Let’s talk about a ruckus on press row…flush that scrum lurker…Burkie’s still blunt but making no sense…and other things on my mind

A long weekend, Monday morning short version of the smorgas-bored…and I wonder how many people will spend the day on the couch watching hockey…

Auston Matthews pulled his pants down to his ankles and mooned a female security guard at 2 o’clock in the morning.

Now he’s delivering lectures on ethics.

I agree, that takes balls.

I mean, what’s next? Tiger Woods touring the countryside to preach fidelity? Adam Sandler telling Martin Scorsese how to make a good movie? One of the Kardashians explaining what it’s like to have a real job?

Morgan Rielly and Auston Matthews

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t blame Matthews for going off on Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, scant moments after the initial volley in an argument between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets. That, after all, would be the same Simmons who, in mid-June, outed the Leafs centre as a COVID-19 victim and, to this day, cannot grasp the concept of personal health information remaining private unless the afflicted choose to release the details.

So there was Matthews on Sunday night, sitting alongside teammate Morgan Rielly in one of those awkward Zoom chin-wags with news snoops, their side having just been stifled, 2-0, by the Blue Jackets in the opening go-round of the National Hockey League’s quirky playoffs before the playoffs.

Simmons identified himself, then asked Matthews for his thoughts on the suffocating defensive tendencies of his foes.

Steve Simmons

“Well, first of all, it’s unfortunate that I’m getting a question from you at this point, Steve,” the Leafs wonder boy began in a tone about as warm as a Winnipeg winter. “I just wanted to say I didn’t really appreciate the article you wrote about me a couple months ago. I thought it was a bit unethical to be honest.”

There you have it. Mr. Drop My Drawers goes Miss Manners.

Naturally, it didn’t end there. Twitter does not allow for the natural death of hissing contests. It inflames them. Thus the rabble threw down, mostly on Simmons, although some thought that perhaps Matthews might have had other things on his mind, like the 0-1 hole les Leafs have dug themselves in the best-of-five skirmish v. the Ohioans.

Oddly enough, Simmons seized the moment to drag James Mirtle into the fray.

James Mirtle

“This would never happen to James Mirtle,” he tweeted about The Athletic editor-in-chief. “He never asks a question. Never. But he uses everybody else’s quotes. He was asked the other day on radio who the best player at Leaf camp was. He answered without hesitating. Never mind that he hadn’t been at Leaf camp once.”

Scott Wheeler of The Athletic would not have his boss be bullied.

“The Leafs’ best player spoke candidly in a scrum,” he roared back at Simmons. “James transcribed it. It was already widely reported, clipped, and shared before and after James did. For you to respond like this and make it personal is unprofessional, Steve.”

Others weighed in.

Simmons’ buddy at Postmedia Tranna, Steve Buffery, described the original COVID-19 story as “good reporting.”

Not true says Greg Wyshynski of ESPN.

“There was no justification for its publication,” he tweeted. “It was trivia. Nothing about how it affected travel, his status with the Leafs, his ability to attend training camp, long-term health effects. That’s on top of the debate about the ethics of reporting a positive test in a pandemic.”

Bruce Arthur

Meanwhile another of Simmons’ buddies and a TSN colleague, Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star, had a go at Matthews, tweeting, “I would’ve liked him to explain why he thought it was unethical.”

Arthur is an intelligent guy and a terrific scribe, so playing the D’Oh Boy doesn’t suit him. He knows exactly why Matthews was offended.

Then there was Rosie DiManno of the Star, chiming in with this: “There are scrum lurkers who never ask questions. Even worse, they immediately tweet the answers.”

Oh, the horror. The nerve of those scrum lurkers. They’re the worst. Why, they have no business using the same cookie-cutter, “move-our-feet” quotes as everyone else if they aren’t prepared to wade in and ask the same dumb, cookie-cutter questions as everyone else.

I’m not sure how this will play out, but jock journos eating their own is as rare as spectators at these pre-playoff playoffs, so I’m loving it.

Frank Orr, right, with Don Cherry.

The mention of scrum lurkers brings to mind a playoff game back in the day. The precise details are lost on me, but a gaggle of us news snoops had gathered in the washroom area of a team man chamber, interrogating some poor sap about the night’s events. Included in our group was a tall, awkward and loud guy from New York City, Norm MacLean, who always toted a tape recorder the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Some found him somewhat scattered and annoying, because he had a habit of wedging himself into the front of the pack, also asking questions longer than a Sunday sermon. Not this night, though. No one was budging. So Norm skirted the scrum and stepped inside one of the stalls, standing on the toilet and draping his right arm and tape recorder microphone over the wall, directly behind the player’s head. Noting Norm’s iffy perch atop the toilet, Frank Orr of the Toronto Star announced, “If anyone hears a splash, flush!”

Brian Burke

When Brian Burke hired on as one of Sportsnet’s talking heads, I thought he was terrific. He was blunt, insightful and colorful. And now? Not so much. Oh, he’s still blunt, but that’s only good if it makes sense. Here’s Burkie’s take on Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice calling Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames a dirty, rotten rat: “I think he crossed the line here. He’s questioning the character of a character player. Matthew Tkachuk is not a dirty player. He crosses the line and thank gawd we still have players that cross the line in our league. This is an unfortunate result but it wasn’t a dirty play and it’s really crossed the line for me.” So, in sum, it’s boffo stuff when Tkachuk crosses the line but distasteful if Maurice crosses the line. Okay, got it.

The Rock is part of a group that’s purchased the XFL. Apparently their next buy will be deck seats on the Titanic.

I’ve been watching Happy Days lately, and I find myself wondering why it was such a popular show. It isn’t particularly funny, and what’s with the Fonz? He’s a high school dropout in his late 20s who has nothing better to do than hang out with teenage girls and boys.

And, finally, as a folo to Sunday’s post on sports coverage in the two Winnipeg dailies, here’s the tally for the Drab Slab this long weekend, excluding professional teams: Saturday, 1 local article (Assiniboia Downs), Sunday 0, Monday 0. That’s correct. Just one read on local sports other than the Jets or Blue Bombers. In 17 pages. At the Sun, the total was zero in two days and 11 pages. I realize we’re in the grip of a pandemic, but you’ll never convince me there’s nothing to write about other than the Jets, Bombers and Goldeyes.

Let’s talk about shaking fists and yelling at clouds…Flames get a leg up on Jets and Rink Rat Scheifele…Elliotte Friedman’s chinny, chin, chin…Eric Trump, NHL ally…the Diversity Alliance has no diversity…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and, no, I didn’t watch the Jets-Flames skirmish Saturday night, because that’s past my bedtime…

Online subscribers to the Drab Slab (guilty, yer honor) receive morning briefings from sports editor Steve Lyons, who advises us what we should be reading and what he’s been reading.

It’s a nice touch. Really. It is.

Steve Lyons

It can also be revealing, which was the case on Friday when Lyons recounted a telephone tete-a-tete with the junior man in his stable of scribes, Taylor Allen. The bossman directed young Taylor’s attention southwest to Carman, where the best senior golfers in Manitoba had been swinging the sticks. His mission: “Spin a yarn” on champions Rhonda Orr and Bruce North.

“I love doing these golf stories,” responded Taylor, “but I was just wondering, does anyone care about them?”

Well, this is going to come across as one of those cranky-old-fool-shakes-fist-and-shouts-at-clouds posts, but back in the day we never would have asked such a question, and I don’t say that to pooh-pooh young Taylor. He’s excused his naivité. After all, what would he know of back in the day?

So let me shake my tiny fist and tell you what it was like.

We covered golf (shakes fist). Lordy, did we cover golf. We covered it like it was equal parts papal election and JFK assassination. We wouldn’t merely do a folo on the Manitoba Seniors Championships two days after the last putt had dropped (shakes fist again). We’d drive down Hwy. 3 and not stop until we were at the Carman Golf & Curling Club for the first round. We’d also be there when the trinkets were distributed and the winners had retired to the 19th hole (stops shaking fist long enough to take a swallow of beer).

We’d do it because there’d be hell to pay if we ignored local golf. People cared. A lot (shakes fist).

Usually it was Steady Eddie Dearden on the beat for us at the Winnipeg Tribune, and either Bags Bagley or Knobby Beck for the Winnipeg Free Press, but all of us on staff were dispatched to the links for a variety of tournaments, and it wasn’t uncommon to find our copy on the sports front the next day.

Steady Eddie Dearden

I think we even covered something called the Toymakers Tournament (shakes fist, shakes head), but memory sometimes betrays me. The Toymakers might have been a curling thing.

Whatever the case, it wasn’t just golf that received the royal treatment. It was all local sports.

To jog my grey matter, I called up the final two editions of the Trib the other day, and here’s the local content in the sports section:

Aug. 26, 1980—Winnipeg Jets, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, lacrosse, boxing, a father-and-son golf tourney, senior baseball, senior fastball, Assiniboia Downs, soccer, track and field, field hockey, motor sports, curling, senior hockey, orienteering (shakes head again).

Aug. 27, 1980—Bombers, junior hockey, fastball, soccer, motor sports, ladies golf, Assiniboia downs, baseball, basketball.

I should point out that those two editions included dispatches out of Saskatoon from the talented and delightful Lester (Ronny) Lazaruk, on assignment at the Canadian Senior Men’s Fastball Championships. Yes, we actually sent Ronny to Toontown to tell readers all about our Winnipeg Colonels and their ace hurler, a long, tall drink of water named Pallister, Brian Pallister. Name probably sounds familiar. As for Ronny, he liked it so much that he’s still there.

Anyway, readers were conditioned to opening either paper to find coverage of local sports of all stripes. We tossed a blanket over the community (shakes fist). We got to know the movers and shakers at the grassroots level, not just at the top of the food chain, and they often would thank us for coming out to their event. Imagine that.

Today, the Winnipeg Sun functions on the whims and dictates of the faceless, unknowing taskmasters at Postmedia, which is most unfortunate. If it ain’t named Jets, Bombers, Goldeyes or FC, they ain’t interested. The Drab Slab does a much, much better job, but coverage is still scant in comparison to back in the day. Today, for example, other than the Jets there isn’t a single local sports story in a five-page section. Not good.

I suppose there’s hope, though. I mean, young Taylor Allen told Freep bossman Steve Lyons that he enjoys covering local golf, and I say that warrants a fist bump rather than a fist shake.

It’s incredible, really, that Bruce North is still atop the leaderboard in Manitoba golf, albeit in a different age category. I recall editing Steady Eddie Dearden’s copy about Bruce winning this tournament or that tournament as a sprig in the 1970s, so good on Bruce.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve viewed numerous replays of the Rink Rat Scheifele-Matthew Tkachuk incident on Saturday night—from various angles and at different speeds—and I failed to see anything sinister. No question that Tkachuk’s right skate clipped the back of Scheifele’s left leg, but nothing I saw suggested it was a deliberate kick with intent to cripple. Meaning Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice is off his nut or, most likely, he’s playing mind games when he accuses the Calgary Flames forward of a deliberate “filthy, dirty kick.” Tkachuk, to be sure, is among the National Hockey League’s high-ranking irritants and the Jets will be required to rein him in if they’re to survive their best-of-five Stanley Cup qualifying skirmish, but I don’t believe there’s any Russian blood in him. The Russkies kicked. Good American boys don’t.

I had the Jets pegged to take out the Flames pronto. I actually thought they’d get out the brooms. Now, after Saturday’s 4-1 loss, I can’t see them winning three of the next four if the Rink Rat’s wonky left limb puts him in the infirmary for the duration. I know, I know. Winnipeg HC overcame other inconveniences during the crusade that was paused in March due to COVID-19, but losing your No. 1 centre is more than a speed bump.

Elliotte Friedman

There was much talk about the lengthy absence of David Pastrnak from Boston Bruins’ training camp, but he returned to the NHL club last week. Apparently they found him in Elliotte Friedman’s beard.

Friedman’s epic chin whiskers are so thick and unruly that O.J. plans to make them his next stop in the search for the real killers.

You know you’re on Planet Puckhead when the Twitterverse is abuzz about Friedman’s foliage and also explodes into a loud howl over which man is the bigger cad, Don Cherry or Ron MacLean. Both Grapes and Sideshow Ron were trending mid-week, and I’d call it a debate over who does and doesn’t belong on Hockey Night in Canada, except much of it was your typically toxic Twitter trolling. In other words, name-calling. Let me sum up the rabble’s to-and-fro in one sentence: Cherry is a zenophobic bigot and one woman wants to punch MacLean in the face. For the record, I’m fully against bigotry and the punching of faces, but I’m not an anti-beardite.

Donald Trump’s boy Eric tweeted his thanks to NHL players for standing during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner when they returned to the ice last week, but Hockey Diversity Alliance co-founder Akim Aliu was having none of it. “Yo, real talk Eric Trump, you’re the last guy the NHL and the hockey world want support from. It’s not real patriotism if you’re using it to divide us,” he responded on Twitter. Hmmm. Once upon a time, not so long ago, it was news when an athlete or coach took a knee during the national anthem. Now it’s news when they stand.

Based on numerous Twitter comments, Americans actually believe it’s near impossible to take a knee while attired in full hockey kit. Are they really that dense? Little kids do it, for gawd’s sake.

I was in a local watering hole Saturday afternoon and the grand total of two people, one wearing an Edmonton Oilers jersey and both clutching Oilers face masks, came in specifically to watch their E-Town hockey heroes play the Chicago Blackhawks. They both departed after the Chitowners took a 3-1 lead. Meanwhile, there was considerable bustle (but no TV) on the patio. So much for the notion that people will go inside, and stay, to watch shinny on a warm, sunny weekend afternoon during the drowsiness of August.

Is it permissible to question the Hockey Diversity Alliance, or is that taboo? I mean, the HDA roll call is comprised of nine hockey players, all of them men of color. There are no Indigenous hockey players. There are no female hockey players. There are no gay hockey players. Which tells me it’s actually the Hockey Anti-Racism Alliance. And that’s a commendable cause. Racism is a pox. But so, too, is misogyny. Ditto sexism. And homophobia/transphobia. Do we not want to blot out all those blights? I think yes. So this would be my question for Evander Kane and the aforementioned Aliu: If it’s truly about diversity, why is there zero diversity in your diversity group?

If anyone has a clue what’s going on in the Canadian Football League these days, please dial 1-800-4-A-ROUGE immediately and ask for Commish Randy Ambrosie. He’d like to know, too.

I’m still not sold on Winnipeg serving as a hub bubble for a potential three-down season, because it would mean an invasion of Yankee Doodle Footballers numbering in the hundreds. Seriously. They want to welcome all those large lads from COVID Country? I’m hard pressed to think of a worst-case scenario, except maybe hiring Harvey Weinstein to do odd jobs in a sorority house.

If the Miami Marlins lose another player to a positive COVID-19 test, is there any truth to the rumor that Dr. Anthony Fauci automatically moves into the starting rotation?

If enough top players take a pass on the U.S. Open tennis tournament, will Serena Williams win by default and will it count in her career Grand Slam total? That might be the only way the former neighborhood bully can still beat the top women.

I always say if there’s something you do better than all others, do it. So Megan Rapinoe, who’s been flapping her gums ever since the Yankee Doodle Damsels lapped the field at the 2019 women’s World Cup of soccer in France, now has a talk show to call her own on HBO—Seeing America with Megan Rapinoe. If Megan sees the same America as a lot of us looking in from the outside, she should really have something to talk about in November.

Sarah McLellan

And, finally, couldn’t resist posting this pic of Sarah McLellan, hockey scribe for the StarTribune in Minneapolis. That’s Sarah in Edmonton after completing her required quarantine before covering the Minnesota Wild-Vancouver Canucks playoff joust. Take special notice of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s vast mountain vista in the background. It’s truly spectacular. Oh, wait. There are no mountains in E-Town. They only exist in Kenney’s propaganda machine.

Let’s talk about a hockey junta in Ponytail Puck…newspapers telling the NHL how to spend money…bubble hockey for the Winnipeg Jets…Tranna’s “heroic” Golden Boy…the Zach attack on Raggedy Man-dy…Arrrrgoooos suck…and other things on my mind

A Monday morning smorgas-bored…and there’s white stuff on the ground where I live, so I might have to make like Harry and Meghan and relocate…

I find myself thinking about Ponytail Puck this morning, because the Dream Gappers were back on the freeze for fun, frolic, faux games and more self-congratulatory back-patting on the weekend.

In case you missed it, and you probably did, the Dream Gap Tour of malcontents staged six $15-a-pop glorified and largely unobserved scrimmages in the Republic of Tranna and Vaughan, Ont., and the hundreds of empty seats in Herb Carnegie Arena brought to mind something American Olympian Kendall Coyne Schofield said recently about the state of women’s hockey: “It’s in shambles.”

Kendall ought to know, of course, because she’s one of the 100-plus Dream Gappers who refuse to lace ’em up in the National Women’s Hockey League, the sole shinny operation on this continent that actually pays women to lace ’em up.

They’d rather be a barn-storming novelty act, featuring riveting rivalries like Team Larocque vs. Team Kessel, or Team Bellamy vs. Team Daoust, or Team Spooner vs. Team Coyne, or Team Kessel vs. Team Bellamy, or Team Coyne vs. Team Larocque, or Team Daoust vs. Team Spooner. The Battle of Alberta it ain’t, but that’s what the women are selling, and most of them don’t seem to notice that few folks are buying.

True story: I called up the feed for a Sunday morning scrimmage and there might have been 50 people in the building. Later in the day, I checked out the final scrimmage from storied Maple Leaf Gardens: Barn half empty.

Dani Rylan

But cue the rose-tinted glasses.

“We’ve got a lot of momentum going,” insists Canadian Olympian Renata Fast. “We’re making this sport better.”

“The momentum we’ve gotten in the last couple of months has been amazing,” gushes Sarah Nurse, another Canadian Olympian.

And here’s goaltender Erica Howe, who’s also worn the Maple Leaf in international play: “Everything is just moving and pushing forward towards our goals.”

Well, just don’t let the Dream Gappers fool you into believing their crusade is about a better tomorrow for today’s 12-year-old girls. It isn’t.

The Dream Gap Tour is a scorched-earth agenda. Period.

Uppermost, they want commish Dani Rylan and her NWHL to vamoose, leaving the Ponytail Puck landscape charred and barren. Once they’ve bullied Rylan out of business, they’ll tromp on the NWHL gravesite and go hat in hand to the National Hockey League with the expectation of becoming a welfare case. Call it a hockey junta.

You think not? Lend an ear to Melodie Daoust:

“We’re not where we want to be, being treated like professional or having more hockey games. But the answer to all of that is we’re waiting for the NHL to step in.”

Kendall Coyne Schofield

And here’s Coyne Schofield: “I hope the NHL steps in one day, because they would be the perfect partner.”

Translation: Get rid of Rylan and it’s game on.

Except Rylan has made it abundantly clear that she has no desire or intention to take a powder, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has made it just as clear that he harbors no desire to play the role of knight on a white steed and save the women from themselves.

It’s uncertain what part of that equation the Dream Gappers don’t understand.

Whatever, they soldier on, wearing non-descript practice jerseys and playing meaningless matches in front of family, friends, 12-year-old girls and all those unoccupied chairs at Herb Carnegie Arena/old Maple Leaf Gardens in The ROT, all the while being largely ignored by mainstream media (unless you consider a 10-second clip on Sportsnet Central and a 30-second hit on Sports Centre substantial coverage).

Ron MacLean

Odd thing is, the Dream Gappers actually have friends in the media, most notably Ron MacLean and his Hometown Hockey co-host Tara Slone, who engaged in some pathetic pandering during a chin-wag with the aforementioned Erica Howe on Sunday.

“When you come out, you know, as a hockey fan, you see the names on the back of the jerseys, it’s like, it’s mind-blowing,” gushed a positively orgasmic Slone, who then swooned over Tie Domi.

“This is really interesting,” said the normally on-point Slone. “Just over the last few months, he’s really emerged as a big supporter of the women’s game. He was at the panel discussion on Friday night, he was at a game yesterday, so what does it mean to have people of that stature endorse (Ponytail Puck)?”

Oh, yes, that’s what every crusade needs: A former NHL goon who’s sole claim to fame was beating up people. Can’t have enough thugs backing your cause.

Gary Bettman

Look, if the Dream Gappers truly want to advance the cause of women’s hockey, they’d engage in meaningful dialogue with Rylan and, together, they’d come up with a viable business plan to show prospective investors (perhaps even Bettman) that a fulltime professional Ponytail Puck league can work. That it can pay its own way. Now that would be newsworthy.

But no. They’d rather take thinly veiled cheap shots at Rylan and indulge themselves in fantasy. You know, like talk of $50,000 to $100,000 annual salaries that Cassie Campbell-Pascall believes the NHL “should be” paying them.

Sorry, but Coyne Schofield is correct: The game is “in shambles,” and what went down in The ROT on the weekend did nothing to change that. It underscored how broken it really is.

As stated, Ponytail Puck has friends in the media. The Winnipeg Free Press editorial board, for example, tells us the NHL has “a moral obligation to do more than simply collect outlandish ticket revenues. It’s time for the NHL to step up in a more materially significant fashion.” Toronto Star opinionists agree, writing, “A partnership with the NHL, which has the brand power and all the resources, is the best way to put women’s hockey on a sustainable path.” Scott Stinson of the National Post tells us that “it is long beyond time that (the NHL) listened” to the women’s pleas, while Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post insists the women “deserve livable wages and health insurance.” Also, if Ponytail Puck disappears “the NHL is guilty by inaction.” I must say, it’s awful thoughtful of newspaper people to provide the NHL with financial advice even as their own business goes down the toilet. But tossing good money after bad is never a sound business plan, and until someone comes up with a better idea the women are on their own.

Is there a market for Ponytail Puck? Absolutely. Whenever it’s Canada vs. U.S.A., eh? Otherwise, not so much until they sort out the mess.

I note TSN has extended its working arrangement with Hockey Canada through 2033-34. Initial reaction: It’s nice to know there’ll be a 2033-34. Second blush: Hopefully between now and then TSN will actually find a time slot for some Ponytail Puck.

The Winnipeg Jets were pegged as a bubble team when the puck was dropped on the current NHL crusade, so why are so many among the rabble surprised that they are, in fact, on the playoff bubble? I still believe the local hockey heroes will qualify for Beard Season, but we probably won’t know for certain until the 11th hour.

If the Jets don’t start winning games at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, I sense we’ll soon be reading another “ruffled feathers” story.

Auston Matthews

Reason No. 6,379,292 why many of us in the colonies think the geniuses at our two national sports networks are a bunch of mooks is this headline on the Sportsnet website following the Jets-Tranna Maple Leafs joust last Wednesday: “Heroic effort vs. Jets officially puts Leafs’ Matthews in Hart Trophy talks.” According to essayist Chris Johnston, “The superstar centre willed his Toronto Maple Leafs to a point” and “you are starting to see Matthews exert his will in all three zones” and “against the Jets, he was the only reason the Leafs walked out of Scotiabank Arena with something to show for their night.” That’s all fine and dandy, except for one small detail—the Jets won the freaking game! Oh, and did I mention that Rink Rat Scheifele, not Auston Matthews, was la premiere étoile? But, sure, Matthews was “heroic.” Sigh.

Bench puppeteer Paul Maurice, aka Coach Potty Mouth, described the 3-on-3 OT session between his Jets and les Leafs as a “shit show.” You tell ’em, Coach PoMo. We’re No. 2! We’re No. 2!

Interesting that the Leafs used the subway to get to and from practice last week. Except backup goaltender Michael Hutchinson. He was still under a bus somewhere.

This is not a fight.

Okay, when is a fight not a fight in the NHL? Apparently when Zack Kassian of the Edmonton Oilers drops his mitts, grabs Matthew Tkachuk by the scruff of the neck, tosses (by my count) 11 bare-knuckle punches, and ragdolls the Calgary Flames forward like a Rottweiler with a new chew toy. We haven’t seen a fight that one-sided since the Tiger Woods divorce settlement. But wait. It wasn’t a fight. Kassian was flagged for roughing and told to sit and stew for an additional 10 minutes, but not for fisticuffs. Well, if that wasn’t a fight, Albertans don’t vote Conservative.

Kassian had some special language for Tkachuk post-match, describing Raggedy Man-dy as a “pussy.” That didn’t put my knickers in a knot, but I’m guessing in this era of zero tolerance for sexist remarks it was greeted with much harrumphing in the NHL ivory tower.

After watching the Kassian-Tkachuk beatdown, Drew Doughty said: “Why the hell didn’t I think of doing that?”

Gotta like Montreal Larks new co-bankroll Gary Stern. When asked why he and father-in-law Sid Spiegel didn’t purchase the Tranna Boatmen when they were available, he said: “The Argos suck.” I don’t know if that will translate into a bump in ticket sales when the two Canadian Football League outfits grab grass next season, but I know news snoops will want their recording gadgets in proper working order whenever Stern speaks.

Is it just me or does anyone else find something wrong about playing tennis in Australia while the entire continent burns to a charred ruin?

Katie Sowers

The San Francisco 49ers will play for the National Football League NFC title next weekend, and it’s worth noting that one of their assistant offensive coaches is Katie Sowers, a woman and lesbian. So much for gays being a “distraction.” As Katie says in her new Microsoft Surface Pro 7 computer commercial, “I’m not just here to be the token female. I’m here to help us win.” You go, girl.

And, finally, according to Dan Bilefsky of the New York Times, news that Prince Harry and Meghan no longer wish to live off granny’s money and plan to relocate to Canada has “unleashed a frenzy of excitement” in the True North. We’re all “giddy,” don’t you know? After all, they’ll be “injecting some glamour” into our “bone-chillingly cold country.” Well, I don’t know about you, but I’d be more frenzied and excited if a couple top-pair defenceman would relocate to the Jets blueline.

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

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

These Winnipeg Jets are an interesting study.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puck Finn

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

Chevy

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

Blake Wheeler and Rink Rat Scheifele

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

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

Matthew Tkachuk

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

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

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

Kawhi Leonard

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

Genie Bouchard

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

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

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

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

matty
Matty

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

About what a hockey town looks like…NHL teams that actually make trades…old man Sudsy…Coach Potty-Mouth’s smugness…a steaming mess of hooey in Vancouver…and blaming it all on Canada’s sad-sack hockey fans

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

In the department of really, really, really dumb headlines, Sportsnet takes the prize for this: “Oilers fans ready to show us what a hockey town looks like.”

Edmonton Oilers fans perfected the jersey toss.

Just wondering, would those be the same fans who, only two years ago, were hurling Edmonton Oilers jerseys onto the ice in disgust? Those people are going to show the rest of us how it’s done? That’s like hiring Don Cherry as a wardrobe consultant. Or Meryl Streep recruiting Adam Sandler as an acting coach.

Hey, don’t get me wrong. Oilers fans are terrific. When they aren’t tossing $200 orange-and-blue clothing onto the freeze.

I doubt there’s anything Oilers loyalists can teach the faithful in the other six National Hockey League ports-of-call in Canada, with the possible exception of Vancouver, where the locals like to play with matches and try to reduce the town to ashes whenever the Canucks lose a playoff series. I mean, what can the rabble in Montreal, for example, learn from their counterparts in The Chuck? Zilch, that’s what.

Officially, Roman Catholicism is the main religion in Montreal. But we know better, don’t we. It’s hockey, specifically les Canadiens. The team jersey (which no one tosses on the ice surface) is known as La Sainte-Flanelle—the Holy Flannel. The Habs’ former home, the fabled Forum, wasn’t a hockey rink. It was a cathedral. Carey Price isn’t a goaltender. He’s deity. If he backstops les Glorieux to their 25th Stanley Cup title, he, like Patrick Roy, will achieve sainthood. At the very least, he becomes the Pope.

And Edmonton is going to show Montreal what a hockey town looks like? As if.

Yo! Kevin Cheveldayoff! Did you notice who scored twice for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their double OT victory over the Washington Capitals on Saturday night? That’s right, Kasperi Kapanen, acquired as part of the Phil Kessel trade. And did you notice who assisted on both of Kapanen’s goals, including the overtime winner? That’s right, Brian Boyle, acquired just before the trade deadline for a minor leaguer and a conditional second-round draft choice. So you see, Chevy, there’s more to being an NHL general manager than draft and develop. It’s actually permissible to improve your Winnipeg Jets roster via barter, whether it means surrendering spare parts or an elite performer, as the Leafs did with Kessel.

Jets captain Blake Wheeler would excel in playoff hockey.

I don’t know if Blake Wheeler has been watching first-round Stanley Cup skirmishing, but, if so, I’m guessing it must really gnaw at the Jets captain that he isn’t included in the fun. This is his kind of hockey—intense, ballsy, belligerent, hostile, up-tempo, elite. Wheeler would excel on that stage. As for his colleagues, I wonder how many of the Jets could compete in that environment. It would be nice to find out sometime this decade. Well, wouldn’t it, Chevy?

Unless I missed it, the Winnipeg Free Press ignored the passing of Bill (Sudsy) Sutherland, a member of the original Word Hockey Association Jets team and assistant/head coach of Jets 1.0 in the NHL. Sudsy’s death doesn’t warrant a mention? Not even a paragraph or three on one of the truly good guys in Jets lore? That’s totally lame.

Funny story about Sudsy from Joe Watson, a teammate with the original Philadelphia Flyers in 1967. After scoring the first goal in franchise history in Oakland, Sudsy and the Flyers returned home for their season debut at the Spectrum, on Oct. 19. Here’s how Watson remembered it for csnphilly.com: “We’re coming through the building and the security guards were there and we are all walking through and all of us are looking kind of young and Billy was looking older and the security guard says, ‘Where are you going? Billy says, ‘I’m a player.’ And the security guard says, ‘You can’t be. You’re too old.’ He was 36 at the time.” As it happened, Sudsy scored the only goal that night in a 1-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. He had lifetime security clearance thereafter.

I’m not sure what was more astonishing at Paul Maurice’s season-over chin-wag with news scavengers, his unvarnished arrogance or his smugness. Asked by Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun why, given the head coach’s track record, Jets fans should be confident that he is the right man to “turn this (team) around,” Coach Potty-Mouth declared “It doesn’t need to be turned around. It’s already headed in the right direction.” Well, excuuuuse us all to hell. And here we thought the Jets missed the playoffs. Again. Later, Maurice twice refused to allow TSN’s Sara Orlesky to complete a question about acquiring a veteran goaltender, interrupting her both times with a smug response. I will say one thing for Coach Potty-Mo, though: At one point, he confessed to lying to the media. I’m sure they take considerable comfort in knowing they shouldn’t believe anything he tells them.

While it remains uncertain if the Jets are, indeed, “headed in the right direction,” as Maurice submits, I’ll take their roster over that steaming mess of hooey in Vancouver. Do the deep-thinkers with the Canucks (hello Trevor Linden and Jim Benning) even have a clue? Basically, they fired their head coach, Willie Desjardins, because the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, had the bad manners to get old, and former GM Mike Gillis mangled half a dozen entry drafts.

To underscore how fortunate the Jets were at the draft lottery last April, consider this: By the odds, they should have picked no higher than sixth in the annual auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers. Patrik Laine would have been gone by then and they likely would have settled for Keith Tkachuk’s boy Matthew. The difference between Puck Finn and Tkachuk? Twenty-three goals, with Laine scoring 36 and Keith’s kid 13 for the Calgary Flames. Of the top 10 youngsters chosen last year, only three—Laine, Tkachuk and Auston Matthews—played full time in the NHL this season. That’s how lucky the Jets were at the lottery.

Blame it on the fans.

Paul Wiecek of the Free Press offers an interesting theory in explaining why NHL outfits from the True North have failed to bring the Stanley Cup home since 1993—it’s your fault, Josephine and Joe Phan. “My theory,” Wiecek writes, “is that we’re to blame—every sad-sack hockey fan in Canada who continues to fill the arenas in this country and pay huge bucks to watch mediocre (at best) hockey. Our strength as a hockey nation is also our biggest weakness when it comes to the NHL: our passion for the sport—and our willingness to be separated from our money in support of it, no matter what—provides no incentive for our NHL teams to be anything more than exactly what they are: Just good enough to make the playoffs but not nearly good enough to actually win a Cup.” The alternative, I suppose, is to stop supporting Canadian-based teams and let them all move to the southern U.S. How did that work out for Winnipeg the first time?

An odd bit of analysis on the Jets was delivered by Jeff Hamilton, one of the young scribes at the Drab Slab. “It makes little sense at this point to start pointing fingers,” he writes in the Freep. Really? If the media isn’t prepared to critique the local hockey heroes and assign responsibility for failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby, who will? Certainly not the fans, who, as Wiecek submits, happily part with their money for the opportunity to watch mediocrity. It’s the responsibility of the Fourth Estate to hold the Jets’ feet to the fire, and a talented writer/reporter like Hamilton surely knows that.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

 

Hens in the Hockey House talk turkey about the Winnipeg Jets, Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and Rink Rat Scheifele

Before my two Hens in the Hockey House put the bird in the oven for Christmas dinner, they’re talking turkey about the Winnipeg Jets. Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Finally, a chance to take a deep breath and chill. No hockey until Tuesday. Do you need the break as much as I do?

Answer Lady: Actually, there is hockey. The World Junior Championship starts on Boxing Day.

question-lady-and-answer-lady2Question Lady: You mean the “nobody cares except TSN tournament” don’t you?

Answer Lady: People care. Maybe not overseas, but we care in Canada. At least I think we do. I guess we’ll know by television ratings.

Question Lady: It’s hard to believe that Patrik Laine could be playing for Finland in that tournament. If defencemen and goaltenders in the National Hockey League can’t stop him, how much damage would he do playing against a bunch of kids?

Answer Lady: Puck Finn would be scary good. But so would all the other age-eligible players who are in the NHL. Connor McDavid and Mitch Marner could be playing for Canada. Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Zach Werenski and Matthew Tkachuk could be wearing the Stars and Stripes. Jesse Puljujarvi is another eligible Finn. There’s a lot of missing star power. It’ll be terrific hockey, but it’s watered down at the top end.

Question Lady: You surprised at how well Laine is doing in his rookie season with the Jets?

Answer Lady: Yes and no. I thought the over/under for Puck Finn was 20 goals. I just didn’t think he’d get there so soon. I thought he’d have an electric start, then go into a bit of a swoon. Hasn’t happened. Nineteen goals in 36 assignments is heady stuff. Everything about his game is lights-out impressive. Even his own goal—his selfie—was impressive. And I like his cockiness.

Question Lady: I think the Jets lead the league in selfies. Nikolaj Ehlers scored one, too.

Answer Lady: That was a goaltending gaffe. Michael Hutchinson went all Rip Van Winkle on the boys. Overtime is never a good time for a goalie to take a nap.

Question Lady: Who do you like more, Laine or Ehlers?

Answer Lady: That’s like asking me if I’d rather listen to Sinatra or Tony Bennett. They’re both brilliant. I kind of like Ehlers, though. I call him Twig because that’s how he’s built. He was snake-bit around the net for the longest time, but he discovered his goal-scoring mojo just before the break. Twig is a quick-strike kind of guy. He’s now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t fast. It wouldn’t surprise me if he finished the season with more points than his linemates, Puck Finn and Rink Rat Scheifele. Remember that. You heard it here first.

Question Lady: The question is, how long will head coach Paul Maurice keep those three together?

Answer Lady: Sometimes I think Maurice is a bit of a basket case. He keeps trying to fix what isn’t broken. The Lickety-Split Line should stay together until the end of time, but I’m sure Maurice will go into his street busker routine shortly after the Christmas break and start juggling his forwards with no rhyme or reason.

Paul Maurice
Paul Maurice, aka Mr. .500.

Question Lady: Could that explain why Maurice is a career .500 coach?

Answer Lady: Player deployment is probably one of the reasons.

Question Lady: There’s been plenty of speculation about Maurice’s future with the Jets. Do you think he should be fired?

Answer Lady: No. Not now. This season is Maurice’s mulligan. But going forward into next season, I agree with what TSN analyst Craig Button said about coach PoMo the other day—“(He) is going to have to do a much better job.” Maurice needs to up his game. But can a career .500 coach who’s made the playoffs only five times in 18 seasons do that? I have my doubts. Any lump on a bar stool can tell you that the Lickety-Split Line should never be torn apart, but, as sure as Don Cherry likes good Canadian beer, Maurice will be fiddle farting around with those three lads inside a fortnight.

Question Lady: Fiddle farting isn’t a very lady-like term, my dear.

Answer Lady: Sorry, but that’s what Maurice does. He fiddle farts.

Question Lady: What’s the biggest disappointment with the Jets to date?

Answer Lady: Mathieu Perreault. I mean, two goals and seven points? That’s what $4.5 million buys you these days? I realize he isn’t pulling in that much coin right now, but that’s his sticker price next season and $4 mill per annum after that. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff clearly had a moment of madness when he agreed to that deal. Either that or Perreault has incriminating photos. Chevy gave the guy a four-year extension at that inflated wage for what? Perreault has never had a 20-goal season. He only scored nine goals in 2015-16. He’s brittle…he’s never played a full, 82-game season. Perreault is probably the most overpaid worker in the NHL. I’m guessing Chevy would probably like a do-over on that contract. Or maybe he’s hoping the Las Vegas expansion franchise will take that fat-cat contract off the Jets’ books next summer.

Question Lady: What’s your take on Dustin Byfuglien?

Answer Lady: What can I say that hasn’t already been said? One minute he’s a jaw-dropping delight, the next he’s back to his d’oh boy ways. Buff is Buff. An asset and a liability. I don’t drink the True North Kool-Aid, so I can take him or leave him.

Question Lady: You don’t buy into the Jets’ heavy schedule as an excuse, do you?

Connor Hellebuyck
Connor Hellebuyck

Answer Lady: Seven NHL teams have played 36 games. Six of them are in a playoff position at the Christmas break. The only team below the line is Winnipeg. Conclusion: The schedule as an excuse is lame. You know why the Jets are on the outside looking in right now? Coaching, inconsistent play, dumb penalties and goaltending.

Question Lady: You include goaltending among the flaws?

Answer Lady: It’s been moderate. Hutchinson and Connor Hellebuyck need to be better. We already knew that Hutchinson wasn’t a No. 1 ‘tender, so Hellebuyck was the mystery. He’s had his moments. I suppose the jury is still out, but I don’t see him as a No. 1. It’s one of those things I’d like to be wrong about, but I don’t believe the Jets braintrust recognizes talent in the blue paint.

Question Lady: What do you expect during the back half of the season?

Answer Lady: Much of the same. It’s a toilet-seat season—up and down, up and down. This Jets outfit is very much like big Buff’s game. Bad and brilliant.

Question Lady: Still think they’ll miss the playoffs?

Answer Lady: Yup. But I’ll enjoy watching Puck Finn, Twig and Rink Rat do their thing. If, that is, Maurice lets them.

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