Let’s talk about cheering in the press box…negative bias…Red Smith getting the heave-ho…Brown Bagging It in the Drab Slab…Tim & Sid & Puck Finn…rooting for les Leafs…TV ratings…and sports IQ

A mid-week, media-centric smorgas-bored coming down in 3, 2, 1…and a happy hump day to all you working stiffs…

A couple of weekends back, I mentioned something about cheering in the press box and entered a guilty plea on the charge of silently root, root, rooting for the 1978-79 Winnipeg Jets in the final waltz of the final World Hockey Association playoff gala.

The key word is “silently.”

I totally understood the ‘no cheering in the press box’ mantra and I subscribed to it without reservation during my 30 years in the rag trade. More to the point, I was inclined to cast the stink eye at anyone who betrayed the precious, unwritten code that dates back to the first chisel striking a stone tablet following David’s epic upset win over Goliath.

Thus it was with interest that I read Mad Mike McIntyre’s thoughts on the matter at the conclusion of his recent hoops safari to the Republic of Tranna at the behest of the Drab Slab.

While the Jurassics and the Golden State Juggernaut had at it on the hardwood, Mad Mike found himself somewhat discomforted by the presence of the most scorned and tut-tutted of press box inhabitants—he/she who waves pom-poms.

“That’s just gross,” he opined. “To be clear, I didn’t witness this from any of the mainstream press—who I expect would know better—but from a handful of fringe online writers who managed to score access. A big no-no, but the kind of thing that is happening in this rapidly growing media world where ‘fan-friendly’ copy can score you easy clicks and likes.

“Let me say this as loudly as I can: I don’t cheer for any team I cover. And I would hope my copy, not to mention 24-year journalism career in this city, would reflect that. The only things I root for are good storylines and quick-moving games that leave plenty of time for deadline to file. And Diet Pepsi in the press box, instead of Diet Coke.”

Well, let me say this about that (without being too loud) once again: Any news snoop who tells you that he/she doesn’t have favorites, trust me, he/she is lying. And because they have favorites, they want those people and/or teams to succeed. That isn’t wrong, nor does it make them sellouts to a sacred trust. It makes them human.

Imagine that. Sports scribes as humans. What a concept. It’s true, though. Especially among the women. I’ve yet to meet a female jock journo who isn’t human. The men, not so much.

But even the men are suckers for a good story from good people.

You think there wasn’t silent cheering in the press box at the old barn on Maroons Road when Teemu Selanne was about to shatter Mike Bossy’s rookie record for goal scoring in 1993? Teemu wasn’t just a fan favorite in Good Ol’ Hometown. He was a media darling. Scribes and talking heads loved the obliging, aw-shucks kid with the flashy nickname from Finland. They couldn’t get enough of him. So when Selanne passed Bossy, you wanted to stand up and damn well cheer.

Other things made you want to break down and bloody well cry, like a spring afternoon in 1996 when the Winnipeg Jets bid farewell to the faithful and bolted for the Arizona desert. (I know, for certain, there were news snoops with tears in their eyes that day.)

The trick, of course, is to keep any bias on the down low while perched in the press box and, most imperative, prevent it from creeping into your copy.

To date, Mad Mike has managed to do that while sucking back his Diet Pepsi. But Big Sister is watching and reading.

Prejudice, you realize, can cut both ways. The most recent example of negative bias I can think of was the extreme and shameful hate-on former Drab Slab columnist Paul Wiecek had for Jacob Trouba. The young Jets defender (allegedly) lied to Wiecek about a desire to play in Winnipeg, and the Freep scribe went into attack mode, never squandering an opportunity to discredit Trouba’s character, if not his play. It became an obsession, very personal, nasty and uncomfortable. That is as much a betrayal to the trade as standing up and cheering in the press box.

Red Smith

Here’s how legendary American columnist Red Smith handled a run-in with an athlete back in the day (from the book No Cheering in the Press Box by Jerome Holtzman):

“Over the years, of course, all sports writers, especially those assigned to and traveling with ball clubs, have difficulty with a ball player, or ball players. I never had anything as crucial as an actual fist fight, but I did have some differences with Bill Werber. This was when I was in Philadelphia and he was traded or sold. The A’s sent him to the Cincinnati Reds, and when the deal was announced I probably wrote something to the general effect of ‘Good riddance.’ I’m not sure. I didn’t care deeply for Bill. I thought he paraded his formal education. He was out of Duke, you know, and he used to correct the grammar of other ball players. There were things about Bill that didn’t enchant me.

“In 1939 the Reds were in the World Series. When we got to Cincinnati for the third game I went down to the bench before the game, and my old friend Paul Derringer said, ‘Hello, Red, you know Bill Werber don’t you?’ And Werber said, ‘Yes, I know the sonofabitch.’

“It went on, a tiny few exchanges like that, and then he said, ‘Get off this bench! Get out of the dugout!’

“I said, ‘No, I’m a guest here.’

“And he got up and shouldered me out of the dugout, just kind of strongarmed me out. I had my portable and I was strongly tempted to let him have it—with the typewriter. But I somehow didn’t feel like doing that on the field before the first World Series game in Cincinnati and so I left.

“I remember Charlie Dexter coming along behind me and he said, ‘What are you going to do? Are you going to protest to the Baseball Writers Association?’

“I said, ‘No, Charlie, the player doesn’t like me.’

“I didn’t speak to him again.”

Doug Brown

Another interesting entry from Doug Brown on the pages of the Drab Slab. Despite evidence to the contrary in the 2018 Canadian Football League crusade, Doug’s not convinced that Chris Streveler is a suitable backup quarterback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. “It can take a lot more time to develop a pocket-passing acumen than a couple of starts, a year of practice and some preseason games. Call it a hunch, a best guess, but I’m not sure he eventually will.” Brown adds that Streveler’s “habits, and affinity for contact, aren’t sustainable for the long-term in the CFL.” Like I said, interesting. Brown, of course, saw some QBs during his time on D-lines in both the CFL and National Football League, but I’m saying he misses his “guess” on Streveler.

So, some dude named David Pagnotta from a blog called The Fourth Period cites “multiple sources close to the situation” and tells us that restricted free agent Patrik Laine plans to “explore” all his options. That, in turn, leads to rampant rumor that Puck Finn wants out of River City if les Jets don’t pony up to the tune of $10 million per season on a new contract. That’s where Tim & Sid weighed in on Sportsnet.

Tim Micallef: “Laine is an elite goal scorer.”
Sid Seixeiro: “But here’s the thing. Laine…there are some red flags on Laine a little bit. Would you not acknowledge? He’s extremely hard on himself, he’ll go in that slump…there are parts of Laine, when he’s scoring 45-plus you kind of ignore, but when he had a year like he had last year…look, they’re gonna pay him, they’re gonna keep him, I’m not saying they’re not. But his rep isn’t what it was 18 months ago.”

Tim & Sid

Tim: “But even then, so what do you drop to, a Phil Kessel? Like, honestly, the guy can score in his sleep, right?”
Sid: “When he’s scoring.”
Tim: “But when he’s scoring he ends up with 40, in and around. Right? Like, even with the slumps, he ends up with in and around 40, which, I don’t know if you checked, gets a lot of money in the NHL these days.”
Sid: “Oh, it does. Look, the Cheveldayoff thing and Laine, we’re gonna hear a lot of the breaking rumors, he is not leaving Winnipeg, he is signing long term in Winnipeg, he is not being traded, he is not exploring those options. Of all the restricteds, that one is gonna get locked down guaranteed.”

I’m with Sid, even though his numbers are a bit wonky (Laine has yet to score “45-plus” in a season). Puck Finn isn’t going anywhere.

Strange tweet from Scott Stinson of the National Post: “No one from outside Ontario would dare cheer for the Maple Leafs. The Raptors, though…” What rock has that dude been hiding under? When les Leafs make their annual pilgrimage to Western Canada, it’s like they’re the home team. Stinson might want to get out of the house more often. Or at least stay up late enough to turn on his TV and watch les Leafs when they’re playing in the colonies.

D’oh boy tweet from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star: “More people watching these Raptor games in the NBA Finals than watch Grey Cups these days. That’s exceeding an annual piece of Canadiana. Think about that for a moment.” I don’t have to think about it. Although Cox doesn’t spell out what “these days” are, here are Canadian TV ratings from Grey Cup matches this century vs. the NBA final:

2009 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6.1 million average
2010 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6M
2012 Calgary-Toronto 5.8M
2002 Montreal-Edmonton 5.2M
2011 B.C.-Winnipeg 4.6M
2013 Hamilton-Saskatchewan 4.5M
2003 Edmonton-Montreal 4.4M
2015 Ottawa-Edmonton 4.3M
2017 Toronto-Calgary 4.3M
2019 Game 2 NBA final 4.3M
2014 Hamilton-Calgary 4.1M
2006 B.C.-Montreal 4M
2005 Edmonton-Montreal 4M
2004 Toronto-B.C. 4M
2016 Calgary-Ottawa 3.9M
2008 Calgary-Montreal 3.65M
2007 Winnipeg-Saskatchewan 3.5M
2019 Game 1 NBA final 3.3M
2018 Calgary-Ottawa 3.1M
2001 Calgary-Winnipeg 2.7M

And, finally, I keep hearing pundits talk about hockey IQ and basketball IQ and football IQ, but I never hear anyone mention baseball IQ. I guess after listening to Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel, the notion of intelligent life on Planet Baseball was ruled out years ago.

Cale Makar isn’t a “damned fool”…Steve Simmons is

Editor’s Note: I vowed I wasn’t going to write this blog anymore. I was fini. I mean, it’s not like my voice is essential, or that I expect my views to sway opinion. The sports universe can, and will, unfold as it should with or without my two cents worth. But geez Louise, the media mooks have gotten to me. I can no longer ignore them. So I’m back. Sort of. Kind of. This might be a one-off. But I doubt it.

***

Quiz me this, kids: If a sports writer doesn’t appear to enjoy sports or many of the athletes who play kids’ games, should he be writing about sports and the athletes who play kids’ games?

I agree. He shouldn’t be.

Steve Simmons: Damned fool is in the doghouse again.

So why hasn’t anyone at Postmedia told Steve Simmons it’s time to sack his bats and go quietly into the night? Maybe find a hobby that doesn’t involve character crucifixion. I mean, the Tranna-based opinionist has fallen into a mosh pit of insulting, callous, demeaning, shameful, dismissive, bitter, unnecessary name-calling commentary. He doesn’t offer opinion so much as he delivers nasty. He isn’t a writer. He’s a hit man.

His latest victims are a fledgling, 19-year-old college kid and a group of amateur athletes who hold down daytime jobs and actually lose money in pursuit of sporting achievement and glory.

The college kid is Cale Makar, who, for reasons yet to be disclosed, reportedly declined an invitation to join the Canadian men’s hockey outfit for a few weeks of frolic at next month’s Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. For this, Simmons, without knowledge of the wherefore and why of Makar’s decision, calls the teenager “a damned fool.” It doesn’t matter if the young defenceman’s determination was based on counsel from his parents, his college leaders or his agent. Apparently a Postmedia columnist knows best. So the kid’s a “damned fool.”

Imagine that. Steve Simmons: Life coach. Who knew? And how utterly objectionable.

But there’s more.

Not satisfied with discrediting a teenager, the Postmedia mouthpiece has also put mixed doubles curling in his crosshairs. Admittedly a quirky event, it debuts as an Olympic discipline in PyeongChang, much to Simmons’ huffy disapproval.

It’s a recreational pursuit,” he harrumphs from his soapbox of sourpuss stirrings.

The winner of the men’s and women’s downhill at PyeongChang will get the same gold medal as the winners in mixed doubles curling. Doesn’t sit well with me,” he adds.

Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris: Steve Simmons doesn’t want them at the Olympics.

Well, excuse our Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris all to hell. The nerve of those two Olympic champions, turning a “recreational pursuit” into an Olympic dream. And, hey, it’ll be such bad manners if they earn the top step on the podium in South Korea and accept gold medals. Can’t have that in the world according to Steve Simmons. Daredevils of the downhill ski slopes are gold-worthy. The curlers? They’re lesser-thans. Give ’em trinkets made of tin foil, right Stevie?

Simmons is such a prig. His commentary is mean in spirit and gratuitous in nature and has become chronic.

Canada wins gold in Olympic hockey: Steve Simmons says get rid of it.

Some examples…

Marcus Stroman: Steve Simmons says he’s an annoying kid.

As for individuals, Kevin Durant is “gutless,” Venus Williams is “92 years old,” Marcus Stroman is an “annoying kid” who needs to “grow up,” Brooke Henderson also needs to “grow up,” John Farrell is a “traitor,” Phil Kessel is petty and “small,” Roger Goodell is a “flim-flam” man, Chad Ochocinco is a “big mouth,” etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

None of that is necessary, and the steady outpouring of gratuitous cheap shots should be an embarrassment to Simmons and Postmedia.

But no. He insists on wrapping himself in the robes of the villain scribe, assuming them to be garments of honor in a profession that supposedly values the tell-it-like-it-is posturing of the late Howard Cosell. Well, there’s nothing honorable about Simmons’ contrarian shtick. He doesn’t write with the skill, the cheek, the witty irreverence, the knowledge, or the delicate touch of those who came before him or many of his peers today. He comes at the reader with the sledgehammer of the unpolished practitioner, and it’s become tawdry, tiresome and tedious.

And nobody at Postmedia has noticed this? Damned fools.

 

About the Winnipeg Jets secrecy in re-upping two guys without a playoff win…the Pope is on board…hockey discipline vs. tennis discipline…the ladies rock at the U.S. Open…the Vancouver Canucks odd youth movement…insults are Steve…and so long Steely Dan

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Mark Chipman, the Puck Pontiff.

Well, Darren Dreger and Elliotte Friedman were correct and both Kevin Cheveldayoff and Paul Maurice have been rewarded for chronic nonachievement, which begs this question: Why the secrecy?

I mean, Dreger tells us that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman gave the only general manager the Winnipeg Jets have known a hearty pat on the back in the form of a contract extension “months ago.” Perhaps the deal was done scant days after the locals failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby for the fifth time in six whirls under Chevy’s watch. Or maybe it was in May, June or July.

Whatever the case, the Secret Society known as True North Sports & Entertainment chose to keep that morsel of information on the QT until this very morning.

Same with Maurice, the potty-mouthed head coach destined to become the losingest bench boss in National Hockey League history sometime during the 2017-18 crusade. Apparently, his endorsement of a job not well done arrived more recently, which could mean June, July or August, but, again, the Secret Society chose not to share that tidbit with the very people who fill the Little Hockey House On The Prairie 41 days/nights each year and purchase all that merchandise with the Royal Canadian Air Force logo.

In other words, screw the rabble.

Try as I might, I cannot scare up a single reason why the Secret Society adopted a mum’s-the-word posture vis-a-vis extensions for the GM and head coach, except that the Puck Pontiff likely didn’t fancy the bother of detailing the rationale behind re-upping two men accustomed to standing on the outside with their noses pressed to the window when the real fun begins in April. They’re a pair of oh-fers: 0-for-the playoffs. Zero wins. In six seasons for Chevy and 3.5 for Coach Potty-Mo. Tough to justify a reward for never failing to fail.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

But, hey, maybe this is a Winnipeg thing. After all, the Blue Bombers handed their GM, Kyle Walters, and sideline steward, Mike O’Shea, a fresh set of downs even though they’d never won a Canadian Football League post-season match. Received three-year add-ons, they did.

Which leads me to believe that contract extensions are like skeeters in Pegtown: You’re gonna get ’em whether you deserve ’em or not.

Did the work of either Chevy or Maurice warrant renewals? Well, it’s a results-driven business, and booking tee times at St. Charles or Glendale while those about you are still playing hockey isn’t anyone’s idea of getting the job done.

Clearly, something is broken.

If, as has been suggested by numerous pundits, Cheveldayoff and his bird dogs have assembled an array of blue-chip talent, why no playoffs? Must be the coach. If it’s the coach, why the extension? And if not the coach, who? The players? Can’t be, because we’re told they’re blue-chippers. Unless they aren’t blue-chippers, in which case Chevy’s at fault.

Would I have gone all-in on either Chevy or Maurice? Or both? I’m iffy on the former, because it’s uncertain how much interference he receives from on high, but I’m definitely not sold on the latter.

Paul Maurice

I’d have allowed Coach Potty-Mo to enter the 2017-18 fray on his existing deal, which had a shelf life of 82 more games. This is a show-me season for Maurice. Show us you can coach without Chris Thorburn and Mark Stuart getting in the way. Qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament and you won’t have to change your postal code. Miss and we have some swell parting gifts for you.

Aha, you say. That would make him a lame-duck coach. Well, yes, it would. And your point is?

Delivering a contract extension to Maurice doesn’t make him a better coach. It doesn’t turn Steve Mason and Connor Hellebuyck into Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur. It doesn’t improve the penalty kill. It doesn’t even buy Coach Potty-Mo more time. It’s on him either way. If the Jets aren’t part of the post-season fun next April, the Puck Pontiff will be paying Maurice not to coach.

I just hope they don’t keep it a secret when and if they let the guy go.

It’s about the Declaration of Principles that several hockey organizations, including the NHL, signed off on this week, with the endorsement of the real Puck Pontiff, Pope Francis of Vatican fame: I’ll believe in the vow of inclusiveness when NHL players (hello, Andrew Shaw and Ryan Getzlaf) cease using gay slurs as their go-to insults, and when I see women on NHL coaching, management and scouting staffs and openly gay men on NHL rosters. Women’s hockey at the highest level is inclusive, men’s hockey at the highest level not so much.

You want inclusiveness? Try big-time tennis. At the U.S. Open in Gotham, we’ve seen women sitting in the umpire’s chair during men’s matches. Sadly, one of those women, Louise Engzell of Switzerland, was called a “whore” and a “cocksucker” by Italian No. 1 Fabio Fognini. Although slow to respond to the verbal assault, tennis officialdom slapped Fognini with $24,000 in fines and instructed him to vacate the premises, even though he had advanced to the third round of doubles play. Soon, the other shoe shall drop. It’s possible that Fognini will be banned from future Grand Slam tournaments and fined upwards of $250,000. By way of comparison, when Disney Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf barked out the same C-slur during an NHL playoff game last spring, he was docked pocket change of $10,000 and permitted to play on.

Fognini’s mea culpa was priceless. “I have nothing against women,” he insisted. “I have been called sexist, which I am not. I am a family man, I have a wife, a mother, a sister. I have always loved women, I have always respected them.” Reminds me of the homophobes who defend their actions and use of anti-gay slurs by saying, “I have gay friends.”

Sloane Stephens

Three thoughts on the U.S. Open this morning: 1) The women’s draw has been much more compelling than the men’s, especially with the prospects and hopes of a Rafa Nadal-Roger Federer skirmish dashed by Juan Martin Del Petro. 2) I think it’s terrific that four American women have advanced to the semifinals of their national tournament. 3) Some of the women can really whack a tennis ball and get around the court (love Sloane Stephens), but how does Serena Williams ever lose?

This would be laughable if it weren’t so sad: Vancouver Canucks president Trevor Linden says his club’s “focus is on youth.” Right. Two-thirds of the Canucks’ No. 1 forward unit, the Sedin twins, are 37 years old. They just reeled in Thomas Vanek. He’s 33. The other two featured off-season recruits, Sam Gagner and Michael Del Zotto, are 28 and 27, respectively. Their big catch a year ago was Loui Eriksson, 32. If that’s putting the focus on youth, then Don Cherry is a spring chicken.

The question must be asked: Does Donovan Bennett of Sportsnet actually watch Canadian Football League games? I mean, the guy does weekly power rankings and he’s somehow determined that the Edmonton Eskimos are the No. 2 outfit. That would be the same Edmonton group that has been totally dismantled by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Saskatchewan Roughriders and Calgary Stampeders in consecutive weeks. Bennett had the Eskimos ranked No. 3 a week ago, then they were blitzed by the Stampeders and he moved them into the No. 2 slot. I don’t know if Bennett is embarrassed, but he ought to be.

Todd Bertuzzi

Speaking of totally losing the plot, Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver announced it will feature Todd Bertuzzi, he of Steve Moore infamy, on its air every Tuesday on The Starting Lineup, and Steve Simmons of Postmedia used the occasion to totally trash West Coast media with a completely unfounded statement of non-fact. You know, much like his piece about Phil Kessel and hot dogs. “One of the truly dumb things about Vancouver,” he tweeted. “It never took the Steve Moore incident seriously. Never covered it. Never shouted about it.” He later referenced “Vancouver Twitter idiots.” Apparently ignoring facts and name-calling is what passes for a national sports columnist these days. The great Trent Frayne and Jim Coleman must be spinning in their graves.

Can’t even guess the number of hours I’ve spent listening to Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, aka Steely Dan. Brilliant stuff. Becker died last weekend and we’re left with the music. These are my five favorite Steely Dan tunes…
1. Bodhisattva
2. Deacon Blues
3. Peg
4. Hey Nineteen
5. Do It Again

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

About death by wedgie in the CFL…the Rodney Dangerfield Blue Bombers…diversity on the gridiron…nonsense on Sportsnet…boffo stuff from Ed Tait…dump the ump…hockey pride at Pride…and hot dogs for Phil Kessel

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Randy Ambrosie wants to talk. That’s a good thing. I think.

Specifically, the Canadian Football League commissioner would welcome a fireside chat about division alignment and playoff structure, both of which are becoming hot-button issues due to a West-East competitive imbalance that borders on the sadistic.

I’m happy to have that conversation with everyone and I think we should have it,” the commish told Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun.

For those of you keeping score at home, West has met East 20 times during the current crusade. The tally is 17-2-1 in favor of the five outfits left of the Manitoba-Ontario boundary. One game finished 60-1.

That is not a typo. Do not adjust your monitors. It really was 60-1.

Seriously. This is death by wedgie.

Actually, West Division clubs aren’t simply giving their nerdy eastern foes a basic wedgie. They’re the high school senior pulling the freshman’s underpants up to his ears, sticking his head in a toilet bowl, flushing, then stuffing him into a locker. Oh, but first he steals his lunch money.

And yet, under the current structure, two of the eastern rag dolls will qualify for the playoffs in November. And be rewarded with home dates. Nice gig if you can get it.

Little wonder that Ambrosie says he’s “willing to have the conversation for sure.”

Wyman and others suggest the CFL scrap its antiquated West-East divisional arrangement. Lump all nine teams together, with the top six advancing to the Grey Cup tournament. Radical, yes. After all, geographic rivalry has been the heartbeat of the CFL since its inception, and getting some people to abandon tradition is like trying to pry Donald Trump’s thumbs off his Twitter account. You’ll need the jaws of life, baby.

I don’t think you have to sacrifice tradition, though. Just tweak the schedule. Reduce it to 16 games (18 is two too many) and either eliminate, or reduce by half, interlocking play. You know, just like in the good, ol’ days when West and East were separate entities. In other words, go back to the future.

Works for me. So, gentlemen, start your chins wagging.

I wondered when one of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would play the Rodney Dangerfield no-respect card, and running back Andrew Harris delivered not long after he and his blue-and-gold clad pals had paddywhacked the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 39-12, on Saturday at Timbits Field in Hamilton. “I always think someone is out there slouching us and not giving us any respect.” Here’s the deal, Andrew: Beat someone other than one of the lame and halting outfits from the east and more people will climb on board.

Chad Owens and CFL commish Randy Ambrosie

The CFL broke out its Diversity is Strength T-shirts last weekend, and it occurs to me that it’s more than just a fresh marketing slogan. Among other things, the CFL has included a female general manager, Jo-Anne Polak with the Ottawa Rough Riders; another female, Catherine Raiche, is an assistant GM with the Montreal Alouettes; the Larks once had an openly gay man, Michael Sam, in their lineup; Ambrosie’s predecessor in the commish’s office, Jeffrey Orridge, is African-American; and a black man, Bernie Custis, was playing quarterback for Hamilton as far back as 1951. That’s diversity.

Donnovan Bennett of Sportsnet writes this: “The MOP at the halfway point of the season is a kicker.” Say again? A punter/place kicker, Justin Medlock of the Bombers, is the most oustanding player in the CFL? Spare us the nonsense, Donnovan. Everyone knows that kickers aren’t football players (sorry Bob Cameron and Troy Westwood). Once upon a time kickers were, indeed, football players (hello Kid Dynamite James, Choo Choo Shepard, Spaghetti Legs Parker, Jack Abendschan, Don Jonas, etc.), but now they boot the football and go for a Slurpee. Your MOP right now is Mike Reilly.

Terrific read from Ed Tait on Winnipeg O-lineman Jermarcus (Yoshi) Hardrick, who look a long, hard road to the CFL. Tait’s piece is the type of feature you seldom read in either of River City’s two dailies, due largely to space and access restrictions, and it’s a reminder of what the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages lost when he defected to bluebombers.com. Anyone at the Drab Slab who thinks Tait is a hack (hello, Paul Wiecek) has totally lost the plot.

Let’s see now, umpire Joe West provides a harmless, fun anecdote about Adrian Beltre and he’s suspended for three days. So what will Major League Baseball do with Detroit Tigers second sacker Ian Kinsler? He dumped all over ump Angel Hernandez, telling the Detroit Free Press, “He needs to find another job, he really does. He’s messing with baseball games, blatantly. I’m just saying it’s pretty obvious that he has to stop ruining baseball games. Candidly, leave the game. No one wants you behind the plate anymore.” I’m guessing MLB will be making an ATM withdrawal from Kinsler’s account, at the least.

Nice to see Erik Gudbranson, Troy Stecher and Jake Virtanen of the Canucks get into the spirit at Vancouver’s Pride parade and hijinks. It takes some special kind of gonads for macho hockey players to put on a rainbow-colored skirt and lei.

Bravo to Phil Kessel. The Pittsburgh Penguins forward has posted a pic of himself and the Stanley Cup stuffed with BBQ’d hot dogs, in what was a direct shot at Postmedia columnist Steve Simmons, who’d written a blistering piece about Kessel after he’d been dealt away by the Toronto Maple Leafs two years ago. Among other things, Simmons called Kessel “poison” and he claimed that the winger pigged out daily at a certain downtown hot dog stand in the Republic of Tranna (proven to be false). So what did Simmons think of the Kessel burn? “One, I thought ‘Phil’s pretty funny. Good for Phil for making a joke about it.’” he said on TSN 1050’s Breakfast Club. “Two, ‘This is your day with the Cup. This is your day…you’ve worked this hard, you get this thing, you’re having a party, why be so small to reference something that really isn’t important in your life?’” Yo! Steve! “Small” is writing about a guy’s rumored eating habits and getting the rumored facts wrong. What Kessel did to you, meanwhile, is a classic burn. Try lightening up.

Which brings me to today’s list: Biggest hot dogs in sports…

1. Muhammad Ali: The former heavyweight boxing champion was many things, but he most definitely was a hot dog (in a fun way).
2. Reggie Jackson: Mr. October was also Mr. Swagger.
3. Terrell Owens: Popcorn anyone?
4. Deion Sanders: He once said, “They don’t pay nobody to be humble.” He’s living proof.
5. Johnny Manziel: There isn’t enough mustard in the world to cover this do-nothing hot dog.

Further evidence of the Torontofication of the Winnipeg Sun sports section: In Steve Simmons’ past two odds-and-ends, three-dot columns that appear weekly, he devoted 21 items to sports franchises or figures in the Republic of Tranna. That’s compared to zero (0) Winnipeg references. To repeat: Toronto 21, Winnipeg 0. So, again, I ask why is a Toronto-centric column appearing weekly in a River City sheet? Aren’t any of the local writers capable of stringing together a series of wide-ranging quotes, notes and anecdotes that include opinion snippets about Winnipeg’s sports scene? I mean, if I can do it from Victoria, surely someone with their feet on the ground in good Ol’ Hometown can do it.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

About what a hockey town looks like…NHL teams that actually make trades…old man Sudsy…Coach Potty-Mouth’s smugness…a steaming mess of hooey in Vancouver…and blaming it all on Canada’s sad-sack hockey fans

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

In the department of really, really, really dumb headlines, Sportsnet takes the prize for this: “Oilers fans ready to show us what a hockey town looks like.”

Edmonton Oilers fans perfected the jersey toss.

Just wondering, would those be the same fans who, only two years ago, were hurling Edmonton Oilers jerseys onto the ice in disgust? Those people are going to show the rest of us how it’s done? That’s like hiring Don Cherry as a wardrobe consultant. Or Meryl Streep recruiting Adam Sandler as an acting coach.

Hey, don’t get me wrong. Oilers fans are terrific. When they aren’t tossing $200 orange-and-blue clothing onto the freeze.

I doubt there’s anything Oilers loyalists can teach the faithful in the other six National Hockey League ports-of-call in Canada, with the possible exception of Vancouver, where the locals like to play with matches and try to reduce the town to ashes whenever the Canucks lose a playoff series. I mean, what can the rabble in Montreal, for example, learn from their counterparts in The Chuck? Zilch, that’s what.

Officially, Roman Catholicism is the main religion in Montreal. But we know better, don’t we. It’s hockey, specifically les Canadiens. The team jersey (which no one tosses on the ice surface) is known as La Sainte-Flanelle—the Holy Flannel. The Habs’ former home, the fabled Forum, wasn’t a hockey rink. It was a cathedral. Carey Price isn’t a goaltender. He’s deity. If he backstops les Glorieux to their 25th Stanley Cup title, he, like Patrick Roy, will achieve sainthood. At the very least, he becomes the Pope.

And Edmonton is going to show Montreal what a hockey town looks like? As if.

Yo! Kevin Cheveldayoff! Did you notice who scored twice for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their double OT victory over the Washington Capitals on Saturday night? That’s right, Kasperi Kapanen, acquired as part of the Phil Kessel trade. And did you notice who assisted on both of Kapanen’s goals, including the overtime winner? That’s right, Brian Boyle, acquired just before the trade deadline for a minor leaguer and a conditional second-round draft choice. So you see, Chevy, there’s more to being an NHL general manager than draft and develop. It’s actually permissible to improve your Winnipeg Jets roster via barter, whether it means surrendering spare parts or an elite performer, as the Leafs did with Kessel.

Jets captain Blake Wheeler would excel in playoff hockey.

I don’t know if Blake Wheeler has been watching first-round Stanley Cup skirmishing, but, if so, I’m guessing it must really gnaw at the Jets captain that he isn’t included in the fun. This is his kind of hockey—intense, ballsy, belligerent, hostile, up-tempo, elite. Wheeler would excel on that stage. As for his colleagues, I wonder how many of the Jets could compete in that environment. It would be nice to find out sometime this decade. Well, wouldn’t it, Chevy?

Unless I missed it, the Winnipeg Free Press ignored the passing of Bill (Sudsy) Sutherland, a member of the original Word Hockey Association Jets team and assistant/head coach of Jets 1.0 in the NHL. Sudsy’s death doesn’t warrant a mention? Not even a paragraph or three on one of the truly good guys in Jets lore? That’s totally lame.

Funny story about Sudsy from Joe Watson, a teammate with the original Philadelphia Flyers in 1967. After scoring the first goal in franchise history in Oakland, Sudsy and the Flyers returned home for their season debut at the Spectrum, on Oct. 19. Here’s how Watson remembered it for csnphilly.com: “We’re coming through the building and the security guards were there and we are all walking through and all of us are looking kind of young and Billy was looking older and the security guard says, ‘Where are you going? Billy says, ‘I’m a player.’ And the security guard says, ‘You can’t be. You’re too old.’ He was 36 at the time.” As it happened, Sudsy scored the only goal that night in a 1-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. He had lifetime security clearance thereafter.

I’m not sure what was more astonishing at Paul Maurice’s season-over chin-wag with news scavengers, his unvarnished arrogance or his smugness. Asked by Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun why, given the head coach’s track record, Jets fans should be confident that he is the right man to “turn this (team) around,” Coach Potty-Mouth declared “It doesn’t need to be turned around. It’s already headed in the right direction.” Well, excuuuuse us all to hell. And here we thought the Jets missed the playoffs. Again. Later, Maurice twice refused to allow TSN’s Sara Orlesky to complete a question about acquiring a veteran goaltender, interrupting her both times with a smug response. I will say one thing for Coach Potty-Mo, though: At one point, he confessed to lying to the media. I’m sure they take considerable comfort in knowing they shouldn’t believe anything he tells them.

While it remains uncertain if the Jets are, indeed, “headed in the right direction,” as Maurice submits, I’ll take their roster over that steaming mess of hooey in Vancouver. Do the deep-thinkers with the Canucks (hello Trevor Linden and Jim Benning) even have a clue? Basically, they fired their head coach, Willie Desjardins, because the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, had the bad manners to get old, and former GM Mike Gillis mangled half a dozen entry drafts.

To underscore how fortunate the Jets were at the draft lottery last April, consider this: By the odds, they should have picked no higher than sixth in the annual auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers. Patrik Laine would have been gone by then and they likely would have settled for Keith Tkachuk’s boy Matthew. The difference between Puck Finn and Tkachuk? Twenty-three goals, with Laine scoring 36 and Keith’s kid 13 for the Calgary Flames. Of the top 10 youngsters chosen last year, only three—Laine, Tkachuk and Auston Matthews—played full time in the NHL this season. That’s how lucky the Jets were at the lottery.

Blame it on the fans.

Paul Wiecek of the Free Press offers an interesting theory in explaining why NHL outfits from the True North have failed to bring the Stanley Cup home since 1993—it’s your fault, Josephine and Joe Phan. “My theory,” Wiecek writes, “is that we’re to blame—every sad-sack hockey fan in Canada who continues to fill the arenas in this country and pay huge bucks to watch mediocre (at best) hockey. Our strength as a hockey nation is also our biggest weakness when it comes to the NHL: our passion for the sport—and our willingness to be separated from our money in support of it, no matter what—provides no incentive for our NHL teams to be anything more than exactly what they are: Just good enough to make the playoffs but not nearly good enough to actually win a Cup.” The alternative, I suppose, is to stop supporting Canadian-based teams and let them all move to the southern U.S. How did that work out for Winnipeg the first time?

An odd bit of analysis on the Jets was delivered by Jeff Hamilton, one of the young scribes at the Drab Slab. “It makes little sense at this point to start pointing fingers,” he writes in the Freep. Really? If the media isn’t prepared to critique the local hockey heroes and assign responsibility for failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby, who will? Certainly not the fans, who, as Wiecek submits, happily part with their money for the opportunity to watch mediocrity. It’s the responsibility of the Fourth Estate to hold the Jets’ feet to the fire, and a talented writer/reporter like Hamilton surely knows that.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

 

About Jacob Trouba and the Winnipeg Jets…The King of Golf, Arnold Palmer…Fish fry ’em…Torts and Tebow…and a few other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Jacob Trouba
Jacob Trouba

Jacob Trouba wants more money. He wants more ice time. He wants to play on the right side as part of a first or second defence pairing. He wants out of Winnipeg. Want, want, want. Gimme, gimme, gimme.

So go ahead and cast him in the role of self-serving, petulant villain in the latest Winnipeg Jets soap opera, if you like, but I won’t go there.

Is Trouba’s reluctance to play the left side on defence any different than Dustin Byfuglien’s hesitancy to play forward? Isn’t his desire for more ice time a positive rather than a negative? I mean, show me a National Hockey League worker who’s satisfied with his on-ice allotment and I’ll show you someone I’d rather not have on my team.

It could be, of course, that Trouba is blowing smoke and there’s something more sinister at play in his request for a new postal/zip code. Perhaps he’s a malcontent of the Evander Kane ilk and River City just isn’t his kind of town. If so, that makes him a liar. So what. Everyone in hockey lives on Planet Pinocchio. If, however, Trouba is being truthful and the trade request he made in May and his agent made public on the weekend is strictly about the game and the manner in which he’s been deployed, I understand his argument.

Trouba is stuck behind Byfuglien and Tyler Myers on the right side of the Jets defence. That isn’t about to change. The club has told him as much, or so he claims. Thus, his only way out is to get out of Dodge.

I suspect Trouba will get his wish, although it’ll be on Kevin Cheveldayoff’s timetable and, as we are aware, most glaciers move at a more lickety-split clip than the man who generally manages the Jets.

What does this tell us about the Jets, though?

Trouba, after all, is the second neophyte to request a trade, the first being the aforementioned Kane, who wanted to see Winnipeg in the rear-view mirror the moment he skipped out on his first bar tab.

Cheveldayoff won’t cave here. As was the case with Kane, he’ll have a sticker price for Trouba, and he likely won’t have much appetite for dickering. He’ll hold out until he gets what he considers fair market value. In the final reckoning, though, there’ll be two very talented, young skaters who wanted out of Pegtown and got out.

Young guns looking for an escape route isn’t the sort of thing you want to become a trend when your business model is built on a draft-and-develop concept.

Goodbye to The King of Golf, Arnold Palmer.
Goodbye to The King of Golf, Arnold Palmer.

There have been better golfers than Arnold Palmer in my lifetime. Jack Nicklaus is the first that comes to mind. Tiger Woods. Perhaps Gary Player. There was, however, no one better for the game of golf than Arnie, who died on the weekend at age 87. I remember watching the King on our black-and-white TV screen when I was a wee sprig. I loved him. I loved his charm, his charisma, his swashbuckling style and a quirky swing that he always punctuated with a lean to the left or right as he attempted to influence the flight of his ball with body language. I loved how he would attack a golf course, not merely play it. I loved the mobs—Arnie’s Army—that followed him from hole-to-hole and transformed golf into a TV sport. I loved how he related to the people. I loved everything about Arnold Palmer.

Patrik Laine went 0-for-WCH (World Cup of Hockey). Should the Jets be concerned about their first-round draft choice’s performance? Not at all. If, on the other hand, he goes 0-for-October or 0-for-November, we’ll have to revisit the topic.

How about those Winnipeg Goldeyes. They claimed their second American Association baseball title this century. In Winnipeg, two championships in the same century is now considered binge winning. It’s a shame they had to knock off the Wingnuts in Wichita, though, because Lawrence Dumont Stadium looked near empty, with only 1,113 people in the pews. Had Game 5 of the championship series been played in the Ballyard By The Forks, the place would have been packed.

It’s official: Bill Belichick could put a scarecrow behind centre and the New England Patriots still would win National Football League games. The name of his quarterback on Thursday night already escapes me, but he beat the Houston Texans, 27-0, which means the Pats will be no worse than 3-1 by the time Tom Brady is allowed to deflate footballs again. Belichick is a genius or a mad scientist. Take your pick.

I realize that John Tortorella has coached a Stanley Cup-winning club, so he’s got some cred. But, really, why would anyone want to play for that man? He’s so objectionable. I acknowledge that a hockey team isn’t a democracy, but it seems to me that hockey could use one less dictator.

Phil Kessel
Phil Kessel

Oh, boo hoo to the many people, including Tortorella, upset with Phil Kessel because he posted a tweet tweeking the noses of USA Hockey officialdom after the tire fire that was their World Cup of Hockey experience? They snubbed the Pittsburgh Penguins forward, he didn’t like it, so he gave management/coaching staff a tongue-in-cheek jab. Yes, it was cheeky. Big deal. A guy can’t have a bit of fun anymore?

Tell me again that this Tim Tebow-baseball-New York Mets thing isn’t a publicity stunt. When the Amazins are peddling jerseys for $119.99 and T-shirts for $29.99 for a guy who will never play Major League Baseball—and they’re flying off the shelves—that is spelled g-i-m-m-i-c-k.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

About hockey greats…self-indulgent, unnecessary sports writing…Lebron James’s legacy…Kerry Fraser’s gaffe…Jimmy Hoffa…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

No. 4, Bobby Orr
No. 4, Bobby Orr

I witnessed my first live professional hockey game in the mid-1950s at the old barn on Maroons Road in Winnipeg, which was razed to rubble five decades later.

I watched my first televised hockey game in the 1950s, when our TVs had rabbit ears (sometimes with tin foil wrapping on the tips to enhance the quality of our black-and-white reception) and we would join a game originating from Toronto or Montreal already in progress (most often in the second period). That’s when I learned to truly dislike Rocket Richard.

I covered my first hockey game for a newspaper in 1970 and my byline first appeared on a hockey article in June 1971.

I wrote about, and commented on, hockey in mainstream media for 30 years and have written freelance articles and blogged on hockey for the past 17 years.

Do the math: I have been watching hockey for 60 of my 65 years and writing about it going on 47 years, long enough to draw conclusions.

So, were I to start a National Hockey League franchise, drawing from players I have witnessed—either in person or from my living room floor/sofa—which player would I choose to build around? No. 4, Bobby Orr.

Orr is the best hockey player I’ve ever seen. Still. Probably always.

Here’s my all-time dream team…

GOAL: Glenn Hall, Dominik Hasek

DEFENCE: Bobby Orr, Doug Harvey, Nicklas Lidstrom, Viacheslav Fetisov, Ray Bourque, Valery Vasiliev.

FORWARDS: Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Peter Forsberg, Bobby Hull, Mario Lemieux, Alexander Maltsev, Valeri Kharlamov, Jean Beliveau, Stan Mikita, Anatoli Firsov, Sergei Makarov.

Interesting take from Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press on the death of Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. “You’re going to be reading lots of ‘Here’s what Gordie Howe means to me’ stories over the next week,” he writes. “Most will be self-indulgent and unnecessary.” Let’s face it, much of what sports scribes scribble is self-indulgent and unnecessary, but the storytelling is neither. When someone of Howe’s or Muhammad Ali’s loft goes to the other side, the storytelling is essential to the narrative, otherwise all we’d have are lists of statistics to describe and define them. Without the storytelling, we know the athlete but not the person. Wiecek spun a terrific yarn about Howe that was far more interesting and insightful than spewing career scoring numbers.

Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe
Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe

Speaking of self-indulgent, one of the first columns I wrote for the Calgary Sun was about Gordie Howe. He was in town for a minor hockey promotion, the details of which now escape me, and we met at the CTV studios and spent the better part of an hour wagging our chins about all things shinny. The following morning, our editor-in-chief, Lester Pyette, approached me in the newsroom and said, “Great piece on Gordie Howe. Loved it. I’m a big Gordie Howe fan. But the publisher didn’t like it. He wants me to tell you that we brought you here to write about the Flames and Stampeders, not kids hockey and retired players.” I was gobsmacked. “Lester,” I told him, “if I find out that Mr. Hockey is in town, I’m writing about Mr. Hockey.” So I did. As mean and as ruthless as he was on the ice, Gordie Howe was as gracious and down-to-earth off the freeze. Wonderful man.

The notion that Lebron James needs to add a third National Basketball Association title to his resume before being granted all-time-great status is beyond absurd. How many World Series championships did Major League Baseball legend Ted Williams win? Or Carl Yastrzemski? Zero. Jim Brown, arguably the greatest running back in National Football League history, was 1-2 in championship games. How many times has the name Bobby Hull been inscribed on the Stanley Cup? Once. The great hoopster Jerry West was 1-8 in NBA championship series. James doesn’t need to set foot on the hardwood ever again. He’s already and all-timer.

Okay, Kerry Fraser has ‘fessed up. The former National Hockey League referee admits in The Players’ Tribune that he blew the call when he failed to banish Wayne Gretzky to the brig for slicing and dicing Doug Gilmour’s chinny-chin-chin in Game 6 of the 1993 Western Conference final between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings. It should have been a major penalty. “It was missed. Period,” is how Fraser puts it. Now, can Leafs Nation finally stop whining about something that happened 23 years ago?

If Connor McDavid’s name isn’t called when the NHL announces its top rookie for the 2015-16 season, he shouldn’t lose any sleep. Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Guy Lafleur, Marcel Dionne, Chris Chelios, Steve Yzerman, Borje Salming, Stan Mikita and Patrick Roy weren’t at the head of their respective freshman classes, and each is in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Is Jimmy Hoffa hiding in one of those beards?
Is Jimmy Hoffa hiding in one of those beards?

So, legendary flying Frenchman Guy Lafleur isn’t fond of facial foliage. He looks at the unruly shrubs sprouting from the cheeks and chins of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks and declares them “a disgrace for hockey.” This from a guy who went through two packs of cigarettes a day and actually smoked in the dressing room between periods when he played for the Montreal Canadiens.

Just wondering, when the Stanley Cup tournament concludes and Thornton and Burns finally reach for the razors, what are the chances of Jimmy Hoffa falling out of one of those beards?

Aside to Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: You’ve cranked out some quality copy re the deaths of Muhammad Ali and Gordie Howe, but do yourself a favor—stop writing about Phil Kessel. We get it already. You weren’t a fan of his game or his eating habits during his tour of duty in the Republic of Tranna. Let it go, man. Move along.

Just for the record, this entire article has been self-indulgent and unnecessary. But I had nothing better to do when I awoke at 2:30 this ayem, so I started typing.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.