About the rise and fall of Ponytail Puck…mainstream media no friend of CWHL…Puck Finn’s shot-blocking style…Ice’s man playing Peggers for rubes…spit happens in golf…tennis teens…banjo pickin’…and other things on my mind

April Fool’s Day coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I guess the joke’s on me because I’m still writing this crap when I could be doing diddly in my dotage…come to think of it, that would be a good title for a book: Doing Diddly In My Dotage…

Anybody remember the heady days of women’s hockey?

Of course you do.

Kendall Coyne Schofield

I mean, who can forget all those jaws dropping as Kendall Coyne Schofield raced the dudes around the freeze during the National Hockey League all-star hijinks, followed by her landing a gig on NBC as rinkside chin-wagger with Pierre McGuire? (Let’s forgive Pierre for talking to Kendall as if she’d just stepped off the boat from Bimbo Island and accept that her presence/voice was high exposure for the women’s game.)

Then there was this:

  • The three-game exhibition Rivalry Series between the national sides of Canada and the United States was contested in front of an SRO audience in London and crowds numbering approximately 9,000 in the Republic of Tranna and Detroit.

  • Minnesota Whitecaps of the National Women’s Hockey League sold out each of their home assignments at TRIA Rink in St. Paul, and turned a profit.

  • The Canadian Women’s Hockey League championship skirmish between the Calgary Inferno and Les Canadiennes de Montreal attracted a record 175,000 sets of eyeballs to flatscreens across the land.

Yup, those were the days.

And now, just eight sleeps after the Inferno had collected the Clarkson Cup at Coca Cola Coliseum in The ROT? Nothing but long faces. The CWHL has disappeared from Planet Puckhead.

But wait. Let’s not be so hasty in passing out the black arm bands scant hours after the CWHL’s deep thinkers announced they won’t be dropping the puck next autumn, after 12 years of trying to convince the rabble that their product is worth a looksee.

I simply don’t believe the collapse of the CWHL is the death knell for Ponytail Puck in this country.

Will it look the same when the leaves are on the ground again in October? Of course not. There won’t be six teams stretching from Boston to Montreal to The ROT to Calgary to China, but I struggle to accept that Montreal and the Republic of Tranna are about to fall off the women’s shinny map. Not going to happen. Perhaps Calgary still fits into the puzzle, as well, although geographic isolation makes that a challenge. Mind you, being in the middle of nowhere didn’t hurt the Whitecaps in Minny. Ten games, 10 sellouts.

So, ya, they’ll re-calibrate and we’ll have women’s pro hockey on Planet Puckhead again. That might mean NWHL expansion north, or it might mean a Women’s National Hockey League built from ground zero by Gary Bettman and the NHL. And it will definitely mean a league that’s two-thirds U.S.-based. But, hey, that’s always worked for the NHL, so why not the WNHL?

Sami Jo Small

Here’s the question I asked myself when word of the CWHL collapse began to spread on Sunday morning: How much blame do we assign to mainstream media?

Basically, MSM treated the CWHL like a leper league. Same can be said for women’s hockey in general. Unless it’s played under the Olympics banner or, to a lesser degree, at the world championship, Ponytail Puck gets less ink/air time than darts, poker and the Mitch Marner-Auston Matthews performance in The Nutcracker.

TSN broadcast all three of the Rivalry Series skirmishes, but it stuck them on the boondocks channels and not all of us subscribe to the complete TSN package. How many CWHL matches did Sportsnet televise? Two? Four? Our  national celebration of shinny—the marathon Hockey Day In Canada—shockingly did not include a women’s game, even though a Tranna Furies-Montreal joust was available.

It’s no different on the print side. Actually, it might be worse. If any of our flowers of jock journalism scribbles as many as two essays on women’s hockey in Olympic off-years, it’s considered an avalanche of copy. Indeed, Furies general manager Sami Jo Small lamented the lack of exposure in conversation with Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star not so long ago.

“People are supportive of women’s hockey,” she said. “They love to watch it, but they don’t know how to watch it. That’s one of my biggest battles, to get people to know where to watch these games, how to watch these games, where to buy the tickets, and get them into the venue. Not just watching the Olympics.”

Let’s be clear, MSM indifference wasn’t the official cause of death, but it helped nudge the CWHL toward the graveyard.

Here’s rich irony: Sports scribes and talking heads spend the time between Winter Olympics pretending women’s hockey doesn’t exist, but when the CWHL caved on Sunday they rapidly rallied to the cause. Pierre LeBrun, Elliotte Friedman, Jeff Marek, John Shannon, Gord Miller, Bob McKenzie and James Mirtle, among others, were found on Twitter, bemoaning the development. Guilty conscience, boys?

It’s shameful that Sportsnet basically ignored the demise of the CWHL on its Hometown Hockey broadcast Sunday night. They didn’t even attempt to pretend to be a news outlet. It was more important to air fluff— like a sappy interview with an actor I hadn’t heard of before the pre-game show—than dig into the top shinny news story of the day. A terrible blunder.

Puck Finn

I don’t know about the rest of the rabble, but I’m not prepared to rule out the possibility of another long spring run by the Winnipeg Jets. True, they’ve looked a lot like a fire drill gone bad lately and the advantage of home ice is in jeopardy, but I’m keeping the faith. As long as they don’t depend on Patrik Laine to block shots, there’s hope. I mean, what can I say about Puck Finn’s shot-blocking effort on Jeff Petry’s goal Saturday vs. Montreal Canadiens? He looked like some poor shmuck on a street corner, trying to dodge the spray from a huge puddle of water as a car speeds by. Easily the most comical shot-block attempt since Guy Lafleur did the flamingo vs. the Russians.

Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun did the Q&A thing with Matt Cockell and, among other things, the Winnipeg Ice (will never like that name) general manager had this to say: “At the end of the day, the passion for hockey is really what’s exciting about Winnipeg. When you look across Canada, there really isn’t another city that embraces hockey the way Winnipeg does. We really believe it’s the hockey capital of Canada.” Whoa boy. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Good Ol’ Hometown has already let one NHL franchise get away (no, it wasn’t Gary Bettman’s fault) and two Western Hockey League outfits. Pegtown is the “hockey capital of Canada” like Pierre’s boy Justin is a man of all the people. And that’s coming from someone born and raised in River City, someone who recalls seeing a lot of empty seats in the old barn on Maroons Road. Yes, I realize that Cockell is going to say all the right things in order to sell his freshly minted WHL franchise to the rabble, but I’m not sure that faux flattery is the way to go about it. Peggers are hockey wise, they aren’t rubes.

Paul Azinger

Turned on the PGA Tour match play final on Sunday, just in time to hear NBC lead analyst Paul Azinger say this about eventual champion Kevin Kisner: “He spits like a baseball player. Impressive.” And to think, a lot of folks figured Zinger wouldn’t be worth spit as a replacement for Johnny Miller.

If you’re looking for an excellent read, check out Stephen Brunt’s ode to Charlie Montoyo on the Sportsnet website. Like most everything Stephen scribbles, his yarn on the Tranna Blue Jays first-year skipper is boffo.

A tip of the bonnet to our own Leah Hextall, who became the first woman to call play-by-play for a men’s NCAA playoff hockey game on ESPN. Leah worked the East Regional semifinals and final on the weekend in Providence, R.I.

Felix Auger-Aliassime

Some classic stuff from Steve Simmons, the Postmedia Tranna columnist who offered this on Twitter after our teen sensation, Felix Auger-Aliassime, spoon fed the boring John Isner a victory with a series of ill-timed double faults in their semifinal match at the Miami Open tennis tournament: “Felix served for both the first and second sets in Miami and couldn’t pull it off in either set against John Isner. That’s what happens when you’re 18.”

Really? It didn’t happen to 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu in the semifinal or final at Indian Wells two weeks ago. It didn’t happen to Denis Shapovalov a couple of years ago when he beat Rafa Nadal. It didn’t happen to Bjorn Borg, who won 10 ATP events, including the French Open, at age 18. Mats Wilander, Boris Becker, Michael Chang, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Maria Sharapova, Tracy Austin, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams all won Grand Slams before turning 19.

So, no, our Felix didn’t lose because he’s 18. He lost because of a seriously flawed service game.

Kenta Nilsson

Sigh. The young talking heads on TV continue to refer to a sleight-of-hand goal as “the Forsberg,” as if Peter Forsberg created the move. As I have written, old friend Kent Nilsson is the first person I ever saw perform that particular bit of hockey hocus-pocus, and there’s video evidence to prove he did it before Forsberg arrived in the NHL. Ditto another old friend, Alexei Zhamnov, who showed us his wizardry more than once while in Winnipeg Jets linen. So knock it off, girls and boys. It’s the Nilsson, not the Forsberg.

And, finally, numbers cruncher Derek Taylor is leaving TSN to become the play-by-play voice of the Saskatchewan Roughriders on CKRM in Regina. Who knew Taylor played the banjo?

Advertisements

About Olympians who are not also-rans…passing on Johnny Manziel…shitholes and Presidents…writing in bits and pieces…angry lesbian tennis legends…and Tonya is still a thug

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

Well, okay, the names aren’t sexy.

There’s no glitz and glam.

They’re more lunch pail and brown bag than champagne and caviar.

A gloomy Gus is apt to suggest that they’re scrubs on skates. That the men’s hockey tournament next month in PyeongChang, South Korea, will be the Spengler Cup dressed up as the Winter Olympic Games.

Wojtek Wolski

To that I say “no.” They’re Olympians. Our Olympians. The 25 lads selected to wear the Maple Leaf—from Rene Bourque to Wojtek Wolski—got there the hard way. They earned it, playing hither and yon in remote outposts as far removed from the National Hockey League as Minsk is from Manhattan. And I harbor zero doubt that they’ll deliver good, Canadian pluck and backbone in abundance. That might earn them a gold, silver or bronze trinket. It might not be enough. Doesn’t matter. They’re our guys. Hop on board the bandwagon. There’s plenty of room.

Pierre LeBrun gets it. Steve Simmons…(as usual) not a freaking clue.

Here’s LeBrun of The Athletic Toronto and TSN on men’s shinny rosters at the Winter Games: “We all agree the Olympics without NHL players stinks. But let’s have respect for the players selected in their place. They’re proud Canadians living out their Olympic dream.”

Here’s Postmedia’s Simmons after the U.S. declared its roster: Those named to the team are “also rans.” Read: Bottom feeders. Which means he also believes the Canadians are bottom feeders.

Brian Gionta

Rather than insult the American Olympians, the rude Simmons might have done some research. He’d have discovered that at least 18 of Uncle Sam’s reps are champions at the NHL, NCAA, American Hockey League, Major Junior or European professional level. Which disqualifies them as “also rans.” (Sourpuss Steve might want to invest in a dictionary.)

Check it out:

Mark Arcobello: Champion with SC Bern of Swiss National League and champion with Yale University in 2009;
Chad Billins: Calder Cup (AHL) champion with Grand Rapids Griffins; Johnathon Blum: Western Hockey League and Memorial Cup champion with Vancouver Giants;
Will Borgen: NCHC champion with St. Cloud State University;
Chris Bourque: Three-time Calder Cup champion and Deutschland Cup champion;
Bobby Butler: Calder Cup champion;
Matt Gilroy: NCAA champion with Boston University;
Brian Gionta: Stanley Cup champion with New Jersey Devils and NCAA champion with Boston College;
Ryan Gunderson: Swedish Hockey League champion with Brynas IF;
Chad Kolarik: Two-time CCHA champion with University of Michigan; David Leggio: ECAC champion with Clarkson University and SM-Liiga champion with TPS;
Broc Little: ECAC champion with Yale;
John McCarthy: NCAA champion with Boston University;
Brian O’Neill: ECAC champion with Yale;
Bobby Sanguinetti: Swiss Cup champion with EHC Kloten;
Ryan Stoa: WCHA champion with University of Minnesota;
Troy Terry: NCAA champion with University of Denver;
Noah Welch: SHL champion with Vaxjo Lakers HC; two-time ECAC champion with Harvard.

Johnny Manziel

Good reads: 1) Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star on Nigerian born and raised Masai Ujiri, general manager of the Tranna Raptors; 2) Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail on a ticking time bomb named Johnny Manziel. No one in Canadian sports writing gets to the heart of a social issue quite like Arthur, while Kelly’s crystal ball has him convinced that Manziel is destined to become a Grade A pain in the ass to whichever Canadian Football League outfit is foolish enough to recruit him.

Donnovan Bennett has a go at Manziel on the Sportsnet website, listing five reasons why the Hamilton Tiger-Cats should pawn off the former Heisman Trophy winner. He makes a compelling case. Unfortunately, Bennett doesn’t list the main reason why Johnny Football ought to be persona non grata in the Hammer or any other CFL port o’ call—he beats up women. That’s where any discussion of Manziel should begin and end.

Best lip service this week: Ujiri was, understandably, unamused when U.S. President Donald Trump referenced immigrants who arrive in America from Africa’s “shithole countries.” Said the Raptors GM: “If I grew up in a shithole, I am proud of my shithole.”

Lias Andersson

It’s about that Swedish kid who hucked his world teenage hockey tournament silver medal into the stands after the title match in Buffalo: So Lias Andersson didn’t want to take his trinket home and stuff the thing in a box. His choice. Get off the kid’s case. I mean, why did Andersson take such a fierce paddywhacking on social media? It’s not like he’s the first athlete to get rid of a trinket. New York Islanders/Pittsburgh Penguins legend Bryan Trottier sold two of his Stanley Cup rings. Hall of Fame goaltender Rogie Vachon sold a Stanley Cup ring. The noblest of them all, Jean Beliveau, peddled a Stanley Cup ring. So, in Andersson’s case, there’s really nothing to see there.

Best tweet about a twit this week is courtesy of veteran broadcaster Dave Hodge: “Less than a month til the Winter Olympics, or as the U-S (sic) President calls them—games involving athletes from non-shithole countries.” That made me laugh out loud and reminded me of the type of banter I used to hear in the press boxes of North America. It’s all adult humor and quite profane, of course, but press boxes were funny, funny places back in the day. I’d like to think they still are, although the humor doesn’t show up in much of the sports writing I read.

Red Smith

A while back Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press reviewed his least-read columns from 2017 and, among other things, he said “a bits column is just lazy. Pick a topic—and then write about (it) in an interesting way. It’s not that hard.”

Two things here:

1) Herb Caen wrote a “bits” column in San Francisco for 60 years. That’s a whole lot of lazy. It’s so much lazy that the Pulitzer Prize people awarded him a special honor. It’s so much lazy that there’s a walkway in Frisco named after him. The aforementioned Simmons does a weekly dibs column. Lazy. Ed Willes of Postmedia Vancouver writes a weekly bits column. Lazy. Doug Smith and Kevin McGran write regular bits columns for the Toronto Star. Lazy. Legendary Winnipeg Tribune scribe Jack Matheson penned a weekly dibs column. Lazy. Frankly, if done well, bits and dibs columns can be more enjoyable reads than a lengthy essay on a boring topic. It isn’t lazy.

2) There’s nothing easy about producing a daily sports column. It’s bloody hard. Here’s what notable New York scribe Red Smith had to say when asked if churning out a column was a chore: “Why no. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins and bleed.” Smith’s take on writing is a lot closer to the truth than Wiecek’s.

Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King

Noted lesbians Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova insist that they’d boycott the Australian Open if required to perform in the Margaret Court Arena.  When anti-gay preacher Court compared gays to Hitler and communism, then submitted that same-sex marriage would bring an end to Christmas and Easter in the Land of Oz, she lost considerable, if not all, cred as a voice of reason and her verbal attack on the LGBT community was repugnant for its rancor. While it’s easy for the long-retired tennis greats to say they’d boycott the AO because of Court’s hurtful words, neither King nor Navratilova has ever been a shrinking Violet, so I believe them when they say they’d skip the event. I just wish some of today’s players would do it.

By most accounts, former fancy skater Tonya Harding remains every ounce the charmless thug who spent the past 24 years as the queen of denial re her role in the mindless and chilling plot to assault fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan. So you’ll have to excuse me if I’m in no hurry to watch the movie I, Tonya, which apparently portrays Harding as a victim of life. Hey, I feel bad for anyone who’s been physically abused. Especially kids. It’s horrible and I can relate. I felt the sting of my dad’s belt buckle on my backside and the back of his hand to my head more than once. And he once put the boots put to me (literally) so hard that I piddled in my pants. But it never occurred to me to take a club to his or anyone else’s kneecaps. So let there be no pity party for Harding.