Let’s talk about the Puck Pontiff and Chevy needing to cowboy up…the Lightning boat parade, watered-down beer and kicking asterisk…robot curling…Shapo serves up Canadian whine…foul-mouthed parrots and a parroting columnist…a good read on Smitty…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored..and it’s foggy where I live and you might find some fog here too…

It’s beef-on-the-hoof time in the National Hockey League, albeit three months and change later than originally planned, and I find myself wondering where the Winnipeg Jets are in their “process.”

From the get-go, of course, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff have preached draft-and-develop, a tried-and-true template for so many successful outfits, the most recent example being the Tampa Bay Lightning, newly minted Stanley Cup champions with a roster featuring 11 players plucked from the entry draft.

The thing is, the NHL’s annual auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers is usually a crap shoot once past the first half dozen names called out, and there are a lot more misses than hits.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

That said, there’s ample evidence to support the notion that Chevy and his bird dogs have profited by the draft since setting up shop in Good Ol’ Hometown—Connor Hellebuyck, Rink Rat Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Twig Ehlers, Josh Morrissey, Kyle Connor, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp. And that’s not to forget Jacob Trouba, the dearly departed defender whose yearnings unfortunately did not include a lifetime in Jets linen.

Those are quality core players who ought to have kept Winnipeg HC in the playoff mix for many years to come.

Except that’s not how Planet Puck Pontiff/Chevy is spinning.

The Jets failed to qualify for the playoffs in the just-concluded crusade, that after an optimism-inducing surge to the 2018 Western Conference final and a hasty retreat from the Stanley Cup tournament last year.

Which is why I wonder where the Jets are in their “process.”

Draft-and-develop will never end. It’s every team’s oxygen. There’s no quarrel with that approach. But, after the ransacking of the roster due to the miscalculations of bean counters and the discontent of Trouba and Dustin Byfuglien, it seems to me that Winnipeg HC has retreated to the wait-and-hope part of the “process.”

Sami Niku

The Puck Pontiff and Chevy are waiting and hoping on Sami Niku. They’re waiting and hoping on Dylan Samberg. They’re waiting and hoping on Ville Heinola. They’re waiting and hoping on David Gustafsson. Hell, they’re still waiting and hoping on Jack Roslovic, and they drafted him in 2015. And, apparently, they’ll wait and hope on Logan Stanley forever.

Trouble is, they’ve been at it since 2011 and this should be a time for filling in the blanks on a contending roster, not still relying on a crap shoot.

Yet here we are.

Chevy has the 10th shoutout overall at the auction on Tuesday. Hands up anyone who believes he’ll land an immediate difference-maker. I agree, good luck with that. His newest chattel will be of limited or no use in the short-term.

It’s also unlikely that Chevy will attract any high-profile free agents to Good Ol’ Hometown on Friday, even though his jeans will be full of jingle and he can afford to shop for upscale goods. Most likely, he’ll reel in a Grade C player, or two, then follow that up with some dumpster diving on the waiver wire, which has never been a solution.

So how do the Jets return to the post-season frolic and make noise next year?

Well, short of their Central Division foes going for a group pratfall, there’s just one avenue—trade. And that means bold strokes. Something brassy.

Jacob Trouba

That’s not Chevy’s style, though. He only lets go when he’s backed himself into a corner (see Trouba, Jacob; Ladd, Andrew) or someone’s clothing has been soaked in an ice tub (see Kane, Evander), but quality centre-ice men and stud blueliners (his most pressing needs) don’t fall off the turnip truck. There’s a price to pay.

I’m on record as saying there should be no untouchables on this Jets roster, and there’s certainly a number of shiny trinkets to entice dance partners, not the least of which is Chevy’s first shoutout on Tuesday. At No. 10, he’s already in crap shoot territory.

And, really, the time for dithering is past. The Puck Pontiff and Chevy need to cowboy up and move one of their top-six forwards. Or some of the blue-chip prospects. It’s the right thing to do.

Unless, of course, they truly have retreated to wait-and-hope mode and are content with icing a bubble team. In that case, I am once again reminded of something old friend Joe Pascucci tweeted in April 2019: “Another concern, of many, I have about the Jets and the changes sure to come this off-season is that they’ll become a team that is 2 years away from being 2 years away.”

Astute guy, old friend Joe.

Puck Finn and Blake Wheeler.

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet continues to lean hard into the disgruntled Patrik Laine narrative, again suggesting that Puck Finn insists on first-line minutes alongside Scheifele, whereas Chevy and bench puppeteer Paul Maurice refuse to budge on Blake Wheeler. They won’t surgically remove the captain from the Rink Rat’s hip and, if true, it’s a stupid impasse and an easy fix: Inform Wheeler that he’s now a second-line forward. If they aren’t willing to tell a declining 34-year-old he must make room for a 22-year-old sniper, it’s time for new management/coaching.

Look, I think Wheeler is still a useful player, but a year from now he’ll be slower than a sports writer reaching for the bar tab.

When a woman learned that her flight would be landing in Winnipeg last week, she became unruly and belligerent and had to be forced off the airplane kicking and screaming. You know, just like any player traded to the Jets.

The Lightning gave Stanley Cup championship hijinks a fresh twist with a boat parade on the Hillsborough River, rather than a motorcade in sporty, top-down automobiles on the streets of Tampa. In keeping with the water theme, coaches and players drank American beer.

On the subject of suds, apparently Canadians are drinking less beer. Hey, don’t look at me. I’m still doing my part every Saturday.

Yes, I agree, it’s impressive that the NHL pulled off its made-for-TV, bubble Stanley Cup tournament without a hitch. No positive COVID-19 results in more than 60 days. No scandal, other than Mike Milbury’s ouster from the NBC Sports blurt box for telling us that women are a distraction. No asterisk. Most surprising, none of the young studs bugged out of the Edmonton and Republic of Tranna man caves for a little nookie on the side. Mark me down as gobsmacked.

It’s about slapping an asterisk on the Lightning tour de force: Don’t go there. Sure it was different, with the lads zip-locked in their man caves for two months, but only someone who’s been there, done that and wears the T-shirt can compare this Stanley Cup runoff to tournaments of the past. If the players and coaches say it was equally burdensome and challenging, I’m good with that.

It’s often been suggested that the NHL is a copy-cat operation, and teams now will attempt to mimic the champion Lightning. Well, good luck with that. I mean, Chevy will turn water into Molson Canadian before he’ll ever turn Neal Pionk into Victor Hedman.

Apparently Manny Pacquiao and Conor McGregor will go dukes up next year, but no one is saying where or when the fist fight will be held. I think we should keep it that way.

Former Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain has been selling his collection of sports memorabilia that dates back to the 1930s, and the thousands of items available are said to include license plates. Nice to know Denny put his time in prison to good use.

Clever people in South Korea and Germany have created a curling robot named Curly, capable of beating human beings on the pebble. So what’s the big deal? Canada developed a curling robot last century. His name is Kevin Martin.

I’d really be impressed if the geniuses in South Korea and Germany could invent a robot capable of beating Rafa Nadal at clay courts tennis, specifically the French Open.

Shapo

Yes, now that you mention it, our guy Denis Shapovalov held quite the pity party following his ouster from Roland Garros. “These conditions were as tough as possible for me to play against here, with the balls being so heavy and it being really cold,” he whinged after twice gagging while serving for the match v. Roberto Carballes Baena, the world No. 101. “These conditions were completely stacked against me. It’s impossible to hit a winner with these balls.” He also muttered something about Paris clay being different than Rome clay. Oh, boo flipping hoo. The balls were just as heavy for Baena, a 7-5, 6-7, 6-3, 3-6, 8-6 winner, and I’m guessing the Paris chill was the same on both sides of the court. As for it being “impossible to hit a winner with these balls,” Shapo hit 65 of them, more than double Baena’s 31. He also had 106 unforced errors compared to just 42 by Baena, and you don’t chalk that up to heavy balls and unfavorable weather.

Shapo had a legit beef about line calls, one of which might have cost him the match, and his plea for the use of HawkEye at Roland Garros has merit. The rest of it was nothing but a petulant, stomp-my-feet temper tantrum, and I’m hoping it was a one-off. Tennis doesn’t really need another spoiled brat, and certainly not one from Canada.

I sometimes wonder if anyone at the Drab Slab knows the Winnipeg Sun exists. I say that because of recent essays by Scott Billeck of the tabloid and Drab Slab columnist Mad Mike McIntyre.

Here’s Billeck on Sept. 5, under the headline A Bolt of bravado—Jets Cheveldayoff could benefit from a little ruthlessness this off-season by offer-sheeting young Lightning centre Anthony Cerelli: “(Kevin) Cheveldayoff taking a tyrannical approach to this coming off-season might serve him rather well. How does one become ruthless, you ask? In hockey terms, and during the free-agency window of a particular off-season: Offer sheet. But who do you offer one to? Anthony Cirelli, currently with the Tampa Bay Lightning.”

He then outlines, in detail, what the addition of Cirelli would mean to GM Chevy and the Winnipeg Jets.

Anthony Cirelli

Now here’s Mad Mike on Sept. 29, under the headline Jets need to chase after Cirelli—Lightning forward would solve Winnipeg’s second-line conundrum: “It may not be the equivalent of Christopher Columbus discovering America or Thomas Edison’s bright idea about the light bulb, but while covering bubble hockey in Edmonton I do believe I’ve come across the solution to some of what plagues the Winnipeg Jets. Eureka! I found it—the second-line centre they’ve long been searching for. Meet Anthony Cirelli, who is currently filling that role for Tampa Bay Lightning.”

He then outlines, in detail, the benefits of inserting Cirelli to the Jets roster, even though Billeck had told Sun readers that very thing 24 days earlier.

I don’t know if that’s arrogance or ignorance, but “Eureka!” my ass. Parroting the other guy’s column and making it out to be a fresh thought is totally bad form. Mad Mike’s essay should have been spiked.

Speaking of parrots, a quintet of the birds in a British wildlife park had to be separated because their language was more colorful than their plumage. Seems the five foul-beaked feathered friends took to dropping F-bombs and spewing other very salty language, none of which was suitable for young, tender ears. Hmmm. Reminds me of some press boxes I’ve been in.

And, finally, fantastic piece by Murat Ates of The Athletic on former vagabond goaltender Gary Smith, who backstopped the Jets to their third and final World Hockey Association title. It’s full of fun stuff from Smitty and totally worth the read.

Let’s talk about sexism and homophobia in the blurt box…taps on the CFL season…some good reads on Ducky…Coach Potty Mouth believes he’s still the man…a participation badge for the Winnipeg Jets?…the hair on Friedman’s chinny, chin-chin…greybeard boxing…and other things on my mind

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.

Mike Milbury

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.

Mike Milbury would have us believe women’s college hockey is played in empty rinks, like this one in Minnesota.

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-

And another empty rink for women’s college hockey in Wisconsin.

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?

Zdeno Chara

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.

Thom Brennaman

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.

Commish Randy

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!

Trudeau the Younger

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.

Ducky

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.

Coach Potty Mouth

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.

Bench boss Bones

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.

Elliotte Friedman

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.

“Another worldly” tweet from the Milbury Man

NBC Sports talking head Mike Milbury is in the Republic of Tranna for the National Hockey League playoffs, and he believes Seattle’s Space Needle is there, too.

Another worldly night, Space Needle is an appropriate backdrop, he tweeted following the Columbus Blue Jackets-Tampa Lightning multi-OT skirmish on Tuesday.

Hmmm. And here we thought it was Milbury hitting a New York Rangers fan on the head with a shoe all those years ago. Turns out it was the other way around.

I suppose Milbury can be forgiven for mistaking Toronto’s CN Tower for Seattle’s Space Needle. After all, he’s a graduate of Colgate, and we all know that four out of five dentists recommend Crest.

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Sawyer

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

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

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

Yup, that’s some kind of fun.

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

What will he tell the masses? Try this:

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

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

Should that, however, be the end of it?

Jeremy Roenick

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

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

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

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

But, again, not a peep.

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

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

Mad Mike

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

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

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

Paul Friesen

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

Friesen is spot on.

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

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

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

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

Mathieu Perreault

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

Sheriff George

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

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

Conor McVulgar

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

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

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

Al Davies

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

Let’s talk about the hazing of a 15-year-old kid and Kevin Sawyer’s big mouth

Apparently, Kevin Sawyer didn’t get the memo.

You know, the one about Bill Peters losing his job as head coach of the Calgary Flames because he was a bully who used racist language. And Marc Crawford being suspended for bullying. And Mike Babcock being shamed for bullying. And Sportsnet pulling the plug on Don Cherry for going off on immigrants. And NBC Sports making Jeremy Roenick stand in a corner for sharing his sexual fantasies on a podcast.

Somehow, all that escaped Sawyer’s notice.

I know, hard to believe.

Kevin Sawyer

I mean, there are different levels of dumb. Like, there’s Homer Simpson d’oh boy dumb. There’s Adam Sandler movie dumb. And there’s doorknob dumb, which is where Kevin Sawyer fits in.

Sawyer, for those who haven’t been introduced, is a former hockey goon and coach who now wears rose-tinted glasses and prattles on endlessly about the do-no-wrong Winnipeg Jets on TSN3, and he attained unparalleled standards in stupidity by sharing his “favorite” Jared Spurgeon story on Saturday.

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

Seriously. Sawyer engaged in the boys-will-be-boys hazing of a 15-year-old kid while an assistant coach with the Spokane Chiefs and now, in today’s climate of zero tolerance and retro-punishment for bullying, he’s bragging about it on TV?

What part of “you have the right to remain silent” does he not understand?

I can think of just two circumstances whereby you admit to something like that: 1) Under a withering cross-examination from Perry Mason; 2) when sitting in a bar and you’re surrounded by a bunch of boozed-up, frat-boy lunkheads who still think swirlies and wedgies are a right of passage for every kid who knows how to use a slide rule.

Otherwise, you just shut the hell up and hope no one uncovers your dirty, little secret.

But not Sawyer, whose days as a fists-for-hire thug ended early this century. He believes his “favorite” memory of hazing a 15-year-old kid is good for some yuks. A real knee-slapper. So he goes all blah, blah, blah about it during the Jets-Minnesota Wild skirmish, and we’re left to wonder what TSN, True North Sports & Entertainment, and/or the National Hockey League will do about it.

Jared Spurgeon

If not outright dismissal, surely a suspension is in his future.

I have to think Sawyer’s sound bites are particularly galling to Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, the Jets seldom-heard-from co-bankroll who, I’m guessing, frowns on hazing and doesn’t appreciate one of TSN’s talking heads scrubbing some of the squeaky-clean off True North’s saintly image. Mind you, Chipman has looked past head coach Paul Maurice’s forever potty mouth and his captain, Blake Wheeler, telling a news snoop to F-off, so maybe this is nothing more than a meh moment to him.

I doubt it, though.

There’s been a whole lot of yadda, yadda, yadda lately about a shift in culture—in the NHL and all other levels of the game—and, if they’re serious about it, there can’t be any room for a broadcaster who takes glee in the hazing of teenage boys.

I might also point out that Sawyer was 31 years old at the time and an assistant to the aforementioned Peters. So, given recent revelations about the now unemployable coach, there’s reason to suspect this wasn’t a one-off, and we can only guess how often Sawyer took out his roll of Saran Wrap and used it to bind other 15-year-old kids to a pillar, “six feet up in the air.” Twice? Ten times?

It’s obvious that Sawyer, to this day, doesn’t regret Saran wrapping Spurgeon to that arena pillar in Spokane 14 years ago, but I’m thinking he’s about to regret bragging about it on live TV.

About a bummer night for the Winnipeg Jets…an amber alert for Puck Finn…Twig snaps his goal drought…Republic of Tranna media getting it wrong again…and much ado about nothing for NBC

If the Jets and Leafs are playing, it’s worth writing about…

Top o’ the morning to you, Paul Maurice.

Paul Maurice

Bummer, eh? A 4-2 loss to the Tranna Maple Leafs wasn’t what you, your hired hands or the rabble were looking for on Wednesday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie. But, hey, sometimes life bites.

Like, it must really bite for Puck Finn right now. I mean, Patrik Laine looks as lost as a guy trying to find a crosswalk at Portage and Main. He plays five-on-five hockey like a milking cow plays the piano. Clumsy? It’s like he’s skating with a sawed-off peg leg he borrowed from Long John Silver. If he doesn’t find his game soon, you’ll have to issue an amber alert for the kid.

What’s that you say, Coach PoMo? You really don’t know what to do with Puck Finn?

Puck Finn

Well, here’s a thought: Don’t ever, under any circumstances, play him on the left flank again. Except on the powerplay, of course. I’m not sure what you were thinking when you had him skate with the Winnipeg Jets big dogs—Rink Rat Scheifele and Blake Wheeler—vs. les Leafs, but a card-carrying democrat would be a better fit at a Trump rally.

The good news is, you and Puck Finn have ample time to figure this thing out. You’re only 10 games into the National Hockey League crusade, so eventually the light will go on, figuratively and literally.

You know, like it finally did for Twig Ehlers.

I don’t know what you told the boys after two periods on Wednesday night, Coach PoMo, but I have a hunch you went all potty mouth on them. That’s what a hockey coach did back in the day, you realize. If his team was soiling the sheets—which your Jets surely had done through 40 minutes—he’d blister them and peel some paint off some walls with language not suitable for the dinner table or mixed company. They’d have first-degree burns to their egos.

Twig Ehlers

What’s that? What do I know about back in the day? Listen, Coach PoMo, I was watching hockey 10 years before your mama wrapped you in your first diaper. Hey, I’m an old lady. Old enough to share my apartment with two dozen cats and not notice. Trust me, I’ve seen some things, including hockey when bodychecking was allowed.

But I digress. It’s about Twig Ehlers.

Whatever message you conveyed to the fellas in those gawdawful aviator blue unis during their second recess apparently registered with Twig. It wasn’t just that he scored for the first time in 27 assignments, he played like he was a bit PO’d.

I think Laine needs to play like he’s a bit (or a lot) PO’d, Coach PoMo.

Anyway, Twig’s goal was the sole positive takeaway from a bummer of a night. But, hey, you get another crack at les Leafs in the Republic of Tranna on Saturday night.

You know what we called Saturday night back in the day, Coach PoMo? Bath night. Yup, we’d get ourselves freshly scrubbed behind the ears, then hunker down to watch les Leafs or the Montreal Canadiens on our black-and-white TV screens. The Habs and Leafs usually cleaned up in those days, too. Won the Stanley Cup 13 times in 14 springs (1956-69).

They’re thinking that way in The ROT again, Coach PoMo. Silly people. You and I both know that your Jets are the best bet to hold a Stanley Cup parade in Canada.

It would help, of course, if you could do something to spruce up Puck Finn’s game. But, like I said, there’s ample time. And I don’t think anyone’s prepared to throw the kid out with the bath water just yet.

Just to refresh, Twig Ehlers and Puck Finn combined for 73 goals last season. Today they have four, all three of Laine’s coming on the powerplay. Thus, they’ll need to average a goal a game between them to match their 2017-18 total. Tall order but doable.

Benny Hatskin and Bobby Hull on a happy day in Winnipeg.

I think it’s swell that folks hither and yawn have noticed les Jets, but I wish wordsmiths and natterbugs in The Republic of Tranna would get their facts in order before spewing nonsense about Good Ol’ Home Team.

Consider, for example, old friend and genuinely good guy Lance Hornby’s recent take on Winnipeg HC:

“Bobby Hull’s record $1-million deal in their second season of 1972-73 angered the NHL establishment—led by Harold Ballard—and got the Golden Jet booted off Team Canada while truly stirring anti-Eastern sentiment,” the Postmedia Tranna scribe scribbles. “Hull inspired two other 100-point players, Christian Bordeleau and Norm Beaudin, but the big bang was a year later, when the Nordic invasion of Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson, Velli Pekka-Ketola and Heikki Riihiranta occurred.”

Wrong. The 1972-73 crusade was the Jets’ first, not their second, in the World Hockey Association. The “big bang” of the Swedes and Finns, meanwhile, followed two seasons later, not one.

Nick Kypreos

Next we had Nick Kypreos weighing in on les Jets:

“Kyle Connor. Nobody’s really mentioned the fact that this guy is quietly gonna lead them in scoring—again,” he crowed on Hockey Central @ Noon on Sportsnet.

Wrong. Connor has never led the Jets in scoring.

Here’s Kypreos on Laine: “When it’s all said and done, this guy’s gonna end up with 30 goals again, easy. He’s not been used in Winnipeg as a No. 1 guy. Think about that for a second. If you really go and study his numbers…he’s been a second-line kinda guy his whole career, short career in Winnipeg. You kind of look at him and go “What happens if he was on another team and they use him like Ovechkin?’ So, maybe he only ends up with 28 or 30 goals this year. Maybe he does have that kind of secondary result off of that type of ice time. There’s some nights he’s played 13-14 minutes. He’s not an 18-to-20-minute guy and probably won’t be. He’ll always be in that kind of secondary…he’s a powerplay guy but he’s also secondary, you know, Ehlers, Little.”

Wrong. I don’t know what numbers Kypreos was talking about but, prior to the engagement with les Leafs, Laine spent an average of 16-plus minutes on the ice in the Jets first nine assignments, not 13-14. His low-water mark was 15:25. He topped out at 21:20. He was averaging 19 shifts per game. Against les Leafs, it was 22:23 and two dozen shifts.

You’ll have to forgive me if I fail to understand why some mainstream media made a large deal about NBC coming to River City to broadcast the Leafs-Jets joust. At best, it’s a footnote. Yet the Winnipeg Free Press came across like the Country Bumpkin Times by splashing it on the sports front, with a feature article by Mike McIntyre. The Winnipeg Sun, on the other hand, devoted exactly one sentence to The Peacock Network’s presence. The tabloid gave it appropriate play. The broadsheet lost the plot.

Department of Irony: On its website, the Freep trumpeted the McIntyre NBC piece as one of its Above the Fold features, yet in the actual print newspaper it ran the story below the fold. Go figure.