Are you feeling it, Coach PoMo? Did you feel a bit of a burn when you sat down for your Corn Flakes this morning? If so, I’m guessing it isn’t a fresh batch of hemorrhoids kicking in. More like the back end of your trousers taking on a warm glow from that seat you’re sitting on, because I have to think it’s finally heating up.
Not that I believe your ouster as bench puppeteer of the Winnipeg Jets is imminent, understand. It’s too late into this year’s frolic for that, Coach PoMo.
Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will let you see the Jets through this National Hockey League crusade, even as it’s taken a nasty, abrupt turn south and, as my old boss Jack Matheson used to say when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers hit the skids, this is no time for a toboggan ride.
You’re just eight games removed from Beard Season, Coach PoMo, and your lads have hit a patch as rough as Jumbo Joe Thornton’s chin whiskers, losing your last four skirmishes, including a 6-1 paddywhacking from the Edmonton McDavids that dropped you into third place in the Hoser Division on Monday night.
Many among the rabble have begun to mutter and curse about another now-you-see-’em, now-you-don’t playoff appearance, and it’s hard to disagree with them.
So I’m guessing life really bites right about now, Coach PoMo. Well, okay, not big-picture life, because I’m hoping all is well on the home front, but the hockey portion of your life must smell like the inside of a laundry hamper.
Speaking of which, you used to do your dirty laundry in-house, Coach PoMo, but a couple of the boys have gone rogue and aired it out in public.
After you hauled Connor Hellebuyck’s hide out of the blue paint 12 minutes into a game last week, your Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender bitched about it to news snoops. Said it was dumb coaching. No, he didn’t use those exact words, Coach PoMo, but when he says “I don’t think I should have been pulled” and his game “was good enough to win,” we don’t need someone from homeland security to decode the message. Hellebuyck was saying you made a dumb decision.
Then, two nights later, you “pissed off” your leading scorer, Rink Rat Scheifele, by plunking him on the pine and leaving him there to rot and stew for 13 minutes. You didn’t appreciate that your assistant captain ignored the “core values” you’ve established, and staying on the ice too long and dogging it back to the bench is taboo. So, like Bucky, the Rink Rat wasn’t shy about sharing his thoughts with news snoops, saying, “I don’t agree with him benching me” and admitting he was “pissed off.”
Yes, Coach PoMo, I realize a nice, old lady like myself shouldn’t be repeating that kind of raw language, but when the boys are PO’d and bitching on record it’s noteworthy. Besides, there’s a reason I call you Coach Potty Mouth, and it isn’t because you talk like a choir boy. You’ve said much worse, in public. So I’ll wash my mouth out with a bar of soap if you will.
Anyway, as much as the losing skid is disturbing, the sideshow might be more worrisome.
I mean, you know what happens when the workers put up the Festivus pole and go public with an airing of grievances, don’t you Coach PoMo. That’s right. Soon enough the mates take control of the ship and you become Captain Queeg looking for the missing strawberries.
I’m not suggesting you have a mutiny on your hands, Coach PoMo, and Rink Rat Scheifele is spot on when he says coaches and players don’t have to agree “on everything.”
But we know that he and Hellebuyck aren’t the first Jets with a bone to pick (see: Evander Kane, Jacob Trouba, Big Buff, Jack Roslovic, Patrik Laine), and it’s interesting to note that all the malcontents have been run out of Dodge and you’re still here. Ownership/management has never looked at you in matters of player discontent, Coach PoMo. They’ve always looked the other way. Which is why I’ve long held that you’ll survive all tempests that arrive at your doorstep.
I doubt you can win a public hissing contest with Scheifele and Hellebuyck, though. That’s spitting into the wind, tugging on Superman’s cape, and telling Mike Tyson he talks funny.
Winning, of course, will make all this go away, and by that I mean in the Stanley Cup tournament. It doesn’t really matter what transpires on the freeze during the remainder of the regular season, because you’re locked into a playoff position and whether you’re the second or third seed is irrelevant.
It’s all about what you do in Beard Season, Coach PoMo, and right now a deep run looks like a daunting chore.
I never thought I’d say this, Coach PoMo, but I’m no longer convinced that you have a lifetime contract to work the Jets bench. Another one-and-done should be the end.
But, what the heck, that will give you plenty of spare time for chores around the house and to work on that statue of Rink Rat Scheifele.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and still no word on the if and when of a CFL season, but here’s something else that’s real iffy…
Stop me if you’ve heard this before:
“I believe we’re close to having a team that has a chance to challenge for the Stanley Cup, and I’m really looking forward to that…we’re a lot closer than some people will give us credit for…I look forward to these next five years.”
Sound familiar? It should.
Blake Wheeler said much the same as Adam Lowry scant seconds after scratching his John Hancock on a six-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets.
“I believe in people like (owner) Mark Chipman and Chevy, what everyone stands for and especially in my teammates. I have believed since I got here that we have what it takes to get to the next level, so this is just a part of that process. I truly believe that great things are in store for this group,” the then-future captain told news snoops.
Wheels was 26 at the time. There will be 35 candles on his birthday cake in August.
Lend an ear to Rink Rat Scheifele who, upon agreeing to an eight-year contract in 2016, expressed a robust belief in “the organization, in the players on the team, in the future prospects.”
The Rink Rat was 23. He’s now 28.
Connor Hellebuyck, the Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender, locked in for six years and said, “The tools are in this locker room to be a championship team. I love it here and I want to be here and I really believe this team has what it takes.”
Hellebuyck was 25. He turns 28 next month.
And now we have another long-hauler, Lowry, parroting his teammates’ faith in a process that began in 2011 and has delivered the grand sum of two post-season series victories, both in the spring of 2018.
Lowry is 28. The freshly minted contract he signed on Friday will take him to 33.
So what’s my point? Just this: Unless your name is Evander Kane, Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, Patrik Laine or Jack Roslovic, the Jets have all gulped down the Kool-Aid in a cultish-like obedience. They believe. And that’s the reason what went down at last week’s National Hockey League shop-and-swap deadline rankles.
We know Kevin Cheveldayoff kicked some tires on top-four defencemen, and we know the sticker price sent the Jets general manager running like a guy trying to stay two steps ahead of a loan shark.
We can assume his contemporaries were eager to fleece him and take Ville Heinola, Cole Perfetti and other shiny objects off his hands in exchange for their lame, halting and hard of seeing, but that was never going to happen because Chevy places premium value on his young studs. You might have a better chance of prying his bride, Janet, and their two kids away from him.
So it was no sale. Chevy allowed the NHL trade window to close with a whimper, and the Jets are no closer to the Stanley Cup today than a week ago, unless you consider a bottom-end, plug-in blueliner (hello, Jordie Benn) a shiny object.
Oddly enough, many among the rabble, also some news snoops, have given Chevy a tip of the chapeau and a slap on the back for his do-little day, because he “protected assets,” meaning he clung to young wannabes Heinola, Perfetti and others like gum to the bottom of a shoe.
Well let me tell you something about assets: They don’t stay forever young.
Chevy is protecting the future when most of the parts are in place for today’s Jets team. Add the right top-four defender and we might be talking about a parade route. But the Jets GM chose to stand still, even as time refuses to stand still for his significant core workers.
Wheeler’s prime years have been wasted. Scheifele and Hellebuyck are into prime time. Same with Lowry, Andrew Copp and Dylan DeMelo. And don’t look now, but Josh Morrissey is 26.
Which begs this question: If the Jets GM was unwilling to go all-in now, when?
This was the time for derring-do, an opportunity for Chevy to orchestrate what could have become his signature moment, lifting the Jets to that “next level” Wheeler spoke of all those years ago.
Well, here’s something else the captain said, when he re-upped in September 2018: “It kind of looks like that (Stanley Cup) window is opening up.”
Apparently Chevy missed the memo.
I don’t know if the GM will reflect on this crusade five years from now and view it as the one that got away, but Blake Wheeler might. Rink Rat Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck and others like Lowry who’ve committed long term might, as well.
Chevy should be kicking himself. Right in the assets.
Something Bryan Little said when the Jets’ playoff aspirations had been dashed in March 2017 is haunting: “It’s another year of your career that you can’t get back. Some of the best players in this room are the youngest. There’s definitely a bright future, but some guys are older and want to do something right now. That’s the thinking going into next year.” Little was 29. He’s now 33, wounded beyond repair, and there is no next year. Not for him. But why must it always be “next year” for Scheifele, Hellebuyck, Lowry et al?
As I was saying last week, I don’t buy into the Jack Campbell hype that news snoops in the Republic of Tranna have been spreading like thick, gooey peanut butter. He’s been a career backup goaltender for a reason, and Maple Leafs loyalists are beginning to see why. For all their talent, the Leafs are vulnerable in the blue paint, whereas Hellebuyck gives the Jets the best puck stopping in the Hoser Division (yes, including Carey Price). And we all know what that means when the boys begin to play for keeps, which is the very reason Chevy shouldn’t have dithered last week.
I don’t know about you, but I’m digging the threads our Canadian athletes will be wearing for the closing ceremonies at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, if there is a Tokyo Olympics, that is. Ya, sure, you can say the denim jacket looks like a teenage graffiti artist had a moment of madness, but I look at it more as a stroke of genius. There’s a youth-cool vibe to the kit, something you might wear on a pub crawl, or wherever it is that our young people go these days. It’s totally boffo compared to the get-ups that noted needle-and-thread guy Ralph Lauren designed for our American friends. I can’t tell if he’s dressed the U.S. team for the next space shuttle mission or an expedition to the South Pole.
I’ll take nose-pickers for $2,000, Alex. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has completed his gig as guest host on Jeopardy!, and he let us in on a little secret about the sticky notes he used to aid his performance. One of them read: “Don’t pick your butt/nose.” Seriously. He needs a sticky note to remind himself not to pick his nose on camera? And the Packers trust Rodgers to call audibles in the red zone?
Apparently, producers of Fox NFL Sunday were so impressed with Rodgers’ work on Jeopardy! that they plan to equip Terry Bradshaw with sticky notes to improve his work: 1. “Remember, this ain’t Hee Haw.” 2. “Powder shiny head during every commercial break.” 3. “Do not mention gap in Michael’s teeth.” 4. “Do not laugh at Howie’s 1950s haircut because at least he has hair.” 5. “Resist all urges to muss up Jimmy’s hair.” 6. “Do not tell Rob Riggle he isn’t as funny as Frank Caliendo.” 7. “Remember, guy sitting beside you is Curt, not James.” 8. “Jay Glazer is human, he just looks like a garden gnome.” 9. “Mention four Super Bowl rings whenever Jimmy mentions two Super Bowl rings.” 10. “When in doubt, always refer to sticky note No. 1.”
Favorite headline of the weekwas delivered by the New York Post: “How Yankees can address their crappiness.” Anything that combines New York Yankees and “crappiness” is right by me, although I’m sure George Steinbrenner’s son Hal wouldn’t agree.
If your product needs to add some sizzle and pizzazz, who you gonna call? Well, Major League Baseball has called Brian Stedman, now responsible for strategy and development. That would be the same Brian Stedman who, for the past seven years, carried the sizzle-and-pizzazz portfolio for Vince McMahon’s cast of characters in World Wrestling Entertainment. That will be quite an adjustment for Stedman. I mean, the play actors in wrestling are allowed to hit each other with everything including the kitchen sink, but the Yankees can’t hit anything.
Old friend Big Jim Bender took a bit of a paddywhacking on Twitter last week, after he made a flippant remark about the Brendan Bottcher foursome failing to win a trinket at the world curling championship but securing an Olympic berth for Canada. “Was the very least they could do,” Big Jim wrote. The Pebble People pounced. Darren Moulding, third on the Bottcher team, called the former Winnipeg Sun scribe “a joke,” adding, “You’re a stain on our country, not me.” Harsh. Olympian and TSN talking head Cheryl Bernard weighed in, describing Bender’s comment as “crap.” Oh my. Who knew the delightful Cheryl could be so undelightful? Anyway, not that he plans to call me to the stand as a character witness, but let the record show that Big Jim is a friend of curler’s everywhere. He’s spent more time in chilly two-sheeters than most people I know, so, as Strother Martin told Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”
Speaking of Pebble People, Rachel Homan played in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts title match on the final day of February while eight months pregnant. She then went home to bring daughter Bowyn into the world, and now the former Canadian/world champ has returned to the fray, skipping her team in the Humpty’s Champions Cup just three weeks after giving birth. Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard won’t be available to the L.A. Clippers today because he needs a rest—after sitting the last four games. I swear, if men could get pregnant and give birth, there would be no male sports.
Nobody asked me, but I’d say the selection committee for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame got it right when they chose Marv Levy, Nik Lewis, Will Johnson, Mike Walker, Orlondo Steinauer, Don Wilson and Doug Mitchell as this year’s inductees. These things are always ripe for debate, of course, and we usually hear some squawking whenever a sports body salutes the best of the best, but I don’t hear any arguments about the class of 2021, nor should there be.
And that’s not to ignore broadcasters Bernie Pascall and Bob Hooper, who got the nod from the Football Reporters of Canada and will go into the CFHF media wing. Hooper was a long-time Hamilton Tabbies play-by-play voice, and Pascall’s career chatting about Rouge Football on radio and TV spans decades. Unfortunately, Bob’s not around to enjoy the honor, but Bernie’s still with us, so he has something fresh to talk about with the neighbors on beautiful Vancouver Island.
The CFHF media wing is the ultimate boys’ club. By my scorecard, there are now 101 members, all men. Yup, 101-0. I realize there haven’t been a lot of women on the beat, but in my 19 years covering the Canadian Football League in three cities (Winnipeg, Calgary, Republic of Tranna), I can recall sharing a press box at Grey Cup games with Ashley Prest of the Drab Slab and Joanne Ireland of the Edmonton Journal. Ashley also knew her way around the University of Manitoba campus to cover coach Brian Dobie’s Bisons, and there might be some high school grid in her resumé, too, because that’s what most of us did back in the day. We started at the bottom and worked our way up. So it seems to me that the boys on the beat should find room for trailblazers like Ashley or Joanne.
Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna has made his annual plea for Dick Thornton’s induction to the CFHF, and I can’t disagree with Sy. Tricky Dick certainly has the bona fides, including two Grey Cup victories with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and multiple all-star salutes, and he also happens to be one of the more colorful characters in CFL lore. Legendary Bombers coach Bud Grant once said this of his defensive back/wannabe quarterback/kick returner/kicker: “When most players arrive in a new town, the first thing they do is phone a girl. When Dick Thornton arrives, he phones a sports writer.”
Tricky Dick had an ego the size of a football field, and here’s how the great columnist Jack Matheson once described him in the Winnipeg Tribune: “The writers and broadcasters treat No. 14 with considerable respect because he’s hot copy, in or out of uniform. His eccentricities are always guaranteed to liven a dull scene and for conversation Thornton holds all records for Blue Bombers of the modern era. The conversation always seems to revolve around Dick Thornton, but he has a magnetism and I’ve never seen anybody walk away from Dick Thornton when his mouth was open.” Another time, Matty wrote this of Thornton: “An incurable extrovert who played harder with his larynx than his limbs.”
Final note on Dick Thornton: The Bombers traded him to the Toronto Argos the same day the Maple Leafs cleared the track and sent Eddie Shack to the Boston Bruins. I guess the Republic of Tranna just wasn’t big enough for two clown acts.
Still getting creepy vibes from those face mashups TSN featured on its NHL trade deadline coverage. It’s clever work by Matty Go Sens, but morphing the faces of Gino Reda and Craig Button into one is the kind of stuff that will keep kids awake at night. Ditto the James Duthie/Bob McKenzie blending. I haven’t been so frightened since Alfred Hitchcock had all those nasty birds attack Tippi Hedren.
This from Steve Simmons: “The top four goaltenders in all-time wins are Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Roberto Luongo and now Marc-Andre Fleury. All of them Quebecois. And there’s not a single Quebec goalie of consequence (apologies to Jonathan Bernier) playing in today’s NHL.” Hmmm. Last time I checked, Marc-Andre Fleury was still a Quebecois and leading the NHL in shutouts.
Patrick Marleau will lace ’em up for his 1,768th NHL skirmish on Monday night, moving past Gordie Howe for most games played. It’s a terrific achievement. Worth noting, however, are their birth certificates. Howe was 52 when he finally shut down, Marleau is 41. And, at 52, Howe was a significant contributor for the Hartford Whalers, scoring 15 goals and 41 points in 80 games, plus another two points in three playoff jousts. Marleau is 4-4-8 in what looks to be another lost season for the San Jose Sharks.
And, finally, on the subject of legendary performers, I discovered a DVD of Tony Bennett: An American Classic at a local video story the other day, and I snapped it up immediately. Fan-freaking-tastic. Tony’s duets with Barbra Streisand and our Canadian songbird k.d. lang brought on the water works (sheer brilliance renders me very emotional), and there was only one sour note struck—the November 2006 TV special was far too short, just 42 minutes. I wanted at least an hour more.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and the days are getting longer and so is this blog…
That’s the word Kendall Coyne Schofield used to describe the state of women’s hockey in 2019, and it was a harsh truth.
The mostly ignored Canadian Women’s Hockey League had shuttered its doors permanently, giving rise to a group of malcontents demanding, among other things, a living wage, preferably from billionaire owners in the National Hockey League. Rather than sign on with National Women’s Hockey League outfits and form one super league, 150-200 orphaned players chose to participate in mostly ignored pickup games hither and yon, pose for photos with Billie Jean King, and trash talk the NWHL, which was wrestling with its own credibility demons in its fifth season.
“The women’s professional game is in shambles,” Coyne Schofield, the brightest star in the female shinny galaxy, told the San Francisco Chronicle in December 2019. “I dream of the day a young girl can dream of one day being a professional hockey player, and we’re nowhere near that.”
So, fast forward 15 months, and it’s fair to wonder if that dream is any nearer. Is Ponytail Puck any less in shambles?
Well, let’s take inventory:
The NWHL emerged from its COVID cocoon in January and assembled in Lake Placid for a two-week frolic meant to determine an Isobel Cup winner. Alas, the pandemic put the kibosh on that. The semifinals and final were aborted, but the NWHL returned to the freeze to complete its unfinished business on Friday and Saturday in Boston, declaring the Boston Pride as champions, and all three skirmishes were broadcast live on NBCSN.
Coyne Schofield and friends in the PWHPA, meanwhile, cranked up their second Dream Gap Tour last month, first strutting their stuff in a true sporting cathedral, Madison Square Garden in Gotham, then shifting their barnstorming showcase to the United Center in Chicago. Both friendlies were broadcast live on NBCSN, a first in the United States.
Finally, there’s loud chatter about the NWHL adding a seventh franchise, in Montreal, for its seventh season, and the planet’s elite are scheduled to gather in Nova Scotia for the 20th Women’s World Championship, May 6-16, and TSN will be all-in for the global showcase.
Thus, it sounds like the women are gaining traction. Or not.
As much as the national TV exposure is boffo, certain among the Dream Gappers can’t resist the urge to slag the NWHL, indicating that Ponytail Puck is as much a house divided as in late December 2019, when Coyne Schofield talked about an enterprise “in shambles.”
“I don’t think you’ll get the PWHPA and the NWHL together,” Cassie Campbell-Pascall informed Tim Micallef early this month on Sportsnet’s Tim & Friends.
The former Canadian Olympian and current Sportsnet squawk box suggested it would be “awesome” if the NWHL survives, and that it might one day be “a great league,” or grow up and become “a feeder system” to a Women’s NHL featuring Dream Gappers. But it’s “not the future of women’s hockey,” she harrumphed. So there.
“I think the PWHPA is gonna go down as that moment in women’s hockey, that group in women’s hockey, that really, truly made a difference in providing a professional women’s hockey league,” Campbell-Pascall tooted. So there again.
It should be pointed out that Campbell-Pascall is not a member of the PWHPA board. Nor is she an official adviser. But she’s thrown in fully with the Dream Gappers, and Sportsnet continues to provide a pulpit for her unchallenged propaganda. She uses her position for divisive dialogue, sometimes spewing inaccuracies about the NWHL, other times accusing former NWHL commissioner and founder Dani Rylan Kearney of “ulterior motives” without naming her and without introducing evidence.
Others among the Dream Gappers have shown an inclination toward schoolyard banter. Hilary Knight branded the NWHL a “glorified beer league” and former board member Liz Knox tsk-tsked the NWHL for having the (apparent) bad manners to add an expansion team during a sports-wide pandemic shutdown, even as every other jock operation was plotting strategy for a return to the playing fields.
“There is a lot of history there that is uncomfortable,” Tyler Tumminia acknowledged in a natter with Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman on their 31 Thoughts podcast three weeks ago.
Tumminia became a fresh voice in the discussion after stepping forward as interim NWHL commissioner last October. She earned her executive chops in the boardrooms of baseball (she’s named after Ty Cobb), and she’s attempting to apply lessons learned to Ponytail Puck. Not just the NWHL, understand. The big picture. Which explains her sweet tweet saluting the PWHPA for its landmark appearance at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 28.
“To me, (the tweet) was saying, ‘I value and I see you and I applaud what you guys are doing for the women’s game, for women’s hockey in particular.’” she said. “I shouldn’t be commissioner of a women’s hockey league if I didn’t applaud that. I’m not dismissing the fact that there’s some raw emotions around it. What I’m saying, is that, you know, some of that narrative is actually outdated now, so let’s sit at the table and have a true sense of what is actually going on here and how we can get to where everybody wants to get to. We all want to get to the same spot. So how can we get together. But, ya, I think that there needs to be some therapeutic conversation, and I’m open to that of course. Now, I don’t have much history there, but I’m open to having those conversations of what had happened but, mostly, what can we do going forward.”
The difference in tone between Tumminia and Campbell-Pascall is startling. One is reaching out with an olive branch, the other is swinging a wrecking ball.
Their views on the direction of Ponytail Puck are just as conflicting.
Here’s Campbell-Pascall: “I think the next step is an announcement, the NHL to step up and make an announcement. ‘This is what we’re gonna do, here’s how we’re gonna do it, and this is when we’re gonna do it.’ That’s the only logical step and the only thing in my opinion that makes sense. Ya, I’m putting pressure on the NHL, because I’ve sat in meetings and worked with them for a long time and talked and discussed this for a long time, and it is time. They know it’s time. They have the infrastructure. Obviously COVID has hit the league hard and they’re losing money as well. Obviously timing is not ideal, but the time is now. The time is now for them to step up and make an announcement about how they want to support women’s hockey.”
And now Tumminia: “I think it’s kinda unfair on the NHL’s part for me to say, ‘Hey, they should take it on themselves and, you know, help this all out.’ Meaning, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, everybody’s hurting financially. For them to take on the entire business model, I don’t know. I think that would be a little unfair at this time to ask them to do that. That’s a little bit tough to ask at this point. Now, in a couple years that might be a little bit different. Right now what I think it should look like, is you get a business model that’s strong in a league that goes past a couple of years, in combination with other parties involved and kinda go in the direction where it’s sustainable on its own. And at the time there’s market share, there’s viewership and there’s tribal fandom in these markets, and the markets are actually showing there’s growth and it’s sustainable and it’s fueling and funding revenue streams that are consistent. Then I think at that time, you know, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s something they take on.”
We can only speculate what’s ahead for Ponytail Puck, but I submit the cause can use a lot less of Campbell-Pascall’s militant mutterings and a lot more of Tumminia’s reasoned rhetoric.
Let’s put it another way: I know which of the two women I’d choose to represent me in a boardroom. (Hint: It isn’t the one making demands of NHL owners who aren’t fishing for fresh ways to squander money.)
Here’s a reason the NWHL and PWHPA need to get their crap together: The English Women’s Super League just hit the mother lode, signing a three-year TV deal with BBC and Sky Sports. Total value: 24 million English pounds, which translates into $33M in U.S. greenbacks. The BBC will show 22 matches and there’ll be as many as 44 more on Sky. Our practitioners of Ponytail Puck will drool at those numbers. That’s where they want to be, visible and with substantial TV revenue. And if it’s doable in English soccer it ought to be doable for shinny in North America, especially in Canada. How do they arrive at that point? Simple: Follow Tumminia’s lead. Sit down and talk. Hash out differences. Clear up misconceptions. Grab an oar and row in the same direction. Campbell-Pascall has said more than once that “this isn’t about one league versus the other league,” but that’s exactly what the Dream Gappers have done to Ponytail Puck. They’ve turned it into a family feud. Now they have a chance to grab an olive branch. We’ll see.
Every time I see and hear Jennifer Botterill talk hockey on Sportsnet, I’m reminded what a local treasure she is and how the decision-makers got it right in making her the first female player inducted to the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame. One of the all-timers in local shinny lore, Jennifer is an Olympic champion, world champion, two-time winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top player in NCAA women’s hockey, team captain at Harvard, CWHL scoring champion, CWHL all-star, and now a respected voice on hockey TV. It’s just too bad Jennifer had to leave home to do all that heavy lifting. Wouldn’t it have been nice if the final notation on her career read: Played professional hockey in Winnipeg?
Having said that, I wonder if the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, harbors an appetite for bringing a women’s team under the True North umbrella. Has anyone asked the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll about it? If not, why not?
This is an example of what Ponytail Puck is up against in terms of coverage in mainstream media: The Toronto Six met the Boston Pride in an Isobel Cup semifinal skirmish on Friday. Number of column inches devoted to the match in the Toronto Sun pre- and post-game, zero. But, hey, they managed to squeeze in a full-page Sunshine Girl. Meanwhile, both TSN and Sportsnet used the Boston-Minnesota Whitecaps championship joust as bottom-feeder filler on their highlight shows Saturday night/Sunday morning. The Isobel Cup final was a 52nd-minute afterthought on SportsCentre and a 47th-minute snippet on Sports Central, scant seconds in front of two NASCAR mud-racing pickup trucks.
I note that cannibal boxer Mike Tyson, who once ate Evander Holyfield’s right ear for a late-night snack, won’t be fighting his former foe for a third time, thus losing out on a multi-million-dollar payday. Guess that means Iron Mike will have to find himself a new meal ticket.
Apparently negotiations between the greybeard boxers broke down when Tyson scared off Holyfield by arriving at one bargaining session with a knife and fork.
Here’s a transcript from the final Tyson-Holyfield verbal to-and-fro: Tyson: “We have an offer you can’t refuse, Evander.” Holyfield: “Talk to me, Mike…I’m all ears.” Tyson: “No you’re not.”
There was also a hangup over the marketing slogan for the proposed Tyson-Holyfield III at Hard Rock Stadium. The two sides agreed it should be something catchy like Rumble in the Jungle or Thrilla in Manila, but Holyfield balked when the Tyson camp insisted on Finger Lickin’ Fightin’ ‘n’ Late Night Munchies In Miami.
The Winnipeg Jets lost Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot from their blueline in June/July 2019. Dustin Byfuglien disappeared in September that year. So we started discussing the pressing need for a top-four defenceman 18½ months ago. Question is, why are we still talking about it a year and a half after Big Buff and the boys bailed? What, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff hasn’t noticed those four guys are missing? Of course he has. Yet we still await his next move. It’s official then: Chevy actually moves slower than the Arctic ice melt.
According to the 2021 World Happiness report, Finnish people are the happiest on the planet for the fourth straight year. Hmmm. Did anyone think to ask Patrik Laine about that?
There’s a large cargo ship stuck in the Suez Canal and, after a week of failed attempts to free the vessel, the captain and crew are desperate to get out. You know, just like anyone who plays for the Buffalo Sabres.
Seems to me that the Ottawa Senators might become an NHL force once all their players are old enough to shave. Then, of course, Eugene Melnyk will sell them off like used tupperware containers at a yard sale.
Go figure the Canadian Football League. One week commissioner Randy Ambrosie is talking tall about a budding bromance with Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson and his XFL, and the next week he’s pleading poverty (yes, again) and asking players to take an across-the-board hit at the pay window (yes, again). So let’s no longer wonder why Commish Randy and the Lords of Rouge Football would consider an iffy alliance with a fly-by operation south of the 49th, let’s instead wonder why The Rock would consider a partnership with a bunch of guys whose sole game plan appears to be begging. I don’t know if Commish Randy and his bosses are embarrassed, but they should be.
The CFL has become an arms race, and it has nothing to do with quarterbacks. It’s all about how many needles medics can poke into fans’ arms. Rouge Football isn’t doable without patrons in the pews, so what’s the over/under on the number of COVID-19 vaccine shots required before the faithful can flock into ball yards hither and yon? Is it 20 million? Twenty-five mill? Is Vegas offering odds?
And, finally, the other day I watched a replay of Secretariat’s gallop in the 1973 Belmont Stakes, and I must report that it remains the most gob-smacking, astonishing individual athletic performance I’ve ever witnessed. And that’s taking in a lot of turf, because I started watching sports in the mid-1950s. I suppose some folks might get emotional gazing upon the Mona Lisa or the Shroud of Turin, but I get teary-eyed watching Big Red romp to the wire in the Belmont. It’s very spiritual.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and happy spring to you all…
I recognize that I’m likely in the minority, but I find the Canadian precinct of the National Hockey League a bit of a bore.
There, I said it. A bore.
Does that make me an un-hoser? Fine. Sue me. Sentence me to a lifetime of watching nothing but reruns of Don Messer’s Jubilee. Frankly, I’d just as soon see Don, Charlie Chamberlain and Marg Osburne pop up on my flatscreen on a Saturday night rather than endure another episode of Winnipeg Jets-Ottawa Senators/Vancouver Canucks/Calgary Flames.
The Jets and Sens have already met five times this year, with another five on the docket. Oh joy. That’s like looking forward to a root canal.
This week, we get a steady diet of the Canucks (two games) and Flames (three). That isn’t a treat. It’s cruel and unusual punishment, like listening to Nickelback music while trapped in an elevator.
Between March 31 and April 24, the Jets will face off vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs six times. But didn’t they just finish a three-game set? Yup, sure did. Hey, I enjoy watching Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews do their thing, but I’d rather have some Sidney Crosby or Nathan MacKinnon or Patrick Kane sprinkled into the mix.
An all-hoser division seemed like a good idea before they dropped the puck in January, and I realize gathering the seven Canadian outfits together in one playground was a necessary byproduct of COVID-19, but it’s become too much like turkey dinner at Christmas. You love it at the time, but you don’t want to still be noshing on cold gobbler sandwiches two weeks into the New Year.
So you can count me among those happy that the Canadian House League will be a one-off.
Say, look who’s talking. Why, it’s none other than the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, who came out of hiding for a natter with Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic. Their topic? All-hoser hockey.
“I think that for us, and I assume that the other Canadian teams feel the same way, there’s something very compelling about playing iconic franchises, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, and there’s a lot of history here dating back to the Smythe Division days with a lot of people’s recollections drawn to those games against Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver,” the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll said.
“So sure, I would love to play the Canadian teams more frequently. The challenge with that is, where do you find the games to do that? Because I would say we do enjoy and we’ve established some really good rivalries in the Central with Chicago, St. Louis, Minnesota, Nashville and Dallas. So on the one hand, I look forward to returning to that. On the other, I wish there was a way we can play Toronto and Montreal more.
“It’s not a perfect world, scheduling. So for now, I’m really enjoying the games as I think most fans in Canada are and we’ll enjoy it while it lasts. Maybe some day, there would be a way to play the Canadian teams more often. That would be my hope.”
My hope is that the Puck Pontiff doesn’t get his wish.
Given that Chipman delivers sound bites only slightly more often than a street mime, I find it interesting, also puzzling, that he would wag his chin with LeBrun rather than one of the boys on the Jets beat in Good Ol’ Hometown. Does he have something against Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman, Scott Billeck, Mad Mike McIntyre and Murat Ates? Do they refuse to genuflect and kiss his ring finger? I know that Mad Mike has requested an audience with the Puck Pontiff, but not once in his four-plus years on the beat at the Drab Slab has his ask been granted. “I don’t really care, nor am I losing any sleep over it,” he scribbled last July. I wouldn’t either, but that doesn’t make it right.
I agree, cheap-shot artist Zack Kassian got away with a flagrant foul on Twig Ehlers in the Jets 4-2 loss to the Edmonton McDavids on Saturday night. The guys wearing the orange arm bands blew it, but I find myself wondering if they turned a blind eye because Ehlers is recognized as one of those players who loses his feet too easily. Remember, he once was fined for diving, and faking it tends to stick.
Finnish publication Ilta-Sanomatran a lengthy takeout on John Tortorella the other day and, no shock, the Columbus Blue Jackets bench puppeteer had some interesting observations. Among other things, Torts believes, “The NHL is a league of young and stupid players.” Ya, that’s the kind of guy I’d want for a coach. “I miss the old type of player and old-fashioned hockey,” he added. “There were clashes on the ice and the players acted as cops. There are so many rules and different levels of discipline in the NHL today that this has become a ‘no-hitter’ league. I know people consider me Neanderthal, but I don’t care. I don’t want to lose the values of the old school. I think the game has lost some of its old values. I want to evolve and adapt to the new era, but I think today’s players need to learn some of those good, old values. Sometimes when I look at some payers on or off the ice, I wonder who the hell they think they are.” Which is precisely what many of us wonder about Torts.
Speaking of relics, why do so many hockey people continue to spew the “no one ever gets hurt in a hockey fight” refrain? It’s rubbish and the old-school thinkers who insist on repeating the illogical mantra know it’s rubbish. Ben Chiarot’s right hand is the latest piece of evidence. It’s broken and Chiarot is lost to the Montreal Canadiens for six-eight weeks. He isn’t the first player to go on the shelf after suffering an owie in a scrap, and he won’t be the last. So the horse-and-buggy crowd is advised to do what Archie Bunker often told Edith—stifle yourself.
On the subject of fisticuffs, as advertised following his thrown-downwith Roy Jones Jr. last November, former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson plans to return to the ring in May. No word on the identity of Iron Mike’s opponent, but promoters promise he’ll have a matching set of ears when he enters the ring.
Can someone—anyone—tell me why Tiger Woods returning to his home base in Florida to rehab from his most-recent car crash is newsworthy? Does anyone actually care where his broken bones mend? It’s time mainstream media stopped fawning over Woods and told it like it is—he’s a reckless and dangerous man who puts the health and lives of others at risk when he gets behind the wheel of an automobile.
It would be interesting to know the story behind the story of Dani Rylan Kearney’s exit from the National Women’s Hockey League. She stepped down as commissioner in October, then last week resigned as advisor/president of W Hockey Group, which owns four of the six NWHL franchises—Minnesota Whitecaps, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale and Metropolitan Riveters. That’s a fast fall for the NWHL founder and the timing is curious, given that the Isobel Cup will be awarded on Saturday in Beantown. I’m sure mainstream media will get right on top of the story…oh, wait, it’s women’s hockey. They’ll give it a hard pass.
When our latest tennis phenom, Leylah Annie Fernandez, reaches the final of the Monterrey Open, shouldn’t it be more than a brief toss-in item on the back half of TSN SportsCentre? Is it necessary for us to absorb highlights from 20 U.S. college hoops games before they show us a Canadian kid making good on the Women’s Tennis Association tour? If Leylah Annie wins in Monterrey, I trust TSN will move her to the top of the show.
Tip of the bonnet to my favorite scribe at the Winnipeg Free Press, Melissa Martin. Her piece on Hometown Hockey in Cree attracted the attention of National Newspaper Award judges, and she’s one of three finalists for top sports writing honors. This sort of thing has become old hat for Melissa, who’s won the NNA as top columnist twice, and I like her chances this year against Cathal Kelly and Michael Doyle, both of the Globe and Mail.
For the benefit of those who aren’t keeping score at home, this is the 50th consecutive year that I have not been nominated for a National Newspaper Award. Or almost the same amount of time as the Republic of Tranna has gone without a Stanley Cup parade.
Longtime Canadian Football League coach and executive Wally Buono has weighed in on a proposed alliance between the stewards of Rouge Football and Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson’s idle XFL. Surprisingly, he’s “all for it” if it’s a way to “preserve our game.” I say surprisingly, because no one has to tell Wally about the Yankee Doodle Disaster that U.S. expansion became during the 1990s. “I was pleased that the CFL is looking at other ways to grow the game,” the former Calgary Stampeders and B.C. Lions bossman told TSN 1200 in Ottawa. “We have a great game. Maybe we’ve kept it a secret too long. It’s time to showcase our league, showcase our game so we can grow revenues.” He also believes the American football fan will buy our quirky game, lock, stock and rouge. “There was places we went to (in the 1990s), Baltimore and San Antonio and Birmingham, where the people there loved the game,” Buono recalled. “It was an exciting night of football when we were there with Doug Flutie and Tracy Ham and Matt Dunigan. These guys put on a tremendous show, and it was a three-down game. So, you know, football is football. The fans enjoyed it, there was a lot of excitement in the stadium.” Ya, until they discovered you get a single point for missing a field goal.
As expected, ratings for the Brier final last Sunday on TSN took a dive, 33 per cent, compared to last year’s Canadian men’s curling championship. The all-Alberta skirmish featuring Brendan Bottcher and Kevin Koe attracted an average of 728,000 viewers compared to 1.09 million a year ago, when Bottcher and Brad Gushue met in the ultimate match. Overall, 5.2 million watched the Brier at some point. Comparatively, the women’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts had 4.7 million total viewers and an average of 682,000 for the Kerri Einarson-Rachel Homan final, down from 979,000 in 2020. Those dipping numbers follow a trend for all big-ticket events throughout sports, and we’re left to wonder if people will return to their flatscreens post-COVID. I’m not convinced they will.
Bravo to Beth Mowins, who on Saturday became the first woman to call play-by-play of a Chicago Cubs game, a Cactus League joust vs. Colorado Rockies. Beth will make her regular season debut on May 8 and—holy cow!—I’m wondering what Harry Caray would think of that.
Favorite quote of the week, from Robin Lehner of the Vegas Golden Knights: “The stigma around mental health is insane.” True words, those. And kudos to Lehner for talking about mental health.
And, finally, if the Conservative Party of Canada doesn’t have to officially believe in climate change, I don’t have to believe Connor McDavid really skates that fast.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.”
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.
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?
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.)
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.
The first Sunday morning smorgas-bored of 2021…and I can’t say how many more are to follow…
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.
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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.
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.
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:
Sports front: 7
Days with female sports coverage: 27 of 30.
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?
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:
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
“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.
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?
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.
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.
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?