Merry Sportsmas! Will it be goals or lumps o’ coal for the Jocks and Jills?

Not the usual Sunday smorgas-bored today, kids, because Sports Santa is on his way to town and he’s given us a sneak peak at what he has tucked inside his bag for the good and not-so-good girls and boys in the toy department

GOAL: Wasn’t that a party that Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and their Winnipeg Jets accomplices threw last spring on their merry way to the National Hockey League semifinals? They fell seven victories shy of a Stanley Cup parade, but good times were had by all, especially the mosh pit on Whiteout Way outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.

COAL: Frank Seravalli of TSN wouldn’t know Portage and Main from a port-o-potty, and he proved it by describing the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, as “the faces of hockey in Western Canada for much of the 21st century.” Ya, like Don Cherry has been the face of Mother Russia since the days of the Soviet politburo. Seravalli is a mook. A Philly mook.

GOAL: Brooke Henderson, the sweetheart of the golf rodeo. Delightful, charming and all those other good things we like in our athletes, Brooke earned two LPGA titles, including the Canadian Open, something no home-grown woman had done in 45 years.

COAL: Brad Marchand, the Boston Licker. The Bruins agitator just couldn’t keep his tongue to himself, twice mistaking foes for lollipops. Ugh. Beyond disgusting.

GOAL: Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris struck for Olympic Games gold in the quirky brand of curling known as mixed doubles. Kaitlyn, like Brooke Henderson, is an absolute delight, and Johnny Mo is both a great curler and a great quote.

COAL: TSN gets an entire coal bin for its shameful adulation of Johnny Manziel, on-again/off-again quarterback with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats/Montreal Alouettes. Let’s forget for a moment that Manziel once beat up and threatened to kill a woman and should not be allowed to play in the Canadian Football League. As a QB, he was dreadful. The absolute worst. Yet the talking heads on the TSN panel and in the broadcast booth created a Cult of Johnny. They were like teenage groupies, gasping in worship for their favorite lousy QB. Totally creepy.

GOAL: Tessa Virtue is another sweetheart and her fancy skating partner, Scott Moir, is a total hoser, eh? After striking gold twice at the Olympics in South Korea, Tessa had fans swooning while Scott went all McKenzie Brothers by tossing back pints of beer and getting glassy-eyed and noodle-legged during the Canada-U.S. women’s hockey game. Beauty, eh?

COAL: Phil Mickelson is a cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater. After missing a putt at the U.S. Open, Lefty scurried after his still-moving ball like a donut-fueled cop in pursuit of a bad guy, then stopped the Titleist before it could roll off the green. He laughed and shrugged it off as no big deal, telling everyone to lighten up. What a drip.

GOAL: Jennifer Jones, Jill Officer, Kaitlyn Lawes, Dawn McEwen and Shannon Birchard got it done on the pebble. Together, they won a provincial curling title, a Canadian curling title, a world curling title, two Grand Slam titles, and an Olympic curling title. That’s the best haul this side of Santa’s bag of goodies.

COAL: Fans booed when Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB Matt Nichols appeared on a giant screen at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry to deliver a public service announcement against the evils of drunk driving. Are you kidding me people? Can you slink any lower than that? Who will you boo next? Rudolph if his red nose goes on the fritz Christmas eve? Shame, shame.

GOAL: Barry Trotz, a local boy who made good by coaching the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup. The former Dauphin Kings and University of Manitoba bench maestro was out of work shortly after swilling beer from Stanley, but he landed safely on Long Island, so it’s all good.

COAL: If Damien Cox of Sportsnet/Toronto Star wasn’t blaming victims for cyber bullying, he was describing the Vegas Golden Knights as a “shitty” team. Well, that “shitty” team reached the Stanley Cup final. Mr. Smarm was a creepy irritant on Hockey Central at Noon, although I haven’t seen him taking up space on the gum-flapper this season. Perhaps a suit at Sportsnet finally wised up.

GOAL: Andrew Harris of the Bombers earned himself another Canadian Football League rushing title.

COAL: Darian Durant stiffed the Bombers on the eve of training camp by promptly retiring, then kept the $70,000 signing bonus he’d been paid. Bad form. Truly lame. Sort of like many of the passes he threw in his final season in the CFL. So, hey, good riddance.

GOAL: Former Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons offered this quote during another trying season for the Tranna Nine: “My experience in this game is that sometimes it’s better to be smart than stupid.” Somewhere Yogi Berra is nodding in approval.

COAL: I’m not sure you could mine enough coal to stuff into Steve Simmons’ Christmas stocking. The Postmedia Tranna print hitman totally trashed mixed doubles curling (he presented fiction as fact) at the Olympics, he totally trashed team fancy skating at the Olympics, he totally trashed Pedro Martinez’s induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, he totally trashed Marc Savard for not returning phone calls…basically, his entire year was a trash-a-thon. He really is Grandpa Simpson at the keyboard.

GOAL: Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals went into party-animal mode with Lord Stanley, dragging him hither and yon while acting like drunken curlers. Apparently they ran out of booze, so they agreed to start playing hockey again in October.

COAL: Serena Williams staged a different kind of party—a pity party at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. The former world No. 1 woman came completely unglued in the final vs. Naomi Osaka and attempted to turn her temper tantrum into a crusade for motherhood and gender equality. In reality, she simply behaved like a spoiled-brat loser that no mother could be proud of.

GOAL: Chris Streveler came out of nowhere and gave rise to the possibility that the Blue Bombers have actually unearthed their QB of the future.

COAL: Postmedia has completely destroyed the Winnipeg Sun sports section for readers interested in local clubs not named Jets, Bombers or Goldeyes. If you aren’t one of the big three, you no longer exist. Instead, Sun readers are force-fed a steady diet of copy on athletes and teams from the Republic of Tranna, pro rasslin’, UFC, sports betting, fantasy sports, etc.

GOAL: Winnipeg Free Press football scribe Jeff Hamilton’s podcast with Andrew Harris—The Handoff—was boffo stuff.

COAL: Randy Ambrosie kicked Jerome Messam out of the CFL after the running back was charged with voyeurism, but the commish allowed Johnny Manziel to play, even though he beat up a woman and threatened to kill her. As I have written: “What part of its own policy on violence against women does the CFL not understand?”

GOAL: Kirk Penton keeps cranking out the good CFL stuff for The Athletic.

COAL: Jock journos in the Republic of Tranna couldn’t stop slobbering over hip-hopper Drake at Raptors games. I haven’t seen that much drool since the day I brought a St. Bernard home for my kids. The press box in The ROT is groupie central. It’s really quite simple: Ignore Drake.

GOAL: Mike O’Shea, who doesn’t share warm-and-fuzzies with the media, gets high marks for this glib response in an exchange with a news snoop…

Do you have any plans for your bye week coming up?” the Bombers coach was asked.

I do…you’re not included in them,” he replied.

COAL: Mark Masters, a man, actually asked another man, Darren Cahill, to put the last year of Serena Williams’ life into context. Given that tennis analyst Cahill has never been pregnant or given birth (we won’t even talk about breast feeding), he could not possibly relate to what Williams had lived through. It was the dumbest question. Ever, ever, ever.

GOAL: Curmudgeonly Brian Burke is as grumpy as Scrooge with a toothache, as blunt as the business end of a hammer, and as harsh as turpentine. He’s also extremely insightful and a boffo addition to Sportsnet’s stable of gum-flappers. He even wears his necktie properly some nights.

COAL: The Houston Astros claim to have a zero-tolerance policy re domestic violence. Any man who strikes a women need not apply. Unless, of course, he can also strike out the side in the ninth inning. In that case, the Astros will overlook domestic violence and sign a relief pitcher like Roberto Osuna. When the disgraced former Blue Jays hurler imploded in the Major League Baseball playoffs, it was poetic justice.

GOAL & COAL: Dave Dickenson is a yappy, little lap dog, but Coach Chihuahua of the Calgary Stampeders also came up with a perfect description of the Bombers braintrust during one of his sideline squawk sessions—The Canadian Mafia.

COAL: TSN continues to trot out Dave Poulin as a hockey expert. Ya, and I’m Julia Roberts’ movie double. Any guy who leaves Connor McDavid off his all-star ballot is no expert, and Poulin’s no expert.

GOAL: A lot of people don’t like Bo Levi Mitchel. They reckon he’s too cocky and/or arrogant. Well, I like him. So much that I hope the Stampeders QB lands work in the National Football League.

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About an Officer and a world champion…thank you notes from Jill Officer and Vic Peters…dumb hockey prophets…no Calder for Connor…transparency from hockey scribes…an Irishman and booze…Mac and Martina…what about Tricky Dick and Leo the Lip?…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…

Jill Officer has yet to utter the R-word. Retirement. She insists she’s just taking “a step back.”

Well, okay. If she says so.

I mean, Officer can define her retreat from elite curling with the terminology of her choosing, but she wept openly last month after going public with her decision. You don’t cry if you’re staying. You cry when you’re leaving.

Thus, there’s no escaping the fact that we have arrived at the end of an era. An unparalleled era.

Thelma and Louise

Officer, of course, has been playing Thelma to Jennifer Jones’s Louise since…well, since about the same time the fictional Thelma and Louise were on the lam, leading cops on a catch-us-if-you-can romp across America. That classic chick flick arrived on the big screen in May 1991. Curling’s two J Girls united shortly thereafter, and foes and friends have been chasing them ever since.

A quarter century. Who stays together that long? The Lone Ranger and Tonto. Homer and Marge. Mick and Keith. Fish and chips. That’s about it.

Here’s some time perspective: One of the J Girls’ teammates on the Canadian rep at the world women’s championship in North Bay the past week, fifth Shannon Birchard, wasn’t even in her mama’s womb when Officer and Jones first joined forces. The outfit’s third, Kaitlyn Lawes, had yet to begin grade school.

Jennifer Jones and Jill Officer

And it’s been quite the trip that skip Jen and second Jill have taken us on since that day in the early ’90s when the teenage Jones pulled the teenage Officer aside for a chit-chat by a Coke machine at the Highlander Curling Club in Winnipeg, whereupon they forged a partnership that has produced provincial (nine), Canadian (seven), Grand Slam (15), world (two) and Olympic titles. (Did I mention it was an unparalleled era among Manitoba curlers?)

Following Canada’s drama-drenched 7-6, extra-end victory over Sweden (brilliant game) on Sunday, there’ll be two curtain calls for the 42-year-old Officer in Grand Slam of Curling competition, then she’ll ease away, making only cameo appearances for the world-champion Jones team, which includes lead Dawn McEwen and will add Jocelyn Peterman to throw second stones next season.

This world title was the ideal, also appropriate, way for Officer to leave the big stage. One final run for glory. One final crown. And a perfect (14-0) storybook ending.

It was a beautiful thing.

Vic Peters

Terrific Jill Officer story from Paul Wiecek, longtime curling scribe and now columnist with the Winnipeg Free Press: “For the longest time, she would come to every major curling event the Jones team was competing in with these little chocolate curling rocks she’d buy at Morden’s in Winnipeg before she left. She’d tie a little ribbon around those chocolate rocks and attach a thank you card. And then, win or lose, Officer, who was a TV reporter back in the day, would come up to the media bench at the end of those curling events and hand those cards and chocolates to the reporters who’d been covering her team, just to thank us for the coverage. You know who else I covered over the last three decades who gave me a thank you card? Nobody.” I can relate. After covering the 1997 Brier in Calgary, I received a thank you card in the mail. It was from the late, great Vic Peters, his bride Deb, and their kids, Elisabeth, Kassie and Daley. That card sits atop my bookcase, 21 years after the fact. Curlers are wonderful and Peters, who left us almost exactly two years ago to this very day, was a total treat.

Doug Flutie

This is an equal-opportunity blog, folks. That is, any and all who do, say or write something stupid in sports are fair game for scorn, ridicule, rude laughter and no-insults-barred cheap shots. No exceptions. Sacred cows do not exist. Unless, of course, I harbor a special fondness for someone (hello, Tessa Virtue), in which case nary a discouraging word shall be written.

With that in mind, it’s only fair that I direct your attention to an analysis delivered prior to the first puck drop of the Winnipeg Jets current National Hockey League crusade. To wit:

It appears that the Western Conference road to the Stanley Cup is likely to go through Northern Alberta. If not, it’ll be Southern Alberta, where the Calgary Flames are shaping up to be a force. The trouble with the Jets—aside from the people behind the bench—is geography. Until they prove otherwise, they’re still the third best outfit on the Canadian Prairies.”

And what goomer wrote that tripe? Guilty, yer honor. Yup, it was little ol’ moi. D’oh! D’oh! D’oh!

But, hey, it’s not the dumbest thing I’ve ever scribbled. I once referred to the Major League Baseball all-star game as the “annual Fall Classic,” even though it’s played in July. And, of course, there was the time I mentioned something about Doug Flutie being nothing more than a fair-weather quarterback, only to then watch him win a Grey Cup game in a blizzard.

So, ya, Brain Cramps ‘R’ Me.

Connor McDavid

I find little or no consolation in the knowledge that the Edmonton McDavids and Flames fooled the majority of those who observe the goings-on of the NHL. I mean, seven of 16 “experts” at Sportsnet picked the McDavids to win the West. Fifteen of 16 forecast either the McDavids or Flames to finish with the highest points total among the seven Canadian clubs. Over at USA Today, the boys and girls on the beat had the McDavids finishing first in the Pacific Division, with Calgary in third. Yet, once the Stanley Cup tournament commences next month, the McDavids and Flames will have their noses pressed to the window, watching the fun from the outside. Sigh. The difference between me and the scribes/talking heads at Sportsnet and USA Today? They get paid to be dumb. I don’t. Sometimes life just isn’t fair.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna dates back to a Dec. 12 tweet, in which he wrote: “With four points tonight, @cmcdavid97 moves into 3rd in NHL scoring behind Steve Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. McDavid be back in the scoring lead within 10 days, I figure, maybe sooner.” Connor McDavid moved atop the scoring chart on Saturday night, meaning Simmons missed the mark by 92 days, or three months. Yup, another guy getting paid to be dumb.

Kyle Connor

Going from dumb to dumber, we give you this headline from the Winnipeg Sun last week: “Jets Connor for Calder?” Oh, shut the front door! I like Kyle Connor. He’s been the second-best contributor named Connor on the Jets roster this crusade. So, I agree, the kid’s boffo. But the NHL’s leading freshman? As if. Donald Trump will give up golf, Playmates and porn stars before that happens. Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders is your top frosh. No debate. After that, it’s Brock Boeser and the rest. And it won’t have anything to do with Connor doing his thing in out-of-the-way Winnipeg. “Everything goes under the radar when you play in Winnipeg,” says Jets captain Blake Wheeler. Road apples! Dale Hawerchuk didn’t go under the radar. Teemu Selanne didn’t go under the radar. Barzal will win because he’s had the better rookie season, to date by 29 points.

Sweeney Odd

Lest we forget, the Jets have Don Sweeney to thank for Connor’s 28 goals, because the Boston Bruins general manager passed on the University of Michigan winger on three consecutive shout-outs during the first round of the 2015 NHL entry draft. Odd bit of business, that. Sweeney Odd, we hasten to add, also overlooked Barzal and Brock Boeser to instead claim Jake DeBrusk, Jakub Zboril and Zachary Senyshyn. So let’s do the math: The trio of Connor, Barzal and Boeser have combined for 77 goals and 178 points this season. The three guys the Boston GM swooped in on have contributed 14 goals and 39 points to the Bruins’ cause. Difference: 63 goals, 139 points. Sweeney Odd gets to keep his day job, though, because his club is already selling playoff tickets.

Humpty Harold Ballard

So, it only took the Professional Hockey Writers Association half a century to do what they’ve been demanding of everyone from Clarence Campbell to Harold Ballard’s parole officer since forever—full disclosure. Oh, yes, in recent balloting, 81.3 per cent of the jewels of puck journalism agreed that voting on the NHL’s annual year-end trinkets ought to be made public. PHWA vice-president Frank Seravalli of TSN declared this “a big moment.” I hope he didn’t pull a muscle patting himself on the back. I mean, if 81.3 per cent were in favor of complete transparency, 18.7 per cent still prefer the process be kept hush-hush. In other words, they don’t have the balls to defend their choices for the Hart, Norris, Lady Byng, Masterton, Calder, Selke and Smythe nick-nacks. If ever there was a vote that should have been unanimous, that was it.

Best lip service of the week comes from Tranna Blue Jays manager John Gibbons: “My experience in this game is that sometimes it’s better to be smart than stupid.” Sometimes? You only want to be unstupid sometimes? Tells me it’s gonna be another long baseball season for the Tranna Nine.

Rory McIlroy

If Rory McIlroy had his druthers, the ‘P’ in PGA Tour would stand for Prohibition. Yup, McIlroar wants them to turn off the taps at golf tournaments. “I think they need to limit alcohol sales on the course,” he said after the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational last weekend. Imagine that. An Irishman calling for a ban on booze. St. Patty is spinning. But McIlroar is serious. By his measure, too man fans are getting banjo’d, Magooed, gee-eyed and jarred at PGA events. “It used to be you bring beers on the course, but not liquor,” he went on. “And now it seems like everyone is walking around with a cocktail. So I don’t know if it’s just people walking around with beers in their hand, that’s fine.” Ya, we all know that no guy drinking beer has ever gotten loud, obnoxious and blethered. Slainte, Rory.

Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe

So, Martina Navratilova is having herself a proper, little hissy fit after learning how much the BBC stuffs into John McEnroe’s pay envelope ($210,000-$280,000) for flapping his gums during the Wimbledon fortnight. The tennis legend is “not happy” and “it’s shocking” that Johnny Mac earns 10 times the $27,000 she collects. “It’s still the good old boys’ network,” she says. “The bottom line is that male voices are valued more than women’s voices.” Get a grip, girl. You’re both getting paid by the word, and McEnroe never shuts the hell up.

Seriously, although the BBC is guilty of gender pay inequity, the McEnroe-Navratilova situation isn’t a he-she thing. It’s a talent thing. He’s the best tennis talker. Is he 10 times better than her? That can’t be measured, but I’ll submit he’s superior by a considerable margin. His work load is also considerably heavier. Look, Al Michaels reportedly earns $5 million per year to talk football on NBC. His sidekick, Cris Collinsworth, collects $1 million, or thereabouts. They sit in the same broadcast booth, for the same length of time; they watch the same players and the same game. Yet one hauls in $5 mill and the other $1 mill. It’s the same 5-1 ratio with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman over at Fox Sports. Nothing to do with gender.

And, finally, I’ve heard little quarrel about the Canadian Football Hall of Fame class of 2018—Hank Ilesic, Scott Flory, Baron Miles, Brent Johnson, Frank Cosentino, Paul Brule and Tom Hugo.

One dissenting voice, however, comes from Steve Simmons (I know, what a surprise). He wonders why Tricky Dick Thornton, the all-purpose player with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Tranna Argonauts in the 1960s and early ’70s, and Leo (The Lip) Cahill, former head coach and general manager of the Boatmen, continue to be snubbed.

It’s a shame and overdue because both were significant to the success of the Canadian Football League and for reasons I’ve never ascertained, have been pushed aside on an annual basis,” he writes.

I agree with Simmons on Thornton. Makes no sense. Ya, sure, he was a non-conformist. He wore his hair long, he wore an earring, he had a Fu Manchu mustache, he wrote poetry and sucked up to the media. But he also played every position but percussion in the symphony orchestra. And played them all exceptionally well.

As for Cahill, he was a charming, colorful character but a career .500 head coach. He never won the Grey Cup.

About pig-headed coaching…Matt Nichols to the rescue…the Freep’s two muppets…slow white guys…beers and puns…and other things on my mind

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

So, by proving himself to be right, Mike O’Shea has proven himself to be horribly wrong.

Say what?

Well, O’Shea was right to fire starting quarterback Drew (One Hop) Willy, but when Matt Nichols went behind centre and rag-dolled an Edmonton Eskimos’ defensive dozen to the tune of 30 points before and after the flashing of lightning and the rumbling of thunder on Thursday night at Commonwealth Stadium, it underscored how wrong/stubborn/pig headed the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach had been before his employment and his club’s season was put on amber alert.

Let’s excuse the fact that the Eskimos can’t stop a runny nose right now. Nichols was superb in the Bombers’ 30-23 beatdown of the defending Canadian Football League champions, orchestrating two touchdown drives and directing another five excursions into enemy territory that produced Justin Medlock three-point hoofs.

You are, therefore, allowed to ask why it took O’Shea so long to turn away from Willy and hand the ball to Nichols. The short answer: He’s stubborn. The long answer: He’s really stubborn.

Had O’Shea stuck a fork in ol’ One Hop a game or two sooner, the local football heroes might be 3-3 today, rather than 2-4. Like I said, the much-maligned man was right to make the QB change, but he was extremely misguided in confining Nichols to the sideline and clipboard duty five skirmishes into this crusade.

There’s no suggestion here that we ought to reserve a spot for the name Matt Nichols on the Bombers’ Roll of Honour. It’s one game, one win. Still, the Eastern Washington alumni took what had been a comatose offence under the direction of the woeful Willy and delivered a kiss of life that, while not Biblical in loft, surely has saved the coach’s job. For now.

It’s still about the big picture.

Mike O’Shea is a better coach this morning by one win, his 14th W against 28 Ls. That said, I maintain the over/under on his long-term employment is early September.

If O’Shea is still wearing the head set by the time we break out the banjos for the Bombers’ annual frolic with the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Sept. 10, he’s probably good to go for the remainder of the season.

If not, that can mean just one of two things has transpired: 1) Nichols is wounded; 2) O’Shea has a moment of madness and sends Willy, his $411,000 quarterback, back into the fray.

O’Shea insists that Bombers Nation hasn’t seen or heard the last of Willy. That’s what scares me.

say what banner4I don’t know what to make of the newest wrinkle on the sports pages of the Winnipeg Free Press, a little something headlined Say What?! Basically, it’s a print version of a chin-wag between sports editor Steve Lyons and columnist Paul Wiecek. Think Waldorf and Statler, the two grumpy, old muppets who sit in a balcony and bitch about the world. Now you’ve got a good read on what Say What?! is all about. After two offerings of Wiecek and Lyons (oh, what the hey, let’s call them Viscount and Gort), I still don’t know if it works for me. It might be too vaudevillian. Then again, maybe it isn’t. I love off-the-wall stuff and I’m thinking Say What?! will grow on me. Either way, it’s interesting that the Freep is doing more tabloid-style stuff than the tabloid in town.

Who says you can’t give the Bombers any props? We have proof to the contrary, thanks to noted white-knuckle fly boy Bob Irving. Play-by-play voice Knuckles delivered this terrific tweet prior to the club’s takeoff for its assignment with the Eskimos: “Getting set to fly to Edmonton on a plane with propellers? What year is this and whose idea was this?” Props to you, Knuckles.

Did I actually hear Jock Climie refer to former Montreal Alouettes receiver Ben Cahoon as a “slow white guy” when the Bombers and Eskimos took a lightning break and the TSN studio gab guys were required to fill air? I sure did. Jock called Cahoon a “slow white guy.” Now, what do you suppose the reaction would have been had Jock’s sidekick on the night, Matt Dunigan, referred to, say, Nik Lewis as a “slow black guy?” You bet. The stuff would have hit the fan.

If men’s golf majors were the Beatles, The Masters and the Open Championship would be Lennon and McCartney, the U.S. Open would be George Harrison, and the PGA would be Ringo. The Players Championship would be Pete Best—close but failed to make the cut.

Don Cherry and Ron MacLean
Don Cherry and Ron MacLean

Nice to see two good Canadian boys, Donald S. Cherry and Ron MacLean, honored with a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame. Well deserved. Apparently, Grapes celebrated by tossing back a six pack of Molson Canadian while MacLean delivered a six pack of really bad puns.

Yo! Duane Forde and Rod Black! Zip your lips when the head skunk shirt is announcing penalties to the audience during CFL jousts. Nothing you two gas bags have to say is so important that it can’t wait five seconds.

It’s late July, the warmest day of the year where I hang my bonnet, I call up the Winnipeg Sun sports section and see a lengthy dissertation by Ken Wiebe on—wait for it—projected line combinations for the Winnipeg Jets? This is something I want to read during the dog days of summer? Whether Mark Scheifele is going to have Nikolaj Ehlers for a linemate or Patrick Laine once the National Hockey League season commences in mid-October? Cripes, man, that makes Say What?! in the Freep come across as Pulitzer Prize-worthy.

Speaking of things that don’t make sense, Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons continues to hand the ball to R.A. Dickey. Why? Dickey is to the Jays’ starting pitching what Drew Willy is to the Blue Bombers’ quarterbacking.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

One too many hands on the Winnipeg Jets’ wheel?…being goalie blind…Mark Scheifele’s worth…a shootout to decide first pick in the NHL entry draft…and other things on my mind

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

Mark Chipman
Mark Chipman

Here’s the main question I wanted asked of, and answered by, Kevin Cheveldayoff in his gum-flapper with news scavengers on Monday: Are you Mark Chipman’s puppet?

I think it’s important to know if Cheveldayoff, the Winnipeg Jets general manager, is simply a yes man or if he has autonomy to make his own big decisions in the hockey department of the Secret Society Also Known As True North Sports & Entertainment.

Keep in mind that, during a gab session with George Stombouloupouloulouloulous on Hockey Night in Canada last winter, team co-bankroll Chipman disclosed that he has a large, if not the largest, say in hockey operations.

“Chevy and I talk pretty much daily,” His Holy Hockeyness told Stromboy of his working relationship with Cheveldayoff. “Those are his calls to make, but it would depend on the extent of the term or the quantum of the contract you’re talking about (that) would, to a certain degree, determine the level of involvement that he would require me. The lengthier the deal or the more impactful the deal, the more I would be involved on a consultant basis.”

So, is former Jets captain Andrew Ladd now trying to help the Chicago Blackhawks repeat as National Hockey League champions because of Chipman? Is defenceman Dustin Byfuglien on board for another five years of ice fishing because of Chipman? Do we find Chipman’s fingerprints on the directive to transform the roster into a Kiddie Corps?

In short, exactly when and how often are Chipman’s hands on the till?

It’s a question that should have been asked but wasn’t.

Trying to pry a straight answer out of Cheveldayoff is like expecting Alexander Burmistrov to stop skating in circles, but his counterpart in Vancouver, Jim Benning, isn’t shy about laying out a timetable for the Canucks to once again become a playoff outfit. “Realistically,” the Canucks GM says, “if you’re asking me when will the day be that we can compete with the best teams in the league, I think that (the end of the Sedins’ contracts) timeline is fair. This is Year 2, and by our fourth or fifth year, I hope we’ll be there with the elite teams in the league.” Why is it so difficult for Cheveldayoff to be that forthcoming?

Kyle Walters
Kyle Walters

Okay, kids, quiz me this: Would you rather be Kevin Cheveldayoff or Kyle Walters? Well, if you don’t want to be sitting in the hot seat, you’ll be Chevy every time. I say that because, in a recent Winnipeg Sun poll, Cheveldayoff received a whopping 86 per cent approval rating from 2,318 fans who played You Be The Boss. That despite the fact the lineup he iced this past season delivered the most disastrous results in the Jets’ five crusades under his stewardship. By way of comparison, 1,386 played You Be The Boss at the conclusion of the 2015 Canadian Football League season, and Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Walters got clobbered. He had the support of just 60 per cent. So here’s your bottom line: Cheveldayoff has been on the job five years and just delivered his worst results; Walters has been on the job three years and his on-field product is no worse. Two questions: 1) Is Chevy made of teflon; 2) Are honeymoons supposed to last this long?

The Jets have long been goalie blind, but both Cheveldayoff and the head coach, Paul Maurice, insist that Ondrej Pavelec will not get the No. 1 job by default next autumn. To quote both men, there’ll be “competition.” Well, I’d like to believe them. I really would. Honest. But I don’t believe them. I doubt any other team would be willing to take Pavelec’s contract off their hands, so they’re stuck with him. And so are you.

When the Toronto Maple Leafs agreed to pay Nazem Kadri $4.5 million per annum and gave him a six-year term, does that impact on the Jets payroll? I am, of course, thinking of Mark Scheifele, who is due a handsome increase in earnings after completing his entry level contract with a 61-point season, 15 more than Kadri put up in the Republic of Tranna. Surely, Scheifele is the superior of the two centre-ice men. Surely he has greater upside. Here’s a guess: The Jets lock Scheifele down for eight years and make him the team’s highest-salaried forward, starting at $6 million next season.

Instead of ping pong balls determining which team has first call in the annual NHL entry draft, I have a better idea: A shootout. That’s right. Each of the 14 non-playoff participants selects one shooter from its roster, and they gather in the Republic of Tranna for a showdown. Every team gets one shot (against two league-chosen, neutral goaltenders). You miss, you’re out. Sudden-death. It’s a process of elimination that determines the drafting order by skill rather than Lady Luck. Last team standing gets first shout at the draft. Next best gets second pick and so on. It completely eliminates tanking and would make for must-see TV.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: The Russian Hockey Federation withdraws its entire roster from the world Under-18 hockey championship in North Dakota because the players might have the banned drug meldonium in their systems. So the Russkies replace those kids with its Under-17 roster. What the comrades are telling us is this: “We don’t turn our kid athletes into druggies until they’re at least 17 years old.”

It doesn’t bother me that the three highest-ranking members in the Toronto Blue Jays ivory tower are all Americans. It does bother me that all three—president and chief executive officer Mark Shapiro, general manager Ross Atkins and vice-president of business operations Andrew Miller—come from the Cleveland Indians organization.

John Gibbons
John Gibbons

Found it interesting that Sports Illustrated had a go at Blue Jays manager John Gibbons for his sexist comment about his players wearing “dresses” because Major League Baseball is going soft on sliding into second base. Yes, that would be the very same magazine that flaunts female flesh on its cover and numerous inside pages once every year, just to remind us what women are supposed to look like. (The Cliff Corcoran piece, by the way, appeared on an SI.com page promoting these photo features: “Lisa Dergan and 22 Super Hot MLB Wives” and “25 Most Gorgeous Female Politicians.”) And they’re calling Gibbons sexist?

I get a kick out of scribes from the Republic of Tranna who pretend to know what we’re thinking in other areas of our vast land. Take Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun as an e.g. Little Stevie Blunder has determined from his bubble in the Centre of the Universe that the rest of us are doing nothing but blah, blah, blahing and yadda, yadda, yaddaing about the Jays. He calls Canada “a hockey country talking baseball.” Sigh. That might have been true last October when in-your-face bat-flipping was all the rage, but in early April? Not happening where I live, and last time I looked the West Coast was still part of the nation. Go back to stalking Phil Kessel and hot dog vendors, Stevie.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

Say what? Here’s what the jocks were saying and what they should have been saying

This is a little segment I like to call: What they said/what they should have said.

In it, we consider the breathless sound bites delivered by sportsmen/women hither and yon and ponder what they should have said, or, in some instances, what I wish they had said.

Let’s begin…

Patrick Roy losing it.
Patrick Roy losing it, as usual.

Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic had been hesitant to confirm the return of head coach Patrick Roy, but he made it official on this National Hockey League season’s final weekend that the ever-combustible St. Patrick will, indeed, be stamping his feet and blowing gaskets behind the bench as he guides the Avalanche through another non-playoff journey next year.

What Sakic said: “Yes, he will (be back). We’re in this thing together.”

What he should have said: “Are you kidding me? Have you seen what this guy’s like when he doesn’t get his way? He’s as loonie as a Canadian dollar. I had no choice but to bring him back as coach. You think I want to wake up and find a horse’s head at the foot of my bed one morning?”

  • Mark Scheifele, sitting on a career high 27 goals with just three matches remaining in a long lost NHL crusade, was doing the chin-wag thing with news scavengers when someone mentioned the possibility of a 30-goal season for the Winnipeg Jets centre, who no longer resembles Bambi on ice.

What Scheifele said: “It would definitely be huge. I’m definitely trying to push for it, but the most important part is to continue to play the right way and if they go in, they go in. And if not, I want to be happy with the effort I give each and every night and with a full 200-foot game. I’m definitely going to be going for it. But I’ve got to play the right way first.”

What I wish he had said: “Dude, you must be mistaking me for Evander Kane. I don’t give a shit about personal numbers. Don’t talk to me about 30 goals when we’re not going to the playoffs.”

  • Kevin Lowe, the former Edmonton Oilers defenceman, assistant coach, head coach, general manager, vice-president and president, is generally viewed as the guy wearing the black hat in The Chuck, because the once-mighty NHL franchise became a running joke under his watch. But that didn’t stop him from standing before a full house and pandering to the faithful post-game when the Edmonton Oilers bid farewell to their old barn, Rexall Place, last week.

What Lowe said: “(Edmonton has) the greatest fans in all of hockey.”

What he should have said: “It was nice of you dipsticks to actually get through another entire season of losing without tossing your Oilers’ jersey on the ice.”

Vladislav Tretiak
Vladislav Tretiak telling lies.
  • Mother Russia backed up the truck and loaded on the entire roster for the world Under-18 hockey championship in North Dakota, replacing it at the 11th hour with the entire Under-17 squad. Speculation, not surprisingly, ran at a full gallop, with most observers believing the Russkies pulled the switcheroo because all of the Under-18s have been on the now-banned drug meldonium, thus they would not have passed drug testing. This left legendary goaltender and Russian Hockey Federation president Vladislav Tretiak with some ‘splaining to do.

What Vlad said: “(This was) a tactical decision by the coaching staff. I ask you not to give in to rumor and to speculate about what has happened.”

What he should have said: “Hands up anyone who believes there are still some clean athletes in the Motherland! But seriously, after Maria Sharipova got caught using meldonium, we knew the jig was up with these kids. It’s not like 1972 when we used all the illegal drugs we could get our commie hands on before we played Team Canada. They would have blown us out if we weren’t on the juice. Now if you’ll excuse me, my presence is requested in President Putin’s chamber and I understand he isn’t very pleased with me.”

  • Major League Baseball players and managers are struggling with the enforcement of a rule that prohibits a base runner from sliding hard into second base with the express purpose of breaking up a double play. Toronto Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons believes it cost his club a win and he used a sexist comment to express his distaste for the ruling.

What Gibby said: “It’s a joke. Maybe we’ll come out wearing dresses tomorrow. Maybe that’s what everybody’s looking for.”

What he should have said: “Ty Cobb will be spinning like a lathe in his grave. The game’s become a joke. I guess we’ll just have to take off our big-boy pants and play with our little-boy pants from now on.”

Ernie Els
Ernie Els just puttering along.
  • Golf great Ernie Els lived the worst possible nightmare on the first hole in the opening round of The Masters, taking six putts from inside three feet before his ball found the bottom of the hole. Upon arrival at the practice tee the next morning, Els was met with stony silence.

What Els said: “The players and caddies looked at me like I didn’t have any pants on.”

What I wish he had said: “My golf game sounds just like that broken-down jalopy my dad bought me when I turned 16—putt, putt, putt, putt, putt, putt.

  • The Winnipeg Jets finished the season on an impressive run, winning their final four matches, including a California sweep of the playoff-bound Disney Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings. Still, it left the Jets in the Central Division cellar at close of business and swimming with all the other bottom feeders in advance of the NHL draft lottery. So what say you, goaltender Ondrej Pavelec?

What Pavelec said: “I don’t think you can be too excited about it because we are where we are.”

What he should have said and what I wish he had said: “I don’t think you can be too excited about it because we are where we are.”

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

John Gibbons: What the frock was the Toronto Blue Jays manager thinking?

Given that I have never met John Gibbons, anything I know about him is based entirely on what I have read and heard or witnessed on my flatscreen.

By most accounts, the Toronto Blue Jays manager is a “man’s man,” which I believe is guy-talk meaning he likes his beer cold, his woman warm and, lord knows, he’s the last fella you’d ever catch wearing a dress.

Born on the northern Great Plains and under the big sky of Montana, but mostly raised in the shadow of the Alamo in the Texas Triangle, Gibbons has the swagger of a trail boss when he ambles out to the mound to remove his starting hurler or a beleaguered member of his bullpen. His body language is saying, “Why can’t this horse’s ass throw strikes?” even if that isn’t exactly what he’s saying when retrieving the baseball from the poor wretch’s failing right or left pitching hand.

John Gibbons
John Gibbons

Jock journalistis in the Republic of Tranna seem to impart favor on the square-jawed Gibbons, no doubt because he’s up-front, a straight-shooter who isn’t afraid to call a steer a longhorn, and, I suspect, in part because he’s old-school.

Some sports scribes, it should be pointed out, delight in the ways of the old-school operatives, if for no reason other than the reality that they themselves are old-school. Trouble is, there’s old-school in the ways of Major League Baseball and there’s horse-and-buggy thinking in the ways of the 21st century.

Gibbons, it would seem, has earned his degree in both schools.

If you missed it, the Blue Jays lost a game they believed they were positioned to win the other night against the Rays in Tampa, the nub of the matter being a ninth-inning development by which Jose Bautista’s slide into second base was ruled illegal. The Jays rightfielder slid across the bag, but reached out with his left arm and made contact with the right leg of Rays second sacker Logan Forsythe, whose errant throw to first allowed the go-ahead run to cross home plate. It was a harmless play. You’ll see more meaningful contact in a kindergarten class. In today’s baseball, however, to touch is taboo. Thus, after video review of the play, Tampa was awarded a game-ending doubleplay.

While much of Jays Nation rose up in a “We wuz robbed!” rallying bleat, Gibbons took the dialogue in another direction, going all Ty Cobb during his post-match chin-wag with news scavengers. He talked about baseball being a “hard-nosed game” and barreling into second base “is good baseball. That’s been baseball forever.” And he’s right. The Georgia Peach would slide into second with freshly sharpened spikes flashing knee high. And, hey, Charlie Hustle didn’t get that nickname by arriving at second base or home plate like Fred Astaire in a tux.

“It turned the game into a joke,” Gibbons muttered. “That’s embarrassing. It’s a joke.”

If only his gums had stopped flapping there.

“Maybe,” Gibbons added, “we’ll come out wearing dresses tomorrow. Maybe that’s what everybody’s looking for.”

For the record, nary a member of the Blue Jays Nine was adorned in a spring frock when they lost another game on Wednesday, but here’s what I found astonishing in the fallout of the manager’s comments, deemed sexist by the many who delivered him a stern tsk-tsking on social and in mainstream media: Gibbons was surprised to learn the politically correct police had been mobilized.

“My mom, my wife, my daughter found it kind of funny,” he said. “They know me. I do think the world needs to lighten up a bit. I cannot understand how that would offend anybody, to be honest with you, if it doesn’t offend my mother, my daughter and my wife, who have a great understanding of life. Honestly, I didn’t expect that. I understand there’s an uproar, I don’t get that.”

So there’s something else about Gibbons that I now know: Apparently, he’s prone to flashes of naivete.

I’m not prepared to hop on a high horse and throw down on our man from Montana/Texas for his misguided attempt at sexist humor, but I am shocked that he’s shocked his comments ruffled some female feathers, not to ignore the plumage of some male members of the media who either were genuinely affronted or merely put 700 words together in an effort to earn some valuable brownie points with the missus on the home front. Whatever the case, I would ask this of Gibbons: “What the frock were you thinking, man?

Arnold Palmer, the King
Arnold Palmer, the King

I mean, thirty-one years ago this wouldn’t have caused a ripple of controversy. It would have been nothing more than a baseball guy talking about baseball. We know this because we can draw a parallel to something similar the great Arnold Palmer uttered at the MONY Tournament of Champions in May 1985, when 36 professional golfers, including nine seniors, teed it up.

As a concession to the older players, the policy board on the seniors tour voted to allow them to hit from the front tees on certain holes.

“I’ll tell you what, it’s embarrassing,” a bitter Arnie barked. “You walk past the regular tees up to those blue tees. I’ll wear my dress tomorrow.”

So there. The King had spoken. And no one said boo, because social media didn’t exist and the politically correct police had yet to marshall all of their forces.

But now, 31 years after the fact, old-school Gibby surely ought to recognize that, his mother, wife and daughter notwithstanding, his choice of words is quite offensive to numerous women who don’t know him and harbor a “great understanding of life.”

I’m all for old-school baseball (get rid of the designated hitter and let’s have more day games), but horse-and-buggy banter I can do without.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

All about the Blue Jays trading binge, Jose Canseco in stilettos, Tom Brady’s balls and other items of interest…

News and views on the world of sports…

NEWS: Alex Anthopoulos, the man who generally manages the Toronto Blue Jays, goes on a trading binge and delivers Troy Tulowitzki, David Price, Ben Revere and Mark Lowe to skipper John Gibbons scant hours before the Major League Baseball trade deadline.

The GM’s tinkering has positioned the Jays to make a serious run at a wild-card playoff position, if not the American League East Division pennant.

VIEW: Is it too late for Brendan Shanahan to redo the Lou Lamoriello thing and hire Anthopoulos as GM of the Maple Leafs instead?

NEWS: Jose Canseco is going bowling with the boys. He’ll be playing poker with the boys. And he’ll be wearing a frock, lipstick and a wig while doing it. Oh yes he will.

Canseco, you see, has joined the Cult of Cait. Not only is he sipping the Cait Kool-Aid, but the former Major League Baseball juicer vows to go all Ru Paul on us by adorning himself in female garments in a declaration of support for Hollywood glam trans gal, Caitlyn Jenner.

And, don’t you know, the one-time Bash Brother is so thoughtful that he plans to share the charade with the rest of us.

“I can’t say exactly how it’s going to be done yet,” he told the New York Daily News. “It will be done for about a week—and it will be on my Internet show called Spend a Day with Jose.”

VIEW: Sigh.

NEWS: Toughest dudette on the planet, Ronda Rousey, wasted little time in ridding herself of a potty-mouth pest named Bethe Correia in their UFC women’s bantamweight championship bout. It was over, save for the post-fight trash talking, in 34 seconds.

VIEW: Hmmm, 34 seconds. About the same amount of time Jose Canseco will last walking in a pair of stilettos.

NEWS: The Arizona Cardinals have hired a lady coach, Jen Welter.

Not surprisingly, her appointment as an intern coach of inside linebackers (she’ll work at training camp and pre-season matches) has been greeted with much skepticism because, well, the NFL is a man’s world where women are sometimes used as tackling dummies or punching bags (see: Rice, Ray; Hardy, Greg; McDonald, Ray; etc.). So, her hiring is seen by some as a public relations gimmick.

VIEW: If Jen Welter is a gimmick, give us more of her. I mean, her answer to a question about Tom Brady and Deflategate during her first day on the job was classic:

“I really am tired of hearing about Tom Brady’s balls,” she said. “I’d rather move on. It is kind of serendipitous, though, or funny or God’s irony that the same day we announce a woman coach in the NFL, we can’t get off Tom Brady’s balls.”

NEWS: National Football League outfits have commenced training exercises and soon shall be engaged in dress rehearsals, but we still don’t know if Tom Brady is persona non grata.

The New England Patriots quarterback is, of course, under suspension for allegedly letting the air seep out of game balls last season, yet he is in full frolic with his mates at training camp. That, however, is no guarantee he’ll be behind centre when the real fun begins next month. Brady must first do the chin-wag thing with a federal judge in mid-August, as will NFL lord and master Roger Goodell, and only after those Deflategate discussions will we know his status.

VIEW: What Jen Welter said.

NEWS: So, we soon shall discover if Michael Sam is a football player who happens to be gay or a gay man who happens to play football.

To date, it has been all about Sam’s sexual orientation, because the wannabe rush end has yet to grab grass and growl with the Montreal Alouettes. That is about to change, though. Tom Higgins, head coach of the Canadian Football League outfit, assures us that Sam will play a game sometime this month. Honest. He’s good to go.

VIEW: Unless, of course, Sam has a more-pressing engagement, like Dancing with the Stars or sitting on Oprah’s couch. Or perhaps he’ll just want to go home for two weeks again.

NEWS: There were reported, and confirmed, sightings of the “Tiger Woods of old” at the Quicken Loans National golf tournament in Gainesville, Va., where he carded three rounds in the 60s, including a 68 and a 66 on the first two days.

VIEW: Trouble is, the rest of the field doesn’t see the “Tiger Woods of old.” They see an old Tiger Woods.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.