Hens in the Hockey House: No, Coach PoMo won’t go

The National Hockey League is in recess, save for the glitterati assembled in St. Loo for the annual all-star festival, so it’s an appropriate time to take inventory of our local hockey heroes. And who better to discuss all things Winnipeg Jets than our two all-seeing, all-knowing Hens in the Hockey House?

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: As broadcasting legend Peter Warren used to say, let’s get right down to business. Should Paul Maurice be fired?

Answer Lady: Wow. No small talk, girlfriend? We’re going straight to the short strokes? I thought we’d at least gasbag about Harry and Meghan before getting down to the nitty gritty of the Jets morphing into a team that only a mother could love.

Question Lady: Is that your cutesy way of saying we should talk about the moms’ recent getaway with their boys?

Answer Lady: Now that you mention it, why not? That was a nice touch, having the moms tag along with their lads for whistlestops in the Toddlin’ Town, Raleigh and Columbus. And it truly was the mother of all trips, with the lads going oh-fer and holding a players-only, closed-door meeting. A couple of those sons of mothers were so PO’d with all the losing that they were dropping F-bombs within ear shot of news snoops. I don’t know if anyone had his mouth washed out with soap, but that was always my mom’s go-to threat whenever a four-letter word escaped my lips, even if none of them started with an F.

Question Lady: I believe one of those F-bombs belonged to head coach Maurice, which brings me back to the original question: Should he be fired?

Answer Lady: Well, girlfriend, I thought they should have replaced Coach Potty Mouth in 2017. I seem to recall saying something about him spending too much time selling snake oil and being all hat and no cattle. Nothing since then has changed my way of thinking. He’s the losingest coach in NHL history for a reason. Trouble is, he’s got Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff bamboozled into thinking he’s a Scotty Bowman clone behind the bench. They’ve said more than once that they’re all in it for the long haul, including Coach PoMo.

Question Lady: So how long is the long haul?

Answer Lady: You going zen on me, girlfriend? That’s like asking me what air tastes like. I don’t think any bench jockey since Al Arbour has been with one team for “the long haul,” and he had four Stanley Cup rings by the time he found something better to do than coach the New York Islanders. As far as I know, Coach PoMo has a wedding ring and maybe ring around the collar, and that’s it. Coaches are as disposable as dirty diapers, especially this year, and I’m guessing that topic has been discussed in the ivory tower at True North. But I don’t see anything happening to Maurice in-season.

Question Lady: Is the Jets tailspin really his fault? All he can do is play the cards he’s been dealt, and the defencemen he sends over the boards aren’t exactly Robinson, Savard, Lapointe and Langway. They’re more like Larry, Curly, Moe and Shemp, only with better haircuts. Maurice is trying to win the Indy 500 with a kid’s pedal car and four flat tires. Isn’t that Chevy’s doing?

Answer Lady: Your point is well taken, girlfriend, but here’s the thing with Coach PoMo: He doesn’t have the answers. He’s admitted that. And if your coach doesn’t have a clue, you have to find someone who does. Here’s another thing to ponder: He has a Vezina Trophy candidate in the blue ice, but the Jets are below the playoff line. When was the last time a goaltender with an also-ran was anointed best in the biz? Try once this century (Sergei Bobrovsky) and once last century (Shrimp Worters). Which means if Connor Hellebuyck wins the Vezina trinket later this year, it puts Coach PoMo in the rarefied company of Eddie Gerard and Todd Richards as the only bench jockeys to be blessed with the best ‘keeper in the game and fail to qualify for Beard Season. So if there aren’t any meaningful games being played at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in April, I say “the long haul” be damned. Get his butt out of Dodge. But the Puck Pontiff won’t do it.

Question Lady: What about Chevy?

Answer Lady: This is definitely his mess. Him and his bean counters. They’ve handled the salary cap like they all skipped math class during high school and hung out at the pool hall instead. I realize they were blindsided when Dustin Byfuglien decided he’d rather go fishing than freelance his way through another winter, but they’re paying Blake Wheeler $10 million this season. At age 33. And they’ll be paying him $10 mill when he’s 35. Come on, man, that’s just not right. Mathieu Perreault’s cap hit for six goals is over $4 million, this year and next. And if Dmtry Kulikov is $4.3 million worth of defenceman, then I’m Hayley Wickenheiser. They put themselves in cap hell and had to watch good contributors skate away because of it. Money aside, some of the term Chevy’s gifted these guys with is mind numbing. Wheeler’s at the front end of a five-year deal. Ditto Bryan Little. He’s 32 and already spent. Big Buff will be 35 in two months, and he’s still got a year to go if they can drag him away from his favorite fishing hole. Crazy stuff. But keep in mind that Chevy doesn’t make a major move without the okie-dokie from the Puck Pontiff. Chipman signs off on everything. So he’s wearing this, big time. But we can’t fire the owner, can we?”

Question Lady: Do you think we’ll see Buff back this season?

Answer Lady: I can’t think of any reason why they’d go there. They should have moved on from Buff last summer. He’s got a modified no-trade clause in his contract, something like 14 teams, so I say unload him if Chevy can convince some sucker to take on damaged goods. Warts and all, he might fetch a decent return.

Question Lady: What did you make of the players’ recent closed-door meeting?

Answer Lady: Meh. Nothing to see there. Besides, the lads have swanned off to warm, sunny beaches and golf courses hither and yon, so I imagine what was said will be long forgotten by the time they return to the fray at the end of the month. Frankly, these private chin-wags are only noteworthy because those pesky news snoops get their knickers in a knot whenever they’re put on ignore. It gives them something to write and yak about, as if we’re supposed to care about their inconveniences. Let’s both give them all a quarter and let them call someone who cares.

Question Lady: Do you consider this season a writeoff? Should the Jets tank for better odds at the draft lottery?

Answer Lady: Hey now. What kind of talk is that? Wash your mouth out with soap, girlfriend. Hockey players don’t tank. Ownership and management might, but not the working stiffs. You can’t convince me that the Arizona Desert Dogs are better than the Jets. At the start of this crusade I called for our hockey heroes to wiggle their way into a wild card playoff spot, and it’s totally doable. Still. It’ll just take a whole lot of smoke, mirrors and Hellebuyck, that’s all.

Question Lady: Any plans while the Jets are away doing whatever it is that young millionaires do on their down time?

Answer Lady: Not sure, girlfriend. Harry, Meghan and Archie live in my neighborhood now, so maybe I’ll play snoopy neighbor. On second thought, no. I’m not a royal watcher. Actually, I’m not a royal anything, except perhaps a royal pain in the ass to the six people who actually read this blog. I’ll probably just chill and visit Jack the Bartender once or twice.

Question Lady: Jack the Bartender a Jets fan?

Answer Lady: Nope. He’s a Canucklehead. But I’ve never held that against him because he pours ’em full and he pours ’em cold. You’d like him. Anyway, must toddle off. Let’s talk again at the trade deadline. You know, when Chevy gives away another first-round draft pick.

Let’s talk about Kevin Sawyer, Jared Spurgeon and Saran Wrap…clashing opinions on the sports pages…newspaper competition…Coach PoMo sounding like Coach Claude…Mathieu Perreault’s retreat…Sheriff George’s gaffe…giving Trump the finger…remembering Al Davies and other terrific people at the Winnipeg Sun…and other things on my mind

A Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and I wish the Packers and 49ers were the early game today, because it’ll be past my bedtime by the time they finish…

So, now we’re told it was just a 16th birthday prank. You know, teenage hijinks 14 years ago.

And, according to Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, “many laughs were had” and it was something that Jared Spurgeon “still chuckles about to this day.”

Except for this: There were adults in the room when Spurgeon’s teammates with the Spokane Chiefs thought it would be a hoot to strap the Western Hockey League rookie to a pillar, his tiny feet dangling high off the ground.

Kevin Sawyer

Kevin Sawyer, a 31-year-old assistant coach at the time, has admitted to being among those adults. He did nothing to stop it.

More to the point, Sawyer yukked it up with the teenage boys back then, and he still believed the incident to be a great source of humor two weeks ago when he spun this “favorite” Spurgeon story during the TSN broadcast of a Winnipeg Jets-Minnesota Wild skirmish.

“He was a 15-year-old, two months into the season we Saran wrapped him to a pillar in the arena, about six feet up in the air,” he told viewers. “He was tiny. He looked like he was 12.”

Yup, that’s some kind of fun.

The thing is, it isn’t such a knee-slapper anymore, because Sawyer has been ragdolled pillar to post (pun intended) in the past two weeks, first on social media and now by a mainstream media that has finally weighed in. The TSN gab guy, who hasn’t been heard from since, has some serious explaining to do, and apparently he’ll have his say during a Tuesday night broadcast from Carolina.

What will he tell the masses? Try this:

“I was wrong to make light of what many consider a hazing incident. In no way do I condone hazing in sports or anywhere else in society. That’s not who I am. Hazing was wrong then and it’s wrong now, and I regret what happened to Jared Spurgeon and I regret talking about it in a joking manner. I’ve already spoken to Jared, and I apologize to TSN, the Winnipeg Jets, and the National Hockey League for my inappropriate and misguided comments.”

Then it will be back to regularly scheduled sugar coating of Jets’ missteps for Sawyer.

Should that, however, be the end of it?

Jeremy Roenick

I mean, if NBC Sports pulls the plug on Jeremy Roenick because of glib remarks about his sexual fantasies on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast, shouldn’t TSN discipline Sawyer for tee-heeing about a hazing incident dressed up as birthday buffoonery? Shouldn’t Bell Media at least say something?

After all, TSN had no hesitancy in trotting out its stable of squawk boxes to report on and gasbag about Bill Peters and Mike Babcock and Marc Crawford when those National Hockey League coaches were outed as racists and/or bullies. And, lord knows, they used up two weeks worth of oxygen dissecting Don Cherry’s very public views on poppies and immigrants.

Yet not a peep about one of their own boasting about hazing. Go figure.

Meanwhile, it’s about the Jets. Forget that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s signature isn’t on Sawyer’s paycheque. He’s their guy. Their broadcaster. If they consider his remarks offensive and inappropriate (they should), why wouldn’t they lean into TSN and suggest they zip his lips?

But, again, not a peep.

Mind you, that’s nothing unusual for True North Sports & Entertainment, which makes Dustin Byfuglien seem like a big blabbermouth. If the Puck Pontiff and TNSE have something to say, you can be sure they won’t say it.

In this case, what they aren’t saying pretty much says it all: They and, by extension, the NHL are okay with a team broadcaster who jokes about the hazing of a 16-year-old boy.

Mad Mike

This is what I like about a two-newspaper town: Differing opinions. And both of the main sports columnists at the two River City rags delivered contrary views of the Sawyer incident.

Here’s Mad Mike McIntyre: “The only thing Sawyer appears guilty of here is butchering the way he told a story and causing a massive misunderstanding that has been allowed to rage out of control.”

The headline on the website said the incident was a “big deal that isn’t,” and Mad Mike basically wrote it off as a meh moment. He also informed us that no adults were involved, but then totally contradicted his own narrative by writing, “Everyone gathered around to sing Happy Birthday, including Sawyer and other team staff.” So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: No adults were involved, but adults were involved. And he accuses everyone else of being misinformed? Good luck with that. Fact is, Sawyer admitted on air that he was present. Mad Mike also insists that Spurgeon “still chuckles about it to this day,” yet he provides no supporting quotes. We’re simply supposed to take his word for it, just like his “rotten to the core” narrative about the Jets last season.

Paul Friesen

Now here’s Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun: “It doesn’t matter if it was a birthday prank or a rookie prank. To say Spurgeon hadn’t complained about the incident and therefore it wasn’t serious is a moot point. A 15-year-old away from home for the first time being ridiculed by adults from a team that he needs to advance his career isn’t likely to speak out if he feels threatened or intimidated. Viewers of that Jets game were rightfully offended by the message Sawyer’s story sent to the kids watching. There was nothing funny about it. There never is when people are singled out to be mocked.”

Friesen is spot on.

I should point out that, according to Friesen, Sawyer called Spurgeon the night he made his regrettable remarks. If it was no big deal, as Mad Mike submits, why would Sawyer reach out?

Mad Mike totally lost the plot with this line: “Would such an incident be acceptable here in 2020? That’s debatable.” No. It isn’t. It’s debatable to say Nathan MacKinnon is a better hockey player than Connor McDavid, but there’s nothing debatable about the practice of hazing. It’s wrong. If Mad Mike thinks otherwise, I suggest he gather the boys in the Drab Slab newsroom and they Saran wrap a summer student intern to a convenient pole, six feet up in the air, outside the Winnipeg Free Press building. Then he can scribble a column telling us about all the yuks they had at the kid’s expense. Let’s see how well that plays in 2020.

Good Ol’ Hometown is fortunate to have competing dailies. The Sun-Drab Slab dynamic doesn’t exist anywhere else in the western colonies and, being a newspaper junkie, I feel cheated when I call up the rags in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatchewan. Don’t get me wrong. There are quality scribes who crank out quality copy in those locales, but no contrasting viewpoints. The boys and girls on the beat don’t have to kick the other guy’s ass. Too often it’s one voice for two papers. I read Terry Jones in both the E-Town Sun and E-Town Journal. I read Ed Willes in both the Vancity Province and Vancity Sun. So, ya, as much as I rag on Mad Mike (he’s such an easy target), I’m glad he’s there to provide an opposing slant on issues.

So here’s something the rabble probably didn’t want to hear after their hockey heroes had been paddywhacked 7-1 by the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie: “I don’t have an explanation for you. We were, I think, moving right and then we got to 2-0 and now we’re waiting for the puck to come to us. That’s the best explanation I can give you. I don’t know,” confessed Paul Maurice, the Jets head coach who’s paid to know. The last guy to talk like that after ugly losses was Claude Noel, and we all know what happened to him. That’s not to suggest Coach Potty Mouth is on his way out of Dodge, but when I hear him say, “I don’t know,” it sure sounds like an echo of Coach Claude’s “I can’t give you the answers to why” we lose.

Mathieu Perreault

That was an impressive hissy fit Mathieu Perreault had after Jake Vertanen of the Vancouver Canucks fed the Jets forward a left elbow for a late-night snack last week, and I can’t say I blame the guy for being PO’d. Total cheap shot. “Player safety my ass,” he snorted. Equally impressive was Perreault’s retreat after threatening to use his stick for a pitch fork the next time some scoundrel decides to give him a noogie. “Obviously I wouldn’t slash anyone in the face. I’d like to take that back for sure,” he told news snoops. I haven’t heard anyone swallow words back that fast since Richard Nixon admitted he really was a crook.

Sheriff George

Not surprisingly, NHL player safety dude George Parros has felt more heat than a donut in a deep fryer for refusing to punish Vertanen. Perreault and the Jets are PO’d, the rabble (at least in Good Ol’ Hometown) is PO’d, news snoops (at least in Good Ol’ Hometown) are PO’d, and Prince Harry and Meghan might even be PO’d. But let’s not lay it all on Sheriff George’s lap. NHL players have a dog in this fight, and if they showed a bit more respect for each other’s well-being, we wouldn’t see such a steady parade of ne’er-do-wells marching to the principal’s office.

The Canucks are in first place. Go figure. The Tranna Maple Leafs, who could feed five third world countries for the next 10 years with the signing bonuses they’re paying, are below the playoff line. Go figure.

Conor McVulgar

The most vulgar man in sports, Conor McGregor, won in his return to the UFC octagon on Saturday night, and those who follow the game say he’s a changed man. Apparently, he’s kinder, more gentle, more soft spoken. I’m not convinced. I mean, immediately after the bout, McGregor demanded a rematch with that old man he thumped out in an Irish pub last year.

This is rich (but not at all surprising): When the Florida Panthers deep-sixed head coach Gerard Gallant, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna described them as the “most clueless front office in the NHL.” When the Vegas Golden Knights gave Gallant his walking papers last week, he tweeted, “If they believe a coaching change was necessary, then I will give them the benefit of the doubt.”

The International Olympic Committee has officially warned athletes that any form of political protest will be a strict no-no at this year’s Summer Games in Tokyo. Rule 50 outlaws messaging on signage and/or armbands, and there’ll be no hand gestures, kneeling or refusal to follow the IOC’s uptight protocol at venues or in the Olympic Village. But apparently American soccer star Megan Rapinoe is still allowed to flip Donald Trump the bird if he shows up.

Al Davies

And, finally, one of the Winnipeg Sun’s founding fathers, Al Davies, died recently, and a lot of us should be thankful for what Al, Tom Denton, Frank Goldberg and Bill Everitt started on Nov. 5, 1980. The tabloid isn’t everyone’s rag du jour and has long been mocked and ridiculed as a poor man’s version of the National Enquirer, but it offers another voice and that’s important. I enjoyed most of my time there, working with terrific people like Dave Komosky, young Eddie Tait, Tom Brennan, Ketch, John Kendle, Homer Connors, Judy Owen, Paul Friesen, Jon Thordarson, Pat Stevens, Rhonda Brown, Rhonda Hart, Paul Robson, Big Jim Bender and so many others. Fabulous group.

Let’s talk about Jacob Trouba and Kurt Overhardt…playing a game of chicken with Chevy and the Winnipeg Jets…the sticker price for a bottom-six forward…Mum’s the word for Mitch…swapping clunkers in Alberta…faux football a tough sell…going to beat ’60…working the CFL beat…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and while munching on cold pizza and watching the Open Championship, I wondered if I could break 200 playing Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland…

To all those among the rabble who told us that Jacob Trouba was the class dunce for listening to the wrong people (read: Kurt Overhardt), what say you now?

Still think he’s stupid? Misguided? Gullible? Easily duped?

Jacob Trouba

You’ll recall, I’m sure, that those were among the words used to describe the young Winnipeg Jets defender when he a) asked for a ticket on the first stage out of Dodge, b) refused to report to training camp, c) stayed home the first two months of one season, d) signed a bridge deal instead of a long-term contract, e) took the club to arbitration.

Here are more less-than-flattering insults hurled Trouba’s way: Immature. Greedy. Big loser. Idiot. Petulant. Fool. Malcontent. Problem child. Liar.

One of his teammates, Mathieu Perreault, joined the braying chorus and called Trouba “selfish.”

And, of course, there were those with quill-and-notebook and/or microphone, their critical essays and rants ranging from a benign tsk-tsking to thunderous accusations, with gusts up to poisonous. Former Drab Slab columnist Paul Wiecek, in particular, conducted a shameful, bitter crusade to discredit the top-pairing rearguard.

“Trouba, for one, has a long track record of doing what’s right for Trouba, even when it’s been what’s wrong for Trouba,” Wiecek wrote, apparently mistaking himself for Dr. Phil. “Trouba is a problem again.”

Kurt Overhardt

So, basically, it was the opinion of the masses that Trouba and Homer Simpson shared a brain, because he blindly allowed his greedy, no-goodnik agent Overhardt to lead him down the garden path (“Look at all the money that douchebag is costing the kid! Oh, the humanity!”)

Well, agent Overhardt led Trouba down the garden path, all right—to Madison Square Garden in Gotham and a $56 million windfall.

The New York Rangers have agreed to compensate Trouba to the merry tune of $8M (average) for the next seven National Hockey League seasons, and $22M of that comes in signing bonuses to be collected in the first three years. So, if there’s a soundtrack to Trouba’s life, it goes something like this: Ka-ching! Ka-ching! Ka-ching!

We should all be so stupid, misguided, gullible and easily duped.

Go ahead and pooh-pooh the Rangers for an overpay the size of Manhattan if you like, but the fact is Overhardt/Trouba played chicken with Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff for three years, and they won. Trouba wanted a zip code instead of a postal code. He got it. He wanted more coin than the $4 million the Jets offered in arbitration a year ago. He’ll get double that on Broadway. And what did the Jets get? Neal Pionk.

Andrew Copp

You think Patrik Laine’s agent hasn’t noticed how the Trouba saga played out? If it’s true that Puck Finn’s nose is out of joint, all he has to do is sign a two-year bridge deal, take les Jets to arbitration down the road, then force a trade. Josh Morrissey, about to enter the second year of his bridge deal, might be doing that very thing. Kyle Connor could do the same. Ditto Andrew Copp, who has the aforementioned Kurt Overhardt whispering sweet nothings in his ear as they begin a stroll down the garden path. Overhardt/Copp say they’ll be happy with $2.9 million per season. Chipman/Chevy have countered with $1.5M per for two years. Barring an 11th-hour agreement, an arbitrator will decide. Do the Jets really want or need to engage in another game of chicken they can’t win?

Bobby Hull and clan.

The first guy to wear sweater No. 9 with les Jets, Robert Marvin Hull, came at a cost of $1.75 million spread over 10 years, plus a $1 million signing bonus. Total sticker price for the Golden Jet: $2.75 million. The guy now wearing sweater No. 9, Copp, reckons he’s worth $2.9 million. Or at least his agent believes that’s the going rate for a bottom-six forward. I agree, it’s absurd, if not flat-out insane. But what if we convert the dollars? Hull’s $2.75M in 1972 is worth $16,851,513.16 in today’s U.S. coin, which would make him the most handsomely compensated player on Planet Puckhead, just as he was when Benny Hatskin and his renegade pals in the World Hockey Association lured the Golden Jet away from the Chicago Blackhawks. Meanwhile, Copp’s $2.9M today would be $473,420.16 in 1972 pay. Guaranteed no bottom-sixer with les Jets was pulling down more than $400K in ’72. So, in either era, that’s an overpay.

Worst new cliché: “He’s betting on himself.” That’s quickly become most tiresome and scribes and natterbugs should lose it faster than their per diem on a road trip to Las Vegas. Look, pro athletes bet on themselves every time they step into the arena. Cripes, man, we all bet on ourselves every morning when we decide to crawl out of the sack. Like, I’m betting I’ll annoy someone with this essay, if I haven’t already.

Mitch Marner

Got a kick out of the Sportsnet website front page in the small hours of Friday morning, after various news snoops had attempted to pry nuggets of insight from Tranna Maple Leafs restricted free agent Mitch Marner:

“Marner mum on contract talks with Maple Leafs at charity event.”
“Marner’s contract talks with Leafs a roller-coaster of anticipation.”
“Maple Leafs’ Marner talks contract, charity on Tim and Sid.”
“Marner wants to be in Maple Leafs uniform at camp, won’t go without deal.”

Hmmm. Four stories. Apparently, Marner had a helluva lot to say for a guy who was “mum.”

The Edsel

Interesting goings-on in Wild Rose Country, where the Oilers and Flames swapped an Edsel for a Gremlin. And it spawned more silliness on Sportsnet, this time from Eric Francis, who delivered this analysis of the transaction that sent seven-goal scorer James Neal wheeling up Highway 402 from Calgary to Edmonton and six-goal scorer Milan Lucic boogying south from Edmonton to Calgary:

“Few would disagree that Lucic is the toughest guy in the NHL.”
“Lucic’s speed is still much better than many would think and his fitness levels are beyond repute.”
“Lucic provides something few players left in the league can. In fact, he may still be the very best at what he’s being brought in to do.”
“Although Lucic has fought very little in the last couple, few players dared to mess with Connor McDavid during Lucic’s watch.”

Good grief. Is it too late to reopen the legalize marijuana debate? Seriously, Eric, take another toke. Looch has the urgency of a filibuster. Only an income tax return moves slower. As for his work as a guard dog, if Looch did such a boffo job why did McDavid become Connor McMugged last season?

Dear friend Judy Owen of The Canadian Press reports that ticket sales to the Green Bay Packers-Oakland Raiders dress rehearsal at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry next month aren’t exactly brisk. Matter of fact, they’re slower than a sports writer reaching for a bar tab. Should we be surprised? Not really. Asking a Winnipegger to pay upwards of $400 to watch faux football is like asking Chris Walby to pass on second helpings.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Pegtowners are penny-pinchers. After all, I’m one of them and it’s not by coincidence that I do all my shopping at thrift stores. But I believe the Ojibwe words for Portage and Main are “Cheap and Chintzy.” We only pay asking price if you toss in a free Slurpee.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s Chevy’s problem. He keeps trying to buy his hockey players wholesale.

So, after their 31-1 curb-stomping of the Bytown RedBlacks on Friday night, our Winnipeg Blue Bombers are 5-nada. First time since 1960. Would you call me a Debbie Downer if I pointed out that the 5-0 outfit in ’60 did a playoff faceplant? Yup. Didn’t even get to the big dance. Lost to the E-Town Eskimos in a best-of-three Western final, dropping the deciding game 4-2. It was the only season from 1958 to 1962 that our football heroes failed to bring the Grey Cup home to River City. Thus, the less we talk about 1960 the better.

Some folks aren’t convinced that the Bombers are the real deal and point to namby-pamby foes—E-Town, Bytown, Tranna Argos, B.C. Lions—and their combined record of 6-15 as evidence of phony superiority. Sorry, but I’m not buying what those people are selling. Who is Winnipeg FC supposed to play? The New England Patriots? The Bombers can only follow the dictates of the Canadian Football League schedule-maker, and if that means whacking 98-pound weaklings, so be it.

Kirk Penton

More good CFL stuff from Kirk Penton in The Athletic, including these nuggets in his insiders segment that features unvarnished comments from team management, coaches and executives:

“The Simoni (Lawrence) decision was more than fair. Probably one of the dirtiest plays I’ve seen in the CFL. The fact he lies about not doing it deliberately makes it worse. At least Kyries Hebert took his medicine for his dirty plays and didn’t bullshit saying it was accidental.”

“When Joe Mack was our GM we could have traded for Ricky Ray. He said we didn’t need him. Same year we drafted Tyson Pencer in the first round. But when (the team was) struggling, he fired (Paul LaPolice) in August. Look, I’ve heard both sides of the Ray debate. Great player who couldn’t stay healthy, but at that point, Buck’s (Pierce) injury history was worse.”

What are the odds of Mike Reilly finishing this CFL season in one piece? He’s not a quarterback, he’s a pinata. Reilly was basically wearing D-lineman Charleston Hughes on Saturday night in Regina, and that’s never anyone’s idea of a good time. If Leos GM Ed Hervey doesn’t get Reilly some protection, it isn’t going to end well for the CFL’s best QB.

Matty

And, finally, when I started in the rag trade, the Bombers were the big dog in Good Ol’ Hometown.

The Jets and the World Hockey Association weren’t even a talking point at that time, so great swaths of forest were felled to provide enough newsprint for coverage of our CFL outfit in both the Winnipeg Tribune and Drab Slab

The boys on the beat were the great Jack Matheson and Don Blanchard, and they worked the Bombers every which way but loose, establishing what I considered the standard to which other football scribes should strive. The measuring stick, if you will.

So how are the boys on the beat doing today? I’d say the torch is in reliable hands with Jeff Hamilton and Ted Wyman.

Ted Wyman

It’s been that way for quite some time, actually, and I could make an argument that no sheet in the country has done a better job at chronicling a CFL outfit than the two River City rags. Young Eddie Tait was the best in the biz before going over the wall, and I’d say the aforementioned Kirk Penton was right there with him, scoop for scoop and feature for feature. Ashley Prest, Judy Owen, Big Jim Bender, Dave Supleve, Granny Granger and others did wonderful work, and it helped that they truly cared about the football club.

Matty and Blanch would be pleased.

Let’s talk about a River City ripoff…Sir Macca and the Cheeseheads…looking into the CFL crystal ball…the return of Kirk Penton?…sexism at the NHL combine…Unhappy Jack and the Jets…Cam Neely’s hissy fit and memories of Fergy…Uncle Sam’s NBA TV nightmare…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I wonder if the Blue Bombers will ever get to play a game at Lambeau Field…

I am not accustomed to telling others what to do with their money.

Oh, sure, I sometimes wonder why folks spend considerable chunks of their well-earned—or ill-gotten—coin on certain things. You know, like a Nickelback or Luke Bryan concert. Or that phony fist fight a couple years ago between wife-beater Floyd Mayweather Jr. and the planet’s most-vulgar athlete, Conor McGregor. Or an Adam Sandler anything.

But, hey, it’s your dime. Spend it as you like.

I will, however, make an exception in the case of the National Football League dress rehearsal featuring the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers, proposed for Aug. 22 at Football Follies Field In Fort Garry. Tickets are priced from $75 to $340 (plus taxes, plus fees, plus your child’s university tuition)…and people are actually buying them.

To borrow a phrase from one-time tennis wingnut John McEnroe: “You CANNOT BE SERIOUS!”

Think about it, kids. Folks in Oakland will watch those same Raiders play the Los Angeles Rams on Aug. 10 for the equivalent of 13 loonies and couch change. Yet the tariff in Good Ol’ Hometown is $75-$340?

We haven’t seen a ripoff like this in River City since the night Dave Hanson ripped the rug off Bobby Hull’s head.

It couldn’t be more of a sham if the two teams were named Con and Job.

So, yes, you can count me as shocked that all the $75-plus seats were snatched up in less than 24 hours. I mean, we’re talking about Winnipeg here. The Ojibwe word for Winnipeg is “wholesale.” Peggers wouldn’t buy a corned beef sandwich from Oscar’s Deli unless it was a bargain. Which, of course, it is. Yet they’re shelling out large dollars for faux football (read: exhibition season).

Go figure.

Someone suggested an NFL game in Winnipeg is comparable to a Paul McCartney concert. I agree. The Raiders haven’t been any good since the 1970s and neither has Sir Paul.

Sticking with Sir Macca and the Packers, the former Beatle played Lambeau Field, home of the Cheeseheads, on Saturday night as part of his Freshen Up Tour. Tickets went for $55.95 to $279.95, but they were fetching as much as $3,500 on the secondary market. Imagine that, spending $3,500 just to listen to Silly Lambeau Songs.

I have no quibble with the NFL invading three-down football territory. It’s not like the locals will stop watching or supporting the Winnipeg Blue Bombers simply because Aaron Rodgers and his American Cheesehead pals are coming to town. It might, in fact, confirm what some of us have believed since we were knee high to Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis—our game is more entertaining than theirs.

Dave Dickenson

My goodness. The Canadian Football League season is already upon us, with the fun starting on Thursday in the Hammer. I swear, it seems like only yesterday that Dave Dickenson of the Calgary Stampeders was squawking about the “fucking Canadian mafia” in Winnipeg.

I’ve already made my 29th annual prediction of a Grey Cup parade for downtown River City in November, and it doesn’t matter that my previous 28 forecasts were incorrect. (Hey, if meteorologists can be wrong every day, I can be wrong once a year.) This will be the order of finish in the CFL this season:

West Division
1. Winnipeg
2. B.C.
3. Edmonton
4. Calgary (crossover playoff spot)
5. Saskatchewan

East Division
1. Hamilton
2. Toronto
3. Ottawa
DNF. Montreal

Playoffs
Calgary def. Toronto
B.C. def. Edmonton
Hamilton def. Calgary
Winnipeg def. B.C.

Grey Cup: Winnipeg def. Hamilton

I hope the kickoff to the CFL season brings Kirk Penton back to his keyboard. Kirk’s take on all things three-down football for The Athletic are must-reads, notably the insider musings from league coaches, GMs, scouts and upper-management types.

If it’s a good read you’re looking for (and who isn’t?), you’ll want to check out Katy Strang’s piece on the NHL rookie combine in The Athletic. It’s lengthy, but worth the time because it provides incredible insight, including this cringeworthy gem:

“One agent mused that the later in the week the combine goes, the more some teams’ scouting staffs get bored and start screwing around for a laugh. But sometimes teams cross a line.

“Take the example of one current NHL player, who recalled his most vivid memory of the combine interview process. The wide-eyed teenager entered the room for an interview with the team, sat down and, rather than being questioned, was met with this jaw-dropping remark instead from one of the team’s high-ranking executives:

“So, I heard you’re a pussy.”

Like I said, it’s cringeworthy, but not at all shocking. That kind of degrading, sexist hockey-speak has been around since road apples were used for pucks and Eaton’s catalogs were shin pads, and hokey slogans like “Hockey Is For Everyone” won’t drown out the misogyny choir. It’s also the reason why any gay players remain hidden so deep in the closet that a team of coal miners can’t find them.

Unhappy Jack

Did he or didn’t he? Aaron Portzline of The Athletic says he did. Ken Robinson says he didn’t. But, to date, Jack Roslovic has neither confirmed nor denied that he asked for a one-way ticket out of Dodge at some point during the Winnipeg Jets’ latest National Hockey League crusade. Unhappy Jack certainly whinged about a lack of ice time, but so did his on-again, off-again linemate Mathieu Perreault and, no doubt, every other guy that head coach Paul Maurice forgot about (hello, Nic Petan). Hockey players bitch about ice allotment on every team, in every town, from peewee to beer league to pro, and I suspect it’s highly prevalent among young players with les Jets. I suppose that’s what passes for “ruffled feathers” these days.

If Coach Potty Mouth put Roslovic, Twig Ehlers and Kyle Connor together, he might have the fastest forward unit in the NHL. Also the most timid.

Had to laugh at a line in Mad Mike McIntyre’s column on Unhappy Jack. “The Roslovic trade bombshell was just another log on the fire for the ‘everything is broken’ crowd out there when it comes to the Jets,” he wrote in the Drab Slab. Apparently it hasn’t occurred to Mad Mike that he’s the dude who created the “everything is broken” mob with his fact-free “rotten to the core” yarn in early April. Since that initial installment of his whodunit novel Scandal, Jets Wrote, speculation and gossip have been running at full gallop, no surprise given that Mad Mike has yet to provide any hard-core evidence of corruption.

Cam Neely

Watching Boston Bruins president Cam Neely toss a water bottle in unrestrained fury during Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final reminded me of the night John Ferguson, then GM of the Jets, dumped an entire bucket of ice cubes from his press box bunker onto the Buffalo Sabres bench in the old barn on Maroons Road. Fergy was a beauty.

Pedro Martinez, definitely a righty.

Luke Fox of Sportsnet offered an interesting take on the Neely water-bottle toss, inspired by a non-penalty call that led to St. Louis Blues’ decisive score in a 2-1 win: “So this is how we find out Cam Neely is a lefty. The uncalled penalty was so blatant and so instrumental to the outcome of the game and, possibly, the championship that the president of the Boston Bruins stood up enraged in the press box, snatched a water bottle with his left hand and, in one fluid motion, whipped it against the wall like Pedro Martinez.” Ya, just like Pedro. Except for one thing: Martinez wasn’t a freaking lefty. He tossed right-handed for the Dodgers, the Expos, the Red Sox, the Mets and the Phillies. The only thing Pedro ever did with his left hand was toss Don Zimmer to the turf.

I’m not saying officiating in this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament has been all bad, but it’s not a good sign when the zebras skate onto the ice to the tune of I Go Blind by Hootie and the Blowfish.

Dumbest headline of the week was delivered by Sportsnet: “U.S. TV ratings aside, Raptors-Warriors is dream matchup for NBA.” Oh, for sure. The NBA should ignore the fact that most folks in the world’s greatest basketball nation are watching Gilligan’s Island reruns instead of the hoops championship series. Viewership in the U.S. has reached 10- to 12-year depths. Game 5 in the Republic of Tranna, with the Jurassics positioned to put away the Golden State Juggernaut, could be the lowest-rated final match ever in Trumpland. This is a dream matchup for the NBA like Carmen Electra and Dennis Rodman were a dream couple. We’re talking nightmare, kids.

Women’s hockey update: XVI Sports and Sportsground in Sweden have joined forces to produce all games in the SDHL on TV next winter. It’s a six-year, multi-million dollar deal. All that’s missing is a network partner to come on board. Meanwhile, the grand sum of 18 players have signed with National Women’s Hockey League outfits in the U.S., with the Boston Pride leading the way with eight players. That ought to make the Pride a shoo-in for the title. Except they don’t have a goalie.

Christine Sinclair

And, finally, boffo start to the women’s World Cup, with host France beating South Korea 4-donut. Our soccer ladies take to the pitch vs. Cameroon on Monday, and if this is Christine Sinclair’s final whirl with our national side I hope she goes out in a blaze of glory.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Jets, the media and bull droppings

Today, kids, we offer a crash course in Gossip 101 as it relates to the Winnipeg Jets and the many (unfounded) rumors swirling around the National Hockey League outfit.

We call this lesson Friend Of A Friend Of A Friend Syndrome, subtitle Anatomy of a Rumor.

You are about to learn how gossip is born, how it grows legs, and what the media does with it. Before we start, though, please open your copies of the Winnipeg Free Press sports section and pay close attention to articles about the Jets’ “rotten to the core” and “fractured” dressing room. Also see a piece written by two old men in grumpy pants, one of whom is a retired journalist and now the paid pen pal of the other. (Quick aside: Neither man was seen in the vicinity of the Winnipeg HC boudoir during the recently concluded NHL crusade, but one of them has “asked around” about the Jets and confirms that—egads!— “eye-rolling” has been observed.)

Note that there is an absence of verified anecdotal evidence in each article, but there is an abundance of innuendo that has ignited rampant speculation of fist fights, bruised egos, galloping jealousy, special treatment for teacher’s pet, and parlor games with the wrong girl.

Many of you have asked how such rumors get started, and that’s why we’re here today. Okay, class, let’s begin Friend Of A Friend Of A Friend Syndrome, Anatomy of a Rumor

“Hey, have you heard the latest on the Winnipeg Jets? They’re fighting in the locker room.”

“Where’d you hear that?”

“My neighbor’s kid. He delivers the newspaper to a friend down the street.”

“And?”

“Well, that friend down the street has a friend whose kid serves as an altar boy for the parish priest.”

“And?”

“Well, the parish priest heard confession from a guy whose friend is my third cousin by marriage to a cop.”

“And?”

“Well, that’s the same cop who gave Evander Kane a traffic ticket four years ago.”

“And?”

“Well, a passerby heard Kane being rude to the cop, and he mentioned it to a friend whose barber now cuts Mark Scheifele’s hair.”

“And?”

“Well, the last time Scheifele sat in that barber’s chair, the barber said he’d really like to get his scissors and clippers on Mathieu Perreault’s unruly hair and scruffy beard.”

“And?”

Mathieu Perreault

“Well, company man Scheifele agreed with the barber. He said Perreault is a total slob and an embarrassment to squeaky clean True North Sports & Entertainment. Worst of all, Scheifele said Perreault looks like a terrorist, and the players are always delayed by airport security because of his appearance.”

“And?”

“Well, don’t you see? Scheifele and Perreault are feuding. They hate each other.”

“Are those the ruffled feathers that head coach Paul Maurice was talking about last week?”

“Well, of course they are. Most people think it’s about Adam Lowry and Patrik Laine chucking knuckles, or push coming to shove between Big Buff and Blake Wheeler, or someone dating someone’s ex. But it’s none of the above. It’s all about Perreault’s scruffy appearance. Scheifele ordered him to get a shave and a haircut, but Perreault refused. Their dispute created a fracture right down the middle of the dressing room—chin whiskers on one side, freshly scrubbed faces on the other.”

“The Jets came undone because of hair? I find that hard to believe.”

“Weren’t you listening to me, man? I got the scoop from the neighbor’s kid whose dad has a friend who knows the altar boy who knows the parish priest who knows the cousin who knows the cop who knows the barber.”

“What are you gonna do with your scoop?”

“Well, I’m gonna talk to my neighbor’s kid whose dad has a friend who knows the altar boy who knows the parish priest who knows the cousin who knows the cop who knows the barber. Maybe that kid has an aunt or uncle who knows someone on the Free Press loading dock who knows someone in the circulation department who knows someone in advertising who knows someone in the newsroom who knows someone in the sports department who’s been asking around.”

“No legitimate journalist is going to listen to that cockamamie story about a friend of a friend of a friend and run with it.”

“Are you kidding me? This is gold. They won’t name names. They’ll just cite ‘multiple sources’ and leave it for the rabble to guess why the dressing room is rotten to the core.”

“Nope. They’ll laugh at you and roll their eyes.”

“Well, even if they do, I have a backup story for them.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, you know the traffic cop who ticketed Evander Kane? He told the barber who told the cousin who told the friend who told the parish priest who told the altar boy who told the friend who told the neighbor’s kid who told his dad that Kane still hasn’t paid the fine. Evander Kane screwing up is still worth a 72-point headline in the Freep every day of the week.”

Class dismissed.

About deja vu all over again for Connor Hellebuyck and the Winnipeg Jets…tell us what’s “rotten” Mike…Kevin’s not making Hayes…a Finn for a Twig?…wrong about the refs…Canada’s colors…writing rubbish about women’s hockey…the Freep spending the NHL’s money…bravo to the delightful Kaitlyn Lawes…and a stubby bottle for Grapes

Another Sunday smorags-bored…and it’s a couch potato day to watch the Masters then les Jets…

Two games into Beard Season, I’d say Connor Hellebuyck and news snoops are even—he doesn’t like their questions and they don’t like his goaltending.

Connor Hellebuyck

The thing is, the questions aren’t going to get any easier or tamer, not as long as Hellebuyck has his head up his butt and refuses to accept the reality that the Stanley Cup playoff skirmish between his Winnipeg Jets and the St. Loo Blues is being determined in the blue paint, and he’s running a distant second in a two-man race.

Rather than suck it up and concede that he let the side down in a 4-3 Game 2 loss on Friday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, Hellebuyck went all snot-nose when confronted post-joust by those pesky newsies.

He harrumphed that one query was “loaded” and he fielded another with this gem: “I really don’t like that question.”

Boo freaking hoo. You want jock journos to lob softballs? Try stopping the damn puck.

Jordan Binnington

Look, Hellebuyck didn’t play poorly in the first act of this best-of-seven National Hockey League playoff series. He was solid. Can’t lay the blame for the 2-1 loss on him, not after Kevin Hayes, Mathieu Perreault and Dmitry Kulikov made out like the Three Stooges on Tyler Bozak’s decisive score. And, of course, the guy in the blue paint at the other end of the freeze, Jordan Binnington, was better. Lights out better.

As for what went down on Friday, though, that’s totally on Hellebuyck. He was atrocious. Someone should be ripping him a new one.

What I find disturbing—other than Hellebuyck waving at the puck like a guy trying to flag down a cab—is his my-stuff-don’t-stink attitude, which is a haunting echo from last spring. A year ago, I remind you, he was out-tended by Marc-André Fleury in the Western Conference final vs. the Vegas Golden Knights, but he refused to accept that he had to step up his game.

Fleury and Hellebuyck

After Game 3: “(Fleury’s) obviously a big part of that team and playing very well, but I like my game, I like it a lot more. I like my details and I’m gonna keep chugging away.”

After Game 4: “I see a lot of posts at the other end. I don’t know if I want to call it luck, but things have gotta switch, it’s gonna come our way, I know that. I think it’s bad luck. Their goal is just the product of the puck bouncing the wrong way. The stars are aligning for them.”

After the series: “Maybe it was just the luck. I look back and I can honestly say I was playing the best hockey of my career in that series. I was very in tuned to the game. I felt the game a lot better than I have, and they got some lucky bounces on me. And that’s the truth.”

Right. The Golden Knights took les Jets out in five games because of four-leaf clovers and rabbit’s feet taped to the goal posts. It had nothing to do with Fleury outplaying Hellebuyck by a considerable margin. As if.

So what we have now, kids, is deja vu all over again.

Binnington, a rookie, is outplaying Hellebuyck, but les Jets goaltender doesn’t see it that way. He only hears objectionable questions.

“Our details are right,” he insists. “We’re right there. It’s only a matter of time. Sooner or later it’s gonna go our way.”

Sure it will. Just like it did last spring vs. Vegas.

I’m not suggesting les Jets are a writeoff, down 2-nada as they move the series to St. Loo, but it doesn’t take a Jacques Plante, Terry Sawchuk or Marty Brodeur to understand that their only hope is better play between the iron. They were outgoalied in Game 1 (hey, that’s going to happen) and Binnington only had to be meh in Game 2 because Hellebuyck was waving at whiffle balls.

If les Jets goaler doesn’t show us his A-game in the Show Me State, I’d say Paul Maurice would be wise to call on Laurent Brossoit at the first hint of trouble. Is Coach Potty Mouth ballsy enough to turn to his backup? I doubt it, but he might have no choice.

Wonder how Hellebuyck will like the questions then.

I thought by now that Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab would have filled us in on what’s “rotten” about les Jets. But no. He just tosses out lines like Winnipeg HC is “rotten to the core” and he cites “multiple sources” then leaves us to guess what his “multiple sources” are telling him about the undoing of the local hockey heroes. “Myself and fellow Free Press hockey writer Jason Bell have heard from multiple sources that things are anything but rosy with this group,” he wrote slightly more than a week ago. He later added that les Jets were “appearing to come apart at the seams.” There can be just two reasons why Mike Mac refuses to give us the poop on any in-house bickering: 1) It’s fiction; 2) he’s afraid to rattle cages. In either case, that reporting is as shabby as Hellebuyck’s Game 2 goaltending.

Kevin Hayes

Interesting that McIntyre also has chosen his scapegoat if les Jets don’t fix what’s wrong vs. St. Loo—Kevin Hayes. He tells us that Hayes isn’t contributing enough offensively, with points in just seven of 20 matches to close the season and zero in the playoffs. That’s a fair critique. It’s evident that he’s no Paul Stastny. But the Jets aren’t down 2-nada because of Hayes’ failings. It’s about goaltending. If anybody needs to be fitted for a pair of goat’s horns, it’s Hellebuyck.

Jim Matheson of Postmedia Edmonton proposes that the Oilers send their first-round pick (eighth overall) in the 2019 NHL entry draft and forward Jesse Puljujarvi to the Jets in barter for Twig Ehlers. Sorry, Matty. Never going to happen. The Jets don’t need another under-performing Finn and I don’t need another player whose name I can’t spell.

Craig Button

This from Craig Button of TSN: “I believe the NHL officials are the best on the planet, I think they rarely make mistakes.” Earth to Craig! Earth to Craig! You might want to watch film from Game 2 of the Boston-Tranna playoff series. You might also want to check out the replay of Micheal Ferland’s hit on Nic Dowd in the Carolina-Washington skirmish. A bum to the body got Ferland booted. Sorry, man, but the skunk shirts are making more mistakes than your local meteorologist.

At least the zebras did the right thing and sent Nazem Kadri of the Tranna Maple Leafs to his room for a crosscheck to Jake DeBrusk’s melon. Brian Burke called Kadri’s hatchet job a “selfish, senseless act.” Yup. Now we’ll see if Sheriff George of the player safety department will do the right thing and ground the Leafs centre for the remainder of the series.

Pet Peeve: Whose idea is it to drape our international shinny sides in black unis with red trim? That’s just wrong. Planet Puckhead is red and white. Those are the colors on our flag, and that’s what our women should have been wearing in their World Hockey Championship semifinal skirmish vs. Finland on Saturday. The regrettable color scheme wasn’t the reason for our ladies losing 4-2 (Suomi goaltender Noora Raty gets credit for that), but they looked unCanadian. Donate those threads to a thrift shop and get back to red and white.

Perhaps we should have seen the Canadian ouster at the worlds coming. I mean, the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League had to prey on our players’ minds, and how do you keep your focus fully on the task at hand when you don’t know what you’ll be coming home to once the final buzzer sounds? Hey, I’m just spitballing here, but the fall of the CWHL had to be a weighty distraction in the Canadian camp over there in Finland.

Well now, look who’s suddenly passing himself off as a friend of women’s hockey—Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. Suggesting that the Finnish victory over Canada is a positive development for the distaff game (I agree, it is), he wrote: “For far too long, we’ve wanted to see the game and the sport expand.” What a complete phony. This is the same dude who once delivered this commentary: “Women’s hockey is the least competitive, least interesting, least Olympic of all sports in the Winter Games. There should be a cry to end this charade of imbalance.” That’s right, Simmons has wanted women’s hockey to be abolished, not expanded. So I say Postmedia has let him write his rubbish “for far too long.”

Got a giggle out of a Winnipeg Free Press editorial under the headline “Women’s hockey deserves NHL support” last week. Among other things, the opinionist submits that the “cash-rich NHL has a moral obligation to do more than simply collect outlandish ticket revenues from its ravenous fan base. It has a vested interest in growing the game, regardless of the gender of its players. It’s time for the NHL to step up in a more materially significant fashion. When our best female hockey players return home from Finland, the NHL should be waiting to greet them with news of a brighter future rising from the ashes of a troubled past.” I don’t know about you, but I find it laughable that a for-profit business like the Drab Slab advocates government subsidies for media outlets and, indeed, hopes to feed at the welfare trough, yet it’s telling another business, the NHL, how to spend its profits. That’s rich.

Kaitlyn Lawes

The mooks who do the voting for Canada’s athlete of the year will never anoint a curler as our top jock, because too many news snoops see Pebble People as a bunch of hubbies, brides and kids getting together for a family frolic at the local club on a Wednesday night. But they get it right in my home province. The very likable Kaitlyn Lawes has been named the best female athlete in Manitoba, and it had to be your basic no-brainer. Kaitlyn copped Olympic and world titles in 2018, and she did it while being an absolute delight.

And, finally, I think perhaps Donald S. Cherry was sampling a bit too much of the sponsor’s product prior to his Curmudgeon’s Corner segment on Hockey Night In Canada last week. After a promo for Budweiser’s new Copper Lager, Grapes had this to say“I’m tellin’ ya, I went out and bought some, and it is terrific. I love the horses, I love the bar we drink in…the color I’m not too crazy, but…I’ll tell ya one thing, it sure goes down PRETTY GOOD. Aaaaaand, don’t forget the stubby bottles. Stubby bottles. Canadian. Cana…that’s us. Canadians. Stubby bottles.”

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

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

These Winnipeg Jets are an interesting study.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puck Finn

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

Chevy

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

Blake Wheeler and Rink Rat Scheifele

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

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

Matthew Tkachuk

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

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

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

Kawhi Leonard

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

Genie Bouchard

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

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

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

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

matty
Matty

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