Let’s talk about Jills writing about jocks…Scotties ratings take a nosedive…covering the Snake in Ottawa, or was it Montreal?…BS and road apples in Alberta…the NFL QB and the UFO…baseball and beer…Ponytail Puck…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and let’s salute the girls and ladies of sports on the eve of International Women’s Day…

I spent 30 years in the rag trade and worked alongside four women—Peggy Stewart and Rita Mingo at the Winnipeg Tribune, Mary Ormsby at the Toronto Sun, and Judy Owen at the Winnipeg Sun.

Oh, wait. There was a fifth.

Judy Owen

We had a summer intern at the Calgary Sun, although her name escapes me. I recall that she failed to surface for her first day of work (something about her car breaking down in Banff on a long weekend—nudge-nudge, wink-wink), and that was our initial clue that she might have made a wrong turn on her career path.

Hey, I get it. Cars break down all the time. Been there, done that and had the hefty repair bills to prove it. Happens to us all. But in Banff? On a long weekend? How positively convenient.

I jokingly informed sports editor John Down that I would have crawled from Banff to Calgary if it meant arriving to my first assignment at the designated hour, but Downsy was as laid back as a Sunday afternoon on the porch, and he let it slide. Alas, that young lady with the pleasant personality one day showed up to cover a golf tournament a bit too uncovered. She was wearing hot pants and stilettos, and she sashayed onto the practice green in her spiked heels, puncturing the immaculately groomed lawn.

Her internship was aborted shortly thereafter.

Not because of her wardrobe malfunction, understand. That would have been an unacceptable double standard, even in the early 1980s.

Rita Mingo

I mean, none of my male colleagues back in the day were GQ cover material, the exception being Shakey Johnson, who knew how to hang a three-piece suit. The rest of the lot were borderline slobs. Some looked like they’d spent the night sleeping with a raccoon family under a bridge. Their idea of evening wear was a white shirt with anything less than three ketchup or mustard stains. But sartorial slobbery was a non-issue.

So, no, the young lady intern’s dismissal wasn’t about one ghastly fashion foible. It was her lack of zest for the job, the absence of an all-in mindset, and iffy subject knowledge. Let’s just say it became readily apparent that writing sports at the Sun wasn’t meant to be her calling.

Anyway, there were four full-time female sports scribes during my tour of duty, and I can’t imagine any of them considered wearing a pair of Daisy Dukes to the golf course, rink, ball park or stadium.

Rita, Judy and Mary all enjoyed lengthy, admirable careers in journalism, but I don’t know what became of the ever-smiling Peggy Stewart, hired by Jack Matheson as the first female to write sports full time at a major daily newspaper in Western Canada.

Today, the landscape in Good Ol’ Hometown is barren, with zero females in the toy departments at either of the daily newspapers.

Ashley Prest

Why is that? I’m uncertain. It could be that the rag trade has become too much of a bad bet. Maybe it’s still too much of a boys club. Perhaps it’s a reluctance to enter man caves and deal with brooding, boorish male athletes and/or coaches

“You know, it may just be a lack of interest in writing sports, rather than doors being closed for them,” Judy Owen suggests in an email. “After all, sports hours—when the world is normal—are kind of crappy and the sometimes-crazy deadline writing isn’t very appealing to a lot of journalists.”

Good point. The hours really do suck and often mean you’re not hopping into the kip until well after the pumpkin hour on game nights.

Whatever the case, the female sports scribe is extinct in Winnipeg, so here’s to those who were once there—Judy, Rita, Ashley Prest, Barb Huck and Melissa Martin.

How are we doing with coverage of women’s sports? Not so good. A 2019 U.S. study tells us that 40 per cent of athletes are female, yet the distaff side of the playground receives just 4 per cent of ink and air time. What about in Good Ol’ Hometown, though? Are the Winnipeg Sun and Drab Slab giving the ladies a fair shake? Well, I monitored both sheets for three months—November, December, January—and the findings aren’t favorable. The evidence:

Women on the sports front
Free Press    16 of 90 editions.
Sun                3 of 89 editions.

Copy on female sports
Free Press    74 articles, 30 briefs.
Sun              20 articles, 7 briefs.

Editions with coverage of female sports
Free Press    63 of 90.
Sun              24 of 89.

Naturally, the numbers were jacked up in February during the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but I suspect coverage will revert to same old, same old moving forward.

The TSN curling squawk squad: Cheryl Bernard, Vic Rauter, Russ Howard, Bryan Mudryk, Cathy Gauthier.

TSN’s ratings for the Scotties final last Sunday took a face plant from a year ago, with an average of 682,000 sets of eyeballs checking out Kerri Einarson-Rachel Homan II, a sequel to the 2020 championship match that attracted 979,000 viewers. I trust no one is surprised, because it’s an industry-wide reality for major events during the COVID pandemic. Here are the facts, ma’am:

Stanley Cup final:     -61%
U.S. Open golf:         -56%
NBA final:                -49%
Kentucky Derby:      -49%
U.S. Open tennis:      -45%
World Series:            -31%
Scotties:                    -30%
Super Bowl:              -15%

I didn’t tune in to every draw of the Scotties, but I can report that I never heard one F-bomb, or any other salty language, from the lady curlers in the draws I watched. Somehow I doubt I’ll be able to say the same of the men at the close of business at this week’s Brier. They can be quite potty-mouthed Pebble People.

Gather ’round the campfire, kids, old friend Peter Young has a curling tale to tell. It’s all about a Snake and the longtime broadcaster faking it, which is to say Pete covered a Brier in Ottawa from the Forum in Montreal. True story. I don’t know if that makes him the Father of Zoom, but he surely was ahead of his time.

If the Columbus Blue Jackets send head coach John Tortorella packing, please don’t tell me there’s a job waiting for him on Sportsnet or TSN.

Jennifer Botterill is fantastic on Sportsnet’s hockey coverage. Just saying.

Muhammad Yaseen of Alberta’s provincial Hee-Haw Party has introduced a bill in the Legislature proposing that rodeo become the official sport of Wild Rose Country. He sees it as a “beacon of hope.” Animal rights activists, meanwhile, see it as a steaming pile of BS. They figure if you’re going to pay homage to a bunch of big, dumb animals that work for no more than eight seconds a day, why not the Calgary Flames?

When you think about it, Yaseen’s pitch makes sense for Alberta, where Wrangler jeans and straw hats are considered formal attire. Each year the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association sanctions approximately 50 events in Wild Rose Country, and there are probably just as many rodeos that fly under the radar. Hmmm. That’s a lot of road apples to clean up. About the biggest mess since Flames GM Brad Treliving took on Milan Lucic’s contract.

Actually, the Looch is having a decent year. He has more goals (six) than National Hockey League luminaries Nathan MacKinnon, Evgeni Malkin, Jack Eichel, Claude Giroux and Taylor Hall, so maybe I should stop picking on him. On second thought, naw.

Terry Bradshaw

Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield claims he observed a UFO while driving home from dinner in Austin, Texas, last week. He described the object as a “very bright ball of light.” UFO experts immediately pooh-poohed the sighting, claiming Mayfield had actually just seen the top of Terry Bradshaw’s head.

Archaeologists continue to make amazing discoveries in the ruins of Pompeii, the ancient Roman city buried by volcanic spewings in 79 AD. The latest finding has them really excited. It’s a ceremonial chariot that features ornate decorations of bronze and tin medallions, although they don’t know what to make of the Tom Brady rookie card stuck in the spokes of one of the wheels.

Speaking of Brady, his National Football League rookie card sold for $1.32 million at auction last week. Remind me once again how money is tight during this pandemic.

On the subject of high finance, some people think Fox Sports is nuts for agreeing to pay annoying squawkbox Skip Bayless $32 million over the next four years. I don’t know about that. When you break it down, it’ll work out to only 50 cents an insult.

Twelve bottles of beer on the wall…

Baseball is peanuts, Crackjack and hot dogs. And beer, of course. But how much booze? Well, the folks at njonlinegambling.com talked to 2,631 Major League Baseball fans to determine which team’s following is the booziest of the bunch, and nowhere do they swill more suds than on the south side of Chicago. White Sox loyalists chug down 4.2 drinks per nine innings, spending $46 on their libations, so you know they’re well-juiced by the seventh-inning stretch. Blue Jays fans, meanwhile, are middle of the pack when it comes to drinking (3 per game, $25), but they top one category: 70 per cent of them get into the grog before the opening pitch. Yup, they feel the need brace themselves for what’s to come.

TSN’s favorite washed-up quarterback, Johnny Manziel, apparently has used up all his Mulligans in football, so he plans to devote the next 12 years of his troubled life to earning his way onto the PGA Tour. As what? Tiger Woods’ chauffeur?

While saluting friend and former teammate Chris Schultz, who died of a heart attack on Friday, did Pinball Clemons really refer to the Toronto Argonauts as Canada’s Team? Sure enough, he did. Someone ought to share that little secret with the citizenry in the Republic of Tranna. That way the Boatmen might attract more than friends and family to BMO Field next time they grab grass, whenever that might be.

Watched the movie Creed a few days ago. I won’t make that mistake again. Total rubbish. Yo! Adrian! Tell Rocky to do us all a favor and find another hobby.

Billie Jean King and the Dream Gappers.

If you’re a fan of Ponytail Puck (guilty, yer honor), there’s good and not-so-good tidings.

First, select members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association have assembled in Chicago to continue the renewal of their Dream Gap Tour and pose for the mandatory photo-ops with Billie Jean King.

It’s the sequel to last weekend’s engagement at historic Madison Square Garden in Gotham.

That the Dream Gappers have returned to the freeze is a favorable development, to be sure, even if they can’t seem to blow their noses without borrowing a Kleenex from BJK.

Not so good, on the other hand, is the setup.

These are glorified scrimmages, featuring many of the top female players on the planet. There is no league. Nothing is at stake, save for bragging rights, some post-match bottles of bubbly, and a share of the $1 million pot Secret Deodorant has donated.

There is no rooting interest, either. Unless, of course, Team adidas throwing down on Team Women’s Sports Foundation gives you the urge to break out the pom-poms.

I think we can agree that identity is vital in sports. We (mostly) pledge allegiance to our local sides/athletes, whether on a community, national or international level. We like to have a dog in the fight because it gives us a sense of ownership and allows us to get sucked up in rivalries (Red Sox-Yankees, Canada-Russia, Ali-Frazier, Chrissie-Martina, Arnie-Jack, Canada-U.S. in women’s hockey, Habs-Leafs, Tiger-Phil, Rafa-Roger, Serena-nobody, etc.).

Alas, there’s nothing compelling about the Dream Gap Tour structure. They play their friendlies, they pat themselves on the back for existing, then they sit back and listen to their pals in the media heap praise on the product but ignore the problem.

Those of us who want Ponytail Puck to work (one viable league) have yet to see or hear a doable business plan from the Dream Gappers. The mission remains as it was at the PWHPA start-up in May 2019: Bury the National Women’s Hockey League and wish, hope and cross fingers that the NHL is prepared to adopt approximately 125 orphans.

Trouble is, unless there’s something developing behind closed doors that we aren’t privy to, that isn’t about to happen anytime soon. The NWHL has shown no inclination to cede the territory it’s staked out in the past six years, and NHL commish Gary Bettman has made it abundantly clear that he harbors no eagerness to further muddy the waters of a divided women’s game.

Which brings us back to the matter of identity sports.

Who are the Dream Gappers? Well, they’re barnstormers. A curiosity piece. A novelty act, if you will, much like the Harlem Globetrotters or Stars On Ice. But that isn’t who they want to be. It isn’t what fans of Ponytail Puck want them to be.

Unfortunately, they’ve trapped themselves in a contradiction of their own creation. That is, they want to play hockey in a professional league, but they refuse to play in the only professional league available to them.

Thus, without an attitude adjustment, they’re destined to be nothing more than a sideshow.

And that’s a shame.

And, finally, can we call for a moratorium on broadcasters using the word “unbelievable” to describe everything from Auston Matthews’ mustache to a five-point game from Connor McDavid? I mean, Darryl Sittler once scored 10 points in a match, so why is five points unbelievable? Nothing in sports is unbelievable if it’s already happened, and when something happens for the first time it has to be believable because it’s happened. So knock it off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Kevin McCarthy

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

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

  • Billy Robinson

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Mikhail Smith

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

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

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

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

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

  • John Ferguson

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

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

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

  • Valeri Kharlamov

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

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

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

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

Happy Hockey Heritage Day.