I know, I know. You’ve probably had it up to your chin whiskers with chatter about Puck Finn, what with those pesky boys at TSN putting him near the top of their trade bait board, and every other pundit with a basement and a keyboard sending him to Philly or Carolina or Buffalo or Montreal or New Jersey or Minnyhaha or the Rocky Mountain foothills.
I swear, Dr. Richard Kimble didn’t move around this much on The Fugitive. The kid has been traded more often than a 1960s bubble gum card.
Except he hasn’t gone anywhere, has he Chevy? You brought him into the National Hockey League as a Winnipeg Jet, and he remains a Jet today.
Question is, will you be giving him a new postal code?
Just so you know, I don’t think pulling the trigger on a trade involving Puck Finn would be the biggest gaffe since the Edsel rolled off the assembly line, even if there’d be considerable hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing among the rabble. Hell, the “you can’t ever, ever, ever trade Laine” mob is already in full squawk, invoking the name of Teemu Selanne.
You remember Teemu, of course, Chevy. The Finnish Flash. Wowed ’em with 76 goals in his first NHL crusade. Record still stands. Probably forever.
I’m guessing you remember John Paddock too, Chevy. Very nice man. A real salt-of-the-earth product by way of Oak River, and they don’t come much more honest and sincere than folks from rural Manitoba. But John’s name will go down in infamy as the man who sent Teemu to Disneyland. Memories are long and easily stirred, Chevy. They don’t want you making the same mistake.
But it isn’t wrong to part with Laine and his 138 goals. It’s only wrong if you don’t do it right.
I shouldn’t have to remind you that the Edmonton Oilers won the Stanley Cup less than two years after sending Wayne Gretzky to Tinseltown. Yes, Chevy, I realize the Oil hasn’t done much of anything since, but their Stanley Cup drought isn’t due to the Gretzky deal. It’s because Slats Sather also parted company with Mark Messier and Jari Kurri and Kevin Lowe and Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr. And that’s not to forget Paul Coffey, who skipped town before Gretzky. Unload that many Hockey Hall of Famers and it’s a long road back.
In your case, Chevy, it’s not like you have a boatload of can’t-miss hall of famers, even if your head coach, Paul Maurice, believes there’ll be a statue of Rink Rat Scheifele outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie some day, right next to a likeness of Ducky Hawerchuk.
Fact is, Chevy, Laine might be the closest thing you have to a hall of famer, which explains the angst among the rabble.
Since he’s still a sprig in hockey terms, we can assume that Puck Finn’s most productive and finest playing days are in front of him. What that means is uncertain. Will it be a steady diet of 35-goal seasons? I’m sure 31 other NHL GMs would settle for that. The fear, though, is that Laine will go all-Ovi and put together a string of 40-plus, or even 50-plus, crusades in another locale. There’s no one else on your roster with that potential, Chevy. Not Scheifele, not Twig Ehlers, not Kyle Connor. And certainly not the captain, Blake Wheeler.
Wheels is one of your mistakes, Chevy. You should have sent him packing instead of signing him to a ridiculous five-year contract extension, and now he’s dug in like a tick in an Alabama dog’s ear. He’s 34 with four more seasons and a no-movement clause in his deal and, because Coach PoMo insists on blessing him with first-line minutes, Laine’s been required to skate alongside a hodge-podge of plug-and-play centre-ice men.
That 2C dilemma might become your undoing as Jets GM, Chevy. You’ve had three years to solve it and the best you’ve done is a couple of rent-a-centres in Paul Stastny and Kevin Hayes. Now it’s strongly suggested that dealing Puck Finn might be your only solution.
It’s a fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into, Chevy.
I realize we’re suppose to wash our hands a lot these days, but I must say it’s discomforting to think you might feel obliged to wash your hands of a 22-year-old right winger with 40/50-goal potential, simply because you and the coach harbor the misguided belief that an aging, sloth-like Wheeler is a better bet at right wing. Now and down the road.
But, again, trading Laine is only the wrong thing to do if it isn’t done right.
We await your next move with anticipation, Chevy. Have a nice day.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored..and I love autumn, especially when there are no leaves for me to rake…
Sam Katz is no longer in politics, but he’s still playing politics.
Oh, yes, the former mayor of Good Ol’ Hometown has grown weary of waiting for city council to give the okie-dokie on a new lease for his Winnipeg Goldeyes’ downtown digs so, while the civil servants at 510 Main St. dither, Sammy thought it would be a swell idea to cast his gaze upon the landscape and find someone willing to play ball with him. By his rules, of course.
Lo and behold, he found an empty ballyard in Ottawa, also politicos anxious to take down the for-rent sign. What a happy coincidence.
Thus, Sammy signed a 10-year lease at Ottawa Baseball Stadium, where he’ll field a starting nine in the Frontier League, and he’ll happily pay $473,000 in arrears plus $125,000 in annual rent, which is exactly $124,999 more than he shells out each year to have his Goldeyes frolic in Winnipeg’s lovely One Buck Ballpark near The Forks.
And that’s the rub.
Buck-a-Year Sammy’s sweetheart deal expires on July 27, 2023, and the Scrooges on Main Street have had the bad manners to request more than $15 from the Goldeyes owner on a new 15-year lease. They expect him to pony up $75,000 in each of the first five years, then $85,000 per in the middle five, and $95,000 per on the back end.
The nerve. Have they forgotten all that Buck-a-Year Sammy has done for Good Ol’ Hometown?
If so, he isn’t shy about reminding them of his magnificence.
“It’s not the fact that what they’re looking for is outrageous,” he told Global News in July. “It’s just hard to swallow the fact that you spend $13 million to build this (ballpark) for the city and they give you absolutely zero credit or acknowledgement for it.”
If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of the world’s smallest violin playing in the background.
But, hey, if it’s only a pat on the back that Sammy’s looking for to get a deal done and soothe his bruised ego, that should be an easy fix. How about an annual Saint Sammy Day parade and picnic at Assiniboine Park? Maybe replace the Golden Boy atop the Legislative building with a statue of Sammy (clothing not optional). Name a street after him, or at the very least a cul-de-sac.
Don’t be fooled, though. Sammy isn’t looking for a pat on the back any more than Donald Trump is looking for another scandal.
He’s a businessman angling for the best possible deal to improve his bottom line, and no one can blame him for that, but his method is as greasy as a pan fry. Sammy’s believable like the back of a garbage truck is an all-you-can-eat buffet. He swears on a stack of Street & Smith’s Baseball Yearbooks that his intention was/is to keep the Goldeyes in Good Ol’ Hometown “forever and ever,” yet earlier this year he made it very clear that he might be inclined to haul ass out of town. He cautions that without a ballpark lease there can be no renewed tie-in with the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball.
“If we don’t have an affiliation agreement, we don’t play—there’s no Goldeyes, there’s no baseball in Winnipeg,” he said.
And he must have that agreement pronto. Like next month. Talk about a squeeze play.
Sammy insists that he doesn’t “threaten, never threaten” people, but that sure sounds like a threat to me and, not surprisingly, he’s already set up the gang on Main Street as the bad guys if he feels obliged to bug out.
“Ultimately, that will be in the hands of Winnipeg city council,” he told Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun.
He repeated that mantra two more times in the natter with Wyman and once to Taylor Allen of the Drab Slab, adding this: “In Winnipeg, we pay property taxes and business taxes. In Ottawa, there’s no property taxes, no business taxes. In Winnipeg, we pay all the utilities. In Ottawa, they pay all the utilities. In Winnipeg, we take care of the field maintenance. In Ottawa, they take care of the field maintenance. And we don’t have to put up $13 million to build a park like we did here in Winnipeg. So, you can compare apples with apples.”
Yup, sure can, and some apples are just plain rotten.
Look, Sammy hasn’t come up with a unique strategy here. Sports entrepreneurs have been putting the squeeze on government since mortar was lathered onto stone to build the Coliseum in Rome.
It just sounds greasier when Sammy says it.
Connor Hellebuyck has been anointed top goaltender in the National Hockey League, but two boys on the beat believe he was stiffed. Murat Ates of The Athletic and Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun are convinced Bucky was worthy of a second laurel—the Hart Memorial Trophy, as most valuable player. They might have a valid argument. I mean, let’s face it, where would the Winnipeg Jets have been without him? Up Schitt’s Creek. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Loved seeing the Canadian cast and creators of Schitt’s Creek win all those Emmy Awards last Sunday. Seven in total. Now if we could only crack that Stanley Cup code.
Enjoyed Emmy host Jimmy Kimmel’s jab at us and our Stanley Cup drought that dates back to 1993. “I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of this Canadian stuff,” the honorary mayor of Dildo, NL, said. “Canadians have won all the Emmys tonight. Canada has, like, 200 people in it. As of tonight, one out of every four living Canadians has an Emmy Award. Schitt’s Creek won seven of them…oh, they fell just short—this is a killer—if they’d won one more Emmy, they would have been able to trade them in for this…a Stanley Cup. But they didn’t, so we’re gonna keep it here for another 27 years.” Good burn. There’s just one thing Jimmy ought to know, though. That Stanley Cup propped up beside him? It’s like a lot of female orgasms—fake.
I keep hearing hockey people say the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy in sports to win. They might want to ask Phil Mickelson about that. He’s 0-for-life at the U.S. Open. How long has Lefty been banging his head against the wall at the Open? Well, Tiger Woods was a scrawny high school freshman when he first teed it up. Papa George Bush was president of the U.S. Lefty has whiffed 29 times in total, and it should be obvious that it’s never going to happen. But he’s in good company. Hall of fame golfers Sam Snead, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros never hoisted the U.S. Open Trophy, either.
Hoops legend Michael Jordan, owner of the always awful Charlotte Hornets of the NBA, has gone into the fast car business as part-owner of a NASCAR team. How fitting. Now he can spin his wheels in two sports.
Speaking of NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports was fined $100,000 recently for spending too much time in a wind tunnel. Curt Menefee can relate. He has to sit beside Terry Bradshaw for five hours every weekend on Fox NFL Sunday.
Here’s yet another example of our upside-down, inside-out 2020: The Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders are 2-0.
What did Chris Streveler say when he heard that Finnish squints had discovered a cure for the hangover? “I’ll drink to that!”
Good guy Dallas Stars head coach Rick Bowness says life inside the NHL’s Edmonton playoff bubble has been a mental challenge, mainly because players and coaches are confined to quarters. “Man, I haven’t walked on grass in over eight weeks,” he mused last week. Hmmm. Just a thought, but maybe Bones should try smoking some grass to chill out between games. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
I don’t know about you, but I find the Tranna Blue Jays a rather intriguing ball club. The Tranna Nine certainly won’t win the World Series this autumn, but I wouldn’t be anxious to bet against them two years from now.
It’s about Tranna Nine newbe catcher Alejandro Kirk: He’s the classic big league talent, beer league body. The guy’s listed at 265 pounds, but someone forgot to give him a pair of legs. They shortchanged him on the arms, too. An alligator has a longer reach. Two hundred and 65 pounds isn’t supposed to work on a 5-feet-8 frame. It’s like trying to stuff Dustin Byfuglien into your kid’s backpack. So what’s he doing on a Major League Baseball roster? Well, apparently he can hit. And they say he’s adequate behind the plate. But what about the body? Ya, the Blue Jays are concerned, because that’s a load of heft to be hauling around on a fire-hydrant frame, but it’s likely the reason so many are root, root, rooting for the kid. He’s one of those against-all-odds stories that gives us the warm and fuzzies.
Between Alejandro and Vlad the Gifted Guerrero, the Blue Jays certainly have given new meaning to the term “a well-rounded team.”
Blake Wheeler thinks everyone in Manitoba should be mandated to wear a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fair opinion. But here’s another opinion that I think is fair: Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice should be mandated to drop Wheeler to the second line if the captain’s on-ice bromance with Rink Rat Scheifele means losing Patrik Laine.
According to NHL insider Darren Dreger, putting Laine on the TSN trade bait board “isn’t just eye candy,” and he informs us that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has been fielding phone calls about the Jets right winger. Well, duh. Any hint that Puck Finn might be available in barter should activate a GM’s spidey sense. It’s all about the return, though. It’s always about the return. So let’s not get our knickers in a knot over a Laine adios until we know who and what is coming the other way to compensate for the loss of his 30-plus goals.
Strange commentary on Chevy from Ken Wiebe of Sportsnet: “During nine-plus years as the GM, Cheveldayoff hasn’t been backed into a corner by a player, even when that individual has asked for a trade—sometimes multiple times.” Say what? That’s total bunk. We know of two players who requested relocation—Evander Kane and Jacob Trouba. Chevy dithered, but eventually caved each time, first because Kane decided to act like an intolerable dink and, second, Trouba was headed for free agency and the Jets would have received squat in return. What part of those scenarios does Ken not understand?
Selected news snoops aretasked with the duty of choosing the winners of various NHL year-end trinkets—Hart, Norris, Lady Byng, Calder, Selke and Masterton trophies—plus the all-star and all-rookie teams. This year, ballots were sent to 174 members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, and that included four of the boys on the beat in Good Ol’ Hometown. Here’s how Ates, Billeck, Mad Mike McIntyre (Drab Slab) and Wiebe voted:
Hart Trophy: Ates, Hellebuyck; Billeck Hellebuyck; Mad Mike, Nathan MacKinnon; Ken Wiebe, MacKinnon.
Norris Trophy: Ates, Roman Josi; Billeck, Josi; Mad Mike, John Carlson; Wiebe, Josi.
Calder Trophy: Ates, Adam Fox; Billeck, Cale Makar; Mad Mike, Cale Makar; Wiebe, Quinn Hughes.
Selke Trophy: Ates, Ryan O’Reilly; Billeck, Phillip Danault; Mad Mike, Patrice Bergeron, Wiebe, Sean Couturier.
Lady Byng Trophy: Ates, Jacob Slavin; Billeck, Nathan MacKinnon; Mad Mike, MacKinnon; Wiebe, Jacob Slavin.
Masterton Trophy: Ates, Oskar Lindblom; Billeck, Bobby Ryan; Mad Mike, Connor McDavid; Wiebe, Ryan.
Had to laugh (rudely) at a Damien Cox tweet after the PHWA had exposed its final ballots for scrutiny last week. “Any possible reason why the HHOF can’t be this transparent?” he asked in an unveiled cheap shot at the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee. Hypocrisy, thy name is Damien Cox. It just so happens that the Toronto Star columnist is executive director of the mystery group that chooses the Lou Marsh Trophy winner as our country’s top jock each year. He does not reveal the names of the voters, he does not reveal the names of all the nominees, he does not reveal the voting totals. That’s as transparent as a jar of peanut butter. Area 51 is less secretive. But, sure, go ahead and call out the HHOF. Talk about pots and kettles.
While lauding our current crop of athletes on the world stage, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna made this statement: “Once upon a time in Canadian sport, there was Ferguson Jenkins and just about no one else on the highest pedestal of sport that wasn’t hockey.” That’s both wrong and ignorant. Fergie pitched from 1965-83. His peak years were 1967-74, when he had seven 20-win seasons, and he was still winning a lot of ball games at the back end of the 1970s (18 in ’78). Meanwhile, there was a steady stream of our “no one else” athletes reaching the “highest pedestal” in their sports at the same time:
Canada won five world curling championships, including two by our guys from the Granite—Dugie, Bryan Wood, Jim Pettapiece and the Arrow, Rod Hunter—and one by the Big O, Orest Meleschuk.
Sandra Post won the LPGA championship.
George Knudson won five PGA Tour events and a World Cup title with Al Balding.
Karen Magnussen won a world figure skating championship and a silver medal at the 1972 Olympic Games.
Nancy Greene was the 1968 Olympic champion in giant slalom and world champion in 1967. She won seven of 16 World Cup races in ’67 and became the first non-European to win the WC. She had 16 WC victories total.
Kathy Kreiner won ski gold at the 1976 Olympics.
George Chuvalo was ranked No. 4 among the world’s heavyweight fist fighters in 1968, No. 7 in 1970.
Elaine Tanner won three swimming medals at the 1968 Olympics.
Roy Gerela was a Pro Bowl kicker in the NFL and a three-time Super Bowl champion.
Bruce Robertson was the world 100-metre butterfly champion and a two-time medalist at 1972 Olympics.
Jim Elder, Jim Day and Tom Gayford won 1968 gold medal in equestrian team jumping.
Gilles Villeneuve claimed his first F1 victory in 1978.
Susan Nattrass won five world trap shooting championships during the 1970s.
Etcetera, etcetera and blah, blah, blah.
Like I said, to suggest it was Fergie Jenkins and “just about no one else” is wrong and ignorant.
And, finally, Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun reports that Winnipeg Blue Bombers bird dogs are wandering hither and yon to unearth talent on their own dime. That’s just wrong, but it speaks to how bleak the times have become in the Canadian Football League.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and I saw the sky yesterday for the first time in more than a week…
Evander Kane wanted out. Gone. Age 23.
Jacob Trouba wanted out. Gone. Age 25.
Patrik Laine…well, we don’t really know what notions swirl about in Puck Finn’s grey matter, but if he wants a new postal code there won’t be anything the Winnipeg Jets can do to prevent him from escaping Good Ol’ Hometown.
For now, the Finnish winger is on lockdown for the 2020-21 National Hockey League crusade, whenever that might begin and end, but then he becomes a restricted free agent with the right to plead his case before an arbitrator should the Jets refuse to drive a Brinks truck up to his doorway. You know, just like Trouba before him, and I doubt Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff are keen on retracing those footsteps.
Which means the pundits need not look for a pot to stir. They’ve got it.
Laine’s shelf life with the Jets has been a matter of conjecture dating back to July 2019, when Elliotte Friedman went on his 31 Thoughts podcast and word-painted the Finnish winger as pouting Patty.
“Laine is a whole big discussion, right?” he said. “He didn’t leave happy last year. Some of that was his own fault. He wasn’t as good as he could be, and I think he chafed under some of the leadership there. Like, the guys at the top of that food chain are hard-driving guys. They expect you to buy into the program, and I think that they felt he didn’t buy in enough, and I think he felt that some of the things they wanted were ridiculous. So you gotta bridge that, too.”
A month later, Chris Johnston of Sportsnet was in Lahti, Finland, for a natter with Puck Finn, who said, “You never know where you’re going to play next year, so I’m just prepared for anything.” Then along came Pekka Jalonen of the Finnish publication Iltalehti, suggesting Laine’s nose was out of joint because he was required to skate alongside the NHL’s equivalent of beer-leaguers.
And now, Friedman has his hand on the stirring stick once again, saying this on 630 CHED in Edmonton last week:
“I think the thing about Winnipeg that’s gonna be interesting is gonna be Laine. There’s something going on there. I don’t know if Laine’s not happy or whatever it is. I think he wants to play with Scheifele, I’m not sure that that’s what Winnipeg is looking at right now. You know, there’s something there. And I think that Winnipeg realizes that it’s not gonna be easy to sign him when the time comes, and they’re gonna have to…they might have to trade him before they want to trade him. It’s possible. It’s certainly out there, it’s possible.
“I don’t think…you know, what they did with Trouba, is they kept on extending him until they had to make the deal, right? I don’t know that that’s going to be their plan for Laine, but I think they realize that the closer this gets to unrestricted free agency, you know, the more likely that they’re gonna have to make a move. If you’re trading that guy, the return has to be enormous. You’re talking about a market that saw them trade Teemu Selanne, so you don’t want to see that again.”
So what is the rabble to make of that? Same as we did a year ago. Not much.
Note how Friedman framed his comments: “I think” and “I don’t know” and “I think” and “I’m not sure” and “I think” and “I don’t think” and “I don’t know” and “I think.”
In other words, “I think” he’s spitballing again, but “I’m not sure.”
The thing is, that’s what news snoops do. They speculate. Sometimes some of what they say and/or write sticks, and I guess that’s how a guy like Friedman comes to be known as an insider and gets to sit and schmooze with the retired players on the Hockey Night in Canada panel.
I’m not saying he’s wrong about Laine, because I doubt the big Finn will be wearing Jets linen for the duration. Few do. If any of the local hockey heroes goes start to finish in Good Ol’ Hometown, my guess is it’ll be Rink Rat Scheifele, but I wouldn’t want to wager more than the price of a pint on it.
It’s usually a matter of when, not if, even for a 22-year-old who’s scored 36, 44, 30 and 28 goals in his four NHL crusades.
I wrote something very similar about Evander Kane for Arctic Ice Hockey in December 2012. Said Kane and Winnipeg weren’t a happy mix, and suggested he’d stomp into Chevy’s office one day and demand to be put on the next stage out of Dodge. We now know that’s exactly what happened every off-season, and they parted company in February 2015. The same thing is apt to happen with Laine if head coach Paul Maurice insists on having him line up alongside third- and fourth-rate centres. There won’t be a tub of ice water involved, but he’ll be gone.
Friedman described the recent Eric Staal-Marcus Johansson trade as “a Zeus-like thunderbolt.” So that’s what passes for a major deal in the NHL these days? A 35-year-old guy who’s already building a retirement home in barter for a 29-year-old 40-point guy? Head for the storm shelter and batten the hatches if the Jets deal Puck Finn or Twig Ehlers.
Bill Johnson has agreed to generally manage the Arizona Coyotes. Hey, I can think of worse jobs. Cleaning up after the circus elephants comes to mind.
Speaking of circus acts, no need to send in the clowns—they’re already here and they’re pitching for the Tranna Blue Jays. The New York Yankees played T-Ball with Jays hurlers last week, scoring 43 runs and swatting 19 dingers in a three-game series. Only the Venus de Milo has worse arms.
If you watched the first two rounds of the U.S. Open, you’ll know that Tiger Woods’ universe didn’t unfold as he would have liked, thus he won’t be around to wear a red shirt today. But expecting Tiger to win the U.S. Open is kind of like handing Michelangelo a box of crayons and telling him to redo the Sistine Chapel. It was painful to watch the great golfer hack his way around Winged Foot. The thing is, I wouldn’t be too hasty in writing him off for the Masters in November. Augusta National won’t be as punitive as Winged Foot, where the rough is thicker than a tub of tar, and the Masters has a history of being kind to golfers in their forties (seven 40-plus champions, including Tiger last year).
It took Michelangelo four years to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or about the same amount of time it takes for a Bryson DeChambeau tee shot to land. I swear, there hasn’t been this much talk about air time since Howard Stern arrived on radio.
I don’t know about you, but I really miss the Pre-Pandemic Era of pro sports. You know, a time when all those mega-millionaire athletes lived in a vacuum instead of a bubble.
On the subject of bubbles, when, oh when, will sports scribes clue in to the reality that the rabble simply isn’t interested in their petty gripes and grievances?
The latest example of jock journo whinging came from Mark Spector of Sportsnet, who delivered this tweet from the NHL bubble in Edmonton: “Biggest challenge for writers by far in Zoom era: Putting together a cogent piece when you get just one question per Zoom. No follow-ups, no working your way to the money question. Just a bunch of quotes that have little to do with each other, and a deadline. Go!”
Oh, the humanity.
Predictably, response from the rabble was swift, harsh and lathered in sarcasm. To wit:
“This sounds difficult, a little too difficult if you ask me. I think it’s best that you retire, it’s just too difficult.”
“Wah wah wah. MSM bitching and moaning again. Health care workers. Teachers, Police. They are facing real challenges.”
I trust that’s cogent enough for Spector.
You know you’re getting long in tooth (if you have any teeth left) when you see someone of your vintage trending on Twitter and you assume she or he has died. Mind you, it can work the other way, too. On Friday morning, for example, I noted that Jimi Hendrix was trending and thought, “What? Jimi’s alive?” Nope. Still toes up.
I don’t know about you, but I could use a Canadian Football League fix right about now. Grew up with Rouge Football. Love Rouge Football. Autumn just isn’t the same without Rouge Football. And now I fear the worst. I mean, if I’m this bummed out about no three-downs football, how am I going to feel if there’s no Scotties Tournament of Hearts or Brier? I’ll be needing me some Chelsea Carey and Kerri Einarson and Jen Jones and Tracy Fleury and Mike McEwen before long.
A landing spot for Chelsea Carey was the main mystery in advance of the 2020-21 curling season. The two-time Scotties Tournament of Hearts champion lost her entire team last spring, and there were whispers that she would be returning to her home in Manitoba, already the bully on the block. Throw Chelsea into the mix with Einarson, Jones and Fleury and you’d have a draw that’s tougher to get out of than the rough at Winged Foot. It’d be the most difficult task on Canadian pebble, although I’m sure some near-sighted scribes in Alberta would be more than happy to argue the point. And that’s okay, just as long as they know they’re wrong.
Nobody covers curling as well or with as much depth as the girls and boys on the beat in Good Ol’ Hometown, so I’m surprised none of them have picked up a phone and asked Chelsea about her plans.
Had to laugh at Josh Donaldson getting ejected from a game last week for kicking dirt on home plate at the completion of his home run trot. Reminded me of Jimmy Piersall, noted for all sorts of oddball antics during his Major League Baseball career, like running the bases backwards after hitting his 100th dinger and wearing a Beatles wig during an at-bat.
No surprise that mainstream sports media (print division) mostly ignored the Yanic Duplessis coming-out story. As I’ve emphasized numerous times, jock journalism in Canadian newspapers is a white, male and heterosexual enterprise, thus they’re unable to deliver lived-experience accounting of social issues like homophobia. The rag trade is marginally more diverse today than when I broke into the business in 1969, and it hasn’t progressed since I left in 1999. If anything, it’s become less diverse, with fewer female sports scribes.
I believe the Winnipeg Sun and Drab Slab have now talked to every current and former member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers about life during a pandemic. They’re free to move on to a fresh topic any time.
Based on the early returns, there can be just one reason why the Drab Slab dispatched Mad Mike McIntyre to the Jason Kenney Mountain Retreat in Edmonton for the short strokes of the Stanley Cup runoff—to say they’re there, as if it’s a feather in their cap. I mean, they’re spending oodles of coin for what? A feature on Derek Laxdal that drones on to the point of inducing extreme drowsiness? A natter with Scott Oake? (Hey, there’s nothing but high respect and admiration for Scotty in this corner, but I can do without his take on the E-Town bubble.) Worst of all, play-by-play game stories? Seriously. Play-by-play gamers? Sigh. There are no words, except to say that style of coverage is older than everything that’s older than old school. How’s Mad Mike filing his copy? Pony Express? Carrier pigeon? Telegraph?
It isn’t enough anymore to tell readers what they’ve already seen on TV/online or read on the Internet. A sports section should be as much a conversation pit as the gab fests on our flatscreens, meaning analysis, opinion, in-depth features (not fluff) and interpretation of the news, not just the listing of scores and delivering dreary, same old-same old game stories with the predictable cookie-cutter quotes. Frankly, I can’t remember the last time I read a game story.
For the record, I’m not telling the bean-counters at the Drab Slab how to spend their money—or, in this case, how to waste their money—but the next time publisher Bob Cox goes hat in hand to the feds, demanding subsidies for his newspaper, remind him that he’s squandered thousands of dollars on Stanley Cup copy that could have been written from Good Ol’ Hometown.
And, finally, put a major sports event in Edmonton and you just know it’ll be done right. Commonwealth Games, World Cup soccer, the Brier, the Grey Cup, Stanley Cup bubble, you name it, E-Towners get ‘er done. But they still don’t curl as well as Winnipeggers.
There are three stages to the coming-out process for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.
Discovering yourself is the interesting part, accepting yourself is the hard part, revealing yourself is the frightening part that goes bump in the night.
Yanic Duplessis has arrived at Stage 3.
Young Yanic came out publicly earlier this month and, no, it didn’t qualify as news with an uppercase N because no one is talking about him as a hockey prodigy. He’s still a kid, just 17, and he’s trying to find his way in life and on the ice, where he might one day suit up with Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and possibly beyond.
That’s a big if.
Les Voltigeurs selected the product of Saint-Antoine, N.B., in the ninth round of the Q’s entry draft in 2019, but he was not among the 34 participants in training exercises that began last month. He also declined an invitation to join Campbellton Tigers of the Maritime Junior Hockey League for their pre-season frolic. He’s chosen to stick close to home and play high school hockey.
That isn’t the preferred path to a professional career.
Still, Yanic’s coming out caused something of a stir because homosexuality is a taboo topic in male hockey. Except, of course, when anti-gay slurs are used as weaponry.
“It should be a non-event, and some day it will be a non-event, but it’s not a non-event now,” Brian Burke said of Duplessis from his Hockey Night in Canada lectern the other night.
Burke is correct.
A teenage hockey player’s sexuality shouldn’t be news, front or back page. But it grabs the attention of the CBC and HNIC because the National Hockey League has never known an openly gay player. Active or retired. Nor have any of its affiliated minor leagues and its main breeding ground, the Canadian Hockey League. There have been more confirmed sightings of Sasquatch than the gay male hockey player. At least one woman, Manon Rheaume, has appeared in an NHL game (preseason), but never an openly gay man. There are female scouts and coaches. But gay guys? They need not apply.
Many wonder why Yanic Duplessis is news. So he’s gay, they say. Why make a fuss out of his sexuality? Nobody cares, right?
Oh, but they do care.
There were three anti-gay incidents in Airdrie, Alta., this summer, including a rainbow crosswalk that was tarred and feathered.
Would-be Conservative party leadership candidate Richard Décarie believes being gay is “a choice,” and marriage should be exclusive to men and women.
Tennessee governor Bill Lee recently signed into law an anti-gay adoption bill. Nine other states have similar laws.
A student at the University of Louisville entered an LGBT studies course and distributed anti-gay pamphlets.
Last month an employee of a Catholic fringe group in Detroit ordered a cake from the lesbian-owned Good Cakes and Bakes and requested that this message be written on the icing: “Homosexual acts are gravely evil.”
LGBT hate crimes in England and Wales went from 5,807 in 2014-15 to 13,530 in 2018-19.
According to a 2017 report, 60 per cent of LGBT students across the U.S. feel unsafe at school due to sexual orientation and 40 per cent feel unsafe due to gender.
Then there was the recent raising of a Pride flag outside city hall in Minot, N.D., the very heartland of the U.S.A. Mayor Shaun Sipma and council invited the citizenry to share their thoughts on the matter. Here are some of their natterings:
“Today it’s LGBQ. What’s next? BLM? Antifa? White supremacy? You opened up a can of worms Mr. Mayor, and I pray that lunacy does not prevail on the streets of our fine city due to a poor decision brought to us by you. I’m not here to judge. Judgement belongs to a higher power than all of us here.”
“We can pull down the 10 Commandments out of our court yards, out of our schools, we can slap God in the face, mock God. His word says he will not be mocked, just so you know, you ain’t getting away with it, and then raise up a flag praising something that God’s word speaks against. Now I’m gonna tell you a warning, I’m gonna warn you, that’s why I’m here…not about physical violence…I’m here to warn you of God’s judgement. God will…not…let…this…go.”
“The American flag represents the hearts of Americans, and the LGBT flag represents the genitals of certain Americans. Now, I’ve always thought the genitals were kind of a sacred thing, in the sense that, for one, what you do with them is your business and not mine. In terms of the numbers game here, there’s probably a larger Star Wars fan base here than there is LGBT community, and where’s the Star Wars flag being raised? Or Vikings fans? Since we’re next door to Minnesota, let’s raise a Vikings flag. As long as we’re on that page, how about a heterosexual flag and a Confederate flag and the list goes on and on. You opened a can of worms, and do you want all those worms?”
“You can’t even look at the small little things that can turn into a bombshell. I already see our guns coming. It’s coming next. Our freedoms are being taken away. I’ve never been so pissed off in my entire life and so disappointed in our mayor, ’cause you’re bringing war to the city of Minot.”
“I’ve got relatives that were ex-homosexuals, I got friends that are homosexuals. I love ’em all, but here’s the choice: We gotta make a choice for life and not for death.”
“I was raised under the 10 Commandments, and that’s also a law, it’s the law of God. I hope you have the nerve to back up our police department when this city starts seeing the kind of garbage that’s been going on around the country, when people start coming in rioting and tearing things down because of the door you’ve opened.”
“That flag is called an abomination to God. We love God and must stand for truth. When the righteous rule, the people rejoice. When the wicked rule, the people mourn.”
“(The Pride flag) identifies Satan.”
“If that letter P (pedophile) is added to LGBTQ a year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now, are you still gonna fly that flag?”
Lunacy. Rioting and looting. Worms. Loss of freedoms. Guns. War. Death. Satan. Pedophilia. All that hostility and holier-than-thou condemnation (and there was much, much more) simply because a flag was raised to recognize support for the gay community. Remind me to cancel that weekend trip to Minot.
Homophobia isn’t going to disappear any time soon, and certainly not during what remains of my lifetime. Gays are still too often considered lesser-thans, and men’s hockey represents the final frontier in mainstream sports, even as it trumpets itself as a game that “is for everyone.”
If hockey truly was “for everyone,” Yanic Duplessis coming out wouldn’t even be a blip on the news radar screen.
I don’t know if there’s a God but, if so, I like to think she or he is looking down on young Yanic with favor. Those things that go bump in the night can be mean and nasty and frightening for any 17-year-old kid who’s come out, let alone a hockey player, and they/he need all the positive reinforcement and acceptance they can get.
I know how toxic a hockey changing room can be, so godspeed to him.
A bonus, Labor Day smorgas-bored…and it’s mostly short snappers because there’s tennis to watch and maybe some golf if Dustin Johnson hasn’t lapped the field…
Stop me if you’ve heard this before from two noted hockey observers:
“There’s a lot to be excited about.”
“This team is going to be a force for awhile in the West. Great young players.”
Sounds like they’re talking about the Winnipeg Jets, circa spring 2018, doesn’t it?
But, no. Brian Burke and John Shannon were directing their hosannas toward the Vancouver Canucks, who recently vacated the National Hockey League bubble in Edmonton after coming up one shot/save short in a Stanley Cup skirmish v. the Dallas Stars.
And, sure enough, there’s reason for the jar-half-full gushing. The Canucks look to be an outfit on a favorable trajectory. You know, just like two years ago when the local hockey heroes went deep, advancing to the Western Conference final before receiving a paddywhacking from the upstart Vegas Golden Knights. The Jets haven’t been the same since, in large part due to the mismanagement of assets and a cap crunch that squeezed general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff into a corner.
Chevy lost half his blueline (Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, Dustin Byfuglien) in one foul swoop, and only the retreat of Big Buff was not of his own authorship. He also couldn’t or wouldn’t keep rent-a-centres Paul Stastny or Kevin Hayes, either of whom would have been more than adequate playing second fiddle to Mark Scheifele.
So that’s the cautionary tale for GM Jim Benning in Lotus Land. It can unravel very rapidly.
Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson and Alex Edler will be looking for new deals whenever the next NHL crusade ends and, as Burke emphasized on Hockey Night in Canada, “they’re gonna need a math professor from Harvard to figure this out.”
Chevy hasn’t been able to figure it out in Good Ol’ Hometown. The hope on the Left Flank has to be that Benning has better bean counters.
I’ve long wondered what it would take to pry Jets 1.0 out of the Arizona desert, and anointing Pierre McGuire GM of the Coyotes just might be the thing to do it. If we’re to believe Chris Johnston of Sportsnet, Yotes ownership has been pitching woo to Pierre as a replacement for defrocked GM John Chayka, and that sounds like a recipe for disaster. Pierre has spent the past 20 years rinkside or in the studio for TSN and NBC, and I can’t see how sucking up to players and mansplaining the game to Kendall Coyne Schofield makes him GM worthy.
So, another year without a Stanley Cup champion for the True North, and did you know that’s “humiliating?” That, at least, is Cathal Kelly’s take on Canada’s drought, which dates back to the spring of 1993. “The hockey of Canadian hockey? That is not working out so well,” he writes in the Globe and Mail. “It’s beginning to seem as though the building of an NHL winner is planting it somewhere in the United States where no one cares. Then you have happy employees and the luxury of a free hand to shuffle them around.” Ya, that’s worked out soooo well for the Winnipeg Jets-cum-Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes.
Speaking of Arizona, I note that Chris Streveler has survived final cuts with the Arizona Cardinals. The former Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback and party boy is listed third on the depth chart, so Lord help them if they win the Super Bowl. There won’t be enough beer in the entire state to handle that celebration.
On the subject of booze, did you hear the one about the big, black bear that strolled into a liquor store in Revelstoke, B.C., last month? True story. Apparently he was looking for some hair of the dog.
Just wondering: What was the first thing Alain Vigneault read or watched after his Philly Flyers were ushered out of the NHL bubble in the Republic of Tranna? Do you think he knows that Black Lives Matter yet?
Did you know that it takes eight to 10 hours to deep clean each hotel room once they’ve been vacated in the Edmonton and ROT bubbles? Hmmm. Wonder how long it will take Randy Ambrosie to clean up the mess he’s made.
The Montreal Canadiens now have $15 million tied up in two goaltenders, Carey Price and Jake Allen. Hmmm. That would pay for half a Canadian Football League shortened-season.
Enjoyed this tweet from Terry Jones of Postmedia E-Town: “If I ever own a race horse I might name him ‘Pink Fred’. That’s what Hugh Campbell called Pink Floyd when he announced a change in the Edmonton EE schedule to accommodate the then very hot act.”
Coolest recent tweet was delivered by Rob Vanstone of Postmedia Flatlands: “How amazing was Dale Hawerchuk? I wrote to him c/o Winnipeg Jets in 1982, requesting an autograph. Yes, I got the autograph—and so much more! He must have been deluged with fan mail, but he still made time to go above and beyond.” What made the tweet so special was the pic that Rob attached. It helps explain why there were so many long faces the day Ducky died.
Rob’s tweet brought to mind my first experience as an autograph seeker. I was a sprig of no more than 10 years, living on Melbourne Avenue in Good Ol’ Hometown. One day I took pic of broadcasting pioneer Foster Hewitt from a hockey magazine and mailed it to his radio station in the Repblic of Tranna, asking for a signature. Two weeks later, a brown envelope arrive in the mail box, and there it was…Foster Hewitt’s autograph. He called me “a real hockey fan.” I don’t know what became of that autographed pic, but Foster’s gesture made me want to get into sports journalism.
Mark Spector of Sportsnet E-Town is confused: “It’s official: the term ‘learning lesson’ has replaced ‘irregardless’ as my pet peeve,” he tweets. “Can someone define a ‘lesson’ from which the recipient did NOT ‘learn?’ Are their ‘non-learning lessons’ out there?” Yo! Mark! As the venerable Zen master Dalai Jocklama tells us, “A lesson taught is not always a lesson learned.” As my mom was wont to say, I hope you’ve learned your lesson.
According to Donald Trump, canned soup is now the weapon of choice for bad guys because bricks are too heavy to throw. I can just hear it next time I’m in my local market: “Clean up on the ammunition aisle! Clean up on the ammunition aisle!”.
They held a Lake Travis Trump Boat Parade off the shore of Auston, Texas, the other day and at least four craft went glub, glub, glub to a watery grave. There’s no truth to the rumor that the Milwaukee Bucks were among the sunken ships, but they have sent out a Mayday signal.
Cathal Kelly likes to write about tennis, but I’m not sure how much tennis he actually watches. I mean, he claims that our guy Felix Auger-Aliassime put “an end to the whole idea of the Big Four in men’s tennis” when he whupped Andy Murray at the U.S. Open last week. Apparently, Kelly hadn’t noticed that there’s only been a Big Three—Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic—for the past three years. Andy Murray last won a Grand Slam tournament in 2016. He hasn’t been a top-10 player since 2017, when he was world No. 3 in October. He hasn’t been in the top 100 for more than two years. He’s beaten just one top-10 player since 2017. He’s part of a Big Four like Miley Cyrus is one of the Beatles. What part of all that does Kelly not understand? Furthermore, he listed Djokovic as the “reigning champion” at Flushing Meadows. That will come as news to Rafa Nadal.
Djokovic’s departure from the U.S. Open on Sunday was sudden and deserved. Tennis players can be a right petulant lot, few more so than the Serb. He’s long been prone to bouts of pique, and it caught up to him when, in another hissy fit, he whacked a ball that struck a female line judge in the throat. Automatic ouster. Even if it wasn’t deliberate. Why it took officials 10 minutes to convince Djokovic that he wouldn’t be allowed to play on is a mystery, but I’m sure he’ll put his tin foil hat back on and figure it out in time for the French Open later this month.
ESPN certainly had the perfect guy in the blurt box to talk about poor on-court manners Sunday—John McEnroe. The one-time brat of tennis called Djovik’s hissy fit “bone-headed,” and Johnny Mac ought to know more about that than most.
Hey, there’s a new kid in town. The Manitoba Junior Hockey League has added a second Winnipeg-based franchise for its 2020-21 crusade, and that’s interesting news for those of us who can remember an MJHL that included four outfits in Good Ol’ Hometown. 50 Below Sports + Entertainment is the money behind the freshly minted outfit, to be dubbed the Freeze according to Mike Sawatzky of the Drab Slab, and I can only hope they aren’t hitting parents with a $12,000 tab to have their kids play Junior shinny.
The appointment of Steve Nash as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets stirred up considerable controversy, given that his experience as a bossman totals zip and, significantly, he’s a White man in the very Black National Basketball Association. “Two words that never, ever, should be attached to Steve Nash: White privilege,” Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna harrumphed in his always-pompous weekly alphabet soup column of odds and ends. “But there they were, the screamers of black and white, somehow insisting that Nash’s surprising hiring as coach of the Brooklyn Nets was yet another example of white privilege in North American professional sports.” What that is, folks, is “another example” of shoddy journalism. Simmons failed to identify the “screamers of black and white,” nor did he tell us what they said or what they’re saying. We’re talking Journalism 101 here, folks: Who, what, when, where and why. Apparently that doesn’t apply to big-shot columnists who refuse to burden themselves with the pesky details.
I have often lamented the lack of lower-level local sports coverage in the two Winnipeg dailies, most notably the Sun, which has been ransacked by Postmedia. To underscore how woeful it has become, I monitored the amount of ink devoted to outfits not named Jets, Blue Bombers, Moose, Goldeyes and Valour FC in August. The results are discouraging, but not surprising:
Drab Slab (31 editions)—32 articles, 6 briefs (Assiniboia Downs, amateur hockey, junior hockey, amateur golf, university volleyball, curling, junior football, junior baseball, tennis, sports books).
Winnipeg Sun (30 editions)—1 article (junior football).
At least sports editor Steve Lyons and his boys on the beat at the Drab Slab are trying, but the Sun surrendered to the whims and dictates of Postmedia suits in the Republic of Tranna long ago. I mean, one local story in an entire month? That isn’t just sad, it’s wrong. Amateur Sports Matters, dammit.
And, finally, I’ll conclude this holiday edition of the RCR with a Matty-ism from my first sports editor Jack Matheson: “You don’t have to be strange to live in B.C., but it helps.” Hey, I resemble that remark.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and it’s another long weekend until the next long weekend…
Okay, let’s get this out of the way right off the hop:
Babe Ruth was sold. Wayne Gretzky was traded. The New York Mets told Nolan Ryan to get lost. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wanted out of the U.S. Midwest and the Milwaukee Bucks obliged. Three husbands dumped Marilyn Monroe.
So don’t talk to me about untouchables with the Winnipeg Jets.
I mean, untouchables? You’re talking untouchables? Tell that to Peter Pocklington.
Peter Puck’s the dude who dispatched Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings, then sat in a flashy convertible during a Stanley Cup parade in downtown Edmonton less than two years later.
It doesn’t always work out that way, of course, and we need look no further than Fenway Park in Boston for evidence. The Red Sox peddled the Bambino to the dreaded Evil Empire in New York for the kingly sum of $100,000, the first of four $25,000 payments made on Dec. 19, 1919.
“I do not wish to detract one iota from Ruth’s ability as a ballplayer nor from his value as an attraction, but there is no getting away from the fact that despite his 29 home runs, the Red Sox finished sixth in the race last season,” Bosox bankroll Harry Frazee harrumphed. “What the Boston fans want, I take it, and what I want because they want it, is a winning team, rather than a one-man team which finishes in sixth place.”
Well, the Red Sox didn’t celebrate another World Series championship until 2004. Ruth and the Yankees, meanwhile, sprayed each other with bubbly after seven American League pennants and four WS victories by the time the Sultan of Swat bid adieu to the Bronx and Yankee Stadium in 1934.
So, ya, parting ways with a young blue-chipper can blow up in your face like a Wile E. Coyote scheme gone wrong, but the value is in the return. Always.
Frazee accepted paper money in barter for Babe Ruth. Poor return. Pocklington, on the other hand, insisted on live bodies (Jimmy Carson and Martin Gelinas) in exchange for Gretzky, plus first-round picks in 1989, ’91, ’93, plus $15 million of Bruce McNall’s bankroll. The Oilers won a title sans No. 99, the Kings had a sniff in 1993 but never won with him.
Which brings us back to the Jets and untouchables.
Let’s suppose, for the sake of discussion, that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff answers the phone one day and it’s Joe Sakic on the line. The Colorado Avalanche GM is offering Cale Makar. He wants Patrick Laine in return. Is Chevy supposed to say “Sorry Joe, but Patty’s an untouchable,” and hang up? Maybe Jim Benning will call and offer up Quinn Hughes, asking for Nikolaj Ehlers in barter. You don’t really believe Chevy would decline because “Nik is an untouchable” do you?
Sorry, kids, but there hasn’t been an Untouchable since Eliot Ness and accomplices went after Al Capone’s booze dens in Chicago.
Certainly there are players you’d like to keep in Jets linen, but if the right offer falls onto Chevy’s lap, damn straight he has to pull the trigger. (Assuming, of course, that the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, gives it the official okie-dokie from on high.)
This, remember, is an outfit that failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. A side that hasn’t won a post-season skirmish since skating to the National Hockey League’s final four more than two years ago. So it doesn’t matter if we’re talking Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Puck Finn, Josh Morrissey or Kyle Connor.
If the right deal comes along, you do it.
What about goalkeeper Connor Hellebuyck, you ask? Same thing. In case you haven’t noticed, with the exception of Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning, teams still alive in the current Stanley Cup runoff are doing it without Vezina Trophy-winning puck stoppers. The Colorado Avalanche were one Michael Hutchinson save away from advancing to the final four. Ditto the Vancouver Canucks and Thatcher Demko. The New York Islanders won Game 7 vs. the Philly Flyers with backup Thomas Greiss in the blue paint. And don’t get me started on Anton Khudobin. So repeat after me: There should be no untouchables with the Winnipeg Jets.
In this, the strangest of years, the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby, became the second leg, and the second leg, the Preakness Stakes, will be the third leg, and the third leg, the Belmont Stakes, became the first leg. I swear, there hasn’t been this much confusion about legs since Joe Namath did that pantyhose commercial in the 1970s.
No horse had better legs than Authentic on Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The Kentucky-bred bay colt showed 14 other ponies his heels in the Run for the Roses, which means his four legs now have one leg. And if that sounds like some kind of a Zen koan, blame it on the Dalai Jocklama.
Normally, of course, the Kentucky Derby goes to the post the first Saturday in May, and the pews at Churchill Downs are full of fashionable ladies trying not to spill their mint juleps while bumping into one another with their big hats. Not so on the first Saturday in September 2020. The grandstand was basically barren before and after Authentic stuck his nose under the wire, and it just didn’t feel right without the Derby day buzz. Then again, is there anything about 2-aught-20 that feels right?
Come to think of it, were I a horse breeder, I’d have named my first foal this year Bizarro World. You know, as a salute to a time in history when up is down, over is under, right is left, and Terry Bradshaw gets his own reality TV show.
For real. Bradshaw has a show on the telly to call his own. The concept for The Bradshaw Bunch on E! Channel seems simple enough: The former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback surrounds himself with a bevy of beauties (his wife and three daughters), and cameras follow them about the ranch in Oklahoma while they discuss such urgent family matters as one of the girls getting a boob job. In other words, it’s the Kardashians do Hee Haw.
Hey, it’s the Labor Day weekend. The Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers should be grabbing grass and growling this very afternoon in the annual Labor Day Weekend Classic on the Flattest of Lands. Not happening, though, because Canadian Football League coffers are as empty as a politician’s promise and its line of credit is worse than the COVID curve stateside. But that doesn’t mean the true tradition need end—taking cheap shots at Flatlanders and their football team. Which brings to mind a Matty-ism from a Jack Matheson column in the Winnipeg Tribune after a trade sent Tom Clements from the Ottawa Rough Riders to Saskatchewan in 1979: “Mrs. Tom Clements is said to have been the push behind her QB husband’s recent move because she felt ‘Ottawa’s a hick town,’ so you have to wonder how Regina will grab her.”
Premier Scott Moe has declared this Saskatchewan Roughriders Day on the Flattest of Lands, and he’s encouraged the rabble to adorn themselves in green-and-white garb. To which every citizen in the province said: “Huh? Ya means to tell us they makes tank tops and ball caps in other colors?” Seriously, a melonhead needs urging to wear green and white like a priest needs a reminder to say prayers on Sunday.
I haven’t watched a great portion of the NHL’s made-for-TV frolic in the Edmonton and Republic of Tranna bubbles, but my sampling has been sufficient enough to know that Sportsnet’s Chris Cuthbert calls a terrific game. He’s going to be missed in the TSN blurt box once the CFL is back in business, whenever that is.
I agree, the hiring of Steve Nash as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets is a peculiar bit of business. I mean, he’s a scrawny white guy in a league full of large Black men, he’s Canadian in a league of mostly Americans, and he has zero experience. We haven’t seen anyone that miscast since a movie mogul put Kevin Costner in a pair of tights and told him he was Robin Hood.
Speaking of media, cheering in the press box is supposed to be taboo, but news snoops in the Republic of Tranna must have missed the memo. Just watch the sports highlights shows on TSN and Sportsnet and you’ll hear them openly swooning and unabashedly root, root, rooting for the Toronto Jurassics in the National Basketball Association playoffs, and the same must be said of the boys on the beat at the daily newspapers. They don’t give the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Tranna FC or Argonauts a similar amount of sugar, which leaves me to wonder what it is about the Jurassics that has won over such a normally hard-scrabble lot.
Got a kick out of Gregg Drinnan’s piece on his time at the Winnipeg Tribune, a tour of duty that included a case of mistaken identity. No spoilers here, though. I’ll let Gregg tell the story. I’ll just say it involved the Greaser (that’s Gregg), Knuckles Irving, Cactus Jack, Kenny Ploen, Blue Bombers GM Earl Lunsford and a fancy, shmancy hotel suite in Calgary (don’t worry, it’s not X-rated). Gregg also confirms that some of the Trib tales I told last week might actually contain a morsel of truth.
One of the things I didn’t mention in my remembrances of the Trib folding 40 years ago was Strat-O-Matic Baseball, a board game based on the actual stats of Major League players. We’d play it during our down time, waiting for late copy or phone calls to come in, and the death of Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver last week reminded me of the year we held a Strat-O-Matic player draft. Seaver was among my starting hurlers, and one night he spun a no-hitter against the Ian (Caveman) Dutton Nine. A few years later while with the Calgary Sun, I had occasion to interview Tom Terrific and, as an ice-breaker, I mentioned the no-no he had hurled v. the Dutton Nine. He looked at me like I was speaking Casey Stengelese, but chuckled. “Don’t laugh,” I told him, “that board game no-hitter will probably be the deciding factor that gets you to Cooperstown some day. The Hall of Fame voters won’t be able to ignore it.” Sure enough, the great New York Mets righthander was elected in 1992, and you can only imagine my disappointment when he failed to mention that Strat-O-Matic perfect game in his acceptance speech.
I’m not sure if Ed Willes left the building by choice or if he’s the latest victim of Postmedia buffoonery, but he’s done after 38 years in the rag trade, the last 22 at the Vancouver Province. Some of you might remember Ed’s time with the Winnipeg Sun, where he detailed the daily goings-on of the Jets and wrote a column during the 1990s. It was always high-end stuff. The guy can flat-out scribble. Ed turns 65 in November, so perhaps this was the end game all along, but I’m always suspicious whenever quality writers walk away from Postmedia, which has destroyed newspaper competition everywhere west of Winnipeg. If it was his call, good on him. He’s earned his warm corner. If he was nudged by the suits in the Republic of Tranna, shame on Postmedia.
The Willes adios brings to mind a quote from Trent Frayne, the finest jock essayist in my lifetime: “It is an axiom of sports that the legs go first. For sportswriters, it’s the enthusiasm.”
Once upon a time, I officiated kids sports, so I speak from lived experience when I tell you it can be a thankless, often intimidating experience. Some coaches, parents and officials are at odds with acceptable behavior in mixed company, which is putting it politely. So what in the name of Pele was the Manitoba Soccer Association thinking when it instructed its game referees to play the role of rat fink and virtually red card fans who fail to observe physical distancing protocol at kids’ matches? Expecting whistle blowers to be, well, whistle blowers isn’t just unfair, it’s stupid.
Last week we mentioned that Jennifer Lopez and her main squeeze, Alex Rodriguez, had failed in their bid to buy the New York Mets. If successful, JLo would have joined a short list of female owners in Major League Baseball. The first was Helene Britton, who inherited the St. Louis Cardinals from her uncle, Stanley Robison, in 1911, when women still hadn’t won the right to vote in the U.S. This is how the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described the Redbirds’ new lady owner: “She is small and round and trim, with decided chic. Her mourning costume (for her uncle) failed to subdue certain lively touches that indicate a love of life and gayety…her attitude is ever alert.” Other National League owners, all men, tried to bully the small, round and trim Helene into selling the Cardinals “for the good of the game,” but she held out until 1917, finally accepting $350,000 for the club and ballpark. Among other things while bankrolling the Redbirds, she introduced Ladies Day providing free attendance to women. But only if accompanied by a male escort.
And, finally, today marks the 20th anniversary of Major League Baseball’s first Pride-themed night. It took place at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, mainly because a lesbian couple had been escorted out of the ballpark a week earlier by eight heavy-handed security guards. The crime? The women shared a smooch in the bleachers. Who could imagine back then that two lesbians, Billie Jean King and partner Ilana Kloss, would be part-owners of the Dodgers today?
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and I’m not protesting against anything today, but you might protest my still being here…
Social issues like racism, domestic violence, homophobia, sexism and misogyny tend not to have lengthy shelf lives around the ol’ sports hot stove, at least not with mainstream media.
They’ll use it as a chew toy for a few days—sometimes as long as a week—then abruptly turn their attention back to the scoreboard and more pressing matters, such as the Tranna Jurassics’ bid to repeat as rulers of the hardwood or Tiger Woods’ duck hook.
There’s a reason for the short attention span: They can’t relate.
I mean, the toy departments of Canadian newspapers are diverse like a Chihuahua is an elephant. It is an enterprise consisting of 99 per cent men, all of them white. They’ve never felt the sting of the barbs. Thus, it is head-shakingly laughable and absurd that numerous jock journos, print division, have been lecturing and preaching about proper protest protocol re racial injustice.
Worse, they’ve been scolding the National Hockey League and its players for a stutter-step before Planet Puckhead joined a professional athletes’ “racism is bigger than sports” call-to-action last week.
Ed Willes, Postmedia Vancouver: “On Thursday, the NHL bowed to pressure from the players and cancelled the two playoff games set for that night. Predictably, it was followed by a self-serving statement in which the league—along with the NHLPA in a joint statement—pledged unwavering support to the fight against racism. But it also came a day late and a dollar short. It was also perfectly in keeping with the league that it sat on the sidelines for 24 hours and let the players take the responsibility when it should have been leading the way.”
Mad Mike McIntyre, Drab Slab: “One thing we were reminded of today: The NHL and the vast majority of its players will care about a cause when it’s convenient to them, their schedule and their bottom line. Otherwise, all bets are off and the games go on. Actions really do speak louder than words.” He later called the NHL players’ retreat from the rink “an overdue step.”
Bruce Arthur,Toronto Star: “Instead of Black Lives Matter, they said We Skate For Black Lives. They said they were fighting against racial injustice and for health care workers, like it was a buffet menu. The NHL is a small white town on the US-Canada border and the same people have been in charge forever.”
Damien Cox,Toronto Star: “Apparently response from most NHL players will be ‘we didn’t know.’ What they don’t know is how clueless that makes them sound.” And: “Hockey players are really demonstrating themselves to be clueless.” And “By playing on, NHL is basically saying racial unrest is someone else’s problem. Undermines all the words said earlier this summer.”
Terry Jones, Postmedia Edmonton: “Hockey missed its moment to make a major statement and act in solidarity with the basketball players the night before. The way it worked out, however, was better late than never. The puck players got it right in the end and doubled down for effect. The NHL players thus managed to pull themselves up by the skate laces and emerge by making a significant statement after all.”
Steve Simmons, Postmedia Toronto (in a string of tweets): “Shouldn’t somebody on the Boston Bruins, who share a building with the Celtics, have taken a knee? Anybody? The NHL players tonight didn’t even take a knee. Sad. If you want to be disappointed, be disappointed in how NHL players responded last night.” Later he wrote: “The fact that NHL players chose to play on Wednesday night without any kind of sign of political awareness or togetherness—not a symbol, not a knee taken, not an arm locked—is a condemnation of them, not the league. This didn’t reflect on the league. It reflects on the players.”
Whoooo, boy. That’s a tall can of righteous ranting. Basically, what we have here is a bunch of white men from a very white business telling white men from another very white business what to do about something they’ve never experienced.
What next? They tell Paul McCartney how to write songs? Show Eric Clapton how to play the guitar? Explain method acting to Tom Hanks?
Look, racism ought to be an everybody issue, but it seems to me that the sports scribes should be asking questions, listening and learning, not telling people what to do and how to do it. Nor should they be tsk-tsking anyone, not when their own operation is naked in its whiteness.
Really what does it matter that NHL players were a day late and a dollar short in moving into lockstep with athletes from the National Basketball Association, the Women’s NBA, Major League Soccer, Major League Baseball and tennis players, who walked off the job earlier last week? As venerable Zen master Dalai Jocklama has been heard to say, “One is never late to the party if one brings good wine.”
Since I was knee high to Howdy Doody, athletes have been using their voices to pitch products from Gillette razor blades to ravioli in TV commercials, but now they’re using them to hopefully change minds, change habits and change built-in biases. More significant, like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. before them, they’re speaking with their feet. That’s boffo stuff, but it’s also a risky bit of business. What happens the next time a cop kills a Black woman or man? Do they walk away again? If so, do the fans they still have give a damn if they ever return?
Not sure what message Nazem Kadri was trying to send when he wore a Cassius Clay hoodie for a show of solidarity re racism by NHL players last week. Muhammad Ali considered Cassius Clay his “slave name,” so I don’t get it. I’ve been waiting for Kadri to enlighten us, but so far no explanation.
Lived experience is, of course, the best of teachers and, yes, I have felt the sting of the barbs. Too many times and to the point of suicide ideation. I have been denied work, denied service, bullied, ridiculed, taunted, stalked and groped. I’ve been made to feel a lesser-than based on gender, and I’ve received physical threats. I once was told that I shouldn’t be allowed to sit at the bar in the very nightclub I cleaned for a living. “This is where the boys sit,” a longtime regular advised me, his voice dripping with contempt. “You should respect that and sit somewhere else.” All that in the past 12 years. Which is the reason I’ve written more than 100 essays on sports/social issues since I began blogging. Awareness leads to conversation and conversation hopefully leads to understanding and change.
Devin Heroux, a terrific CBC Sports reporter who happens to be gay, tells us he hears homophobic slurs “with alarming frequency during media scrums and in the press boxes and at sporting venues today.” That’s very disturbing. I mean, experience has taught me that the language on press row can get rather raunchy and salty, but homophobic? Call me naive, but I thought that would be strictly taboo in the year 2020.
Devin’s essay recounting his experiences listening to anti-gay slurs as a closeted gay kid playing sports (“I quit hockey because of it.”) is excellent. It’s the kind of stuff you’ll rarely find in a mainstream newspaper sports section because, again, the jock journos can’t relate. Thus they ignore issues like homophobia, sexism, misogyny and domestic violence until it becomes an inconvenience they can’t avoid.
Hey, for the bargain-basement price of $349, you can have your name engraved on the new base of the Canadian Football League’s biggest bauble, the Grey Cup. Which is sort of like having your name engraved on the hubcap of a 1958 Edsel. I mean, neither the CFL or the Edsel are up and running.
If CFL Commish Randy Ambrosie and the three downs overlords insist on panhandling shamelessly, why not go all in? Hold a nationwide telethon. If folks across the land care about our quirky game—and they surely do on the Prairies—they’ll pony up. If not, I guess it’s garage sales, weekend car washes, bake sales and lemonade stands.
Telethons have worked for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who were near extinction more than once. Rob Vanstone of Postmedia Flatlands has an interesting piece on the club’s history of financial challenges, which included a bank account that once showed a balance of exactly 30 cents. It’s worth a read.
So, a Mike Trout rookie bubble gum card has sold at auction for $3.936 million. Scant seconds later, millions of parents across North America grounded their kids indefinitely for putting baseball cards in the spokes of their bike wheels.
Just wondering: Do they still include that rock-hard, sugary bubble gum in a pack of baseball cards? I’m guessing dentists everywhere hope so.
Well, Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriquez are no longer in the bidding to buy the New York Mets, and that’s really too bad. It would be nice to have another female owner in baseball not named Marge Schott.
Last week I suggested some local news snoops went double-ply Charmin soft on the Winnipeg Jets after their failure to qualify for the NHL Stanley Cup tournament. Basically, they gave the local lads a high-five because they tried really, really hard. Ugh. Therefore, it was with much interest that I read Stu Cowan’s take on the Montreal Canadiens, who, unlike the Jets, actually won a qualifier series and took the Philly Flyers to six games before bowing out. “This year, the Canadiens were a bad team that didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs,” he wrote in the Montreal Gazette. “There aren’t many NHL cities that will celebrate a first-round playoff exit, and Montreal definitely shouldn’t be one of them.” I trust the softies on the beat in Good Ol’ Hometown are paying attention.
And, finally, what’s the over-under on the number of positive COVID-19tests it will take before the U.S. Open tennis tournament is double faulted? And, if they manage to finish what they start this week at Flushing Meadows, will it be a walkover for Serena Williams in the women’s draw, since six of the world’s top eight players have chosen to give the Grand Slam event a pass?
A return of the Sunday morning smorgas-bored after a pause that was supposed to last a month…and you’ll have to forgive me if I play a bit of catch-up…
Whenever I see the name Mike Milbury trending on Twitter, it tells me that he’s said something stupid and has undergone an emergency footectomy, whereby one of his large feet has been surgically removed from his even larger yap. Yet again.
It also prompts me to check my calendar to confirm that this is 2020, not 1960.
Whenever I hear someone like Thom Brennaman spew an anti-gay slur on-air and then, in delivering a mea culpa, he assures us that “this is not who I am, it never has been,” I sigh, then wait for my eyeballs to roll back into their sockets.
And, again, I glance at the calendar to confirm that we are post-Stonewall, not stuck in the ’60s.
Sadly, it was a messy week in the sports blurt box, and it’s frustrating and wearisome in the extreme that we’re still listening to the “did he really say that?” natterings of dinosaurish men unable to drag their hairy knuckles into the 21st century.
One of them, Milbury, is a product of the 1950s. The other, Brennaman, is circa ’60s.
Milbury is a former National Hockey League player of plodding mediocrity, his career noteworthy only because he one night clambered into the seating area of Madison Square Garden and whacked a paying patron on the head with a shoe. In terms of shinny theory, he’s a direct descendant of rock ’em, sock ’em Don Cherry, a lineage that failed him miserably as an NHL general manager and has racked up similarly unfavorable results in the NBC Sports broadcast booth.
Milbury, is a serial sexist, with strong leanings toward homophobia.
He laments the “pansification” of hockey. He once observed the play of NHL scoring champions Henrik and Daniel Sedin and called the supremely talented twins “Thelma and Louise.” Years after Slava Voynov was sent to jail and deported to Russia for thumping the crap out of his bride, Milbury described the wife-
beating as an “unfortunate incident.” He called fellow talking head Pierre McGuire a “soccer mom.” More recently, he drew a parallel between empty NHL rinks and women’s college hockey, even though numerous American female college teams attract robust audiences. And, of course, there’s his latest bit of sexist misspeak during a New York Islanders-Washington Capitals skirmish the other night. Discussing the impenetrable playoff bubble the NHL has established in the Republic of Tranna, he noted, “Not even any women here to disrupt your concentration.”
Apparently, it has escaped Milbury’s notice that each year, scant seconds after the Stanley Cup has been awarded, the smiling, giddy victors are joined on the freeze and at rinkside by smiling, giddy wives and girlfriends.
Imagine that. Winning a championship with all those pesky women on site to “disrupt” their concentration. How is that even possible?
But, hey, maybe this explains why Milbury was such a colossal flop as GM of the Islanders: The poor sap went home to a woman every night. She was such a disruption to his concentration that he traded away Zdeno Chara and Roberto Luongo.
Brennaman, meanwhile, was raised by baseball broadcasting royalty, his dad Marty the voice of the Cincinnati Reds for nearly half a century. He insists he isn’t homophobic (he’s a “man of faith,” don’t you know), except the evidence supports the notion that he’s very much anti-gay. He was heard, on-air, calling an unidentified locale “one of the fag capitals of the world” during a bit of banter with co-workers, and his emphasis on the word “fag” carried an unmistakable tone of contempt.
“That is not who I am. It never has been,” Brennaman said while apologizing “for the people who sign my paycheque, for the Reds, for Fox Sports Ohio, for the people I work with.”
Notably, he did not apologize to the very people he thinks he might have offended—the LGBT(etc.) collective.
It was an “I’ve gotta save my ass,” clichéd mea culpa. At no point did he mention the word gay. Or homosexual. Or the LGBT(etc.) community. Worse, he followed the next day with Part 2 of his exercise in ass-saving: “I had no idea it was so rooted in hate and violence,” he said of his slur.
Oh, shut the hell up, man. Nobody’s that thick.
Brennaman believed his mic was dead when he uttered the offensive word, which suggests he’s quite comfortable using anti-gay language in his work space, and only the most naive among us would conclude that this was a one-off.
Look, there’s no crime in growing old. It happens to most of us. But there is something terribly wrong with networks hiring wrinkled men who can’t adjust to the motion of life. Some of what was acceptable in the 20th century doesn’t cut it anymore. That’s not hard to figure out.
Those who can’t—or refuse—are the true disruption. And a great many of us are tired of it.
Turns out the boys in the NBC Sports blurt box will have to get along without Milbury’s mangled mutterings for the remainder of the Stanley Cup runoff, because he’s retreated from the Republic of Tranna bubble. No word on how he plans to spend his downtime, but perhaps he’ll go on a search for the real Seattle Space Needle.
Honest, I hadn’t planned on returning to the keyboard until the Labor Day weekend. You know, the same time the Canadian Football League was supposed to kick off its Coles Notes version of a 2020 crusade. But here I am. Back early, even if Rouge Football isn’t and won’t be.
The cancellation of the CFL season brought to mind an incident a few years ago while I was walking to my home on the hem of downtown Victoria.
I passed a pair of panhandlers and tossed two toonies into their begging cap.
One of the men politely thanked me. The other made a crude comment about my skirt. I reached down, withdrew both toonies from the cap and handed one to the fellow who had expressed his gratitude for the offered alms. The guy with the potty mouth squawked mightily, but there would be no toonie for him.
Moral of the story: Panhandlers cannot afford to be dumb.
And so it was with CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie and his three-downs overlords, who thought it would be a swell idea to put the squeeze on Trudeau the Younger for a COVID-19 handout. We’re told the ask was $150 million in early May. Then $30 million. Then $42.5 million. Then $30 million again, interest free.
Considering Trudeau the Younger and his pals on Parliament Hill have earmarked many billions of dollars for at-risk businesses and salary-strapped working stiffs since spring, the CFL beg was chump change.
Alas, the buck stopped with Rouge Football. No funds for you!
Thus the three-downs overlords—some of them (hello, Wade Miller) absolutely aghast that the feds had no appetite for propping up an enterprise that took a $20 million bath in red ink a year ago—put the kibosh on the 2020 crusade. No hub in Good Ol’ Hometown, no six-game season, and no swilling of bubbly from the Grey Cup for the first time since Prohibition. (The very thought must send shivers up and down Chris Streveler’s spine.)
Many accusing fingers, not surprisingly, have been pointed in the direction of Commish Randy, for proper reason.
Aside from apparently finding his business plan at the bottom of a box of Flutie Flakes, he had the bad manners to do his Parliamentary panhandling sans the input and allyship of the very people who, in non-COVID times, attract customers to all those fancy-shmancy, government-subsidized facilities that dot the landscape—the players.
That was dumb, and we’ve already established that panhandlers cannot afford to be dumb.
Worth noting: Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez just forked out $40 million for new digs. Maybe Commish Randy should have hit up JLo and ARod instead of Trudeau the Younger for the $30 million.
Hey, we aren’t here to flog Commish Randy this morning. We’ll leave it to the three-downs overlords to determine if his work warrants a few whacks of the lash, or if they’d be wise to look for someone else to do their bidding as they proceed toward a 2021 season that surely must include patrons in the pews. Whichever route they take, the best starting point in the reworking of the CFL would be for the overlords to cozy up to the players association.
As much as I miss our quirky three-downs game, I remind you of an Angus Reid poll conducted in May, whereby the citizenry was asked if they would be “disappointed” should the CFL season be scuttled. Only in Manitoba (63 per cent) and Saskatchewan (61 per cent) did the majority respond with a “hell ya!” The rest of the land? Just a shrug of the shoulders. Here are the numbers: Alberta 45 per cent, B.C. 34 per cent, Quebec 31 per cent, Ontario 28 per cent, Atlantic Canada 17 per cent.
Interesting how sports sheets across the land played the big CFL story. It was front page news in every rag on the Prairies. It was inside filler in the Toronto Sun (pages 8-9), the Montreal Gazette (page 2) and the Vancouver Sun (pages 6-7). The National Post, meanwhile, ran Scott Stinson’s column on a news page, beside a piece on Peter Nygard and rape. Little wonder that those are Rouge Football’s three worst markets.
Let’s see, what else went down during my time away from the keyboard? Well, Dale Hawerchuk left us, so we lost one of the good guys. I never got to know Ducky well. Unlike other news snoops, I kept my relationships with jocks strictly professional, and I always found Ducky to be obliging and authentic. He was seldom shy about sharing his feelings re my scribblings (he thought them to be complete “crap”), but that didn’t prevent me from defending him in print when the Drab Slab stirred the pot with a story on a deep rift between Ducky and Dan Maloney, then head coach of the Winnipeg Jets. It was pure fiction, and both Friar Nicolson and I reported it that way.
Ducky was sports royalty in Good Ol’ Hometown, and I can’t imagine many, if any, among the rabble objecting to Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s plan to plop a statue of No. 10 outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.
I still say there should be a likeness of Ben Hatskin somewhere in the vicinity of the Little Hockey House, because there’d be no Jets today if not for the original bankroll. But I doubt I’ll ever see that happen.
Read a couple of truly wonderful essays on Ducky after his death, one by Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and the other by the Drab Slab’s Mad Mike McIntyre. Both are worth the read if you missed them.
The Winnipeg Jets’ frolic at the Jason Kenney Mountain Resort in downtown Edmonton came to a rather inglorious conclusion earlier this month, and the farewell natter between news snoops and head coach Paul Maurice delivered one terrific sound bite.
Jason Bell of the Drab Slab: “Why are you still the right man for the job in this organization?”
Maurice: “We would say off the start that the first playoff round that we won two years ago was the first playoff round this franchise won, so it’s the right guy then. You know, I’ve been to the conference final three times, Stanley Cup final. This year I’m gonna rate as top three years that I’ve had in this league, and I’ll include my staff on that. We did a fantastic job surviving what we went through.”
Coach Potty Mouth added some other mindless blah, blah, blah about going forward, but he chose to ignore the facts. The Jets were not in a playoff position when the NHL shut down in March. They failed to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in four years, ousted by the Calgary Flames in four games. Maurice has missed the playoffs four times in his seven seasons as the Jets bench jockey. He has won the grand sum of two playoff series and is 12-19 post-season, including this month’s failed qualifier. They have regressed. But, sure, he’s the right man for the job.
Some interesting, also poor, analysis on the Jets season from news snoops. Mad Mike McIntyre glorified the local lads because they tried really, really hard, don’t you know. We should think of them with “pride” he tells us, because “they busted their tails right to the bitter end.” Oh joy. Let’s give them a participation badge. Over at the tabloid, Scott Billeck mentioned something about “what the Jets did achieve.” Good grief. They achieved squat. Bupkis.
The only honest breakdown on the Jets was provided by Ted Wyman who, following their ouster from the Stanley Cup qualifying tournament, wrote this in the Sun: “The Flames had better scoring, better defence, better goaltending, better special teams, better physicality and better production from their very best players. If you were picking the five best performers in the series, they’d all be Calgary players—including goaltender Cam Talbot, who outplayed Jets Vezina Trophy favourite Connor Hellebuyck by a wide margin.” That’s telling it like it is, Teddy boy.
Nice to see Rick Bowness has his Dallas Stars running hot in the Stanley Cup tournament. Bench boss Bones is a former Jets player/coach and one of the truly good guys in the game.
I must confess that I had my doubts about the NHL successfully pulling off their playoffs in the two bubbles, one in E-Town and the other in the Republic of Tranna, but it’s working. And what is it proving? Just this: The NHL doesn’t need in-rink fans and it doesn’t need independent media to send out the message. Makes you wonder what it’s all going to look like on the other side of COVID-19, doesn’t it? Daily newspapers should fear the worst.
So, Elliotte Friedman has hacked off his mangled chin whiskers. That’s a good thing. The Hockey Night in Canada gabber looked like a guy who’d spent too much time stranded on an island, talking to a volleyball with Tom Hanks. And there’s not a chance that a female broadcaster would be allowed to appear on camera looking that unkempt, which is what we call a double standard.
Steve Simmons is in a stew because the Vancouver Canucks are the last hoser team standing in the Stanley Cup tournament, and the NHL/Sportsnet are disturbing his bedtime sked. “One team left in Canada and the NHL can’t figure out how to schedule them at a time when the country can be awake to watch? Dumb of Sportsnet, dumb of the NHL. That’s an 11:30 pm start in Nova Scotia, midnight in NFLD,” the Postmedia Tranna scribe whinges. Yes, by all means, let’s televise the Canucks games when all their faithful followers on the West Coast are still at work, just so easterners who don’t give a damn can ignore them in prime time. Just put on your jammies, Steve, and watch the game.
And, finally, the greybeard boxing match between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. has been pushed back from mid-September to the end of November. Apparently scientists require the extra time to complete carbon testing on the ancient pugs.
It wasn’t supposed to end this way. Not at age 57.
Dale Hawerchuk should have been allowed to grow very old and grey and gather his grandchildren around the fireplace, where he could tell them tall but true tales about the good, ol’ days in the ol’ barn on Maroons Road.
Or how he helped gut the Russians in the 1987 Canada Cup final, winning a faceoff in the defensive zone then hooking one of the Ivans to the freeze, allowing Mario Lemieux an unopposed path to the decisive score in a 6-5 victory.
But Ducky won’t be doing that. He left his bride, Crystal, and their children—Eric, Ben and Alexis—and the rest of us on Tuesday, a victim of cancer, and if you feel the urge to give the year 2020 a good, swift kick to the groin be my guest.
While you’re at it, you can also wrap a black arm band around Good Ol’ Hometown, because Ducky’s death will produce long faces from South St. Vital to West St. Paul, from Transcona to Headingly. And, if you look closely enough, you’ll probably catch the glint of a teardrop in the Golden Boy’s eyes up there atop the Legislative Building.
Actually, I’m selling Ducky short. We need a much larger black arm band, something we can stretch around the entire province. From Churchill in the north to Emerson on the Manitoba-U.S. Border.
It’s not that Ducky was our first shinny superstar. Bobby Hull, Ulf, Anders and the Shoe, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, were there before him, albeit in a different league and, ironically, playing a brand of hockey that Slats Sather would copycat in Edmonton and use to torment Ducky and some very good Winnipeg Jets outfits in the 1980s.
But he might be our most enduring shinny superstar, in part because he was the leader of a gang that just couldn’t quite finish the job.
Once into the National Hockey League, you see, the Jets repeatedly were confounded by those damned whirling dervishes known as the Oilers. Six times the two Prairie sides met in the Stanley Cup tournament, and six times it was the Albertans grinning in the handshake line at the end of the night. Try as they might—and no one was more determined than Ducky—the Jets never managed to wipe the smug look off Edmonton coach/GM Sather’s face, a reality that still rankles to this day.
But nobody’s holding that against Ducky, the captain of those Winnipeg HC sides. Not today. Not ever.
Nor was/is there bitterness about his exit following the last of those half dozen spring disappointments. Ducky had served his time admirably and became an adopted son. He took Crystal, a country girl from Arborg, as a bride and they made their home on a spread outside the city. He toured the province during the off-season, playing in charity slo-pitch and golf events, always smiling, always glad-handing, always obliging in his aw-shucks, country boy manner. He and Crystal maintained a cottage in Gimli once they had moved on.
Few, if any, wanted Ducky to leave after watching and enjoying him in Jets linen from 1981 to ’90, but the winds of change forced his hand.
Out was the man who had brought him to Portage and Main as a freshly scrubbed teen of 18 years, general manager John Bowie Ferguson, and in was Mike Smith, a book-wormish oddball with a degree in Russian studies, a fondness for any hockey player with a Moscow postal code, and a very different way of doing things.
Suddenly, Ducky didn’t fit in. His ice time was cut back by head coach Mud Murdoch, and negativity at the rink and in the media wore him down (more than once he called my scribblings “crap” and I can’t say he was wrong).
“I’m tired about reading bull in the papers,” he said in 1989. “I’m tired of coming to the rink with a negative-type attitude here. Maybe it’s best for the hockey club to get a few players for me. That’s not saying I want to be traded.”
There was talk of a Ducky-Denis Savard swap with the Chicago Blackhawks, but that’s all it was, talk between coaches Murdoch and Mike Keenan that was meant to be hush-hush. The Philly Flyers were said to be interested. But it was the Buffalo Sabres who pitched the right kind of woo, and Smith dispatched Ducky to upstate New York at the 1990 NHL entry draft, accepting Phil Housley, Scott Arniel, Jeff Parker and a first-round pick, Keith Tkachuk, in barter.
The Ducky-less Jets were never quite right again. Murdoch was fired a year later. Comrade Mikhail Smith received his walking papers in 1994. And the franchise was playing in an Arizona desert by ’96. Talk about curses.
Ducky’s shadow has stretched across the path of every player who’s skated in Jets livery since his departure. It still does to this day, which explains the hosannas raining down since word of his death began to spread on Tuesday.
He left Good Ol’ Hometown many years ago, but he’s never been gone. Not really.
And, the way current team co-bankroll Mark Chipman tells it, there’ll eventually be a permanent reminder of Ducky, a statue outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in downtown Winnipeg.
Anyone have a problem with that? I didn’t think so.