Patrik Laine: Four games as a Blue Jacket and bully coach Torts turns him into a garden gnome

Top o’ the morning to you, Patrik Laine.

So how’s that Columbus gig working out for you? After Monday night, I imagine it’s one of those “be careful what you wish for” things, eh?

I mean, you wanted out of Winnipeg for reasons that remain sealed, so the Jets peddled your disgruntled butt and your other-wordly one-timer to Columbus, and it doesn’t get much more backwater than that. At least not in hockey terms.

Patrik Laine and Cameron Johnson, the garden gnomes.

Hey, I’ve never set foot in the Ohio capital, so I can’t speak to its charms. I’m sure there are many. It’s just that when I think National Hockey League, there are 30 other locales I’d rather be. Actually, make that 29. Buffalo isn’t my idea of Shangri-la, either. I’ve been to Buffalo. The wings are fabulous. Otherwise, I’ll give it a hard pass.

Mind you, I’m guessing folks in Columbus and Buffalo think much the same of Winnipeg. Most of them couldn’t find Good Ol’ Hometown on a map, but they’d likely tell you that it’s the capital city of Middle Of Nowhere.

Anyway, Patty, you wanted to put River City in your rear-view mirror after four winters and 140 goals for the Jets. Your wish was granted. Kevin Cheveldayoff and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman obliged, sending you and Jack Roslovic to Columbus for Pierre-Luc Dubois and some unknown kid who’ll probably never see the inside of the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.

The early returns were favorable. You scored three goals in your first three games in Blue Jackets linen…then John Tortorella did John Tortorella. He glued you to the pine. In a tie game.

You spent the final 6:19 of the second period and the entirety of the third keeping backup goaltender Cameron Johnson company at the end of the bench on Monday night, both of you sitting there like a couple of garden gnomes. (Too bad they don’t allow PlayStation on the bench, eh Patty?)

Much like your reasons for desiring a new mailing address remain a matter of conjecture, no one outside the Blue Jackets man cave knows why Torts turned you into a garden gnome, Patty. Most of us thought it was punishment for dogging it on a Carolina Hurricanes goal, but the bully coach insisted there were elements more sinister involved.

Torts

He muttered something about “the discipline of being a pro” and “team concept” and “how we do things here,” which, translated, means the Torts Way or the highway.

“There’s a number of things that come into play with that,” he told news snoops. “That’ll stay in the locker room.”

Not to worry though, Patty. Torts also indicated that the two of you will have a fireside chat, and he’ll “listen” to what you have to say about discipline and being a pro and team concept and the way they do things in Columbus. Be sure of one thing, though: Torts will have the final word.

You can ask Pierre-Luc Dubois about that. Matter of fact, Patty, you might want to exchange notes with Dubois before your one-on-one natter with Torts. Given that Pierre-Luc was the bully coach’s whipping boy before you came along, he’d likely have some useful and usable insight.

The thing is, this clash of personalities was predictable, and most of us didn’t need the Houston Astros trash can lids to know it was coming.

In the meantime, it’s about you signing long-term with Columbus, Patty. Doesn’t seem like such a swell idea today, does it? By all accounts, you’re a laid-back kind of dude, so can you imagine spending the next 10 years or so with someone barking in your ear? If that’s what you want, just get married.

Jarmo Kekalainen

We know Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen wants you there for the duration, Patty, and I imagine he was gasping for air when he saw you twiddling your thumbs on Monday night. You were his target at the 2016 NHL auction of teenage talent, so it follows that he’d be prepared to move heaven and hell to keep you.

Question is: Will Jarmo move Torts if it becomes a case of irreconcilable differences?

I hope it all works out for you, Patty. I really do. I’m not among the rabble who take glee in your discomfort. You performed admirably for the Jets, and I wish there’d never been a parting of ways. So the last thing I want to see is you, or anyone, being bullied.

No, I don’t believe a benching is bullying, Patty. But when Torts says there’s more to it than just dogging it in the defensive zone, I fear the worst.

Let’s talk about Patrik Laine’s adios…what the boys on the beat are saying…Grapes for GG of Canada…Bobby Hull dining on table scraps…Hammerin’ Hank…the Mets and their oinker GM…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and this blog is officially listed as day-to-day…

First of all, Patrik Laine wasn’t a swing and a miss for Kevin Chevldayoff and his bird dogs.

When the ping pong balls bounced their way at the National Hockey League’s 2016 draft lottery, they wisely used that good fortune to claim Puck Finn with the second shoutout at the annual auction of teenage wannabes.

Patrik Laine

The kid’s a stud, and there’s been scant second-guessing the Winnipeg Jets’ choice, even if hindsight suggests a case can be made that Matthew Tkachuk might have been a better way to go.

Laine mostly delivered as the Jets had hoped, with 36-, 44-, 30- and 28-goal crusades, plus two more snipes in the opening gambit of his fifth season, which has been temporarily derailed due to an undisclosed upper-body owie of unknown origin.

Unfortunately, somewhere and somehow, the Jets-Laine union hit a very large pothole and we’re left to wonder what went wrong.

None of the usual suspects were willing to drill down to the core of the matter on Saturday after Chevy had completed his latest bit of handiwork, sending Laine to the Columbus Blue Jackets in barter for Pierre-Luc Dubois. Puck Finn spoke. General manager Chevy spoke. Potty-mouth coach Paul Maurice spoke. Captain Blake Wheeler spoke. Trouble is, it was nothing but hollow blah, blah, blah. We still don’t know why a 22-year-old stud with 140 notches on his shooting stick was expendable.

So we speculate, and here’s my guess: Coach PottyMo and Wheeler chased him out of town.

Puck Finn and Blake Wheeler.

In his sole frolic this season, Laine was given 16 minutes, 20 seconds of ice. Wheeler logged 21:27. Maurice stubbornly insists that the 34-year-old captain is a better bet at right wing, and that wasn’t about to change. No matter the numbers either player put up. So Puck Finn put a bug in his agent’s ear, whispering something about the desire for a new zip code, and he’ll now be collecting his fan mail at 200 W Nationwide Blvd., Columbus, OH 43215.

And that isn’t a good optic for Chevy.

None of us knows for certain what it would have taken to make Laine happy, but we can assume that Chevy wasn’t prepared to instruct Coach PottyMo to up the big Finn’s ice time. We can also assume that the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, had a sizable say in the matter, because you don’t part company with a player of Laine’s loft without the owner signing off on the deal. Which means he’s okay with the reality that he’s now had four first-round draft picks and/or their reps walk into the GM’s office and request and receive a one-way ticket out of town—Evander Kane, Jacob Trouba, Puck Finn and Jack Roslovic.

So, rather than a mantra of draft-and-develop, it’s become draft-develop-defect.

Paul Maurice

Oh, yes, I realize that a handful of the Jets young studs have locked in for the long haul, but having four walk away is at least three too many. And, in Laine’s case, it didn’t have to shake down this way.

Rather than reward Wheeler with a ridiculous five-year extension (including a No-Move Clause) in 2018 and stunt Laine’s growth, Chevy and the Puck Pontiff should have cut the captain adrift. He would have fetched a handsome return, certainly better than he would today or two years from now given the dog ears on his birth certificate.

Instead, they opted to keep the senior citizen over the young gun, which I’m sure makes no sense to most of us outside the Jets think tank.

Hey, anyone can be traded, including Patrik Laine. And the Jets will learn to live without Puck Finn. But that doesn’t mean anyone should be traded. Chevy and the Puck Pontiff bungled this one. Badly. And if they can’t convince Dubois to sign up for the long haul, they’ll really wear it.

Paul Stastny

Remember last October when Chevy brought Paul Stastny back on board? According to the pundits, it was a move designed to put a happy face on Laine. Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, for example, wrote this: “One thing I no longer expect to see based on this week’s events is a trade involving Patrik Laine. The Jets didn’t bring Stastny and his big cap hit in just to send their Finnish sniper packing. They brought him in to play with Laine, a paring (along with Nikolaj Ehlers) that had great chemistry during the 2018 run to the Western Conference final.” Others provided backup vocals. So how’s that working out?

I always enjoy reading what the boys on the beat have to say about these big trades. Here’s a sampling:

Paul Friesen, Winnipeg Sun: “The Winnipeg Jets’ trading of Patrik Laine to the Columbus Blue Jacks is an abject organizational failure.”

Ken Wiebe, Sportsnet: “By strengthening themselves down the middle, the Jets have taken an important—and necessary—step to widening their collective window of contention. It came at a significant cost, but this blockbuster was a risk worth taking for the Jets.”

Murat Ates, The Athletic: “What does this acquisition mean for the rest of Winnipeg’s roster? The shortest, simplest read is that the Jets want to build strength down the middle and just traded a power-play star at right wing for an even-strength star at centre. It also gives Winnipeg the best player in the trade, while acknowledging that Laine’s potential for growth is as big of a wild card as he is.”

Ted Wyman, Winnipeg Sun: “Cheveldayoff has to bear responsibility for what has happened here—the trading of a very popular young star. He was unable to get Laine signed to a long-term deal before last season and the Jets salary cap situation—based on long-term deals given to other players—made it unlikely they’d be able to do so after this season. The cost, as it turns out, is the Jets traded two first-round draft picks for a player who was taken third overall. On paper, it simply looks like too much. The pressure will be immense on Dubois to make it look more even.”

Has there been a bigger swap involving local jocks than Laine-Dubois? I can think of just one—Dieter Brock to the Hamilton Tabbies for Tom Clements in 1983. Hall-of-fame quarterback for hall-of-fame quarterback. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers won the Grey Cup with Clements behind centre one year later, beating Brock and the Tabbies.

This is rich: Rebel News has started a petition to have disgraced hockey-talker Don Cherry succeed the disgraced Julie Payette as Governor General of Canada.

“He’s a loyal monarchist, perhaps the most loyal monarchist in the county!” the far-right wingnuts at the Rebel write. “And he upholds our Canadian values. Unlike Payette, he represents what it means to be Canadian. There is nobody more dignified and worthy of filling this historic and noble role for Canadians than Don Cherry.”

Hoo boy. That’s a whole lot of stupid.

When last seen and heard, Grapes was on Hockey Night in Canada, demonizing “you people that come here” (read: immigrants) because they enjoy “our milk and honey” but have the (apparent) bad manners to not wear poppies for Remembrance Day. After decades of similar rants peppered with bigotry, zenophobia, misogyny and anti-Quebec sentiments, they finally took away the Lord of Loud’s bully pulpit, yet now the Rebel would have him become Queen Liz’s official rep and take up residence in Rideau Hall. What next? Ron MacLean at 24 Sussex Drive?

I’m sure Queen Liz has enough worries with the royal litter without having to explain Don Cherry and his wardrobe to her loyal subjects loitering outside Buckingham Palace.

Big tidings from the Toronto Blue Jays camp last week, with the addition of outfielder/slugger George Springer, late of the cheating Houston Astros. Apparently Springer leaked the news of his signing by banging on the lid of a trash can.

Bobby Hull

There’s a fabulous anecdote about Bobby Hull, his boy Brett and Kelly Chase in James Duthie’s book Beauties, whereby they let the wolf loose after a game one night in Chicago, returning to the Drake Hotel at 2 o’clock in the a.m.

“The Drake has this elderly gentleman working the elevators, all dressed up with white gloves on,” Chase says. “He recognizes Bobby right away and says, ‘Mr. Hull, pleasure to meet you.’ Bobby says, ‘Good evening, young man. Could you press floor one for me?’ And Brett goes, ‘No, dad, we’re on three.’ Bobby says, ‘Goddamnit, I said press one!’ And out he goes on the first floor.

“We go up to our room, and a few minutes later, in walks Bobby with this food tray. He’s got a quarter of a clubhouse sandwich, a piece of pizza and a couple of chicken wings. I’m like, ‘What the…?’ And Bobby says, ‘Wasteful bastards! This is how Stan Mikita and I ate in the old days. He took the even floors, I took the odd!’

“This is my idol! Then they bring the cot up, and Bobby is insisting on sleeping on the cot. Well, there is no way I am letting Bobby Hull sleep on a cot, so I take it. Bobby goes into the bathroom, comes out, whips the rug off his head, hangs it on the bedpost and gets in bed. The first time I meet my idol, and he’s eating off food trays left outside people’s doors and his hair is hanging on the bed!”

Ya, that sounds about right.

Can’t let the day slip away without mentioning Henry Aaron, because the home run champ’s death on Friday meant another chunk of my youth has been snatched away.

Hammerin’ Hank, you see, was my older brother Richard’s favorite baseball player. Mickey Mantle was my younger brother Mick’s main man. Mine was Sandy Koufax. We’d squabble the way kids do, nattering about who was the best of the three—the rakish Black man from Mobile, Ala., the brawny Okie who spent his early off-seasons working in lead and zinc mines with his dad, or the soft-speaking Jewish kid from Brooklyn.

None of us budged from our positions. Still won’t.

I do, however, concede and conclude that Aaron traveled a more challenging path to baseball immortality because, whereas both Mantle and Koufax wrestled with chronic ailments, it was death threats for Hammerin’ Hank. Not just to him, but his family.

The nearer Aaron came to reeling in Babe Ruth and laying claim to the greatest record in sports—714 career home runs—the greater the peril for the Atlanta Braves outfielder. Not all of America was prepared to accept a Black man usurping the Sultan of Swat. Not in the 1970s. Yet Aaron soldiered on, swatting dingers and chasing the larger-than-life Bambino until the night of April 8, 1974, when he sent an Al Downing pitch over the left-field fence and into the Braves bullpen. He had touched ’em all for the 715th time.

“What a marvelous moment, for baseball, what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia, what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. It’s a marvelous, wonderful, enjoyable moment here in Atlanta,” is how legendary broadcaster Vin Scully described it.

Shortly thereafter, I made my way to the Winnipeg Tribune building, anxious to lay out and design the next day’s sports section. Even though the Jets had opened a playoff series vs. Houston Aeros that night, I relegated them to the inside pages. The sports front was reserved for the great Henry Aaron. Every inch of it.

Jared Porter

Jared Porter has been outed as an oinker of the highest rank and, thankfully, the New York Mets squandered nary a nano-second in defrocking their creepy general manager.

Mind you, it’s not like the Amazins had any choice.

I mean, Porter’s one-man crusade to bed an unidentified female reporter while overseeing the Chicago Cubs stable of scouts in 2016 was as relentless as it was disturbing. More than 60 times he hounded the woman with come-hither texts and pics, the last of which brought an erect penis into focus, and it doesn’t matter that he claims the erect-penis pic he sent wasn’t a pic of his erect penis.

“The more explicit ones are not of me,” Porter assured ESPN. “Those are like, kinda like joke-stock images.”

Oh, ya, unwelcomed graphic porn is a real knee-slapper, Jared.

Listen, most women I know appreciate a man with a healthy sense of humor, but some scuzzball visiting porn sites and playing copy-and-paste with images of boners doesn’t qualify as giggle-worthy.

It’s sad, pathetic, dangerous and no one’s idea of slapstick.

Fortunately, the Mets did every female news snoop a solid by kicking Porter to the curb, and I can’t imagine any other Major League Baseball team bringing him and his baggage on board.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown weary of Postmedia treating the Winnipeg Sun like the red-hair, freckle-face step-child of the chain. When I call up the Postmedia tabloids in the Republic of Tranna, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, I normally find seven or more pages in the sports section. In Good Ol’ Hometown it’s usually four pages. Some days just two. Other days there’s two pages of sports near the front of the rag and two more near the back. Ridiculous.

And, finally, I don’t like to say I told you so, but I did. At least six times between February 2019 and last week, I warned you that Patrik Laine would not finish his career in Good Ol’ Hometown. Moreover, I posed this question in June 2016, days before the Jets drafted him: “Is the Flamboyant Finn and his loose lips a fit for the Winnipeg Jets or will he give them fits?” Puck Finn conceded on Saturday that “it wasn’t the right fit for me and for the team.”

Let’s talk about Patrik Laine the happy camper…Puck Finn still playing second fiddle…pooping and the puckstopper…glorifying goon hockey on Sportsnet…brain farts and tripe-bogeys…Ponytail Puck set for a faceoff in Lake Placid…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and you’re advised to read this blog with an abundance of caution…

Kevin Cheveldayoff and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman have one task. Just one: Put a happy face on Patrik Laine.

Do whatever it takes.

If that means putting Puck Finn first in the pay queue, back up the Brinks truck. If he wants to skate alongside Rink Rat Scheifele, tell Paul Maurice to join them at the hip. If he wants to challenge Twig Ehlers to a rousing game of Fortnite between shifts, set up a PlayStation gizmo at the end of the bench.

Just get it done.

Unless, of course, it’s irreparably undone

Maybe there’s no longer a way for Chevy and the Puck Pontiff to sell Laine on the merits of Winnipeg and the Jets. Maybe the Tour de Finn we witnessed last Thursday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie—two goals, OT winner, one assist, one scuffle in a 4-3 victory over the Calgary Flames—was a prelude to what the faithful will be missing once the big winger swans off down the road.

Whatever the case, this is a crossroads moment for the Winnipeg franchise.

Chevy and the Puck Pontiff

Make no mistake, short of a Stanley Cup parade, how Chevy and team co-bankroll Chipman handle L’Affaire Laine will be the defining moment for the tallest thinkers in the National Hockey League’s smallest market, and time is already an adversary.

Puck Finn is a restricted free agent this summer, and if he and Chevy/Puck Pontiff can’t find common financial ground, an arbitrator will do it for them and that’s an exercise that seldom lends itself to warm-and-fuzzy pillow talk. Laine will listen while someone in an expensive suit informs him of his many misgivings, at the same time emphasizing that his goal totals (36, 44, 30, 28) are already in decline. And whatever he delivers this season will be dismissed as the sketchy product of a runted crusade due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If the kid wants out now, imagine how he’ll feel after hearing from a team rep that he’s barely a beer-leaguer, so I’m assuming that’s a path the Jets aren’t anxious to travel.

In the meantime, pundits hither and yon continue to laud Chevy for the deliberate, slow-moving manner in which he generally manages the Jets.

And it’s true. Chevy has the patience of a man who genuinely believes the cheque is in the mail.

Players march into his office and inform him they desire a new postal code, or an agent beaks off to news snoops about a client’s dissatisfaction and the need for a fresh start, but Chevy doesn’t flinch. His knees never jerk. Oh, they might twitch a mite, but not so you’d notice.

He waits and waits and waits, patiently, refusing to be bullied.

But then someone tosses a track suit into a tub of ice water and Chevy budges, recognizing he has no option but to tell a 30-goal scorer to leave the building. Evander Kane is then shuffled off to Buffalo. Similarly, Chevy took a measured tactic with Jacob Trouba, not moving his top-pair defender to Gotham until the free-agency clock was soon to strike midnight.

Now we have the only GM in Jets 2.0 history confronted with the stiffest challenge of his watch, and all I can see is Chevy standing in a corner with a can of paint and a brush, looking for a way out.

And that’s not to ignore Jack Roslovic’s pout.

Chevy’s allowing Roslovic to rot at home in Columbus, with no inclination toward granting his young forward’s wish for opportunity elsewhere. Chevy can move him on a whim, on his terms and on his timetable, and the longer the Roslovic Rot lasts the more likely it is that he becomes a forgotten man. Few among the faithful will be bent out of shape at the loss of a player who might fit in as a top-six forward in other colors, but not in Jets linen.

It’s different with Laine.

Puck Finn is their signature selection through a decade of draft-and-develop. He’s a star performer, a game-changer who, were he to commit long term, would become the face of the franchise.

Chevy and the Puck Pontiff are already 0-for-2 with young studs who’ve demanded a one-way ticket out of Dodge, and Laine’s performance v. the Flames was a not-so-subtle hint that they should move mountains to prevent it from being 0-for-3.

What will it take to put a happy face on Puck Finn? None of us knows. But, surely, Chevy and the Puck Pontiff have an idea, and that begs one question: Why aren’t they doing it?

Puck Finn

Got a giggle out of pundits suggesting Laine’s show-stopper v. the Flames snuffed out swap talk. “Laine silences the trade rumors” and “Laine mutes trade talk for now” were the headlines in the Winnipeg Sun. Ya, good luck with that. If anything, it ramped up speculation. I mean, what was Eric Duhatschek scribbling about in The Athletic the following morning? That’s right, a potential Laine trade. What were Gino Reda and Craig Button nattering about on TSN two days later? That’s right, a potential Laine trade. What were David Amber and Brian Burke prattling on about on Hockey Night in Canada last night? That’s right, a potential Laine trade. Trust me, L’Affaire Laine will linger until one of two things happens: 1) Puck Finn commits to Good Ol’ Hometown for the long haul; 2) Chevy and the Puck Pontiff tell him to pack his bags. I’m still betting on the latter scenario—and we’ll know for certain if he signs another bridge deal this summer—so don’t expect the whispers to go away anytime soon.

So, you’re Paul Maurice, the Jets potty-mouth head coach. You have a 22-year-old right-winger, Laine, who shredded the Flames, and you have a 34-year-old right winger, Blake Wheeler, who’s doing his best to keep up with the pace of play. Who you gonna call on? I agree, it should be Laine. But Coach PottyMo still had Puck Finn playing second fiddle to the aging Wheeler, on the ice for a whopping 21:27, including 4:50 on the powerplay, in the opener. Laine was limited to 16:20 and 2:53. Any wonder why Puck Finn’s agents believe it would be “mutually beneficial” for him to move on? Curses to you, Coach Potty Mouth.

Took a dive into James Duthie’s book Beauties last week, and I was giggling four paragraphs into Roberto Luongo’s forward, whereby the former Vancouver Canucks goaltender describes an in-game bout of poopy pants. “I never get stomach aches during a game,” he writes. “Before the game is a different story. I go to the bathroom five times on game day. I’m talking number two here. I may have been a number one goalie most of my career, but I’m all about number two on game days. I go once in the morning when I get up, once at the morning skate, once after I wake up from my nap, once after the pre-game meeting, and once after warm-up, just in case. I don’t want any accidents during the game. It’s a skill. The guys on my team all know about it. They see my big-ass toes sticking out from under the stall door and say, ‘Lui’s goin’ again.’” That probably falls under the category ‘too much information,’ but Luongo goes on to explain missing the start of overtime in a playoff series v. Anaheim due to the runs, and it’s more than a one-yuk-per-page read. I’m 68 pages into the book and only the Paul Bissonnette yarn is a yawn. Overall, a highly recommended read.

The more things change, the more things stay the same. An example would be Anthony Stewart’s analysis of last week’s Montreal Canadiens-Toronto Maple Leafs skirmish on Sportsnet. Stewart, of course, is the least insightful among the natterbugs on Hockey Night In Canada and, like Brian Burke, he tends to glorify goon hockey. Thus it was no surprise to hear him cite Wayne Simmonds as the difference-maker in the Leafs’ 5-4 victory, simply because he exchanged bare knuckles with Ben Chiarot of the Habs. It was 3-1 Montreal when the lads dropped the mitts, and Stewart informed us that the Leafs scored “right after” the tiff. Wrong. The game turned when the Habs took three consecutive penalties and the Leafs scored twice with the man advantage—7½ minutes after the Simmonds scrap. But, hey, why let facts get in the way of a false narrative? Meanwhile, over at TSN, Craig Button was asked what shifted the game toward the Leafs. “Power play,” he said. Two nights later, he added, “the Leafs’ skill bailed them out.” Correct.

The search was on for Bryson DeChambeau’s ball.

So now we know why Bryson DeChambeau was feeling woozy and bombed out at The Masters in November: Brain fart. “The frontal lobe in my brain was working really, really hard,” the bulked-up golfer explains, adding a combination of things “escalated my brain, overworking and just giving out.” And here I thought it was that lost ball and a triple-bogey seven on the third hole at Augusta that made him sick. Silly me.

Interesting that quarterback Aaron Rodgers is among the notables to land a gig as celeb host on Jeopardy! once the Green Bay Packers are finished playing football. Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t hire ESPN squawker Stephen A. Smith. He believes he has all the answers.

Bill Murray

Speaking of celebrities, the Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament will have no pro-am component this year. Which makes it what? The Pebble Beach Bill Murray Has To Go Somewhere Else To Act Like A Complete Jackass Open?

Quitter James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets described himself as “an elite leader” at his introductory natter with New York news snoops the other day, just scant hours after mailing it in one more time and informing his former Houston Rockets teammates that they’re a bunch of scrubs. Ya, that’s an “elite leader” like Kareem Adbul Jabbar is a jockey.

Montreal Impact of Major League Soccer are now Club de Foot Montreal. Seriously? A soccer side with “club foot” in the name. They might want to send that one back to the marketing department. It’s like a brewery branding its newest product Flat Warm Beer.

On the subject of peddling product, if you’re scoring at home—and I’m sure you aren’t—a Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association team wrapped up a six-game series v. teenage boys in Florida the other day, and they left the Tampa hub with a 2-4 record. All but two games (5-0, 7-2 losses) were competitive, but I fail to see how losing to teenage boys advances the cause of Ponytail Puck.

Speaking of which, Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star found room for Ponytail Puck in his Pucks In Depth notebook on Friday, which is a good thing. If only he wasn’t so thin on facts and short on insight.

Women’s professional hockey ramps up this month,” he wrote. “The NWHL, with its Toronto expansion team The Six (I like the nickname, but I have been programmed by our Olympians not to root for the NWHL) will play its entire season, playoffs and championship in a bubble in Lake Placid, N.Y., with some games televised (and most streamable if you know how to do that). There’s something coming out of the ashes of the CWHL, with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (which I’m programmed to root for since it’s basically the national teams of Canada and the United States). The women now represent cities, and have big sponsors. So that sounds positive. I believe COVID is getting in the way of their plans, which leads to some confusion. Are they a league? Is it tournament-based? Weekend exhibitions with grassroots ourtreach?”

A few things to peel away here:

  1. The National Women’s Hockey League’s Isobel Cup tournament runs from Jan. 23-Feb. 5 in Lake Placid, with the semifinals and final to be broadcast live on NBCSN. Why McGran chose not to share those pertinent details with readers is a mystery.

  2. I don’t know if he was writing tongue-in-cheek when admitting he’s been “programmed by our Olympians not to root for the NWHL,” but, if true, shame on them and him. (Given that PWHPA membership spent its first year of existence trash talking the NWHL, I’m guessing it’s true.)

  3. The PWHPA and its Dream Gappers emerged from the ashes of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in 2019, so it’s not new. The makeup is different, in that there are now five hubs—Calgary, the Republic of Tranna, Montreal, New Hampshire, Minnesota—but there’s no “confusion.” It is not a league. The people at Secret Deodorant have diverted a portion of their attention and dollars from smelly armpits to Ponytail Puck, sponsoring a 2021 Dream Gap Tour to the merry tune of $1 million. The plan is a series of six weekend showcase tournaments (dates and sites to be determined), and the players will share prize money and award the Secret Cup to the top team at the conclusion of their barnstorming frolics.

All that information is readily available if you know where to look, or pick up a phone. Mind you, not a word has been posted to the PWHPA website since before Christmas, so a visit there is a waste of time. If you’re interested in all things Ponytail Puck, check out The Ice Garden, the Women’s Hockey Tribune or The Victory Press.

And, finally, nice off-the-beaten-path piece on Kerri Einarson from Jason Bell of the Drab Slab last week. Jason caught up with the reigning Canadian curling champion on the planet’s largest curling rink—Lake Winnipeg—where she and rinkmate Shannon Birchard have been working out the kinks in preparation for defence of their title, Feb. 19-28 in a Calgary bubble.

Let’s talk about Winnipeg Jets young studs skipping town and training camp tardiness…fresh Chevy-speak and what it means…Tiz the Stud…a Twitter hissing contest…no radio/TV in the colonies…heavenly baseball…where’s the money?…and other things on my mind

The first Sunday morning smorgas-bored of 2021…and I can’t say how many more are to follow…

Puck Finn

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed a trend with the Winnipeg Jets? Consider:

Evander Kane wanted out.

Jacob Trouba wanted out/tardy to training camp.

Josh Morrissey tardy to training camp.

Patrik Laine tardy to training camp.

Kyle Connor tardy to training camp.

Jack Roslovic wants out/tardy to training camp.

All young. All first-round draft picks.

Josh Morrissey

Of that bunch, only Morrissey and Connor are locked in longterm with the National Hockey League club. Kane and Trouba vamoosed. Laine’s agents believe it would be “mutually beneficial” for Puck Finn and the Jets to part company, and if they’re saying it we can assume Laine put the notion in their noggins. Roslovic, meanwhile, will likely sign, then bide his time playing third- or fourth-line minutes—or eating popcorn in the press box—for a very modest wage until his wish for a new postal code is granted.

Losing four young studs isn’t how draft-and-develop is supposed to work. But when—yes, I said when—Laine and Roslovic are gone, it will have become the Winnipeg way. That’s not a good look.

But, hey, Blake Wheeler will still be there to ride shotgun for Rink Rat Scheifele, and I sometimes think that’s all that matters to the Holy Trinity of Jets co-bankroll Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice.

That’s not a good look, either.

Just a thought: Would the Holy Trinity ever part company with captain Wheeler the way the Boston Bruins discarded Zdeno Chara, the greybeard who wore the C for so many years? Not bloody likely. I say it’s even money that Wheeler is still captain of Winnipeg HC—and playing right wing on the first line if Maurice is still behind the bench—when he’s 43.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Always get a giggle out of Chevy’s gum-flappers, and he was in peak form last week during 40-plus minutes of to-and-fro with news snoops. The thing is, Chevy-speak usually requires de-coding because, when asked the time of day, the GM is apt to tell you how to build a watch. But that’s why I’m here. To translate his natter.

On Laine’s status and trade rumors lingering into the season…

What Chevy said: “I think, again, everybody is a professional and certainly, you know, I was a professional trying to do my job this summer in looking at all the different options, you know, to improve our team, and I think, you know, we have done that. As far as, you know, with Patrik, you know, again, I assume he’s probably gonna have one of the best years of his career, you know, given the group of players that we have and the professionalism that is there and the maturity level that, you know, that all players gain, you know, year over year over year, I think just, you know, helps us move forward.”

What Chevy really meant: “Sure other clubs called and asked if Patty’s available, but do the names Teemu Selanne and John Paddock mean anything to you? What do people remember John for? That’s right, for trading Teemu. You think I want them remembering me as the doofus who traded Patty for a couple of used jock straps? If he’s gonna score 50 goals, it’s gonna be here, not in Philly or Carolina.”

Sami Niku

On the Jets maligned blueline, which has added only Derek Forbort…

What Chevy said (take a deep breath, kids): “Well, you know, again, we’re excited, you know, the opportunity to have him. You know, he’s someone that when he was in L.A., he put up some top minutes before he had an injury, put up some, you know, really good years playing against some good players, playing, you know, some shutdown roles, you know, he relishes the penalty kill, which is, you know, something that we, you know, look at improving. Obviously we’re excited that Dylan DeMelo, you know, chose to stay with us, you know, from a free agent standpoint. I’m sure there was…I know there’d be lots of opportunity for him elsewhere, you know, judging by the phone calls I got after, you know, we got him signed, so, you know, again, excited about having that. Really excited about, you know, again, just the continuity of, you know, Josh taking another step and Neal Pionk taking another step. Tucker Poolman, you know, now got a year, you know, under his belt, Sami Niku, just, you know, really hope that he can, you know, just take, you know, use training camp as an opportunity to springboard because there’s so much I think more, you know, in his game that unfortunately through, you know, injuries and the like…I guess we just have to make sure he doesn’t drive to training camp so he doesn’t get in a car accident and, you know, to kick things off. And then, you know, we’ve got some young players that, you know, looking forward to seeing. Dylan Samberg has not had the benefit of coming to an NHL training camp yet, so we really have, you know, we’ve kind of been frothing at the mouth for a couple years to get him into the pro ranks and, you know, now the time is here. Ville Heinola has had the benefit of playing over in Finland, you know, so his game, you know, hopefully will be at a level that will, you know, turn heads here, you know, right away. Obviously he had a great training camp last year and, you know, we’re just looking for, you know, obviously for him to come in and have matured that much more, you know, over the course of time. And a player like Logan Stanley, who’s had the opportunity to play two years of pro, you’re looking for that development and you’re looking for those guys to take that next step. We think we’ve got great depth and we’ve got a couple of guys that we think there’s a lot of room to grow with.”

What Chevy really meant: “Fingers and toes crossed. It’s all on Connor Hellebuyck to, you know, give us Vezina Trophy goaltending again or, you know, we’re up Schitt’s Creek without a paddle.”

Why are news snoops referring to it as the 2020-21 NHL season when all games will be played in 2021?

Zdeno Chara

I agree, after his lengthy tenure with the Bruins, it’s going to be weird seeing Zdeno Chara in Washington Capitals garb this winter. It’ll be kind of like Pope Francis holding mass in Wrangler jeans, Tony Lama snake skin boots and a Stetson instead of his robe and pointy hat.

Is it too much for Sportsnet to tell Elliotte Friedman to drag a hair brush across his scalp? The man looks absolutely disgraceful and, again, there’s no chance a female broadcaster would be permitted to appear on camera looking like she spent the night sleeping in a back-alley dumpster.

Social note: Lindsey Vonn and P.K. Subban won’t be exchanging wedding vows after all. Engaged in 2019, the sports power couple called the whole thing off last week, and it’s hard to figure. After all, P.K. is one of the NHL’s most notorious divers. And now he’s not willing to take the plunge? Go figure.

Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law is now Tiz the Stud, and if you want the great bay stallion to service your mare the price tag is $40,000. Imagine that, $40,000 for sex. Tom Brady must feel ripped off. I mean, he screwed the New England Patriots and never got a dime for it.

Stevie Van Zandt

This is rich: In a Twitter hissing contest, Damien Cox of the Toronto Star scolded musician/actor Stevie Van Zandt, who had the (apparent) bad manners to trash talk news snoops for the lame questions they ask athletes. “Don’t criticize things you’ve never done,” the pompous Cox harrumphed. That just might be the dumbest tweet…by anyone… ever. It’s a hot, steamy pile of stupid. Unless, of course, I was sleeping during those years when Cox played in the NHL, MLB, NBA, NFL and MLS. Seriously. The guy’s made a career of crapping on athletes, coaches, managers, owners and officials. He’s a recreational golfer and wannabe tennis player who pooh-poohs pros of all stripes. He’s never spent five seconds in the White House, let alone presided over an entire nation, but he’s spent the past four years crucifying Donald Trump. But, hey, don’t you dare trash talk Cox or other news snoops unless you’ve held a notebook or microphone in a post-game scrum. As if. Like I said, a hot, steamy pile of stupid, and the Star continues to publish his alphabet farts.

Speaking of TorStar, it’s added former NHLer and current TSN gab guy Dave Poulin to its stable of sports scribes. That would be the same Dave Poulin who, in 2018, left Connor McDavid off his all-star ballot, even though the Edmonton Oilers captain was the NHL scoring champion and winner of the Ted Lindsay Award as the best player in the world. Note to self: Cancel Toronto Star subscription first thing on Monday.

Becky the bench boss.

It’s about Becky Hammon: Rock on, girl. Becky became the first female to coach a National Basketball Association team last week, taking the wheel of the San Antonio Spurs after bossman Gregg Popovich was told to leave the building in the second quarter of a skirmish v. the Los Angeles LeBrons. She joins a list of impressive “first” ladies in sports that includes Kim Ng, Katie Sowers, Kathryn Nesbitt, Callie Brownson and Alyssa Nakken, so don’t tell me that nothing good happened in 2020.

I don’t know about you, but I get a kick out of jock journos and others in the rag trade listing their top 10 or 20 articles/columns from 2020. Never mind that it’s a rather arrogant exercise in ego-stroking, it seems to me that it’s the readers who should decide something like that.

I can’t remember 10 of my posts from last year, let alone 20, and I doubt the five or six people who read this blog can either. So I’ll spare one and all my greatest hits.

Sean Fitz-Gerald of The Athletic lists his “top 10 Canadian sports media stories of 2020.” Nos. 9 and 10 are strictly about radio in the Republic of Tranna. Sigh. Only someone from The ROT would presume to believe those of us who live/work in the colonies actually give a damn. Oh, and apparently we haven’t been introduced to radio and TV, because not one of the “top 10” stories targets a Western Canada market. Or anywhere east of The ROT, for that matter. Double sigh.

There’s an old Righteous Brothers song with the lyrics “If there’s a rock and roll heaven, well you know they’ve got a hell of a band.” Well, we can say the same about baseball, because the Big Ballpark In The Sky gained a helluva team last year. Included among the legends leaving our mortal coil were Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Whitey Ford and Phil Niekro, and how would you like to go into a World Series with those four as your starting rotation? Backing them up would be an infield of Bob Watson at first, Joe Morgan at second, Tony Fernandez at shortstop and Dick Allen at third, with Al Kaline, Lou Brock and Claudell Washington patrolling the outfield. The only position the Grim Reaper didn’t tap on the shoulder was catcher.

Bo Levi Mitchell

Canadian Football League outfits are busy getting signatures on contracts for a 2021 season, and that’s good news. The not-so-good news is that nobody has explained how Rouge Football works without people in the pews. As you know, commish Randy Ambrosie went panhandling on Parliament Hill last year, hoping for a pogey cheque to cover the costs of an abbreviated season, but the CFL fell off the grid when Trudeau the Younger and the feds rejected the beg. So how can it be doable this year? Even with a COVID vaccine available, head counts will be limited. Every skirmish will look like a Toronto Argos home game. And what’s left of rainy day funds can’t possibly cover operating costs of a full season, especially for community-run franchises like our Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Some players across the dominion have rejigged their contracts, but where’s the revenue to pay Bo Levi Mitchell $541,000, Mike Reilly $525,000 and Cody Fajardo $405,000, to name just three high-salaried quarterbacks?

Count me as shocked when I called up the Winnipeg Sun this morning to see an article about girls high school volleyball on the sports front. The tabloid doesn’t do local, other than the pro teams and curling. It doesn’t do women’s sports. So it was a pleasant surprise. Having said that, the Drab Slab continues to wallop the Sun in female sports coverage. Here are the numbers for exclusively female content in the 30 publishing days of December:

Free Press
Sports front: 7
Articles/briefs: 32/11
Days with female sports coverage: 27 of 30.

Sun
Sports front: 1
Articles/briefs: 8/2 (plus one sentence on Sarah Fuller)
Days with female sports coverage: 10 of 30.

And finally, I keep reading and hearing people write and say if 2020 has taught us anything it’s to be kind to one another. Seriously? You needed a killer pandemic to learn that?

Let’s take a trip down memory lane on Manitoba Hockey Heritage Day

This being Manitoba Hockey Heritage Day, it puts me in a reflective mood, pondering my former life as a rink rat.

It began as a wobbly, Bambi-legged urchin on the outdoor freezes at Melrose Park Community Club, Bronx Park and East End, then moved to shinny shacks both primitive and elegant, from Transcona to Texas, from Sargent Park to Stockholm, from the Old Barn On Maroons Road to the Forum in Montreal (best hot dogs, ever) and Maple Leaf Gardens.

It was a lengthy trip, 30 years of it scribbling for the Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Sun (with a couple of brief pit stops in the Republic of Tranna and Calgary), and there were highs and lows and in-betweens. This is what’s on my mind today:

  • The Old Barn On Maroons Road, when it had that new-rink smell.

    I’m thinking about Mosie and the Winnipeg Warriors. I attended my first live pro game in the mid-1950s, a Western Hockey League skirmish featuring Billy Mosienko in the twilight years of a boffo career that included a 1952 record that stands uncontested to this day in the National Hockey League—three goals in the lickety-split time of 21 seconds. Mosie left the Chicago Blackhawks to wind it down with the Warriors in Good Ol’ Hometown, and it was a treat beyond description for a six-year-old kid to observe hockey royalty in person, in a swanky, new Winnipeg Arena.

  • I’m thinking about Father David Bauer and our national men’s team, based in River City during the 1960s. Our amateur Nats faced insurmountable odds in a quest to wrestle global supremacy from the U.S.S. R. “amateurs.” We all knew the Soviets were “amateurs” like cherry Kool-Aid is Russian vodka.

  • I’m thinking about Benny Hatskin and the original Winnipeg Jets, a Junior outfit in the Western Canada Hockey League that engaged in epic battles with the Flin Flon Bombers of coach Paddy Ginnell. Come playoff time, they’d pack the joint.

  • I’m thinking about Bill Addison, longtime commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. As a journalist and rink rat, I can’t think of anyone with whom I enjoyed talking all things puck more than Bill, a true gentleman in an era when a fellow would wear a necktie and a fedora to the rink.

  • I’m thinking about Frank McKinnon, the first sports figure I ever interviewed for the Trib, and the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association was the subject matter of my first byline article on June 14, 1971. It was buried on the back pages of the sports section, surrounded by Harold Loster’s horse racing copy, and it included a ghastly error—I wrote the MAHA had elected Frank president of the “1871-72” executive. What can I say? I’m an old soul. And, hey, I was only out by 100 years.

  • I’m thinking about Benny Hatskin signing Bobby Hull at Portage and Main in June 1972. I was a few blocks away in the Trib building when it all went down to change the shinny landscape forever. A younger generation might suggest Mark Chipman and David Thomson bringing the National Hockey League back to Good Ol’ Hometown in 2011 was a bigger story, but no. Everything flowed from Benny getting Hull’s signature on a World Hockey Association contract.

  • I’m thinking about the Jets introducing Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg to the masses in May 1974. Some of us were convinced that Benny and his minions had lost the plot because Swedes, thought to be cottony soft, couldn’t possibly survive vs. the barbarians who occupied too many roster spots on WHA outfits. Well, we now know they didn’t simply survive, they excelled, and served as Pied Pipers to numerous Europeans who found their way to the Jets.

  • Kevin McCarthy

    I’m thinking about Junior hockey. I remember my first road trip, a milk run from Winnipeg to Dauphin for MJHL playoffs, and there were other junkets on the iron lung with the Winnipeg Clubs and Monarchs. Kevin McCarthy was the most talented local kid I ever covered, and watching him and Doug Wilson anchor a powerplay was special. My old coach Gerry Brisson, who owned the Junior Jets/Clubs/Monarchs before whisking the WHL franchise to Calgary, was a different head of lettuce, and my favorite character was Muzz MacPherson, coach of the 1973 Centennial Cup champion Portage Terriers before moving behind Brisson’s bench with the Clubs.

  • I’m thinking about the many hours I spent in the company of scouts, guys like Bob Goring, Bruce Cheatley, Jimmy Walker, Bruce Southern and Dino Ball, who made the down time more enjoyable.

  • Billy Robinson

    I’m thinking about my favorite hockey people, in no particular order: Jeep Woolley, Tom McVie, Terry Hind, Earl Dawson, George Allard, Don Baizley, Gordie Pennell, Bill Addison, Frank McKinnon, Barry Bonni, Spider Mazur, Julie Klymkiw, Rudy Pilous, Teddy Foreman, Mike Doran, Sudsy, Aime Allaire, Bill Juzda, Bones Raleigh, Ed Sweeney, Billy Robinson, Aggie Kukulowicz, Marc Cloutier, Gordie Tumilson, Bill Bozak, John Ferguson, Peter Piper, Brian Gunn, Adam Tarnowski, Andy Murray, Teddy Green, Laurie Boschman, the Swedes (all of them), Portage Terriers.

  • I’m thinking about covering both the Jets final skirmish in the WHA, vs. the Edmonton Oilers (a 7-3 win), and their NHL baptism, in Pittsburgh vs. the Penguins (a 4-2 loss). Reyn Davis and I were the beat writers of the day for both those games, and Friar Nicolson was the play-by-play guy on radio. Sadly, Reyn and Friar left us long ago.

  • I’m thinking about the 1975 World Junior tourney, with a group of WCHL all-stars facing off against the elite of the Soviet Union, Sweden, Finland, Czechoslovakia and the U.S. The lads from Mother Russia ruled the day, besting the our kids 4-3 in the final game, prompting this rather peculiar observation of the comrades from Bobby Hull: “I’d like to see those guys in the shower, I’ll bet they’re all muscle.”

  • I’m thinking about Aime Allaire, the hard-luck case of my time covering shinny in Good Ol’ Hometown. Aime did everything possible to bring Senior hockey’s Allan Cup home, but his St. Boniface Mohawks always came up a day late and a dollar short. I rode the iron lung with the Mohawks one winter, and Aime once hired me to handle stats for the Central Amateur Senior Hockey League.

  • I’m thinking about refereeing Winnipeg Colts tryout scrimmages for Stan Bradley and Harold Loster before they departed on their annual junket to a PeeWee tournament in Goderich, Ont.

  • I’m thinking about the night the Jets whupped the Soviet national side, 5-3, and Ulf Nilsson telling me in a noisy changing room that he was “proud to be a Canadian tonight.”

  • Mikhail Smith

    I’m thinking about Mike Smith, the egghead scout/coach/GM of the Jets who shall long be remembered for two things: 1) his make-work-for-Russians project; 2) running Ducky Hawerchuk out of town. The man I called Mikhail had a degree in Russian studies and a maniacal obsession with every Vladimir or Igor who laced up a pair of skates, and he attempted to transform the local shinny side into the Central Red Jets. The plan was a colossal flop and Hawerchuk became a casualty, moving to Buffalo.

  • I’m thinking about Billy Bozak, a very nice man known as Magic Fingers. Boz was responsible for healing the lame and halting among the Jets, and there wasn’t an owie the longtime team trainer couldn’t cure. How his healing hands made Terry Ruskowski suitable for combat in the 1979 WHA final I’ll never know.

  • I’m thinking about the day of the long faces, which is to say the final farewell for the original Jets, who packed up and skedaddled lock, stock and jock strap to Arizona. There weren’t many dry eyes in the joint on April 28, 1996, and it had nothing to do with a 4-1 playoff loss to the Detroit Red Wings. It had everything to do with a funeral. The NHL was dead in Good Ol’ Hometown. It took 15 years for many among the rabble to recover from the Jets’ departure. Many still mourn the loss.

  • I’m thinking about piggy banks and pucks and Peter Warren of CJOB roaming the landscape on a flatbed truck, accepting donations from the young, the old and the in-between in a bid to Save the Jets from extinction. It worked once or twice, but kids emptying their piggy banks and little, old ladies signing over pension cheques was never going to be the solution.

  • I’m thinking about Tuxedo Night and how snazzy all the luminaries and the Zamboni driver looked in their monkey suits. The promo was the brainchild of marketing guru Marc Cloutier, who wanted Good Ol’ Hometown to look its spiffy best for the first appearance of NHL royalty, the Montreal Canadiens. Lafleur and Savard and Robinson and Gainey and Shutt et al were greeted by a gathering of 15,723 on Dec. 15, 1979, and the Jets faithful feared the worst. But a rag-tag roster filled with hand-me-downs rag-dolled the Stanley Cup champions, winning 6-2, with Willy Lindstrom scoring three goals and Peter Sullivan collecting five points.

  • John Ferguson

    I’m thinking about Bobby Hull and how he was greeted with such pomp and pageantry at Portage and Main in June 1972, and how he left the building in such an undignified manner seven years later. The Golden Jet was scheduled to be in the lineup for Tuxedo Night, nationally televised on Hockey Night in Canada, but he was confused about faceoff time and arrived late. Coach Tommy McVie, not one for bending rules, informed Hull that he’d be sitting this one out. When advised of Hull’s punishment, GM John Ferguson pitched a fit, kicking a hole in a dressing room door. Didn’t matter. Hull, one of the team owners, was out. He never wore Jets linen again.

  • I’m thinking about Teemu Selanne’s astonishing 76-goal rookie season, in 1992-93, and GM John Paddock trading the Finnish Flash to the Disney Ducks three years later. D’oh!

  • I’m thinking about doing color commentary to Friar Nicolson’s play-by-play on Jets radio broadcasts, in the WHA and NHL, and I’m sure I was awful.

  • Valeri Kharlamov

    I’m thinking about tossing back vodka and beer with the Russians at the Viscount Gort during the Winnipeg portion of the 1981 Canada Cup tournament. They couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t speak Russian, but we managed to conduct an impromptu and teary-eyed wake for legendary Soviet forward Valeri Kharlamov, who was buried that day back home in Mother Russia.

  • I’m thinking about all the good guys no longer with us, too many to list.

I’m no longer a rink rat. I haven’t attended a live hockey game since 1999, when I put Good Ol’ Hometown in my rear view mirror after 30 years in the rag trade. But it was a rush. Some might even think of it as a bit of a charmed life, and I suppose watching hockey and writing about the game for a living was every bit of that.

The only thing missing was girls/women’s hockey, and I hope Ponytail Puck receives more ink in the local dailies once it’s back on the ice. Ditto Junior, university and high school shinny. I realize readers can’t get enough of their Jets, but they weren’t the only game in town during my time at the Trib and Sun, and they still aren’t.

Happy Hockey Heritage Day.

Let’s talk about Rob the Rube and the Exalted Guardians of the Lou Marsh Trophy…LP records and bubble gum card regrets…the $405 million Winnipeg Jets…the Drama in Bahama…hits and misses in the rag trade…mum’s the word for Kyrie…and Johnny Rotten’s on his way back

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and something tells me that Sarah Fuller’s 15 minutes of fame is about to end now that she’s kicked two converts…

There are a couple of things you need to know about the Lou Marsh Trophy.

Lou Marsh Trophy

First, it’s a Toronto Star in-house trinket, named after a former sports editor at One Yonge Street in the Republic of Tranna and voted on by a cadre of news snoops mostly living and working within spitting distance of the CN Tower.

Second, here’s what those big-city Tranna folk think of us out here in the colonies—hee haw!

That’s right, country bumpkins.

We’re the red-haired, freckle-faced, adopted daughters and sons of Confederation, all spread out in the wide-open sprawl of an oft-frozen tundra and hunkered down in a bunch of itty-bitty, backwater burgs named after animals and their body parts. Moose Jaw. Elkhorn. Pelican Narrows. Porcupine Plain.

Basically, they see us as Mayberry. You know, Andy, Barney, Goober, Floyd the Barber and Aunt Bee. Except we wear toques.

They think our idea of a high time is the Saturday night barn dance. Right after the big tractor pull. (That’s only partially true. Sometimes we save the tractor pull until Sunday afternoon, right after we’ve collected all the eggs and milked the cows.)

They also know they’ve got the tall, imposing CN Tower and powerful Bay Street, while we have grain silos and Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump.

Alphonso Davies

Little wonder, therefore, that the Exalted Guardians of the Marsh trinket limited the number of colonials in last week’s discussion/vote to determine the finest athlete in our vast land during the past 12 months. Wouldn’t want to give too many of the western rubes too loud a voice, right? Why, you get a whole passel of those hayseeds together and they’re apt to organize a Western Bloc vote and choose Troy Dorchester, or some little, ol’ gal who raised herself a prize-winning heifer at the Oxbow County Fair.

Next thing you know, One Yonge Street would be trying to explain to the world how a chuckwagon racer out of Westerose, Alta., came to be Canada’s athlete-of-the-year. Or—eeks!—a pig-tailed 4H-clubber with a cow. Can’t have that, now can we?

So the Exalted Guardians, headed by Damien Cox of the Star, played a game of eeny-meeny-miny-moe and plucked a fortunate four from the entire pool of jock journos who live and work west of Falcon Lake, which is just a hoot and a holler down the road from the Manitoba-Ontario divide.

“There’s more rep from the West now than for the first 60 years of the award,” Cox boasted in a tweet, as if he’d brought peace to the Middle East.

Oh my, what a dear, magnanimous man, permitting four among the great unwashed wretches of Western Canadian jock journalism to share his oxygen, albeit virtually. Alert the Vatican. Surely sainthood must be the reward for such unprecedented charity.

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

The thing is, the overwhelming majority of voices at last week’s virtual point-and-counterpoint—37 in number—belonged to news snoops who wouldn’t know a silo from a swather, and the final head count was East 33, West 4.

But, hey, can we really blame the Exalted Guardians for putting a quota on country bumpkins?

I mean, they really pushed the envelop by giving four western rubes a voice and a vote. It was high risk, like letting Mike Tyson loose in a sorority house. And, sure enough, just look at what Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post did. He brought a banjo to the symphony.

Eighteen news snoops voted for Alphonso Davies and 18 voted for Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. But not our boy Rob. He delivered his shoutout to breakout basketball star Jamal Murray. (By gosh, that means he must have watched some hoops. On TV. Who knew they had electricity on the Flattest of Lands? Must have got it the same day as the indoor plumbing.)

Those who know him say Rob is an all-timer on the roll call of good guys, but he had some serious ‘splaining to do. The Twitter hounds demanded answers. How could this sodbuster not possibly see what everyone else saw in Davies and Duvernay-Tardif?

Rob Vanstone

“My rationale: Murray had two 50-point games in the 2020 NBA playoffs, during which he helped the Denver Nuggets rally from 3-1 series deficits against the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers (see ya, Kawhi Leonard),” he wrote. “In 19 post-season games, the 6-foot-4 Murray averaged 26.5 points, 6.6 assists and 4.8 rebounds. That was after posting averages of 17.7 points, 4.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds during the regular season. Murray, from Kitchener, Ont., elevated his already impressive play when the games were most meaningful.”

Rob also tweeted something about it being “a coin flip” between Murray and Davies, but he didn’t really have to explain himself. In reality, he did everyone a favor. His vote meant joint top jocks, rather than one.

Atta boy, Rob the Rube. You’ve got a boffo story to tell at the next Saturday night barn dance. Hee Haw!

I have no quibble with Davies and Duvernay-Tardif sharing the Lou Marsh Trophy. For all I care, they can slice the thing in half or melt it down and make baubles, bangles and buckshot out of it. If not, I’m guessing it would make for a fabulous door stop or a paper weight. No matter, because this isn’t about footy phenom Phonsie or the good doctor, who chose to save lives this year rather than protect Patrick Mahomes’ backside in the Kansas City Chiefs’ bid to repeat as rulers of the National Football League. They’re champions and worthy winners, both of them, even if Phonsie did his thing on footy pitches on the other side of the world and Duvernay-Tardif did his thing in long-term care homes after collecting a Super Bowl ring. My issue is with the process. Is it truly a national award if half the country isn’t given a voice? Hell no, it ain’t. It’s total BS. Until the Exalted Guardians allow everyone to play, it’s a sham.

Something to ponder: For all the success we’ve had in Ponytail Puck, no female hockey player has ever won the Lou Marsh trinket. For all the success our Pebble People have had, no curler has ever won the Lou Marsh trinket. For all her accomplishments on the LPGA Tour, Brooke Henderson has never won the Lou Marsh trinket. Just saying.

A Wayne Gretzky rookie card fetched $1.29 million at auction last week. Every time I read a story like that, I cringe. How so? Because there was a bubble gum card in the back wheel of the Raleigh bike I sold to Dougie Cox for $10 while in high school in the 1960s. I don’t recall whose pic was on that tiny piece of cardboard, but it might have been Bobby Orr, and one of No. 4’s rookie cards sold for $204,000 last year. What did I do with the 10 bucks Dougie gave me for my bike? Bought the newest Beatles album, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. I still have the LP and bubble gum card regrets. I doubt Dougie has the bike.

Please don’t tell me you’re surprised that the Winnipeg Jets have been given preferential treatment from provincial politicos and Manitoba’s top docs in their quest to play hockey during a pandemic. You should know by now that there’s one rule book for the regular rabble and another for the filthy rich and fabulous.

Let me go on record and say any member of our national women’s hockey/soccer teams can call dibs and jump ahead of me in the vaccine queue if they feel so inclined. But the millionaire hockey players? Wait your turn, boys.

The Puck Pontiff

On the subject of wealth, the money crunchers at Forbes tell us the value of the Jets has dipped from US$420 million a year ago to $405M today. Put in perspective, the sticker price was $170M when co-bankrolls Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and David Thomson purchased the National Hockey League franchise in 2011. Still, there’s cause for concern. Assuming the NHL drops the puck next month, an empty Little Hockey House On The Prairie means no game-day revenue and staggering losses for Winnipeg HC and all NHL outfits. We know no one in the country has deeper pockets than Thomson, and there’ll be no tag days for the Puck Pontiff, but hearing the New York Islanders dropped $39M in 2020 makes me a bit skittish.

Here’s the Forbes breakdown on valuation for the NHL’s Canadian-based franchises (year-over-year change in parenthesis):
2. Toronto Maple Leafs-$1.5 billion (0%)
3. Montreal $1.34B (0%)
10. Vancouver $725 million (-2%)
14. Edmonton $550M (-4%)
20. Calgary $480M (-4%)
26. Ottawa $430M (-3%)
27. Winnipeg $405M (-4%)

Interesting that Bill Foley of the Vegas Golden Knights felt obliged to snuff out trade talk involving forward Max Pacioretty. “We’re not shopping Patches,” the Knights bankroll told news snoops. “We do have cap issues, and so some of those things have to be resolved as we go forward, we started getting into the season. But he definitely is not being shopped.” Is it just me, or does anyone else think that’s exactly the kind of language we should be hearing from the Puck Pontiff re Patrik Laine?

Trevor Berbick and Muhammad Ali.

Thirty-nine years ago Friday, I sat ringside and watched Trevor Berbick box Muhammad Ali’s ears for 10 rounds on a parched patch of earth on Paradise Island in The Bahamas. The great Ali was pathetic and Berbick, a Canadian by way of Jamaica, wasn’t much better. It was a sordid affair that involved criminals, con men and the many human barnacles and leeches who clung to Ali, still convinced there was a buck to be made off the aging and bloated man. I didn’t enjoy what I witnessed and heard that night, and thought it disturbing that Ali’s fist-fighting career should end in such an undignified manner. It was like watching royalty carted off in a compost cart. The Drama in Bahama never should have happened but, oddly enough, I’m glad I was there for Ali’s final bout.

It’s official: Donald Trump and his wackadoo legal team headed by Rudy Giuliani has now suffered more losses than the Washington Generals. The Generals, of course, were the longtime patsy and loser of more than 17,000 games to the Harlem Globetrotters.

Jeff Hamilton

Hit and Misses in the local rag trade…

Hit: Call off the search party. Bring back the bloodhounds. The Drab Slab’s fine, young scribe Jeff Hamilton is safe and scribbling again. We haven’t seen Jeff’s byline much this year, in large part due to the Canadian Football League falling off the grid, but he’s back with a six-part epic on Graham James, the sexual predator former hockey coach. Do we need to read more about creepy James and his criminal acts? Probably not. But if his victims are talking, they deserve to be heard. Some of Part 1 is painful to read, because what James did to teenage boys was horrific and the coverup was unforgivable, but it’s fabulous journalism from Jeff. Parts 2-6 in the series run online Monday-Friday and in print Tuesday-Saturday.

Miss: The Drab Slab couldn’t find room on its sports pages for this year’s list of inductees to the Manitoba Golf Hall of Fame—Rhonda Orr, 1967 junior men’s interprovincial team champions Steve Bannatyne, Dave Hill, Ken Redfern, Dwight Parkinson, Manfred Broavac, and builders Brian Gilhuly and Tom Kinsman—but there was ample space for articles on Northern Ontario canceling its curling championships, breakdancing becoming an Olympic sport, COVID-19 and the Tranna Jurassics, new co-GMs for the B.C. Lions, the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC, and two NFL game stories. That’s just wrong.

Miss: The Winnipeg Sun ran a brief on the golf hall-of-famers, but it should have been on the sports front rather than another bland, boring article on the Tranna Blue Jays written by a Tranna scribe. Seriously, what happened to putting local copy first and foremost?

Hit: Ted Wyman’s two-parter on the state of curling in Canada and the changes Pebble People would like to see at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier.

Kyrie Irving

So, Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets says he won’t be talking to news snoops (he calls them “pawns”) before, during or after the National Basketball Association season. Give me a quarter and I’ll call someone who might actually give a damn.

The NBA has fined Irving $25,000 for his cone of silence. Ya, like that’s going to unzip his lips. The guy’s due to collect $33 million for bouncing a ball in 2020-21.

And finally, according to TMZ, Johnny Manziel is about to sign a contract with the Zappers in something called Fan Controlled Football. Isn’t there a vaccine to make him go away permanently?

Winnipeg Sports 1970-present: The top-50 movers and shakers

Something a little different today, kids.

Rather than the usual Sunday morning smorgas-bored, I give you the top 50-plus movers and shakers in Good Ol’ Hometown over the past half century.

This isn’t one of those hum-drum, greatest-athlete lists. We’re talking positive impact, what a sports figure did to enhance the local sporting landscape, whether that meant the wow factor of Teemu Selanne’s 76-goal rookie season or Harvey Warner keeping the ponies at a full gallop out at Assiniboia Downs.

And, while our play-for-pay jocks tend to gobble up the big headlines on a day-to-day basis, it’s often the owners and managers and coaches and administrators who make things happen when we aren’t staring at the scoreboard, and that also means our amateur playing fields, where we have a rich tradition of magnificence and the impact has been significant.

So here’s the list of the 50-plus most-impactful movers and shakers in Winnipeg sports dating back to 1970, and I should warn you that this list includes jock journos, because once upon a time before the Internet, 24-hour TV and social media, there was a gadget called the radio. Not every game was televised or live streamed. We needed our newspapers and radios to take us to the action.

One final note: Remember, this is only one person’s opinion, so don’t get your knickers in a twist if you don’t see the name of one of your faves.

Ben Hatskin, the day he signed Bobby Hull at Portage and Main.

1. Ben Hatskin: Well, this is the ultimate no-brainer. It’s like naming Pope Francis to an all-Catholic team. I mean, Benny didn’t just bring the Winnipeg Jets and the World Hockey Association to Good Ol’ Hometown in 1972, he hijacked Bobby Hull from the Chicago Blackhawks in a shocking coup that reshaped the shinny landscape. Without Benny’s derring-do, there would have been no National Hockey League Jets 1.0 and no Jets 2.0.

2. Mark Chipman: The Puck Pontiff filled the void left by the 1996 departure of the Jets to Arizona, but his Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League and the American Hockey League were just the appetizer. Aided by billionaire David Thomson’s bulging bankroll, there was an NHL rebirth in River City in 2011, with the Atlanta Thrashers moving north. Oh, and did I mention that along the way Chipman and Thomson built a downtown arena?

3. Bobby Hull: The Golden Jet informed Hatskin and the other WHA renegade owners that it would take $1 million dollars for him to leave the Blackhawks and pull on a Jets jersey in ’72. Done deal. The Hull signing legitimized the WHA, and other top-level players soon followed. And, remember, Robert Marvin was also part of the ownership group that took the Jets into the NHL.

Michael Gobuty

4. Michael Gobuty/Barry Shenkarow: I know, I know. Michael is the guy who let Wayne Gretzky get away. Mook. But don’t hold that against him. Michael and his ownership group kept the Jets afloat in the late 1970s, allowing for one final, rewarding whirl in the WHA by purchasing the contracts of a group of Houston Aeros, including Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich, Rich Preston and Scott Campbell. He also recruited John Bowie Ferguson, and Michael offered a loud and influential voice in the NHL’s decision to absorb the Jets and three other WHA franchises in 1979.  As for Barry, talk about shooting the messenger. By the time the whole thing went south for Jets 1.0, he was front man for the ownership group that sold the club to American buyers, who then loaded up the truck and bugged out to Arizona, lock, stock and jock. So Barry became the fall guy. But it’s a bad rap. No locals were willing to dig into their deep pockets to purchase the franchise and lose millions of dollars every year, so he/they really had no choice.

Cal Murphy

5. Cal Murphy: Cantankerous, curmudgeonly and very funny, Cal ruled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers roost with an iron fist from 1983-96, as either head coach or general manager. Along the way, there were three Grey Cup championships, one heart transplant, and one human rights kerfuffle over female news snoops in the locker room. He also brought the Grey Cup game to Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time, and became a vocal advocate for organ donations. Today there’s a pigeon perch of Kindly Cal outside Football Follies Field In Fort Garry.

6. Wade Miller: The leader of the Canadian Mafia inherited a Sad Sack, laughing stock-level Bombers team and the longest title drought in the Canadian Football League when he was anointed CEO in 2013. He was more like the CE-D’oh! in the early years, but Wade ignored the wolves howling at his door and stuck by his fellow hosers, GM Kyle Walters and sideline steward Mike O’Shea. Today the Bombers reign as Grey Cup champions, with money in the bank, and only the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Miller down.

Anders Hedberg, agent Don Baizley and Ulf Nilsson.

7. Dr. Gerry Wilson/Billy Robinson/Don Baizley: No North American shinny side tapped into the European hockey market as swiftly, deeply and as eagerly as the Jets, and it was this trio of forward-thinkers that brought the first wave of Scandinavians to Good Ol’ Hometown in the mid-1970s. Dr. Wilson caught the first glimpse of Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson and alerted Robinson, the Jets main bird dog. Robby scampered across the big pond to Sweden and liked what he saw, signing both players pronto. Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Curt Larsson came along for the ride, and player agent Baizley took them under his wing. Championship parades ensued.

8. Anders/Ulf/the Shoe: It’s no exaggeration to suggest Anders and Ulf revolutionized the game once in partnership with Hull. They made magic with their swashbuckling, freestyle frolicking on the local freeze, but it was Sjoberg—the Shoe—who stirred the drink from the back end. Together, they dominated the WHA and—damn them!—also provided Glen Sather with the blueprint for his Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s.

John Ferguson and Ducky at the 1981 NHL entry draft.

9. John Ferguson: So, here’s the irony—he was the cad who lured the ultra-popular Hedberg and Nilsson away from Portage and Main to make them stars on Broadway, then the Rangers fired Fergy and he joined the Jets to oversee their final WHA title and aid the entry into the NHL. Go figure. Full of bluster and occasional rage, Fergy made certain that life around the Jets camp was never boring, which sometimes meant kicking holes in walls and dumping buckets of ice on the opposing team’s bench. As Jets GM, he assembled a string of formidable NHL outfits during the 1980s, even if he couldn’t quite get them over the hump. Stars like Dale Hawerchuk, Teemu Selanne, David Babych, Thomas Steen and Dave Christian were drafted during his watch, and we won’t talk about Jimmy Mann.

10. Clara Hughes: When they name parks, playgrounds and schools in your honor, and when they put your pic on a postage stamp, you know you’ve done something right. Clara is a two-sport Olympian—speed skating and cycling—and the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. But it’s her advocacy on behalf of mental health and children’s sports/recreation that makes Clara truly impactful. She’s a leading voice in the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and she’s donated/raised many thousands of dollars for various causes.

11. Cindy Klassen: She has as many shiny Olympic trinkets as Clara Hughes (six), including one gold medal, so Clara’s two-sport bona fides is all that separates the two world champion speed skaters.

12. Chris Walby: If ever there’s been a larger-than-life athlete, it was Bluto—all 6-feet, 7-inches and 300-plus pounds of him (give or take a Big Mac and a six pack). Bluto grabbed grass and growled for the Bombers from 1981-96, collecting three Grey Cup rings, nine CFL all-star nods, two top O-lineman awards, and a bust in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. But it wasn’t just what he did on the field and his size that made Bluto stand out. He was among the great characters in Rouge Football, a good-time Charlie and a deliverer of delicious quotes. No surprise he became a talking head on CBC’s football coverage, even if English sometimes seemed to be his second language.

13. Dale Hawerchuk: He came to the Jets as a freshly scrubbed 18-year-old from Cornwall, and much was expected of Ducky. He delivered. Winnipeg HC went from the free space on the NHL’s bingo card to the best shinny outfit this side of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and Ducky was the centrepiece.

Jennifer Jones and Jill Officer

14. Jennifer Jones: The only thing Jennifer hasn’t won is the Brier, and that’s only because the boys won’t let her play. There’s never been a finer female curler in our country, even if some in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia might want to point to Sandra Schmirler and Colleen Jones and debate the issue. Well, let ’em hash it out. We know they’re wrong.

15. Jill Officer: It will be interesting to monitor how Jennifer gets along without Jill throwing second stones. They were together almost as long as Mick and Keith, but Officer retreated from competitive curling in 2018. Jill’s haul is the same as Jen’s: An Olympic gold, two world championships and six Scotties titles in her trophy case. Also one park named in her honor.

Teemu Selanne and the Calder Trophy

16. Teemu Selanne: Like Anders and Ulf, the Finnish Flash wasn’t in Good Ol’ Hometown for a long time, but it sure was a good time. Those 76 goals in his freshman NHL crusade had the burg in a buzz, and it’s a record that will stand as long as there are frozen ponds for kids to skate on. Teemu might have been the most popular Jet ever, give or take Ducky.

17. Don Duguid: The Digit toddled off to two world curling championships as a skip and never lost a game. Yup, 17-0. Dugie then thought it would be a swell idea to go on TV and tell the rest of us how to curl, which he did for 29 years until someone at the CBC had a brain fart and let him go. And just the other day he was made a member of the Order of Canada for his wonderful work as a curler and teacher of the game.

Moosie Turnbull

18. Ray Turnbull: His friends called him Moosie, and he had scads of friends in and beyond the curling community. A true visionary, Moosie’s impact began at the Mother Club on Granite Way, but his influence spread across the globe when he buddied up with Don Duguid for instructional clinics to curling curious nations beginning in the 1970s. So he’s largely to blame for the rest of the world catching up to us on pebbled ice. A broadcasting icon with TSN from 1984 to 2010, Moosie coached no fewer than 17 world champions.

19. Frank McKinnon: Those who knew him best would probably tell us that Frank never slept, because he didn’t have time for zzzzzzs. How busy was he? Let me count the ways: Five years president and 20 years on the executive board of Hockey Manitoba; 10 years commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League; founding father of the Centennial Cup tournament and the inaugural World Junior championship; first chairman of the board of Hockey Canada; two years director Sports Federation of Canada; four years vice-president Canadian Olympic Association; founding member of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. Frank was based in Carman, but he spent enough time in Good Ol’ Hometown to qualify for this list.

20. Donny Lalonde: The Golden Boy was in the ring with Sugar Ray. Yes, that Sugar Ray, as in Leonard. He even put the boxing legend on the canvas—one of only two men to do so—scoring a fourth-round knockdown in their 1988 bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Alas, Sugar Ray ruled the day, battering Lalonde about the ears in the ninth round and scoring a TKO. But it’s enough that the Golden Boy went from working out in the old firehall gym on Talbot Avenue in Elmwood to champion of the boxing world’s light heavyweights.

21. Jeff Stoughton: It’s easier to break out of jail than win the Manitoba men’s curling championship, but Jeff wore the Buffalo on his back 11 times. Crazy, man. A two-time world champion and three times the best at the Brier, Jeff also has two Canadian Mixed titles on his resume. Once he retired his tuck delivery and his spinorama showtime shtick, he took to coaching and administration, first helping Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris strike gold in Mixed Doubles at the Seoul Olympics, and he’s now coach and program manager for the national men’s team.

Coleen Dufresne and Garth Pischke.

22. Coleen Dufresne: When you spend 17 years coaching and another 15 as athletic director at the University of Manitoba, you’ve had an impact on more young people than you can count. Coleen, who wore the Maple Leaf as a player at the 1976 Olympic Games, coached U of M Bisons women’s basketball teams to three national championships and five Great Plains Athletic Conference titles. She is a member of the Basketball Manitoba Hall of Fame in three categories—builder, coach and player—and the Canada West Hall of Fame.

23. Garth Pischke: Tom Hanks talked to a volleyball in the movies, but Garth made people talk volleyball in real life. Nobody put the W in the word “win” like Garth. He won a staggering 1,353 games in his 38 seasons as mastermind of the U of M Bisons men’s volleyball team, losing just 414 times. Chew on that and digest it—1,353-414. Who does that? Only Pischke, the winningest coach in collegiate V-ball history, on either side of the border. A two-time Olympian and six-time MVP at the Nationals as a player, Garth coached the Bisons to nine national titles and was named the Manitoba amateur athlete of the 20th century.

Brian Dobie

24. Brian Dobie: If this was just about being a nice guy, the U of M Bisons football coach would be at, or near, the top of the heap. Lovely man. He’s been sideline steward of the Herd since 1996, a gig that came on the heels of a 21-year watch with Churchill Bulldogs in high school grid. Do the math. Coach Dobie has been impacting the lives of teenagers and young men for close to half a century. Oh, and he’s also a five-time Canada West coach-of-the-year and a USports coach-of-the-year, plus he brought the Vanier Cup to the Fort Garry campus in 2007.

25. Vic Pruden: There was no women’s or men’s intercollegiate basketball program at the University of Winnipeg (nee United College) until Vic came along, so all the hoops glory stems from there. The annual Wesmen Classic was Vic’s brain child, ditto the Fort Garry Invitational. The Wesmen Classic became such a landmark event that it had to be shuffled from Riddell Hall to the Winnipeg Arena, and was televised nationally. Vic was also founder and first president of the Manitoba Basketball Coaches’ Association.

Tom Kendall and his U of W Lady Wesmen

26. Coach Tom Kendall/University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen: Few took notice of women’s hoops back in the day, but then along came coach Kendall and his fabulous University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen who, from October 1992 to November 1994, never lost a game. Eighty-eight teams tried to topple them, and 88 teams failed. Even fabled UCLA coach John Wooden was talking about the Lady Wesmen. Under Kendall’s watch, the Lady Ws went 101-2, with three national titles.

27. Coach Mike Burchuk/U of W Lady Wesmen volleyball team: The U of W women’s hoopsters received the 250-point newspaper headlines for their 88-game winning streak, but the women on the volleyball court trumped them with 123 consecutive Ws from January 1987 to January 1989. That included a 58-0 record in 1987-88 and, along the way, the ladies won six consecutive national titles and beat the NCAA champion Texas Longhors and a pro team, the Minnesota Monarchs.

Jennifer Botterill

28. Jennifer Botterill: It should be enough to say that Jennifer is the only female player ever inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, but we’ll also mention that she’s a three-time Olympic champion, five times a world champion, two times the Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the top player in U.S. women’s college hockey, twice the MVP at the world championship, and she once had an 80-game scoring streak (beat that, Connor McDavid!). If young girls are looking for a role model, Jen’s it.

29. Paul Robson: Can a sports list be complete without a guy named Mad Dog on it? We think not. So come on down, Mad Dog Robson, architect of the Winnipeg Football Club’s return to glory in the 1980s, a Lazarus-like rebirth that included the 1984 Grey Cup championship crusade, the first in 22 years. His handiwork as assistant GM/GM included going stealth to lure Chris Walby out of Montreal, hiring Cal Murphy as sideline steward, and engineering the Dieter Brock-for-Tom Clements trade. Paul was also once publisher of the Winnipeg Sun, but we won’t penalize him for that.

Harvey Warner

30. Harvey Warner: It’s probably safe to say the ponies wouldn’t be galloping at Assiniboia Downs if not for Harvey and his Manitoba Jockey Club. Harvey is a founding father and current president of the MJC, which took possession of the Downs in 1993. It’s never been an easy ride for Harvey and cohorts like Darren Dunn and Sharon Gulyas out at the racing oval on the western edge of Good Ol’ Hometown, but they’ve managed to keep the barns open and the horses fed and watered. So, yes, the reins have been in the right man’s hands for 27 years.

31. Mike Riley: When Leo Durocher coined the phrase “nice guys finish last,” he certainly wasn’t thinking of a guy like Mike Riley. Aside from bringing the Grey Cup home twice in his four years as sideline steward of the Bombers, Mike might be the most decent man to ever coach a pro team in Good Ol’ Hometown (John Paddock would be second in line), and that counts for something on my scorecard.

Milt Stegall

32. Milt Stegall: The Turtle Man would be higher on this list, except for one thing—every time I look at his hands, I don’t see any Grey Cup rings. For all his personal accomplishments—all-time TD leader in CFL history with 147 and a Most Outstanding Player award—the Bombers had just four winning seasons in his 14 crusades. No player ever looked better while mostly losing, though, and he’d be the first to tell you that. Milt continues to be a Bombers booster as one of the gab guys on TSN’s CFL coverage, and that’s always a good thing.

33. Sam Katz: Full disclosure—I’m not fond of Sammy. I think him to be a snake oil salesman. If he told me today is Sunday, I’d double check the calendar. But he brought professional baseball back to Good Ol’ Hometown, and the Winnipeg Goldeyes frolic in a beautiful, downtown ballyard thanks to Sammy.

Andy Van Hellemond

34. Andy Van Hellemond: Whistleblowers don’t always get respect, but Andy Van did. The kid weaned on the frozen ponds of Isaac Brock was, arguably, the best man to ever pull on a striped shirt, and he was also a trend-setter, becoming the first on-ice official to wear a helmet, in 1984. The NHL made lids mandatory for the zebras four years later (a grandfather clause allowed some to officiate sans head protection until 2006-07). Andy Van refereed 1,475 regular season games, 227 in the playoffs and 19 Stanley Cup finals, all records. He was named Manitoba’s referee-of-the-century.

35. Sylvia Burka: Before Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen and Susan Auch, there was Sylvia Burka, three times a world speed skating champion. She has held over 40 Canadian speedskating records, and once set a world indoor cycling mark at one kilometer. She won 12 national cycling titles. But her true legacy can be found in the skate marks she left for others to follow.

36. Dawn McEwen: I suppose you could say Dawn is to Team Jennifer Jones what Ringo Starr was to the Beatles. She seems content in the background while Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Cathy Overton-Clapham attracted most of the attention, but without her lead stones and robust sweeping they wouldn’t have become the finest female outfit in Canadian curling history. Dawn has an Olympic gold medal, two world titles and five Scotties crowns in her trophy case, so don’t even think of her as a spare part.

Gold medalists Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris.

37. Kaitlyn Lawes: She branched out from throwing third stones for Jennifer Jones to strike Olympic gold with John Morris in the debut of mixed doubles at the Winter Olympic Games. So she has a nice collection of two gold trinkets, a world championship and a Scotties title.

38. Susan Auch: Although never making it to the top level of the Olympic podium, Susan made speed skating front page news in Good Ol’ Hometown with two silver medals and a bronze in the Winter Games, three gold in World Cup racing in 1995, three Manitoba athlete-of-the-year honors and a Canadian athlete-of-the-year salute. There’s a Susan Auch Oval out at the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex and a Susan Auch Park in Transcona, and she’s now CEO of Speed Skating Canada.

39. Troy Westwood/David Asper: Board member Asper came up with the concept and gave the Banjo Bowl it’s name, but it was the spinoff of a quote from Ol’ Lefty, the former Bombers place-kicker who, in an interview prior to a 2003 playoff skirmish, called Saskatchewan Roughriders fans “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds.” Much caterwauling from the Flattest of Lands ensued, and the Banjo Bowl was born in 2004. It’s the most-anticipated event on the local sports calendar every year, and it’s been strictly SRO since 2005. When he wasn’t trash talking Flatlanders, Ol’ Lefty was hoofing more field goals (617) and more points (2,745) than anyone in Bombers history.

40. Connie Laliberte: They called her the Ice Queen, but underneath that cucumber-cool exterior burned a competitive bonfire. Connie gave every female curler in Manitoba something to aim for when she became the first Buffalo Girl to win the world crown, in 1984. She also won three Scotties titles and today is the high performance director for Curl Manitoba.

Sandy Riley

41. Sandy Riley: The former sailor (1976 Olympic Games) and former president of the Manitoba Sports Federation served as chair of Winnipeg’s 1999 Pan American Games, an event that helped revive the sagging spirit of a city that had lost its NHL franchise only three years earlier. As a bonus, it attracted the attention of Ol’ Cigar Breath, Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, who used his Revolution Day address to go on a mini-rant about mysterious “traps and tricks and schemes and filth” that encouraged his athletes to clamber over the wall to freedom. Cuban defectors aside, the Pan Ams were an artistic and financial success. More latterly, the Riley family donated $500,000 toward construction of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.

42. Dayna Spiring: It doesn’t matter that Dayna wasn’t on the receiving end of any passes, nor did she hoof any field goals or tackle any running backs. The lady was a champ in her first year as Chair of the Blue Bombers board of directors, and she became the first woman to have her name engraved on the Grey Cup. For young girls and women, that makes her Dayna Inspiring.

43. Desiree Scott: A former star and coach with the U of M Bisons, the lady they call The Destroyer joined our national women’s soccer side in 2010, and she’s now just one of five to have earned 150 caps. Along the way, she’s collected two Olympic bronze medals and participated in three World Cup tournaments. Away from the competitive pitch, Desiree is heavily involved with soccer camps for KidSport and she’s an ambassador for the Homeless World Cup.

44. Bill Wedlake: A head coach for 32 years, first at St. John’s High where he won two provincial titles, then 16 years at the U of W, Bill was also athletic director at the downtown campus for eight years. A co-founder of the Winnipeg Invitational tournament, he’s written three books on coaching and is a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

45. Mo Glimcher: If you think it’s tough dealing with teenagers these days, consider Mo Glimcher’s gig—he had 30,000-40,000 kids under foot every year between 1975 and 2016. Mo retired after 41 years as Executive Director of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association, and I’d say he’s earned a master’s degree in babysitting.

46. Bob Picken: There are three major sports operatives in Good Ol’ Hometown—the Jets, the Blue Bombers, and curling. Yes, curling. Our Pebble People don’t make the big bucks like the Jets and Bombers, but they don’t want for media exposure, due in large part to jock journos like Pick. Pebble People have never known a better media friend than Pick, whose magnificent pipes blessed the airwaves of CJOB, CKY and the CBC for half a century. He played the game, served as president of the Manitoba Curling Association, worked with both the Canadian Curling Association and the World Curling Federation, and there’s a bonspiel at the Thistle named in his honor. Pick made certain that curling was never back-page news or filler at the end of a sportscast.

47. Jack Matheson: Admittedly, there’s bias in this choice, because Matty gave me my start at the Winnipeg Tribune, but his sassy and brassy sports column was the only absolute must-read in town during the 1970s. And when Furnaceman fired him up for his daily rants on CJOB, it was must-listening. Matty set an incredibly high bar as a sports scribe, and no one has come close to reaching it since the Trib folded.

Friar Nicolson and his former sidekick Sod Keilback.

48. Friar Nicolson: There’s no way of knowing how many young men and women went into broadcasting because of the curmudgeonly Friar, but I’d suggest the number is closer to 50 than one. The longtime play-by-play voice of the Jets, Friar is the man who lured Knuckles Irving to CJOB in 1973, and he also gave one-time do-everything CKY/CTV voice Peter Young his start in the gab game. That’s serious impact.

49. Bob Irving: When Knuckles became the voice of the Blue Bombers, Don Jonas and Chuck Ealey were the starting QBs and Dieter Brock was a little-known rookie who answered to the name Ralph. Bud Riley was the head coach, and there have been 14 more since Knuckles moved in behind the mic. So he goes back some, and he’s still going. At least he was until COVID-19 interrupted regularly schedule play-by-play. We assume (hope) the well-liked and highly respected Knuckles will be back for a 46th season once the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.

50. Don Wittman: How versatile was Witt? Well, we know he covered the CFL and the NHL and tennis and the Olympics and world-class track and top-flight curling during close to half a century with the CBC, but he also broadcast cricket. Ya, cricket. Witt traveled the globe and was on site to call the Ben Johnson race in Seoul and Donovan Bailey in Atlanta, but home base was always Winnipeg.

Let’s talk about the silence of the Puck Pontiff…Barry Shenkarow didn’t hide…big bucks in the blurt box…Fake It Like Beckham…that ain’t chicken feed those pigeons are fetching…fiddle farting around on the snooker table…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and you are not required to wear a mask to read this blog…

Is it just me, or does anyone else wonder what’s rattling around in the grey matter between Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s ears these days?

Mark Chipman, the Puck Pontiff.

I mean, with the National Hockey League ensnared in a state of iffiness re a 2021 crusade, and the players royally PO’d due to a proposed wave of wage rollbacks (again), wouldn’t you like to know what the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll thinks about the current state of affairs?

Wouldn’t you like to hear his thoughts on the local shinny side playing in an empty Little Hockey House On The Prairie this winter?

Wouldn’t you like to know if he’d prefer to scrap a 2021 season rather than lose a small fortune paying six- and seven-figure salaries with no game-day revenue?

Wouldn’t you like to hear the Puck Pontiff’s take on the NHL owners’ ploy to renege on the agreement they willingly signed with the work force just this past summer?

Wouldn’t you like to know how he feels about the Jets frolicking in an all-Canadian division?

Wouldn’t you like to hear some assurance that, COVID-19 be damned, the Jets are here for the long haul, even as the pandemic gnaws away at his bottom line like termites on a two-by-four?

I know I would.

I won’t hold my breath, though, because the Puck Pontiff is not a man given to disclosure. He’s more guarded with his thoughts than a Rottweiler growling at the gates of a junkyard. The Kremlin was less secretive during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

But that’s his right, of course.

Chipman heads up a private company, True North Sports + Entertainment, so he isn’t obliged to make us privy to any secrets, dirty or otherwise. Except for one thing: There’s ample and rabid outside interest in the centrepiece of his fiefdom, that being an NHL franchise that pigs out at the public trough. The faithful flock to his Little Hockey House On The Prairie a minimum of 41 nights every year, give or take a pandemic, and many thousands of them also spend many thousands of dollars on Jets merchandise. Others purchase TV cable and/or Internet streaming packages to watch their hockey heroes as they fight the good fight hither and yon.

I’d say that warrants a word or two from the guy who signs the cheques, wouldn’t you?

Geoff Molson, the beer baron bankroll of the storied Montreal Canadiens, thought so, which is why he sat down for a natter with Herb Zurkowsky of the Montreal Gazette recently.

Among other things, Molson pooh-poohed any notion of a lost season, no matter how harsh the financial wallop, and he expressed a hope that there would be patrons in the pews before the close of business on a runted season.

“I really do think it’s the right thing to play,” he said. “I think we can get there. The thought of making a profit this year isn’t even in my mindset. It’s more about returning to play.”

Why can’t the Puck Pontiff poke his head out of the ivory tower and do the same?

Again, he’s under no obligation to address the faithful, but the right to remain silent is a good policy if you’re sitting in the back seat of a police cruiser, not when you’re at the wheel of an NHL franchise in the heartland of Canada.

I’d like to think that one or more of the girls and boys on the beat have requested an audience with His Royal Hockeyness during these most uncertain of times. If not, shame on them. If so (and I suspect that’s the case), shame on him and his hangups. Not so long ago, Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab confessed that he’s never engaged in a verbal parry-and-thrust with the Puck Pontiff. Not in four years on the beat, but not for lack of effort. Mad Mike assured us he has put in a bid to tap the Puck Pontiff’s brain pan more than once, only to be rejected each time. And that’s just wrong.

Barry Shenkarow

Back in the day, Benny Hatskin or Michael Gobuty or Barry Shenkarow were usually just a phone call away, and we were never required to genuflect and kiss their ring fingers before they agreed to talk to us. We had their home phone numbers, for cripes sake, and they knew where to find us. Did Shenkarow enjoy standing or sitting in front of the media mob, painting a gloom-and-doom scenario for the Jets 1.0 franchise? No. He didn’t. I can tell you there was always pain in his voice, sadness in his eyes and a great burden on his slender shoulders whenever he spoke. At times there was also anger. And extreme frustration. But he became the front man for the ownership group and accepted that his voice needed to be heard, even when there was nothing but sad tidings to deliver. Many among the rabble made Barry out to be the bad guy when it became apparent that the NHL couldn’t work in Good Ol’ Hometown in the 1990s, but no one could accuse him of hiding.

It occurs to me that if there’s one thing the rabble dislikes more than jock journos complaining about lousy press box food, tight deadlines and uppity athletes, it’s millionaire jocks and billionaire owners bickering over big bucks. That doesn’t play well at the best of times, so it’s particularly irksome during a global pandemic that’s forcing people out of work, out of homes and sending them to food banks. I mean, if NHL bankrolls get their way in the latest squabble with the NHL Players Association, Kyle Connor of the Jets won’t collect his $8 million salary for a 2021 crusade. He’ll have to get by on $4.4 million in U.S. coin. At the lower end of the pay scale, Jansen Harkins will have to make due on $385,000 instead of $700,000. I agree, boo-freaking-hoo. Hey, I’m all for the workers squeezing every copper they can out of owners trying to weasel their way out of an agreement they signed four months ago, but a money spat is a tough sell when the world is upside down.

On the subject of high finance, the most noted voice in the CBS sports blurt box, Jim Nantz, is looking for a hefty raise in pay from the $6.5 million he now collects for flapping his gums on the network’s NFL, college hoops, and PGA coverage. Nantz’ contract expires next summer and it’s a good bet that he’s aware his sidekick in the CBS football booth, Tony Romo, draws an annual stipend of $17.5 million. I’m sure he also knows that Fox Sports pays its do-everything squawk box Joe Buck $10.5 million per annum. I don’t know what the bookies in Vegas are thinking, but I’d say the over/under on Nantz’ next deal is $12 million.

If that isn’t obscene enough for you, consider this: England footy legend David Beckham will be paid $53 million over the next three years to do nothing. Becks has signed on as an ‘icon’ player in the EA Sports video game FIFA 21, and he’ll be making more money in fake footy than he did while kicking real balls for sides like Man U, Real Madrid and LA Galaxy. Makes for a nifty marketing promo, don’t you think—Fake It Like Beckham!

New Kim, a two-year-old female Belgian racing pigeon, recently sold for $1.9 million at auction. No bird has ever landed that large a windfall. At least not since Elin Nordegren flew the coop on Tiger.

If I owned a pigeon, I believe I would name it Clay.

The most vulgar man in sports, Conor McGregor, has signed to fight someone I’ve never heard of in the UFC octagon next month. I’m pretty sure I’ll be too busy to give a damn that night. Or any other night, for that matter.

Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News calls Derek Jeter “the most famous Yankee since Mickey Mantle.” Apparently Mike nodded off when Reggie Jackson arrived in Gotham and became Mr. October.

TSN has decided that the 1981 Edmonton E-Somethings are the greatest of all Canadian Football League championship sides. No argument here.

Some folks are quite giddy that the CFL has released a 2021 schedule, with a full 18-game crusade for each of the nine sides. Rick LeLacheur is, in fact, “beyond excited” at the prospect of his B.C. Lions performing in front of fewer than the 12,000 bodies that normally gather under the B.C. Place Stadium bubble top in downtown Vancity. What the Leos president and no one else in Rouge Football can tell us, though, is who’s footing the bill. I mean, if they couldn’t afford a mini-season in 2020, what makes anyone believe the three-downs game is good to go next summer/autumn? The schedule is nothing more than a goodwill gesture and, as I scribbled last week, it isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on unless the large lads are grabbing grass in June. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer about my favorite league, but it’s true.

The Edmonton Oilers owe a Dallas hotel $55,000 for two stays last season. And here I thought the World Hockey Association was dead.

A most foul wind blew during a recent match between world No. 2 Ronnie O’Sullivan and Matthew Stevens at the Northern Ireland Open snooker tournament. One of the participants farted, you see, and it was no silent bomb. “That was a very unfortunate noise there,” one of the commentators observed while the players and match referee glanced mischievously at one another. “I don’t know who it was from…I’ve got my suspicions.” Eventually, O’Sullivan won the match, 4-2, then copped a guilty plea, saying, “I’m taking full ownership of that one.”

Akim Aliu

The Florida Panthers have hired Brett Peterson, a Black man, as assistant general manager, which prompted this reaction from Akim Aliu of the Hockey Diversity Alliance: “It’s long overdue. We feel there’s a lot of people of color that are deserving of jobs and also people from different genders. Obviously women I think are very adapt at doing a good job in the game of hockey.” Ya, Aliu and his HDA think so highly of women in hockey that there isn’t a Mrs., Miss, Ms or Ma’am in the group. Go ahead. Call up the HDA website and you’ll see nothing but the faces and names of men. I contacted the HDA to inquire about its lack of diversity, but received no reply. Aliu and his boys-only club might want to practise diversity before squawking about diversity.

I get a laugh out of bandwagon jumpers in jock journalism, guys like Jack Todd, whose column has returned to the sports pages of the Montreal Gazette, and Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. Todd called the Miami Marlins’ hiring of Kim Ng as general manager “the best thing that has happened to Major League Baseball since the Red Sox shook the curse. The time is now and Ng is the woman.” Simmons, meanwhile, wrote: “I wish I had a daughter to share this with.” I call BS on that. When was the last time either of them wrote about women’s sports, other than the Olympics when there’s no choice? Where were they when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League was still in operation and hungering for coverage? They didn’t notice the CWHL until the doors were shuttered. So they can spare us the faux concern.

Simmons, of course, has a long history of pooh-poohing female athletes and the games they play, and his recent list of the 50 most influential sports figures in the Republic of Tranna over the past 50 years tells us all we need to know about his thoughts on the distaff portion of the playground. His top-50 actually includes 59 people, all but one of them men. That’s right, in half a century, only one woman, tennis player Bianca Andreescu, made the cut. No Fran Rider and no Angela James, each hugely influential in Ponytail Puck and based in The ROT. One of them, James, is in the Hockey Hall of Fame and Rider should be.

I don’t know if anyone at the Winnipeg Sun has plans to compile a similar top-50 for the most influential sports figures in Good Ol’ Hometown during past half century, but I guarantee there’d be more than one woman included in the group. Benny Hatskin would top the list, of course, but you can be damn certain there’d be room for Clara Hughes, Jennifer Jones, Cindy Klassen, Connie Laliberte and Susan Auch, among other women.

And, finally, there’s only one thing worse than wearing a mask—not wearing a mask.

Let’s talk about survival and the Winnipeg Jets…Hoser Hockey and the NHL’s Hoser Division…Dustin Johnson’s swagger…the Incredible Bulk…Alex Trebek’s hairy lip…the lady is a GM…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and it’s the rainy season where I live, so here’s a downpouring of some watered-down notions…

During a pandemic that shows no inclination toward surrender, men with tall foreheads and bulked-up bankrolls plot strategy, concocting ways to make a 2021 National Hockey League crusade doable.

And, by doable, that means as minimal a financial wallop as possible.

Mark Chipman

In the most-desired timeline, they’ll drop the first puck on a runt of a season on New Year’s Day, on both sides of our closed border. Alas, they’ll do so in empty buildings, which means zero gate revenue, zero concessions revenue, zero game-day merchandise revenue, and zero parking revenue. Meanwhile, the millionaire players expect at least 72 per cent of their pay from the billionaire owners.

In a best-case scenario, squints in lab coats will discover a vaccine that brings COVID-19 to heel early in 2021, allowing the faithful a safe return to the rink and a revenue stream, however weak, for the owners as they complete a season of no fewer than 48 games and no more than 72.

But all of that is as iffy as Donald Trump’s quest to overturn the will of 78,662,167 people who voted him out of the Oval Office.

It’s a guessing game. I mean, if Moses were to trundle down from Mount Sinai during this pandemic with an updated edition of the 10 Commandments, it would be written in pencil on a paper napkin, not etched in big, stone tablets, because what’s gospel today won’t necessarily be gospel tomorrow.

Which brings me to the point of this essay: Survival and the Winnipeg Jets.

David Thomson

Good Ol’ Hometown is the smallest market in the NHL and the Jets frolic in the smallest barn, with room for 15,321 rumps in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie. Co-bankrolls Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and David Thomson haven’t seen any game-day revenue since March, when the coronavirus put sports on lockdown, and there doesn’t figure to be any ka-ching in their immediate future.

Therefore, I remind you of something NHL commish Gary Bettman muttered on May 31, 2011, the day the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City and officially became the Winnipeg Jets:

“To be candid, this isn’t going to work very well unless this building is sold out every night.”

We know not every game at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie was SRO during the 2019-20 crusade, and it’s a certainty that there’ll be zero customers to begin a shortened 2021 season, even as the Puck Pontiff and/or Thomson cut six- and seven-figure cheques for their on-ice work force. So what’s the financial breaking point?

Yes, of course, I realize Thomson is the wealthiest man in Canada, with a net worth of $35.7 billion. But he didn’t build that bankroll by being stupid.

And here’s something else to consider:

In the Winnipeg Sun annual survey of the Jets faithful, readers were asked if they’ll attend games once health officials give the okie-dokie to return. Of the approximately 1,200 respondents, 38.2 per cent will be back, 36.5 per cent will return only once there’s a COVID-19 vaccine, while 25.2 per cent are done with the Jets.

Do the math: Even after the squints in lab coats have done their job, Winnipeg HC is looking at a post-pandemic audience of 75 per cent capacity, or 11,490 customers per game.

Sources have told Larry Brooks of the New York Post that there are three to five owners who insist their franchises won’t survive a makeshift season, not if it means empty or near-empty buildings and paying players 72 per cent of their contracts. I’d like to think that doomsday scenario doesn’t apply to the Jets, but we can’t be certain because the Puck Pontiff has less to say than a street mime.

It’s also important to note that, even at the best of times, he’s bringing in Canadian dollars and paying out American greenbacks, so can he make a go of it at 75 per cent capacity? Commish Bettman says no.

The question, therefore, is this: How much of a bath are the Puck Pontiff and Thomson prepared to take?

Chevy

Nobody asked me, but I say there’s nothing about an all-Canadian division in the NHL that should keep the Jets awake at night. Oh, sure, the Toronto Maple Leafs look boffo on paper, but we all know what happens to the multi-millionaires in blue-and-white when the games really matter. That’s right, pratfall. The Leafs are paper tigers until they prove otherwise, but I’ll concede them first place in a runted season of 48 games, or thereabouts. After that, it’s a crap shoot in Hoser Hockey. Seriously. Edmonton has Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and a bunch of spare parts. Vancouver has lost its goaltender. Marc Bergevin has given the Montreal Canadiens an interesting makeover, but I wonder what’s left in Shea Weber’s tank. Ottawa is on training wheels. What about Calgary? Can you say Milan Lucic, kids? Having said all that, I’d like the Jets a whole lot better if GM Kevin Cheveldayoff would give his head a shake and do something about his blueline. Chevy’s dithering in that area is rather disturbing, also extremely negligent.

Interesting survey of 21 NHL player agents in The Athletic. Asked to name a high-profile player most likely to change work clothes in the next year, our guy Patrik Laine and Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres topped the list with four votes each. I’m okay with Chevy dealing Puck Finn, but he better receive a package that includes a legit top-pair defenceman in barter, otherwise he’ll never be able to go grocery shopping in Good Ol’ Hometown again.

Dustin Johnson

So, I’m watching Dustin Johnson bring Augusta National to its knees in the first three rounds of The Masters, and I’m wondering if he has a pulse. I mean, he golfs with all the enthusiasm and urgency of a guy whose wife has asked him to get off the couch and change a light bulb.

Johnson strikes me as the kind of guy who’ll take one look at The Masters champion’s green jacket and ask, “Does it come in different colors?”

I don’t know if Johnson walks with a strut or a swagger, but I’m pretty sure the Earp boys and Doc Holliday were walking with the exact same stride when they headed toward the O.K. Corral.

I can’t explain why the Incredible Bulk, Bryson DeChambeau, bugs me so much, but he really gets up my nose. Maybe it’s the deformed body. Maybe it’s the uppity attitude and him pooh-poohing Augusta National as a par-67 golf course when everybody else is playing to par-72. Maybe it was him asking a marshal if his lost ball would be declared a lost ball on third hole Friday, as if a different set of rules applies to him. Whatever the case, I don’t normally root for athletes to fail, but I didn’t mind watching him implode at The Masters.

Phil Mickelson at The Masters: “I’m driving like a stallion.” Ya, and putting like a donkey.

For some reason, the talking heads on ESPN and CBS golf insist on telling us that Tiger Woods made the “greatest comeback in sports history” by winning The Masters last year. I have two words for them: Ben Hogan. The great Hogan lost an argument with a Greyhound bus in 1949 and suffered a double fracture to his pelvis, a fractured collar bone, a fractured left ankle, a chipped rib, lifelong circulation difficulties, and he required blood transfusions. Oh, and did I mention that he almost died due to blood clots? He won the U.S. Open the following year, and another five Grand Slam tournaments after that. Tiger battled back from self-inflicted public humiliation and numerous physical challenges, but nothing life-threatening. The talking heads know all this, so why do they continue to prop Tiger up as a mythical creature?

Apparently Tokyo officials are toying with idea of a no-cheering policy at the Olympic Games next summer. That’s right, fans will be instructed to refrain from rowdy behavior and not allowed to cheer, although muttering is acceptable. Hmmm, muttering but no cheering. Sounds like a New York Jets home game.

What’s up with Tony La Russa? The Chicago White Sox manager was pulled over last week and slapped with a DUI charge, his second, after wheeling his vehicle into a curb and then becoming uppity and belligerent with cops. “Do you see my ring?” he asked. “I’m a Hall of Famer baseball person. I’m legit. I’m a Hall of Famer, brother. You’re trying to embarrass me.” That’s so lame. The only guy who can use the “Do you see my ring?” defence wears a pointy hat and rides in the Popemobile, and he can only get away with it if the arresting cop is Catholic.

Kim Ng

Yes, I agree, it’s fantastic that Kim Ng has been anointed GM of the Miami Marlins, the first female to hold that lofty position with a Major League Baseball team. But let’s not get carried away with comparisons to Jackie Robinson. Ng’s is a signature appointment, to be sure, and hopefully it’ll open a door for other women, but she’s been in the game, and accepted, for 30 years. Numerous women have owned MLB franchises. Others have served in different administration roles, and on coaching staffs, and in the broadcast booth. This is nothing like a Black man entering MLB in 1947.

Murat Ates of The Athletic has pulled away from the keyboard to clear his head after suffering a third concussion. He won’t be sharing his fine prose with us until December, and I can only hope he recovers fully. Concussions can be a tricky bit of business and, yes, I speak from lived experience. I’ve had 10 of them. So nothing but good wishes for Murat.

A young Alex Trebek

Love this Alex Trebek story from Ken Campbell of The Hockey News:

“The year was 1971 and Hockey Night in Canada had just fired Ward Cornell and was looking for a younger and more dynamic replacement. The way former executive producer Ralph Mellanby tells it, five candidates made the short list. One of them was Dave Hodge, who ultimately got the job and hosted the show for 16 years. Another was Trebek, who had joined the CBC after graduating from the University of Ottawa and was best known for hosting a high school game show called Reach for the Top. He had also hosted broadcasts of horse racing and figure skating. ‘We wanted to get younger and more vibrant,’ Mellanby said. ‘And one of the guys I got from Ottawa was Alex Trebek. He was doing some sports and other things. I really liked Trebek.’ Mellanby said he was in the office of his boss, Ted Hough, the former president of the Canadian Sports Network, which produced Hockey Night. As Hough and Mellanby watched the audition tapes of the five finalists, the more Mellanby wanted Trebek to fill the chair. But he was overruled by his boss, who had a strict rule that immediately eliminated Trebek from the running. ‘We’re watching (Trebek’s) audition and I said, ‘Ted, that’s the guy I really want,’ Mellanby said. ‘And he said, ‘We’re not hiring him. We don’t hire guys with moustaches!’ So I hired Dave Hodge.’”

I note that Neil Young turned 75 last week. Many of us from Good Ol’ Hometown lay claim to Neil as one of our own, because he went to high school at Kelvin and he began his music career at our teen dances. My favorite Neil Young tune: Harvest Moon. Favorite Neil Young album: Old Ways.

And, finally, I think it’s only fair to warn you that the shelf life of the River City Renegade has almost expired. I turn 70 at the end of the month, and I think that’s as good a time as any to cut back on my peculiar brand of silliness. I won’t be quitting cold turkey, but the end is nigh.

Let’s talk about the Puck Pontiff and Chevy needing to cowboy up…the Lightning boat parade, watered-down beer and kicking asterisk…robot curling…Shapo serves up Canadian whine…foul-mouthed parrots and a parroting columnist…a good read on Smitty…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored..and it’s foggy where I live and you might find some fog here too…

It’s beef-on-the-hoof time in the National Hockey League, albeit three months and change later than originally planned, and I find myself wondering where the Winnipeg Jets are in their “process.”

From the get-go, of course, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff have preached draft-and-develop, a tried-and-true template for so many successful outfits, the most recent example being the Tampa Bay Lightning, newly minted Stanley Cup champions with a roster featuring 11 players plucked from the entry draft.

The thing is, the NHL’s annual auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers is usually a crap shoot once past the first half dozen names called out, and there are a lot more misses than hits.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

That said, there’s ample evidence to support the notion that Chevy and his bird dogs have profited by the draft since setting up shop in Good Ol’ Hometown—Connor Hellebuyck, Rink Rat Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Twig Ehlers, Josh Morrissey, Kyle Connor, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp. And that’s not to forget Jacob Trouba, the dearly departed defender whose yearnings unfortunately did not include a lifetime in Jets linen.

Those are quality core players who ought to have kept Winnipeg HC in the playoff mix for many years to come.

Except that’s not how Planet Puck Pontiff/Chevy is spinning.

The Jets failed to qualify for the playoffs in the just-concluded crusade, that after an optimism-inducing surge to the 2018 Western Conference final and a hasty retreat from the Stanley Cup tournament last year.

Which is why I wonder where the Jets are in their “process.”

Draft-and-develop will never end. It’s every team’s oxygen. There’s no quarrel with that approach. But, after the ransacking of the roster due to the miscalculations of bean counters and the discontent of Trouba and Dustin Byfuglien, it seems to me that Winnipeg HC has retreated to the wait-and-hope part of the “process.”

Sami Niku

The Puck Pontiff and Chevy are waiting and hoping on Sami Niku. They’re waiting and hoping on Dylan Samberg. They’re waiting and hoping on Ville Heinola. They’re waiting and hoping on David Gustafsson. Hell, they’re still waiting and hoping on Jack Roslovic, and they drafted him in 2015. And, apparently, they’ll wait and hope on Logan Stanley forever.

Trouble is, they’ve been at it since 2011 and this should be a time for filling in the blanks on a contending roster, not still relying on a crap shoot.

Yet here we are.

Chevy has the 10th shoutout overall at the auction on Tuesday. Hands up anyone who believes he’ll land an immediate difference-maker. I agree, good luck with that. His newest chattel will be of limited or no use in the short-term.

It’s also unlikely that Chevy will attract any high-profile free agents to Good Ol’ Hometown on Friday, even though his jeans will be full of jingle and he can afford to shop for upscale goods. Most likely, he’ll reel in a Grade C player, or two, then follow that up with some dumpster diving on the waiver wire, which has never been a solution.

So how do the Jets return to the post-season frolic and make noise next year?

Well, short of their Central Division foes going for a group pratfall, there’s just one avenue—trade. And that means bold strokes. Something brassy.

Jacob Trouba

That’s not Chevy’s style, though. He only lets go when he’s backed himself into a corner (see Trouba, Jacob; Ladd, Andrew) or someone’s clothing has been soaked in an ice tub (see Kane, Evander), but quality centre-ice men and stud blueliners (his most pressing needs) don’t fall off the turnip truck. There’s a price to pay.

I’m on record as saying there should be no untouchables on this Jets roster, and there’s certainly a number of shiny trinkets to entice dance partners, not the least of which is Chevy’s first shoutout on Tuesday. At No. 10, he’s already in crap shoot territory.

And, really, the time for dithering is past. The Puck Pontiff and Chevy need to cowboy up and move one of their top-six forwards. Or some of the blue-chip prospects. It’s the right thing to do.

Unless, of course, they truly have retreated to wait-and-hope mode and are content with icing a bubble team. In that case, I am once again reminded of something old friend Joe Pascucci tweeted in April 2019: “Another concern, of many, I have about the Jets and the changes sure to come this off-season is that they’ll become a team that is 2 years away from being 2 years away.”

Astute guy, old friend Joe.

Puck Finn and Blake Wheeler.

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet continues to lean hard into the disgruntled Patrik Laine narrative, again suggesting that Puck Finn insists on first-line minutes alongside Scheifele, whereas Chevy and bench puppeteer Paul Maurice refuse to budge on Blake Wheeler. They won’t surgically remove the captain from the Rink Rat’s hip and, if true, it’s a stupid impasse and an easy fix: Inform Wheeler that he’s now a second-line forward. If they aren’t willing to tell a declining 34-year-old he must make room for a 22-year-old sniper, it’s time for new management/coaching.

Look, I think Wheeler is still a useful player, but a year from now he’ll be slower than a sports writer reaching for the bar tab.

When a woman learned that her flight would be landing in Winnipeg last week, she became unruly and belligerent and had to be forced off the airplane kicking and screaming. You know, just like any player traded to the Jets.

The Lightning gave Stanley Cup championship hijinks a fresh twist with a boat parade on the Hillsborough River, rather than a motorcade in sporty, top-down automobiles on the streets of Tampa. In keeping with the water theme, coaches and players drank American beer.

On the subject of suds, apparently Canadians are drinking less beer. Hey, don’t look at me. I’m still doing my part every Saturday.

Yes, I agree, it’s impressive that the NHL pulled off its made-for-TV, bubble Stanley Cup tournament without a hitch. No positive COVID-19 results in more than 60 days. No scandal, other than Mike Milbury’s ouster from the NBC Sports blurt box for telling us that women are a distraction. No asterisk. Most surprising, none of the young studs bugged out of the Edmonton and Republic of Tranna man caves for a little nookie on the side. Mark me down as gobsmacked.

It’s about slapping an asterisk on the Lightning tour de force: Don’t go there. Sure it was different, with the lads zip-locked in their man caves for two months, but only someone who’s been there, done that and wears the T-shirt can compare this Stanley Cup runoff to tournaments of the past. If the players and coaches say it was equally burdensome and challenging, I’m good with that.

It’s often been suggested that the NHL is a copy-cat operation, and teams now will attempt to mimic the champion Lightning. Well, good luck with that. I mean, Chevy will turn water into Molson Canadian before he’ll ever turn Neal Pionk into Victor Hedman.

Apparently Manny Pacquiao and Conor McGregor will go dukes up next year, but no one is saying where or when the fist fight will be held. I think we should keep it that way.

Former Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain has been selling his collection of sports memorabilia that dates back to the 1930s, and the thousands of items available are said to include license plates. Nice to know Denny put his time in prison to good use.

Clever people in South Korea and Germany have created a curling robot named Curly, capable of beating human beings on the pebble. So what’s the big deal? Canada developed a curling robot last century. His name is Kevin Martin.

I’d really be impressed if the geniuses in South Korea and Germany could invent a robot capable of beating Rafa Nadal at clay courts tennis, specifically the French Open.

Shapo

Yes, now that you mention it, our guy Denis Shapovalov held quite the pity party following his ouster from Roland Garros. “These conditions were as tough as possible for me to play against here, with the balls being so heavy and it being really cold,” he whinged after twice gagging while serving for the match v. Roberto Carballes Baena, the world No. 101. “These conditions were completely stacked against me. It’s impossible to hit a winner with these balls.” He also muttered something about Paris clay being different than Rome clay. Oh, boo flipping hoo. The balls were just as heavy for Baena, a 7-5, 6-7, 6-3, 3-6, 8-6 winner, and I’m guessing the Paris chill was the same on both sides of the court. As for it being “impossible to hit a winner with these balls,” Shapo hit 65 of them, more than double Baena’s 31. He also had 106 unforced errors compared to just 42 by Baena, and you don’t chalk that up to heavy balls and unfavorable weather.

Shapo had a legit beef about line calls, one of which might have cost him the match, and his plea for the use of HawkEye at Roland Garros has merit. The rest of it was nothing but a petulant, stomp-my-feet temper tantrum, and I’m hoping it was a one-off. Tennis doesn’t really need another spoiled brat, and certainly not one from Canada.

I sometimes wonder if anyone at the Drab Slab knows the Winnipeg Sun exists. I say that because of recent essays by Scott Billeck of the tabloid and Drab Slab columnist Mad Mike McIntyre.

Here’s Billeck on Sept. 5, under the headline A Bolt of bravado—Jets Cheveldayoff could benefit from a little ruthlessness this off-season by offer-sheeting young Lightning centre Anthony Cerelli: “(Kevin) Cheveldayoff taking a tyrannical approach to this coming off-season might serve him rather well. How does one become ruthless, you ask? In hockey terms, and during the free-agency window of a particular off-season: Offer sheet. But who do you offer one to? Anthony Cirelli, currently with the Tampa Bay Lightning.”

He then outlines, in detail, what the addition of Cirelli would mean to GM Chevy and the Winnipeg Jets.

Anthony Cirelli

Now here’s Mad Mike on Sept. 29, under the headline Jets need to chase after Cirelli—Lightning forward would solve Winnipeg’s second-line conundrum: “It may not be the equivalent of Christopher Columbus discovering America or Thomas Edison’s bright idea about the light bulb, but while covering bubble hockey in Edmonton I do believe I’ve come across the solution to some of what plagues the Winnipeg Jets. Eureka! I found it—the second-line centre they’ve long been searching for. Meet Anthony Cirelli, who is currently filling that role for Tampa Bay Lightning.”

He then outlines, in detail, the benefits of inserting Cirelli to the Jets roster, even though Billeck had told Sun readers that very thing 24 days earlier.

I don’t know if that’s arrogance or ignorance, but “Eureka!” my ass. Parroting the other guy’s column and making it out to be a fresh thought is totally bad form. Mad Mike’s essay should have been spiked.

Speaking of parrots, a quintet of the birds in a British wildlife park had to be separated because their language was more colorful than their plumage. Seems the five foul-beaked feathered friends took to dropping F-bombs and spewing other very salty language, none of which was suitable for young, tender ears. Hmmm. Reminds me of some press boxes I’ve been in.

And, finally, fantastic piece by Murat Ates of The Athletic on former vagabond goaltender Gary Smith, who backstopped the Jets to their third and final World Hockey Association title. It’s full of fun stuff from Smitty and totally worth the read.