador: Cathy Cunningham, Geoff Cunningham.
Territories: Kerry Galusha.
Ad Hoc: Al Cameron.

And, finally, happy 73rd birthday to CJOB in Good Ol’ Hometown. They went on air on this day in 1946, just in time to broadcast the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ last Grey Cup victory. Just kidding, of course. Worked at ‘OB for a brief time, with Friar, Knuckles and Kelly Moore. Terrific people.

About Puck Finn and sports folklore from “back in the day” in Good Ol’ Hometown

Many years from now, when people of a certain vintage gather to advise young’uns what it was like “back in the day,” Patrik Laine surely will occupy a place in the spinning of yarns.

The tales the elders tell will be tall and, no doubt, embellished to the point whereby Puck Finn is remembered as a larger-than-life National Hockey League player who, when not scoring goals, rescued babies from burning buildings and single-handedly dug a mile-wide trench around Duff’s Ditch to spare River City from cataclysmic spring flooding.

Puck Finn

“I was there when he dug that trench,” they’ll swear. “Took him a week. And danged if he didn’t go out an hour after putting down his shovel and score five goals on five shots. I was there when that happened, too. Still have the ticket stub to prove it.”

And that’s okay. It’s what us old farts do. We traffic in folklore and expect whippersnappers to accept that everything “back in the day” was better than everything today.

I recall my oldest son, for example, sitting at the dinner table in the mid-1980s and pooh-poohing the notion that Gordie Howe might have been a better hockey player than Wayne Gretzky.

“What did Howe ever do that was so great?” he asked with considerable adolescent cheek and a smirk that needed to be wiped from his face.

“Excuse me? What did Gordie Howe do?” I replied, almost choking on my pork chop. “You mean aside from the six scoring titles, the six MVPs, the four Stanley Cup rings, the five goal-scoring titles, the most goals and points in the history of hockey, the 20 all-star teams? You mean aside from all that? And let me tell you something else…Gretzky was spoiled as a kid. His dad built him a rink in his back yard. Mr. Hockey—that’s Gordie Howe—wasn’t spoiled. He had to trudge two miles barefoot through three feet of snow just to get to the rink and back when he was a kid. All of us kids had to do that.”

Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe

My boy bowed his head. He had been properly chastised, yet he remained unconvinced of Howe’s superiority before finishing the last of his green peas and slinking off to the living room.

“Gretzky’s better,” were his defiant, parting words, “and I don’t believe that stuff about Howe walking barefoot in the snow. I’m sure they had buses back then.”

“They did, but Howe got kicked off for elbowing all the other boys,” I replied.

Similar tall tales will be told about Patrik Laine, his five goals on five shots in Winnipeg Jets’ 8-4 victory over the St. Louis Blues last weekend destined to be included in the I-was-there-when-it-happened folklore 40-50 years hence.

And that set me to thinking…

I began watching and following River City athletes more than 60 years ago, in the mid-1950s just as Billy Mosienko was returning to Good Ol’ Hometown to join Winnipeg Warriors of the Western Hockey League. So I’ve seen some jocks. And these are the 10 I mention most when asked about the way it was “back in the day.”

  • Ken Ploen

    Kenny Ploen: Once upon a time, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers won the Grey Cup. Repeatedly. And Ploen was usually at the forefront of those powerful 1950s-60s Canadian Football League outfits—as a quarterback, a defensive back, or both. Oh, yes, Ploen played two ways. Sometimes in the same game. And he was an all-star at both positions. He also might be the nicest man alive. I recall riding my bike, twice a day, out to Packers Field in St. Boniface during Bombers training camp. I’d ask Mr. Ploen for his autograph after each of the morning and afternoon sessions. Every day for a week. He never once declined my request for his signature.

  • Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and the Shoe, Lars-Erik Sjoberg: Hedberg was a cheetah on skates. Nilsson had four eyes, two in the front of his head and two in the back. The Shoe was short and squat, kind of like Barney Rubble. It was as if an unseen giant had put his thumb on the top of the Shoe’s head and squashed him. But move the puck? The best. And the beatings those Swedish boys took from North American ruffians after joining the Jets in the World Hockey Association? Rented mules don’t get whacked that often.

  • Terry Sawchuk

    Terry Sawchuk: The great goalie grew up in the same area of town as I did, East Kildonan. When I began playing Little NHL hockey at Melrose Park, rumor had it that a pair of goalie pads we used once belonged to Sawchuk. That set of pillows had magical, mystic powers. The kid who wrapped the Sawchuk pads around his legs always got a shutout. Honest. He did.

  • Donny Lalonde: I remember the first time I saw the Golden Boy working out in a firehall-turned gym, his every move in concert with the sound of Bob Dylan’s great album Infidels. He struck me as kind of scrawny for a light-heavyweight boxer. He wasn’t much of a ring technician. And he fought with his left arm tied behind his back. But his one good arm won a world championship and he became just the second man to floor the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard.

  • Bluto

    Chris Walby: If it’s possible for anyone to actually be larger than life, Bluto is your man. He went from total junior hockey goon with the West Kildonan North Stars to a career as arguably the best offensive lineman in CFL history. He later became a talking head on CBC football coverage, mangling the English language while actually making sense. If you ever see Walby, check out his hands. His fingers are as gnarled and as bent as tree bark. They’ve been broken more often than a politician’s promises.

  • Jeff Stoughton: A curler who didn’t drink. Go figure. And I don’t recall ever hearing cuss words escape his lips. That certainly made him suitable for mixed company and, in fact, mostly forgotten is that his breakthrough on the national stage came in the mixed game, where he skipped his rink to a pair of Canadian titles before beginning his run as the most successful male curler in a curling-rich province. His spin-o-rama delivery is legendary.

  • The Finnish Flash

    Teemu Selanne: I’m not convinced that the Finnish Flash actually happened. I mean, 76 goals and 132 points as an NHL rookie? Go on. You’re making that up. That’s pure fiction. But it’s not. Teemu actually did it in real life, not PlayStation. Then—poof!—he was gone, like Col. Flagg on M*A*S*H.

  • Vic Peters: Like Selanne, seemingly too good to have been real. Forget that he was a champion curler. Vic was the loveliest of lads. A total people person who, when not winning curling championships or making pebbled ice, could be found at Larters or The Meadows golf courses, grooming the fairways/greens or playing a few holes while still wearing his superintendent’s galoshes. If K. Ploen isn’t the nicest man, Vic was and he left us far too soon.

About the Lords of Rinks and Drinks…Paul Gowsell curling under the influence of pizza…teetotaler Jeff Stoughton…Puck Finn and PlayStation…Dave Hodge shows his baby blues…so long Satch Maloney…the CFLPA d’oh boys…Dave Dickenson the Mea Culpa Man…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored from someone who’s never been too drunk to curl…

I cannot recall my curling baptism with any deep level of clarity.

I do, however, have foggy recollections of E.D. Smith jam pails filled with poured concrete awkwardly skimming along a bumpy sheet of ice in the far corner of the St. Alphonsus schoolyard, where we had been instructed to assemble for our first misadventures of the hurry-hard culture.

None of us were too drunk to curl that day. The Sisters of St. Joseph saw to that.

There was a lengthy list of things those strap-wielding nun/teachers frowned upon during my formative years, and Grades 1 and 2 sprigs getting blotto-faced before sliding from a makeshift hack on a makeshift curling rink surely was high on their registry of restrictions. Boozing it up wasn’t something a good Catholic kid did. At least not until Grade 8.

So, yes, all of us urchins were as sober as nuns that day as we bundled up and stepped outside into the Arctic-like embrace of an unyielding Winnipeg winter.

And let the record show this: It was the only day I ever curled without beer being involved.

Thus it was with wry amusement that I’ve read the reaction(s) to the booze-fueled shenanigans of our curlers last weekend in Red Deer, the Alberta burg caught between a rock (Calgary) and a hard place (Edmonton).

Ryan (Small) Fry

If you came in late, the World Curling Tour’s Red Deer Classic was chugging along smoothly when Jamie Koe, Ryan (Small) Fry, Chris Schille and DJ Kidby took a notion to occupy the down time between games by giving their elbows a strenuous bending. Thirty-to-40 bottles of wobbly pop and numerous shooters later, they were good and properly pie-eyed, with not a nun on cite to monitor their behaviour with a piercing frown or a firm rapping of the knuckles with a wooden yardstick. So they went out and curled. At least three of them did.

Koe, recognizing that something was missing (his legs), took a powder. Apparently more brown pops required his attention. Fry, Schille and Kidby gave it a go on the pebble sans their too-drunk-to-curl skip, but what ensued was “a gong show” according to the venue manager, Wade Thurber. There was broom-breaking (Fry shattered three). There was foul language (imagine that, a curler cussin’). Later, a changing room wall lost an argument to either a foot or a fist.

Barney, Homer and Moe talk curling.

These were no piddling hogline violations. The lads were punted from the event. Yup, kicked out, like Homer and his pal Barney Gumble after they’ve had one too many Duff at Moe’s.

In the ensuing days, headline writers and opinionists across the globe have had their way with our “drunken curlers.” Dispatches of the “drunken debacle” have stretched from Red Deer to the U.K., to Asia, to Down Under. CNN, the Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated, the BBC, SkySports, The Independent, Business Insider, the New Zealand Herald, Eurosport, Deadspin, the Sydney Morning Herald, HuffPost UK, the Washington Post, the Korea Herald, Breitbart and The Guardian have all weighed in, basically advancing the same theme: Canadians are a bunch of party people who drunkenly slide around on ice nine months of the year.

Well, we know that to be untrue. We’re drunk 12 months of the year and the ice melts after seven months.

Scott Moir with Bob and Doug McKenzie: Beer, eh.

But here’s what has really surprised me in the fallout of the curling kerfuffle: Seemingly the link between Canadian sports and beer swilling is something the rest of the world has just now discovered. What, they weren’t paying attention to the Olympics last winter when our fancy skater Scott Moir was tossing back pints faster than Boris Yeltsin? Cripes, man, Grey Cup week is affectionately known as the Grand National Drunk. The Brier even has its own pub. At one point in history, the prize for winning the Canadian men’s curling championship was a beer stein the size of a backyard hot tub.

It wasn’t until a kid drowned in the thing that they got rid of it.

So you’ll have to excuse me if I refuse to get my knickers in a twist over a few of the boys going all hoser a la Bob and Doug McKenzie.

Besides, there’s good news in all this: The rest of the world has been so focused on our “drunken curlers” that they’ve forgotten we’re also responsible for Nickelback, the Biebs and Howie Mandel’s lame jokes and germaphobia.

Paul Gowsell

It’s not like Koe and Co. are the first curlers to feel their oats (and barley). I mean, some of us haven’t forgotten Paul Gowsell, long-haired rebel of the Pebble People. Never mind that the former world junior champion had a pizza delivered in the middle of a game during a bonspiel in Regina (“We were hungry.”), he once was flagged down by the gendarmes for drunk driving, possession of pot and illegal possession of liquor—while wheeling his way home from a banquet honoring him as Calgary’s athlete-of-the-year. Gowsell copped a guilty plea on the drunk driving and marijuana raps, and was fined $150 for each. He was not, however, charged for curling while under the influence of pepperoni, salami and extra cheese in Regina.

If nothing else, the Red Deer episode of the Lords of Rinks and Drinks has provided others cause to double down on their dumb stereotyping of the roaring game. My favorite comment was delivered by a Los Angeles Times reader who wrote: “Curling will never catch on as a popular sport in America because it all looks too much like tedious janitorial work that requires basic householding skills.” Why do you think curlers drink, dude?

Jeff Stoughton with the Tankard Trophy.

For the record, I knew just one curler who never allowed booze to pass his lips—legendary Manitoba skip Jeff Stoughton. There might have been other teetotalers among the Pebble People that I wrote about, but perhaps I spent too much time in the Brier Patch to notice. (Just kidding. I never once set foot in the Patch—I did my elbow bending in regular pubs. But only after filing my copy. Honest. I wrote sober. Or did I write drunk and edit sober, as Hemmingway suggested we do? Can’t remember. Must have killed too much grey matter.)

Okay, let’s move on to other stuff, like Patrik Laine. I turned on my flatscreen to watch a hockey game on Saturday and PlayStation broke out. Seriously, what Puck Finn did to the Blues in St. Loo—five shots, five goals in an 8-4 Winnipeg Jets win—was pure video game stuff. And, to think, a week ago this morning 41 National Hockey League players had more goals than the Finnish winger. Today there are zero. Usually when a guy climbs that high, that fast, he needs a Sherpa guide and oxygen. I don’t think Puck Finn had to hit the shower by the time he was done. Yes, he made it look that easy.

Puck Finn will be due a pay raise at the end of this crusade. Can you say “Ka-ching!” kids?

Ron MacLean and Dave Hodge

I have one thing to say about Dave Hodge returning to Hockey Night in Canada (in a baby blue blazer, no less)—flipping brilliant. And if you’re of a certain vintage, you’ll know what I mean when I say “flipping.”

Sad to hear about the death of Dan Maloney, former coach of the Winnipeg Jets. Like all Jets bench jockeys, Satch wasn’t there for a long time (1986-89), but there were good times, most notably a playoff series victory over the Calgary Flames. Satch was a good, sincere, soft-spoken man. I always enjoyed dealing with him while wandering the continent with Winnipeg HC.

I can’t say for certain, but I doubt there’s ever been a tougher head coach-GM tag team in NHL history than Satch and John Bowie Ferguson. If their teams couldn’t beat ’em on the ice, Satch and Fergy sure as hell could whup the other team’s management in any UFC octagon.

Going into tonight’s game between the Edmonton McDavids and the Kings in Tinseltown, Milan Lucic has scored one goal more than me. And I’ll make $5,981,000 less than the Looch this year.

What’s up with Canadian Football League Players Association members? You’d think the large lads in pads would know better than news snoops on the beat when it comes to quality performance. But no. They’re “D’oh!” boys. Evidence of this is found in the CFLPA collection of all-stars that does not include the league’s most outstanding player, Bo Levi Mitchell, the league’s most outstanding defensive player, Beastmo Bighill, the league’s most outstanding O-lineman, Stanley Bryant, and the league’s leading ground gainer, Andrew Harris. Oh, and let’s not forget they anointed June Jones of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats the top sideline steward. That despite the fact six of nine head coaches compiled superior records. All of which can mean just one thing: Curlers aren’t the only athletes who drink too much.

The Mea Culpa Man

I can’t decide if Dave Dickenson is a football coach or a conspiracy theorist, but I do know the Calgary Stampeders head knock has established a Grey Cup record for apologies.

Double D doubled down on mea culpas during Grey Cup week in Edmonton, first apologizing for his gutteral description of Mike O’Shea and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ homebrew braintrust as an effing Canadian Mafia, then for his ‘oh, woe are we’ suggestion that the entire nation will be root, root, rooting against his tribe in today’s CFL championship skirmish.

“Sometimes you just talk to much,” the Mea Culpa Man mused. “Maybe I fabricated my own little storyline. Maybe I should have kept those comments to myself.”

No, no, no. A thousand times no, Dave. Keep yapping like an annoying little lap dog. And the dumber the better.

Apparently Bytown RedBlacks O-lineman Jon Gott has a chip on his shoulder any time he plays against the Stampeders, his former outfit. And here I thought that thing on his shoulder was a can of beer.

I’m liking the RedBlacks to haul the Grey Cup back to the nation’s capital with a three-point victory over the Stamps this afternoon/evening in E-Town. Final score: 28-25. Game MVP: Trevor Harris.

And, finally, just wondering: Did anyone actually watch the Tiger Woods-Lefty Mickelson con job?

About scary, creepy things in sports that make me want to scream…bravo to Joe Daley, Jeff Stoughton and Jim Kyte…second-guessing in the Drab Slab…CFL power rankings…and a WHL franchise for River City?

In a salute to the spookiest day of the year, I present a dozen things/people in sports that I find scary, creepy or make me want to scream…

1. Connor McDavid: He’s scary good.

2. Mike O’Shea: Be afraid, kids. Be very afraid. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers enter the Canadian Football League playoffs in another 11 days, so you just know that Mad Scientist Mike is already concocting potions and notions that include smoke, mirrors and much hocus-pocus, all designed to disable his foes. Trouble is, Coach Mikey’s sorcery has turned his own team into a toad the past two Grey Cup runoffs.

3. Don Cherry on Coachless Corner: Still? Really?

4. TSN’s Cult of Johnny: On the creepy scale, TSN’s infatuation with Johnny Manziel is right up there with your grandmother French kissing you. The gushing groupies in the TSN Tower of Babble On make any Montreal Alouettes game either must-mute or must-avoid TV.

5. The Republic of Tranna media infatuation with Drake: He’s cast a spell on them. They become blithering idiots the moment he arrives at a Raptors game. He gets more ink than Dennis Rodman’s upper body. And for what? Acting like an ass-clown at a basketball game?

6. Conor McGregor: I feel an urgent need for someone to hose me down every time he opens the sewer that passes for his mouth. Easily the creepiest, most repugnant man in sports.

7. Serena Williams: When Mommy Fiercest became unhinged during the U.S. Open women’s singles final, I ran for cover. I feared she was about to crash through my flatscreen and shove an effing tennis ball down my effing throat.

8. Tiger worship: Similar to TSN and its Cult of Johnny, American TV networks fawn over Tiger Woods like he’s Gandhi in Nikes. The difference, of course, is that Tiger has actually accomplished something on the golf course, whereas Johnny Rotten has done squat in the CFL. Still, when Woods is 15 swings off the lead, you’d think gab guys like the totally insufferable, swooning Gary McCord would find something better to talk about than Woods’ latest gaffe.

9. The rabble shouting “True North!” during the singing of O Canada at Winnipeg Jets games: This is also must-mute TV. I mean, I get it. The locals are grateful that the National Hockey League returned to Good Ol’ Hometown. But turning part of O Canada into a corporate rallying cry is totally creepy.

10. Damien Cox on Hockey Central at Noon on Sportsnet: You know that wet-dog smell? Ya, Cox is that pungent. He is fingernails on the chalk board. He is smarmy. And those eyebrows…positively ghoulish.

11. Jock journos in mainstream media who look down their snobbish noses at bloggers and podcasters: Hey, we have something to say and we have the right to say it. Some of the most honest, critical commentary I read or hear is on blogs and podcasts. Some of the worst and weakest is in MSM.

12. Fancy stats geeks who think the numbers tell the entire story: Sure there’s value in the number-crunchers. No argument there. But I still trust my eyes more than their charts and graphs. They make my eyes bleed.

Big tips of the bonnet to Joe Daley and Jeff Stoughton, both among the class of 2018 to be inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame this weekend. Joe, the one time Holy Goalie, is a Jets original, and if you want to know anything about the three World Hockey Association titles the local lads brought home to River City, he’s the guy to ask. Joe was there for all three of them, and he has the championship rings to prove it. Stoughton, meanwhile, is only the best curler ever produced on the pebbled ice in the Keystone province, and that’s saying something. Like Daley, Jeff was a quote fountain for news snoops. I know he filled my notebook more than once. Both terrific guys, both well-deserved honors.

And, hey, let’s hear it for old friend Jim Kyte, recently inducted into the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame. The former Jets defenceman is the only legally deaf person to play in the NHL, and he entered the CDHF with former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Jeff Hamilton

Found this interesting in the aftermath of the Blue Bombers’ recent victory over the Calgary Stampeders.

In an objective analysis of the skirmish, young Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote that Mike O’Shea was a goof (my word, not his) for gambling on third down deep in his own section of the football field, the Bombers in front by 11 with 4:36 remaining. For that, Jeff gets BBQ’d by readers.

“Man do I hate the second guessing of this column,” wrote one. “Come on…the Bombers should always get a yard on any down. If it had worked Jeff, you wouldn’t say a thing. Easy to criticize after it fails and, hey lets (sic) trot out every gamble that hasn’t worked in O’Shea’s tenure. Disgusting Jeff and I expect better than that from you.”

Another reader gave that comment “1,000 thumbs up!!!!”

Yet when former Bombers D-lineman Doug Brown writes basically the same thing as Hamilton, scolding O’Shea for his ill-advised risk, it’s “Well said Doug” and “I can’t really disagree with either the decision or your argument.”

Here’s the deal: Unlike Brown, Hamilton never played three-down football at the highest level. I don’t know if the Drab Slab scribe even collected football cards. But that doesn’t disqualify him from second-guessing the Bombers head coach. More to the point, it’s part of his job. His takeaway of O’Shea’s unharnessed impulse for reckless, risky business was not only appropriate but spot on.

Randy Ambrosie

Why were so many pundits and fans outraged that CFL game officials and concussion spotters were out to lunch when Odell Willis of the B.C. Lions rocked Zach Collaros’ world with a violent, illegal wallop to the head last weekend? This, after all, is the same league that trumpets its policy on domestic violence yet welcomes the woman-beating quarterback Johnny Manziel with open arms. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s apology after the Willis-Collaros hit was nothing more than weak PR posturing.

This week’s CFL power rankings…

Winnipeg (10-7): On a roll, baby.
Saskatchewan (12-6): QB health the big question.
Calgary (12-5): Stumble, stumble, stumble.
B.C. (9-8): Go east, young men.
Ottawa (10-7): On cruise control.
Hamilton (8-9): No Speedy B, no hope?
Edmonton (8-9): Disastrous season.
Toronto (4-13): Whatever.
Montreal (4-13): Ditto.

And, finally, I have fond memories of riding the iron lung with Gerry Brisson, Muzz MacPherson and the Winnipeg Clubs/Monarchs in the 1970s, so the prospect of the Western Hockey League returning to Good Ol’ Hometown is intriguing.

I’m skeptical about it working, though.

If you missed it, Mike Sawatzky reported in the Winnipeg Free Press that the Kootenay Ice are having a rough go of it in Cranbrook, B.C. Average attendance is 2,307, lowest in the WHL, and the town’s mayor, Lee Pratt, told the Cranbrook Daily Townsman this: “With the fan support they are getting right now it’s not a viable operation.”

The Green Bay Committee held a town hall meeting in support of the Ice last Thursday, and they’ll gather again tomorrow night in the hope they can corral 500-600 new season-ticket subscribers to save the franchise. Failing that, team owners Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell might be inclined to pull up stakes and head east.

That begs questions, though. To wit:

Would they be better off in River City?
Would a WHL franchise operating out of the University of Manitoba attract 2,000 or more customers?
If an average head count of 2,307 can’t work in Cranbrook, how can it possibly work in Winnipeg?
Would the arrival of a WHL outfit strike the death knell for Winnipeg Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League?

Remove the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League and I’d say Fettes and Cockell might have a chance in Good Ol’ Hometown. As it is, I don’t see it happening. But I hope I’m wrong.

About therapy for the Tranna Maple Leafs jugger-not…the price ain’t right for Willy…boneheaded coaching in the CFL…Johnny’s still rotten and having a hissy fit…CFL power rankings down the stretch…Johnny Miller pulling the plug…Johnny Mo bidding adios…RiRi keeping her clothes on…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in three, two, one…

The bloom is off the petunia in the Republic of Tranna.

We know this to be so because it finally has occurred to easily swayed news snoops in The ROT that Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr don’t actually skate with the Maple Leafs.

Auston Matthews

Turns out it was a case of mistaken identity. Auston Matthews is actually Auston Matthews, not No. 99. Morgan Rielly is actually Morgan Rielly, not No. 4. Les Leafs are actually a work in progress, not the 1980s Edmonton Oilers. Pond hockey is fun to watch but not actually sustainable. The juggernaut is actually a jugger-not! Who knew?

Certainly not the scribes and natterbugs in The ROT who’d been howling hosannas about Matthews and Rielly at a deafening and, yes, annoying volume. It was as if the two youthful Leafs had invented vulcanized rubber, the Zamboni and Coach’s Corner.

Alas, troubled times have arrived.

Les Leafs seemingly became National Hockey League d’oh! boys overnight. There were zero goals in a stumble against the Pittsburgh Penguins. There was one score in a faceplant vs. the St. Louis Blues.

Mike Babcock

In an attempt to dig to the root of these missteps, les Leafs, normally off duty on the Sabbath, were summoned and assembled yesterday. Not for a practice, though. This was what multi-millionaire head coach Mike Babcock described as a “reality therapy meeting.”

No word if Dr. Phil was brought in as a guest coach, or if Oprah was on standby with her couch.

So when les Leafs arrive at The Little Hockey House On The Prairie for their Wednesday night skirmish with the Winnipeg Jets, be gentle with them, kids. They’re in therapy, don’t you know.

Les Leafs, of course, come to town sans gifted forward William Nylander, who remains back home in Europe awaiting a contract offer he can’t refuse. I hope he isn’t holding his breath. I mean, let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that reports of the unsigned restricted free agent’s asking price are accurate. Hmmm, $8.5 million. That’s Leon Draisaitl money. Well, just because the Edmonton Oilers are stupid doesn’t mean the Maple Leafs have to be.

Mike Sherman

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: The Montreal Alouettes were down to their final play on Saturday afternoon, scrimmaging on the Tranna Argonauts’ 48-yard stripe, thus it was Hail Mary time in a 26-22 game. And what does Larks head coach Mike Sherman do? He yanks his starting quarterback, Johnny Manziel, and inserts a cold Antonio Pipkin behind centre because he had “fresh legs.” What exactly did Sherman expect Pipkin to do? Toss the football with his feet? Unless Johnny Rotten is incapable of flinging a football 50 yards, Sherman’s reasoning makes no sense at all. It was boneheaded coaching.

Johnny Manziel

Manziel showed us what he’s all about when he dashed away in a huff the moment Pipkin’s fresh legs failed to avoid the Argos’ pass rush and he was sacked on the final play in the Larks’ loss. No mingling with the boys on the field after the fact. No hand shakes or job-well-done words for his mates and foes. Just sprint and pout (his legs look real “fresh” as he ran away). Hey, I don’t blame the guy for being PO’d, but scurrying off in a hissy fit is a bad, spoiled-brat optic. And it confirms that Johnny Rotten is all about Johnny Rotten.

An unidentified Canadian Football league coach or GM delivered this gem to Kirk Penton of The Athletic: “Manziel’s better than you think. No quarterback can win with that group of offensive linemen Montreal is putting out there.” Not true. Pipkin won two of four starts with the O-lineman that the Alouettes are “putting out there.” It’s just the 0-6 Johnny Rotten who can’t win with them.

Why is the CFL keeping the head count for the Als-Argos skirmish at BMO Field a secret? I mean, so what if you see more people at Chris Walby’s backyard BBQ? Give us the attendance figure already.

This week’s CFL power rankings…
1. Calgary (12-4): Still the team to beat.
2. Saskatchewan (11-6): Where did that offence come from?
3. Winnipeg (9-7): Back to work this week.
4. B.C. (9-7): Winning for Wally.
5. Ottawa (9-7): A playoff bye for Bytown?
6. Hamilton (8-8): Losing Speedy B is huge.
7. Edmonton (8-9): Wholesale changes are a-coming.
8. Toronto (4-12): Blah, blah, blah.
9. Montreal (3-13): Yadda, yadda, yadda.

If you’re a parent with a child playing football, you might want to take a peek at the latest issue of The Manitoba Teacher, where you’ll find an excellent feature by one of my favorite people and former colleague Judy Owen. She gets into the safety measures local leagues are taking in an attempt to curb injuries, and Winnipeg Blue Bombers greats Chris Walby and Troy Westwood offer input. It’s good stuff.

Still no freshly minted sports columnist to replace the departed Paul Wiecek at the Winnipeg Free Press. I thought they’d have had someone in place the moment Wiecek walked out the door, because a sports section without a columnist is like a church without prayer. A pub without pints. Sinatra without a song. As good as the Drab Slab’s foot soldiers are in the toy department—and they are good—the section needs a lead voice. Someone to arouse the rabble. And I need someone to critique.

Johnny Miller

So, Johnny Miller plans to pull the plug on his golf analyst gig with NBC Sports after the Phoenix Open in early February next year. Shame. Although pompous, Miller is blunt and goes directly to the point. He’s never been afraid to ruffle feathers. He and tennis great John McEnroe are the two most honest game analysts/color commentators on sports TV. Apparently Paul Azinger will move into Miller’s seat at NBC. He’s good, but he’s going to hear a lot of “He’s no Johnny Miller” when he cushions his comments.

Johnny Mo

John Morris tells Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun that his hurry-hard days in men’s curling are done, and he’ll now focus on mixed doubles. That’s one of those good news, bad news things. It’s good that Johnny Mo will continue to curl, because he’s a colorful guy who knows how to fill news snoops’ notebooks and deliver quality sound bites. But, since mixed doubles is still in its infancy and sits on the periphery of the game, he won’t be as visible. So file that part of his decision under not so good.

The low-key, subdued farewell is among the quirks of world-class curling. Johnny Mo steps away from the men’s game and there’s no fanfare, even though he is among the most-decorated Pebble People of all time. Intense (sometimes to a fault) and combative, Johnny Mo did it all on the pebble. This is a hall of fame curler. His resumé includes multiple Olympic, world and Canadian championships and, of course, he collaborated with Kaitlyn Lawes to reach the top step of the podium in the inaugural mixed doubles event at the Winter Games in South Korea last February. But there will be no teary-eyed press gathering like we see when a hockey, football, baseball or hoops great bids adios. Legends like Morris, Kevin Martin, Jeff Stoughton, Elisabet Gustafson, Colleen Jones, Dugie et al go quietly into the night. Or to the broadcast booth. It’s the curler’s way.

And, finally, Rihanna apparently rejected an offer to headline the halftime show at next year’s Super Bowl, so we’re stuck with Adam Levine and Maroon 5. Personally, I’m not into either performer’s music, but I know whose wardrobe I’d like to see malfunction.

Giving thanks on Turkey Day in Canada

Turkey Day in Canada seems like the appropriate time to talk about gobblers in sports, but I’m going to give thanks on Thanksgiving Day instead…

Jennifer Jones

Thanks to curling and curlers. Real people. Regular working stiffs who just happen to have better draw weight than the rest of us. Easily the most pleasant, most obliging athletes to cover.

Thanks to Jennifer Jones. Give or take Jeff Stoughton, Dugie, Kerry Burtnyk and Vic Peters, she’s the best curler ever produced in Manitoba. I know all about the nasty Cathy Overton-Clapham business, but it’s one of those things people should have let go of years ago. I don’t understand why Jones hasn’t felt universal love from the rabble. She’s always struck me as a lovely young woman.

Thanks to the Canadian Football League. I was born and raised on the Prairies and weaned on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of Kenny Ploen, the Lincoln Locomotive, Zazu Pitts, Choo Choo Shepard, Kid Dynamite and Tricky Dick Thornton. So I care.

Thanks to the Bombers. See above.

Thanks to the Winnipeg Jets. I no longer reside in Good Ol’ Hometown, but I know how long and harsh the winters can be. (I believe I still have some frost bite from the winter of 1998-99.) The Jets can’t change that, but they do provide locals with a delightful diversion while waiting for the deep freeze to disappear. And, for transplanted Peggers like myself in Canucks country, they’ve become a source of pride.

Thanks to newspapers. I can’t recall the last time I actually held some fish wrap in my wrinkled hands, because I get my daily dose of the rag trade on the Internet. I unfailingly call up the two River City sheets in the small hours each morning and (usually) enjoy the scribblings of the boys on the beats at both the Winnipeg Free Press and Winnipeg Sun. I don’t always agree with what’s written, how it’s written, or how it’s displayed, but I’m grateful that Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman, Ken Wiebe, Jeff Hamilton, Mike McIntyre, Jason Bell, Mike Sawatzky et al are there to detail the goings-on in the toy department.

Thanks to the Athletic. A digital sports section, it’s become a gathering place for some very good scribes who either chose, or were obliged, to leave mainstream jock journalism. That includes my favorite football writer, Kirk Penton. (If only they’d hire more people to join Kirk on the CFL beat.)

Thanks to the Republic of Tranna. Yes, I’m grateful for big, bad TO. The (so-called) 6ix unites us out here in the colonies. Oh, there are a few misguided dissidents who actually root, root, root for the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Argonauts, Raptors and Tranna FC, but mostly The ROT outfits provide us with a laugh track. And it’s always good to laugh.

Black-and-white proof that the Maple Leafs have won the Stanley Cup.

Thanks to the ROT media. Such an annoying mob. Always mentioning the Leafs and Stanley Cup in the same sentence. Totally delusional. But, again, I wouldn’t have it any other way, because they provide more fodder for rude and/or smug laughter. (I’ve actually seen les Leafs win the Stanley Cup. Four times, in fact. But I was 16 years old the last time they did it and I’m guessing I’ll be ashes in a urn before it happens again.)

Thanks to TSN and Sportsnet. Some of the natterbugs drive me bonkers, most notably the gab guys on TSN (yes, I’m looking at you Rod Black and Glen Suitor). Their slobbering over TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel, is embarrassing and makes the viewing experience painful. But, hey, thanks also to the guy who invented the mute button on the remote, right? The point is, our two sports networks usually deliver the goods. If there’s something worth watching, chances are one of them is there.

Thanks to women in sports media. It’s a tough gig. Much tougher when you’re seen as nothing more than a Sideline Barbie. I’d like to see more female bylines and hear more female voices, but as long as the old boys’ network exists in print and on the air, it continues to be an agonizingly slow process.

Thanks to sports blogs and bloggers. Got something to get off your chest? No need to write a letter to the editor that gets slashed down to 100 words. Just create your own blog (guilty as charged). Or join a blog site like Arctic Ice Hockey, Winnipeg Hockey Talk, or HockeyBuzz. The writing on sports blogs is often more pointed and honest than what you’ll read in the mainstream.

And, finally, thanks to everyone who visits this silly blog. I’ll try to get better. I promise.

About Winnipeg Blue Bombers coaches Tar & Feather…Matt Nichols, game manager…counting heads in the CFL…Johnny Rotten, American beer and more TSN gushing…the morphing of Josh Morrissey…a nightmare on Donald Street…homeless in Detroit…the great Gretzky getaway to La La Land…dial Mark Stone for “exhausted”…and a Christmas Day “snub”

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

I think I know what some of you were thinking.

You were thinking that Richie Hall’s defence would become Richie Hall’s defence. Oh yes you were.

Richie Hall

As the Hamilton Tiger-Cats gnawed away at a substantial deficit Friday, you were convinced that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive dozen was about to fall back on bad habits and, thus, a hot, steamy evening at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry would conclude with the local lads squandering 19-7 and 26-10 leads like a teenage kid with his first summer wages. I was thinking the same thing.

Not this time, though.

On a night when quarterback Matt Nichols kept flinging the football to empty spaces instead of willing hands, the oft-crucified Hall and his oft-crucified group secured the Bombers’ fifth W in their eight skirmishes this Canadian Football League crusade, and their 29-23 success means the defensive coordinator is good to flit about town this week sans disguise.

Same goes for the head coach, Mike O’Shea, who today is a .500 head coach.

Mike O’Shea

How long has it been since the oft-skewered O’Shea last saw anything other than the dark side of the moon? Well, Sam Katz was still the mayor. Jeff Stoughton was still king of Manitoba’s curlers. Evander Kane was still dining and dashing. It was Sept. 13, 2014. The Bombers were 6-6 and soon to be 6-7. That pit eventually grew so deep that O’Shea had to carry a canary to work. He’s finally come up for air. His record, once 13-28, now stands at 40-40. The canary’s work is done.

Yup, life is good for coaches Tar & Feather. For now. There’s another game in five days. The jackals are forever crouching at their door.

Make no mistake, much of the criticism heaped on whipping boys O’Shea and Hall has been warranted, most notably on those occasions when the head man was guilty of mind-numbing buffoonery. Like attempting a season-halting, no-chance-in-hell, 61-yard field goal in the dead air of B.C. Place Stadium. Coach Mikey will wear that particular moment of madness until he actually wins a playoff game, but, in the meantime, shouldn’t the rabble—and all knights of the keyboard—acknowledge that he and Hall are getting the job done?

Matt Nichols

What’s up with Matt Nichols? I mean, the guy missed more long-range targets on Friday night than an Iraqi scud missile. His receivers would have required arms longer than Pinocchio’s nose to latch onto some of his passes. It brought to mind something a CFL coach or GM told Kirk Penton of The Athletic when discussing the league’s premier QBs: “Nichols is just a game manager.” And that’s the best you can say about his work against the Tabbies—he managed to win the game. But isn’t that the bottom line for quarterbacks?

Commonwealth Stadium

This from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet: “There was a great deal of chest-thumping last week when Edmonton announced a crowd of 35,623 for a game against Saskatchewan, the CFL’s biggest live audience of the season. Given that Commonwealth Stadium was still 40 per cent empty, you might wonder what all the celebrating was about. Twenty years ago, nobody would have got excited about that kind of crowd.”

A couple layers to peel here: First, I didn’t read or hear about anyone dancing in the streets of The Chuck because of that head count. If there was a celebration, I missed it. Second, what a mook. I mean, had Cox taken five minutes for research, he’d know that seven of the eight CFL franchises averaged less than 30,000 customers per home date “20 years ago.” Half the league (Hamilton, Toronto, Montreal and B.C.) averaged less than 20,000. Thus, I submit that every club, save possibly for the Eskimos, would have been very “excited” about an audience of 35,623 “20 years ago.” More to the point, they’d have been shouting about it from the rooftops if it happened the first week of August, which is not exactly prime time for spending an evening sitting at the 55-yard line.

Just the facts, ma’am. They aren’t hard to find.

I note that a record number of our friends south of the great U.S.-Canada divide tuned in to witness TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel, make his CFL debut on Aug. 3. Yup, 406,000 sets of peepers watched in wonder as Johnny Rotten fell flat on his face in his three-down baptism. Best ever ESPN2 audience for a CFL skirmish. Confirming, of course, that American football fans’ taste in quarterbacks is much like their taste in beer—watered down.

Trevor Harris

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Trevor Harris of the Ottawa RedBlacks flung the football 54 times on Saturday night. Forty-four of those passes—44!—landed in the right hands. That’s the second highest, single-game completion total in CFL history. Those passes/catches covered 487 of terrain, and one went for a touchdown in Ottawa’s 24-17 victory over the Montreal Alouettes. And yet, once the dust had settled, we had Rod Smith and Davis Sanchez of TSN flapping their gums about Johnny freaking Manziel, the losing quarterback whose performance was noteworthy only for the fact he didn’t toss four interceptions? “On a night where Trevor Harris throws for nearly 500 yards, it seems kind of crazy to be talking about the other quarterback, but that’s the Manziel world now in the CFL,” said Smith. No, Rod, it isn’t “kind of crazy.” It’s stupid and insulting, and TSN’s credibility is taking a big hit with its relentless and shameful gushing over a National Football League washout.

Josh Morrissey

For two years, Jacob Trouba has been so far up Paul Wiecek’s nose that a team of U.S. Navy SEALs wouldn’t be able to rescue him. Now we find Josh Morrissey up the other nostril.

Oh, yes, if Trouba is Darth Defenceman, Morrissey is Darth Lite.

And what heinous trespass has the young defender committed? Well, in a plot-thickening essay seemingly plucked out of River City’s hazy, sticky summer air and primarily designed to get tongues wagging, Wiecek informs us that Morrissey, like Trouba before him, is playing by the rules. The nerve.

Morrissey, to date, has declined to accept whatever hometown discount the Winnipeg Jets have asked him to accept in contract discussions, and thus he remains listed among the National Hockey League’s unsigned restricted free agents. That simply won’t do. Never mind that he’s merely exercising his bargained-for rights. Playing by the rules, in the world according to Wiecek, is bad manners, especially if it means you might upend a cart of apples.

Moreover, the Winnipeg Free Press scribe tells us that Morrissey is displaying a “darker side.” He’s morphed from Ned Flanders into Mr. Burns. Surely, Wiecek hints, there’s something foul afoot. “It’s no accident we’ve reached this point,” is his cryptic conclusion.

Good grief. The heat certainly affects people in peculiar ways, doesn’t it?

Look, there’s no story here. Not unless Wiecek has inside intel that he isn’t sharing, which I doubt. If Morrissey remains unsigned by the time the local lads assemble next month for their training sessions, then sure, let’s talk. Until then, let’s dispense with the flights of fantasy (read: fake news) and try to keep it real.

Jacob Trouba

Naturally, Wiecek couldn’t pen a piece about the Jets without skewering Trouba. Referencing the 24-year-old defenceman’s recent contract negotiations, which resulted in an arbitrator-awarded salary of $5.5 million, he wrote: “You knew that was going to be a nightmare.” So let’s recap. Trouba became a restricted free agent. He filed for arbitration, as is his right under the terms of the NHL-NHL Players Association contract. When his agent, Kurt Overhardt, and Jets ownership/management agreed to disagree on wage/term, it went to an arbitrator. Both parties signed the awarded one-year deal. Trouba will report to training camp and be a significant contributor to the group on its next Stanley Cup crusade. Exactly what part of that is a “nightmare?”

Hey, check out what Craig Custance of The Athletic Detroit has to say about our local hockey heroes. “If I had to bet the mortgage on a team right now to win the Stanley Cup, it’d be Winnipeg,” he writes. I’d take that bet in a heart beat, except I don’t want to live in Detroit and I’d hate to see Custance out on the street.

Weeping Wayne

Geez, it’s been 30 years since the Los Angeles Kings landed the biggest fish of them all, reeling in Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers. Where were you the day No. 99 broke down and wept when informed he’d be neighbors in La La Land with Tom Hanks, Michael Douglas and Jodie Foster? I was in my late 30s and vacationing at a cottage somewhere in the wilds of the Whiteshell, but I interrupted my hiatus long enough to take my toes out of the water and scribble a column for the Winnipeg Sun. It was probably a lousy essay that offered little insight, but, hey, I had other fish to fry that day. Literally.

Mark Stone

Some interesting thoughts on contract negotiations from homeboy Mark Stone, who recently settled on a one-year, $7.35 million pact with the Ottawa Senators to avoid arbitration at the 11th hour. “It’s lots of hours, you’re spending a lot of time on the phone and you’re thinking about what you should do and how you should approach things. It’s actually mentally exhausting,” said Stone. Ya, such a hardship. I once worked the phones for 7 1/2 hours a day, five days a week for a year and a half in the Cordova Bay Golf Course pro shop. I think they paid me 12 bucks an hour. Stone spent a few days on the phone and his NHL club will pay him about $30,000 an hour. And he’s exhausted?

And, finally, I don’t get it. Why are some people on our side of the border bent out of shape, saying and writing that the NBA has “snubbed” the Tranna Raptors by not including them on the Christmas Day TV menu? Seriously. That’s what people do on Christmas now? They watch a bunch of multi-millionaire stringbeans play bouncy-bouncy on the hardwood when there’s probably a feel-good Jimmy Stewart or Bing Crosby movie on TV? I shudder. And if that makes me sound old, it’s because I am old.