About the Winnipeg Jets at the halfway mark…Acts II and III of the NHL season…Chevy’s next move…trading Puck Finn for Matthew Tkachuk…the awfulness of Twitter and NFL replays…’oddly compelling’…Yahoo searches…and sharing oxygen with the giants

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if NFL replay guys don’t know a catch from a fumble or where to place the football, how are we supposed to know?

These Winnipeg Jets are an interesting study.

They have arrived at the midway mark of their regular-season crusade where many of us figured them to be—atop the Western Conference table—but they seem to be something of a tease.

Clearly among the National Hockey League elite, they go about their business in a very workmanlike manner, determined and purposeful, yet it’s as if they’re holding something in reserve, offering only hints of what might be.

They have strut, but they fall noticeably short of cock-of-the-walk arrogance, which is a good thing. It’s as if they know they’re damn good, but they also seem to know they aren’t damn near good enough.

Perhaps that’s the lesson learned from their dizzying ascent and subsequent comeuppance in last spring’s Stanley Cup runoff, when they were found to be a brick or two short of a load and eventually bowed to the upstarts from Las Vegas in the tournament semifinals.

Let’s face it, the NHL season is a three-part play: Act I is October-November-December hockey, Act II is January-February-March hockey, Act III is the beast known as the playoffs. You can get by with good in Act I. You need to up your game in Act II. Only great is acceptable in Act III.

And lest there be any doubt, it has become all about Act III for Winnipeg HC, not the regular season.

Puck Finn

Given that our hockey heroes have stared into the maw of the playoff beast, it follows that they surely recognize what lies in front of them will be contested at a higher in-your-face intensity. The grit quotient required to achieve the most favorable playoff seeding is amped up. It takes Blake Wheeler kind of grit. Does Winnipeg HC have enough of it? Well, every time I see Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine floating aimlessly about the freeze, I think not. Then I see Mathieu Perreault busting his hump along the wall and I think, “Ya, man, that’s how it’s done. Puck Finn take note.” Never thought I’d say it, but les Jets need more Perreault and less Puck Finn.

Chevy

Forty-one games in, I harbor the same concerns that I had in early October—centre ice and defence. I didn’t expect general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff to tinker with his roster pre-Christmas, but, as I wrote before they dropped the puck, he’ll have to do something before crunch time. I don’t think this Jets outfit is as good as the group that bowed out vs. the Vegas Golden Knights last spring. Mind you, at least one pundit begs to differ. “I think it is. (They’re) very much as good as last year,” says TSN talking head Mike Johnson. Except he then mentions the need for an upgrade at—you guessed it—centre ice. “Ideally” Bryan Little would be on the third line and Chevy would go out and grab someone to slide into the No. 2 slot. “That’s the one spot the Jets might want to try and address,” Johnson suggests. So if I’m hearing him correctly, Johnson figures les Jets are as good as before, except they aren’t. Sure. And Milan Lucic is the same beast he was in 2011, except he isn’t.

Blake Wheeler and Rink Rat Scheifele

Hightlight of les Jets’ first 41 skirmishes for me? Rink Rat Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. They just keep getting it done. And, unlike a lot of folks, I’m not convinced that Scheifele is the most valuable player on the Jets. I still say it’s Wheeler.

Question to ask yourself, Part I: Would you trade les Jets roster even up for the Golden Knights roster? I wouldn’t either, so why did Vegas get to the Stanley Cup final last spring and why does it have more wins and points than Winnipeg HC today (after a horrendous start to the season)? Could the reason be found behind the bench? Just asking.

Matthew Tkachuk

Question to ask yourself, Part II: Would you trade Laine even up for Matthew Tkachuk? I think I might. All that glitters with Puck Finn is goals. The rest of his game? Meh to disastrous. Tkachuk, on the other hand, brings a more complete package, including serious snark. Just turned 21, he’s already an assistant captain with the Calgary Flames, and I don’t think Keith’s kid takes a shift off, let alone a month. He has the kind of jam you need in the post-season, and his 49 points tower over Puck Finn’s 32. Nobody’s saying Chevy coughed up a hairball in choosing Puck Finn second overall in the 2016 NHL auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers, but, based on career growth to date, Tkachuk might have been the better choice. I wouldn’t have said that a year ago.

Latest sign that the world has gone stark-raving mad: Cody Parkey flubs a field goal attempt that eliminates the Chicago Bears from the National Football League playoffs, and he receives death threats on Twitter. That’s some kind of scary stuff.

I’m a big fan of replay in sports. I’m not a big fan of replay officials. I mean, some of the decision-making in Sunday’s NFL wild-card skirmishing was as ridiculous as the gown Lady Gaga wore to the Golden Globe Awards gala. (Seriously. The train on that thing was longer than most of the passes Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson tossed.)

Kawhi Leonard

This from Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail: “After only four months in the country, Kawhi Leonard has become the most oddly compelling athlete in the country.” I really wish sports scribes working in the Republic of Tranna would stop telling those of us who live in the colonies what we’re thinking. It’s rude and offensive. I read all of Canada’s major dailies, and I don’t see any of our flowers of jock journalism (outside The ROT) writing about Leonard or the Raptors. Leonard and the Tranna Raptors are not a topic of conversation where I live. Of the athletes most searched on Yahoo! Canada in 2018, Leonard is nowhere to be found. Genie Bouchard is there. Brooke Henderson is there. Erik Karlsson is there. But not Kawhi Leonard. Among the top 10 sports searches, the Raptors fell into the seventh slot, behind soccer’s World Cup, the Tranna Blue Jays, Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens. Leonard and the Raptors are a “thing” in The ROT. Nowhere else.

Genie Bouchard

If we do have a most “oddly compelling” athlete, it has to be tennis diva Bouchard. I mean, aside from flashing a great amount of flesh in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, she did nothing of note in 2018. She’s short on charisma and seemingly long on sourpuss-ism. So how is it that she was the second most-searched athlete on Yahoo! Canada, behind only Tiger Woods? I guess it’s not how many tennis matches you win that counts, it’s how many pieces of clothing you remove. Here are the Yahoo! Canada search lists for ’18:

Overall
Donald Trump
Tranna Blue Jays
Tranna Maple Leafs
Justin Trudeau
Meghan Markle
The Canadian dollar
Doug Ford
Melania Trump
World Cup
Winnipeg Jets

Athletes
Tiger Woods
Eugenie Bouchard
Serena Williams
LeBron James
Cristiano Ronaldo
Brooke Henderson
Erik Karlsson
Conor McGregor
Ronda Rousey
Roger Federer

Sports
Word Cup
Tranna Blue Jays
Tranna Maple Leafs
Winnipeg Jets
Edmonton Oilers
Montreal Canadiens
Tranna Raptors
Vancouver Canucks
Australian Open
U.S. Open (tennis)

matty
Matty

And, finally, as a follow-up to comments I made Sunday about old friend Paul Friesen’s superb, thoughtful and touching piece on legendary broadcaster Bob Picken in the Winnipeg Sun, I must mention how fortunate and blessed I was to have worked with, and against, some of the men from what Paul F. described as the “golden age” of sports media in Good Ol’ Hometown. It was a treat and privilege to rub shoulders with Pick, Jack Matheson, Don Wittman, John Robertson, Hal Sigurdson, Jack Wells, Don Wittman et al. I certainly didn’t belong in their class, but it was kind of them to share the classroom with me.

About Rink Rat Scheifele and the Hart Trophy…Lites out for Dallas Stars…Humpty Harold Ballard’s harrumphing…Fergy hurling B. Hull under the bus…firing the coach mid-game…dumb Canadians and dumber Americans…and wrinkles in the broadcast booth

The final Sunday smorgas-bored of the year…and congratulations to all you men out there who began your Christmas shopping at 3 p.m. on Christmas eve and managed to finish before closing time at the mall. You are a credit to your species, such as it is…

Rink Rat Scheifele

It is with more than a smidgen of skepticism that I note the well-meaning boys on the beat have begun to pump Rink Rat Scheifele’s tires.

Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun describes him as “a bona fide Hart Trophy candidate.”

Jason Bell of the Winnipeg Free Press writes: “If the Jets maintain their altitude in the NHL standings, the 26-year-old from Kitchener, Ont., simply must be in the Hart Trophy conversation as the most valuable player.”

Bell’s accomplice at the Drab Slab, Mike McIntyre, joins the hallelujah chorus by scribbling, “No doubt Scheifele is a contender right now for the most coveted trophy in the sport.”

Connor McDavid

Yes, it’s all rah-rah-rah and sis-boom-bah for the Good Ol’ Hometown hero.

Trouble is, I have yet to hear the “Mark Scheifele for MVP” rallying cry from beyond Manitoba’s boundaries. Mostly, the Winnipeg Jets centre is mentioned in passing while scribes and broadcasters deliver gobsmacking praise for the work of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, Ovie, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Mitch Marner, John Gibson, Johnny Gaudreau and, of course, Connor McDavid.

I’m not saying the Rink Rat doesn’t belong in the conversation, understand. I’m just saying he isn’t feeling the love hither and yon.

Mmmmmm, fast food.

Frankly, the Hart Trophy ought not be a talking point these days, but I suppose news snoops and opinionists were looking for something to write and gab about during the Christmas lull and before we embark on the dog days of the National Hockey League season. So, okay, let’s have at it. The most valuable player is McDavid. I mean, remove McMagnifique from the Edmonton Oilers lineup and the Oil would disappear faster than a Big Mac and a bucket of KFC on Air Force One. The same can’t be said about any of the other “candidates,” including Scheifele.

Jamie Benn, Jim Lites, Tyler Seguin

That wasn’t just a bus that Jim Lites hurled Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin under the other day. It was the entire Greyhound fleet. If you missed it, here’s what the Dallas Stars CEO had to say about his two top-salaried players (reader advisory: includes harsh language): “They are fucking horse shit, I don’t know how else to put it. We are a stars-driven league, and our stars aren’t getting it done. These guys are not good enough. They’re not good enough for me, they’re not good enough for the owner, and they’re certainly not good enough for the general manager.” That, be advised, was after a win. Good grief, what does the guy do after a loss? Pluck the wings off house flies? Kick small dogs? Force his players to listen to Celine Dion albums?

Humpty Harold

The thing that surprised me about the Lites rant was the reaction from hockey pundits (hello Nick Kypreos) who can’t recall anyone in NHL management/ownership going off on a player.

What, they’ve already forgotten about Humpty Harold Ballard?

Not much pleased Humpty Harold, the cranky and cartoonish crook who once bankrolled the Tranna Maple Leafs. He harbored a particularly strong distaste for female reporters (“If they want to take their clothes off and talk to the players, fine. But I warn them they’ll have a lot more trouble getting out than they did getting in.”), and he had no patience for timid hockey players. He lashed out at his workers as frequently as a priest prays, and Humpty Harold’s harrumphing always was on public record.

Of Inge Hammarstrom, Ballard once said the slick Swedish forward “could go into the corner with a dozen eggs in his pocket and not break any of them.” Laurie Boschman, one of the nicest kids you could meet, was “soft” because he had “too much religion.” It didn’t matter to Humpty Harold that young Laurie had been laid low with mononucleosis and blood poisoning. Bosch, he reasoned, was a known Bible thumper, ergo a wimp. Not surprisingly, neither Hammarstrom or Boschman lasted long in the Republic of Tranna.

Bobby Hull and John Ferguson

Closer to home, John Bowie Ferguson hurled Bobby Hull under the Greyhound early in the 1979-80 season, the Jets first in the NHL.

Hull, then 40, had come in from the cattle farm to end his retirement, and he struggled mightily due to rust and a wonky left shoulder. His personal numbers were modest (four goals, six assists in 18 starts) and the club functioned better without the Golden Jet in the lineup (6-7-1) than with him (5-10-3). So I called Fergy at home one night to get his take on Hull. Turns out it was a hot take.

“No, I don’t think Bobby has helped our hockey club at all,” the Jets general manager said with the bluntness of a sledge hammer. “Something is missing. He really is a very undisciplined hockey player and I don’t know if he can adapt. That freewheeling style would be fine if it was getting results. But it’s not.”

Hull never pulled on Jets linen again.

I recall one other public flogging, in the Western Canada Hockey League. Gerry Brisson, president and general manager of the Winnipeg Clubs, removed head coach George Dorman from behind the bench during the middle of a game! True story. It was November 1975. The Flin Flon Bombers were laying a licking on the Clubs, leading 4-1 through 40 minutes, and Brisson had seen enough. He therefore instructed Dorman to observe the final period from the pews in the old barn on Maroons Road, replacing him with the team trainer, Adam Tarnowski, who knew as much about coaching hockey as a cow knows about climbing trees. “I did it for shock value,” Brisson said after the fact. Didn’t work. His Clubs lost 5-2. More shocking than Dorman getting yanked in-game? He kept his job. That is correct. Brisson embarrassed the hell out of Dorman by forcing him to sit among the rabble, but he didn’t fire his coach. Go figure.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir

I believe we have arrived at the end of the annual, year-end trinket giveaway for Jocks and Jills in the True North Strong and Free, and the best of our best during the past 12 months—as decreed by news snoops from the left to right flank of the land—are golfer Brooke Henderson, fancy skaters Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir and moguls skier Mikael Kingsbury. Any arguments? You bet. The girls and boys at The Canadian Press got it right by naming Henderson and Kingsbury the top female and male athletes and Virtue/Moir the best team, but those who voted for the Lou Marsh Trophy coughed up a hair ball. Henderson, not Kingsbury, should have won.

Brooke Henderson

Here’s why we shouldn’t take the Lou Marsh Trophy seriously: It’s a total clown act. I mean, consider Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail. He stumped for tennis player Daniel Nestor, who went 0-for-2018 and quit. Kelly’s boss, sports editor Shawna Richer, had a hissy fit when she couldn’t vote for a team (Virtue/Moir) as the winner of an individual award, so she left her ballot blank.

Then there’s Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. He squawked in support of Connor McDavid, Kingsbury and Marc-Andre Fleury (really?), and pooh-poohed any notion that Henderson should be declared our top athlete. Why? Because lady golfers just don’t rate.

“The LPGA Tour is primarily a one-country pursuit,” he said on TSN radio. “You look at the leaderboards every single week and it’s the same country and it’s the same golfers and it’s the same five or six women. It is so Korean dominated there’s not even any other country that competes, compares.”

This is a guy who clearly does not have a clue, yet he has a vote. Here are some numbers from the LPGA Tour in 2018:

Wins by country: U.S.A., 9; South Korea 9; Thailand, 5; Canada, Japan 2 each; Australia, New Zealand, U.K., Sweden, Mexico 1 each.

Winners: 26 different champions in 32 events.

Multiple winners: 4 (Canadian, Japanese, Thai, South Korean).

Money leaders: Top 20—7 Americans, 5 South Koreans, 2 Thai, 2 Australian, 1 Canadian, Japanese, Spanish, English; Top 50—19 Americans, 10 Koreans; Top 100—34 Americans, 18 Koreans.

Clearly Henderson competes in a sport that is far more global than moguls skiing, and it is dominated by Americans moreso than South Koreans. These facts aren’t difficult to dig up, but Simmons has never been one to let facts get in the way of a misguided rant.

Oh, let’s not forget that the Postmedia chain of bare-bones sports departments anointed Henderson and soccer player Alphonso Davies as the top jocks in the land. Please give Postmedia CEO and noted skinflint Paul Godfrey a quarter and tell him to call someone who cares.

Serena Williams

Staying with the dumb and dumber theme, The Associated Press voters totally lost the plot in selecting Serena Williams and LeBron James as 2018 top jocks in Trumpland. Seriously. Exactly what did Williams do in 2018? Well, she put on a catsuit at the French Open and, a few months later, staged one of the most demonstrative, appalling, pathetic pity party’s in the history of professional sports. When not busy putting a horrible damper on Naomi Osaka’s U.S. Open victory, Williams won zero tournaments and was 18-6 overall. Meanwhile, gymnast Simone Biles won gold (four), silver (1) and bronze (1) medals at the world championships. Like Williams, King James won zip, yet still got the nod over Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox. The Mookster was the American League batting champion, the AL most valuable player, a Gold Glove winner, a Silver Slugger winner, and a World Series champion. That’s the baseball version of a royal flush. But, sorry Mookie, that just doesn’t cut it. And I thought our jock journos had dumbed down.

Doris Burke

And, finally, I’ll end the final Sunday smorgas-bored of the year with a quote from ESPN hoops broadcaster Doris Burke: “I promise you I’m not having plastic surgery. I’m 52. I’ve earned every wrinkle on my face. I actually like my wrinkles. And guess what? There are a lotta 60-year-old men who have wrinkles, no hair, glasses, and nobody gives a damn. It’s about time that woman my age or above, if she chooses to go into her 60s as an announcer, she should be allowed to do just that.”

About the real villains in the Jacob Trouba-Winnipeg Jets saga…Marcus Stroman bashing in the media…fancy skaters winning a hockey trophy…T.O. to T.O.?…the CFL’s violence against women policy…a perfect choice for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award…and is Neymar still rolling?

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

Jacob Trouba

So, if I’m reading the rabble accurately, here’s the lay of the land for the Winnipeg Jets:

Connor Hellebuyck is an aw shucks, gosh-darn good guy because, like Rink Rat Scheifele and Twig Ehlers before him, he re-upped with no muss, no fuss.

Ditto Adam Lowry and Brandon Tanev.

Josh Morrissey is also every inch and ounce a gosh-darn good guy because, without the arbitration option, he will eagerly accept whatever coin the National Hockey League club tosses his way and utter nary a discouraging word. Again, no muss, no fuss.

And, of course, there’s ownership/management. They’re a bunch of swell dudes, too, because they’ve refused to cow to Jacob Trouba’s ridiculous salary demands and his trade ask of two years ago. Doesn’t matter that they lowballed him with a slap-in-the-face number ($4 million) ahead of their arbitration hearing on Friday in the Republic of Tranna. That’s just business.

Jacob Trouba…now there’s your resident villain.

Josh Morrissey

The Jets defenceman thinks he’s worth $7 million. The cheeky sod. Doesn’t he realize that les Jets are staring at a salary cap crunch? He’s thinking only of himself again, not the team. He’s arrogant, ignorant and selfish right? Run his Sad Sack heinie out of Dodge!

Except I don’t see it that way.

I mean, okay, once upon a time Trouba asked for a trade and temporarily withdrew his services. He filed for salary arbitration this summer and someone in an expensive suit stated his case on Friday morning. Last time I looked, none of that was included in our criminal code. He’s guilty of no wrong-doing.

Look, I could understand the scorn and hostility heaped upon Trouba had he been playing like a pylon and flitting about the countryside, acting like a dipstick of the Evander Kane ilk. Or if he’d said Good Ol’ Hometown is dark, cold and in dire need of a WiFi upgrade. But no. So, why is it that so many among the rabble think Trouba isn’t worth a roll of butt wipe, let alone the Jets’ shameful arbitration gambit of $4 million?

I just don’t get it.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Frankly, I’m inclined to paint Jets management/ownership as the villain in the Trouba saga. I mean, if Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff truly want him on board for the duration, they have a peculiar way of pitching woo. Seriously. An opening bid of $4 million? Hey, I understand negotiations. Been there, done that, don’t wear the t-shirt. But in offering Trouba $4M, here’s what they’re telling their top-pairing D-man: “Love you loads, Jake, and it’s damn straight that we’ll keep sending you over the boards to shut down the other team’s best players, but we don’t believe you’re worth as much coin as Dmitry Kulikov, our third-pairing D-man. But, hey, don’t take it personal.” Of course Trouba will take it personal, then get out of Dodge five seconds after he becomes an unrestricted free agent two years hence.

For the record, here’s what Trouba said in May when interrogated by news snoops who sought insight re his thoughts on remaining in River City: “You get the sense there’s a little unfinished business with this team. We all have such good relationships on this team, it’s fun to be a part of. Ya, it’s a special team, you wanna play for a contender, and that’s what we have here. I haven’t put a whole ton of thought into it yet, the season just ended, but I’m sure in the next week or two, couple days, I’ll meet with my agent and we’ll go over stuff and we’ll see where it goes from there, let him talk to Chevy and I’m sure something will be worked out. Quicker the better.” So, was he sincere or were his pants on fire? Since neither you or I live or visit inside Trouba’s head, we don’t know. It’s total guess work, and the fact that his agent, Kurt Overhardt, and Cheveldayoff arrived at a contract impasse doesn’t mean Trouba lied.

Patrick Roy

Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, Trouba desires a new postal/zip code and is slumming in Good Ol’ Hometown until such time as les Jets peddle him or he’s a UFA. That makes him unique how? Apparently John Tavares wanted off Long Island (or out of Brooklyn). Scott Niedermayer and Zach Parise wanted out of Jersey (who doesn’t?). Zdeno Chara wanted out of Ottawa. Scott Stevens wanted out of Washington. Patrick Roy wanted out of Montreal. LeBron James wanted out of Cleveland. Twice. Shaq wanted out of Orlando. Roger Clemens wanted out of Beantown. Barry Bonds wanted out of Pittsburgh. Reggie White wanted out of Philly. Deion Sanders wanted out of Atlanta and San Francisco. A-Rod wanted out of Seattle. Reggie Jackson wanted out of Baltimore so he could become Mr. October in Gotham. David Beckam and Wayne Rooney wanted out of England. Need I continue? Suffice to say, athletes seeking a change in locale has been an every-day occurrence in hockey and every other professional sports league since the first skate blade touched a frozen pond.

Oddest comment on the Trouba situation was delivered, not surprisingly, by Paul Wiecek, the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist whose obsessive hate-on for the Jets defender shows no indication of ebbing. The way Wiecek tells it, Trouba had the bad manners to “drag his employer to a salary arbitration hearing.” Oh, those poor, put-upon Winnipeg Jets. As if. It’s actually quite simple: If the Jets deploy Trouba as a top-pairing defenceman—which they do—they should pay him like one. Then he might not feel obliged to “drag” the poor dears to arbitration.

Marcus Stroman

Some really strange stuff from news snoops in the past week. Let’s start with Sportsnet gab guy Jeff Blair, who went off on Tranna Blue Jays temperamental pitcher Marcus Stroman:

“He’s got this idea that the Toronto media’s against him, yet the people who cover the team on a day-to-day basis—the people who have, frankly, the greatest reason to not like him—voted him pitcher of the year. He has this sort of make-believe grudge against a bunch of people who don’t have a grudge against him. The only thing I ever heard anybody say about him in this city that could possibly annoy him was that we don’t know if he’s good enough to be an ace. Well, we say that about everybody. There’s enough serious stuff going on in everybody’s lives right now that you don’t need a guy who kind of makes stuff up. At some point you wanna ask him, ‘Hey, that might have worked your rookie year. Well, grow up, stop it, be a pro, go about your business. Try to be a little real. Don’t try to create all these make-believe enemies. We don’t need it. Nobody needs that at this point. Maybe it’s time Marcus Stroman stopped being such a narcissist and, uh, you know, take a look around.”

Actually, maybe it’s time that Blair paid attention.

Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna has called Stroman a “jerk” and “an annoying kid who needs to grow up just a little.” Meanwhile, disgraced baseball broadcaster Gregg Zaun lashed out at Stroman for his animated antics following a Tranna win over the Los Angeles Angels in April 2017, saying, “Some of the behaviour rubs people the wrong way. I’m one of them. There’s no reason for it. It’s an unsportsmanlike way to behave. You just dominated somebody. Just high five your teammates and go back in the clubhouse and celebrate. I don’t understand why the flashing, the showboating, the rubbing it in people’s face. It ruins a perfectly good day. For people like me, it ruins a perfectly good day. There’s a way to behave on a Major League Baseball field and there’s ways not to do it. Maybe it’s this new generation. Everybody’s gotta have that dig-me moment.”

Those are just two examples of Stroman bashing. I’d say he has a legit reason for not cozying up to news snoops.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir

I’m not sure what la-la zone the aforementioned Simmons was in when he wrote this gem: “Don’t know if a skating pair can qualify for the Conn Smythe Trophy (sic), but just passed (sic) the halfway point of the year, would anyone have a better case for athlete of the year than Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir?” Sigh. Canada’s top jock(s) receives the Lou Marsh Award, not the Conn Smythe Trophy, which goes to the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup tournament. And pairs fancy skaters have already won the Lou Marsh trinket twice: 2001 Jamie Salé and David Pelletier; 1959 Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul. Just the facts, ma’am. They aren’t hard to find.

I note the Edmonton Eskimos have dropped Terrell Owens from their negotiation list, which means the 44-year-old receiver is free to join any Canadian Football League outfit. A good landing spot would be the Republic of Tranna, where his presence might bump up Argonauts ticket sales. The head count for Saturday’s matinee vs. the Winnipeg Blue Bombers was 10,844, prompting Simmons to scribble this: “If you haven’t been to BMO Field for a football game, you’re missing something. The stadium is the star of this show.” What a truly stupid thing to write.

Really enjoyed The Beaches’ two-tune gig during down time of the Saskatchewan Roughriders-Hamilton Tiger-Cats joust on Thursday night at Timbits Field in the Hammer. You can’t go wrong with girls and guitars, and The Beaches really got after it with Money and T-Shirt. Good stuff.

So, Euclid Cummings is charged with sexual assault and his contract with the B.C. Lions is voided. Teague Sherman is charged with sexual assault and his contract with the Ottawa RedBlacks is voided. Johnny Manziel beats the hell out of his (former) girlfriend and he’s allowed to join the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and now the Montreal Alouettes. What part of its own policy on violence against women does the CFL not understand?

Truly wonderful choice for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award this year—the many victims and survivors of the horrible Larry Nassar and his decades-long campaign of sexual abuse. Seeing the women standing on stage, many of them hand-in-hand, at the ESPY Awards was powerful, moving stuff, and it brought to mind recent winners of the Ashe honor:

2018—the Nassar survivors.
2017—Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of Special Olympics.
2016—Zaevion Dobson, high school football player gunned down and killed while shielding two neighborhood girls during a drive-by shooting in Knoxville, Tenn.
2015—Caitlyn Jenner, filthy rich and famous reality TV diva who put on a wig, a gown and showed the world a pair of store-bought boobs.

Reminds me of the Sesame Street game: Which of these things doesn’t belong?

And, finally, just wondering: Did human tumbleweed Neymar fly home from the World Cup with his Brazil teammates, or did he roll home?

2016: It was very good year in the toy department

Top o’ the morning to you, 2016.

Talk about playing to a tough crowd. I mean, a lot of people are saying you’re the worst year. Ever. Ever. Ever. Yes, even worse than 1968, when a presidential candidate (see: Kennedy, Robert F.) and a civil rights giant (see: King Jr., Martin Luther) were gunned down in cold blood.

Chicago riots, 1968
Chicago riots, 1968

The King Jr. assassination in April 1968 ignited race riots in 130 cities and there were 46 riot-related deaths. Riot troops were positioned on the White House lawn and machine gun nests were established at the Capital. At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August ’68, 10,000 anti-Vietnam War protesters clashed with 26,000 cops, national guardsmen and soldiers, who beat and wounded at least 1,000 civilians. Just under 200 cops also required medical attention. There were close to 600 arrests.

The black cloud that was 1968 also included…

  • North Korean patrol boats seized the USS Pueblo, an intelligence ship. The North Koreans accused the 82-man crew of spying, then imprisoned, beat and tortured them for 11 months.
  • The Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia.
  • Sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos were kicked off the American Olympic team in Mexico after their silent demonstration against racial discrimination in the U.S.
  • Richard Nixon was elected president of the United States.
  • American troops slaughtered 347 civilians in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
  • Richard Harris recorded the regrettable MacArthur Park, where someone left a cake out in the rain and they’ll never have that recipe again.

All that gloom and doom is a tough act to top, 2016. But apparently you trumped it, right down to the last drop of protesters’ blood. Pollster Angus Reid, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times all say it’s so, so I guess that’s what you are, 2016—the…worst…ever.

Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos at the Summer Olympics in Mexico.
Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos at the Summer Olympics in Mexico.

But, hey, that’s why we have sports. To escape things like terrorism and an apparent racist, bigot and misogynist moving into the White House. And you didn’t let us down in the toy department, 2016. You were on your game, so to speak.

I mean, any time you can say “Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win!” the World Series, it has to be a very good year. The best year since 1908, the last time the Cubbies won the annual Fall Classic. That’s why more than 5 million people gathered for the championship parade in the Toddlin’ Town. And Chicago cops didn’t beat up anyone. You delivered a classic Game 7, 2016. Brilliant stuff. It’s just too bad the Cubbies had to beat the Cleveland Indians, who continue to look for their first WS title since 1948.

I guess you just didn’t want Cleveland to get greedy, though, 2016. After all, King LeBron James and his Cavaliers claimed the National Basketball Association crown, toppling the mighty Golden State Warriors in seven games after trailing 3-1. More brilliant stuff.

And what a gift you gave us in the Ottawa RedBlacks. They didn’t even exist four years ago, and already they’re champions of all they survey in the Canadian Football League. Their overtime victory against the star-studded Calgary Stampeders was even more brilliant stuff from you, 2016.

Naturally, a whole lot of folks in River City had been hoping that their beloved Winnipeg Blue Bombers would have been in that 104th Grey Cup game, but at least you let them participate in the playoffs, 2016. It’s just a shame that you also chose the final seconds of that one-and-done post-season game to deliver head coach Mike O’Shea his signature moment of madness, when he had place-kicker Justin Medlock attempt an unmakeable 61-yard field goal.

Puck Finn
Puck Finn

You weren’t terribly kind to the Winnipeg Jets on the ice, 2016, but you blessed them with lucky bouncing ping-pong balls at the National Hockey League draft lottery, giving the locals the No. 2 shout overall in June. The harvest from that stroke of good fortune was Patrik Laine. Puck Finn has been dazzling ’em this season. I doubt that your heir, 2017, will give him the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top freshman, because the guy chosen ahead of him by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers, Auston Matthews, isn’t exactly chopped liver. And, of course, he’s sure to earn the eastern bloc vote. That’s okay, though. Puck Finn will be your gift that keeps giving long after your shelf life has expired, 2016.

What other delights did you deliver, 2016? Well, speaking of teenagers, there was Penny Oleksiak, the Toronto high school student who struck for swimming gold and collected three other medals at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio. She’s a real sweetie.

So, too, is Brooke Henderson, who won her first Ladies Professional Golf Association major and one other tournament. A few of the boys on the beat weren’t kind to Brooke, but some jock journalists are always looking for dark clouds in silver linings.

kaepernickOne of the things I liked about you, 2016, is that you had a social conscious. You had San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick take a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner, which inspired a discussion about racial discrimination in the United States. Unlike Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968, Kaepernick wasn’t kicked off his team.

You also had 56 openly gay athletes competing in the Rio Olympics and winning 25 medals—11 gold, 10 silver and four bronze—and lesbian Amanda Nunes is an Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder who walloped Ronda Rousey in just 48 seconds on Friday night in Las Vegas. You told North Carolina you wouldn’t tolerate its anti-LGBT legislation and announced that the 2017 National Basketball Association all-star game would be moved out of Charlotte.

You let us watch Peyton Manning, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Big Papi ride off into the sunset. A-Rod did, too, although I suppose not a whole lot of folks care that he’s bid adieu.

You allowed us to say farewell to The Greatest, the King and Mr. Hockey—Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer and Gordie Howe. We didn’t mourn their deaths so much as we celebrated their athletic accomplishments, their lives and their legacies.

Sour Hope Solo
Sour Hope Solo

All of this is not to say you were without your rough edges, 2016. You did, after all, give us two ugly Americans in Rio. The disgraced duo would be soupuss soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo and swimmer Ryan Lochte. Solo branded the Swedish women’s side a bunch of “cowards” because they refused to play a run-and-gun game with the U.S., while Lochte claimed to have been robbed with a cocked gun pointed at his head. In reality, he was taking a pee on the wall outside a Rio gas station.

Those were mere blips, though, 2016. And they were easily offset by Jimmie Johnson claiming his record-tying seventh NASCAR driving title, Leicester City, a 5,000-1 longshot, winning the English Premier League soccer title, and the great Serena Williams earning her 22nd Grand Slam tennis championship to equal the equally great Steffi Graf.

You were a wonderful year, 2016, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

About hockey greats…self-indulgent, unnecessary sports writing…Lebron James’s legacy…Kerry Fraser’s gaffe…Jimmy Hoffa…and other things on my mind

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

No. 4, Bobby Orr
No. 4, Bobby Orr

I witnessed my first live professional hockey game in the mid-1950s at the old barn on Maroons Road in Winnipeg, which was razed to rubble five decades later.

I watched my first televised hockey game in the 1950s, when our TVs had rabbit ears (sometimes with tin foil wrapping on the tips to enhance the quality of our black-and-white reception) and we would join a game originating from Toronto or Montreal already in progress (most often in the second period). That’s when I learned to truly dislike Rocket Richard.

I covered my first hockey game for a newspaper in 1970 and my byline first appeared on a hockey article in June 1971.

I wrote about, and commented on, hockey in mainstream media for 30 years and have written freelance articles and blogged on hockey for the past 17 years.

Do the math: I have been watching hockey for 60 of my 65 years and writing about it going on 47 years, long enough to draw conclusions.

So, were I to start a National Hockey League franchise, drawing from players I have witnessed—either in person or from my living room floor/sofa—which player would I choose to build around? No. 4, Bobby Orr.

Orr is the best hockey player I’ve ever seen. Still. Probably always.

Here’s my all-time dream team…

GOAL: Glenn Hall, Dominik Hasek

DEFENCE: Bobby Orr, Doug Harvey, Nicklas Lidstrom, Viacheslav Fetisov, Ray Bourque, Valery Vasiliev.

FORWARDS: Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Peter Forsberg, Bobby Hull, Mario Lemieux, Alexander Maltsev, Valeri Kharlamov, Jean Beliveau, Stan Mikita, Anatoli Firsov, Sergei Makarov.

Interesting take from Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press on the death of Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. “You’re going to be reading lots of ‘Here’s what Gordie Howe means to me’ stories over the next week,” he writes. “Most will be self-indulgent and unnecessary.” Let’s face it, much of what sports scribes scribble is self-indulgent and unnecessary, but the storytelling is neither. When someone of Howe’s or Muhammad Ali’s loft goes to the other side, the storytelling is essential to the narrative, otherwise all we’d have are lists of statistics to describe and define them. Without the storytelling, we know the athlete but not the person. Wiecek spun a terrific yarn about Howe that was far more interesting and insightful than spewing career scoring numbers.

Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe
Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe

Speaking of self-indulgent, one of the first columns I wrote for the Calgary Sun was about Gordie Howe. He was in town for a minor hockey promotion, the details of which now escape me, and we met at the CTV studios and spent the better part of an hour wagging our chins about all things shinny. The following morning, our editor-in-chief, Lester Pyette, approached me in the newsroom and said, “Great piece on Gordie Howe. Loved it. I’m a big Gordie Howe fan. But the publisher didn’t like it. He wants me to tell you that we brought you here to write about the Flames and Stampeders, not kids hockey and retired players.” I was gobsmacked. “Lester,” I told him, “if I find out that Mr. Hockey is in town, I’m writing about Mr. Hockey.” So I did. As mean and as ruthless as he was on the ice, Gordie Howe was as gracious and down-to-earth off the freeze. Wonderful man.

The notion that Lebron James needs to add a third National Basketball Association title to his resume before being granted all-time-great status is beyond absurd. How many World Series championships did Major League Baseball legend Ted Williams win? Or Carl Yastrzemski? Zero. Jim Brown, arguably the greatest running back in National Football League history, was 1-2 in championship games. How many times has the name Bobby Hull been inscribed on the Stanley Cup? Once. The great hoopster Jerry West was 1-8 in NBA championship series. James doesn’t need to set foot on the hardwood ever again. He’s already and all-timer.

Okay, Kerry Fraser has ‘fessed up. The former National Hockey League referee admits in The Players’ Tribune that he blew the call when he failed to banish Wayne Gretzky to the brig for slicing and dicing Doug Gilmour’s chinny-chin-chin in Game 6 of the 1993 Western Conference final between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings. It should have been a major penalty. “It was missed. Period,” is how Fraser puts it. Now, can Leafs Nation finally stop whining about something that happened 23 years ago?

If Connor McDavid’s name isn’t called when the NHL announces its top rookie for the 2015-16 season, he shouldn’t lose any sleep. Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Guy Lafleur, Marcel Dionne, Chris Chelios, Steve Yzerman, Borje Salming, Stan Mikita and Patrick Roy weren’t at the head of their respective freshman classes, and each is in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Is Jimmy Hoffa hiding in one of those beards?
Is Jimmy Hoffa hiding in one of those beards?

So, legendary flying Frenchman Guy Lafleur isn’t fond of facial foliage. He looks at the unruly shrubs sprouting from the cheeks and chins of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks and declares them “a disgrace for hockey.” This from a guy who went through two packs of cigarettes a day and actually smoked in the dressing room between periods when he played for the Montreal Canadiens.

Just wondering, when the Stanley Cup tournament concludes and Thornton and Burns finally reach for the razors, what are the chances of Jimmy Hoffa falling out of one of those beards?

Aside to Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: You’ve cranked out some quality copy re the deaths of Muhammad Ali and Gordie Howe, but do yourself a favor—stop writing about Phil Kessel. We get it already. You weren’t a fan of his game or his eating habits during his tour of duty in the Republic of Tranna. Let it go, man. Move along.

Just for the record, this entire article has been self-indulgent and unnecessary. But I had nothing better to do when I awoke at 2:30 this ayem, so I started typing.

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

 

About the Bombers’ binge…Huf huffing and puffing…a menage-a-goaltender…spoiled brats…and media groupies obsessed with a Raptors groupie

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

Many people were surprised to learn that Winnipeg has been ranked among the top seven most intelligent communities in the world. We’re not talking about one of the brightest burgs just in Manitoba, Canada or North America, understand. This is the whole world. The. Entire. Planet.

Ya, well, if there are so many Einsteins in Pegtown, why can’t one of them show the Winnipeg Blue Bombers how to win the Grey Cup?

John Hufnagel
John Hufnagel

I’m not sure what caused more raised eyebrows last week, the Bombers signing seven players scant seconds after the opening bell rang for the Canadian Football League’s annual livestock auction of untethered talent, or John Hufnagel’s reaction to the Big Blue’s free-agent binge. “I’d say that’s a little surprising,” the Calgary Stampeders grand poobah huffed and puffed. “How many years are they going to do it? You answer me that. They didn’t sign any of their guys, and they sign other people’s guys. I prefer to sign my own guys. That’s just me.” One day later, “just me” signed two “other people’s guys,” Bakari Grant and Taylor Reed of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, then added a third, James Green, late of the Ottawa RedBlacks. Pot, meet kettle.

You’ll have to excuse me if I hesitate to join the hallelujah chorus in touting the Bombers as new, improved and bound for glory. No doubt general manager Kyle Walters has added some top-end talent in running back Andrew Harris, size-smurf receivers Weston Dressler and Ryan Smith, and place-kicker Justin Medlock, but it’s still about the offensive line, the starting quarterback, Drew Willy, and, perhaps most important, the sideline maestro and film fanatic, head coach Mike O’Shea. Does Walters’ handiwork make O’Shea any smarter today than he was at the close of business in 2015? I think the GM said it best when asked how much better a product he’ll field in the ’16 CFL crusade: “Well, we’ll see.” So color me curious but not convinced.

Connor Hellebuyck
Connor Hellebuyck

Speaking of curious, I viewed the three’s-a-crowd demotion of Connor Hellebuyck to the farm as a bit of a head-scratcher. Not surprising, though, because the Winnipeg Jets have long been goaltender blind. Hellebuyck did enough good things during his time in the blue paint to convince me that he’s a National Hockey League-calibre goaltender and might be the Jets’ starter-in-waiting, so Michael Hutchinson should have been the fall guy and dispatched to the American Hockey League Manitoba Moose once Ondrej Pavelec returned from sick bay. Yes, I realize Hutchinson would have been exposed to the waiver wire were he the odd man out in the Jets’ menage-a-goaltender, but so what. I doubt another outfit would have claimed him. If so, no loss. I just cannot see where he fits into the club’s future.

There can be just one reason for the Winnipeg Free Press to have recruited Scott Campbell to pen a weekly column on the Winnipeg Jets: To provide a (former) player’s insight. His latest offering? Zero insight. I mean, telling us that Michael Hutchinson is having “a disappointing season” is lame. And implying that Andrew Copp has struggled as an NHL rookie because he’s been flanked by “a variety of nondescript players” is a copout (pun intended). From everything I’ve seen, Copp himself is a nondescript player. Gotta do better than that, Scott.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: Cam Newton, the losing quarterback in the National Football League championship joust, walks out during a post-game chin-wag with news scavengers and he’s Darth QB. The Carolina Panthers’ main man is roasted and toasted as a sore loser, a spoiled brat and cited as an example of everything that is wrong with today’s pro jocks. Yet, two days later, Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville waves his arms in frustration and stomps out of a gab-session with the media and there isn’t a peep of protest. What am I missing here? Why is it unacceptable for an NFL quarterback to behave like a brat, but it’s permissble for an NHL coach?

Raptors groupie Drake
Raptors groupie Drake

I’m sorry, but I just don’t get this groupie-like love affair between scribes in the Republic of Tranna and the rapper Drake. I mean, I’ve read more headlines about Drake in the past few days than Stephen Curry, who, give or take a Lebron James, is the best basketball player on the planet. The National Basketball Association all-star weekend in Toronto has become a testimonial to Drake. There are feature pieces on him in both the Globe and Mail and National Post sports sections. And the headlines: Drake receives coaching tips from Michael Jordan; Drake starstruck by Michael Jordan; How Drake became the king of Toronto; Celebrate Valentine’s Day the Drake way; Drake gets key to the city; Drake to introduce all-stars.There were two pics of Drake on the front page of Toronto Sun website and three more on the sports front. And for what? Because he’s a Toronto Raptors groupie. And the media are groupies of the groupie.

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