Let’s talk about women’s sports and the media…tough times for Ponytail Puck…pigging out on Big Macs…the Barnum and Bailey Brier…Chevy’s sales pitch to free agents…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I sprung forward this morning and brought some random thoughts along with me…

I think TSN and Sportsnet are trying to fool us into believing they actually give a damn about women’s sports.

Sportsnet’s Christine Simpson and Kim Davis.

I mean, both of our national jock networks have devoted copious air to the distaff portion of the playground in the past week, featuring interviews with movers and shakers like Stacey Allaster, Kim Davis, Kim Ng, Cammi Granato and Kendall Coyne Schofield, and they’ve also given us retro peeks at moments of girl glory delivered by Brooke Henderson, Bianca Andreescu and others.

It’s been boffo stuff.

And tonight we’ll hear the all-female broadcast crew of Leah Hextall, Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Christine Simpson work the Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Hometown Hockey, something that—dare I say?—smacks of gimmickry and likely will have numerous men squirming and pressing the mute button on their remotes.

But here’s my question in the midst of all this rah, rah, rah about ponytail sports: Where are TSN and Sportsnet when it really matters?

You know, like when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League was in business. Like during the women’s Under-18 world hockey championship. TSN covering competition like the world shinny tourney or World Cup soccer are no-brainers, but to the best of my recollection Sportsnet broadcast the grand sum of two CWHL games before the operation bolted its doors last spring. I could be wrong. It might have been three. Meanwhile, TSN completely ignored the U18 event.

The National Women’s Hockey League, meanwhile, dropped the puck on its playoffs Friday night, but I haven’t heard a whisper about it on either network.

In the small hours of Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings, I counted 136 news-related videos on the TSN website. The male sports v. female sports scorecard read 133-3 in favor of the dudes, and that included Justin Bieber practicing his shootout skills.

None of that’s surprising, of course, because numerous studies advise us that female jocks receive just two to six per cent of air time on sportscasts in the True North and U.S. The amount of space allotted to female sports in our daily newspapers would be similar. Maybe even less.

So, ya, it’s great that TSN and Sportsnet have been saluting women the past few days, but what’s their excuse for the other 51 weeks of the year?

According to a 2016 report, a study of sports coverage on our national networks (French and English) in 2014 showed that female athletes were featured in just four per cent of 35,000 hours of programming. More than half of that four per cent allotment showed women’s events at the Sochi Olympics and/or women’s tennis. Which means, of course, all other female activity received less than two per cent air time.

Whenever I contemplate the minimalist coverage female sports receives on air and in print, I think of comments from noted jock journos Steve Simmons and Bruce Dowbiggin.

“I don’t believe there’s a demand from the public for women’s sports,” Postmedia’s Simmons told the Ryerson Review of Journalism in 2002. He also advocated for the removal of women’s hockey from the Olympic Games in 2010, calling it a “charade.”

Dowbiggin, meanwhile, wrote last year that ponytail sports was “second-tier entertainment” and, in another piece, added, “You can’t swing a cat without hitting a lesbian in a women’s sport.”

I’m quite uncertain why Dowbiggin would want to swing a cat and hit a lesbian, or any woman for that matter, but I believe his indelicate and disturbingly crass remark about felines and females was an attempt at cutesy humor. If so, he failed. Miserably.

Point is, those are two loud voices in jock journalism completely dismissing female athletes.

Steve Simmons

Dowbiggin once was an award-winning jock journo and a main player on the national stage, twice winning a Gemini Award for sports reporting and broadcasting. He now cranks out opinion essays for Troy Media and his own Not The Public Broadcaster. Simmons is a high-profile columnist whose scribblings appear in Postmedia rags across the country.

As much as I wish it was otherwise, I’m afraid theirs is the prevailing attitude in our jock media.

It’s worth noting that neither of the Winnipeg dailies has a female in its stable of full-time sports scribes. The Drab Slab allows the talented and very readable Melissa Martin to make guest appearances for the provincial and national Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but the Sun hasn’t had a Jill writing jock stuff since Judy Owen left the building. Judy is one of only four female scribes with whom I worked during 30 years in the rag trade, the others being Peggy Stewart (Winnipeg Tribune), the lovely Rita Mingo (Trib) and Mary Ormsby (Toronto Sun). It’s been more than 50 years since I started at the Trib, and in that time I’ve known just five female sports writers in Good Ol’ Hometown—Judy, Peggy, Rita, Barb Huck and Ashley Prest. I know some women applied the last time the Sun had an opening, but Scott Billeck got the gig.

Billie Jean King

What a truly dreadful time it’s been for Ponytail Puck. First the CWHL ceased operations last spring, then close to 200 of the planet’s best players had a hissy fit and decided to boycott and trash talk the NWHL, and now the world championship in Nova Scotia has been cancelled due to the coronavirus. Tough to grow the game when all you have at the end of the day is a bunch of photo-ops with Billie Jean King.

Speaking of Billie Jean, she’ll be part of the Hometown Hockey telecast tonight on Sportsnet, but we shouldn’t expect any hard-hitting questions from either Ron MacLean or Tara Slone. My guess is MacLean will serve the tennis legend and women’s rights activist nothing but softball questions, while Tara swoons.

Sportsnet won’t be the only network featuring an all-female broadcast crew tonight. Kate Scott, Kendall Coyne Schofield and AJ Mleczko will be the voices for NBCSN’s telecast of the St. Louis Blues-Chicago Blackhawks skirmish, and I just hope they realize that criticism is part of the gig because they’ll be hearing it from the yahoos.

The PWHPA—also the talking heads on Sportsnet—would like the five-team NWHL to disappear at the conclusion of its fifth season, so they’ll be disappointed to hear this sound bite from NWHLPA director Anya Packer: “I’m excited to watch the growth. I think there’s going to be a lot of growth in the off-season. There’s a lot of conversations hosted today that will affect tomorrow. There’s a lot of conversations that happened before the season began that are going to make some major strides and changes as we move into season six. I’m excited for season six.” If they want to play serious shinny next winter, the PWHPA might want to rethink that boycott thing.

The rapidly spreading coronavirus has a number of sports teams/leagues talking about playing in empty stadiums. In other words, just like a Toronto Argonauts home game.

Chevy

Ya, I think it’s great that the National Hockey League salary cap is going up and Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will have a boatload of Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s cash to spend on free agents this summer, but that won’t make it any easier for Chevy to sell Good Ol’ Hometown to high-profile players. River City remains No. 1 on most NHLers’ no-go lists, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

I don’t know about you, but every time I see the Nashville Predators play, I have the same thought: “How do these guys beat anybody?”

Does this make sense to anyone other than Tranna Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas?
William Nylander: 30-goal seasons—1; salary—$9 million ($8.3 million bonus).
Kyle Connor:         30-goal seasons—3; salary—$7.5 million ($0 bonus).

People poke fun at the Canadian Football League for rewarding failure by giving a single point on a missed field goal. Well, excuse me, but the NHL does that very thing almost nightly with its ridiculous loser point.

Watched Sports Central on Sportsnet on Friday morning and I didn’t hear one word about the Brier. Nada. They managed to squeeze in highlights of Joey Chestnut pigging out on Big Macs, but the Canadian men’s curling championship wasn’t worthy of their attention. Canada’s #1 Sports Network my ass.

There’ve been so many incredible circus shots during this year’s Brier, I expected to see Barnum and Bailey meeting in today’s final.

So I call up the Globe and Mail on Saturday and note that Cathal Kelly is writing about the Brier. I roll my eyes, because Kelly doesn’t know a hog line from Hog Town. Well, surprise, surprise. It’s an excellent, entertaining read. And honest. “Don’t look for curling expertise here,” he writes. “You won’t find any.”

Did Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs look like he was having any fun before being ushered out of the Brier? I swear, the’s more serious than a tax audit, and it isn’t a good look.

WTF? During the first two Brier matches I watched on TSN last weekend, I heard three F-bombs and one goddamn. I heard zero F-bombs and zero goddamns during the entire week of watching the Scotties on TSN. Just saying.

Actually, I’d like to know why male curlers feel a need to go all potty mouth, yet the women don’t. I mean, they’re playing the same game, playing for the same stakes, making the same shots, feeling the same pressure. It would make for an interesting social study.

Big headlines all over the Internet last week about movie guy Spike Lee having a hissy fit and refusing to attend any more New York Knicks games this season. Hmmm. I must have missed the memo that informed us we’re supposed to give a damn what Spike Lee does.

Gotta say, TSN’s man on UFC, Robin Black, is the creepiest guy on sports TV.

Joey Chestnut

The aforementioned Joey Chestnut set some sort of world record for gluttony last week when he scarfed down 32 Big Macs in 38 minutes. We haven’t seen a pigout like that since Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs offence ate the San Francisco 49ers’ lunch in the Super Bowl.

The Winnipeg Jets are in the grip of an intense playoff battle, two Manitoba teams were running hot at the Brier, and what was featured on the sports front of the Winnipeg Sun last Monday morning? Toronto Blue Jays wannabe pitcher Nate Pearson. Good gawd, man, who makes those horrible decisions?

Wilma Rudolph

And, finally, in a salute to International Women’s Day, these are my five fave female athletes of all time: Wilma Rudolph, Martina Navratilova, Tessa Virtue, Nancy Greene and Evonne Goolagong. (Honorable mentions go to to Katarina Witt, Steffi Graf and Jennifer Jones.)

About Pierre McGuire’s gob and the hockey culture…the obsession with Puck Finn’s scoring drought…the Duck, Duck, Gooseicanes…hall-of-fame talking heads and a meathead…and so long to Pick

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I saw my shadow when I woke up Saturday morning, so it looks like another 48 weeks of bad writing coming up…

So, what should we be calling Pierre McGuire today? Pontius Pierre? Lee Harvey McGuire?

I mean, reading and hearing the opinionists in mainstream and social media go off on the NBC hockey gab guy last week, you’d swear he either crucified Christ or gunned down JFK. Maybe both. Could be that he also had a hand in breaking up the Beatles, so let’s stop blaming Yoko.

Pierre and Kendall

Poor Pierre. If only he’d keep his gob shut.

But he can’t do that. Pierre’s paid to flap his gums, and sometimes the filter between his grey matter and his lips is on the fritz. Like the time he gazed creepily into Darren Dutchyshen’s eyes and told the TSN talker that he was “an announcer with a long stick from time to time.” Trust me, that registered 10 on the wince-o-metre and likely stands today as the most-cringeworthy comment one man has made to another man on a sports broadcast. Ever.

So when Pierre spoke to Kendall Coyne Schofield like she was a six-year-girl who wouldn’t know a hockey puck from a urinal puck, it’s not like he was digging a shovel into unbroken ground.

Pierre and Kendall

If you missed it, Coyne Schofield joined McGuire on Wednesday for NBCSN’s telecast of the Pittsburgh Penguins-Tampa Bay Lightning skirmish. Her bona fides are impressive: Olympic champion, five-time world champion, winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top player in U.S. women’s college hockey, member of the Minnesota Whitecaps of the National Women’s Hockey League. And, of course, she became the first woman to compete against the boys in the National Hockey League all-star skills competition, finishing seventh in the lickety-split skating discipline.

All of that was lost on McGuire in welcoming Coyne Schofield to his ice-level roost between the players perches. He used emphatic arm gestures to deliver last-minute counsel, much like a Grade 1 teacher instructing her students to take out their copies of Dick and Jane—and no whispering while you’re reading, children!

Pierre and Kendall

“Tampa’s gonna be on your left, Pittsburgh’s gonna be on your right,” McGuire advised her.

It reminded me of the lyrics from a Stealers Wheel classic: “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am…” And there was Kendall, stuck in the middle with Pierre.

McGuire then added, “We’re paying you to be an analyst, not to be a fan tonight,” as if he feared Coyne Schofield would melt into a tittering, starry-eyed schoolgirl at the sight of all those dreamy NHL players swirling about the freeze in front of her.

It all begged this commentary from Emma Teitel, national columnist with the Toronto Star: “Would he have made a point to indicate, in elaborate fashion, hand gestures and all, which bench was where to a male pro? No. And that’s the problem.”

Kendall Coyne Schofield

Actually, McGuire likely would have done that very thing. He’s an excitable guy. And part groupie. He gets all gushy and fusses and fawns over players (see: recent interview with Jonathan Toews), and I’m reasonably certain that he has a man crush on Sidney Crosby.

That’s not to excuse his interaction with Coyne Schofield. It was terribly awkward, condescending and flat-out wrong. You know, the kind of crap every woman has dealt with at some point in her life.

Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune, presuming to speak “on behalf of women everywhere,” had this take on McGuire: “His unprofessional and sexist comments didn’t help the hockey world, which has been met with criticism for its unfair treatment of female players.”

I think that brings us closer to the nub of the matter.

McGuire is a product of the hockey culture, long a misogynistic old-boys club. Only recently have women begun to make significant inroads, on and off the freeze, but a fresh way of thinking and doing things is coming at a glacial pace. The women still are largely looked upon as second-class citizens, and their game is ignored by mainstream media until someone strikes a match and lights the Olympic torch.

Auston Matthews

If you think that’s going to change anytime soon, consider what Auston Matthews of the Tranna Maple Leafs had to say after Coyne Schofield put up a better time than Clayton Keller in the fastest-skater event at the NHL all-star game: “I was giving Keller a hard time because she beat him.”

Matthews didn’t give Keller a hard time because he got beat by six men, understand. The barbs came out only because he got beat by a girl. Seems to me that’s more sexist than anything McGuire spewed.

But apparently that’s the way the boys in the lockerroom think. Still.

Which tells you the issue runs much deeper than Pierre McGuire’s gob.

McGuire has long been an advocate and promoter of the women’s game. Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t been paying attention.

It’s fine for news snoops to tsk-tsk McGuire and squawk about “unfair treatment,” but what are they going to do about distaff shinny? Will the Toronto Star, for example, put a scribe on the Tranna Furies or Markham Thunder beats? As if. What about Michael Traikos of Postmedia Tranna? He’s on record as saying women should be more than a novelty act at the NHL all-star hijinx—they should participate in the actual game. But I wonder if he could name five members of the Furies or Thunder without doing a Google search. Talk’s cheap.

Winnipeg Jets 9, Disney Ducks 3, Patrik Laine 0. If Puck Finn goes much longer without a goal, we’ll have to call him Sahara and buy him a camel. I mean, two thirds of the world is covered by water. The other third is Laine’s dry spell.

Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab has taken the obsession with Laine’s follies to a ridiculous extreme. He actually performed an autopsy on the young winger’s work vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets—a laborious, shift-by-shift breakdown. All 17 of them. As legendary broadcaster Dick Enberg was wont to say, “Oh my.” And what conclusion did Mike M. reach? Don’t know. Don’t care. Anyone who took the time to plow through that piece really ought to get out more often.

Puck Finn

There’s good news during Parched Patty’s drought (four goals in 28 games since Dec. 1)—les Jets don’t miss his scoring touch. They were five points in arrears of the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche (11th overall in the NHL) when Laine’s hockey stick turned into a noodle. They’ve gone 20-8 since, and only two outfits—Tampa Bay Lightning and Calgary Flames—have more points today. So perhaps there’s been too much focus on what Laine isn’t doing and not enough on what’s making the glass half full.

Jacob Trouba

In case the Jacob Trouba critics among the rabble haven’t noticed, les Jets young defender is quietly delivering his most-productive season offensively. Five more points and he matches his career best 33. More points, more money. Ka-ching!

When I turn on a National Basketball Association game panel, I see hall-of-famers Shaq and Sir Charles flapping their gums. When I turn on a National Football League game panel, I see hall-of-famers Terry Bradshaw, Michael Strahan and Howie Long flapping their gums. When I turn on a Canadian Football League game panel, I see hall-of-famers Matt Dunigan and Milt Stegall flapping their gums. When I turn on Hockey Night in Canada, I see Nick Kypreos. Seriously. That’s the best HNIC can do. A former meathead hockey player?

If it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it must be the Carolina Hurricanes. I agree with Brian Burke: The Hurricanes’ post-match shenanigans are corny. They were playing something called Duck, Duck, Goose the other night, and it was every bit as cringeworthy as anything Pierre McGuire said to Kendall Coyne Schofield.

And, finally, it’s farewell to Bob Picken, a wonderful man and a legendary broadcaster. Pick lost his argument with cancer last week, and it’s a huge loss for the community. They don’t make them any better than Pick.

About Jumbo Thornton’s chin whiskers…an expansion team in Seattle…and they’re buzzing about the Winnipeg Jets

Midweek musings on the edge of a fresh National Hockey League season…

Jumbo Joe Thornton and the here and after.

There was good news and bad news at the NHL’s roster cut-down deadline this week. The bad news is that Joe Thornton’s chin whiskers became a casualty. That’s right, the San Jose Sharks forward had his mountain-man beard hacked off. The good news is that they discovered Jimmy Hoffa, Amelia Earhart’s airplane and a golf ball that Tiger Woods lost at last summer’s U.S. Open under all that scruff.

Looks like Seattle will be awarded an expansion franchise for the 2020 NHL season. Reaction to the news in Ottawa was swift: “Can we get one, too?”

You know that tired lament about how no one notices the goings-on in Good Ol’ Hometown? About how anyone who works and plays in River City flies under the radar? About how life sucks because everyone in the eastern time zone is tucked snugly into bed by the time they drop the puck out in the colonies?

Well, you wanted recognition for the Winnipeg Jets? You’ve got it.

Les Jets de Winnipeg have been in more headlines this week than anyone not being considered for a seat on the United States Supreme Court. They’re getting buzz from one of our two national newspapers, the Globe and Mail. They’re getting buzz from Yahoo! Sports. The “insiders” at Sportsnet are buzzing about our local hockey heroes. ESPN is boffo on les Jets. NBC/NBCSN will feature les Jets five times on Wednesday nights. Online and sports books in Las Vegas are bullish on Winnipeg HC.

Cripes, man, there’s even Jets buzz on TSN, where they could be found on the main page of the website on Tuesday morning. In three different headlines.

When I saw that, I immediately called up the Weather Channel.

“Is it true?” I asked a young woman who answered the phone.

“Is what true?” she replied.

“Has Hell frozen over?”

“By Hell, do you mean Ottawa and the Senators?”

“No. I mean Hell as in Hell. You know…Satan, hissing, misery, suffering, eternal inferno. That wretched place.”

“Sounds like Ottawa and the Senators to me. But if you mean the biblical Hell, the usual warm front persists and remains parked over most of it. Why do you ask?”

“Because TSN has three mentions about the Winnipeg Jets on the main page of the website and there’s nada—bupkus!—about TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel. They can’t possibly start a day without slobbering over Johnny Rotten, so I figure it can only be one of two things: 1) I overslept and it’s late November; 2) hell has frozen over.”

“No,” she assured me, “you didn’t sleep in and snowballs still don’t have a hope in Hell. Trust me, you and everyone else will know when Hell has frozen over.”

“How so?”

“There’ll be a Stanley Cup parade on Yonge Street in Toronto.”

Blake Wheeler

According to the pundits hither and yon, Winnipeg HC, while not everyone’s flavor of the month, figures to be a very prominent player in its eighth crusade since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011.

Les Jets, who commence their 2018-19 journey vs. the Blues in St. Louis on Thursday night, are listed at No. 2 on the TSN power rankings, behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Those ratings, by the way, are determined by five talking heads—Ray Ferraro, O’Dog Jeff O’Neill, Craig Button, Jamie McLennan and Darren Dreger.) For its part, Yahoo! Sports ranks Winnipeg HC fifth, behind Tampa Bay, Nashville Predators, San Jose and the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

Over at Sportsnet, meanwhile, 16 “insiders” are gaga for les Jets.
* 9 pick them to win Stanley Cup;
* 10 pick them to win Western Division;
* 11 pick them as the Canadian outfit with highest points total;
* 1 (Kristina Rutherford) picks Blake Wheeler to win Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player;
* 5 pick Connor Hellebuyck to win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.

Connor Hellebuyck

At The Athletic, 47 scribes/editors weighed in on the upcoming season and les Jets are the second favorite to cop the Cup; Puck Finn is the overwhelming pick to win the Rocket Richard Trophy; Connor Hellebuyck is the second choice for the Vezina; and even the head coach, Paul Maurice, is feeling the love as co-favorite to be named coach of the year (with Peter DeBoer of San Jose).

Not since the World Hockey Association have we witnessed such pre-season hype for Winnipeg HC. Those WHA outfits delivered the goods. We’ll know about these Jets in about nine months.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Interesting take on les Jets from Dave Shoalts of the Globe and Mail:

“Everybody has fallen in love with the Toronto Maple Leafs as the team to break Canada’s 25-year Stanley Cup drought. But it might just be the Winnipeg Jets who accomplish that. The Maple Leafs may be the darlings of the oddsmakers, but the Jets are big, fast, skilled and better than the team that went to last spring’s Western Conference final.

“With that experience under their belts, the Jets are now poised to take the next step. Their top line of centre Mark Scheifele and wingers Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor is one of the best in the league. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck played his way into the top tier of goaltenders with his work in the playoffs. At 25 years of age he, like his teammates, is only getting better.”

A couple things to peel away here:

Bryan Little

I’m not convinced this Jets outfit is “better than the team” that lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final. The departure of Paul Stastny tells me it isn’t. Unless Bryan Little has a bounce-back season or Jack Roslovic is a revelation, Winnipeg HC is weaker at centre ice.

Hellebuyck, meantime, was terrific during a burdensome regular season and early in the playoffs. He did not, however, play admirably in the five-game ouster vs. Vegas. He was sketchy and Marc-André Fleury outperformed him by a wide margin, despite his repeated mantra that “luck” was Fleury’s greatest ally.