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?

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About drinking the Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid…a pity party…size doesn’t really matter…beer-league hockey and a bean counter…a losing MVP…Nathan MacKinnon for MVP…Shaq’s still PO’d about Steve Nash…women in the broadcast booth…and Le Grand Orange bids adieu

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

I didn’t think anyone would buy the “everything goes under the radar when you play in Winnipeg,” bunk that Jets captain Blake Wheeler was selling last week. Other than the gullible, fawning faithful, that is.

But along comes Paul Wiecek and he’s actually swallowing that cup of Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid.

Right to the very last drop.

Here’s what the Winnipeg Free Press columnist wrote about Wheeler’s “under the radar” malarkey: “That might have been true before this season. In fact, it almost certainly was true.”

In fact, it almost certainly was not true.

Which National Hockey League outfit, the Jets (versions 1.0 and 2.0) or the mega-market Tranna Maple Leafs, do you suppose has produced more individual regular-season award winners and more all-stars since River City was invited to join the fun for the 1979-80 season (excluding, of course, the years when Winnipeg was dark)? I’ll give you a hint: It isn’t the team that skates in the shadow of the CN Tower.

Here are the facts, ma’am…just the facts (they aren’t hard to find):

Winnipeg Jets 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17

Calder Trophy: Dale Hawerchuk 1981-82, Teemu Selanne 1992-93
Jack Adams Trophy: Tom Watt 1981-82, Bob Murdoch 1989-90
King Clancy Memorial Trophy: Kris King 1995-96
All-star teams (1st or 2nd): Hawerchuk 1984-85, Selanne 1992-93, Keith Tkachuk 1994-95, Phil Housley 1991-92, Alexei Zhamnov 1994-95
Rookie all-star team: Selanne 1992-93, Bob Essensa 1989-90, Iain Duncan 1987-88, Boris Mironov 1993-94, Patrik Laine 2016-17
Total: 5 individual awards, 5 all-star teams, 5 rookie all-stars15.

Tranna Maple Leafs 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17

Calder Trophy: Auston Matthews 2016-17
Frank Selke Trophy: Doug Gilmour 1992-93
Jack Adams Trophy: Pat Burns 1992-93
All-star teams: Borje Salming 1979-80
Rookie all-star team: Felix Potvin 1992-93, Wendel Clark 1985-86, Dan Daoust 1982-83, Kenny Jonsson 1994-95, Jake Gardiner 2011-12, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews 2016-17
Total: 3 individual awards, 1 all-star team, 7 rookie all-stars—11.

We all know les Leafs fly “under the radar” like Donald Trump is subtle on Twitter, yet voters have ignored them season after season after season.

Teemu Selanne and the Calder Trophy

Consider the Calder Trophy as an e.g. Until Auston Matthews was anointed the NHL’s leading freshman last spring, do you know how long it had been since a member of les Leafs won the top frosh bauble? Fifty-one freaking years! Half a century! When Brit Selby accepted the trinket, Lester Pearson was Prime Minister of Canada. Neil Young had just joined Buffalo Springfield. Hockey Night in Canada was still televised in black and white.

But two Jets—Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne—copped the Calder after Selby and before Mathews. And a third, Patrik Laine, was runnerup last year.

Go figure.

This whole Winnipeg is “under the radar” thing is a total copout. It’s such a lame lament. It sounds like the theme of an “Oh, woe are we” pity party. I can hear Leslie Gore singing “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” as I type. Rodney Dangerfield should be their poster boy. No respect, I’ll tell ya…no respect. Look, I get the drill. Winnipeg is mocked, maligned and ridiculed as a backwater burg. It’s so remote, you have to drive 500 miles just to get to the Middle of Nowhere, also known as Regina. But I invite anyone to provide evidence in support of the notion that a Jets player or coach has been cheated out of an award due to locale.

Blake Wheeler

Wiecek didn’t stop at one swig of the Jets Kool-Aid. He doubled down on the conspiracy theory in a follow-up essay: “There has been some loose talk in recent weeks about Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler having an outside shot at taking down this season’s Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player,” he wrote. “That’s not going to happen for a lot of reasons, beginning with the fact the Hart Trophy is voted upon by the media and Wheeler plays in the smallest media market in the entire NHL.” He wants to talk about size? Like size matters? Okay, let’s talk size. If Winnipeg is the nail on your little toe, Edmonton is the nail on your pinky finger. Yet the Oilers won 30—count ’em, 30—individual awards that are voted on (mostly by the media), 10 of them going to players not named Wayne Gretzky (in the years Winnipeg wasn’t dark). There were also 32 first- or second-team all-star selections, including six chosen to the rookie team. In the National Football League, tinytown Green Bay can boast of eight Associated Press MVP awards from five players, dating back to the early 1960s. The Goliath known as New York City, with two teams since 1970, has had just two NFL MVPs. Size doesn’t matter, performance does.

Scott Foster shuts the door on Paul Stastny.

So, the mighty Jets juggernaut couldn’t put a puck past a bean counter who plays goal in a beer league at Johnny’s Ice House West in Chicago. They tried for 14 minutes and one second. They tested him seven times. Nada. Scott Foster, the Blackhawks backup goaltender to the backup goaltender, was perfect on Thursday night at the United Center. His NHL career goals-against average is 0.00. I swear, there hasn’t been a better emergency replacement story in sports since Lou Gehrig took over at first base for Wally Pipp and the New York Yankees. Difference is, Gehrig hung in there for another 2,130 consecutive games. Bean Counter Foster didn’t quit his day job. He went back to his spreadsheets the following morning, knowing he’s the NHL’s feel-good story of the year. Brilliant stuff.

Al Rollins

Speaking of Chitown goaltenders, does the name Al Rollins mean anything to you? Didn’t think so. Well, he tended goal for Chicago in 1953-54. The Blackhawks occupied the cellar in the NHL that season. They won just 12 of 70 assignments, missing the playoffs by a whopping 43 points. Rollins’ 3.23 goals-against average was worst in the league. Guess who was NHL MVP. Yup, Al Rollins. So don’t tell me Connor McDavid shouldn’t be considered for the Hart Trophy simply because his Oilers teammates suck and didn’t qualify for this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament. History records that numerous outriders have been MVP, in all leagues. Andre (Hawk) Dawson, for example, was MVP on a Major League Baseball bottom-feeder. Ditto Alex Rodriguez. Here’s a partial list of non-playoff MVPs: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles Lakers,1975-76; Larry Walker, Colorado Rockies, 1997; Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants, 2001, 2004; Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers, 2003; Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies, 2006; Albert Puhols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2008; O.J. Simpson, Buffalo Bills, 1973; Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts, 1967; Andre Dawson, Chicago Cubs, 1987; Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals, 2015; Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins, 2017; Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 2016; Robin Yount, Milwaukee Brewers, 1989; Cal Ripken, Baltimore Orioles, 1991; Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs, 1958-59; Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins, 1987-88; Andy Bathgate, New York Rangers, 1958-59.

If I had a vote, I’d be inclined to give serious consideration to Brad Marchand as MVP in the NHL, because the Boston Bruins would be in Nowheresville without him. But I’d have to hold my nose if I included him on my ballot, because he’s a skunk. A total dweeb. People say Marchand plays “with an edge,” but I disagree. He plays dirty. He’s also a diver. Ultimately, I’d have his name on my ballot, but not at the top. I’d put Nathan MacKinnon and his 93 points/11 game-winning goals for the Colorado Avalanche first, followed by McDavid. Yup, possibly two non-playoff participants one-two. I’d have Blake Wheeler of les Jets third (he plays an honest game as opposed to Marchand’s shenanigans), then Sidney Crosby (Evgeni Malkin has marginally better numbers, but Sid the Kid still makes the Pittsburgh Penguins tick) and Marchand.

I’m not a hoops fan. Never have been. But it’s boffo that Victoria’s Steve Nash will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, in part because he was a two-time National Basketball Association most valuable player. Mind you, his former sidekick with the Phoenix Suns, Shaquille O’Neal, figures Nash’s two MVP awards were a rob job. “(I should have won) three, easily. (I should have won) the two that Steve Nash got over me. It pisses me off. (Nash) knows,” Shaq once told SI.com. Get over it, Shaq.

How unusual, also refreshing, to hear an all-female broadcast team work a hockey game. Sportsnet pulled it off with Leah Hextall handling the play-by-play, Cassie Campbell-Pascall providing the backup vocals in the booth, and Nikki Reyes standing at rink-side for the Clarkson Cup, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League title match between the Markham Thunder and Kunlun Red Star. Wonder how long it will be before we hear three women working an NHL game? No doubt the very thought will make a lot of men cringe and feel like they’ve been gelded. Well, it’ll happen one day. Deal with it, boys.

Le Grand Orange

Le Grand Orange has left the building. That would be Rusty Staub, who died Thursday, three days before his 74th birthday. I have one vivid memory of Staub—he stole a base in the first Major League Baseball game I witnessed live. An original member of the Montreal Expos, Staub was with the Detroit Tigers at the time and I was sitting in the first base bleachers at old Exhibition Stadium in the Republic of Tranna. Because he had the foot speed of an ATM, the Blue Jays thought it unlikely that Staub would bolt. Yet away he went. It was like watching a man pull a milk wagon. I could have poured back three pints by the time he arrived at second base. But he got there safely. Standing up, no less. Staub stood there, smiling, like a schoolboy who’d pulled the perfect prank. A nice memory.

And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: Not so long ago, he described the induction of Pedro Martinez to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as a “ridiculous choice. He spent four seasons in Montreal. That’s all.” Apparently, that made the Hall “look cheap.” And “Do you honestly believe a player with four years service belongs in a Hall of Fame? Any Hall of Fame?” Ah, but now he writes glowingly of Staub as “the baseball player in Canada so many of us cared about. The first who mattered across the country.” Staub actually spent less time with the Expos than Martinez, just 3 ½ season with the Expos, but he was inducted into the CBHF in 2012 and I don’t hear Grandpa Simmons shouting that it was a “ridiculous choice.” Nor should he. So shut up about Pedro, Steve.