Let’s talk about the Freep’s record on the female file…Jennifer Jones keeps rolling along…Brooke deserved athlete-of-year honor…the Commander-in-Cheat…not-so-cheap seats at Aussie Open…and other things on my mind

Top o’ the morning to you, Jason Bell.

Is it too late for New Year’s greetings, Jason? Naw. It’s still January, so happy New Year to you and your stable of scribes in the toy department at the Drab Slab. Hope it’s a good one, full of scoops, fab features and smooth press runs.

Okay, now that the pleasantries are out of the way, let’s get down to business.

I read with interest your Jan. 20 email newsletter, in which you waxed on about your interaction with Winnipeg Free Press readers and, at the same time, gave yourself and staff an “atta boy” for a job well done. Notably, you cited curling as an area of substantial pride.

“I venture to say no media outlet in Canada makes it a priority to cover local curling like we do,” you wrote.

Well, Jason, I certainly agree that your attention to Pebble People is admirable and in keeping with a rich tradition, whereby daily newspapers in Good Ol’ Hometown treat the hurry hard crowd like deity. But I hope you didn’t hurt yourself with that vigorous pat on the back. I mean, you do well by today’s curlers, but it pales when compared to coverage of yore. (More on that in a bit.)

For now, let’s deal with the overall tone of your newsletter.

You invited readers to “keep those calls, letters and emails coming—and don’t hold back with your opinions of how we’re doing in the Free Press toy department’. Bring it with both barrels blazing.”

Well, okay, here’s one barrel: I’ve got some interesting numbers for you to digest, and they might be enough to make you choke on your Cheerios or poached eggs or dried toast (or whatever else is on your breakfast menu this morning).

Just so you know, I monitored the pages of your Drab Slab during 2022 in a quest to determine how much focus you, as sports editor, place on female athletes/teams hither, yon and in Good Ol’ Hometown, and I can’t say I’m surprised at my findings. They include:

  • Articles/briefs exclusive to male athletes/teams: 4,304 (358 monthly average)
  • Articles/briefs exclusive to female athletes teams: 657 (55 monthly average).
  • Monthly average of articles/briefs exclusive to local female athletes/teams: 12.
  • More than half of sports sections had zero (0) local female sports coverage.

So what’s your excuse, Jason?

The paper’s editor, Paul Samyn, likes to tell readers like myself that the Freep emphasis is on local, local, local. Perhaps that’s true in the other sections of the sheet, but the evidence confirms that home girls/women are getting short shrift on your sports pages.

Except for curlers, of course.

You love our female Pebble People, Jason. You worked the hurry hard beat (and did a boffo job) before landing the editor gig in the toy department, so you know where curling sits in the pecking order. And, hey, if you were to ignore the women you’d surely get an earful at the dinner table, since your bride, Allyson, is a two-time Manitoba Scotties champion.

Just don’t get your chest feathers too fluffed up.

Your coverage isn’t as voluminous or as thorough as back in the day, when Jack Matheson was churning it out for the Winnipeg Tribune and Don Blanchard at the Drab Slab. Hell, it wasn’t just Matty and Blanch. We all covered curling at the Trib. Every ink-stained one of us. Matty insisted on it. He had Davey Komosky as his right-hand man, and he also brought two local curlers on board, Ina Light and Marg Hudson, to scribble weekly columns on the women’s game. Blanch wasn’t flying solo at the Freep, either. His main accomplice was Ralph Bagley. Maybe it was over-the-top. I mean, devoting an entire broadsheet page to photos of all event winners in the annual MCA bonspiel? Who does that? We did. You don’t.

You don’t cover female athletes/teams, either, Jason. Not really. The scant space you devote to them smacks of “oh, by the way” tokenism.

Your predecessor, Steve Lyons, wrote this in October 2020: “We can’t control how many wire stories we get each day on women’s sports, so our solution to moving the needle in this area has always been to focus on being as equitable as possible on local sports.”

Ya, it was equitable under his watch like a nickel is worth a dollar.

I don’t expect you to answer for Lyons’ sins, Jason, but nothing’s changed with your hands on the wheel. Seriously, 12 local articles/briefs per month? You give Kyle Connor more ink than that just for brushing his teeth. Zach Collaros farts and it gets bigger play than the JFK assassination.

And I get it. The Jets and Bombers are the big dogs in town. People want to read about them. But c’mon, man. You can’t convince me that the girls/women who run, jump, tumble, swim, throw, catch, hit, shoot, kick or dribble a ball in Good Ol’ Hometown and environs are noteworthy just one dozen times a month. What, female accomplishments are less worthy?

Look, Jason, not every person is an athlete, but every athlete is a person. Don’t they all have a story to tell? Including the women/girls?

Perhaps the softness of female coverage is due to the makeup of your sports staff: Six dudes.

I mean, I’ve known male jock journos who’d rather clean up after the circus elephants than spend a chunk of their afternoon/evening watching girls/women throw, catch, kick or hit a ball. You might as well ask the guy to spend a weekend bingeing on those sappy Hallmark movies. I’d like to think your guys aren’t of that ilk, Jason, not even subconsciously.

But something is holding you back, because the numbers don’t lie.

It’s fair that I point out you’ve upped your game in the past six days, mainly because the Manitoba Scotties is right under your nose, but six days is a small sample size and I suspect it will be back to business as usual until the women gather in Kamloops for the national championship next month.

In the meantime, curiosity sent me on a fact-finding mission, Jason, and I examined our female coverage (articles and/or briefs exclusive to the girls/women) at the Tribune in January 1980 and compared it to your sports section’s work this month. Here are the numbers:

Tribune: 26 editions, 48 local female stories/briefs (19 curling)
22 of 26 editions included local female copy
Free Press: 28 editions, 20 local female stories/briefs (9 curling)
13 of 28 editions included local female copy

I’m not suggesting that you flip the calendar back four-plus decades, Jason. I’m just pointing out there’s room for improvement on the female file. You can do better. Much, much better.

The thing is, you might not feel obliged to be the best you can be. After all, Postmedia has reduced the Winnipeg Sun sports staff and section to bare bones—three guys, some days just three pages, zero travel budget. Postmedia is making them shovel the driveway with a spoon. You’ve got a front-end loader. So, hey, you might be feeling smug, with gusts up to arrogance. Why bust your onions, right? Except that would be cheating the business.

I realize the Freep can’t be all things to all people, Jason, but you have the staff and space to give girls/women a better shake. All you really need is the desire and commitment to do it.

Well, that’s one barrel blazing, Jason. And, remember, you invited the critique. Be careful what you wish for, man.

Jennifer Jones and her twentysomething gal pals— Karlee Burgess, Mackenzie Zacharias, Emily Zacharias, Lauren Lenintine—won the Manitoba Scotties today, and I think it’s fair to wonder when the Grand Dame of Pebble People will slow down. Jennifer is 48 and has no more curling mountains to climb, yet she’s still climbing curling mountains. Next up is Mount Scotties in Kamloops, where she’ll be hunting her seventh Canadian women’s title in her 17th appearance. She’ll be wearing the Manitoba buffalo on her back for the ninth time. Astonishing.

Brooke Henderson

Brooke Henderson’s win to open the Ladies Professional Golf Association season last weekend was a reminder that the chatterbugs and editors at The Canadian Press got it all wrong when they anointed Marie-Philip Poulin our country’s top female athlete for 2022. Poulin played a grand total of 14 meaningful hockey games in 12 months. Fourteen. In a two-country competition. She was not Canada’s leading scorer (Sarah Nurse), goal-scorer (Brianne Jenner) or tournament MVP (Jenner) at the Olympic Games. She was not Canada’s leading goal-scorer (Sarah Fillier) or its only all-star (Fillier) at the world championship. Henderson, on the other hand, teed it up in 22 LPGA tournaments (76 rounds) against truly global fields (players from 13 different countries won in 2022) and finished atop the leaderboard twice, including a major. Seems to me the gang at CP has officially reduced Brooke’s accomplishments to ho-hum status, and that’s a shame.

Blake Wheeler

Why do both dailies in Good Ol’ Hometown think it’s a big deal when one of the Winnipeg Jets is added to the field for the Manitoba Open? This year it’s Blake Wheeler’s turn to hack his way around Southwood, and there’s no reason to suspect he’ll be more successful than Rink Rat Scheifele (rounds of 86, 87, 78, 84) or Kyle Connor (94, 90). It’s a footnote at best, not a story.

Hey, maybe Wheeler can tear a page out of the Donald Trump book of golf hijinks. The Commander-in-Cheat claims to have won the recent senior championship at Trump International, except he was at a funeral in North Carolina when everyone else was playing the first round in West Palm Beach, Fla. Gives new meaning to the term “unplayable lie.”

Bill Gates

Mr. Money Pants Bill Gates was observed at the Australian Open tennis tournament, sitting courtside for the men’s singles final between Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas last night. You might be interested in knowing the sticker price for his seats in the hoity-toity section of Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne—$27,500. Who said money can’t buy you love?

On the subject of large coin, future Rouge Football hall-of-fame quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell has signed with the Hamilton Tabbies for $500,000 and change. Hmmm. Wonder how much they’d be willing to pay Bo Levi if he could still fling a football farther than he can spit.

And, finally…

Happy Christivus: A day for gifts and the airing of grievances in the sports world!

You might think of today as Christmas Eve, kids, but it’s also Christivus, a day-before-Christmas and a day-after-Festivus celebration of all that is good in the playground and, just as important, a time for the airing of grievances. Some athletes/sports figures discover lovely gifts under the Christivus treepole, while others find a big, ol’ lump o’ coal with their name on it…

GIFT: There’s just no beating the Gimli Girls at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Harris are three-peat belles of the ball, and you wouldn’t want to bet against them when they Go For Four two months hence at the national women’s curling championship in Kamloops. Only the Colleen Jones quartet from Nova Scotia has managed to put up a four-spot at the Scotties (2001-2004), so Kerri and her gal pals could be breathing rarified air in beautiful B.C. And, by the way, last time I checked, the Gimli Girls were ranked No. 1 among all the world’s female Pebble People, and I’d say that sounds about right.

GIFT: Juggernaut. That’s the word to describe Manitoba’s female curlers. You’ve got Einarson and her gal pals from Gimli, plus the Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Abby Ackland and Cheleas Carey rinks ranked in the world top 22. All together now: Buffalo Girls rock!

GIFT: Let’s have a show of hands. Who among us believed that Mike O’Shea would one day become the winningest head coach in the lengthy and lore-filled history of the Winnipeg Football Club? Not me. Not you, either. I mean, Coach Grunge was greener than St. Paddy’s Day when they handed him the headset in 2014, and I doubt even Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller and GM Kyle Walters figured they had an all-timer on their hands. It was as unlikely as prayer service in the Rum Hut. But now that O’Shea is locked in as sideline steward of the Bombers for another three Canadian Football League seasons, it’s a question of when, not if, he reaches the most hallowed of gridiron ground in Good Ol’ Hometown. Bud Grant, a legend in a trench coat, collected 102 regular-season Ws in his 10 crusades of mostly pushing the right buttons. O’Shea, a legend in the making in short pants, faded t-shirt/hoodie and ratty, ol’ ball cap, has 82 notches on his belt. Do the math. Sometime in the autumn of 2024, Coach Grunge should pull astride the Silver Fox, if not pass him. Who had that on their radar? Nobody.

GIFT: Zach Collaros became a two-timer, collecting the Most Outstanding Player Award in Rouge Football for the second successive season and, no, we aren’t going to talk about his dodgy performance in the Bombers 24-23 loss to the Toronto Argos in the grass-grabber for the Grey Grail in late November.

LUMP O’COAL: We will, however, discuss Marc Liegghio’s right leg. Two missed converts in the West Division final, one missed convert and a botched field goal attempt in the Grey Cup game doesn’t cut it. He has the worst limb since Long John Silver and everyone from Buzz and Boomer to Dancing Gabe knew all about it, but it somehow escaped the notice of Bombers brass and it cost them dearly. We can talk all we like about other foulups (there were plenty) in the bid for a Grey Grail three-peat, but a kicker has one job to do and Liegghio failed miserably.

LUMP O’ COAL: Yo! David Asper! I think maybe you’ve been spending too much time at the Journey to Churchill exhibit at Assiniboine Park Zoo. Either that or you’ve been having nightmares about polar bears lumbering through the pot-holed streets of Good Ol’ Hometown. I mean, the Winnipeg Sea Bears? And a polar bear logo? Seriously? That’s the best you could come up with for your newbie, summertime Canadian Elite Basketball League outfit? C’mon, man. Winnipeg is a seaside locale like a box of Crackerjack is fine dining, and there hasn’t been anything resembling a polar bear near Portage and Main since Chris Walby retired.

AN ENTIRE COAL MINE: Oh, woe is Hockey Canada, guardian of our national pastime and keeper of secrets, slush funds and trafficker of lies. We discovered that HC had stacks and stacks of coin to quietly pay off victims of sexual assault, and some board members summoned to Parliament Hill to explain themselves looked like so many Pinocchios after a big, fat fib. This was the biggest and, by far, the most disturbing sports story on Our Mostly Frozen Tundra in 2022. It rocked HC to the core.

AN ENTIRE COAL MINE: As Hockey Canada roiled in the guck and muck of egregious wrong-doing and a sex-assault scandal, since-defrocked CEO Scott Smith had the dreadful manners to surface in Denmark and strut on-ice to dispense gold medals to our Canadian women at the world championship. It was like the graduating class at a police academy receiving their badges from Tony Soprano. Smith’s appearance was callous, tacky and a rented-bowling-shoes level of odious.

GIFT: Rick Westhead of TSN was at the forefront of reporting on L’Affaire Hockey Canada and all other manner of misdeeds in the playground.

GIFT: Our national women’s team provided a ray of light in the Hockey Canada darkness, striking gold at the Winter Olympic Games and the world tournament. Brianne Jenner was our leading goal-scorer and MVP in Beijing, and Sarah Nurse set an Olympic record for most points, 18. Meantime, Jenner scored both goals in a 2-1 victory over the U.S. in the gold-medal match in Denmark, while Sarah Fillier was our leading scorer and a world tournament all-star.

LUMP O’ COAL: Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star decided that Beijing 2022 was an appropriate time to piddle on Ponytail Puck at the Olympics. “I’ll get crucified for saying so, but women’s hockey doesn’t belong in the Games,” Rosie informed her readers. “It’s a cheap medal, in no way comparable to the paramountcy that some nations historically enjoy in a specific sport—like the Norwegians and cross-country skiing or Jamaicans and sprinting. There is at least some semblance of competition—gobs of it actually—with scads of elite athletes to make a challenge.” She added: “It will doubtless come down, as ever before, to a U.S.-Canada final on Feb. 17, with the Canadians looking for revenge after their loss to the Americans in Pyeongchang. Honestly, I’m getting sick of this mythologized rivalry and everybody else an also-ran. It ain’t sportin’.” Whatever you say, Rosie. But, honestly, I’m getting sick of mainstream media pooh-poohing or ignoring females in the playground.

GIFT: Two of my favorite Dons—Baizley and Duguid—received overdue hosannas this year. Baiz, a lawyer and player agent to many of hockey’s glitterati, was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, while Dugie, a world curling champion and pioneer among Pebble People, became an official member of the Order of Canada. I just wish Baiz was still around to enjoy the honor, even if he was never comfortable with people fawning over him.

GIFT: There’s been a Rouge Football revival on the Wet Coast of the land thanks to B.C. Leos bankroll Amar Doman and his foot soldiers. The Leos attracted an average audience of 20,387 to B.C. Place Stadium during the past CFL season, which is a hefty bump of 7,879 customers from a year ago, and they had a league-high gathering of 34,082 for their home opener. (Does it matter now that half the audience was there for a OneRepublic concert?)

LUMP O’ COAL: They have a Grey Cup champion football team, yet the rabble in the Republic of Tranna avoid the Argos the way a letter carrier dodges a mutt baring fangs. The average head count at BMO Field was 11,875 with a low of 9,806, and it’s apparent that only a halftime show featuring Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner streaking au naturel will bring The ROT rabble out to Argos games.

LUMP O’ COAL: Good grief. Another year and still zero female news snoops in the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. By my count, the CFHF media wing has a roll call of 103 members, 100 per cent of them male, 99.9 per cent of them white, 0 per cent of them female or gay. News snoops are quick to call out sports organizations for a lack of diversity, but apparently the same rules don’t apply to their own houses. The Football Reporters of Canada need to recognize that any female news snoop who survived close encounters with Cal Murphy in the 1980s and ’90s belongs in the Hall of Fame.

LUMP O’ COAL: The staggering proliferation of betting banter on sports TV news/highlight programming is a distressing bit of business.

GIFT: There’s been considerable gum-flapping about a play-for-pay women’s futbol league on Our Mostly Frozen Tundra three years hence, and the people doing the yakkety-yakking seem to have a clue. Diana Matheson and her business partner, Thomas Gilbert, have yet to put all their ducks in a row, but they’ve got two franchises in place (Vancouver and Calgary), they’ve brought Christine Sinclair on board (it’s never a bad idea to link arms with the all-time international goal-scoring leader), and they’re playing with CIBC and Air Canada money. By the time they kick off in 2025, the League To Be Named Later will feature eight teams across the land (four west, four east), and players can expect salaries ranging from $35,000-$75,000. My question: Is there anyone in Good Ol’ Hometown anxious to pony up with a $1 million up-front fee and $8-$10 million in operating costs for women’s soccer?

LUMP O’ COAL: TSN natterbug Kara Wagland described the creation of a women’s pro futbol circuit in Canada as a “monumental development.” Ya, it’s so “monumental” that TSN slotted it as the final item on its hour-long, overnight SportsCentre news/highlights package. Cripes, man, Joey Chestnut eating perogies got more prominent play that night, and I think we can all agree that the sight of Chestnut stuffing food into his gob is right up there on the cringe-o-metre with Glen Suitor swooning over Keith Urban on TSN’s broadcast of the 2019 Grey Cup game. Beasts with cloven hooves have better table manners than Chestnut. Yet TSN determined that his stomach-turning pigout was more newsworthy than the “monumental” women’s fitba story. Sigh.

GIFT: Sue Bird retired after 19 seasons and four WNBA championships with Seattle Storm, also five hoops gold medals at the Olympic Games…Brooke Henderson won two LPGA tournaments, including a major…Hoopster Brittney Griner found her way home to the U.S. after spending too much time in a Russian gulag…Felix Auger-Aliassime won four events on the ATP Tour and anchored Canada’s successful run at the Davis Cup…Iga Swiatek won 37 tennis matches in a row from February to July and two Grand Slam titles, the French Open and U.S. Open. Overall, she was 67-9 with eight titles…Roger Federer retired and the tennis maestro went out the same way he came in—with class…Aaron Judge swatted 62 dingers, more than any non-steroid-era player in Major League Baseball history…Nathan Rourke dazzled Rouge Football audiences until a foot owie laid him low nine games into the B.C. Lions crusade…Phil Kessel became the NHL’s iron man with a Pilsbury Dough Boy body. Go figure…Ironically, the first World Series since 1950 with zero U.S.-born Black players on either roster was won by a U.S.-born Black man, manager Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros.

GIFT: The Premier Hockey Federation remains the sole women’s shinny league in North America that actually is a league and—get this—it pays its players in salary, benefits and marketing share. In other words, it walks the walk. Now in its eighth season, there’s a $750,000 per-team player payroll that doubles to $1.5 million a year from now. Notably, that’s a 10-fold increase since 2021.

LUMP O’ COAL: The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association. Created in May 2019, there was no league then—just a hissy fit—and there’s no league today—just the same old, tiresome hissy fit. Rather than play in the Premier Hockey Federation or unite to form a Ponytail Puck super league that the rabble might want to watch, PWHPA members prefer to hold their breath, stamp their feet and assemble for a scattering of glorified scrimmages that are mostly ignored by fans and mainstream media each winter. In the meantime, they talk, talk, talk and hope someone is listening. Oddly enough, the talking stopped at the recent all-star gala in Ottawa—PWHPA officials refused to make players available for natters with news snoops after the event. Way to sell your game, ladies.

LUMP O’ COAL: Back on Nov. 3, the puppetmasters at Postmedia informed Winnipeg Sun readers that they would be spiking the weekly TV listings and bulking up the sports section, “so you can get more from our award-winning sports reporters.” To which I responded: “Let’s hope going forward they fill the additional space with local copy, or off-beat copy, not a bunch of dreary rot from the Republic of Tranna.” Well, as advertised, Postmedia has bulked up the sports section in the Winnipeg Sun on Sundays, averaging 12 pages. But, as feared, it’s being filled with rot originating from hither and yon, with only 1-to-3 pages devoted to local sports and the majority of bylines from Republic of Tranna scribes. Don’t believe me? Well, in the four Sunday sections since Nov. 27, this is the byline tally:
Toronto writers: 25
Winnipeg writers: 10
So, yes, it reads like the Torontopeg Sun. (Or should it be the Winnironto Sun?)

LUMP O’ COAL: Why does Postmedia insist on forcing Steve Simmons’ weekly alphabet fart on the Winnipeg market? His musings and cheap shots are almost totally Republic of Tranna-centric, and he mentions the goings-on in Good Ol’ Hometown about as often as a squandron of pink elephants perform a fly-by before a Bombers game. In his most-recent offering, for example, Simmons had 17 items on athletes/teams from the The ROT and the grand total of one (1) on the Jets/Bombers/anything Winnipeg. Do the suits at Postmedia truly believe that’s what the rabble in River City want to read?

LUMP O’ COAL: Management geniuses at the Drab Slab refuse to hire a sports columnist. The guy they bill as their sports columnist, Mad Mike McIntyre, has never written a piece on the fabulous female curlers in Manitoba, which is like scribbling for National Geographic and not writing a word about Mother Nature. I mean, the jock news pecking order in Good Ol’ Hometown is Jets, Bombers and curling. So how do you snub female Pebble People when all they’ve done is win four of the past five Scotties (it’s five-for-five if you want to include homegrown Chelsea Carey in 2019)? He also mostly ignores the Bombers, who’ve been in the past three Grey Cup games, winning twice. It’s lame, negligent and unacceptable, and I’ll never understand how a big-city daily allows its sports columnist to snub two of the three major beats.

GIFT: Between Ted Wyman at the Winnipeg Sun and Jeff Hamilton at the Drab Slab, Good Ol’ Hometown receives the best print coverage of Rouge Football on Our Mostly Frozen Tundra. Teddy and Jeff lap the field every year.

LUMP O’ COAL: Carey Price put up a pro-gun post four days prior to the 33rd anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique massacre, in which 14 women were slaughtered. It’s okay for the Montreal Canadiens goaltender to be pro firearms, but the timing of his post was ghastly. Almost as bad was teammate Joel Edmundson, who said this about that: “None of us are really aware of what happened 30 years ago. The (Polytechnique) anniversary is fast approaching—it’s news to all of us, to be honest.” Good grief.

GIFT: To say Rick Bowness came in with a bang would be the biggest understatement since Noah said, “Geez, it smells like rain.” The Winnipeg Jets freshly minted head coach hadn’t been in town long enough to order a cup o’ java and cheese nip at the Sals when he instructed the seamstress to snip the ‘C’ off Blake Wheeler’s jersey, and I’d say it’s been win-win for both parties. Bones’ Jets are running with the National Hockey League’s big dogs, and Wheeler, until being felled by an owie, had been productive with less ice time and less face time with news snoops. That’s the bonus, of course: No more daily sourpuss sound bites from the former Captain Grumpy Pants.

GIFT: The Jets hit all the right notes when they unveiled a downtown pigeon perch to legend Dale Hawerchuk in October.

LUMP O’ COAL: Let’s be clear, Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson et al have a right to earn a living with the LIV Golf Series, even if it means they need to wash the Saudi blood off their hands every time they cash a paycheque. But does Norman have to be so bitter about it? My goodness, it’s as if every horse in the Kentucky Derby piddled on the Shark’s Corn Flakes one morning.

LUMP O’ COAL: Here’s all you need to know about the Saudi/Greg Norman LIV Golf Series: Pat Perez was handed a four-year, $10 million deal, just to stick a tee in the ground. “Look, I know I can’t beat those kids (on the PGA Tour) anymore. This was a great opportunity for me. I have nothing against the PGA Tour; they did a lot for me, but I had to earn everything I got out there.” Imagine that. Earning your wage. What a concept.

LUMP O’ COAL: TV talking heads made complete donkeys of themselves with their gushing over has-beens Tiger Woods and Serena Williams like they’re still at the top of their games. Hey, maybe Tiger will win another golf tournament (doubtful), and perhaps Williams hasn’t actually retired and she’ll return to win another tennis tourney. Until then, the boys and girls in the blurt box need to use their yakkety-yak time to talk about athletes winning today, not back in the day.

LUMP O’ COAL: Damien Cox and friends of the Toronto Star still believe they have the final say on Canada’s athlete-of-the-year. As if…Novak Djokovic is still wearing tin foil on his head…Bob Costas sat behind the play-by-play mic during MLB playoffs and he refused to shut the hell up. He talked about everything but baseball…The Arizona Coyotes play in a 4,800-seat rinky-dink rink…Danny Maciocia canned Khari Jones due to a lack of discipline and hired himself as head coach of the Montreal Larks. So what happened in the fourth quarter of their East Division final vs. the Toronto Argos? Maciocia’s Larks took four undisciplined penalties to seal their fate…TSN talking heads continually lied about head counts for CFL games. Yo! Boys! We aren’t stupid. We can see the empty seats. Glen Suitor was the worst, constantly blabbing about “packed” ballparks and telling us there was “close to 40,000” at B.C. Place Stadium for the West semifinal, even if attendance was scarcely more than 30,000. Meanwhile, Milt Stegall informed us the Bombers had “sellouts through the season.” There were, in fact, two sellouts, both in September…Kyrie Irving, just because he’s Kyrie Irving…The Boston Bruins signed bully Mitchell Miller and the Montreal Canadiens signed Logan Mailloux, a young man who likes to take pics of women engaged in sexual activity and, without their consent, share the photos with his frat boy buddies. Oinkers.

LUMP O’ COAL: Dumbest tweet of the year from Theoren Fleury, the former NHLer and current conspiracy theorist who, when last seen, was plummeting into a deep rabbit hole: “The biggest spreaders of misinformation are the ones who are spreading misinformation.”

And, finally…

Let’s talk about everything’s Ducky and the Winnipeg Jets ‘hands-on’ owner…the Rink Rat takes a tumble…the price of a souvenir baseball…Little Tiger…drawing the line on the draw to the button…a $52.5 million part-time job…Henderson has scored for Canada…and other things on my mind…

Top o’ the morning to you, Mark Chipman, or as I prefer to call you, Puck Pontiff.

I don’t mean anything nasty by the nickname, Mark. It’s just that I harbor a long-held belief that you exercise papal power as it relates to the jewel in your True North Sports + Entertainment crown—the Winnipeg Jets.

You even confessed as much in a Hockey Night in Canada natter with then-host George Stroumboulopoulos a few years back, saying you’re in GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s kitchen every day, and the larger the decision the louder your voice. It short, you’re a buttinski.

That, of course, is the privilege of rank and, as executive chairman of the True North fiefdom and governor of the National Hockey League franchise, it’s your prerogative to stick your nose where others think it doesn’t belong.

However, I’m not here this morning to rattle your cage or yank your chain, Mark. Instead I salute you for the salute to Dale Hawerchuk on Saturday. Nice. Very nice. Or should I say it was “just Ducky” of you? (Sorry, Chipper. I agree, that’s a Ron MacLean-level bad pun.)

Give or take Teemu Selanne, no player in Jets NHL history was more impactful than our Ducky. The difference between the two legends is this, Mark: Dale spent nine seasons wearing the linen (and the ‘C’ for six), and he butted heads every winter with Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, Fuhr and the rest of that dreaded Edmonton Oilers lot in the 1980s, a moment in time that defines Jets 1.0. Teemu’s time in Good Ol’ Hometown was, by comparison, a fly-by.

So, ya, a statue at True North Square to honor a shinny icon who left the building before any of us wanted is a beautiful thing, and I continue to curse the cancer that claimed Ducky at such a young age.

One final thing, Chipper: I’m especially pleased that you gave a shoutout to two people in particular: Former owner Barry Shenkarow, a major player in arranging the Jets entry into the NHL, and the late John Ferguson, the man responsible for bringing Ducky to Good Ol’ Hometown.

You did good, Puck Pontiff. Real good.

Chipman is, literally, a hands-on owner. The Puck Pontiff, you see, poured the metal for the right glove on the Ducky likeness unveiled yesterday, and it doesn’t get much more hands-on than that. Ben Waldman of the Drab Slab had a natter with sculptor Erik Blome, and he gives us the skinny on the making of Ducky in bronze.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Well, the “experts” at TSN put their little heads together to determine the top 50 players in the NHL, and Rink Rat Scheifele has taken the greatest fall since Humpty Dumpty. A year ago, the geniuses had the Jets centre rated 20th overall, but this time around they couldn’t find room for him in the top 50. Hey, I get it. He’s a pooch defensively and some of his shifts are longer than a Sunday sermon, but he’s been a point-a-game producer for the past six crusades and I can’t think of a guy not named Connor McDavid who can say that. So, I’m sorry, but they can’t sell me on the notion that Jack Hughes is a better player than the Rink Rat.

I’m not convinced the Jets will be the stumble bums that many of the pundits are suggesting in advance of the 2022-23 crusade. Oh, I realize the Rolling Stones make more lineup changes than Winnipeg HC, but I believe success/failure depends on the amount of ice time Blake Wheeler and Logan Stanley don’t get. The less time on the freeze for those two, the better the chances of proving the naysayers wrong.

It’s about the Aaron Judge home run chase: Many of my vintage consider Roger Maris’ 61 dingers in 1961 the true single-season record, because those who’ve gone yard more often—Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa—wear the stink of steroids. A younger generation, however, might be more inclined to accept Bonds as Major League Baseball’s king of clout for his 73 four-baggers in 2001. Whatever the case, the debate brings to mind a lyric from the Buffalo Springfield protest classic For What It’s Worth: “Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.”

I don’t know about you, but I was delighted to see Judge swat HR No. 61 in the Republic of Tranna last week, and it’s just as well that the souvenir ball landed in the Blue Jays bullpen and wasn’t caught by a fan at Rogers Centre. I mean, it’s estimated that the thing is worth upwards of $250,000 US, but only about $1.50 on the Canadian exchange rate.

Charlie Woods and pop Tiger.

Thirteen-year-old Charlie Woods fired a 4-under 68 last weekend in the Notah Begay III Junior National Golf Championship, and a lot of people are saying the kid’s just like dad Tiger. I don’t know about that. I mean, he’s barely old enough to give a waitress a food order, let alone have an illicit affair with her.

Dumb headline of the week, from Golf Week: “Charlie Woods shoots career-low round with dad Tiger on the bag.” A “career” low? Good gawd, when did puberty become a career? I guess it’s another example of how life happens at a lickety-split cadence in this 21st century, and I suppose we can expect young Charlie’s autobiography to land on bookstore shelves any day now.

Scofflaw O.J. Simpson decided to play Couch Coach and used Twitter to advise Pittsburgh Steelers head man Mike Tomlin it would be in his best interest to plunk starting QB Mitch Trubisky on the pine and anoint Kenny Pickett starting QB. Oh, put a sock in it, Juice. Don’t you have some “real killers” to catch?

Simpson has 888.2K followers on his Twitter account. My question is this: “Why?” Are those people expecting him to cop to the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend Ron Goldman?

A couple of our most-decorated Pebble People, Jennifer Jones and Marc Kennedy, tell Teddy Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun that they aren’t fond of the experimental draw-to-the-button method of breaking ties in elite curling events. “I don’t like it,” said Jones, whose freshly minted team cashed in to the tune of $50,000 in the freshly minted PointsBet Invitational last weekend. Kennedy, meanwhile, provided the backup vocals, saying, Personally I wish they wouldn’t touch extra ends.” Hear, hear! I mean, I’m all for gimmickry…if it’s at the carnival or some kind of parlor trick when friends are over for din-din. But I don’t want to see the Scotties or Brier champion determined by silly shenanigans. Let soccer and hockey have the stupid stuff.

One of our very own, Cathy Gauthier, has moved into the chair vacated by Cheryl Bernard—smack dab between Vic Rauter and Russ Howard—on TSN’s Season of Champions curling coverage, and that has to be about the best call since John, Paul and George asked Ringo to grab his Ludwig drum kit and tag along with them. Like Cheryl, Cathy’s always been able to go jab-for-jab with Vic and ol’ Hurry Hard Howard in the verbal thrust-and-parry, and her appointment means another winter of good banter from the booth.

Another of our very own, Sami Jo Small, has been anointed el presidente of the Toronto Six, where she joins Hockey Hall of Famers and world champions Angela James (GM) and Geraldine Heaney (head coach) in leading the Premier Hockey Federation franchise. If sports editors at the Toronto Sun and Toronto Star noticed, they failed to find room for the news on their sports pages. Kind of tough for Ponytail Puck to gain traction in the Republic of Tranna when the local rags put the home side on ignore.

Strange tweet of the week comes from former NHLer and present-day conspiracy theorist Theoren Fleury: “The biggest spreaders of misinformation are the ones who are spreading misinformation.” Thanks Theo. And the leading cause of death is life.

I really don’t think anyone should be surprised the Calgary Stampeders have moved on from QB Bo Levi Mitchell and handed the football, plus gobs of coin on a two-year contract, to Jake Maier. Bo’s been off his feed the past couple of years, and when head coach Dave Dickenson and GM John Hufnael say it’s time, it’s time. I mean, if there’s one thing those two know above all else, it’s Rouge Football QBs.

After watching the Toronto Argos score just two points in a loss to the Stampeders last night, it’s hard to believe they entered the fray on a four-game winning run. Who’d they beat? A dozen kids from my neighborhood?

When the time arrives, Novak Djokovic wants a warm-and-fuzzy farewell, just like Roger Federer, and he’d especially like rival Rafael Nadal to be present. “We played the most matches against each other of any other rivalry in the history of tennis,” he says. Yo! Novak! Women play tennis, too. Martina Navratilova and Chrissie Evert met 80 times in singles play. You and Rafa have been on opposite sides of the net 59 times. Do the math.

Tyreek Hill has already collected more than $25 million to catch passes and run the ball for Miami Dolphins this NFL season, and he’s guaranteed $52.5M on his current deal. Yet he says football is “just our part-time job.” Earth to Tyreek. Tell that to the kid making $10 an hour to bag groceries at the local market on weekends, or a student scrubbing pots and pans in the back of a greasy spoon three days a week to pay tuition.

Things I discovered in the past week: 1) There is a Professional Disc Golf Association, complete with a tour; 2) there is a Professional Pickleball Association, also with a tour. I’m particularly curious about disc golf: How do they fit a frisbee into that wee, little hole?

Still can’t believe how weak some of the acting is on the new Law & Order. Angry cop Cosgrove and ADA Price are truly lame. I keep watching in the hope they’ll improve, but no.

Only once during my 30 years in jock journalism did I ask an athlete I covered for an autograph: Paul Henderson. And, you’re right, that put me in breach of one of the unwritten commandments in the sports scribe’s code of conduct. I’m not sure which commandment it is, but it clearly states: Thou shalt not collect autographs. It’s totally taboo. At least it was back in the day (I can’t speak for today’s news snoops). At any rate, I sought Henderson’s signature after he and his Birmingham Bulls associates had concluded a morning, game-day skate. Knowing I was in breach, I made my request on the QT, asking him to sign a Prudential Insurance print depicting the moment that had earned him a prominent and permanent place in Canadian hockey folklore—the winning goal in Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series between our good guys and the Soviet Union comrades. No one heard my request, and no prying eyes were nearby, but a wave of guilt washed over me. Didn’t matter. He happily scrawled his signature on the bottom right-hand corner of the print, and we made small talk. Years later, I had Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak sign that same print. What a keepsake. Alas, a person to whom I’m no longer wed sold it on the QT at a yard sale for 50 cents.

Henderson scored the most iconic goal in Canadian hockey history, and he had the winning tallies in Games 6 and 7 of the Summit Series, as well. Question is, why, 50 years later, does he still have to pay his way into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Republic of Tranna? Okay, sure, most would rate his NHL/World Hockey Association career a notch above garden variety, but, give or take Tretiak, Henderson was the most significant performer in the most significant shinny series ever played—Canada vs. U.S.S.R. 1972. What he did was lightning-in-a-bottle stuff, and it seems to me it’s HHOF worthy. I mean, Harper Lee wrote just one book (some say two tomes) and she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to literature.

And, finally, this week’s vanity license plate:

Let’s talk about Manitoba’s 21st century curling scoreboard: Buffalo Girls 8, Buffalo Boys 1

Top o’ the morning to you, Mike McEwen and Jason Gunnlaughson.

Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur, Scotties champs in 2020 and 2021.

I’m guessing you boys noticed that Kerri Einarson and her gal pals won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts on Sunday night.

Yup. Took out Rachel Homan in the final, and I’d say they’re starting to make a habit of it.

That’s two straight national curling titles for the Gimli Gals and a personal three-peat for second Shannon Birchard, who doesn’t know what it’s like to lose a Scotties. She’s been there three times and she’s collected three gold medals, twice with Einarson and once with Jennifer Jones.

Hopefully you took note of all that, fellas, because you’ll soon be off on your own curling bubble adventure at the Brier in Calgary, and I trust you both realize that you’ve been letting the side down.

It’s not just you two, mind you. It’s all the Buffalo Boys.

Manitoba outfits used to win the Brier as often as McDonald’s sold a Big Mac. Now you win as often as…well, that’s the beef. You don’t win.

Mike McEwen

You’ve had five cracks at a national men’s curling crown, Mike, and you’re 0-fer. The best you’ve managed is to return home with a bronze trinket. Hey, don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to devalue your parting gift from the 2017 Brier in St. John’s. You were magnificent. Hopes were high. And a favorable rub here or a fortuitous tick there might have turned that bronze into silver or gold.

But no.

Jason Gunnlaughson

As for you, Jason, you were a Brier neophyte a year ago and put a good foot forward until the games mattered most, which is to say in the championship pool. You went 0-fer.

I suppose that might have been the product of inexperience, or perhaps jitters on the big stage, or maybe the considerable burden of expectation carried by any curler wearing the buffalo on his back.

That weight might not be fair, fellas, but you can blame it on guys like Gordie Hudson and Howie Wood and Ken Watson and Ab Gowanlock and Billy Walsh and Bronco and the Snake and Dugie and the Big O and Mike Riley and Jeff Stoughton and Kerry Burtnyk and Vic Peters and a couple others. They spoiled us.

Twenty-seven times the Tankard has been hoisted by Buffalo Boys, but here’s the glitch: 26 of those victory laps came in the 20th century.

Jeff Stoughton with the Tankard Trophy.

That’s right, we’re 1-for-the-21st century. One. As in Jeff Stoughton, circa 2011.

Burtnyk, Mark Lukowich, John Bubbs, Brent Scales, Randy Dutiaume, Rob Fowler and Reid Carruthers all went as skips, but did not conquer.

That will never do, not when Alberta teams have been padding their stats with 12 Brier championships since Y2K.

I don’t know about you, boys, but I’m tired of hearing those uppity mooks in Wild Rose Country telling us that Alberta is the epicenter of Planet Pebble. Maybe that doesn’t bother you, boys, but it bugs the bejeebers out of me, and I have zero appetite for calling up the Edmonton Sun and reading a fresh serving of smug blah, blah, blah in a Terry Jones column.

Frankly, I’m shocked that Jonesy hasn’t already penned a piece to remind us that Einarson third Val Sweeting lives and works in Edmonton. I expected him to somehow twist the plot into a made-in-Alberta storyline.

At any rate, this isn’t about Jonesy and his delusions, boys.

Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer, Dawn McEwen.

My point is this: You can’t continue to let the ladies do all the heavy lifting, which is exactly what they’ve been doing since Y2K. There have been eight Scotties titles between Jen Jones and Kerri Einarson, and it doesn’t matter that three times they were cloaked in the colors of Canada. A ‘Toba team is a ‘Toba team is a ‘Toba team.

There are certain things Manitobans have come to expect, boys: High water in the spring, large skeeters in the summer, good grub at the Sal’s, and our curlers winning.

The Buffalo Girls have showed you the way, boys. Again. So it would be nice if you held up your half of the bargain.

No pressure. Just get ‘er done.

Let’s talk about chess with Swamp Dog…bravo Jennifer Jones…flush go the Habs…TSN’s flawed ‘Toba Top 10…Shaq’s name game…Ali vs. Tiger…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, sadly, one of the old gang from the Trib, Swamp Dog Rauw, has left us…

The thing I remember most fondly about Murray Rauw is playing chess in the small hours of the morning, after we’d put the sports section to bed at the Winnipeg Tribune.

Swamp Dog and I would unwind from the grind by retreating to my modest dwelling on Leighton Avenue in East Kildonan, whereupon I would crack open the brown pops while he cracked open one of my many chess sets.

There’d be Beatles music playing in the background—on the down low since all others in the house were in slumber—and I would quietly sing along with the Fab Four while Swamp Dog contemplated a next misguided move that surely would lead to checkmate or stalemate. I sometimes wondered if my singing disturbed his thought process, but he never offered so much as a mumble in protest.

Swamp Dog

Swamp Dog seldom complained, although a small flap of fuss is how he earned his delightful nickname.

I was in the cockpit one night, laying out the Trib sports pages, while others wrote their stories, edited copy, wrote headlines, handled the phones and did rewrites. Swamp Dog, still reasonably new to staff, had two or three things on the go.

“Murray,” I said at one point, interrupting his work, “I need you to do something.”

“Me?” he yelped. “Me? I’m swamped!”

“You’re swamped?” I responded, snickering. “Let me tell you something about being swamped.”

I informed him how it worked in the Trib sports department. We were all multi-taskers, often expected to handle more than one beat on the same day. It was not uncommon for a select few of us to cover an event in the morning or afternoon, write our article, then design a six- or seven-page sports section that night. It made for long shifts, but it was an accepted part of the gig. Besides, most of us were young, full of P and V and eager to earn a “damn good stuff” from our sports editor, Jack Matheson.

“That’s okay,” I told Swamp Dog. “You just do what you’re doing. I’ll take care of the rest, because you’re swamped! You’re our Swamp Dog.”

Swamp Dog became a fabulous multi-tasker, skillfully covering everything from badminton to boxing to backing up Matty on the Blue Bombers beat, until Southam had the bad manners to stop the Trib presses for the final time in August 1980.

And now Swamp’s ticker has stopped.

Swamp Dog died last Sunday in Calgary, after a lengthy illness, and I spent much of the past week sifting through recollections of him and our cast of kooky characters at the Trib. (We would have made for a boffo sitcom.)

An unpretentious, fun guy, I can’t think of a former colleague who harbored a greater, more genuine appreciation for landing a sports writing gig than Swamp Dog. He was like a kid who sneaked in and out of the ice cream parlor every night without getting caught, and he never tried to hide his appreciation for his good fortune.

Swamp Dog made me laugh without trying. His eyeglasses, for example, were a trip. Back in the 1970s, they would sit at a 45-degree angle on the bridge of his nose, the large lenses plastered with very visible fingerprints from his constant but failed attempts to make the specs fit his face. His mustache drooped and would go months without a much-needed pruning. Then there was the day I learned he had tagged the lovely lady who would become his bride, Maureen, with the most unflattering of nicknames: Mush.

“Geez, Swamp, I don’t know many women who’d fancy being called Mush,” I said. “Doesn’t it bother Maureen?”

“Why would it?” he answered as if I had asked a very dumb question. “She’s my Mush.”

Once the Trib folded, both Swamp Dog and I found our way to Calgary, first him at the Herald and then myself at the Sun a couple years later. I didn’t know a soul, other than Swamp Dog, Maureen and the two people who had hired me. Swamp Dog promptly set me up to play slo-pitch on one of the city’s elite outfits, and he dragged me to his raquetball club. After our always-enjoyable matches, we’d sometimes retire to his home and Maureen would be kind enough to feed us.

Oddly enough, Swamp Dog and I never played another game of chess. I guess that was our Winnipeg thing. But we’d get together for some giggles, or he’d get serious on occasion and discuss his MS. He’d unfailingly inquire about my Uncle Dennis, who’d been confined to a wheelchair due to MS since I was a sprig.

After I left Calgary and returned to Good Ol’ Hometown, we seldom saw each other, basically when road assignments would take us to the Grey Cup, the Brier or Stanley Cup playoffs. The Canadian Football League and curling were his main beats, and he was among the best at both.

Foremost for me, though, are the personal recollections, and I smile at the memory of us shifting chess pieces across the board, his knight taking my rook or my bishop taking his queen. Eventually, one of us would notice the morning sun peeking through my living room drapes, and he’d take his leave.

Now Swamp Dog is gone permanently, but I’d say his sun is still shining—through Maureen and the kids, Josh and Cayley, and granddaughter Charlotte.

Rest easy, old friend.

The Grim Reaper has now fetched Matty, Swamp Dog, Gus Collins Uncle Vince Leah, and freelancers Harold Loster and Ronnie Meyers from our 1970s toy department at the Trib. And that’s not to forget photog Jon Thordarson, whom I always considered one of us. Those of us still drawing oxygen are in our 60s and 70s, or older, so Dave Komosky and I often wonder who’ll be next. My kidneys are suggesting it might be moi. If that’s how it shakes down, in lieu of flowers send laughter.

Jennifer Jones

Big tip of the bonnet to Jennifer Jones, who’s now won more games at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts (159) than any curler. Ever. By the time she’s finished, Jen’s collection of Ws might be unbeatable, although I suppose Rachel Homan will have something to say about that. For now, though, Jen is the standard, and I say it’s only fitting and proper that someone from Winnipeg stands atop the heap. After all, Good Ol’ Hometown is the curling capital of the world, no matter what some folks in Alberta might want you to believe.

Is it just me, or does anyone else get the impression that the women at the Scotties have a whole lot more fun than the men at the Brier? Just saying.

Some people haven’t been impressed with the quality of play at the Scotties in Calgary. Too many flubbed shots. Iffy strategy. Well, what did you expect? I mean, they’d been away from the pebble for a year, and I’m guessing we’ll see a similar number of hairballs coughed up when the boys gather for the Brier at the end of this week.

Apparently it’s been so quiet at the fan-free Scotties that Saskatchewan skip Sherry Anderson says she “heard the toilet flush” while on the pebble the other day. But, hey, let’s not talk about the Montreal Canadiens.

I’m not saying the Habs’ hope for a successful crusade is down the toilet. If they can get rid of the imposter wearing Carey Price’s jersey, they might yet qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. Then again, maybe O.J. will find the real killers.

Paul Stastny poached a goal from Twig Ehlers to give the Winnipeg Jets their 2-1 OT win over the Habs on Saturday night. You just don’t do that. It’s chintzy.

Patrik Laine

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Patrik Laine wanted first-line minutes skating alongside Rink Rat Scheifele, but Jets head coach Paul Maurice would have none of it. So they shipped him to Columbus. Now Pierre-Luc Dubois, the guy the Jets received in barter for Puck Finn, is getting first-line minutes skating alongside Scheifele. What am I missing here?

Dumb headline in the Winnipeg Sun: “Coach, teammates like new Jet Dubois.” Well, duh. What does anyone expect them to say? That he’s a sloth? Bring Patty back? Now that would be a story. The fact the Jets have warm-and-fuzzy feelings for the new kid in town isn’t newsworthy.

Good stuff from Mad Mike McIntyre in the Drab Slab on local Black shinny players who found their way to the upper levels of professional hockey. Among those he chatted with are Bill Riley and Ray Neufeld, one of the nicest men to wear Jets linen. It’s worth a look.

So why is it that I don’t believe Canadian Football League commish Randy Ambrosie when he tells us there’ll be Rouge Football this year, but I believe Winnipeg Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller when he says the same thing? Maybe it’s because Wade transformed Winnipeg FC from a laughing stock into a Grey Cup champion, whereas Commish Randy couldn’t sell a spare tire to a guy with a flat.

Bernie Parent and Bobby Clarke (right)

Nice touch by TSN to serve up a Top 10 moments for Manitoba athletes last week. Except they should have consulted someone from the Keystone Province before revealing the list. There was no Clara Hughes collecting medals at both the Summer and Winter Olympics. There was no Donny Lalonde knocking Sugar Ray Leonard to the canvas. There was no George Knudson winning on the PGA Tour. There was no Bobby Clarke, the first captain of a National Hockey League expansion outfit to hoist the Stanley Cup. There was no Reggie Leach, scorer of 80 goals in the 1975-76 NHL season/playoffs. There was no Don Duguid going unbeaten to win consecutive world curling titles. No Jeff Stoughton. No University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen hoops team winning 88 consecutive matches. But Anthony Coombs made the grade with a catch in a meaningless game for the Toronto Argos. Skeleton guy Jon Montgomery was featured drinking beer and pretending to be an auctioneer. Corey Koskie cracked the list for catching a foul ball in a game no one remembers. And Andrew Harris was featured running the ball for the B.C. Lions in a game no one remembers. Totally lame.

Shaq

Shaquille O’Neal has taken some heat for his work as a TV analyst. It seems Shaq is unfamiliar with the first names of numerous National Basketball Association players, including Pascal Siakam of the Tranna Jurassics. “Oh, I never knew his first name,” Shaq confessed in a panel natter with Ernie Johnson in a recent NBA on TNT broadcast. I guess that makes Siakam the ultimate player to be named later.

Tim and Sid are no more. Well, okay Tim is still Micaleff and Sid is still Seixeiro, but they’re no longer Tim & Sid, after 17 years together on Sportsnet. Sid’s next gig is Breakfast Television in the Republic of Tranna and, given his penchant for goofing around, the show might become known as Dog’s Breakfast Television. Tim & Sid was sometimes-see TV for me, never must-see TV, but you don’t last that long without doing something right. Having said that, Tim drew a parallel between he and Sid breaking up and Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David parting ways. Uh, no. You don’t want to go there, man.

James Duthie

I’ve long admired James Duthie’s work on TSN. Who hasn’t? He’s witty, clever, knowledgeable and doesn’t take himself seriously. And he’s done it all without perfect hair and perfect teeth.

But when he waxed on about Tiger Woods last week…well, let’s just say he was showing his age.

“There’s not another…he’s the most famous athlete of our lives,” Duthie said of Woods in a squawk with Rod Smith. “Maybe you can make an argument Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, but there has been no more fascinating, complex character in sport in our lives.”

Good grief. Tom Brady is about as complex as Grade 1 arithmetic. He throws a football, wins the Super Bowl, then paints the town bland. The most fascinating thing he’s ever done is get drunk and hurl the Lombardi Trophy from one boat to another. Jordan? Best hoops player ever. Full stop.

Duthie wants fascinating and complex? Let me introduce him to Muhammad Ali, the boxer once known as Cassius Clay.

There were more layers to Ali than an onion. Let’s start with the name change, the Nation of Islam and the shift to Sunni Islam. Let’s talk about political activism and civil rights. Let’s talk about the U.S. government taking away his livelihood and untold millions of dollars for 3½ years because he refused to travel across the world to kill people in Vietnam. Let’s talk about his willingness to go behind bars rather than spray bullets. Let’s talk about the anger and hostility, then the warm admiration, of a nation. Let’s talk about a unanimous victory in the Supreme Court. Let’s talk about the Grammy nominations. Let’s talk about the movies and the Broadway musical. Let’s talk about whimsy, doggerel and rapping before rap was a thing. Let’s talk about the campus speaking tours. Let’s talk about the battle with Parkinson’s. Let’s talk about winning the world heavyweight title three times when it actually meant something. Let’s talk about the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manila. Let’s talk about media savvy. Let’s talk about showmanship and the oversized personality. Let’s talk about the multiple marriages and infidelities. Let’s talk about the irony of being meaner and more cruel to Black boxers than white fist-fighters.

Duthie is 54, which means he missed the opening act of the theatre that was Ali. He can’t relate to the Vietnam War or the civil rights movement of the 1960s, just as those who weren’t there when John Paul, George and Ringo invaded America can’t truly understand and appreciate Beatlemania.

But when he speaks of “our lives,” I have to assume that includes myself and those of my vintage.

Tiger Woods is arguably the finest to ever strike a dimpled ball. We marveled at his wizardry, how he would make the best in the game wither before they even teed it up on a Thursday. He was fascinating to watch. Gobsmackingly so. But whereas Ali allowed us inside his world, Woods tried to keep most everyone out. Except his many mistresses.

Other than his genius at golf, we knew nothing of Woods the person until caught with his trousers down and the tabloids exposed him as a raging philanderer. And, of course, he’s made headlines for getting behind the wheel of a luxury vehicle when it wasn’t wise. But cheating on your spouse and reckless driving hardly makes one fascinating or complex. It makes him one of a million guys.

So let’s put it this way: Given one word to describe Tiger Woods, it would be “golf.” Given one word to describe Muhammad Ali, it would be…sorry, can’t do it in one word. He was too fascinating and complex.

And, finally, looks like this will be a pizza-and-pebble day, because I’m hitting the couch and won’t budge until either Jen Jones or Kerri Einarson has (hopefully) won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts this evening.

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 silence of the Puck Pontiff…Barry Shenkarow didn’t hide…big bucks in the blurt box…Fake It Like Beckham…that ain’t chicken feed those pigeons are fetching…fiddle farting around on the snooker table…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and you are not required to wear a mask to read this blog…

Is it just me, or does anyone else wonder what’s rattling around in the grey matter between Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s ears these days?

Mark Chipman, the Puck Pontiff.

I mean, with the National Hockey League ensnared in a state of iffiness re a 2021 crusade, and the players royally PO’d due to a proposed wave of wage rollbacks (again), wouldn’t you like to know what the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll thinks about the current state of affairs?

Wouldn’t you like to hear his thoughts on the local shinny side playing in an empty Little Hockey House On The Prairie this winter?

Wouldn’t you like to know if he’d prefer to scrap a 2021 season rather than lose a small fortune paying six- and seven-figure salaries with no game-day revenue?

Wouldn’t you like to hear the Puck Pontiff’s take on the NHL owners’ ploy to renege on the agreement they willingly signed with the work force just this past summer?

Wouldn’t you like to know how he feels about the Jets frolicking in an all-Canadian division?

Wouldn’t you like to hear some assurance that, COVID-19 be damned, the Jets are here for the long haul, even as the pandemic gnaws away at his bottom line like termites on a two-by-four?

I know I would.

I won’t hold my breath, though, because the Puck Pontiff is not a man given to disclosure. He’s more guarded with his thoughts than a Rottweiler growling at the gates of a junkyard. The Kremlin was less secretive during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

But that’s his right, of course.

Chipman heads up a private company, True North Sports + Entertainment, so he isn’t obliged to make us privy to any secrets, dirty or otherwise. Except for one thing: There’s ample and rabid outside interest in the centrepiece of his fiefdom, that being an NHL franchise that pigs out at the public trough. The faithful flock to his Little Hockey House On The Prairie a minimum of 41 nights every year, give or take a pandemic, and many thousands of them also spend many thousands of dollars on Jets merchandise. Others purchase TV cable and/or Internet streaming packages to watch their hockey heroes as they fight the good fight hither and yon.

I’d say that warrants a word or two from the guy who signs the cheques, wouldn’t you?

Geoff Molson, the beer baron bankroll of the storied Montreal Canadiens, thought so, which is why he sat down for a natter with Herb Zurkowsky of the Montreal Gazette recently.

Among other things, Molson pooh-poohed any notion of a lost season, no matter how harsh the financial wallop, and he expressed a hope that there would be patrons in the pews before the close of business on a runted season.

“I really do think it’s the right thing to play,” he said. “I think we can get there. The thought of making a profit this year isn’t even in my mindset. It’s more about returning to play.”

Why can’t the Puck Pontiff poke his head out of the ivory tower and do the same?

Again, he’s under no obligation to address the faithful, but the right to remain silent is a good policy if you’re sitting in the back seat of a police cruiser, not when you’re at the wheel of an NHL franchise in the heartland of Canada.

I’d like to think that one or more of the girls and boys on the beat have requested an audience with His Royal Hockeyness during these most uncertain of times. If not, shame on them. If so (and I suspect that’s the case), shame on him and his hangups. Not so long ago, Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab confessed that he’s never engaged in a verbal parry-and-thrust with the Puck Pontiff. Not in four years on the beat, but not for lack of effort. Mad Mike assured us he has put in a bid to tap the Puck Pontiff’s brain pan more than once, only to be rejected each time. And that’s just wrong.

Barry Shenkarow

Back in the day, Benny Hatskin or Michael Gobuty or Barry Shenkarow were usually just a phone call away, and we were never required to genuflect and kiss their ring fingers before they agreed to talk to us. We had their home phone numbers, for cripes sake, and they knew where to find us. Did Shenkarow enjoy standing or sitting in front of the media mob, painting a gloom-and-doom scenario for the Jets 1.0 franchise? No. He didn’t. I can tell you there was always pain in his voice, sadness in his eyes and a great burden on his slender shoulders whenever he spoke. At times there was also anger. And extreme frustration. But he became the front man for the ownership group and accepted that his voice needed to be heard, even when there was nothing but sad tidings to deliver. Many among the rabble made Barry out to be the bad guy when it became apparent that the NHL couldn’t work in Good Ol’ Hometown in the 1990s, but no one could accuse him of hiding.

It occurs to me that if there’s one thing the rabble dislikes more than jock journos complaining about lousy press box food, tight deadlines and uppity athletes, it’s millionaire jocks and billionaire owners bickering over big bucks. That doesn’t play well at the best of times, so it’s particularly irksome during a global pandemic that’s forcing people out of work, out of homes and sending them to food banks. I mean, if NHL bankrolls get their way in the latest squabble with the NHL Players Association, Kyle Connor of the Jets won’t collect his $8 million salary for a 2021 crusade. He’ll have to get by on $4.4 million in U.S. coin. At the lower end of the pay scale, Jansen Harkins will have to make due on $385,000 instead of $700,000. I agree, boo-freaking-hoo. Hey, I’m all for the workers squeezing every copper they can out of owners trying to weasel their way out of an agreement they signed four months ago, but a money spat is a tough sell when the world is upside down.

On the subject of high finance, the most noted voice in the CBS sports blurt box, Jim Nantz, is looking for a hefty raise in pay from the $6.5 million he now collects for flapping his gums on the network’s NFL, college hoops, and PGA coverage. Nantz’ contract expires next summer and it’s a good bet that he’s aware his sidekick in the CBS football booth, Tony Romo, draws an annual stipend of $17.5 million. I’m sure he also knows that Fox Sports pays its do-everything squawk box Joe Buck $10.5 million per annum. I don’t know what the bookies in Vegas are thinking, but I’d say the over/under on Nantz’ next deal is $12 million.

If that isn’t obscene enough for you, consider this: England footy legend David Beckham will be paid $53 million over the next three years to do nothing. Becks has signed on as an ‘icon’ player in the EA Sports video game FIFA 21, and he’ll be making more money in fake footy than he did while kicking real balls for sides like Man U, Real Madrid and LA Galaxy. Makes for a nifty marketing promo, don’t you think—Fake It Like Beckham!

New Kim, a two-year-old female Belgian racing pigeon, recently sold for $1.9 million at auction. No bird has ever landed that large a windfall. At least not since Elin Nordegren flew the coop on Tiger.

If I owned a pigeon, I believe I would name it Clay.

The most vulgar man in sports, Conor McGregor, has signed to fight someone I’ve never heard of in the UFC octagon next month. I’m pretty sure I’ll be too busy to give a damn that night. Or any other night, for that matter.

Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News calls Derek Jeter “the most famous Yankee since Mickey Mantle.” Apparently Mike nodded off when Reggie Jackson arrived in Gotham and became Mr. October.

TSN has decided that the 1981 Edmonton E-Somethings are the greatest of all Canadian Football League championship sides. No argument here.

Some folks are quite giddy that the CFL has released a 2021 schedule, with a full 18-game crusade for each of the nine sides. Rick LeLacheur is, in fact, “beyond excited” at the prospect of his B.C. Lions performing in front of fewer than the 12,000 bodies that normally gather under the B.C. Place Stadium bubble top in downtown Vancity. What the Leos president and no one else in Rouge Football can tell us, though, is who’s footing the bill. I mean, if they couldn’t afford a mini-season in 2020, what makes anyone believe the three-downs game is good to go next summer/autumn? The schedule is nothing more than a goodwill gesture and, as I scribbled last week, it isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on unless the large lads are grabbing grass in June. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer about my favorite league, but it’s true.

The Edmonton Oilers owe a Dallas hotel $55,000 for two stays last season. And here I thought the World Hockey Association was dead.

A most foul wind blew during a recent match between world No. 2 Ronnie O’Sullivan and Matthew Stevens at the Northern Ireland Open snooker tournament. One of the participants farted, you see, and it was no silent bomb. “That was a very unfortunate noise there,” one of the commentators observed while the players and match referee glanced mischievously at one another. “I don’t know who it was from…I’ve got my suspicions.” Eventually, O’Sullivan won the match, 4-2, then copped a guilty plea, saying, “I’m taking full ownership of that one.”

Akim Aliu

The Florida Panthers have hired Brett Peterson, a Black man, as assistant general manager, which prompted this reaction from Akim Aliu of the Hockey Diversity Alliance: “It’s long overdue. We feel there’s a lot of people of color that are deserving of jobs and also people from different genders. Obviously women I think are very adapt at doing a good job in the game of hockey.” Ya, Aliu and his HDA think so highly of women in hockey that there isn’t a Mrs., Miss, Ms or Ma’am in the group. Go ahead. Call up the HDA website and you’ll see nothing but the faces and names of men. I contacted the HDA to inquire about its lack of diversity, but received no reply. Aliu and his boys-only club might want to practise diversity before squawking about diversity.

I get a laugh out of bandwagon jumpers in jock journalism, guys like Jack Todd, whose column has returned to the sports pages of the Montreal Gazette, and Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. Todd called the Miami Marlins’ hiring of Kim Ng as general manager “the best thing that has happened to Major League Baseball since the Red Sox shook the curse. The time is now and Ng is the woman.” Simmons, meanwhile, wrote: “I wish I had a daughter to share this with.” I call BS on that. When was the last time either of them wrote about women’s sports, other than the Olympics when there’s no choice? Where were they when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League was still in operation and hungering for coverage? They didn’t notice the CWHL until the doors were shuttered. So they can spare us the faux concern.

Simmons, of course, has a long history of pooh-poohing female athletes and the games they play, and his recent list of the 50 most influential sports figures in the Republic of Tranna over the past 50 years tells us all we need to know about his thoughts on the distaff portion of the playground. His top-50 actually includes 59 people, all but one of them men. That’s right, in half a century, only one woman, tennis player Bianca Andreescu, made the cut. No Fran Rider and no Angela James, each hugely influential in Ponytail Puck and based in The ROT. One of them, James, is in the Hockey Hall of Fame and Rider should be.

I don’t know if anyone at the Winnipeg Sun has plans to compile a similar top-50 for the most influential sports figures in Good Ol’ Hometown during past half century, but I guarantee there’d be more than one woman included in the group. Benny Hatskin would top the list, of course, but you can be damn certain there’d be room for Clara Hughes, Jennifer Jones, Cindy Klassen, Connie Laliberte and Susan Auch, among other women.

And, finally, there’s only one thing worse than wearing a mask—not wearing a mask.

Let’s talk about L’Affaire Laine…Winnipeg the armpit…a Jumbo fossil in the ROT…Chelsea’s the best free agent available…Jennifer Jones and the ‘Notables’ of Manitoba’s Pebble People…’ear ye, ‘ear ye, Mike Tyson is trying to speak…the Dodgers’ two K men…a Bird named Sue…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and someone told me that I really should quit while I’m ahead, but I’ve never been able to get ahead…

So, according to the pundits, the acquisition of Paul Stastny was supposed to accomplish two things for the Winnipeg Jets:

1. Fill the long-standing need for a second-line centre.

2. Put a happy face on Patrik Laine and put the skids on the galloping gossip that has hounded Puck Finn for more than a year.

Chevy and Puck Finn in happier times.

Well, insofar as the first point of the equation, we can continue to debate the pros and cons of the Jets reeling in the aging Stastny—and I’m squarely on the con side of the discussion—but it’s probably best that we allow his play in Winnipeg HC’s next National Hockey League crusade to settle the argument.

As for point No. 2, good luck with that.

It took less than a week for one of TSN’s hockey “insiders” to fan the flames of L’Affaire Laine once again, and this time it isn’t a campfire. It’s a bonfire with possible gusts up to a five-alarm inferno.

Here’s what LeBrun told host James Duthie last Thursday:

“There’s been some scuttlebutt around the National Hockey League of late that Patrik Laine may not show up at camp if he’s not dealt by the Winnipeg Jets.

“I reached out to his representation agents, Andy Scott and Mike Liut, to get some clarity and they absolutely deny that. That Laine has not asked for a trade, he’s not threatening to not be at camp if he’s not dealt.

Pierre LeBrun

“Having said that, his agents also made clear that it’s fair to say that given that Laine knows his name has been in trade discussions as we’ve talked about here, and given that his usage in the lineup the last couple of years has been a constant topic of conversation, the fact that he doesn’t get consistent first-line minutes, his agents Mike Liut and Andy Scott do confirm that it probably would be mutually beneficial to both the player and to the team if Patrik Laine is traded and that there is clear communication between them and Kevin Cheveldayoff, the GM of the Winnipeg Jets, about this.

“Now I spoke to Kevin Cheveldayoff on this day. And he reiterated that he’s looking at all options when it comes to trade and that Patrik Laine remains a big part of the organization.

“What I would say, not Cheveldayoff, is that he’s not going to just trade Patrik Laine for the sake of it, that it’s going to have to be something that makes sense for the Winnipeg Jets. But I will say this, as Andy Scott, the agent for Patrik Laine, said to me, there is a clear understanding between both sides about where this is probably headed.”

Now, you can pooh-pooh LeBrun’s bona fides as an “insider” if you like, but one thing should be abundantly clear by now: Patrik Laine will remain the centrepiece of trade rumors until a) Chevy hands him a one-way ticket out of town or b) Puck Finn signs long term. Nothing else will dim the natter.

I’m just surprised that so many among the rabble and in mainstream media are surprised that it’s come to this.

I mean, I don’t have my feet on the ground in Good Ol’ Hometown, but this is how I read the room 16 months ago: “You think Patrik Laine’s agent hasn’t noticed how the (Jacob) Trouba saga played out? If it’s true that Puck Finn’s nose is out of joint, all he has to do is sign a two-year bridge deal, take les Jets to arbitration down the road, then force a trade.”

So how has it played out to date? Laine signed a two-year bridge deal, he’s eligible for arbitration after next season, and already his two mouthpieces sound like they’re trying to force a trade.

Evander Kane

Yet I keep hearing and reading that the Jets are in control of this game of chicken. To a point, that’s true. But they can only delay Puck Finn’s departure if that’s his intent. They can’t stop him. Just like they couldn’t stop Evander Kane and they couldn’t stop Trouba.

We don’t know who or what is up Laine’s nose. His beef could be with the captain, Blake Wheeler, or the head coach, Paul Maurice, or maybe he’s bought into the silly “Winnipeg has lousy WiFi” nonsense. If it’s Wheeler, it wouldn’t be the first time two teammates refused to exchange Christmas cards. If it’s Coach PoMo, it’s not like there’s never been conflict between a bench boss and a worker (for evidence see: Bowman, Scotty). If it’s the city, he isn’t the first guy who’s wanted out of Dodge.

Whomever or whatever, I repeat what I wrote in February 2019: “I doubt Puck Finn will finish his career in Jets linen.”

But, hey, what do I know? Like I said, I don’t have feet on the ground. Except I predicted in 2012 that Evander Kane would one day walk into Chevy’s office and demand a new postal code. He did that very thing—repeatedly—and Chevy obliged, in 2015. In September 2018, I peered into the tea leaves and predicted Trouba would be gone in less than two years. He left the building nine months later. So tell me I’m wrong about Laine.

Ben Hatskin and Bobby Hull

Interesting read from Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun on the challenges Chevy faces in attempting to lure top-drawer free agents to Good Ol’ Hometown, and also navigate his way around no-trade clauses. “There’s no happy ending for this,” he writes. “It’s an ongoing problem for the Jets. What it does underscore is the need to ensure the team is a winner, by whatever means possible, and in spite of unfavorable geography. And it means the organization needs to be that much more creative when it comes to recruitment. Getting players in the door begins with a pitch that centres around winning the Cup. For most, that’s the dream. If you can show a pathway to that dream, you can probably get folks into the house. And that’s when perceptions die and new ones are made, and the word spreads. Winnipeg’s advertising comes via word of mouth. There just has to be something enticing other than frigid winters. And it may be as simple—and as difficult—as putting a winning product on the ice.” That’s fair analysis, but it’s worth remembering that the original Winnipeg Jets lineup was crafted 100 per cent on guys who chose to play in Good Ol’ Hometown, including the most significant free agent signing in pro hockey history—Bobby Hull, at the time the game’s glamour guy. Every player on that team came to River City without kicking and screaming. So can anyone tell me exactly when Winnipeg became the armpit of hockey? I’d really like to know.

When I hear the San Jose Sharks have signed Patrick Marleau, it tells me that they’ve already tapped out on next season.

Jumbo Joe

And what is Kyle Dubas trying to prove in the Republic of Tranna? The Maple Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967, so the kid GM thought it would be a swell idea to sign Marleau’s former running mate Jumbo Joe Thornton who, coincidentally, broke into the NHL that same year. Okay, okay. Jumbo hasn’t been around quite that long. But Dubas seems to be setting up a Fossil Factory in the ROT, with Jumbo Joe, 41, and Jason Spezza, 37, on board.

Scant seconds after becoming one of the newest Maple Leafs, Wayne Simmonds did the Zoom thing with news snoops and warned foes that “I can punch your head off if need be.” He calls what he does on a hockey rink “functional toughness.” Back it the day we called it “goon.”

I keep hearing about all the free agents still available in the NHL, but the top free agent in sports right now is Chelsea Carey, champion curler without a team to call her own. We don’t know how this season will shake down for our Pebble People, but it’s hard to imagine a two-time Scotties queen being stuck on the outside looking in with her nose pressed against the window.

Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer, Dawn McEwen.

On the subject of our fab provincial Pebble People, the deep thinkers at the Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame want to know what you think. They’re looking to name the Most Notable Team in local lore, and that’s where you come in. The MCHF is accepting votes until Dec. 5 for its 25 Most Notable Teams and, really, this should be a no-brainer. I mean, it doesn’t get more “notable” than winning Olympic Games gold, so Jennifer Jones and her gal pals Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen have to be at the top of the heap. It doesn’t hurt that they were also Canadian and world champions, and they had longer sustained success than any foursome I can recall. Next in line would be the Digit, Don Duguid, and his gang from the Granite—Bryan Wood, Jim Pettapiece and the Arrow, Rod Hunter—who went 17-0 to win back-to-back world titles in 1970 and ’71. Completing my top three would be Bronco Braunstein and his team of brother Ron, Moose Turnbull and Jack Van Hellemond. Still just school kids, the teenagers copped the Manitoba men’s title then fell one game shy of winning the 1958 Brier in Victoria, losing to Matt Baldwin of Alberta in a one-game showdown.

Mike Tyson

Fans of fist fighting were shocked to hear Mike Tyson on Good Morning Britain last week. In a natter with hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid, the former heavyweight boxing champion was muttering unintelligibly and slurring his words badly. Hey, cut the guy some slack. It can’t be easy to talk with your mouth full of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Sticking with boxing, I stayed up well past my bedtime Saturday to watch Teofimo Lopez and Vasiliy Lomachenko chuck knuckles in a lightweight title bout. At the end of the night, Lopez had four belts. Hmmm. Four belts—sounds like the Rat Pack at closing time.

So, the Houston Astros have been drummed out of the Major League Baseball playoffs (karma, baby). Some teams run out of pitching, some teams run out of hitting. Some teams run out of time. I guess the Astros ran out of trash cans.

Clayton Kershaw, Sandy Koufax

Is there a Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher with a worse post-season record than Clayton Kershaw of my Los Angeles Dodgers? Kershaw will be in Cooperstown one day, but it won’t be due to anything he’s done in the World Series or playoffs. The guy’s 175-75, .697, 2.43 ERA in the hum-drum of spring and summer ball, but a dismal 11-12, .478, 4.31 ERA when it matters most. And, to think, some people have compared him favorably to Sandy Koufax. Ya, like a box of Timbits is fine dining.

Some good reads in the past week: Paul Friesen’s series on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ journey to the Grey Cup; Freezer’s running mate at the Winnipeg Sun, Ted Wyman, dishes on Hockey Hall of Famer Serge Savard; Luke Fox’s Q&A with Brian Burke on the Sportsnet website.

When the National Women’s Hockey League restructured its business model and assigned founder and commissioner Dani Rylan Kearney to a lesser role last week, shouldn’t it have been a big deal in the media? No women would be drawing pay to play shinny if not for Dani, who gave the NWHL its jump start in 2015, but her removal from the big office was a blip at best in most newspapers, websites and on air. Seems to me the story, and Dani, warranted better play than that.

Sue Bird

Speaking of not getting their due, it’s about Sue Bird: Not many hoopsters can boast of her bona fides. When Seattle Storm won the Women’s National Basketball Association title recently, it was her fourth. You know, the same number as LeBron James has won in his NBA career. Sue also has four Olympic gold medals, four FIBA World Cup titles, five EuroLeague titles, two NCAA titles, one national high school title, five Russian National League titles, two Europe Super Cup titles, she’s the all-time WNBA assists leader, she’s started the most games in WNBA history, she’s an 11-time WNBA all-star, a two-time EuroLeague all-star and a former Naismith college player of the year. She’s the High Priestess of the Hardwood, but somehow manages to fly under the radar of most mainstream media. Shame that.

And, finally, this is the 50th anniversary season for the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League, and I’d say that calls for some sort of special feature piece in either or both of the Winnipeg dailies. So why hasn’t either the Sun or Drab Slab done something about it?

Let’s talk about when Patrik Laine is traded, not if…a circus act on the mound for Blue Jays…writing off Tiger, or not…more whinging from news snoops…where’s Chelsea Carey going to curl?…baseball oddballs…old school hockey coverage…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and I saw the sky yesterday for the first time in more than a week…

Evander Kane wanted out. Gone. Age 23.

Jacob Trouba wanted out. Gone. Age 25.

Patrik Laine…well, we don’t really know what notions swirl about in Puck Finn’s grey matter, but if he wants a new postal code there won’t be anything the Winnipeg Jets can do to prevent him from escaping Good Ol’ Hometown.

For now, the Finnish winger is on lockdown for the 2020-21 National Hockey League crusade, whenever that might begin and end, but then he becomes a restricted free agent with the right to plead his case before an arbitrator should the Jets refuse to drive a Brinks truck up to his doorway. You know, just like Trouba before him, and I doubt Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff are keen on retracing those footsteps.

Which means the pundits need not look for a pot to stir. They’ve got it.

Laine’s shelf life with the Jets has been a matter of conjecture dating back to July 2019, when Elliotte Friedman went on his 31 Thoughts podcast and word-painted the Finnish winger as pouting Patty.

“Laine is a whole big discussion, right?” he said. “He didn’t leave happy last year. Some of that was his own fault. He wasn’t as good as he could be, and I think he chafed under some of the leadership there. Like, the guys at the top of that food chain are hard-driving guys. They expect you to buy into the program, and I think that they felt he didn’t buy in enough, and I think he felt that some of the things they wanted were ridiculous. So you gotta bridge that, too.”

A month later, Chris Johnston of Sportsnet was in Lahti, Finland, for a natter with Puck Finn, who said, “You never know where you’re going to play next year, so I’m just prepared for anything.” Then along came Pekka Jalonen of the Finnish publication Iltalehti, suggesting Laine’s nose was out of joint because he was required to skate alongside the NHL’s equivalent of beer-leaguers.

And now, Friedman has his hand on the stirring stick once again, saying this on 630 CHED in Edmonton last week:

“I think the thing about Winnipeg that’s gonna be interesting is gonna be Laine. There’s something going on there. I don’t know if Laine’s not happy or whatever it is. I think he wants to play with Scheifele, I’m not sure that that’s what Winnipeg is looking at right now. You know, there’s something there. And I think that Winnipeg realizes that it’s not gonna be easy to sign him when the time comes, and they’re gonna have to…they might have to trade him before they want to trade him. It’s possible. It’s certainly out there, it’s possible.

“I don’t think…you know, what they did with Trouba, is they kept on extending him until they had to make the deal, right? I don’t know that that’s going to be their plan for Laine, but I think they realize that the closer this gets to unrestricted free agency, you know, the more likely that they’re gonna have to make a move. If you’re trading that guy, the return has to be enormous. You’re talking about a market that saw them trade Teemu Selanne, so you don’t want to see that again.”

So what is the rabble to make of that? Same as we did a year ago. Not much.

Note how Friedman framed his comments: “I think” and “I don’t know” and “I think” and “I’m not sure” and “I think” and “I don’t think” and “I don’t know” and “I think.”

In other words, “I think” he’s spitballing again, but “I’m not sure.”

The thing is, that’s what news snoops do. They speculate. Sometimes some of what they say and/or write sticks, and I guess that’s how a guy like Friedman comes to be known as an insider and gets to sit and schmooze with the retired players on the Hockey Night in Canada panel.

I’m not saying he’s wrong about Laine, because I doubt the big Finn will be wearing Jets linen for the duration. Few do. If any of the local hockey heroes goes start to finish in Good Ol’ Hometown, my guess is it’ll be Rink Rat Scheifele, but I wouldn’t want to wager more than the price of a pint on it.

It’s usually a matter of when, not if, even for a 22-year-old who’s scored 36, 44, 30 and 28 goals in his four NHL crusades.

Evander Kane

I wrote something very similar about Evander Kane for Arctic Ice Hockey in December 2012. Said Kane and Winnipeg weren’t a happy mix, and suggested he’d stomp into Chevy’s office one day and demand to be put on the next stage out of Dodge. We now know that’s exactly what happened every off-season, and they parted company in February 2015. The same thing is apt to happen with Laine if head coach Paul Maurice insists on having him line up alongside third- and fourth-rate centres. There won’t be a tub of ice water involved, but he’ll be gone.

Friedman described the recent Eric Staal-Marcus Johansson trade as “a Zeus-like thunderbolt.” So that’s what passes for a major deal in the NHL these days? A 35-year-old guy who’s already building a retirement home in barter for a 29-year-old 40-point guy? Head for the storm shelter and batten the hatches if the Jets deal Puck Finn or Twig Ehlers.

Bill Johnson has agreed to generally manage the Arizona Coyotes. Hey, I can think of worse jobs. Cleaning up after the circus elephants comes to mind.

Speaking of circus acts, no need to send in the clowns—they’re already here and they’re pitching for the Tranna Blue Jays. The New York Yankees played T-Ball with Jays hurlers last week, scoring 43 runs and swatting 19 dingers in a three-game series. Only the Venus de Milo has worse arms.

Tiger Woods

If you watched the first two rounds of the U.S. Open, you’ll know that Tiger Woods’ universe didn’t unfold as he would have liked, thus he won’t be around to wear a red shirt today. But expecting Tiger to win the U.S. Open is kind of like handing Michelangelo a box of crayons and telling him to redo the Sistine Chapel. It was painful to watch the great golfer hack his way around Winged Foot. The thing is, I wouldn’t be too hasty in writing him off for the Masters in November. Augusta National won’t be as punitive as Winged Foot, where the rough is thicker than a tub of tar, and the Masters has a history of being kind to golfers in their forties (seven 40-plus champions, including Tiger last year).

It took Michelangelo four years to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or about the same amount of time it takes for a Bryson DeChambeau tee shot to land. I swear, there hasn’t been this much talk about air time since Howard Stern arrived on radio.

I don’t know about you, but I really miss the Pre-Pandemic Era of pro sports. You know, a time when all those mega-millionaire athletes lived in a vacuum instead of a bubble.

Mark Spector

On the subject of bubbles, when, oh when, will sports scribes clue in to the reality that the rabble simply isn’t interested in their petty gripes and grievances?

The latest example of jock journo whinging came from Mark Spector of Sportsnet, who delivered this tweet from the NHL bubble in Edmonton: “Biggest challenge for writers by far in Zoom era: Putting together a cogent piece when you get just one question per Zoom. No follow-ups, no working your way to the money question. Just a bunch of quotes that have little to do with each other, and a deadline. Go!”

Oh, the humanity.

Predictably, response from the rabble was swift, harsh and lathered in sarcasm. To wit:

“This sounds difficult, a little too difficult if you ask me. I think it’s best that you retire, it’s just too difficult.”

“Wah wah wah. MSM bitching and moaning again. Health care workers. Teachers, Police. They are facing real challenges.”

I trust that’s cogent enough for Spector.

You know you’re getting long in tooth (if you have any teeth left) when you see someone of your vintage trending on Twitter and you assume she or he has died. Mind you, it can work the other way, too. On Friday morning, for example, I noted that Jimi Hendrix was trending and thought, “What? Jimi’s alive?” Nope. Still toes up.

Chelsea Carey

I don’t know about you, but I could use a Canadian Football League fix right about now. Grew up with Rouge Football. Love Rouge Football. Autumn just isn’t the same without Rouge Football. And now I fear the worst. I mean, if I’m this bummed out about no three-downs football, how am I going to feel if there’s no Scotties Tournament of Hearts or Brier? I’ll be needing me some Chelsea Carey and Kerri Einarson and Jen Jones and Tracy Fleury and Mike McEwen before long.

A landing spot for Chelsea Carey was the main mystery in advance of the 2020-21 curling season. The two-time Scotties Tournament of Hearts champion lost her entire team last spring, and there were whispers that she would be returning to her home in Manitoba, already the bully on the block. Throw Chelsea into the mix with Einarson, Jones and Fleury and you’d have a draw that’s tougher to get out of than the rough at Winged Foot. It’d be the most difficult task on Canadian pebble, although I’m sure some near-sighted scribes in Alberta would be more than happy to argue the point. And that’s okay, just as long as they know they’re wrong.

Nobody covers curling as well or with as much depth as the girls and boys on the beat in Good Ol’ Hometown, so I’m surprised none of them have picked up a phone and asked Chelsea about her plans.

Jimmy Piersall doing the backwards home run trot.

Had to laugh at Josh Donaldson getting ejected from a game last week for kicking dirt on home plate at the completion of his home run trot. Reminded me of Jimmy Piersall, noted for all sorts of oddball antics during his Major League Baseball career, like running the bases backwards after hitting his 100th dinger and wearing a Beatles wig during an at-bat.

No surprise that mainstream sports media (print division) mostly ignored the Yanic Duplessis coming-out story. As I’ve emphasized numerous times, jock journalism in Canadian newspapers is a white, male and heterosexual enterprise, thus they’re unable to deliver lived-experience accounting of social issues like homophobia. The rag trade is marginally more diverse today than when I broke into the business in 1969, and it hasn’t progressed since I left in 1999. If anything, it’s become less diverse, with fewer female sports scribes.

I believe the Winnipeg Sun and Drab Slab have now talked to every current and former member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers about life during a pandemic. They’re free to move on to a fresh topic any time.

Based on the early returns, there can be just one reason why the Drab Slab dispatched Mad Mike McIntyre to the Jason Kenney Mountain Retreat in Edmonton for the short strokes of the Stanley Cup runoff—to say they’re there, as if it’s a feather in their cap. I mean, they’re spending oodles of coin for what? A feature on Derek Laxdal that drones on to the point of inducing extreme drowsiness? A natter with Scott Oake? (Hey, there’s nothing but high respect and admiration for Scotty in this corner, but I can do without his take on the E-Town bubble.) Worst of all, play-by-play game stories? Seriously. Play-by-play gamers? Sigh. There are no words, except to say that style of coverage is older than everything that’s older than old school. How’s Mad Mike filing his copy? Pony Express? Carrier pigeon? Telegraph?

It isn’t enough anymore to tell readers what they’ve already seen on TV/online or read on the Internet. A sports section should be as much a conversation pit as the gab fests on our flatscreens, meaning analysis, opinion, in-depth features (not fluff) and interpretation of the news, not just the listing of scores and delivering dreary, same old-same old game stories with the predictable cookie-cutter quotes. Frankly, I can’t remember the last time I read a game story.

For the record, I’m not telling the bean-counters at the Drab Slab how to spend their money—or, in this case, how to waste their money—but the next time publisher Bob Cox goes hat in hand to the feds, demanding subsidies for his newspaper, remind him that he’s squandered thousands of dollars on Stanley Cup copy that could have been written from Good Ol’ Hometown.

And, finally, put a major sports event in Edmonton and you just know it’ll be done right. Commonwealth Games, World Cup soccer, the Brier, the Grey Cup, Stanley Cup bubble, you name it, E-Towners get ‘er done. But they still don’t curl as well as Winnipeggers.

Let’s talk about no sports for writers to write about…dog sled racing and a vasectomy in the Drab Slab…Cheech and Chintzy won’t show arena workers the money…strange scribblings from The ROT…trashing the Thrashers…the Church of Maggie…and Rachel Homan fires Lisa Weagle

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and great Caesar’s ghost, does anything good ever happen on the Ides of March?

My most-distant recollection of sports dates back to the mid-1950s, either ’55 or ’56, when I sat in the nose-bleed pews of Winnipeg Arena, which was rather spiffy in its newness.

Below on the freeze whirled Billy Mosienko and Eric Nesterenko and Spider Mazur and others adorned in the gold-and-black livery of the Winnipeg Warriors, a freshly minted outfit in a nine-team Western Hockey League that stretched from Good Ol’ Hometown to Victoria and dipped south into Seattle.

I would have been five or six years old at the time, my eyes as wide as the centre-ice faceoff circle, and although I don’t recall the Warriors’ foe—nor the final score or whether I had a hot dog, a box of popcorn or both to go with my Coke—I can report that none of us in attendance gave consideration to “social distancing.” We were scrunched into the barn, somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 of us cheek-to-jowl, each delighted to be eye witnesses to a real, live professional hockey match.

That night represents Ground Zero for me in a lifetime of observing the kid’s games that grown men play for what once was a working-man’s wage but now makes them instant millionaires.

I’m now four months into my 70th spin around the sun and I’ve not known a world without sports since my Winnipeg Arena baptism in ’55 or ’56, even if I have sometimes wondered what a world without sports would be like.

Winnipeg Arena circa 1955.

I played sports. I watched sports. I harbored a voracious appetite for sports reading. Had I spent as much time with my nose stuck in school text books as I did jock journals and the sports section of the daily newspapers, I might have achieved higher loft than a C student. And bringing my report card home might not have been done with such paralyzing dread.

That enchantment with all things jock led to a career in sports journalism, not by design so much as circumstance and a favorable nod from Dame Fortune.

But I divorced myself from sports on a professional level 20-plus years ago, three decades after walking into the fifth-floor toy department at the Winnipeg Tribune for the first time. I’d like to say it was a full, never-look-back split, but that would be a mistruth. There have been numerous freelance gigs. There was a brief and self-aborted return to the rag trade. There have been contributions to various websites. And, of course, every time I’m struck with the notion to shut down this River City Renegade blog, something or someone (e.g. my doctor) reels me back in.

“You have to keep your mind active,” has been his repeated reminder, always accompanied by a caution that a rousing game of bingo does nothing to activate my grey matter.

Thus, I have discovered there is no world without sports.

Until now.

Sports is over. It’s been dark since last Thursday.

They won’t flip the switch back on until intelligent women and men in lab coats and with microscopes and test tubes discover a vaccine to corral the coronavirus, then give health authorities the okie-dokie for athletes and the rabble to return to the playground.

So while the squints stare at germs under glass and sports remains in limbo, will it change my life? A smidgen.

I’ll still make my twice-a-week pilgrimage to my favorite watering hole, Bart’s Pub, and the pints Jack the Bartender pours will still be wet and cold. I just won’t be able to sneak a peek at the flatscreen in the corner to see how the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Jets or Manitoba’s curlers are getting on, and I’m okay with that.

Frankly, the suspension/pause/cancellation of sports might be my cue to exit. Finally. I mean, I’ve had my innings. Like, more than 50 years worth of innings scribbling about the jocks in Good Ol’ Hometown.

It’s been a trip. A bloody good trip.

Truthfully, I’m concerned about today’s jock journos, print division. They had no desire to quit sports, but sports has quit them. And now they’ll begin to run on fumes. I mean, they’ve already exhausted their main talking point—shutting down was “the right thing to do; life is bigger than sports”—so there’s nothing left for them to wax on about until the squints have their say, and that will be many, many months from now. Their only hope is for the Olympic Games to proceed, which is a faint and delusional expectation, and I’m sure it’s a shuddering reality for some. I really wonder how many of them will still be there when sports breaks through to the other side.

You think I’m kidding about the ink-stained wretches running on fumes? Consider this: The sports front in the Drab Slab this very day is a full-page pic of a Chinese badminton player and, inside, you can read all about vasectomies and dog sled racing. Meanwhile, columnist Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna was tweeting about women’s Olympic wrestling on Saturday. He cares as much about women’s grappling, and ponytail sports in general, as Jose Altuve and the Houston Astros care about getting caught stealing signs. It’s anything to justify one’s existence, I suppose.

Come to think of it, why were women wrestling in Ottawa when every other sports activity known to man has gone dark (except the UFC, where Dana White insists on showcasing grown women and men beating each other to a bloody pulp)? What, wrestlers don’t touch each other’s face with dirty hands while rolling around on a dirty floor? Odd bit of business, that.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman: “No pay for you!”

It’s not my business to tell Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman or David Thomson how to spend their millions and billions of dollars, but I wonder if the Jets co-bankrolls know how chintzy they look by leaving their 1,050 event workers at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie high, dry and out of pocket now that the National Hockey League has hit the pause button. “They work when we work,” the Puck Pontiff informed news snoops last week, his tone as cold and callous as a jury foreman reading a guilty verdict at a murder trial. So the minions don’t get paid, but the millionaire players continue to fatten their wallets, and that’s something Cheech and Chintzy might want to reconsider. It’s a dreadful optic. Just because you don’t have to do something, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

This just in: Cheech and Chintzy now say they’ll pay their casual and part-time workers for postponed events until the end of the month. As I was saying, just because you don’t have to do something, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. But True North Sports+Entertainment took a massive PR hit nonetheless.

Kudos to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun for calling out Chipman on the no-pay for arena part-timers issue. It had to be written. Scott Billeck of the tabloid, meanwhile, shamed the Jets co-bankrolls on social media.  Unless I missed it, opinionists at the Drab Slab have been mum on the matter, but I suppose they were too busy digging up those compelling vasectomy and dog sled stories.

Cathal Kelly

Some seriously strange scribbling out of the Republic of Tranna last week, starting with Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail. In reference to COVID-19 shutting down 99.9 per cent of the sports world, he offered this:

“When I think of the very best of sports in the city I live in, I remember that night last May when the Toronto Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks for the NBA’s Eastern Conference title. A lot of Canadians hadn’t cared until that moment. Suddenly, every single one of us did.”

We did? My friends and I must have missed that memo.

Kelly then added, “Whatever comes next is not going to be good, but I believe the spirit of that night will hold in this city, and every other one in Canada.”

Oh, good gawd. Only someone from The ROT would believe that those of us who live in the colonies are clinging to the memory of a distant basketball game to get us through the coronavirus crisis. I guess we can all stop stocking up on toilet paper now.

Similarly silly was Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star calling Rudy Gobert “a hero.” I don’t know about you, but my idea of a hero is a war veteran, a firefighter, a cop, a first-responder, a doctor, a nurse, not a basketball player who thought the coronavirus was a big joke and likely infected people because he acted like a complete doofus.

Then there was Steve Simmons, whose weak attempt at humor re pro teams performing in front of empty facilities fell flat. “Anyone who attended Atlanta Thrashers games back in the day knows what it’s like to have a pro sporting event without fans,” he tweeted. That’s rich. A guy from The ROT trashing another burg because of poor attendance. The Tranna Argonauts, with their sub-10,000 head counts at BMO Field, are an embarrassment to the Canadian Football League, and the Blue Jays have led Major League Baseball in lost customers two years in a row. Fact is, the Argos attracted an average of 12,493 last season, and we all know the actual head count was considerably lower than that. In their final whirl in Atlanta, the Thrashers attracted an average of 13,469, and that included audiences of 16,000-plus five times down the stretch. But, hey, let’s ignore the facts and take cheap shots Atlanta. What a d’oh boy.

Pastor Maggie

Hey, turns out there’s an easy fix for the deadly coronavirus—gather all 7.5 billion of us together and squeeze us into the Church of Maggie, otherwise known as the Victory Life Church, a temple in Perth, Australia, created by tennis legend and raging homophobe Margaret Court. Seems Pastor Maggie sent out a communiqué last week claiming: “We are in agreement that this Convid-19 (sic) will not come near our dwelling or our church family. We are praying daily for you, knowing that we are all protected by the Blood of Jesus.” Hmmm. If only Tom Hanks and his bride Rita Wilson knew.

Pastor Maggie’s statement included this ‘oh, by the way’: “For your convenience, hand sanitiser readily available at all of our sites.” Meaning what? The “Blood of Jesus” isn’t enough?

Rachel Homan and Lisa Weagle

So Rachel Homan and her gal pals have fired lead Lisa Weagle from their fab curling team, and apparently Homan, Emma Miskew and Joanne Courtney did the dirty deed behind Lisa’s back. Just wondering, will Homan now be crapped on from high heights, or is that treatment still reserved for Jennifer Jones? If you recall, Jones fired Cathy Overton-Clapham from her championship team back in 2010, and it was as if she’d tied a large rock to a little, warm puppy and dropped her in the middle of Lake Winnipeg. It will be interesting to see if there’s similar fallout for Homan, but somehow I doubt it.

And, finally, I’m down to my last pack of toilet paper, so why do I feel guilty about going to the market and buying another dozen rolls?