Let’s talk about girl power on Sportsnet…Billie Jean King doesn’t have a clue…snubbing the NWHL…and bust goes the Brier

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I don’t know if I gained or lost an hour on the weekend…

Oh, baby. They pulled it off.

Yup, Sportsnet delivered its first 99.9 per cent estrogen-fueled broadcast of a National Hockey League joust on Sunday night, so a few words are in order:

Christine Simpson, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, Leah Hextall.

a) Leah Hextall is more than adequate on play-by-play.

b) Christine Simpson is a real pro.

c) Cassie Campbell-Pascall doesn’t know when to put a sock in it.

d) Billie Jean King needs to pop a reality pill.

e) Ron MacLean makes for a rather subdued token male (he calls himself an “ally”).

f) Tara Slone has the groupie gene.

g) Apparently no one involved with the production of Hometown Hockey knows the National Women’s Hockey League exists.

That’s the Coles Notes version of what transpired during the Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Sunday, and if you’re wondering if the women did boffo work just ask them. They’ll assure you that they were absolutely fabulous, darling.

I mean, this was a 3½-hour exercise in excessive back-patting, and I believe they paid tribute to every woman on earth except Karla Homolka. Well, okay, that’s a stretch. But they did manage to squeeze Cher and Beyonce into the conversation, and we all know that no hockey broadcast is complete without mentioning Cher and Beyonce—not!

Curious name-dropping aside, full marks to Sportsnet for pushing the envelope. I just wish the main players hadn’t spent so much time kissing up to one another.

Don’t they realize you can catch coronavirus that way?

Leah Hextall

Among the women, Hextall had the most to gain/lose in this experiment. We’ve been listening to the empty squawkings of colorless commentator Campbell-Pascall for years now, and we’ve grown accustomed to Simpson’s smooth interview skills. But Hextall’s game call was something new, and I give her a passing grade.

I actually learned a new phrase from her: “He loses the boot.” Translation: A player lost his footing. Never heard that one before.

Hextall delivered another good line in the third period when two Golden Knights collided violently inside the blueline, describing it as “A bit of a Three Stooges moment.” I laughed out loud.

Hextall stumbled at times, though. She seemed caught by surprise when Nick Holden scored the second Vegas goal, also when Milan Lucic put the Flames on the board. “Lucic holds, fires and Lehner…oh, hang on, he scores,” she said. And she was flat out wrong on the Golden Knights winning tally, asking, “Is it in? Is it in? It looked in. From an angle shot, Max Pacioretty with the goal.” It was actually Shea Theodore who scored.

But, hey, other play-by-play people have made bigger blunders.

Is if fair to compare Hextall to male game-callers? Absolutely. After all, they’re the only measuring sticks available. So let’s just say she’s no Danny Gallivan, but who is? Like I said, she gets a passing grade.

I’m not sure what it is about Campbell-Pascall that gets up my nose, but I find her to be a total irritant, the same way skin rash is. She talked over Hextall too often, and she rudely hijacked the conversation when the two women were signing off. She also delivered the dumbest comment of the night when, as Ryan Reaves and Lucic lined up, she advised us that “the physicality on the ice right now is epic.” That would have been fine except for one small detail—they hadn’t even dropped the puck for the opening faceoff yet.

Ron and Tara

As expected, Slone and MacLean cooed and gushed during their taped first-intermission sit-down with Billie Jean King. MacLean was so dazzled to be in the presence of tennis royalty that he had Kendall Coyne Schofield winning the fastest skater competition at the NHL all-star game (she finished second last) and, when corrected by King, he mostly sat in slumped silence while Slone lathered the equal rights activist in praise.

Billie Jean King

No surprise that King called on the NHL to create hockey’s version of an adopt-a-pet program and subsidize a women’s professional league. “It’s the right thing to do and I think it’ll be good business,” she said. “They can do this. They can do this. Why can’t we have 700 girls or a thousand girls playing in a league?” Earth to Billie Jean! Earth to Billie Jean! If it’ll be such “good business,” why don’t you peel off some of your personal bankroll and help fund a WNHL? And where’s your business plan? As for a women’s league with 700-1,000 players, that’s shocking naiveté. There are approximately 200 members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, and another 120 suiting up with the five NWHL clubs. Where does King propose they scare up another 380-680 elite-level female players? She’d have better luck trying to find a virgin in a brothel.

During the game, Campbell-Pascall lauded King for her work on behalf of the PWHPA, telling us she’s “moved women’s hockey forward.” Rubbish. Ponytail Puck has never been in a worse mess.

Dani Rylan

In 3½ hours, the talking heads made numerous mentions of the PWHPA, but not once did they talk about the NWHL. And that’s shameful. Sportsnet is supposed to be a news-gathering and news-distributing operation yet, on International Women’s Day, it chose to completely ignore a hockey league that has a female commissioner, a female director of its players association, female general managers, a female head coach, female broadcasters, and the only operation in North America that pays females to play shinny. At some point, they should have advised us that the Boston Pride and Minnesota Whitecaps had won their semifinal matches on Sunday and advanced to the Isobel Cup final, scheduled for puck drop on Friday in Beantown. They didn’t, and that’s just wrong.

Sportsnet’s snub of the NWHL is particularly puzzling given that Kristina Rutherford’s in-depth look at commish Dani Rylan popped up on its website Sunday. It’s a terrific read on the woman who started the NWHL from scratch and is already planning for a sixth season.

And, finally, it’s about the Brier. After nine days of incredible shot-making and last-gasp dramatics, the boys delivered a dud in the Canadian men’s curling championship final in Kingston. It was like seeing Sinatra in concert all week, then getting Nickelback for a closing act. Brad Gushue and his pals from the Rock put on a clinic in a 7-3 win, while Brendan Bottcher and his bunch from Wild Rose Country coughed up a hair ball (many of them, actually). It was all over except for the muffled celebration after three ends, and that’s not the finish this exceptional bonspiel deserved.

Let’s talk about kids’ piggy banks, Peter Warren and empty seats…the Winnipeg Jets D…Tiger’s tell-all tome…a coverup in Tinseltown…dumb stuff at Sportsnet…St. Louis Blues visit the Trumps…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I understood some of what Don Cherry said on Saturday night, so I’ve made an appointment with my shrink…

Okay, kids, time to bust open the piggy banks and empty the coin jars.

And, hey, is it too soon to send an S.O.S. to Peter Warren, asking him to fire up the flatbed Ford and start tooting around town to prod senior citizens into turning over their pension cheques?

I know. Sounds crazy.

Bobby Hull and Peter Warren.

I mean, just because our hockey heroes recently performed in front of (unsold) empty seats for the first time (officially) since 2011, there’s no cause to declare a state of emergency. The Winnipeg Jets aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so let’s have no talk of Houston or Cleveland or San Diego or Ville de Quebec.

Still, for those of us who recall dire times and more than one Save The Jets campaign that really did include kids and piggy banks—and Warren turning his CJOB Action Line into a Jerry Lewis-style telethon—it feels like deja vu all over again.

We remember Warren’s pleas from the lobby of the Marlborough Hotel in June 1974, and on downtown streets in May 1995. The legendary broadcaster who always got “right down to business” did more groveling than a dude whose wife found the wrong shade of lipstick on his collar.

It worked in ’74. Not so much 21 years later.

Benny Hatskin

Benny Hatskin, noticing too many empty seats in the Winnipeg Arena and weary of writing cheques in red ink in 1974, turned his then-World Hockey Association franchise over—lock, stock and Bobby Hull’s hairpiece—to civic leaders with all the right intentions, but only after the rabble had ponied up in excess of $600,000 in nickels, dimes and cashier’s cheques not made of rubber.

One of the many who helped save the Jets that year was Margaret-Ann Farr, a 76-year-old who had earmarked $500 in savings for a trip to her homeland in Scotland. Instead, she gave it to the Jets, even though she had never seen them play. No, I can’t tell you if Maggie eventually found her way home to the ol’ sod, but I can tell you that your favorite hockey team was once owned by a dog, because one guy donated $25 on behalf of his pooch, Lady Jet.

And so it went.

The old barn on Maroons Road.

It was much the same in 1995—not enough customers in the old barn on Maroons Road, amped-up salaries ($13 million player payroll), lousy Canadian dollar and, most important, no one with deep pockets interested in frittering away what remained in their deep pockets. Again, they went hat in hand to the people and raised more than $13 million in a bid to preserve their National Hockey League outfit. Trouble was, they needed $32 million, thus the Jets swanned off to Arizona.

And now we’re noticing reminders of the way it was.

The Jets were 561 people short of a sellout at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie last Tuesday with the Arizona Coyotes in town. Two nights later, they were 262 shy of a full barn for a visit from the New York Islanders. The Jets payroll is now $75 million, with gusts up to $83 million depending on Dustin Byfuglien’s mood du jour, the dollar is about as strong as the Jets penalty-kill, True North is charging more for a beer and a hot dog than what a ticket cost back in the day, and some folks are taking out second mortgages to pay for their season packages.

The difference, of course, is in ownership.

David Thomson

This time around, the dude with the deepest pockets in the country, David Thomson, is part of the package, and you’re never going to see him standing at the corner of Portage and Main asking little, old ladies to nix a trip to Scotland so he and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman can keep Blake Wheeler and Rick Rat Scheifele in champagne and caviar.

A 4,000-person waiting list for season subscriptions suggests there’s plenty of shelf life left in these Winnipeg Jets, but I’m guessing some of you would probably feel a lot better if you were hearing that from Chipman instead of me.

Bottom line: You can tell your kids to keep what’s in their piggy banks. Once they’ve grown up, they can use it for college tuition or a mortgage on a nice house.

They just won’t be able to afford Jets season tickets.

Both main columnists with the daily rags weighed in on the head counts at last week’s Jets jousts, with Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab pointing to Good Ol’ Hometown’s “saturated” sports/shinny market as one possible reason for the non-sellouts. He added, “While there’s no sign a divorce is on the horizon, it seems the (fan/team) relationship is a lot more complicated than it used to be.” It isn’t complicated at all. As Paul Friesen pointed out in the Winnipeg Sun, it’s all about costs. The Jets, according to numerous folks who contacted Friesen, are pricing themselves out of their own market. As for a “saturated” market, what, they don’t have sports entertainment options in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver? As if.

If you’re wondering, the highest average head count for Jets 1.0 was 13,620 in 1985-96. That’s only 1,144 customers fewer than last week with the Coyotes in town, and they weren’t paying anyone $8.25 million per annum (hello, Blake Wheeler). In their final whirl at the old barn on Maroons Road, Jets 1.0 attracted an average of 11,316.

Tiger Woods has taken up the quill and will write a memoir to tell the “definitive story” of his life as a golf prodigy and icon. So we’ll finally get the answer to that burning question: “When Elin found out about all the blonde cocktail waitresses and escorts that Tiger was shagging, did she attack him with a nine-iron or a pitching wedge?”

HarperCollins Publishers considered several titles for Tiger’s tell-all tome before settling on Back, and it’s believed these were among the rejected suggestions:
1) Birdies, Bogeys, Bunkers & Bimbos.
2) That’s Not A Putter In My Pants…I’m Just Happy To See You.
3) T&A at the R&A (Tits & Ass at the Royal & Ancient).
4) Pin High & Horny.
5) Tiger Woods: My Pants Were Always Lower Than My Score.

News item: The NHL tells Valentin Zykov of the Vegas Golden Knights to get lost for 20 games because he either stuck a needle in his butt or swallowed a PED. Imagine that, a Russian using illegal drugs. Who would have thought?

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that young Ville Heinola has become the darling of the local media. The Finnish kid can do no wrong with news snoops, even when he’s doing something wrong on the Jets blueline. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just saying.

The more I watch the NHL, with its limited fisticuffs and greatly reduced body belting, the more I think of former Jets centre Peter Sullivan. Today’s game was made for the man we called Silky.

Stupid headline of the week No. 1, from Sportsnet: “Why the Maple Leafs need a statement game against struggling Wild.” Oh, c’mon man. No one makes a statement game against the Minnesota Wild, the worst team in the NHL. Beating a team with a pulse, like the Boston Bruins, is a statement game.

Stupid headline of the week No. 2, from the Drab Slab: “Pionk steadies young D.” Good grief, Charlie Brown. Two days earlier, the Jets surrendered seven—count ’em seven!—goals v. Sid and his Pittsburgh pals. Then they gave up a four-spot v. Arizona. Then three v. the Islanders. Fourteen goals in three games. That’s steady like the back of a garbage truck is a salad bar. The accompanying Taylor Allen article was no better. It read like a puff piece hot off the True North propaganda printing press. Look, it’s time the Drab Slab told the truth, which is this: Neal Pionk is a top pairing defenceman for one reason—everyone who can skate and chew gum at the same time left Dodge long ago, Josh Morrissey being the exception.

Oh, wait, now I’m really confused. Just four days after Allen’s puff piece on Pionk and the “steady” blueline, along comes Mad Mike McIntyre to tell us this about the Jets: “The needs are many, with two major areas of concern—the blue-line and the penalty kill.” I see. The steady defence actually sucks. Methinks the boys on the beat might want to exchange notes before hitting the send button.

Los Angeles Kings fans decided that Taylor Swift had a curse on their team, so a banner saluting the pop singer’s record number of sellouts at Staples Center is now blotted out by a large black cloth at each game. It’s the most talked-about coverup in Tinseltown since the O.J. Trial.

Stupid tweet of the week, from Kristina Rutherford of Sportsnet: “The NHL season is underway and MLB playoffs are happening and the #1 article on @sportsnet yesterday was about the @nwhl and pro women’s hockey. So I guess all y’all that say ‘nobody cares!’ about women’s hockey can go fly a kite.” That smacks of Grade 5 schoolyard na, na, na, na, na-ism. Yes, it’s juvenile. The placement of Rutherford’s article at the top of the main page on the Sportsnet website means just one thing—they did something dumb again. You know, like on Saturday morning after a Major League Baseball playoff game, numerous NHL games including the Edmonton McDavids, two CFL games, Brooke Henderson firing a hole-in-one and leading an LPGA tournament, Sportsnet’s main story was an exhibition basketball game. Like I said, dumb.

On the matter of Pontytail Puck, I wonder why it is that the National Women’s Hockey League refuses to include attendance figures in its game summaries. I asked but didn’t receive a reply. So I can only assume they’re embarrassed by the modest head counts.

I also find myself wondering why no one in mainstream media is challenging the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association on their true mission, which is to put the NWHL out of business. They can talk all they like about building a better future for little girls, but I’ll believe that fairy tale the day they actually sit down with NWHL commish Dani Rylan and look for ways to make the women’s game work. As it is, the PWHPA refuses to engage in meaningful dialogue, instead serving up a sham called the Dream Gap Tour.

Interesting take from Cathal Kelly on the St. Louis Blues’ visit to the Trump household last week. The Globe and Mail columnist had no problem with the Stanley Cup champions’ Tour de Oval Office, and he managed to squeeze in a swipe at National Basketball Association stars. “NBA players often make a bit of a deal announcing they will not set one foot in the White House while Trump remains in office, always to great cheers,” he wrote. “These are occasionally the same players who don’t know anything about China, won’t take questions about China and couldn’t find China on a map, all while they are in China.” Here’s my question: Why would NBA players need to find China on a map when they’re already in China?

Got a kick out of a couple tweets from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. Apparently, he’s “still walking on air” after being elected to the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, and he’s “still walking on air” about the Tranna Jurassics hoops title. I know the air is thick in the Republic of Tranna, but unless Steve has dropped a few pounds since I last saw him, it ain’t that thick.

And, finally, the Drab Slab devoted an entire page to curling in its Saturday edition. Nice. The three-part package included a sidebar from Taylor Allen on new mom Rachel Homan’s balancing act of mother-curler. Good stuff.

About no fear…the “experts” being wrong…Winnipeg Jets go from Team Bicker to Team Good Ship Lollipop?…getting paid to be wrong…and other Stanley Cup things on my mind

A mid-week smorgas-bored…and I might wear white tonight but I won’t be anywhere near downtown Pegtown…

So, how do you like the Winnipeg Jets now, kids?

More to the point, do you see an outfit still standing in the Stanley Cup tournament that the local hockey heroes should fear? I don’t either.

Oh, sure, the Vegas Golden Knights are an imposing group. Big, strong, swift, superb in goal. Washington? No, you wouldn’t want to wager a large wad of paper money against the Capitals successfully defending their championship and spending another summer engaged in liquor-fueled hijinks. Boston? Tranna? Calgary? Columbus? Colorado? The Islanders? Nashville? Meh.

Naturally, the St. Louis Blues still have something to say about les Jets’ shelf life in the National Hockey League annual spring runoff, and we wouldn’t want to get ahead of ourselves. However, after what we witnessed in two skirmishes in the Show Me State, it should be apparent that the lads from St. Loo can match Winnipeg HC’s work ethic but not its skill.

Connor Hellebuyck

And that includes the boys in the blue paint, now that Connor Hellebuyck is turning away pucks as adeptly as he rejects objectionable questions and any suggestion that his stuff stinks.

In leveling their best-of-seven playoff series with a 2-1 W—on the strength of Kyle Connor’s OT tally and Hellebuyck’s gaffe-free goaltending on Tuesday night at the Enterprise Center—les Jets absorbed the best of the Blues and didn’t flinch. They just kind of shrugged and went about their business. And they now return to the Little Hockey House On The Prairie for tonight’s Game 5, confident that they’ve found their stride and convinced that Jordan Binnington is no longer the boogyman everyone made him out to be.

But, yes, it’s fair to wonder where these guys have been all year, and to ask if the phantom turn-off, turn-on switch that we keep hearing about really does exist.

I mean, going into this fray, les Jets had more skeptics than Christ in his heyday and, after dropping the first two jousts vs. the Blues, the bandwagon was emptying faster than a classroom on the last day of school.

Gord Stellick

Craig Button of TSN, for example, described Winnipeg HC as “the weakest team going into the playoffs.”

Over at Sportsnet, 10 of 16 “experts” in a preseason poll predicted a Western Conference crown for les Jets, but that number was reduced to just one—Gord Stellick—when 22 “experts” sifted through the tea leaves in a playoff poll.

Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, meanwhile, cited “multiple sources” to inform us that les Jets were “rotten to the core,” with discontent spreading through the changing room like a flesh-eating malignancy.

Yet here we are today with this “rotten” and “weakest” and “dysfunctional” team coming home with swagger after imposing its will on the Blues in St. Loo.

Shows you what the “experts” know.

Exactly what do the “experts” really know? No more than you and I or most lumps on bar stools. In the Sportsnet playoff poll, here’s how 22 “experts” saw the first round of the Stanley Cup tournament:

Tampa Bay vs. Columbus: 22-0 for TB. D’oh!
Pittsburgh vs. Islanders: 16-6 for Pitt. D’oh!
Boston vs. Tranna: 16-6 for the Bs.
Washington vs. Carolina: 21-1 for the Caps.
Calgary vs. Colorado: 22-0 for Cowtown.
Vegas vs. San Jose: 16-6 for Glitter Gulch.
Nashville vs. Dallas: 13-9 for Twang Town.
St. Loo vs. Winnipeg: 14-8 for the U.S. gateway.

Meanwhile, 21 of 22 had Tampa Bay winning the Eastern Conference and 18 of 22 predicted the Stanley Cup being paraded through the streets of Tampa in June. Only Kristina Rutherford (Boston), Stellick (Winnipeg), David Amber (Calgary) and Nick Kypreos (St. Louis) chose other outfits.

In short, they know squat.

Interesting that Drab Slab “expert” McIntyre is singing from a different songbook today, suggesting les Jets now are one big happy family.

Here’s what he told us on April 5: “Things appear to be rotten to the core with this team in a way that goes beyond the often lethargic, uninspired play we’ve seen on the ice far too many nights lately.” Mike M added that “multiple sources” informed him and fellow beat writer Jason Bell that “things are anything but rosy” and “there’s no joy to be found.”

Here’s what he’s telling us now: “Another positive to emerge for the Jets is the increased talk of unity among teammates, both in the room and on the ice. Having been around this team all season, you get a pretty good sense of where the mood is at on a daily basis. Without question, players are as laser focused and locked in as they’ve been all season.”

Imagine that. All that alleged friction (“chaos”), all that alleged animosity (“infighting”), all that alleged rot (“dysfunction”) vanished faster than summer wages. Team Bicker has morphed into Team Good Ship Lollipop. Why, it’s a tap water-into-Molson Canadian miracle. Which one of the guys in that room wears sandals and walks on water? Blake Wheeler? Rink Rat Scheifele? Big Buff? Josh Morrissey?

It’ll make for a boffo story if les Jets pull this thing off. Except former cops-and-robbers reporter McIntyre apparently has the innuendo but not the facts, ma’am.

Puck Finn

Quickie question 1: Does the regular season bore Patrik Laine? I mean, the Puck Finn I’ve been watching in Beard Season isn’t the same Puck Finn I watched from October to April. Maybe the mystery Miracle Worker in les Jets changing room sprinkled him with happy dust. Or threatened to huck his track suit into the ice tub.

Just for the record, I’m not wearing a pair of Hindsight Goggles when I say les Jets will get by the Blues. I remind you of something I scribbled on Feb. 26, one day after the NHL shop-and-swap deadline: “What about the St. Louis Blues, you ask? What about them? Don’t be fooled by their run of good fortune. Once the puck stops hitting Jordan Binnington, they’ll be back to run-of-the-mill.” I also mentioned something about a Nashville-Winnipeg skirmish in the second round. And, as recently as last week, I wrote that the local lads were not “a writeoff” even though they were in a 0-2 hole vs. the Blues at the time. But, hey, what do I know? I mean, I’ve never seen the inside of of their changing room to monitor the “mood” and I don’t have “multiple sources” like Mike M at the Drab Slab. I do it the old-fashioned way. I examine the rosters, watch the games, listen to some of the players wag their chins, then call it as I see it. The difference between the “experts” and me? They get paid to be wrong, I don’t.

Nazem Kadri

Quickie question 2: If Nazem Kadri is made available by the Tranna Maple Leafs once this Stanley Cup business is out of the way, should les Jets put in a bid on the loose cannon? No. Too much of a wingnut.

Check out the top three point-producers in the Stanley Cup tournament: Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny, all added to the Vegas Golden Knights roster by general manager George McPhee in the past 10 months. Can you say GM of the year, kids?

Mitch Marner

Quickie question 3: When the time comes to talk turkey, how can les Leafs possibly argue that Mitch Marner doesn’t deserve as much coin as Auston Matthews? Unless they pay by the chin whisker, there’s no measure by which Matthews is worth more than Marner.

Headline in the Globe and Mail after Game 3 of Leafs-Bruins series: “Auston Matthews grabs the playoff spotlight for Maple Leafs.” Good grief. Marner and John Tavares were les Leafs best players, not Matthews.

And, finally, rumor has it that there’ll be a gathering in late May to acknowledge the 40th anniversary of les Jets third and final World Hockey Association championship. Will the current Jets still be in business by then? Yes. Absolutely. But remember, I’m no expert.