Let’s talk about little green men in River City…greybeard boxing…baseball orphans shuffle off to Buffalo…Jeremy Roenick’s ungay legal gambit…a 1964 prophecy…jock journos whinge and whinge…the Big M was “unfit to practice”…and many other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and today’s post is dedicated to my lovely friend Beverley, who died earlier this month and always appreciated my quirky sense of humor…

According to those who like to track the whereabouts of little green men, UFO sightings were up in Manitoba last year, with folks in Winnipeg observing the third most in the entire country.

Says local Ufology researcher Chris Rutkowski: “People are seeing things for the first time that they may not have noticed before.”

Ya, it’s called the Grey Cup.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister dug into his slush fund and came up with $2.5 million in support of Good Ol’ Hometown as the Canadian Football League’s official hub city should there be a 2020 season. Hmmm. That ought to take care of Chris Walby’s bar tab, but it won’t leave much for COVID-19 testing.

Greybeard Mike Tyson

Greybeard boxers Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. have signed to go dukes up sometime in September, and they’ve agreed to wear head protection. So let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Two fiftysomething guys with a combined 133 fights behind them think it’s a swell idea to exchange punches for another eight rounds. Seems to me it’s a little too late to be thinking about head protection.

So, the orphaned Tranna Blue Jays have finally found a home for their 2020 Major League Baseball crusade. They had hoped to play in the Republic of Tranna, of course, but when that notion was nixed by Trudeau the Younger, the Tranna Nine sought Pittsburgh as a playground, then Baltimore, before landing in Buffalo. That’s kind of like trying to book John Lennon or Paul McCartney or George Harrison to play your birthday gig, but settling for Ringo.

Big league ball players are kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner. Hoops stars are kneeling. Fitba’s best are kneeling. NFL players have vowed to kneel. I feel a Donald Trump Twitter rant coming down in 3, 2, 1.

Seriously. Why are they even playing the national anthem at fan-free sporting events? Come to think of it, why do they play it when patrons are in the pews?

Dr. Fauci—D’oh!

Nice ceremonial first pitch by America’s favorite doc, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the other night at the Washington Nationals-New York Yankees opener in DC. Flame-Thrower Fauci he ain’t. The ball never made it halfway to home plate and dribbled into foul territory on the first base side of the field. It was the worst. You know, like Donald Trump’s COVID strategy.

Former NBC gab guy Jeremy Roenick is suing the Peacock Network for wrongful dismissal, claiming his lewd comments about lusting after a co-worker’s “ass and boobs” and having sex with a male co-worker had nothing to do with his ouster. He was punted because he’s an ungay guy, don’t you know. It’s an interesting gambit. I don’t know if Roenick’s “I’m a straight man” case will ever get to court, but I have a pretty good idea what Judge Judy would tell him to do with it.

Roenick also claims his removal was due, in part, to his support of Donald Trump. Again, more about an ass and a boob.

Fanless, TV-only sports has arrived, which makes the following comment eerily prophetic: “I’m fully prepared to hear not more than 10 years from now that a hockey game, for instance, will be played behind the locked doors of an arena. The only people in the place will be the players, two cameramen, a floor director, a script assistant, a sound technician, a play-by-play man, a color man and two guards on the door. The guards will have a simple duty. They’ll intercept loiterers and old-fashioned hockey fans and put them to flight. The vagrants will be advised they have exactly 15 minutes to get to the nearest television set.” That, girls and boys, is a passage from a column written by the great Jack Matheson for the Winnipeg Tribune on Nov. 14, 1964. Today it’s so very real.

Gary Bettman

Kevin McGran has a gripe. The Toronto Star shinny scribe is miffed because Commish Gary Bettman has ruled mainstream news snoops persona non grata in the National Hockey League’s two playoff hub bubbles, Edmonton and the Republic of Tranna. Only in-house scribes need apply. In a lengthy grumble, McGran grouses that there will be “no colour from inside the room.” Right, we’re all going to miss those emotional renderings from players reminding each other to “keep our feet moving.” McGran closes with this: “Don’t get me wrong. This access isn’t about us. It’s about you. The reader. We do this for our readers. We want to do it the best we can, and now the NHL is not letting. They are shortchanging you, the fans.” If McGran listens closely enough, he’ll hear the sound of readers not giving a damn.

Some of us saw this day coming quite some time ago, it’s just that the COVID-19 pandemic hastened its arrival. This is what I wrote in January 2017: “Pro sports franchises will find fresh ways to increase the disconnect between press row and their inner sanctums, thus making it more difficult for news scavengers to perform their duties. What must newspapers do to combat this? Well, bitching won’t help. They can caterwaul about lack of access as much as Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice whinges about the National Hockey League schedule, but that doesn’t solve anything. They have to be innovative. Newspapers must stop choking on their indignation and feeling sorry for themselves. It isn’t up to pro sports franchises to revert to the old ways of doing business, it’s up to the newspapers to discover new and better ways of doing business.” So there.

It’s rather ironic, don’t you think, that news snoops have their boxers in a bunch because the NHL will control the message during its Stanley Cup runoff when, in fact, no enterprise this side of Vlad (The Bad) Putin controls the message more than media?

The Big M

I am an unfamous person, therefore there is no interest in my health chart.

If I catch the sniffles or develop a mild case of fanny fungus, it’s my business. If my kidneys go kaput, you could squeeze the number of people who’d actually give a damn into a phone booth, and there’d still be enough room for a couple of circus clowns.

But pro athletes are not unfamous. Well, okay, some are. But, in general, the faithful like to know everything about their sports heroes, from their fave brand of toothpaste to whether or not they hoarded toilet paper at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rabble is keen on knowing about owies, too, especially if it impacts their fantasy leagues or office pools. But usually they’re satisfied to learn how long Sidney Crosby or David Pastrnak will be on the shelf.

Jock journos, meanwhile, demand to know the details, as if it’s a birthright.

Crosby and Pastrnak are “unfit to practice?” Sports scribes demand to know if it’s cancer, a canker sore or COVID-19. Except the NHL is shy on health specifics these days, a policy that continues to put so many knickers into so many knots. Numerous news snoops like Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna and Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab have flailed at Commish Bettman for his don’t-ask, don’t-tell directive on absenteeism during the attempted reboot of the paused 2020 crusade. Basically, they’d like him to take his hush-hush dictate and shove it where you won’t find any daylight.

The thing is, the NHL and its member clubs are under no obligation to make jock journos, or the rabble, privy to the personal health information of workers. It’s no different today than in the 1960s, when Frank Mahovlich went from the hockey rink to the hospital.

The Big M

The Big M’s disappearance from the Toronto Maple Leafs’ lineup on Nov. 12, 1964, was sudden and mysterious. Officially, he was in sick bay for “constant fatigue,” which, in today’s parlance, translates to “unfit to practice.”

“If you want any information on my condition you will have to talk to Dr. Smythe,” he told news snoops.

So that’s what they did, only to discover that Dr. Hugh Smythe was no more forthcoming when prodded by the pen-and-paper pack.

“Without discussing the diagnosis, I can say there’ll be no embarrassment to Mr. Mahovlich or myself when the nature of it is known,” he explained.

The specifics of what ailed Mahovlich remained shrouded in secrecy by the time he returned to the fray on Dec. 9, yet somehow the media mob managed to file their daily copy. If privy to the particulars, they kept it on the QT.

Similarly, in the small hours of the morning on Nov. 2, 1967, the Big M walked off a sleeper car at Union Station in the Republic of Tranna and went directly to hospital, while his teammates departed for Detroit.

“I realize this is a difficult thing to request, but the less said by the press, radio and TV people about the reason he is in hospital, the better it would be for Frank,” Dr. Smythe informed news snoops.

Turns out Mahovlich had suffered a nervous breakdown, and the boys on the beat were informed that he might be hors de combat for two weeks, two months or for the duration of the season. He was “unfit to practice.” Case closed. Nothing more to see.

Fast forward to the present, and we have had many mysterious disappearances. Or mysterious no-shows. All explained as “unfit to practice.”

Well, that’s all anyone need know until such time as the athlete and/or team choose to come clean. What part of that do news snoops not understand?

Commish Randy

Simmons’ pout on the NHL’s posture re players deemed “unfit to practice” was truly silly, and I had to laugh at Mad Mike’s take. In a 1,000-word whinge, he suggests that the cone of silence is ill-conceived because it leads to “speculation.” Oh, the horror! Stop the presses! Sports scribes forced to speculate! That, my friends, is a wholly bogus take. What does Mad Mike think he and the rest of them have been doing for the past four months? They’ve speculated about hub cities. They’ve speculated about playoff formats. They’ve speculated about life in a bubble. They’ve speculated about a Canadian Football League season. They’ve speculated about Trudeau the Younger tossing CFL Commish Randy Ambrosie some spare change. They’ve speculated about a roost for the orphaned Blue Jays. They’ve speculated about Donald Trump’s head exploding if one more athlete takes a knee. Sports is, if nothing else, speculation, and so is sports scribbling. It’s a large, and fun, part of the gig. Get a grip, man.

Geez, that last item included my third mention of Donald Trump this morning. This makes it four. I promise that the remainder of this post will be a Trump-free (five) zone.

To all the sports scribes who insist there’s no stigma attached to a positive COVID-19 test, tell that to Hutterites in Manitoba.

Say, those Seattle Kraken unis are spiffy. Love the logo, love the design, love the colors, love the name. Now we wait for some self-interest group like PETA to bellyache about cruelty to sea monsters and demand a name change.

On the subject of fashion, who’s responsible for dressing the women on Sportsnet Central, which returned to air last week? I swear, Carly Agro looked like a giant, upholstered chocolate bar, while Martine Gaillard and Danielle Michaud wore outfits that someone must have dug out of the freebe box at a thrift store. Either that or they’ve hired Don Cherry’s former tailor.

Doc Holliday

A tip of the bonnet to Scott Oake of Hockey Night in Canada and old friend and colleague Bob (Doc) Holliday. Scotty’s one of the truly good guys among jock journos, so it’s no surprise that he’s included in this year’s inductees to the Order of Manitoba, while Doc, one of my all-time favorite people, has had a street in St. Vital named in his honor—Bob Holliday Way. I’m not sure where you’d find Bob Holliday Way in St. Vital, but it’s probably the first stop on a Streetcar Named Retire, just past the Red Top Drive-In.

Both Bob and Scotty, by the way, are also members of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, so their trophy rooms are getting cluttered.

I once dreamed of being in the MHHofF, but my dad ran off with my hockey equipment one day and I never played another game.

Nice to see the Winnipeg Sun back to publishing on Mondays, and I must say that the Winnipeg Free Press package on Saturdays is first rate. I’m not just talking about sports in the Drab Slab. It’s the entire Saturday sheet, from front to back. Terrific stuff.

Alyssa Nakken

Kudos to Alyssa Nakken, who became the first female to coach on-field in a Major League Baseball game. Alyssa worked first base for the San Francisco Giants v. the Oakland A’s last week, and I think that’s fantastic.

Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun is convinced that Connor Hellebuyck was snubbed in Hart Trophy balloting for the NHL’s most valuable performer. Scotty submits that being a goaltender worked against the Winnipeg Jets keeper, opining, “if your name isn’t Dominik Hasek, it’s not an easy code to crack.” Wrong. Carey Price cracked the code in 2015.

And, finally, as we approach the back end of July and I look out my window to gaze upon the Olympic Mountains in the United States, I note that there’s still snow on the peaks. What’s up with that? Is it something I should be telling Greta Thunberg about?

Let’s talk about white privilege and giving voice to women and minorities in hockey media

As the discussion about the cult of shinny rages on, I find it most disturbing that some opinionists are just now discovering that hockey is not for everyone.

Consider, as a prime example, a recent Twitter exchange between Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star and a chap with the user handle I Drink And I Know Nothing:

I Drink: “My daughter loves hockey but the ‘boys only’ culture she has to endure is going to ruin it for her. The area is too small to have a girls league and if you want to play, you have to put up with the players and coaches who feel that ‘girls are too weak.’”

McGran: “Even today? I thought we were at least past this.”

Earth to Kevin! Earth to Kevin! You might want to have a meaningful chat with some of the women in your life, and I’m guessing they’ll suggest you haven’t been paying attention.

Seriously, 2019 is a moment in history, not a cure-all for what ails shinny.

I mean, sure, women are now being accepted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, more females are playing the game today, and there’s a pro women’s league, but to assume the ‘old boys club’ mentality has gone the way of the dinosaur, the dodo and home milk delivery is pure folly. Also remarkably naive.

Bill Peters and Akim Aliu.

Meanwhile, one of The Athletic’s finest scribes, Sean Fitz-Gerald, has had an awakening of sorts, telling us that “hockey, increasingly, is not for everyone,” and a Calgary Sun editorial described racist language used by now-former Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters as “shocking.”

Come on, people, where have you been hiding? Like, I’d be shocked if someone discovered JFK and Marilyn Monroe were still alive and shacked up together somewhere behind the Grassy Knoll, but a hockey coach spewing racism or bullying a player? That’s a dog biting a man.

Hockey has never been for everyone, and anyone who’s spent more than five minutes inside the cult that is hockey shouldn’t be shocked by the disgusting language Peters used 10 years ago, when he and the target of his toxic tongue, Akim Aliu, were trying to claw their way to the National Hockey League.

Since L’Affaire Peters-Aliu became top-of-the-page news, pundits hither and yon have had their say, but have you noticed anything about the jock journos who’ve been given a voice?

That’s right. All white faces. Male white faces.

I turned on Sportsnet the other day and three white guys were talking about it. I turned on TSN and four white dudes were talking about it. I called up newspaper websites, and no one but white guys were writing about it.

Does that not strike you as odd? Also wrong?

Like, what in the name of Martin Luther King Jr. do male sports scribes and talking heads of white privilege know about discrimination based on skin hue? Nada.

Morgan Rielly

It was no different last March when Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs was thought, mistakenly, to have used a homophobic slur during a match. Both TSN and Sportsnet trotted out the usual suspects for panel gasbagging about the evils of anti-gay language, and those usual suspects had one thing in common—all were heterosexual men. How in the name of Harvey Milk can heterosexual men in hockey—a culture that is deeply and disturbingly homophobic—speak with any level of authority on anti-gay slurs?

The simple answer is they can’t. Yet no gay man or woman was invited to participate in panel discussions.

So we now are having a yackety-yack about racism in hockey, with tentacles also reaching out to touch on bullying, hazing, sexism, misogyny and LGBT(etc.) matters, and not until Saturday night on Hockey Night In Canada did we finally hear from a gathering of black people in the game.

Imagine that. People of color discussing racism. And one of them, Sarah Nurse, is a woman. What a concept.

Ron MacLean, Sarah Nurse, Anthony Stewart, David Amber.

Although inviting Nurse, Anthony Stewart, David Amber and Anson Carter to join the conversation, HNIC remains complicit in perpetuating the whiteness of hockey, something host Ron MacLean acknowledged in another discussion with black filmmaker Kwame Mason and singer/sports broadcaster Tara Slone.

“When the kids throw back to Hockey Night In Canada,” MacLean said, “as a general rule they’re all white, and if they’re not all white, the whites often have the speaking part, and it’s the same with our Hometown Hockey, we’re so proud of being inclusive but how many times do we get people of color to pick the three stars?”

He confessed that it’s “a real eye opener that I don’t recognize the structural racism or sexism that’s going on.”

That is an astonishing admission. How could MacLean not see and hear it?

Don Cherry and Ron MacLean

For gawd’s sake, he spent the past 33 years sitting beside Don Cherry’s horrible wardrobe, listening to the gasbag promote cement-head hockey while, at the same time, flailing away at Europeans, Russians, French guys, pinkos and anyone else whose hairy knuckles don’t drag on the ground. MacLean heard Cherry insist that female reporters don’t belong in changing rooms. Over at TSN, their idea of diversity on its many hockey panels is allowing Marty Biron to prattle on in his fractured English. He’s the token Quebec guy. Sportsnet gives the aforementioned Stewart a voice, but their panel pundits are 99.9 per cent white male.

Women, meanwhile, aren’t a minority group, but they’re treated like one. They aren’t allowed to join hockey panels, even though there are numerous former and/or current players from our national and Olympic sides quite capable of stringing together complete sentences. I’ve heard them do that very thing.

It’s no different in the rag trade. This country’s top jock columnists are white, heterosexual males. They simply cannot relate or speak to issues of marginalized communities. To see the light at the end of the tunnel, one must first step inside the tunnel, so good luck to them trying to deliver the kind of meaningful commentary that only a lived experience allows.

People are talking about L’Affaire Peters-Aliu, also Mike Babcock’s bullying of Mitch Marner, as “watershed” moments for hockey. Maybe so. We’ll see. But I hope it also serves as a swift kick in the butt for mainstream sports media as it relates to hockey.

It isn’t just white, heterosexual men who know the game. Women and minorities also have something to say. Let them roar.

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?

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.