Let’s talk about a fresh batch of ruffled feathers…Wheeler’s classy gesture…no-throw Jimmy G…the real NFL MVP…a lesbian at the Super Bowl…Denis the Tennis Menace…Tie Domi and the Dream Gappers…and curlers have day jobs, too

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I had a dream last night that dozens of enormous meteorites hit Earth and the only thing to survive was women’s hockey. Unfortunately, there was no one else left to watch it…

Oh…my…gawd.

The Winnipeg Jets held a players-only, closed-door, navel-gazing session immediately after their 5-2 loss to the Blackhawks on Sunday in the Toddlin’ Town, and you know what that means, don’t you?

That’s right. Cue the controversy and scandal.

I mean, the last time the Jets blocked entrance to their changing chamber and told news snoops to twiddle their thumbs on the heels of an irksome stumble, we were advised that the National Hockey League club was “rotten to the core” and the dressing room was “fractured.”

Why else would the local lads duck and hide, right?

Thus, galloping gossip ensued and we heard about fist fights in the room, fist fights in the parking lot, one player dating another player’s lady, Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien in an alpha dog power struggle, Patrik Laine pouting, jealousy over the amount of money in pay envelopes, and head coach Paul Maurice tossed some petrol on that bonfire of speculation at his season-end squawk with the boys and girls on the beat, mentioning something about “ruffled feathers.”

None of those charges was ever proven in a court of law, or even a kangaroo court, but there was no stuffing that genie back in the bottle. The Jets were “rotten to the core” and a closed-door meeting was the smoking gun.

As if.

Let me tell you something about closed-door meetings in hockey: They’re as commonplace as spitting.

There’s been a handful of them this crusade, and I believe the Tranna Maple Leafs have held two, although defrocked head coach Mike Babcock described the first one as a “family discussion.”

So, hopefully, news snoops at the Drab Slab won’t do the Chicken Little thing this time around and commence to writing fiction. Unless, of course, they can provide ample evidence that there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark. If so, we’ll be all ears..

Classy gesture by Jets captain Blake Wheeler when, before departing the freeze following Sunday’s skirmish, he congratulated Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks on his 1,000th NHL point. Nice touch.

Jimmy G

A question about the San Francisco 49ers offence: Do they have any receivers? I mean, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tossed what, eight passes in Sunday’s 37-20 victory over the Green Bay Packers? He went more than an hour and a half without flinging the football. I’ve seen guys in straightjackets get more use out of a right arm. I can’t see Jimmy G getting away with that against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV, though. Let’s see him try to beat them with one arm tied behind his back.

After watching Patrick Mahomes do his thing in dismantling the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, I can’t imagine anyone in the National Football League is more valuable to his team than the Chiefs QB. Lamar Jackson will get the MVP nod, but it won’t seem right when Mahomes is playing in the large match on Feb. 2 in Miami.

Hey, check it out: One of the 49ers assistant coaches is a woman. And gay. That would be Katie Sowers, who works with the San Fran offence that put 37 points on the board v. the Packers. Imagine that. A lesbian coaching in the Super Bowl. Who’d have thunk?

Early Super Bowl LIV prediction: Kansas City XXXV, San Francisco XVII, JLo/Shakira X out of X stars.

Dennis the Tennis Menace

Something tells me we’ll be seeing more of the spoiled-brat side of Denis (The Tennis Menace) Shapovalov on tour this year. Our guy Shapo is strung tighter than banjo strings, and he was reduced to a racquet-tossing mess in bowing out of the Australian Open on the weekend, losing 6-3, 6-7(7), 6-1, 7-6(3) to Marton Fucsovics of Hungary in the opening round. At one point, Shapo was tsk-tsked by umpire Renaud Lichtenstein for racquet abuse, which produced this growl: “It’s my racquet. I can do whatever the hell I want with it. What are you talking about? It’s a terrible call! Do your job! Do your job! That’s an absolute joke!” It wasn’t quite up to John McEnroe or Serena Williams standards on the rant-o-metre, but Shapo’s young. Give him time.

Tie Domi

The Dream Gappers need to do themselves a favor—tell Tie Domi to shut his pie hole. Pronto.

Domi, you see, awoke one recent morning and, much to his deep disappointment, arrived at the disturbing realization that the world wasn’t paying him enough attention, thus he started talking about women’s hockey.

That would have been acceptable, I suppose, had Domi confined his comments to the family dinner table or a convenient man cave. Alas, he was given voice on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast; the deep-thinkers plotting strategy for the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association thought it would be a swell idea to include him in their Closing The Gap function; Tara Slone and Ron MacLean provided him a pulpit on Hometown Hockey; and, finally, he used his Twitter feed to insult anyone who has the bad manners to disagree with the Gospel According to Tie.

“I’m gonna do whatever I can to help these women have a real league, and they deserve it,” Domi informed Slone and MacLean a week ago. “The NHL started with six teams and I think we could start, in good markets, I think we could start with six teams and, uh, that’s my goal, to help them, whatever I can do.”

“Amen,” swooned Slone.

Michael Jordan

Well, let me just say this about that: Ponytail Puck needs Tie Domi about as much as Michael Jordan needs a comb.

Domi was an NHL thug and still acts like one (more on that shortly). He couldn’t cut it in today’s NHL, because players need more in their tool box than two fists and a head full of poured concrete. He wears his 333 career fights—plus one with a spectator—as a badge of honor, and seems to think his history of cement-head hockey and an out-of-nowhere interest in the distaff side of the game qualifies him as a spokesman for Ponytail Puck.

“I’ve watched it three times now,” Domi boasted on Spittin’ Chiclets.

Three women’s games. Wow. That many, eh? I suppose if he watches three episodes of Grey’s Anatomy or New Amsterdam he’ll begin to share his knowledge of open-heart surgery with us, too.

Domi adds nothing to the conversation, except a bad attitude and to parrot what others have already said about the absence of a viable women’s pro league: “The NHL and the NHLPA really have to get involved. Fifty per cent of the crowd is girls, or women, so, like, you’re gonna have interest. And what do they have right now? They don’t have anything right now. They don’t have anything ’cause it got taken away from them, so…I’m a true believer it’s gotta be fixed, and that’s on the NHLPA and the NHL to get that right.”

Actually, they do have something right now. It’s called the National Women’s Hockey League. It’s just that Domi and those he pretends to squawk for—the PWHPA and its Dream Gap Tour—would rather trash talk than discuss ways of bridging the great divide in Ponytail Puck.

Consider this Twitter exchange last weekend:

Domi: “If you think that’s the best quality woman’s (sic) hockey has to offer your (sic) 100% wrong! NWHL is hurting woman’s (sic) hockey and the sooner they figure that out the better for the Sport! The time has come!”

Corinne Buie Stan Account: “Can you explain to me, in your own words, how the NWHL is hurting women’s hockey?”

Domi: “Your (sic) dumb.”

(We’ll have to excuse Domi has glaring spelling errors. After all, it must be difficult typing with two clenched fists.)

Anyway, the always-charming Domi went on to insult other NWHL supporters, telling them, “your (sic) dumb” and “your (sic) dummer (sic).”

That from a guy who, on Spittin’ Chiclets, claimed, “What’s most important is when people treat you with respect, you give it back, and I’ve always been that way.”

Sigh.

Once a thug, always a thug, and I’m surprised a number of the Dream Gappers have welcomed his voice to their crusade. Mind you, it wasn’t so long ago when Hilary Knight of the PWHPA was mean-mouthing the NWHL as a “glorified beer league,” so I suppose crapping on the women who just want to play hockey in an actual league is part of their strategy.

And that’s sad.

By way of contrast, consider what the NWHL has to say about members of the PWHPA participating in a 3-on-3 game at next weekend’s NHL all-star shindig: “Congratulations to the outstanding national team players from the U.S. and Canada selected to participate in the Elite Women’s 3-on-3. Every major showcase of women’s hockey is an important moment and a victory for all who care about the sport. This game will have speed, skill and magic, and we can’t wait to see it.” So, one group wants a cat fight, the other wants to keep it classy.

Mostly empty seats in Waterloo.

According to the PWHPA, total attendance was 4,310 for their six Dream Gap Tour scrimmages last weekend in the Republic of Tranna and Vaughan, Ont., which works out to an average of 718. The top head count was 1,151, the lowest 203 (there were actually less than 100 when they dropped the puck). Meanwhile, the Dream Gappers were in Waterloo on Saturday, and let’s just say the empty seats greatly outnumbered the occupied seats. How anyone expects to earn a livable wage at those numbers is a mystery, but I’m sure Tie Domi will be presenting his business plan any day now. And, naturally, he’ll dig into his own pocket and help bankroll the league.

Just as an FYI, here are the average attendance figures for three professional women’s leagues in 2019:
Women’s National Basketball Association: 6,535 (high: L.A. Sparks, 11,307; low N.Y. Liberty, 2,239).
National Women’s Soccer League: 7,337 (high: Portland Thorns, 20,098; low Sky Blue FC, 3,338).
National Women’s Hockey League: 954 (high: Minnesota Whitecaps, 1,200; low Connecticut Whale, 423).
I couldn’t find official head counts for the dearly departed Canadian Women’s Hockey League, but the Toronto Furies averaged about 200 patrons per game pre-Christmas 2018, and it was 500 after Santa’s annual visit.

With so many people anxious to spend the NHL’s money, I find myself wondering what Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman thinks about subsidizing a women’s league. I’d really like to know if the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll is for or against the notion, and I wish someone in mainstream media would ask that very question.

I find it interesting that Billie Jean King has thrown her full support behind the PWHPA, but she says squat in favor of the NWHL, which actually pays its players and has a 50/50 split on merchandise sales. Is the tennis legend and social activist in favor of all female athletes getting ahead, or just the select few that ask her for photo-ops?

Tip of the bonnet to The Hockey News, which doesn’t consider the NWHL to be hockey’s evil empire and continues to cover both sides of the great divide without prejudice.

Family man Kevin Koe

I’m fully on board with one pro women’s league, but I really wish they’d stop talking about what they “deserve,” simply because they’re the best in the world and shouldn’t have to hold down day jobs to put food on the table. Look, Kevin Koe is a world-class curler (perhaps the best), and he holds down a day job as a surface landman with Repsol Canada. “The day somebody says I’m going to quit (her or his day job), I’m going to be a full-time curler because I’m making so much money, well I don’t see it happening,” he told The Morning Cup during the recent Continental Cup event in London, Ont. “I’m not complaining, but I’m not about to quit my job…and I’ve been a pretty good curler over the last decade.” Pretty good? How about four Brier championships and two world titles worth of good? The planet’s top Pebble People spend anywhere from $150,000-$200,000 a year to compete, and they pray they break even. They receive no health benefits. They spend upwards of 200 days on the road, playing from August to May. Koe throws rocks during lunch hour so he can be home with his bride and their two daughters at night. He trains on his own time and on his own dime. The only way curlers get paid is to win, and that’s the only way they can attract sponsors. It’s the same story for 99.9 per cent of them, but I’ve yet to hear any of them talk about what they “deserve” out of life. When they believed they were getting a raw deal, they started their own league and made it work. It’s called the Grand Slam of Curling.

And, finally, some have asked why I’m still writing this blog after I vowed to shut it down. Simple: Doctors orders. I’m supposed to take two Aspirin and write in the morning.

About some tar and feathers for Willie Boy…good reads at the Olympics…the beauty of fancy skating…burned rocks and rocky writing…a new juggernaut in Manitoba curling…Genie in the raw…all-Tiger TV…and other things on my mind

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

Meet Willie Desjardins, convenient scapegoat.

Yup, there’s a bucket of tar and a bagful of feathers with poor Willie’s name on it should our patchwork men’s shinny side stumble and fall at the Olympic Winter Games in South Korea. As sure as good Canadian boys pour maple syrup on their flapjacks, the head coach will be the fall guy. You can make book on it.

Willie Desjardins and the boys.

I mean, our not-so-jolly hockey heroes were a mere two games into their crusade—handily beating Switzerland before falling a score short in a shootout vs. the Czech Republic—and already the knives had been drawn from their sheaths. And for what? Because they failed in one of those objectionable shootouts that belong in a trash bin?

Nope.

Willie Boy, it seems, is guilty of two things: 1) he has the bad manners to not be Mike Babcock; 2) he delivers lousy sound bites.

Here’s Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star:

If Canada’s players have looked nervous, Desjardins, at times, has appeared like a man overwhelmed by the strain. Maybe you caught the same pre-game close-up of Desjardins they showed in the arena here Saturday. Standing on the bench in the moments before the opening faceoff, Desjardins swayed from side to side, teetering from foot to foot like a self-conscious fourth-grader singled out in front of his classmates. His mouth twitched. His eyes gazed blankly into the distance. And he clutched his trademark whiteboard as though it was his dry-erase answer to a security blanket.

It was dumbfounding how, in the wake of Saturday’s loss, Desjardins offered answers that were Belichick-ian in their curtness when he doesn’t own anything approaching a record that’s Belichick-ian in its peerlessness.

Watching Desjardins so far, only the sleepiest observer wouldn’t raise questions about whether or not he’s up to this challenge.”

Whew…tells us what you really think, Mr. Feschuk. On second thought, don’t bother. You’ve already said quite enough.

Mike Babcock and Sidney Crosby

Next up is Postmedia gasbag Steve Simmons, who’s forever chasing kids off his lawn:

There is little about Willie Desjardins that is reminiscent of Mike Babcock…Desjardins comes across just a little bit nervous, a little unsure, not necessarily confident, not calming in the usual arrogant coaching I-have-this-under-control way, but instead there is just a little reason to wonder about the Team Canada head hockey coach. Desjardins doesn’t seem to take ownership of the environment the way Babcock has done in the past.”

Geez, you don’t suppose that might have something to do with talent, do you Stevie? Babcock was sending Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews over the boards when Canada was winning gold medals in 2010 and ’14. Willie Boy is sending out Derek Roy and Wojtek Wolski. Do the freaking math, man.

But Simmons wasn’t done. He added:

He showed up in the mixed zone Saturday afternoon—the Olympic area in which press, athletes and coaches meet—and looked like he would rather be anywhere else in the world. He barely said anything that mattered. His interview lasted 93 seconds. For most of the time his body language screamed: Get me out of here. Bill Belichick can get away with that. Willie Desjardins is no Bill Belichick.

The Canadian coach needs to be better, stronger, more confident, more urgent, more definitive, appearing more in control and maybe a touch more defiant.

Good grief. Get a grip, boys. Our hockey heroes were two games in. They’re now three deep, having beaten South Korea 4-zip on Sunday, and they’ve earned a free pass into the quarterfinal round. What part of that do you not understand?

Scribes and/or broadcasters crapping on our Olympians is lame. Unless you’re a stooge like Ben Johnson and the mooks who used him for a patsy, the people wearing the Maple Leaf—and their handlers—ought to be totally off limits. I hope that’s something jock journalists keep in mind if the hockey crusade turns sour for coach Willie and the boys in the elimination rounds.

Kaitlyn Lawes

Olympic Games good reads: Like the athletes they write about, sports scribes are expected to “up” their game at the Winter Olympics. No mailing it in. And there’s been some terrific stuff coming out of South Korea. For example…

Gold medal: Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star, for his heart-tugging piece on Canadian speed skater Ted-Jan Bloemen’s bride, Marlinde, and her childhood friend who lost a baby.

Silver medal: Arthur again, this time for his piece on the difficult road travelled by Canadian fancy skater Eric Radford, the first openly gay man to strike gold at a Winter Games.

Bronze medal: Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press, for his piece on delightful curler Kaitlyn Lawes and her relationship with her late father, Keith.

It’s wonderful stuff, because Arthur and Wiecek are writing about people who happen to be champion athletes, not champion athletes who happen to be people. There should be more human interest tales in sports writing and less Xs, Os and naked animosity.

Tessa Virtue and dance partner Scott Moir.

Is there anything more beautiful in athletics than fancy skating at the Olympic level? I think not. From the music to the women’s costumes to the sex appeal to the sensual/sultry-yet-robust athleticism, it’s breathtaking, especially the dance program. And if I was a little girl instead of an old lady, I’d want to grow up to be Tessa Virtue, the delicate half of Canada’s leading dance partnership. If I couldn’t be Tessa, I’d want to be Kaitlyn Lawes.

Rachel Homan

Here’s what happens when non-curling people are required to cover curling: Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail waded into the Olympics burned-rock controversy involving Canadian skip Rachel Homan and Julie Heogh, second on the Danish team. Kelly writes about “Homan’s decision to burn a Danish rock—take it out of play after being touched by an opponent.” Wrong. Homan didn’t “burn” the stone, she removed it.  Heogh “burned” the stone while sweeping it in the rings. Kelly also notes that Canada no longer wins by divine right on the global curling stage, as if that’s something new. Earth to Cathal! Earth to Cathal! That’s not exactly man-bites-dog material. It’s been that way for quite some time. Our curlers have ruled the world of women’s curling just twice in the past 10 years. Yup, 2-8. The men, meanwhile, are barely above the break-even point, at 6-4. You might want to familiarize yourself with something called research.

This week’s notable quotable comes from skier Kjetil Jansrud of Norway: “We believe there is no good explanation or justification for why you have to be a jerk to be a good athlete. So we just won’t have that kind of thing on our team. You have to get along with everyone.”

Saw an interesting question the other day: “Should the Montreal Canadiens do something at the National Hockey League trade deadline?” Yes, they should. General manager Marc Bergevin should tie a white flag to the end of a stick and wave it.

Clockwise from top left: Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Briane Meilleur, Shannon Birchard.

Jennifer Jones is probably jumping for joy right now, knowing she and her rinkmates have a free pass into next year’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts as Team Canada. Otherwise, they’d be required to get out of Manitoba, which just became more difficult. Joining forces, with an eye on a berth in the 2022 Winter Olympics curling tournament, are skips Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur. Einarson is a former ‘Toba champion. Sweeting is a former Alberta champion. Birchard just helped the Jones rink win the recent Scotties title. Meilleur has skipped her own team in the ‘Toba Scotties. Can you say juggernaut, kids? But wait. That’s four cooks at the same stove, maybe two cooks too many. Meanwhile, Tracy Fleury is assuming command of Einarson’s old team, which was beaten by Jones, Birchard, Dawn McEwen and Jill Officer in the Scotties final. Can we fast forward to next January? I’d like to know how this turns out.

Genie Bouchard

The great Roger Federer is back atop the world tennis rankings, moving ahead of a temporarily inactive Rafael Nadal into the No. 1 slot last week. His ascent is notable due to his age, 36, which makes him the oldest world No. 1 in history. Meanwhile, in other tennis news, Genie Bouchard took her clothes off and said, “Wow, this is harder than playing tennis. It is very hard work.” Apparently, the Sports Illustrated photo shoot was done in one day—just like most of her tennis tournaments.

After the first round of the Genesis Open at Riviera, I watched a highlights package and didn’t see anyone other than Tiger Woods swing a golf club. There was no mention of the leader. There was no mention of the golfers nipping at the leader’s Foot Joys. Just video evidence of Woods missing another fairway en route to a 1-over-par 72. What’ll the coverage be like if he actually breaks par one of these weeks?

The San Francisco 49ers have made Jimmy Garoppolo the richest player in National Football League history, with a $137.5-million contract.at $27.5M per season, and I’m asking myself this: What am I missing? I mean, that’s more coin that Tom Brady takes home. More than Aaron Rodgers. More than Drew Brees. Those three are Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. Garappolo has won…oh, that’s right, he earned two Super Bowl rings for holding a clipboard for Brady. Go figure.

Oh joy. Baseball is back. And it’ll be on TV at the end of the week, which means it’ll be beer and baseball at Bart’s Pub on Saturday afternoons from now until October. There’s just something about baseball that makes the beer taste better.