Let’s talk about Canadian jock journalism and its diversity deficiency

The soft, societal underbelly of Canadian jock journalism is being exposed.

Again.

It is ever thus when real-life concerns (racism, gender equality, sexism, homophobia, misogyny, domestic violence, etc.) invade the playground and relegate final scores, statistics and Tiger Woods’ pursuit of Grand Slam golf titles to a seat of secondary thought.

That, of course, is what’s unfolding now as we observe the horror that is Battleground America.

Unrest has given way to rioting and rubble, the bitter backwash from the death of George Floyd, a Black man whose name held no position in the public conscience until video evidence confirmed that a Minneapolis-St. Paul police officer had used a knee to squeeze the final breath out of him.

In itself, the death of Floyd is not a sports story. Rogue cop kills a Black man. They’ve seen this movie, too many times.

Kareem

Except Michael Jordan is talking about this one. Masai Ujiri is talking about it. LeBron James is talking about it. Evander Kane is talking about it. Blake Wheeler, Jonathan Toews and Logan Couture are talking about it. Kareem has weighed in. Numerous pro sports organizations have issued communiqués condemning racism and social injustice, and that includes the National Football League, which has managed to place itself in the awkward position of being full-score against Colin Kaepernick’s knee of peaceful protest and, at the same time, against a cop’s knee of death.

But here’s someone who can’t talk about it—99 per cent of Canadian sports scribes.

Unless your name is Morgan Campbell or Donnovan Bennett, the best our flowers of jock journalism can do is provide sound bites from Ujiri, Jordan, LeBron, Kareem, Kane et al.

And, yes, it’s terrific when they spread the word. It’s important.

Yet they themselves cannot provide explanation, analysis or offer first-person anecdotal evidence in the arena of marginalization. They fall short, like a warning-track fly ball. They are incapable of commenting and opinionating from a foundation of been there, had that done to me. They don’t know Black. Just like they don’t know female. They don’t know fists of fury. I doubt many of them know or care that this is Pride Month.

Consider this passage from a Michael Grange essay for Sportsnet the other day:

Michael Grange

“It was also a reminder that I’ve never had a moment to be nervous about the police. That I’ve never sent my teenaged son into the world and worried that he could be a victim of a tragic misunderstanding, or worse. I’ve never had to wonder if my skin colour or ethnicity or gender was an obstacle to me reaching my potential. No one should have those fears and concerns. Not today, not ever. I believe we should all act, think, and vote in ways that reflect those fundamental values. I’ve never felt the need to write that before because it’s always seemed so self-evident. So clear. It’s not.”

After viewing the George Floyd death video, a white scribe like Grange might have cringed and muttered something like “That’s just horrible” and maybe even wept, but a Black writer would be more apt to gasp, “Good lord, that could be me or my child,” then lock his doors and keep his family behind cover.

When racism in hockey became the topic du jour late last year, Ron MacLean had a natter with his Hometown Hockey co-host Tara Slone and Black filmmaker Kwame Mason, and he delivered this confession: “It’s a real eye-opener that I don’t recognize the structural racism or sexism that’s going on.”

Ron MacLean

It was an astonishing admission, but MacLean found no requirement to give ponder to racism and sexism because it wasn’t, and isn’t, his ox being gored. He has the privilege of being white and male, which is totally in keeping with the makeup of jock journalism.

I presented these numbers from the most recent Associated Press Sports Editors Racial and Gender Report Card (2018, a study of 75 newspapers/websites in Canada and the U.S.) on Sunday, but they bear repeating:
90 per cent of sports editors were male;
85 per cent of sports editors were white;
88.5 per cent of reporters were male;
83.4 per cent of columnists were male;
82.1 per cent of reporters were white;
80.3 per cent of columnists were white;
44 women were columnists at ‘A’ level newspapers/websites, and 38 worked for ESPN. If the ESPN female columnist were removed, the percentage of female columnists would drop to 2.9 per cent.

Is that a recipe for racist, sexist coverage? Not necessarily. But it does explain why there are so few voices that speak to the very heart of those issues. Also why the message often gets misshapen.

For example, when Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs dropped his trousers to his ankles and mooned a female security guard at 2 o’clock in the morning last summer in Scottsdale, Ariz., male sports scribes turned the incident into a forum on his suitability to serve as team captain. They wrote it off as frat-boy frolic and gave scant consideration to his victim, Fayola Dozithee, and the every-day fears of females.

Auston Matthews

“We all do stupid things,” Cathal Kelly scribbled in the Globe and Mail. “We are all especially likely to do stupid things when it is late, when we are drunk and when we are 22.”

I submit that’s the language of a man who’s done a fair bit of stupid-thing, frat-boy frolicking himself, some of which might have victimized women.

On the domestic violence file, male scribes crucified NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for his botched handling of the Ray Rice case after viewing video evidence of the former running back dragging his unconscious girlfriend off an elevator, but then the boys celebrated the arrival of woman-beating Johnny Manziel to the Canadian Football League.

“Looking forward to seeing Johnny Manziel play in the CFL. Win-Win for the CFL,” rejoiced Chris Cuthbert of TSN.

Johnny Manziel

“It will be fun for everyone to watch,” agreed Dan Barnes of Postmedia.

“Welcome to Canada, Johnny Manziel. And where do I sign up,” chimed in Steve Simmons of Postmedia.

Again, no thought given to the big picture because they aren’t female and vulnerable.

Meantime, there are no figures for the percentage of gay editors/columnists/reporters at major newspapers/websites, but I doubt I’m far off the mark if I suggest it’s less than 1 per cent. Consequently, there’s no one with lived experience to speak to the issue when someone like Michael Sam, Jason Collins or Robbie Rogers are targeted with anti-gay language and deeds.

When Sam became the first openly gay man to participate in a professional football game, many in the LGBT(etc.) collective were delighted and proud. But one prominent jock journo, the aforementioned Simmons, denied that Sam had actually participated in a Canadian Football League game.

Michael Sam

“In reality, pro football still awaits its first openly gay player,” he wrote.

After Sam bugged out on the Montreal Alouettes due to mental health issues, an unidentified sports scribe accused him of “faking it.”

So we had one heterosexual man insisting that a gay man never existed, and another heterosexual man presuming to have first-hand knowledge of the demons that torture and haunt a gay man’s mind.

Jock journalism in our country has a serious diversity deficiency.

It could serve as a vehicle for societal change, but it isn’t constructed that way. Hiring practices make the business too white, too male and too hetero.

The women who appear on TSN, for example, are allowed to be pretty and read a teleprompter, but they aren’t allowed an opinion, the exception being women’s soccer. When skin hue is the topic du jour, Tim Micallef and Sid Seixeiro of Sportsnet can natter about it, but they are unable to reach the core of the issue until Donnovan Bennett is invited into the discussion. He might crack wise about “dial-a-Negro,” which he did, but there’s truth hidden in that joke.

Donnovan Bennett

Bennett authored a thought-provoking essay on the current racist unrest in the U.S., and he closed with this:

“I’m going to challenge my own industry. If you work in sports media and make a living off the talent and ingenuity of black athletes, the least you can do is use your journalistic skills and privilege to show that black lives have equal value to your own. The least you can do is allot more than 28 or 29 days in February to humanizing black people.”

My guess is they’ll have found a new chew toy by this time next week.

FOOTNOTE: Both Bennett’s essay and an article on former National Basketball Association player John Amaechi, who came out as gay after his playing career, are live on the Sportsnet website today. Yet the overlords at Sportsnet refuse to allow discussion on these race and LGBT(etc.) issues by disabling comments on both pieces. Go figure.

Let’s talk about “hub bubble hockey” and jock journos…Elvis and his Jailhouse Jock…John Fogerty plays centrefield…sticking to sports, or not…the race and gender scorecard…snack time for Iron Mike…Commish Randy’s naked bootleg…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored, and it’s mostly quick hits this morning because my attention span is like the golf season in Good Ol’ Hometown—short…

Okay, as far as I can determine, this is the National Hockey League road map to a reboot and the coronation of a 2020 Stanley Cup champion:

Summon the boys from hither and yon, put 24 teams in a “bubble” in a couple of “hub” cities, stick swabs up hundreds of noses every morning, noon and nighttime for three months, and play summer-stretched-into-winter shinny until either Alexander Ovechkin or Brett Hull is too drunk to stand during the post-playoff celebration.

Ya, sure, works for me.

Except I’m not on the beat.

NHL bubble hockey.

There’s no sports editor instructing me to pack my bags and take enough clothes for a 90-day stay in one of those two “hub bubbles,” and it seems to me that news snoops are the forgotten, or ignored, element in the NHL’s quest to stem its financial blood-letting and, at the same time, determine a pandemic puck champion.

We know the rabble won’t be invited inside the “hub bubbles,” but what about sports scribes and natterbugs? Are they also persona non grata? Will those assigned to report on the goings-on in the “hub bubbles” be granted access to players, coaches, managers, etc.? If not (which is the most likely scenario), why bother going? If so, how many news snoops are willing to put their health, if not their lives, at risk?

I mean, people with medical diplomas on their office walls tell us that we can expect a surge of COVID-19 cases in the autumn, so do you really want to be in proximity to a bunch of guys who’ve been spitting and sweating on each other all day? That might be a tough sell on the home front.

A similar thought process would apply if the Canadian Football League sorts out its mess and establishes “hub bubbles” in two-to-four Prairie locales, for an abbreviated season that would commence in September and conclude in December.

I’ve long held that the toy departments of newspapers must discover fresh ways of doing business, given the immediacy of Internet news, the personal disclosures of athletes on social media forums, and the near-maniacal obsession of pro sports teams/organizations to control the message, so it could be that the COVID-19 pandemic will give sports editors no choice but to remake their sections in a significant way.

Same old, same old is done. Probably forever. Creativity must rule the day, and that will be a good thing.

Let’s say you’re a news snoop on the Winnipeg Jets beat and you’re told to tag along with the team to a locale in the United States sometime late this summer/early autumn, when the NHL reboots. Maybe our Yankee Doodle neighbors will have a handle on the coronavirus by then. Maybe not. Maybe the streets of America will no longer be flooded with clashing rioters and storm-troopers after another rogue cop executes another Black man, seemingly for sport. Maybe they will be. So do you go?

Good work by a clever headline writer at the Drab Slab re the proposed Stanley Cup tournament cooked up by the mad scientists in NHL Commish Gary Bettman’s lab: “The Franken-playoffs.” It’ll certainly be different, if only because the lads will be playing in echo chambers dressed up as hockey rinks.

Whichever outfit wins the Stanley Cup, it’ll be the first time in history that no one from the winning outfit will shout, “We couldn’t have done this without our fans!”

My favorite tweet last week was delivered by Shannon Szabados, our longtime women’s national team goaltender: “Happy the NHL will be back, but without fans how do we expect players to know when to shoot the puck? How will opposing goalies know they suck?” That’s my kind of humor.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos (Peter Norman on left).

I’ve never subscribed to the “stick to sports” mantra as it relates to jock journos, because societal issues and sports have been intersecting since David took out his slingshot and coldcocked Goliath. Think heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson and his white wives. Think Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson and whites-only baseball. Think Muhammad Ali and the Vietnam War. Think Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the Mexico Olympics. Think Colin Kaepernick on one knee. Think Billie Jean King being outed as a lesbian. Think racist team names, like Washington’s Redskins, and team logos, like Cleveland’s clownish Chief Wahoo. Think Johnny Manziel, Ray Rice, Bobby Hull and numerous other male athletes and domestic violence. So good on Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun for straying beyond the accepted boundaries of sports scribbling to serve up a column on the current ugliness and nastiness south of the great Canada-U.S. divide. Paul had a natter with former Winnipeg Blue Bombers DB Jovon Johnson, many times a victim of racist acts and language, and he wonders why white people aren’t raising their voices against systemic racism while Minneapolis-St. Paul and other U.S. burgs burn and protesters are trampled by the hooves of cops’ horses. It’s a boffo read.

Why don’t more sports scribes/sections tackle societal issues like racism, gender equality, homophobia, misogyny, domestic violence? Because most of them can’t relate to the marginalized among us. Consider these numbers from the most recent Associated Press Sports Editors Racial and Gender Report Card (2018, a study of 75 newspapers/websites in Canada and the U.S.):
90 per cent of sports editors were male;
85 per cent of sports editors were white;
88.5 per cent of reporters were male;
83.4 per cent of columnists were male;
82.1 per cent of reporters were white;
80.3 per cent of columnists were white;
44 women were columnists at ‘A’ level newspapers/websites, and 38 worked for ESPN. If the ESPN female columnist were removed, the percentage of female columnists would drop to 2.9 per cent.

Birmingham, circa 1960s.

Curious tweet re U.S. rioting from Terry Jones of Postmedia E-Town: “No I wasn’t endorsing police firing rubber bullets at members of the media. I just can’t comprehend the racism that’s behind all of this. It got Trump elected. And isn’t this where I came in back in the 60s? Forget the cops. I’d bring in the fire department and turn on the hoses.” I’m not sure what to make of that, but, as a product of the 1950s and ’60s, I know I don’t like the optics.

There’s talk about a third fist fight between former heavyweight boxing champs Iron Mike Tyson and Evander (The Real Meal) Holyfield. Or, as Tyson likes to call it, “Leftovers.”

Hey, look who’s blah-blah-blahing about the CFL—Johnny Manziel. That’s right, TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback went on something called Golf’s Subpar podcast the other day, and he informed listeners that he “loved Canada,” even if the business side of Rouge Football is “a little bit ticky-tacky.” Well, if anyone knows “tacky,” it’s Johnny Rotten. The former Montreal Larks/Hamilton Tabbies QB also confirmed his fondness for females and nightclubs, and added, “I got a good heart, I’m a good dude. I treat people the right way for the most part. Deep down, I truly am a good person.” Ya, except for beating up and threatening to kill women, he’s a swell guy.

Speaking of complete dinks, if any of you girls out there are looking to get that special man in your life something unique, how about Elvis Presley’s old jockstrap? Straight goods. The very garment that once holstered the King’s jewels in the 1970s is up for auction by Paul Fraser Collectibles, and this is no ordinary jockstrap. It’s rhinestone-studded, “sexually potent” and, according to auction rep Daniel Wade, “the new owner won’t be able to resist wearing it out on a Saturday night—the Elvis magic will work wonders.” Oh, for sure, that’s what every woman is hoping to discover about her man on a first date—his underwear is half a century old.

Seriously, why was Elvis the Pelvis even wearing a jockstrap? Was there a chance his boys were going to pop out of his jumpsuit?

Oh, one final thing about Elvis’ jockstrap: It’s a size Medium, so maybe the King wasn’t really the king after all, if you catch my meaning. (Thank you, thank you very much.)

Commish Randy

CFL Commish Randy Ambrosie continues to panhandle on Parliament Hill, asking the feds for welfare payments from $30 million to $150 million. PM Trudeau the Younger can just send the cheque to Rouge Football headquarters at the new mailing address: c/o 2020 Skid Road.

The adult website Stripchat, which boasts of 60 million monthly visitors for its live webcam sex shows, is offering $15 million for naming rights to the Superdome in New Orleans, home of the National Football League Saints. Hearing that, CFL Commish Randy immediately contacted the porn masters at Stripchat and said, “Give us $15 million and we’ll put your live sex shows on our Jumbotrons during TV timeouts. Hell, for an extra $15 million, we’ll have our guys play naked, except the O-lineman, of course. Nobody wants to go there.” We can just call it Commish Randy’s naked bootleg.

John Fogerty and the kids.

Coolest thing I’ve seen in a long, long time was John Fogerty celebrating his 75th birthday by singing Centrefield in centrefield at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. He was joined by his kids Shane, Kelsy and Tyler, with Fogerty playing a custom-made Louisville Slugger guitar. Centrefield is only the best baseball song. Ever. And how cool it must be to have a 75-year-old dad that cool.

I’m not big on all the retro stuff that we’ve been force-fed during the pandemic, but Taylor Allen has a good read on Laurie Boschman in the Drab Slab. Bosch was one of the genuinely good guys to ever wear Jets linen.

Also good to see is a new feature in the Winnipeg Sun, Ted’s Talk, which debuted on Saturday. Ted Wyman takes a wordy walkabout through the sports neighborhood, touching on a variety of issues, and I have to say it’s bloody well time. I don’t know how sassy, cheeky or irreverent Teddy Football plans to be with his new toy, but I hope he has fun with it. And takes no prisoners.

In late April, Postmedia slashed 80 jobs and shut down 15 papers. Last week, it was revealed that there’ll be another 40 “permanent” reductions across the chain. Again, I wonder if Postmedia will be printing two papers in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver by the time the COVID-19 pandemic has run its course.

And, finally, a lot of us can use a little good news these days, and watching the SpaceX rocket leave the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center and roar off into the wild, blue yonder on Saturday was quite an emotional moment. There wasn’t a dry eye in my house. God speed to the two astronauts.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Jets and Blue Bombers standing by their men…Bruce Boudreau’s pink slip and Coach PoMo’s $9 million reward…silly Seattle rumors…scofflaws in the Jets Hall of Fame…WHA vs. NHL…good reads in the Drab Slab…silly sound bites…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and a restful Louis Riel Long Weekend to you all…

So, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers re-up Mike O’Shea because he brought home the Grey Cup, and the Winnipeg Jets re-up Paul Maurice because…well, some of us are still trying to work our way through that.

Coach PoMo

I mean, Coach Potty Mouth hasn’t brought anything home, except the bacon, and at a reported $3 million per year that’s a whole lot of pork rinds and BLTs. I’m sure his bride and kids appreciate it, even if many among the rabble don’t like what he brings to the table, and O’Shea can only wish his championship-calibre coaching paid as handsomely as Coach PoMo’s six years of mostly mediocrity.

But, hey, this isn’t meant to be a hit piece on Maurice.

Everybody loves Coach PoMo. Well, okay, not everybody. But the people who matter the most do—Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, the lads in the changing room. Why, listening to them gush about their bench puppeteer after locking him down for the next three winters, I was convinced he’d discovered a cure for the Coronavirus while helping little old ladies cross busy streets. Who knew winning just two playoff rounds in half a dozen crusades was such a laudable achievement?

But, again, this isn’t meant to be a hit piece on Coach PoMo.

The moral of today’s story, kids, is this: Stand By Your Man (and I make no apologies for riffing on the title of a country classic by the legendary Tammy Wynette).

The Jets and Bombers, you see, stand by their men like no other National Hockey League/Canadian Football League combo in Canada, although it hasn’t always been that way for our gridiron Goliaths.

Mike O’Shea

Once upon a time not so long ago, Winnipeg FC went through head coaches like Kleenex during a chick flick, but the revolving-door strategy ended on Dec. 4, 2013, when CEO Wade Miller brought in O’Shea as sideline steward. It took Coach Grunge six seasons to get the job done, but nobody’s complaining today, except perhaps city workers still burdened with the task of cleaning up the mess Chris Streveler left behind at the Grey Cup parade.

The point is, the Grey Grail is back in Good Ol’ Hometown due to the stick-to-itness of the Canadian Mafia, which includes GM Kyle Walters, and O’Shea has been rewarded with a fresh set of downs (three-year contract).

There’s been no such success for the Jets, of course, just some warm-and-fuzzies from a series of downtown whiteout parties during a deep Beard Season run two springs back. Still, the Puck Pontiff has chosen to stay the course with the man he recruited a month after O’Shea arrived in town, extending Maurice’s gig for another three winters, whether we think he’s earned it or not.

So, since December 2013, the Bombers have known one head coach. Ditto the Jets since January 2014.

Now gaze upon the Canadian pro sports landscape (read: CFL, NHL). What do you see? That’s right, coaching chaos. There’ve been eight head knocks in the Republic of Tranna. Same in Montreal, E-Town and Lotus Land. Bytown has had seven. Calgary six. All since both Coach Grunge and Coach PoMo took root in River City.

What does it all mean?

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ll take a steady hand over a knee-jerking gong show anytime, so long as it delivers favorable results in a results-driven business, and stability got the Bombers a CFL title, to be sure. It’s done squat for the Jets, though. Other than stir up the anti-PoMo mob, that is.

Bruce Boudreau

It really doesn’t matter that I think Maurice is something of a snake charmer the way he hypnotizes news snoops and fans with his smooth sound bites. As mentioned, it’s about results, and his numbers just don’t add up to the unflinching faith the Puck Pontiff has in PoMo’s coaching ability. Let’s, for example, stack his numbers against those of Bruce Boudreau, the recently defrocked head coach of the Minnesota Wild.

Since the 2014-15 season:
Maurice:   246-175-48 (11-16 in playoffs), one conference final, missed playoffs twice.
Boudreau: 255-159-53 (16-17 in playoffs), one conference final, missed playoffs once.

For that, Boudreau received a pink slip. Twice (in Anaheim and Minny). Yet, for doing less with more, Maurice received a three-year reward and a $9 million windfall. Go figure.

More than once, Jets capitano Blake Wheeler has said he’d “go through a brick wall” for Maurice. At least now Coach PoMo can afford to fix the wall.

Elliotte Friedman

Remember those Maurice-to-Seattle whispers? Well, actually they weren’t just whispers. Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet first mentioned it on his 31 Thoughts podcast with Jeff Marek in early December. When asked who might be the first head coach of Seattle’s NHL Team To Be Named Later, Friedge said, “I’ll tell you this, I’ve got some guys who think it’s going to be Paul Maurice.” Well, don’t you just know that Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, although “loathe to play the role of gossip monger,” took that sound bite the very next day and gossip-mongered it into a froth. “Could the delay in getting Maurice extended be less about Winnipeg’s desire to take a wait-and-see approach—which, at this point, wouldn’t make much sense—and more about the 52-year-old wanting to hold off and perhaps eventually test the waters?” he asked in a bout of reckless speculation that was cloak-and-dagger in tone and offered zero substance. He also informed readers that Maurice and Seattle GM Ron Francis have a bit of a bromance, as if to thicken the plot. I don’t know if Friedman and Mad Mike feel like damn fools today, but I doubt it.

Chevy

Some of us, of course, knew from the get-go that Coach PoMo was in Good Ol’ Hometown to stay, and modesty doesn’t prevent me from reminding you of that fact. Here’s what I wrote on Sept. 16: “Maurice ain’t going anywhere. You don’t fire the coach when the two main puppeteers, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, hurl half of his blueline into the dumpster.” And this is what my Two Hens In The Hockey House added on Oct. 3: “Mark Chipman and Chevy will part ways with Maurice when the Dalai Lama punches out the Pope.” But, hey, what do we know? We don’t have our feet on the ground like the all-knowing (not!) boys on the beat.

Yes, now that Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun has mentioned it, I thought it was rather cringeworthy that the Jets would salute Bobby Hull the same night they celebrated Thomas Steen as one of the two latest inductees to the club’s Hall of Fame. Hull has a well-documented history of domestic abuse/violence. Ditto Steen.

Bobby Hull

If nothing else, the Jets lead the league in Hall of Fame scofflaws, and this was part of Friesen’s take:

“Given how far we’ve come as a society in recognizing the horrors of abuse of women, the shadow victims are forced to live in because they’re afraid to come forward, the price the victim often pays, particularly with a popular or powerful public figure—given all that, how can organizations still celebrate a man with such a history? Hockey’s culture is supposed to be changing. Physical abuse and racially or gender-motivated verbal abuse is no longer tolerated, but rather vigorously investigated, with perpetrators held accountable. It’s supposed to be an inclusive, respectful environment, for all races, genders and sexual orientations. So what message does it send when a team trots out Hull for a special occasion, asking its fans to applaud him?”

Seriously. What part of domestic violence do the Jets not understand?

No surprise there was a bit of pushback to my recent post about the 1977-78 Jets holding the record for most consecutive wins by a Canadian pro sports franchise. Some have pooh-poohed the Jets’ 15 straight Ws as the product of a watered-down, tier-II World Hockey Association. Well, let me just say this about that: WHA outfits faced off against NHL sides 63 times and the final tally was 34-22-7 in favor of the WHA. The Jets were 7-5-2. Meantime, two of the top five scorers (Wayne Gretzky, Mike Rogers) and four of the top 10 (Blaine Stoughton, Blair MacDonald) in the first season after the merger were WHA grads. And Mark Howe, also a WHA product, was the top scoring defenceman. So there.

Rick St. Croix

Some truly terrific scribbling in the Drab Slab last week, first from Mike Sawatzky and then Melissa Martin. Mike filled us in on the back-from-the-dead experience of Rick St. Croix, goaltending guru of the Manitoba Moose. Rick, one of the nicest, most-decent men you’ll ever meet, almost left us when his ticker kicked up a fuss at the airport in December, but he’s now in full recovery and back at work. Melissa, meanwhile, took a road trip to Drumheller, Alta., where she had a natter with Steve Vogelsang, the sportscaster-turned teacher-turned back robber-turned jail bird. It’s gripping stuff for those of us who remember Steve as the glib guy on the CKY sports desk.

Renée Zellweger

I stayed up past my normal bedtime to watch the Oscars last Sunday. Just wondering: Have Renée Zellweger and Joaquin Phoenix finished their speeches yet?

I find myself wondering this, too: Between Skip The Dishes, UberEats and DoorDash, does anyone still actually cook dinner at home?

Major League Baseball is talking about expanding its playoffs and, the way I hear it, the post-season soon shall include everyone but the Little League World Series champions. Oh for the days when only two teams qualified for the rounders championship and they settled the debate when the sun was high and kids could listen to the weekday games in school. And, no, that doesn’t mean I’m living in the past. It means the MLB post-season shouldn’t be like a day at the beach. You know, “Everybody in!”

Some very strange blah, blah, blah in the playground last week. Start with Jim Crane, dismissive owner of the Houston Astros, who cheated their way to a MLB title with an elorate sign-stealing scheme. Asked if his club’s chicanery was the difference in its 2017 World Series win, Crane said, “this didn’t impact the game.” When challenged by a news snoop to explain how blatant cheating didn’t influence the outcome, he said, “I didn’t say it didn’t impact the game.”

I believe Crane’s pants are still on fire.

Meanwhile, Mark Spector of Sportsnet delivered a head-scratching analysis of the Zack Kassian kicking incident, whereby the Edmonton Oilers forward put the bladed boots to Erik Cernak of the Tampa Bay Lightning while they were tangled in an on-ice heap. Spector said Cernak took “what appeared to be a skate sort of across the chest, got up, skated away like it was nothing. Didn’t even give a second look to Kassian. So, yes, it looked like it happened.”

There are no words to describe how dumb that sounds.

Robo Bruin

The Boston Red Sox might have cheated their way to the 2018 World Series title, and the New England Patriots apparently cheated their way to a couple of Super Bowl championships. Thus I asked Beantown booster Jack the Bartender how the Boston Bruins are cheating in their latest quest for a Stanley Cup. “Zdeno Chara is a robot,” he answered. “He actually died four years ago.”

And, finally, I wouldn’t still be scribbling these musings if not for my doctor and Brian Adam, a former radio guy who insists I keep cranking it out. Brian is a Montreal Canadiens booster, although I don’t hold that against him, and he has a radio voice that makes him sound like one of the Bee Gees, and I definitely take issue with that. At any rate, if you don’t like what you’re reading, direct all complaints to Bee Gee Brian, not moi. You’ll find him in Bart’s Pub.

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.

Let’s talk about Chevy-speak and Buffcapades…what fans “deserve” from the Winnipeg Jets…Looch=goon…snark from Finland…faulty football tea leaves…Simoni and Zach against one another in the Grey Cup game?…calling out the boss…Bianca bugs out…a pub punch-up…and facts as an option

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and we can turn our clocks back, but we can’t turn back time…

It’s never a surprise when Kevin Cheveldayoff stands before a gaggle of news snoops, flaps his gums, then slays them with Chevy-speak.

The man who generally manages the Winnipeg Jets long ago mastered the art of gasbagging his interrogators, filling their notebooks and recording devices with such a high level of hollow blah, blah, blah that you’d swear he’s auditioning for a job on Parliament Hill.

So, of course, that’s what Chevy did the other day in San Jose when he poked his head out of the True North traveling gopher hole to address the curious case of Dustin Byfuglien, the reluctant blueliner.

Chevy

To say Chevy said nothing insightful or informative about Big Buff’s retreat from the fray is to say Rudy Giuliani has loose lips. Like, thanks Captain Obvious. The GM used up six minutes, 17 seconds worth of oxygen to deliver his empty message, and he repeated his nothingness so often that he used the word “again” 17 times. Mind you, I might have missed an “again” or two.

But, again (there’s that word again), why would any of us expect anything different?

That’s the way it’s been since 2011, and that’s the way it’s going to be as long as Chevy is Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s official mouthpiece. Mum’s the word. Always. You’ll get more out of a street mime. I mean, compared to True North, the people at Area 51 in Nevada are a bunch of blabbermouths.

Elliotte Friedman

The thing is, according to Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada, this time Chevy had a reason for keeping his lips zipped: He’s under a National Hockey League gag order.

“The Jets have been told they can’t say anything, which is why Kevin Cheveldayoff has been so guarded in his comments,” reported Friedman, who went on to explain that Byfuglien’s unexpected, pre-season withdrawal was due to the wonky ankle he injured last winter.

Friedman also described a brewing standoff between Winnipeg HC and Big Buff’s camp as “emotional, heated” and “likely going to arbitration.”

So let’s recap the Buffcapades saga:

Big Buff

Big Buff arrived in Good Ol’ Hometown on the eve of the Jets training exercises, but he was a no-show at medicals. He was granted a leave of absence for reasons that were hush-hush, although speculators suggested the large lad was gazing at his navel, which is to say contemplating retirement at age 34. Suspended without pay, some among the rabble spied him in watering holes about town, then he disappeared Stateside, where medics took a scalpel to his wonky ankle last week, and it’s reported that he won’t be available until early 2020. If, that is, he’s of a mind to make himself available, or if the Jets still want him on their blueline.

There will, of course, be additional twists and turns to this clandestine caper, which head coach Paul Maurice initially wrote off as “nothing sinister.” I’m uncertain what Coach Potty Mouth’s definition of “sinister” is, but this all sounds quite sinister to me and, an NHL gag order notwithstanding, Chevy’s verbal stickhandling hasn’t been a good look for the Jets.

I’d tell you what he told news snoops the other day, except he didn’t tell them anything worth noting, so I’ll just paraphrase the essence of his six-plus minutes of gum flapping: “Again, you guys asked me to come out and speak, so here I am speaking, except, again, it’s complicated and I’m not saying anything, so, again, you know, I guess I’m not really speaking about something that, again, I can’t speak about.”

Pure, unvarnished gobbledygook, and the suggestion has been made by many among the rabble, also some news snoops, that they “deserve” better from Chevy and True North.

Well, okay, let’s take a look at that. What exactly does True North owe the faithful?

A winning team? Sorry, it’s strictly buyer beware. The only sure thing in sports is that TSN and Sportsnet will talk about Auston Matthews more than the Pope talks about Jesus. So icing a successful side is a hope, not mandatory.

Honesty? Everyone in hockey lies, and to expect the Jets to be an exception is pure Pollyanna.

Transparency? That would be nice but, frankly kids, True North isn’t obligated to tell us anything, even as they pig out at the public trough and make no apology for subsidies and tax breaks that help keep the bottom line in black, not red, ink.

I agree, it’s irksome, with gusts up to infuriating, and listening to Chevy prattle on like a Sunday preacher with nowhere to go makes my ears bleed the same way a Barry Manilow song does.

Here’s the bottom line, though: Again, revealing what goes on behind closed doors at True North isn’t part of Chevy’s mandate. That might not be what the frustrated flock wants or likes to hear, but it’s the reality of the situation.

While watching and listening to Chevy babble on the other day, it occurred to me that not answering questions he isn’t allowed to answer likely isn’t at the top of his to-do list. He had a root-canal vibe going. I’d like to say I felt sorry for him, but I didn’t.

One final thought on this matter: Isn’t it wonderful to have an NHL team to bitch about?

The Looch

Seriously, why is Milan Lucic still in the NHL? The Looch is a cheap imitation of a 1970s Broad Street Bully, and there shouldn’t be any room in the game for slow, plodding thugs whose sole purpose is to beat up people. His assault on Kole Sherwood of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday was a throwback to the disgraceful goon days of Schultz, Saleski and Hound Dog, and I hope the league hurls the book at him.

Chances are you’re unfamiliar with a chap named Pekka Jalonen, so be advised he’s a Finnish sports scribe with some rather harsh, point-blank opinions on Winnipeg HC. For example, after the Jets had dispatched young defender Ville Heinola to their American Hockey League farm, Jalonen sent out this tweet: “It’s good for Heinola to get away from all that mess in Winnipeg and Jets awful defence. All he can learn there is how NOT to play.” The Iltalehta jock journo also found time to take a broadside at Bryan Little without actually naming him. “Patrik Laine is sentenced to a ‘Donut line’ (there is a hole in the middle).” Well, that Donut Boy in the middle scored a winning goal and helped set up another in two of the Jets’ last three Ws. But, I must say, I like Jalonen’s snark.

Okay, after watching the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Flatlanders struggle mightily against inferior foes in the final thrusts of the Canadian Football League regular season on Saturday, who’s prepared to write off the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the chase for the Grey Cup? I’m not. Ya, sure, they’ll have to win twice on foreign soil to get the job done, but there isn’t anything about either team that should keep the Bombers awake at night. My pre-season prediction was a Winnipeg-Hamilton Tabbies Grey Cup game, and I’m sticking with that.

On the subject of reading tea leaves, I have just one word for my CFL forecast last June—D’oh! I couldn’t have been more wrong if I’d told you Donald Trump is a Democrat. I had the large lads finishing in this order: West Division—Winnipeg, B.C., Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatchewan. East Division—Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal. But, hey, how was I to know every starting quarterback in the league would land in the repair shop, and that the Montreal Larks would fire everybody before the opening kickoff?

Simoni Lawrence took out Zach Collaros.

Let’s play the ‘what if’ game. What if the Bombers knock off the Stampeders in the opening salvo of the Grey Cup frolic next Sunday? And what if they go on to beat the Flatlanders to earn a berth in the championship skirmish? And what if they become rulers of all they survey in Rouge Football for the first time in 29 years? And what if Zach Collaros is the winning quarterback and Grey Cup MVP? Who, then, gets the credit? Why, it’s Simoni Lawrence, of course.

Follow the bouncing ball and think about it:

  • Simoni set off an unpredictable chain of events when he had the bad manners to lay Collaros low with a nasty, illegal hit to the noggin on the third play of the season.

  • That thuggery sent Zach to the repair shop, whereupon Corn Dog Cody Fajardo emerged as a legitimate starting QB and the Flatlanders no longer had any use for Collaros.

  • The Flatlanders then conned the Tranna Scullers into taking the head case off their hands, but they really had no use for Collaros either, so they had him stand on the sidelines and count empty seats at BMO Field.

  • Bombers GM Kyle Walters noticed Zach counting all those empty seats and, with his season falling off the rails, placed an 11th-hour, Hail Mary phone call to the Scullers’ freshly minted GM, Pinball Clemons, asking for Collaros. The answer was, “Yes, take our broken quarterback, please.”

  • Shortly thereafter, the Calgary Stampeders beat Chris Streveler like a rented mule, putting him in the repair shop and Collaros behind centre.

All that, simply because Simoni Lawrence is a dirty football player.

Makes for a great Grey Cup storyline, don’t you think? Be even better if Collaros gets there and Simoni and the Hamilton Tabbies are across the line of scrimmage.

Paul Friesen

Sifting through a collection of commentary on the Andrew Harris snub in CFL year-end awards voting, the most interesting came from Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun. “I din’t get a vote for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ most outstanding player nominees, but if I had received a ballot one of the names on it would have been Andrew Harris. In fact, No. 33 would have been on my ballot twice. Harris has been both the Bombers’ top player this season and their top Canadian. Slam-dunk. Nobody in their right mind would argue against that. While I defend their right to express their opinion through their ballots, I say they blew it.” Strong stuff, considering Friesen was calling out his boss, Sun sports editor Ted Wyman. Teddy Football was one of three voters who supposedly “blew it” by snubbing Harris due to his PED-related suspension this season, but I happen to think he made the correct call. So maybe I’m not in my right mind, either.

Bianca’s adios at the WTA finals in China.

Such a shame that our Bianca Andreescu had to bug out of the WTA finals in China because of a wounded left knee. Bianca delivered a dream season, winning three tournaments—Indian Wells, the Rogers Cup, the U.S. Open—and we can only hope some much-deserved down time can fix a body that has too often betrayed her. In the meantime, a coronation as Canada’s athlete of the year awaits.

Red Auerbach

Some truly strange stuff from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna this week. He notes that Scotty Bowman coached nine NHL championship squads and “no one in history is close” to that number. Say what? I’m no Einstein, but I believe eight is as close to nine as damn is to cussing, and that’s how many Stanley Cup rings Toe Blake earned as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens. Meanwhile, Simmons maintains that Bowman accomplished something that “no one has done before in any professional sport.” Except Red Auerbach took home nine National Basketball Association titles with the Boston Celtics, including eight in a row, before Bowman had even stood behind an NHL bench. Mind you, Red and Toe were doing their thing while Steve was still in diapers, so I guess that doesn’t count.

There’s also the matter of Phil Jackson, who coached his ninth NBA championship squad the same year Scotty reached No. 9 in the NHL. Jackson then added two more. Apparently facts are optional for some sports columnists.

I note the most vulgar man in sports, Conor McGregor, stood before a judge in Dublin District Court last week and received a 1,000-euros ($1,120) fine for his unprovoked attack on an elderly chap in an Irish pub. “I assure you nothing of this nature will happen again,” vowed McGregor. Right. He’ll limit his criminal activity to throwing dollies through bus windows in the U.S. instead of punching out pub patrons in Ireland.

And, finally, a tip of the bonnet to Kirk Penton, inducted into the Manitoba Sports Media Roll of Honour on Saturday night. Kirk’s part of a long line of superb CFL beat writers in Winnipeg, and we won’t hold it against him that he left Good Ol’ Hometown for the kinder climes of Kelowna and a gig with The Athletic.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Jets and their Sideshow Bobs…someone told someone something about Big Buff…Buffpubry…a Big Blue hair ball…the life of Reilly…Andrew Harris and the MOP Award…little green men in Area 51…Ponytail Puck…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and it’s out with summer and in with autumn colors…

Coach PoMo and Sideshow Bob

Now playing for the Winnipeg Jets, Sideshow Bob and Bob and Bob and Bob.

Seriously, I was sooooo wrong about the Winnipeg HC training sessions.

I mean, this is what I scribbled last week: “There are a limited number of interesting storylines and, in the case of the Jets, they’ve already been exhausted. Big Buff’s taken leave. Blake Wheeler had his say. Paul Maurice went zen master about his ‘sparrows.’ Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor are in RFA limbo. What’s left to write and talk about?”

D’oh! Double d’oh! Triple d’oh!

But, hey, how was I to know Puck Finn would decide to skip stones across the Atlantic Ocean and one of them would whack Bryan Little in the privates? How was I to know Big Buff’s retreat might have reached the point of no return and the club would put him on the suspended list? How was I to know that Puck Finn and Little would kiss and make up via text/phone, even though there really wasn’t anything to kiss and make up about? How was I to know that Big Buff would search for the meaning of life in a pub?

Who’s the producer of this drama, Jerry Bruckheimer? And who’s writing Coach PoMo’s material? Matt Groening?

It’s become a cross between CSI: Jets and Big Buff Does Moe’s Tavern.

Here’s the deal, though: The Sideshow Bobs have turned this into the most interesting Jets camp. Ever. Tis a shame they have to interrupt all the shenanigans by playing meaningless games on the ice.

Big Buff and his buddies engaging in Buffpubry.

On the matter of Dustin Byfuglien and his navel gazing at the crossroads of life, we’ve had confirmed sightings of the will-he-or-won’t-he rearguard in watering holes/eateries about town, and he’s been hobnobbing and making nice with the rabble. One of the minions who observed Big Buff in his at-ease habitat swears on a stack of empties that No. 33 isn’t ready for last call on his National Hockey League career, and his 260 pounds of girth will return to the Jets blueline as soon as they start playing for keeps. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a more reliable source than someone who heard someone say something to someone in a gin joint.

The folks at Merriam-Webster added 533 words and meanings to their dictionary this month. One of them is “Buffpubry.” It means “to drink beer and schmooze during the deliberate avoidance of NHL training camp.”

What’s that you say? I shouldn’t make light of Big Buff’s play-or-quit quandary? I suppose you’re right. Retirement is a serious bit of business. Plenty to ponder for a 34-year-old man who’s already earned north of $50 million and has an additional $14 million on the table. If I was Buff, I know exactly what I’d do—go to a pub and drink about it.

The Toad In The Hole

You think I’m kidding? That’s exactly what I did when it came time to fish or cut bait in 1999. I found the answer I was looking for while sitting in solitude one afternoon in the Toad In The Hole Pub & Eatery in Osborne Village. Left the rag trade shortly thereafter and, just shy of age 49, moved to Victoria, as poor as Second Hand Rosie with holes in her pocketbook. If anyone noticed my adios, they didn’t give a damn. Big Buff won’t be able to sneak away to count his millions so quietly.

Coach Grunge

So, here’s what disturbed me after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers hacked up a hair ball the size of a mule’s arse on Saturday afternoon in Montreal: Head coach Mike O’Shea suggested his large lads “maybe underestimated” the Alouettes. Excuse me? The boys in blue-and-gold linen believe they’re so high and mighty that they looked at les Larks as pushovers? Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the dumbest of them all?

Coach Grunge was right about one thing, though: The Bombers gagging on a 24-point lead in a shocking 38-37 loss was “sickening.” And I’m not sure a visit by the Hamilton Tabbies on Friday is the cure they’re looking for.

Andrew Harris

Yes, now that you mention it, I detected an extra helping of oomph in Andrew Harris’ giddyup v. les Larks. He certainly seemed to have a serious grouch on.

“Pissed off” is how Coach Grunge described his tainted tailback in advance of the skirmish at Percival Molson Stadium, and I suppose you and I would be wearing our grumpy pants too if squints in lab coats called us cheaters and told us to get lost for a few weeks.

So Harris returned to the fray with a chip the size of a totem pole on his shoulder pads and toted the pointy ball for 188 combined yards in Winnipeg FC’s losing effort, and he did so, presumably, without the benefit of anything that will attract the attention of lab techs tasked with the chore of squinting into a microscope in search of squiggly, little nasties in his pee.

The thing is, we have yet to determine the full and final fallout from L’affaire Harris.

He committed the crime (a trace amount of an illegal somethingorother was discovered in his pee in July) and he’s done the time (a two-game suspension), but the matter of the Canadian Football League’s year-end trinkets and whether Harris is now considered a pigskin pariah is yet to be determined.

This is normally an interesting debate and, as the leading lugger of mail in Rouge Football, Harris certainly has the bona fides to warrant consideration for the Most Outstanding Player bauble. In fact, I’d say he was the leading candidate BBP (before bad pee) and was likely heading to a landslide victory at the polls.

That all changed when the lab rats confirmed the Bombers tailback was (officially) a drug cheat.

A-Roid

Sounds so cruddy, doesn’t it? Drug cheat. Puts Harris in the same sinister sphere as Big Ben, A-Roid, Lance Armstrong and all the other needle jockeys. Difference is, a lot of people like me want to believe Harris when he swears there was something fishy in the supplement he took. It wasn’t poison fruit; someone poisoned the fruit.

Alas, that’s what they all say when caught with their hand in the juice jar, and I can’t imagine all the boys and girls on the beat are buying his denial. Surely a number of them will consider his yardage total ill-gotten. Question is, how many?

News snoops in Good Ol’ Hometown will be the first to pass judgment on Harris and, although we won’t hear from them until late October, I’m guessing some have already discussed/debated the merits and optics of choosing a guy branded a drug cheat as the Bombers MOP and/or most outstanding Canadian.

I don’t think it’s a tough call, though.

Forget that it would be a horrible optic. Awarding the highest individual honor to a player forced to sit down midway through the season due to a drug rap is just wrong.

This isn’t a moral dilemma about the ayes and nays of performance-boosting drugs. I think most people are guided by the same compass in that area, and they’re straightforward against. Thus, it’s a matter of belief. Do news snoops believe Harris’ story about a contaminated supplement? If so, they can vote him MOP with a clear conscience. If not, to vote him MOP is to excuse, if not endorse, performance-enhancing drugs.

It’s my understanding that Harris is a media favorite because he’s accessible, obliging and delivers quality sound bites. But how much does likability come into play in MOP voting? And should favoritism forgive him his sin?

John Bowman and Andrew Harris

Harris tells Ed Tait of bluebombers.com to “look at the facts” in his illegal drug case. “It wasn’t like they found a massive amount. I got tested earlier in the season and there was nothing and then 10 days later there’s a small trace. I’ll be tested for the rest of the season and there’s not going to be anything. It was one game where I had this trace in my system and it was probably my worst game of the year, too.” Harris repeated his “look at the facts” mantra to news snoops in Montreal after Larks D-lineman John Bowman called him a “cheater,” but he seems to be missing the point, which is this: Lab squints found a no-no substance in his pee. That’s the fact. It doesn’t matter if it was a “small trace” or a “massive amount.” Metandieonone was in there. It’s a banned substance. He got caught. Henceforth, suspicion and doubt will dog Harris the remainder of his CFL days, and it won’t be just John Bowman who’s skeptical of his achievements. That, not the two-game suspension, is the real punishment.

Mike Reilly, down again.

How in the name of Jackie Parker and Kenny Ploen has Mike Reilly made it through this CFL crusade in once piece? Angry large lads with malice in mind have beaten the poor man like a rug during spring cleaning, but the B.C. signal-barker is the last of the original starting QBs still standing. He really is the toughest dude in Rouge Football.

That was quite the crowd the Argonauts attracted to BMO Field for their skirmish with the Calgary Stampeders on Friday night: 9,819. Apparently the guy who won the 50/50 draw doesn’t know what to do with his $8.40 windfall.

Just wondering: Why is Mad Mike McIntyre selling subscriptions to the Drab Slab on his Twitter feed? Things must be grim at the broadsheet if they’ve got the scribes peddling papers.

Here’s the kind of stuff I like to see in a newspaper: Justin Emerson of the Las Vegas Sun asked members of the Golden Knights if they believe the U.S. government is hiding E.T. and some of his little green friends at secretive Area 51 in Nevada. Some of the answers are classic.
Head coach Gerard Gallant: “Ya, for sure. I’ve seen a couple in the stands.”
Alex Tuch: “I think we should be more working side-by-side with them instead of keeping them captive.”
Nate Schmidt: “There’s no live ones. Ever see Independence Day? That’s a factual movie.”

According to scientists, there’s been a dramatic decline in the North American bird population in the past 50 years, with a loss of 2.9 billion of our feather friends. If only something could be done to get rid of the Baltimore Orioles.

Talk to the ‘stache.

Some women are playing exhibition shinny in the Republic of Tranna this weekend. Apparently all the major media outlets planned to be there, except Auston Matthews scored a goal on Friday night so they had to interview his mustache.

Actually, Dave Feschuk of Toronto Star scribbled a piece on the women’s Dream Gap Tour a couple of days ago, and he only managed to squeeze three Drake references into his article. I’m quite uncertain what the Tranna Jurassics groupie has to do with women’s shinny, but apparently it’s compulsory for scribes in The ROT to mention Drake in every essay.

And, finally, I don’t think any of us expected Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to be pitching faux woo to one another at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, but the finest of our fancy skaters made their retirement official last week, and that’s sad. What a trip, though. For us.

Let’s talk about If Season in the NHL…PoMo’s seat hot or cold…the great cod kissoff for the Leafs…one final kick for Bob Cameron…oh woe are the Leos…burgers and Greens…Bianca’s pinch-me world…Justify the galloping junkie…Jen Jones still winning after all these years…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and no ifs, and or buts about it, this is an iffy post…

It’s an untruth that there are four seasons. There are five, the fifth being the If Season.

It’s a time of unharnessed blah, blah, blah, of great optimism and of exaggerated worth, when pundits hither and yon and fore and aft squint into the autumn-colored tea leaves and see Neal Pionk not only leaping over tall buildings, but also winning the Norris Trophy as the National Hockey League’s finest defender.

Connor Hellebuyck

Connor Hellebuyck, they’ll inform us, isn’t really as iffy a goalkeeper as last winter, and Eric Comrie has a shot at the backup job if either Hellebuyck or Laurent Brossoit fall down an elevator shaft. Bryan Little will fill that No. 2 centre slot for the Winnipeg Jets just fine, thank you, if he becomes his former 28-year-old self instead of his soon-to-be 32-year-old self. And, hey, what about that large broth of a lad Logan Stanley? He’d be a prize catch, if only he didn’t have two left feet.

If Season has already begun, in case you hadn’t noticed, with Murat Ates of The Athletic delivering a snippet that has more ifs than the Kardashians have K girls.

“If Laine and Connor sign in time for the start of the season and if a young defenceman like Pionk or (Sami) Niku has a breakout season and if Bryan Little or Adam Lowry can provide a second line centre solution and if Hellebuyck returns to the top tier of NHL goaltending, Winnipeg is a formidable team,” he writes.

Yes, and if Jacob Trouba wasn’t sweet on Kelly Tyson he’d be skating beside Josh Morrissey today.

Kyle Connor

The thing you have to remember, kids, is that these people are not experts. They’re paid to fill space and air (much of it hot) during the Jets’ month-long training exercises, but they really don’t know much more than a lot of the lumps sitting on bar stools. Or me, for that matter. I’m just not as loud, drunk and obnoxious as the lumps on bar stools. Well, okay, maybe I’m every ounce as obnoxious. Point being, the basic difference between news snoops and the rabble is this: They get to ask players, coaches, etc. dumb questions and we don’t.

Other than that, your (bad) guess is as good as theirs.

For evidence, consider their exhaustive natterings and jottings on Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, who remain in shinny limbo. It’s mostly been pure conjecture and iffy speculation, because GMs and player agents don’t make a habit of inviting news snoops into their private tete-a-tetes, and they also clear the room of any flies they find on the wall.

So my advice is to take what the scribes scribble and talking heads say during training camp with a grain of salt.

Murat Ates

Just to be clear, I think Murat Ates does a terrific job covering Winnipeg HC (see his excellent piece on the Andrew Copp arbitration as an e.g.), even if he has an annoying habit of letting pie charts, numbers and graphs clutter up his fine way with words. And, to be fair and for the record, he views les Jets as a “wild-card team capable of swinging wildly in either direction instead of a legitimate contender…the Jets are on the playoff bubble.” No ifs there, and I’m inclined to agree with him. A lot of the lumps likely do, too.

Murat’s revealing yarn on Copp’s experience with the NHL arbitration process is an example of what The Athletic brings to the table. It’s something you won’t see in either of the two dailies in Good Ol’ Hometown, because they’re stuck in the 20th century. And, yes, that probably reads like a sales pitch for The Athletic. So sue me.

I empathize with the boys and girls on the hockey beat. I truly do. Training camp can be a total drag. It’s long days of trying to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, because there are a limited number of interesting storylines and, in the case of the Jets, they’ve already been exhausted. Big Buff’s taken leave. Blake Wheeler had his say. Paul Maurice went zen master about his “sparrows.” Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor are in RFA limbo. What’s left to write and talk about? Line combinations, blueline pairings and depth forwards don’t do it for me, nor does head coach Paul Maurice trying to convince us that Logan Stanley doesn’t really have two left feet. That’s not what I’d call must-read material.

Coach Potty Mouth

There’s been some talk about the temperature of the seat Maurice is sitting on, but, again, it’s nothing but iffy yadda, yadda, yadda. As in, if les Jets soil the sheets in the early skirmishing, is Coach Potty Mouth’s job in jeopardy? Don’t even go there, because Maurice ain’t going anywhere. I don’t care if Pauly has one, five or 10 years remaining on his contract, you don’t fire the coach when the two main puppeteers, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, hurl half of his blueline into the dumpster. And we can’t forget that Coach PottyMo has 34 goals sitting in Michigan (Kyle Connor) and another 30 in Switzerland (Patrik Laine). He can’t take the rap for that, either.

Auston Mathews puckering up.

The Tranna Maple Leafs are in St. John’s for their training exercises, and a few of the boys were Screeched In on the weekend, a ritual on the Rock that includes puckering up and planting a kiss on a cod. This is noteworthy because it usually isn’t until the first-round of the Stanley Cup playoffs when the Leafs get the ol’ kiss off.

When the Winnipeg Blue Bombers salute Bob Cameron by adding his name to their Ring of Honour on Sept. 27, it will be only right if Ma Nature is in full bluster. I mean, outside of those weather whackadoos who run around chasing tornadoes, I can’t think of anyone who’s spent more time and did better work in the wind than the Acadia Rifle, so I think a robust breeze is the ticket. I don’t know how many J5Vs and Wilsons he launched into a stiff Winnipeg breeze during his 23 years with the home side, but I do know Bob kept doing it until age 48 and he only quit because numerous renovation projects needed his attention a lot more than the Bombers needed his right leg. And, from a media perspective, he was one of the great go-to guys for a usable sound bite.

If you’re interested in a retro look at punter Bob’s time kicking hither and yon in the Canadian Football League, you’ll want to check out Ed Tait’s yarn at bluebombers.com. Young Eddie’s got all the good stuff, and Cameron’s trip in the wayback machine makes for a fun read.

Terrific joust between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Montreal Larks on Saturday. It was especially thoughtful of the CFL to let them actually play all 60 minutes this time around.

The official head count for the Bytown RedBlacks-B.C. Leos skirmish on Friday night in Vancity was 15,000 and 52 stragglers who wanted to come in from the rain, prompting this tweet from former Canadian Press scribe Jim Morris: “It’s raining outside. So far the crowd inside at BC Place could fit under one umbrella.” Ouch.

Old friend Ed Willes of Postmedia Vancity writes this of the Leos: “Whatever else they are, the Lions have been a vital part of this city’s and this province’s sporting life for 65 years. They deserve more support.” A 2-10 record says otherwise, but I’m on the same page as Willes. I was born four years before the Leos and grew up watching Willie The Wisp, Peanut Butter Joe Kapp, By Bailey, Nub Beamer, Norm Fieldgate, Sonny Homer et al, so it pains me that they’ve become an after-thought on the Left Flank. Commish Randy Ambrosie tells news snoops that there are people willing to take the Leos off bankroll David Braley’s hands, and maybe someone, or a group of someones, can create a buzz and renewed interest in the Leos. But 2-10, 15,000 fans and a $2.9 million quarterback is like trying to sell another week of rain on the Wet Coast.

Elizabeth May

Those Harvey’s commercials during CFL broadcasts make me want to run out and buy a (real meat) cheeseburger with mustard, relish, tomato and pickle, but those ads the Conservative Party has been running don’t make me want to run out and vote for Harper Lite, otherwise known as shifty-eyed mama’s boy Andrew Scheer. Mind you, I’m not keen on Trudeau Lite, either. Could be we’ll see a breakthrough for the Green Party next month. Especially if leader Elizabeth May plops a watermelon on her head. That would guarantee her the Saskatchewan vote, no? (I’m patti dawn swansson, and I approve this message).

We now return to regularly scheduled sports natter, and I must say there are many reasons to like our tennis darling Bianca Andreescu, this being one of them: When asked a question, she doesn’t read from a script. Bianca is so wide-eyed refreshing in her new, pinch-me world that everything gushing from her is totally unrehearsed and genuine. Pity if some PR hack gets hold of her and trains her in robospeak.

Kim Clijsters and daughter Jada.

Kim Clijsters is returning to the women’s tennis tour at age 36, and I say good for her. Kim’s one of only three women to win a Grand Slam tournament as a mother, and she’s done it thrice. That includes a win over neighborhood bully Serena Williams, who had one of her epic temper tantrums and came completely undone in their 2009 U.S. Open semifinal. Kim’s also the only mom to reach world No. 1, so bet against her claiming another major title at your own risk.

The great galloping Justify failed a drug test prior to winning horse racing’s 2018 Triple Crown, which explains all those ‘wired’-to-wire wins.

This was one case where the winning jockey, Mike Smith, really did have to get down off his high horse.

Like everyone in sports caught cheating, Justify the Junkie’s trainer Bob Baffert has gone into denial mode. Swears on a stack of Daily Racing Forms that he never sprinkled performance enhancing oats into the champion thoroughbred’s feedbag. Must have been a contaminated hay bale, says he. So I guess authorities are now looking for a needle in a haystack. Literally.

Jen Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman, Dawn McEwen.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the curling season is upon us and our Jennifer Jones has yet to lose. Jen and gal pals Kaitlyn Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman and Dawn McEwen went 7-0 to win the Shorty Jenkins Classic in Cornwall, Ont., on the weekend, and I’d say that’s serving official notice to all other female Pebble People that there’s no letup in the great skip’s game. I realize some folks are tired of seeing Jen win, but many among the rabble grew weary of Meryl Streep winning Oscars and Golden Globes every year. So deal with it.

So, unless I’m missing something, this is the blueprint for creating one viable women’s professional hockey operation: 1) The Canadian Women’s Hockey League ceases operation; 2) approximately 200 of the world’s elite players boycott the National Women’s Hockey League; 3) members of the Swedish national side refuse to play; 4) the Swedish Ice Hockey Association cancels the Four Nations Cup; 5) a group of players band together and make plans for faux exhibition matches. Ya, that’ll get the rabble rushing to the box office and earn the women a living wage. Not.

This is comical in its absurdity: Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna calls Mitch Marner “the winner by knockout or unanimous decision” in his contract throwdown with Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas. “The deal is done and Marner will be paid $65+ million over the next six years.” Well, okay, young Mitch wins big. Agreed. But then Simmons craps all over Marner’s dad and agent. “For his next act of magic, Dubas will make Paul Marner disappear,” he writes. Then this: “How did a star like Marner end up with a less-than-star player agent like Darren Ferris? Cut rates, I’m told.” So, Marner wins by “knockout or decision” and becomes the NHL’s highest-salary player because he listened to his dad and/or agent, but one needs to be punted and the other isn’t worthy of quality clients. Does that make sense to anyone other than Simmons?

While we’re on the subject of my favorite “D’oh!” boys in the media, Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab wrote this about the NHL’s changing contract landscape on Sept. 11: “Good luck signing a star player for the maximum team-friendly term of eight years.” Apparently Mad Mike didn’t notice that Clayton Keller signed one of those maximum team-friendly eight-year contracts on Sept. 4. And Josh Morrissey did the same on Sept. 12. Sigh.

And, finally, the official soundtrack of today’s post was provided by The Beatles and featured the classic albums Rubber Soul and Revolver, a collection of 28 tunes recorded and released when the lads were really starting to hit their creative stride. Tomorrow Never Knows is an astonishing song for the era.