About drinking the Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid…a pity party…size doesn’t really matter…beer-league hockey and a bean counter…a losing MVP…Nathan MacKinnon for MVP…Shaq’s still PO’d about Steve Nash…women in the broadcast booth…and Le Grand Orange bids adieu

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

I didn’t think anyone would buy the “everything goes under the radar when you play in Winnipeg,” bunk that Jets captain Blake Wheeler was selling last week. Other than the gullible, fawning faithful, that is.

But along comes Paul Wiecek and he’s actually swallowing that cup of Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid.

Right to the very last drop.

Here’s what the Winnipeg Free Press columnist wrote about Wheeler’s “under the radar” malarkey: “That might have been true before this season. In fact, it almost certainly was true.”

In fact, it almost certainly was not true.

Which National Hockey League outfit, the Jets (versions 1.0 and 2.0) or the mega-market Tranna Maple Leafs, do you suppose has produced more individual regular-season award winners and more all-stars since River City was invited to join the fun for the 1979-80 season (excluding, of course, the years when Winnipeg was dark)? I’ll give you a hint: It isn’t the team that skates in the shadow of the CN Tower.

Here are the facts, ma’am…just the facts (they aren’t hard to find):

Winnipeg Jets 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17

Calder Trophy: Dale Hawerchuk 1981-82, Teemu Selanne 1992-93
Jack Adams Trophy: Tom Watt 1981-82, Bob Murdoch 1989-90
King Clancy Memorial Trophy: Kris King 1995-96
All-star teams (1st or 2nd): Hawerchuk 1984-85, Selanne 1992-93, Keith Tkachuk 1994-95, Phil Housley 1991-92, Alexei Zhamnov 1994-95
Rookie all-star team: Selanne 1992-93, Bob Essensa 1989-90, Iain Duncan 1987-88, Boris Mironov 1993-94, Patrik Laine 2016-17
Total: 5 individual awards, 5 all-star teams, 5 rookie all-stars15.

Tranna Maple Leafs 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17

Calder Trophy: Auston Matthews 2016-17
Frank Selke Trophy: Doug Gilmour 1992-93
Jack Adams Trophy: Pat Burns 1992-93
All-star teams: Borje Salming 1979-80
Rookie all-star team: Felix Potvin 1992-93, Wendel Clark 1985-86, Dan Daoust 1982-83, Kenny Jonsson 1994-95, Jake Gardiner 2011-12, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews 2016-17
Total: 3 individual awards, 1 all-star team, 7 rookie all-stars—11.

We all know les Leafs fly “under the radar” like Donald Trump is subtle on Twitter, yet voters have ignored them season after season after season.

Teemu Selanne and the Calder Trophy

Consider the Calder Trophy as an e.g. Until Auston Matthews was anointed the NHL’s leading freshman last spring, do you know how long it had been since a member of les Leafs won the top frosh bauble? Fifty-one freaking years! Half a century! When Brit Selby accepted the trinket, Lester Pearson was Prime Minister of Canada. Neil Young had just joined Buffalo Springfield. Hockey Night in Canada was still televised in black and white.

But two Jets—Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne—copped the Calder after Selby and before Mathews. And a third, Patrik Laine, was runnerup last year.

Go figure.

This whole Winnipeg is “under the radar” thing is a total copout. It’s such a lame lament. It sounds like the theme of an “Oh, woe are we” pity party. I can hear Leslie Gore singing “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” as I type. Rodney Dangerfield should be their poster boy. No respect, I’ll tell ya…no respect. Look, I get the drill. Winnipeg is mocked, maligned and ridiculed as a backwater burg. It’s so remote, you have to drive 500 miles just to get to the Middle of Nowhere, also known as Regina. But I invite anyone to provide evidence in support of the notion that a Jets player or coach has been cheated out of an award due to locale.

Blake Wheeler

Wiecek didn’t stop at one swig of the Jets Kool-Aid. He doubled down on the conspiracy theory in a follow-up essay: “There has been some loose talk in recent weeks about Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler having an outside shot at taking down this season’s Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player,” he wrote. “That’s not going to happen for a lot of reasons, beginning with the fact the Hart Trophy is voted upon by the media and Wheeler plays in the smallest media market in the entire NHL.” He wants to talk about size? Like size matters? Okay, let’s talk size. If Winnipeg is the nail on your little toe, Edmonton is the nail on your pinky finger. Yet the Oilers won 30—count ’em, 30—individual awards that are voted on (mostly by the media), 10 of them going to players not named Wayne Gretzky (in the years Winnipeg wasn’t dark). There were also 32 first- or second-team all-star selections, including six chosen to the rookie team. In the National Football League, tinytown Green Bay can boast of eight Associated Press MVP awards from five players, dating back to the early 1960s. The Goliath known as New York City, with two teams since 1970, has had just two NFL MVPs. Size doesn’t matter, performance does.

Scott Foster shuts the door on Paul Stastny.

So, the mighty Jets juggernaut couldn’t put a puck past a bean counter who plays goal in a beer league at Johnny’s Ice House West in Chicago. They tried for 14 minutes and one second. They tested him seven times. Nada. Scott Foster, the Blackhawks backup goaltender to the backup goaltender, was perfect on Thursday night at the United Center. His NHL career goals-against average is 0.00. I swear, there hasn’t been a better emergency replacement story in sports since Lou Gehrig took over at first base for Wally Pipp and the New York Yankees. Difference is, Gehrig hung in there for another 2,130 consecutive games. Bean Counter Foster didn’t quit his day job. He went back to his spreadsheets the following morning, knowing he’s the NHL’s feel-good story of the year. Brilliant stuff.

Al Rollins

Speaking of Chitown goaltenders, does the name Al Rollins mean anything to you? Didn’t think so. Well, he tended goal for Chicago in 1953-54. The Blackhawks occupied the cellar in the NHL that season. They won just 12 of 70 assignments, missing the playoffs by a whopping 43 points. Rollins’ 3.23 goals-against average was worst in the league. Guess who was NHL MVP. Yup, Al Rollins. So don’t tell me Connor McDavid shouldn’t be considered for the Hart Trophy simply because his Oilers teammates suck and didn’t qualify for this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament. History records that numerous outriders have been MVP, in all leagues. Andre (Hawk) Dawson, for example, was MVP on a Major League Baseball bottom-feeder. Ditto Alex Rodriguez. Here’s a partial list of non-playoff MVPs: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles Lakers,1975-76; Larry Walker, Colorado Rockies, 1997; Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants, 2001, 2004; Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers, 2003; Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies, 2006; Albert Puhols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2008; O.J. Simpson, Buffalo Bills, 1973; Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts, 1967; Andre Dawson, Chicago Cubs, 1987; Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals, 2015; Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins, 2017; Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 2016; Robin Yount, Milwaukee Brewers, 1989; Cal Ripken, Baltimore Orioles, 1991; Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs, 1958-59; Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins, 1987-88; Andy Bathgate, New York Rangers, 1958-59.

If I had a vote, I’d be inclined to give serious consideration to Brad Marchand as MVP in the NHL, because the Boston Bruins would be in Nowheresville without him. But I’d have to hold my nose if I included him on my ballot, because he’s a skunk. A total dweeb. People say Marchand plays “with an edge,” but I disagree. He plays dirty. He’s also a diver. Ultimately, I’d have his name on my ballot, but not at the top. I’d put Nathan MacKinnon and his 93 points/11 game-winning goals for the Colorado Avalanche first, followed by McDavid. Yup, possibly two non-playoff participants one-two. I’d have Blake Wheeler of les Jets third (he plays an honest game as opposed to Marchand’s shenanigans), then Sidney Crosby (Evgeni Malkin has marginally better numbers, but Sid the Kid still makes the Pittsburgh Penguins tick) and Marchand.

I’m not a hoops fan. Never have been. But it’s boffo that Victoria’s Steve Nash will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, in part because he was a two-time National Basketball Association most valuable player. Mind you, his former sidekick with the Phoenix Suns, Shaquille O’Neal, figures Nash’s two MVP awards were a rob job. “(I should have won) three, easily. (I should have won) the two that Steve Nash got over me. It pisses me off. (Nash) knows,” Shaq once told SI.com. Get over it, Shaq.

How unusual, also refreshing, to hear an all-female broadcast team work a hockey game. Sportsnet pulled it off with Leah Hextall handling the play-by-play, Cassie Campbell-Pascall providing the backup vocals in the booth, and Nikki Reyes standing at rink-side for the Clarkson Cup, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League title match between the Markham Thunder and Kunlun Red Star. Wonder how long it will be before we hear three women working an NHL game? No doubt the very thought will make a lot of men cringe and feel like they’ve been gelded. Well, it’ll happen one day. Deal with it, boys.

Le Grand Orange

Le Grand Orange has left the building. That would be Rusty Staub, who died Thursday, three days before his 74th birthday. I have one vivid memory of Staub—he stole a base in the first Major League Baseball game I witnessed live. An original member of the Montreal Expos, Staub was with the Detroit Tigers at the time and I was sitting in the first base bleachers at old Exhibition Stadium in the Republic of Tranna. Because he had the foot speed of an ATM, the Blue Jays thought it unlikely that Staub would bolt. Yet away he went. It was like watching a man pull a milk wagon. I could have poured back three pints by the time he arrived at second base. But he got there safely. Standing up, no less. Staub stood there, smiling, like a schoolboy who’d pulled the perfect prank. A nice memory.

And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: Not so long ago, he described the induction of Pedro Martinez to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as a “ridiculous choice. He spent four seasons in Montreal. That’s all.” Apparently, that made the Hall “look cheap.” And “Do you honestly believe a player with four years service belongs in a Hall of Fame? Any Hall of Fame?” Ah, but now he writes glowingly of Staub as “the baseball player in Canada so many of us cared about. The first who mattered across the country.” Staub actually spent less time with the Expos than Martinez, just 3 ½ season with the Expos, but he was inducted into the CBHF in 2012 and I don’t hear Grandpa Simmons shouting that it was a “ridiculous choice.” Nor should he. So shut up about Pedro, Steve.

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About an Officer and a world champion…thank you notes from Jill Officer and Vic Peters…dumb hockey prophets…no Calder for Connor…transparency from hockey scribes…an Irishman and booze…Mac and Martina…what about Tricky Dick and Leo the Lip?…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Jill Officer has yet to utter the R-word. Retirement. She insists she’s just taking “a step back.”

Well, okay. If she says so.

I mean, Officer can define her retreat from elite curling with the terminology of her choosing, but she wept openly last month after going public with her decision. You don’t cry if you’re staying. You cry when you’re leaving.

Thus, there’s no escaping the fact that we have arrived at the end of an era. An unparalleled era.

Thelma and Louise

Officer, of course, has been playing Thelma to Jennifer Jones’s Louise since…well, since about the same time the fictional Thelma and Louise were on the lam, leading cops on a catch-us-if-you-can romp across America. That classic chick flick arrived on the big screen in May 1991. Curling’s two J Girls united shortly thereafter, and foes and friends have been chasing them ever since.

A quarter century. Who stays together that long? The Lone Ranger and Tonto. Homer and Marge. Mick and Keith. Fish and chips. That’s about it.

Here’s some time perspective: One of the J Girls’ teammates on the Canadian rep at the world women’s championship in North Bay the past week, fifth Shannon Birchard, wasn’t even in her mama’s womb when Officer and Jones first joined forces. The outfit’s third, Kaitlyn Lawes, had yet to begin grade school.

Jennifer Jones and Jill Officer

And it’s been quite the trip that skip Jen and second Jill have taken us on since that day in the early ’90s when the teenage Jones pulled the teenage Officer aside for a chit-chat by a Coke machine at the Highlander Curling Club in Winnipeg, whereupon they forged a partnership that has produced provincial (nine), Canadian (seven), Grand Slam (15), world (two) and Olympic titles. (Did I mention it was an unparalleled era among Manitoba curlers?)

Following Canada’s drama-drenched 7-6, extra-end victory over Sweden (brilliant game) on Sunday, there’ll be two curtain calls for the 42-year-old Officer in Grand Slam of Curling competition, then she’ll ease away, making only cameo appearances for the world-champion Jones team, which includes lead Dawn McEwen and will add Jocelyn Peterman to throw second stones next season.

This world title was the ideal, also appropriate, way for Officer to leave the big stage. One final run for glory. One final crown. And a perfect (14-0) storybook ending.

It was a beautiful thing.

Vic Peters

Terrific Jill Officer story from Paul Wiecek, longtime curling scribe and now columnist with the Winnipeg Free Press: “For the longest time, she would come to every major curling event the Jones team was competing in with these little chocolate curling rocks she’d buy at Morden’s in Winnipeg before she left. She’d tie a little ribbon around those chocolate rocks and attach a thank you card. And then, win or lose, Officer, who was a TV reporter back in the day, would come up to the media bench at the end of those curling events and hand those cards and chocolates to the reporters who’d been covering her team, just to thank us for the coverage. You know who else I covered over the last three decades who gave me a thank you card? Nobody.” I can relate. After covering the 1997 Brier in Calgary, I received a thank you card in the mail. It was from the late, great Vic Peters, his bride Deb, and their kids, Elisabeth, Kassie and Daley. That card sits atop my bookcase, 21 years after the fact. Curlers are wonderful and Peters, who left us almost exactly two years ago to this very day, was a total treat.

Doug Flutie

This is an equal-opportunity blog, folks. That is, any and all who do, say or write something stupid in sports are fair game for scorn, ridicule, rude laughter and no-insults-barred cheap shots. No exceptions. Sacred cows do not exist. Unless, of course, I harbor a special fondness for someone (hello, Tessa Virtue), in which case nary a discouraging word shall be written.

With that in mind, it’s only fair that I direct your attention to an analysis delivered prior to the first puck drop of the Winnipeg Jets current National Hockey League crusade. To wit:

It appears that the Western Conference road to the Stanley Cup is likely to go through Northern Alberta. If not, it’ll be Southern Alberta, where the Calgary Flames are shaping up to be a force. The trouble with the Jets—aside from the people behind the bench—is geography. Until they prove otherwise, they’re still the third best outfit on the Canadian Prairies.”

And what goomer wrote that tripe? Guilty, yer honor. Yup, it was little ol’ moi. D’oh! D’oh! D’oh!

But, hey, it’s not the dumbest thing I’ve ever scribbled. I once referred to the Major League Baseball all-star game as the “annual Fall Classic,” even though it’s played in July. And, of course, there was the time I mentioned something about Doug Flutie being nothing more than a fair-weather quarterback, only to then watch him win a Grey Cup game in a blizzard.

So, ya, Brain Cramps ‘R’ Me.

Connor McDavid

I find little or no consolation in the knowledge that the Edmonton McDavids and Flames fooled the majority of those who observe the goings-on of the NHL. I mean, seven of 16 “experts” at Sportsnet picked the McDavids to win the West. Fifteen of 16 forecast either the McDavids or Flames to finish with the highest points total among the seven Canadian clubs. Over at USA Today, the boys and girls on the beat had the McDavids finishing first in the Pacific Division, with Calgary in third. Yet, once the Stanley Cup tournament commences next month, the McDavids and Flames will have their noses pressed to the window, watching the fun from the outside. Sigh. The difference between me and the scribes/talking heads at Sportsnet and USA Today? They get paid to be dumb. I don’t. Sometimes life just isn’t fair.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna dates back to a Dec. 12 tweet, in which he wrote: “With four points tonight, @cmcdavid97 moves into 3rd in NHL scoring behind Steve Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. McDavid be back in the scoring lead within 10 days, I figure, maybe sooner.” Connor McDavid moved atop the scoring chart on Saturday night, meaning Simmons missed the mark by 92 days, or three months. Yup, another guy getting paid to be dumb.

Kyle Connor

Going from dumb to dumber, we give you this headline from the Winnipeg Sun last week: “Jets Connor for Calder?” Oh, shut the front door! I like Kyle Connor. He’s been the second-best contributor named Connor on the Jets roster this crusade. So, I agree, the kid’s boffo. But the NHL’s leading freshman? As if. Donald Trump will give up golf, Playmates and porn stars before that happens. Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders is your top frosh. No debate. After that, it’s Brock Boeser and the rest. And it won’t have anything to do with Connor doing his thing in out-of-the-way Winnipeg. “Everything goes under the radar when you play in Winnipeg,” says Jets captain Blake Wheeler. Road apples! Dale Hawerchuk didn’t go under the radar. Teemu Selanne didn’t go under the radar. Barzal will win because he’s had the better rookie season, to date by 29 points.

Sweeney Odd

Lest we forget, the Jets have Don Sweeney to thank for Connor’s 28 goals, because the Boston Bruins general manager passed on the University of Michigan winger on three consecutive shout-outs during the first round of the 2015 NHL entry draft. Odd bit of business, that. Sweeney Odd, we hasten to add, also overlooked Barzal and Brock Boeser to instead claim Jake DeBrusk, Jakub Zboril and Zachary Senyshyn. So let’s do the math: The trio of Connor, Barzal and Boeser have combined for 77 goals and 178 points this season. The three guys the Boston GM swooped in on have contributed 14 goals and 39 points to the Bruins’ cause. Difference: 63 goals, 139 points. Sweeney Odd gets to keep his day job, though, because his club is already selling playoff tickets.

Humpty Harold Ballard

So, it only took the Professional Hockey Writers Association half a century to do what they’ve been demanding of everyone from Clarence Campbell to Harold Ballard’s parole officer since forever—full disclosure. Oh, yes, in recent balloting, 81.3 per cent of the jewels of puck journalism agreed that voting on the NHL’s annual year-end trinkets ought to be made public. PHWA vice-president Frank Seravalli of TSN declared this “a big moment.” I hope he didn’t pull a muscle patting himself on the back. I mean, if 81.3 per cent were in favor of complete transparency, 18.7 per cent still prefer the process be kept hush-hush. In other words, they don’t have the balls to defend their choices for the Hart, Norris, Lady Byng, Masterton, Calder, Selke and Smythe nick-nacks. If ever there was a vote that should have been unanimous, that was it.

Best lip service of the week comes from Tranna Blue Jays manager John Gibbons: “My experience in this game is that sometimes it’s better to be smart than stupid.” Sometimes? You only want to be unstupid sometimes? Tells me it’s gonna be another long baseball season for the Tranna Nine.

Rory McIlroy

If Rory McIlroy had his druthers, the ‘P’ in PGA Tour would stand for Prohibition. Yup, McIlroar wants them to turn off the taps at golf tournaments. “I think they need to limit alcohol sales on the course,” he said after the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational last weekend. Imagine that. An Irishman calling for a ban on booze. St. Patty is spinning. But McIlroar is serious. By his measure, too man fans are getting banjo’d, Magooed, gee-eyed and jarred at PGA events. “It used to be you bring beers on the course, but not liquor,” he went on. “And now it seems like everyone is walking around with a cocktail. So I don’t know if it’s just people walking around with beers in their hand, that’s fine.” Ya, we all know that no guy drinking beer has ever gotten loud, obnoxious and blethered. Slainte, Rory.

Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe

So, Martina Navratilova is having herself a proper, little hissy fit after learning how much the BBC stuffs into John McEnroe’s pay envelope ($210,000-$280,000) for flapping his gums during the Wimbledon fortnight. The tennis legend is “not happy” and “it’s shocking” that Johnny Mac earns 10 times the $27,000 she collects. “It’s still the good old boys’ network,” she says. “The bottom line is that male voices are valued more than women’s voices.” Get a grip, girl. You’re both getting paid by the word, and McEnroe never shuts the hell up.

Seriously, although the BBC is guilty of gender pay inequity, the McEnroe-Navratilova situation isn’t a he-she thing. It’s a talent thing. He’s the best tennis talker. Is he 10 times better than her? That can’t be measured, but I’ll submit he’s superior by a considerable margin. His work load is also considerably heavier. Look, Al Michaels reportedly earns $5 million per year to talk football on NBC. His sidekick, Cris Collinsworth, collects $1 million, or thereabouts. They sit in the same broadcast booth, for the same length of time; they watch the same players and the same game. Yet one hauls in $5 mill and the other $1 mill. It’s the same 5-1 ratio with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman over at Fox Sports. Nothing to do with gender.

And, finally, I’ve heard little quarrel about the Canadian Football Hall of Fame class of 2018—Hank Ilesic, Scott Flory, Baron Miles, Brent Johnson, Frank Cosentino, Paul Brule and Tom Hugo.

One dissenting voice, however, comes from Steve Simmons (I know, what a surprise). He wonders why Tricky Dick Thornton, the all-purpose player with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Tranna Argonauts in the 1960s and early ’70s, and Leo (The Lip) Cahill, former head coach and general manager of the Boatmen, continue to be snubbed.

It’s a shame and overdue because both were significant to the success of the Canadian Football League and for reasons I’ve never ascertained, have been pushed aside on an annual basis,” he writes.

I agree with Simmons on Thornton. Makes no sense. Ya, sure, he was a non-conformist. He wore his hair long, he wore an earring, he had a Fu Manchu mustache, he wrote poetry and sucked up to the media. But he also played every position but percussion in the symphony orchestra. And played them all exceptionally well.

As for Cahill, he was a charming, colorful character but a career .500 head coach. He never won the Grey Cup.

About racism, Winnipeg and Evander Kane…Puck Finn and the Great One…the Jets and the Nashville Model…the odds on Tiger…eyes on the Raptors…a girl in goal…Tebow time is over…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

See? Evander Kane was right all along.

He wasn’t the problem.

Blame the Buffalo cops, who slapped the cuffs on Evander Kane.

It was all those ungrateful, green-with-envy restaurant workers and (especially) those nasty racists in Winnipeg. And it was those young, gold-digging women in Buffalo who kept calling the cops and accusing him of sexual assault. And it was those same cops who clapped the cuffs on him—in broad daylight on a downtown Buffalo street, no less—and hauled his sorry butt to the hoosegow. They were white, ergo racist.

That’s why Kane never blossomed into the National Hockey League mega-star that so many of the faithful expected (hoped?) him to become.

Well just look at our old friend now.

Kane has landed in a city, San Jose, where (apparently) there isn’t someone wearing a white bedsheet and a KKK hood hiding behind every lamp post. The citizenry is, according to Paul Gackle of the San Jose Mercury News, recognized for “ethnic diversity and lefty politics.” Also significant: “Less than 30 per cent of its population is white.”

And—as if on cue—presto! Kane has his first NHL hat trick. Four goals in one game, in fact. Five in nine.

It’s great that San Jose is so diverse,” the former Winnipeg Jets/Buffalo Sabres and freshly minted Sharks winger told Gackle just last week. “I’ve heard nothing but positive things.”

Donald Williams Jr. leaving the courthouse with his mother.

I guess Kane missed the memo about Donald Williams Jr.

He was a 17-year-old black freshman and the victim of a chilling campaign of racism at San Jose State University. Three white dorm roommates terrorized Williams Jr., dropping N-bombs, calling him “fraction,” posting pictures of Adolph Hitler, flaunting the Confederate flag and, most alarming, they clamped a U-shaped bicycle lock around his neck and told him they lost the key. That went on for three months. The white boys insisted it was a college prank and, alarmingly, a jury agreed, finding the roommates guilty of misdemeanor battery but clearing one on a hate-crime charge and failing to reach a verdict on the other two. Oh, did I fail to mention that it was an all-white jury?

I don’t recall anything like that happening at the University of Winnipeg or University of Manitoba.

Ironically, the Williams Jr. torment occurred in 2013, about the same time Kane was telling The Hockey News that much of the criticism directed his way in Winnipeg was “because I’m black, and I’m not afraid to say that. I do think that’s true. Absolutely.”

Indeed, Gackle writes about “the racial issues that Kane confronted with the Jets,” but he leans heavily on race and goes light on substance. That is to say, not once does he provide anecdotal evidence in his Mercury News article to support his supposition. Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge, Kane has never supplied one morsel of detailed testimony to confirm that racism was at the root of his trouble in River City. At best, he’s muttered about the horrors of “social media and that sort of stuff.”

That from a guy who once tweeted that Chris Bosh “looked like a fairy” during a National Basketball Association playoff game. Before delivering a mea culpa for that anti-gay slur, Kane scoffed at anyone who took offence, advising them that his comment was “real talk.” So, ya, he knows all about the sewage that pours out of people hiding behind a computer keyboard. He’s contributed to it.

Look, I don’t doubt Kane has experienced racism and/or bigotry on social media. What minority hasn’t? Try being a female jock journalist. Or gay? Or transgender.

None of this is to suggest racism doesn’t exist in Winnipeg. We all know it does. Bigotry too. I just think it’s time that Evander Kane stopped playing the race card and just played hockey.

San Jose State University students protest ruling in Donald Williams Jr. case.

The headline on Gackle’s article in the Mercury News was pure click bait: “Racism, Winnipeg and why the Sharks are a good fit for Evander Kane.” But, then, that’s what a headline is supposed to do. As for the writer, Gackle pointed out that racism isn’t “just a Winnipeg thing,” but he still wasn’t about to let the facts get in the way of his slanted story. He eagerly painted River City as a bedrock of racism and, at the same time, presented San Jose as lily white in soul, if not skin color, yet he not only ignored the aforementioned Donald Williams Jr. case, he also made no mention of a September 2016 circumstance, whereby swastikas and anti-semitic language were discovered in two resident halls at San Jose State University. That led to another investigation of a hate crime. Had Gackle included those two incidents, he had no story.

Wayne Gretzky

Speaking of scribes and facts, Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press is dealing in inaccuracies when he writes this about Jets sophomore sensation Patrik Laine: “So what does (a contract) extension look like for a 19-year-old who has 41 goals in his second season in the NHL and has already scored more often at this point in his career than Wayne Gretzky?” Fact check: To date, Puck Finn has lit the lamp 79 times. He has 132 points. Gretzky, meanwhile, had 106 (51, 55) goals and 301 (137, 164) points in his first two NHL crusades. Thus, Laine needs 27 goals and 169 points in the Jets final 10 games to equal Gretzky’s totals. Just the facts, ma’am…just the facts. It’s not hard to look ’em up.

Mark Chipman: Following the Nashville blueprint.

Wiecek also makes the strong case that the Jets are modeled after the Chicago Blackhawks, but didn’t Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman make it clear from the outset that his franchise was using the Nashville Predators’ blueprint? Well, yes…yes he did. “That may sound strange to people in Winnipeg, that Nashville’s a team we’ve looked carefully at,” the Jets co-bankroll told news snoops in the spring of 2012. “They’ve done it methodically, they’ve done it by developing their players and they’ve done it with a consistency in management and philosophy…I think but for a couple of bounces that team could have a Stanley Cup banner hanging under their rafters.” As it turns out, Nashville South and Nashville North (in the hockey sense) soon might be arguing over Central Division bragging rights in the second round of the Stanley Cup tournament.

Tiger Woods

So, people are watching golf again now that Tiger Woods can get out of bed without taking a mulligan, and Las Vegas bookies are mightily impressed. So much so that LV SuperBook had Tiger listed last Wednesday as the 8-1 favorite to win next month’s Masters tournament. It’s a fool’s bet. As well as Woods performed in the recent Valspar Championship and in the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday, he won’t win an event that includes Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Ricki Fowler, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. That’s where my money would go.

Bond…James Bond

I’m advised that last Friday’s joust between National Basketball Association titans, the Tranna Raptors and Houston Rockets, was watched, in whole or in part, by 1.7 million Canadians. Never before have that many eyeballs been glued to Tranna’s hoopsters for a regular-season game. “The excitement for the Raptors is clearly building right across the country,” gushed Scott Moore, president of Sportsnet. I suppose we’ll have to take his word for it, but I’d like to see a regional breakdown of viewer numbers before I’m convinced that anyone west of Mississauga and east of the Ontario-Quebec boundary is watching the Raptors. Personally, I’ve never seen five minutes of a Raptors game. Mind you, I’ve never seen an episode of Star Trek or a James Bond movie, either, so perhaps I’ll add all three to my bucket list. If I had a bucket list, that is.

Stephanie Labbe

Canadian women’s national team keeper Stephanie Labbe is attempting to crack the roster of the Calgary Foothills, a men’s under-23 outfit in soccer’s Premier Development League. “I’m not a female soccer player, I’m just a soccer player,” she says. Unfortunately, even in 2018, that’s not how others will look at it. I mean, a rainbow trout can shout “I’m not a rainbow trout, I’m just a trout,” but fishers are still going to see a rainbow trout. The important thing—and all that really matters—is that management and Labbe’s fellow players treat her as “just a soccer player.” Bonne chance to her.

Tim Tebow

Is the Tim Tebow carnival sideshow on or off? “I think one day he will play in the major leagues. That’s my guess,” New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said of the football-to-baseball experiment. He added that Tebow graduating to his club’s Major League Baseball roster has become a “modest expectation.” Tebow then went 1-for-18 (.056) with 11 whiffs during seven Grapefruit League games with the Amazins. No word on whether the expectation has been downgraded from “modest” to “it ain’t never gonna happen,” but I saw the former Heisman Trophy winner twice this spring and it seems to me he’s a guy with a future as a college football broadcaster, not in Mets outfield.

Jill Officer and Jennifer Jones

Canada’s reps at the world women’s curling championship are Jennifer Jones and her gal pals from the St. Vital Club in River City, and neither local newspaper has feet on the ground in North Bay. I’ve come to expect that from the Winnipeg Sun, which was truant at this year’s Brier and Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but I’m surprised that the Freep would give the worlds a pass. Especially since this is last call for the legendary hall of fame tandem of Jones and longtime second Jill Officer, who steps away from the team as a full-time curler at season’s end.

Euclid Cummings

And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “Don’t like the fact the CFL voids contracts after players are charged with a crime. Being charged is one thing. Being convicted is another. CFL shouldn’t play judge and jury here with people’s lives.” So, Euclid Cummings is facing two counts of sexual assault, one count of assault and one count of uttering a threat to cause death or bodily harm, and Simmons believes the Canadian Football League is wrong for telling the B.C. Lions that the defensive lineman is persona non grata. I suppose we ought not be surprised. Simmons, after all, also believes Johnny Manziel, who beat up his former girl friend more than once, would be a swell addition to the CFL. Perhaps he’d like the three-down league to make room for Ray Rice as well.

About Auston Matthews and Puck Finn, who ya gonna take now?…hockey goals and soccer goals on TSN…a swing and a miss for the Hockey Hall of Fame…no gay curling champion…Tiger, Tiger burning bright…and a “golden standard” that ain’t so golden

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Puck Finn, Patrik Laine

Okay, let’s ask the Tranna Maple Leafs if they’d like a do-over.

That is, given the opportunity to revisit the 2016 National Hockey League entry draft, would les Leafs still use their first shout-out to select Auston Matthews? Or would they choose Puck Finn, more commonly known as Patrik Laine?

Matthews and Laine went one-two, respectively, in the annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers in ’16 and, almost two complete crusades into their NHL careers, a case can be made that the Leafs chose the wrong guy. Laine, after all, has lit more lamps this winter than anyone other than Alex Ovechkin and a Kentucky coal miner. He’s just 10 shy of a 50-goal season as a sophomore. Only two players in history, Jimmy Carson and Dale Hawerchuk, scored more often as NHL teens.

In short, Puck Finn has come as advertised.

Auston Matthews

Matthews has as well, though, and going by the numbers the difference between the Leafs centre and the Winnipeg Jets winger is just six games, eight goals and a horrible mess of scraggly chin whiskers that make Laine look like an Amish bread, butter and egg man (worst…beard…ever). Matthews is 135-68-51-119; Laine is 141-76-51-127.

So, would the Leafs do things differently? Nope. Would the Jets want them to do things differently? Hell no.

I recall being puzzled by the results of a Postmedia preseason poll, whereby 25 NHL players were asked to read the tea leaves and predict the winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy, which goes to the league’s top sniper. Eight players were mentioned, not one of them named Patrik Laine. They were, in order, Sidney Crosby, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Ovechkin, Tyler Seguin, Steven Stamkos, Vladimir Tarasenko, Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel. (Seriously, Jack Eichel?) What is it, I wondered, that the players didn’t see in Laine? I mean, they’re on the ice with him. They have intimate knowledge of the shot that Puck Finn snaps off faster and is more lethal than a Donald Trump tweet. Surely they know more about pure talent than us lumps on bar stools. Guess not.

Lionel Messi

Speaking of lumps on stools, I direct your attention to The Quiz boys on TSN—Jeff O’Dog, Dave Poulin and Bob McKenzie. Quiz master James Duthie asked the three wise men to choose between Ovechkin (598 hockey goals) and Lionel Messi (600 soccer goals) as the greatest sniper of this generation.

O’Dog: “I’m going to pick Alex Ovechkin due to the fact I’ve never seen Messi play one second of a competitive soccer match…is that what they call it, the match?”

McKenzie: “I will go with Ovechkin. I’ve gotta go with the hockey answer simply because, as O said, I don’t have the context to provide for soccer. Don’t follow it close enough, so, I realize how great Messi is, but…”

Duthie: “You’re basically saying that you’re both ignorant to soccer.”

McKenzie: “That’s correct.”

O’Dog: “Don’t care about it either.”

Only Poulin got it right.

Six hundred goals in soccer is like two million goals in hockey,” he advised the two blockheads sitting to his left.

Poulin’s point is well taken, even if his math is suspect. The difference between soccer snipes and hockey goals is probably more like dog years to human years—seven to one. Thus, Messi’s 600 is the equivalent of 4,200 hockey goals. You’d think someone named O’Dog would know about dog years.

Pierre McGuire

There must be some Arctic air flowing into hell, because I’m going to agree with Damien Cox. The Toronto Star scribe is calling out the Hockey Hall of Fame for appointing “another older, white male” to replace legendary coach Scotty Bowman on its selection committee. “What was the hall thinking?” he asks. “What was (chairman Lanny) McDonald thinking?” They “blew it.” Cox figures the HHOF would be more in tune to the times had it chosen a woman or “person of color” to fill the vacancy, rather than broadcaster Pierre McGuire. He believes diversity and gender equality are “critical issues.” Hard to disagree. It is, mind you, odd to hear a Canadian sports scribe calling for “diversity” when his own business is largely old, white, male and exclusively heterosexual.

In acknowledgement of International Women’s Day, Donnovan Bennett of Sportsnet had a panel chin-wag with three female jock journalists—Laura Armstrong of the Toronto Star, Rachel Brady of the Globe and Mail, and Christine Simpson of Sportsnet. I’d like to report that the women provided considerable anecdotal insight about the challenges they face in what remains very much a man’s world, but it wasn’t much more than bland generalities. That to-and-fro came on the heels of Bennett’s gab fest with David Amber, Morgan Campbell, Eric Thomas and Rosey Edeh in recognition of Black History Month. It leaves me to wonder if he’ll gather together three or four gay sports writers during Pride Month in June. Oh wait. Scratch that thought. There are no gay sports scribes in Canada.

John Epping

I can’t help but wonder what the reaction would have been had John Epping and his Ontario team won the Canadian men’s curling championship on Sunday. Epping is the only openly gay man to skip in the Brier, and many kudos to TSN for acknowledging his husband, Thomas Shipton, during Ontario’s semifinal loss to Brendan Bottcher of Alberta. That recognition might seem trivial to most, but it carries considerable significant to many in the LGBT community.

Interesting gimmick the Southern Professional Hockey League is adopting for its playoffs this year. The first-, second- and third-place teams get to choose their opening-round foes. Yup. Disregard the standings. The top dog decides if it wants to face off against team No. 5, 6, 7 or 8. Then the next two outfits sift through the leftovers and choose. Seems to me that it’s a risky bit of business for the teams making the call. Totally insulting and the ultimate bulletin board material. Can’t see that ever working in the NHL. But, then, I never thought I’d see the day when an NHL player would be given a minor penalty for scoring a goal (hello Brian Dumoulin). So all bets are off.

So, Tiger Woods didn’t win another golf tournament. Same old, same old. Except, this time, Woods only missed it by that much. One less swing and he’d have been in a playoff with eventual winner Paul Casey at the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Fla., on Sunday. Both Woods’ game and his body appear to be in fine fettle as we near the first tee at Augusta National. Ditto his attitude. I mean, is it my imagination or is Tiger smiling more? Is he interacting with his playing companions and the rabble more? It’s as if he’s adopted a “just happy to be here” mindset. He certainly seems less angry. It’s a good look.

Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard

And, finally, our Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. This week we find our man Steve wondering where Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin fit in among the NHL’s all-time best middlemen combos.

Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier have been the gold standard for 1-2 punches playing centre for the same NHL team,” he writes.

Oh, there have been other great combinations down the middle over the years. Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg in Colorado. Mario Lemieux and Ron Francis in Pittsburgh. Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov in Detroit. Stan Mikita and Phil Esposito in Chicago. Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard in Montreal.

Gretzky and Messier won four (Stanley) Cups together in Edmonton. Should Crosby and Malkin pick up a fourth Cup—and maybe more than that—they will slide neatly right behind Gretzky and Messier in a very special place in hockey history.”

Excuse me? Gretzky and Messier are the “gold standard” because they helped the Oilers win the Stanley Cup four times? As if. Believeau and Richard hoisted hockey’s holy grail 10 times together. They were winning the thing before Simmons was in his mother’s womb. They’d won it five times before he was out of diapers. The “gold standard” is 10, not freaking four.

About the Winnipeg Jets landing a big fish…mortgaging the future…adios to curling great Jill Officer…a media hissing contest…Damien’s “shitty” tweet…dumb talk on TSN…a tear-jerker in Yankee pinstripes…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Paul Stastny. For real?

The Winnipeg Jets actually pried Paul Stastny away from the St. Louis Blues? And they didn’t have to twist his arm? No fuss, no muss, no whinging about mosquitoes, spring flooding, crime, potholes, brown tap water and the Arctic winds at Portage and Main?

Something doesn’t add up here.

I mean, nobody goes to Winnipeg. Except on a dare. Or unless they’ve lost a bet. Cripes, man, even the premier of the province, Brian Pallister, gets out of Dodge as often as he can.

Winnipeg circa 1950s.

I think Billy Mosienko was the last hockey player who went to Winnipeg voluntarily. That was in 1955, when the locals were still riding around in streetcars. Mosie had an excuse, though. Pegtown was his ‘hood. He knew all about the potholes, Arctic winds and skeeters the size of a Zamboni, so they weren’t going to scare him away.

But there’s no explaining this Stastny thing. Except to say he must have missed the memo. You know the one. Certain members of the San Jose Sharks sent it out earlier this National Hockey League season. River City is cold. River City is dark. And don’t even think about WiFi service. You want to text a friend? Here’s your carrier pigeon, kid.

Paul Stastny

The thing is, a lot of us know Winnipeg isn’t the backwater burg most folks make it out to be. It’s a boffo place. And the winters don’t seem quite so long, dark and cold when les Jets are putting on the ritz at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.

Will Stastny’s willingness to disregard his no-trade clause influence others to regard Good Ol’ Hometown as a favorable destination? Perhaps not, but it’s worth revisiting something general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said last summer, scant seconds after convincing goaltender Steve Mason and defenceman Dmitry Kulikov that River City is an NHL hot spot.

Ultimately,” he said, “when it comes to free agency, the players want to know that they have a chance to win.”

Yup.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Prior to last Monday’s NHL trade deadline, TSN natterbug Jamie McLennan had this caution for Cheveldayoff and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman: “You never want to mortgage the future. There’s no weaknesses whatsoever in this lineup. All you can ask for really is health. You want Adam Lowry back. You want Jacob Trouba back. I believe this team is built to go on a Stanley Cup run. They’re that good. But, if you want to tinker at the deadline, add some depth, add a little Stanley Cup experience, absolutely, but do not mortgage the future with those young players.” So, the Puck Pontiff and Chevy surrendered college kid Erik Foley, their first-round pick in the 2018 entry draft and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2020 for Stastny, plus a fourth-rounder this year for rearguard Joe Morrow. Did they mortgage the future? Nope.

Now that the Buffalo Sabres have rid themselves of the headache known as Evander Kane, what do they have to show for the original deal with les Jets that sent the sometimes wacky winger to upstate New York? Not much. If my math is accurate, here’s how the February 2015 trade now shakes down: Winnipeg has Tyler Myers, Joel Armia, Jack Roslovic, Brendan Lemieux and a sixth-round pick in the NHL entry draft this summer (for Drew Stafford); Buffalo has Zach Bogosian, Danny O’Regan, Jason Kasdorf, a conditional pick in 2019 (first or second round) and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2020. It’s still a total fleece job by Cheveldayoff.

With the exception of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, I can’t think of a partnership that’s lasted as long as Jill Officer and Jennifer Jones. What’s it been? Twenty-three years? Twenty-four? Thus, when Officer announced her intention to retreat from full-time competition next season, it was a big deal. She’s one of the most-decorated curlers in Manitoba history, with nine provincial titles (two in Junior), seven Canadian titles (one in Junior), one Olympic Games gold medal, and one world championship. Only six women have played in more games at the Canadian Scotties than Officer. And there’s a park named in her honor in North Kildonan. All that and, unless I missed it, the Winnipeg Sun completely ignored the story. Shame, shame.

The Sun’s snub of Officer is the latest example of the tabloid’s near-total abandonment of curling coverage by local scribes. The Sun didn’t have a reporter on the scene at last month’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Penticton, nor does it have feet on the ground in Regina for this week’s Brier. Coverage is being handled by Terry Jones of Postmedia Edmonton and Murray McCormick of the Regina Leader-Post. By way of comparison, the Winnipeg Free Press continues to do it the right way. Melissa Martin was in Penticton and Jason Bell is in Regina. And the Freep posted the Officer story on its website at 11:05 a.m. Friday, and followed with a video interview in the afternoon. That’s how it’s supposed to be done.

Elliotte Friedman

Holy hissing contest, Batman! Broadcaster Elliotte Friedman, whose home base is the Republic of Tranna, went on Sportsnet 650 last week to discuss the steaming mess of dog hooey that is the Vancouver Canucks, and it turns out that it’s the media’s fault. Also the fans’ fault. Everybody’s to blame except the team president, Trevor Linden, and the GM, Jim Benning.

“I see your market right now and I think it’s a really brutal place to be,” Friedman said. “These guys feel like they are under siege…like they’re getting torn apart by wild dogs.”

He described the situation in Vancity as “toxic” and “edgy” and “nasty” because of the media.

Ed Willes

Not surprisingly, Vancouver news scavengers and opinionist sprung into action, including old friend Ed Willes of Postmedia.

“Why would Elliotte Frickin’ Friedman care so passionately about the Vancouver market, and why would he launch such an impassioned defence of Linden and Benning from The Big Smoke?” Willes asked. “Fair questions, yes? As for the answers, we’d suggest they lie somewhere in the towering arrogance of Toronto’s media titans and the uncomfortable relationship that exists between ‘insiders’ and their sources. Friedman is a made man in that world but his information sometimes comes at a cost. Consider his radio diatribe a down payment on his next scoop.”

Ouch.

Totally dumb tweet of the week comes from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star and Sportsnet: “Remember the old days when independent media used to ask serious, critical questions when NHL expanded. Now there’s mostly just cheerleading. Yay, Seattle, look how many tix you sold. Yay, more shitty teams, more diluted NHL hockey. It’s a sad thing.” Ya, those Vegas Golden Knights are a real “shitty” team, Damien. But, hey, if it makes you happy, perhaps we can go all the way back to the six-team days when goaltenders played with their bare faces hanging out and Charlie Burns was the only NHL player who wore a helmet.

Urban Bowman

Sad to hear of the passing of former Winnipeg Blue Bombers (interim) head coach Urban Bowman. Had many enjoyable chin-wags with Bowman during his time subbing for Cal Murphy, who was away getting a new heart. Urban had a folksy, cowboy charm that made him the Bum Phillips of the Canadian Football League, and it wasn’t uncommon to hear him talk of chickens, cattle and such instead of Xs and Os. He did, mind you, have one memorable quote about football. “We’re going to breathe our nasty breath on those folks,” he said prior to a playoff game. “Yes, sir, we’re going to breathe our nasty, bad breath on those folks.” Urban was a good man…with bad breath.

So, I’m watching Pardon the Interruption on TSN the other day and the boys, Keith Olbermann and Tony Kornheiser, are gasbagging about Johnny Manziel potentially getting a second chance in the National Football League. “Why not?” asks Olbermann, who’s all in on the return of Johnny Football. “He’s a misdemeanor case.” That’s what we’re calling woman beaters these days? A misdemeanor case? Is there some sort of TV rule that says you must be a complete goomer to talk sports? I mean, two weeks ago NBC gab guy Mike Milbury referred to former Los Angeles Kings defenceman Slava Voynov’s brutal assault on his wife as an “unfortunate incident.” Now a man putting the boots to a woman is a “misdemeanor case.” Clearly, the culture of misogyny extends from the clubhouse to the old men in the press box.

Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig

Watched Pride of the Yankees the other day. A total tear-jerker. But I got a kick out of the “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech Gary Cooper delivered at the end of the movie. “I have been given fame and undeserved praise by the boys up there behind the wire in the press box, my friends, the sportswriters,” Coop said in his role as New York Yankees legendary first baseman Lou Gehrig. An athlete’s “friends?” Sportswriters? That has to be the biggest fib on the face of the earth.

Let’s give Rosie DiManno big points for honesty. In her wrap from South Korea, the Toronto Star columnist admits that the Olympic Games of Snow and Ice Sports is about “sports some of us only cover every four years but, of course, feign instant expertise at.” Totally true. And it showed, especially with the guys who attempted to cover curling. Dave Feschuk of the Star, for example, wrote about curling guru “Russ” Turnbull, but the late Moosie’s actual name was Ray. And Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail prattled on about Rachel Homan burning a rock when it was actually one of the Canadian skip’s opponents who inadvertently touched a stone while sweeping it into the rings.

Clara Hughes

And, finally, this week’s Stevie-ism from the ever-bombastic Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “The list of all-time Canadian Olympic greats is not particularly long. In summer, you start with Percy Williams and Donovan Bailey and turn somewhere to Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle and lately Penny Oleksiak. In winter, there is a place for Cindy Klassen and Catriona Le May Doan and Marc Gagnon and Hayley Wickenheiser and a few others.” Excuse me? Clara Hughes, the only Olympic athlete to earn multiple medals in both Winter and Summer Games, doesn’t qualify? Her two cycling (bronze) and four speed skating (gold, silver, two bronze) medals aren’t enough? Sorry, Stevie, but any list of Canada’s great Olympians has to begin with the smiling redhead from Winnipeg.

 

 

 

About the McKenzie Brothers (Bob, Doug and Scott)…shootouts bite…a session with a shrink…Uncle Sam’s beer league curlers…poking fun at Canada…Tessa, Tessa, Tessa…gold-medal writing from Bruce Arthur…and other Olympic stuff on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Bob, Doug and long-lost brother Scott—the McKenzie Brothers.

Scott Moir—beauty, eh?

Who knew a fancy skater (and an ice dancer at that) could be such a party animal? Who knew there was a third McKenzie Brother?

Moir’s beer-fuelled antics during the women’s hockey gold-medal match between Canada and the United States at the Olympic Games of Snow and Ice Sports were straight out of the SCTV playbook. It was Bob and Doug McKenzie do PyeongChang. It couldn’t have been more Canadian if it was a Mountie eating back bacon while reading a Pierre Berton book and listening to a Gordon Lightfoot album.

Coo-roo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo!

Shootouts suck! Sound like a batch of sour grapes? Probably. But it isn’t. The Americans were worthy winners of the women’s gold hockey trinket in South Korea. They were the superior side through 80 minutes of actual hockey and, had the championship match continued to a second period of sudden-victory overtime rather than the shootout, surely Uncle Sam’s girls would have prevailed. It seemed to me that the Canadians had begun to run on fumes. Thus, the 3-2 U.S. victory was a just result. The Games methodology, however, is greatly flawed. The shootout never was, never will be a good idea. Next time, what do you say we ask the Canadian and U.S. women if they’d rather continue playing hockey until someone scores a goal? Let’s leave the shootouts to soccer.

Joceleyne Larocque, third from left.

If I’m Jocelyne Larocque, I’m not apologizing for a damn thing. I mean, it’s not like she did something stupid. You know, like get drunk, steal a Hummer, race around PyeongChang like Danica Patrick on uppers, then spend some quality time at a cop shop. Do something stupid like that (hello Willie Raine, Dave and Maja Duncan), you apologize and hope you get a judge who goes easy on drunk drivers. But do what Larocque did and…meh. So she removed a silver trinket that had been wrapped around her neck by some Olympic Games mucky-muck at a most awkward moment—during the lengthy parting-gifts ceremony post-match. Big flipping deal. Larocque was PO’d. The loss to the Americans was a fresh, open wound, and silver wasn’t a suitable salve. So she held it in her left hand. And for that the Canadian rearguard receives an online scolding from Miss Manners wannabes on both sides of the great divide? That’s why she offered a mea culpa? As if. Raw emotion is the very reason I buy into the Olympic Games. Sometimes that means tears of joy. Sometimes it’s tears of sorrow. In Larocque’s case, it meant an angst-of-the-moment act of defiance. I don’t see the problem. Stop piling on.

Lucy Van Pelt

Should we book a session with Dr. Phil? Or maybe Charlie Brown’s shrink, Lucy Van Pelt. Either way, I’m thinking some of us might need to vent. I mean, our hockey women had to settle for silver. Our hockey men had the gall to lose to Germany at a most inopportune time. Our women’s and men’s curling teams? Bupkus.

I swear, this is the biggest downer since Nickelback landed the halftime gig at the 99th Grey Cup game.

But let’s save the shrink fees and accept that hockey and curling haven’t been Canada’s personal play things for much of the 21st century? Consider what has transpired since 2000:

Hockey

World championship titles—Canada 10, Rest of World 21
Olympic titles—Canada 7, Rest of World 3
Total—Canada 17, Rest of World 24.

Curling World championship titles—Canada 17, Rest of World 19
Olympic titles—Canada 5, Rest of World 6
Total—Canada 22, Rest of World 25.

British coach Glenn Howard.

Ya, sure, this is still Planet Puckhead. We’re very good at hockey. The best. Our women and men aren’t supposed to lose. When they do, we lower our psyche to half staff and share a group hug that stretches from Tofino to St. John’s. We don’t commit to as much navel gazing when our curlers slip on a banana peel, yet we do give some pause whenever our Pebble People don’t occupy the top step of the podium.

But let’s spare ourselves a National Day of Teeth Gnashing.

I’m singing the backup vocals for Glenn Howard when he suggests we all just chill after what transpired in South Korea.

Settle down folks,” said Howard, a Canadian and world champion curler who coached Eve Muirhead’s Great Britain team that ushered our Rachel Homan outfit out of playoff contention. “Canadians have to understand that these teams outside of Canada are really good.”

Been that way for a long time.

Rachel Homan

Most stinging (and over the top) criticism of our women curlers came from Paul Wiecek. The Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist aimed his poison arrows not only at Homan and her gal pals from Ottawa, but also at “that most worthless species in all of sports, the curling coach.” He explained: “As far as I’m concerned, the Homan team’s problems here begin with their coach, Adam Kingsbury, an academic with zero curling background who the Homan team has nonetheless ascribed a Koreshian-like influence in recent years. Homan has been putting the ‘less’ in ‘joyless’ since she was curling juniors and Kingsbury has just made that worse from my vantage point, turning these women into walking robots. If they were having any fun competing at an event they had devoted their lives towards, I saw no evidence of it. And if you’re not having fun playing a sport for which the monetary reward is somewhere between nothing and next to nothing, then what’s the point?” That’s cruel and mean in spirit.

America’s gold-medal curlers: Tyler George, John Landsteiner, John Shuster and Matt Hamilton.

Nothing says Monday night beer league curling like the four men who struck gold for Uncle Sam in South Korea.

Seriously. How much did they spend on their outfits? A buck fifty at a thrift shop? Third Tyler George wears eight-year-old sneakers. They’re full of holes. And U.S. second Matt Hamilton doesn’t use a belt to hold up his trousers. That’s Secretariat’s old girth strap. But, hey, if a guy of Hamilton’s dimensions can win an Olympic Games gold medal I wouldn’t rule out an Ed Werenich comeback.

All of which made them easy to like.

These Yankee doodle dandies are a throwback to the 1970s. I kept waiting for one of ’em to break out a pack of smokes and light up. On the ice.

Their back story is brilliant. A few years ago, USA Curling wanted them in their program like Donald Trump wants to tick off the NRA. But now John Shuster, George, Hamilton and lead John Landsteiner are Olympic champions. We’re apt to see them chatting with one of the gab guys on late-night TV, and there’s probably marketing possibilities. Who knows, they might make enough cash on the side to get rid of their slo-pitch uniforms and purchase actual curling duds.

Headline writers south of the 49th parallel are having great sport at our expense. A New York Times headline reads: “Canada’s Curling Is Crumbling! Or Something Like That.” The accompanying article suggests our double donut on PyeongChang pebble “would be comparable to the United States men’s and women’s basketball teams failing to win a medal at the Summer Olympics.”

Other samples of American cheek:

Washington Post (after the U.S. beat us in both men’s curling and women’s hockey on the same day): “For six glorious hours, the United States owned Canada like a Tim Hortons franchisee.”

Wall Street Journal: “Canadian Grief: Curling and Hockey Losses are ‘Terrible, Terrible, Terrible’.”

MarketWatch: “Hug a Canadian, urges German Foreign Office after dramatic ice-hockey upset.”

Quick! Someone get a match! Let’s burn down the White House again!

Whiteboard Willie Desjardins

As predicted, jock journalists were quick to apply a coat of tar and feathers to head coach Whiteboard Willie Desjardins in the wake of Canada’s mournful, 4-3 semifinal shinny loss to Germany.

Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star opined the “coaching was a mess.”

Dave Feschuk, also a Star scribe, wrote: “What went wrong? Maybe it was Desjardins’ infectious nervousness, or his odd overreliance on his bottom-six grinders, playing the old-time Saskatchewan stereotype to a tee. Even in a 4-on-4 situation needing desperately to score, Desjardins tossed out (Eric) O’Dell and Maxim Lapierre, his skill-challenged energy guys.”

Not to be out-nastied, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna added: “Desjardins had much to answer for. He didn’t change lines. He didn’t change styles. He didn’t adjust to the Germans’ trapping ways. He didn’t shorten his bench when he needed to. He continued to use ineffective players. The coach, Willie Desjardins, froze.”

And what did the natterbugs of negativity have to say about Desjardins after Canada’s bounce-back, 6-4 win over the Czech Republic in the bronze-medal match? Crickets. Nothing but the sound of crickets. Mooks.

(That unfortunate loss to the Germans doesn’t seem like such a stunner today does it? Not after they took Russia to OT in the title match.)

Tessa Virtue

I’m not sure what it is about Tessa Virtue, but I cannot turn my eyes away from her when she’s on TV. It doesn’t matter if she’s skating, marching into the stadium or standing on the podium, holding a stuffed toy in one of her dainty hands. I am hypnotized. And it’s been that way for years.

She is a spellbinding temptress, sexy, sensual and seductive. As playful as a kitten and as smoky as a femme fatale, she is Snow White with come-hither tease and erotic athleticism. As she floats about the ice, her lissome body bending, twisting and twirling to the whims of her dance partner, Scott Moir, I wonder what world she has disappeared into. Her smile tells us it must be a pleasing place, full of passion and Zen-like serenity.

Others skate as well as Virtue. Perhaps better. But no one else has her ‘it’ factor.

She and Moir will leave South Korea with two gold medals, adding to a collection of Winter Games trinkets that now numbers five, more than any other fancy skaters in history. Alas, we might never see the Canadian couple skate together again, after 20 years. But what a beautiful trip they took us on.

Matthew Scianitti of TSN shares a lovely to-and-fro he enjoyed with Virtue, scant seconds after she had arrived in the mixed area following her gold-medal skate with Scott Moir in the ice dance last Wednesday.

Virtue (to assembled news scavengers): “How are you guys?”

Scianitti: “You mean us?”

Virtue: “Ya.”

Scianitti: “Dude, you just skated in front of the world and won a gold medal. Doesn’t matter how we are.”

Virtue: “Yes it does. The Olympics are tough on everyone.”

Can you say classy, kids? Totally.

Going from a beauty to a beast, it’s about Mike Milbury. The NBC gab guy’s filter between his grey matter and tongue was on the fritz during a Russia-U.S. men’s hockey game. Discussing Russkie rearguard Slava Voynov, he said: “This guy was a special player, and an unfortunate incident left the Los Angeles Kings without a great defenceman.” So, that’s what we’re calling wife-beating these days? An “unfortunate incident.” Voynov was sentenced to nine months in the brig for beating the hell out of his wife, and he served two months before slithering back to his hole in Russia. He shouldn’t have been allowed to participate in South Korea any more than Milbury should be allowed near a microphone.

Kirstie Alley

Actor Kirstie Alley took a bit of a pummelling on social media after she tweeted that curling is “boring.” I don’t understand the great hue and cry. Fact is, she’s right. I love curling, but I acknowledge that it sometimes can push the needle high on the bore-o-metre. Then, again, so can baseball, football, hockey and hoops. Oh, and most any movie/TV show that Kirstie Alley has ever appeared in.

I never covered an Olympics. Had no desire to. So I have to wonder: When did news scavengers in South Korea find time to sleep? Did they sleep? I mean, new stuff seemed to pop up on the Internet every half hour. It was non-stop scribbling. Thus, I harbor considerable admiration for everyone who went through that grind. Tough gig. And they’re still cranking out the good stuff. Best of last week was delivered by…

Gold medal: Bruce Arthur for the truly Canadian story that is Brigette Lacquette, the first Indigenous player on the Canadian women’s hockey team.

Silver medal: Arthur again, for his piece defending Jocelyne Larocque’s behaviour during the women’s hockey medal ceremony.

Bronze medal: Arthur one more time, for his piece on Canada’s Pride House and the LGBT scene at the Winter Games.

Had there been any doubt, Arthur’s work in South Korea confirms his position as this country’s top sports columnist. Nobody’s close to him.

About some tar and feathers for Willie Boy…good reads at the Olympics…the beauty of fancy skating…burned rocks and rocky writing…a new juggernaut in Manitoba curling…Genie in the raw…all-Tiger TV…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Meet Willie Desjardins, convenient scapegoat.

Yup, there’s a bucket of tar and a bagful of feathers with poor Willie’s name on it should our patchwork men’s shinny side stumble and fall at the Olympic Winter Games in South Korea. As sure as good Canadian boys pour maple syrup on their flapjacks, the head coach will be the fall guy. You can make book on it.

Willie Desjardins and the boys.

I mean, our not-so-jolly hockey heroes were a mere two games into their crusade—handily beating Switzerland before falling a score short in a shootout vs. the Czech Republic—and already the knives had been drawn from their sheaths. And for what? Because they failed in one of those objectionable shootouts that belong in a trash bin?

Nope.

Willie Boy, it seems, is guilty of two things: 1) he has the bad manners to not be Mike Babcock; 2) he delivers lousy sound bites.

Here’s Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star:

If Canada’s players have looked nervous, Desjardins, at times, has appeared like a man overwhelmed by the strain. Maybe you caught the same pre-game close-up of Desjardins they showed in the arena here Saturday. Standing on the bench in the moments before the opening faceoff, Desjardins swayed from side to side, teetering from foot to foot like a self-conscious fourth-grader singled out in front of his classmates. His mouth twitched. His eyes gazed blankly into the distance. And he clutched his trademark whiteboard as though it was his dry-erase answer to a security blanket.

It was dumbfounding how, in the wake of Saturday’s loss, Desjardins offered answers that were Belichick-ian in their curtness when he doesn’t own anything approaching a record that’s Belichick-ian in its peerlessness.

Watching Desjardins so far, only the sleepiest observer wouldn’t raise questions about whether or not he’s up to this challenge.”

Whew…tells us what you really think, Mr. Feschuk. On second thought, don’t bother. You’ve already said quite enough.

Mike Babcock and Sidney Crosby

Next up is Postmedia gasbag Steve Simmons, who’s forever chasing kids off his lawn:

There is little about Willie Desjardins that is reminiscent of Mike Babcock…Desjardins comes across just a little bit nervous, a little unsure, not necessarily confident, not calming in the usual arrogant coaching I-have-this-under-control way, but instead there is just a little reason to wonder about the Team Canada head hockey coach. Desjardins doesn’t seem to take ownership of the environment the way Babcock has done in the past.”

Geez, you don’t suppose that might have something to do with talent, do you Stevie? Babcock was sending Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews over the boards when Canada was winning gold medals in 2010 and ’14. Willie Boy is sending out Derek Roy and Wojtek Wolski. Do the freaking math, man.

But Simmons wasn’t done. He added:

He showed up in the mixed zone Saturday afternoon—the Olympic area in which press, athletes and coaches meet—and looked like he would rather be anywhere else in the world. He barely said anything that mattered. His interview lasted 93 seconds. For most of the time his body language screamed: Get me out of here. Bill Belichick can get away with that. Willie Desjardins is no Bill Belichick.

The Canadian coach needs to be better, stronger, more confident, more urgent, more definitive, appearing more in control and maybe a touch more defiant.

Good grief. Get a grip, boys. Our hockey heroes were two games in. They’re now three deep, having beaten South Korea 4-zip on Sunday, and they’ve earned a free pass into the quarterfinal round. What part of that do you not understand?

Scribes and/or broadcasters crapping on our Olympians is lame. Unless you’re a stooge like Ben Johnson and the mooks who used him for a patsy, the people wearing the Maple Leaf—and their handlers—ought to be totally off limits. I hope that’s something jock journalists keep in mind if the hockey crusade turns sour for coach Willie and the boys in the elimination rounds.

Kaitlyn Lawes

Olympic Games good reads: Like the athletes they write about, sports scribes are expected to “up” their game at the Winter Olympics. No mailing it in. And there’s been some terrific stuff coming out of South Korea. For example…

Gold medal: Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star, for his heart-tugging piece on Canadian speed skater Ted-Jan Bloemen’s bride, Marlinde, and her childhood friend who lost a baby.

Silver medal: Arthur again, this time for his piece on the difficult road travelled by Canadian fancy skater Eric Radford, the first openly gay man to strike gold at a Winter Games.

Bronze medal: Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press, for his piece on delightful curler Kaitlyn Lawes and her relationship with her late father, Keith.

It’s wonderful stuff, because Arthur and Wiecek are writing about people who happen to be champion athletes, not champion athletes who happen to be people. There should be more human interest tales in sports writing and less Xs, Os and naked animosity.

Tessa Virtue and dance partner Scott Moir.

Is there anything more beautiful in athletics than fancy skating at the Olympic level? I think not. From the music to the women’s costumes to the sex appeal to the sensual/sultry-yet-robust athleticism, it’s breathtaking, especially the dance program. And if I was a little girl instead of an old lady, I’d want to grow up to be Tessa Virtue, the delicate half of Canada’s leading dance partnership. If I couldn’t be Tessa, I’d want to be Kaitlyn Lawes.

Rachel Homan

Here’s what happens when non-curling people are required to cover curling: Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail waded into the Olympics burned-rock controversy involving Canadian skip Rachel Homan and Julie Heogh, second on the Danish team. Kelly writes about “Homan’s decision to burn a Danish rock—take it out of play after being touched by an opponent.” Wrong. Homan didn’t “burn” the stone, she removed it.  Heogh “burned” the stone while sweeping it in the rings. Kelly also notes that Canada no longer wins by divine right anymore in global curling events, as if that’s something new. Earth to Cathal! Earth to Cathal! That’s not exactly man-bites-dog material. It’s been that way for quite some time. Our curlers have ruled the world of women’s curling just twice in the past 10 years. Yup, 2-8. The men, meanwhile, are barely above the break-even point, at 6-4. You might want to familiarize yourself with something called research.

This week’s notable quotable comes from skier Kjetil Jansrud of Norway: “We believe there is no good explanation or justification for why you have to be a jerk to be a good athlete. So we just won’t have that kind of thing on our team. You have to get along with everyone.”

Saw an interesting question the other day: “Should the Montreal Canadiens do something at the National Hockey League trade deadline?” Yes, they should. General manager Marc Bergevin should tie a white flag to the end of a stick and wave it.

Clockwise from top left: Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Briane Meilleur, Shannon Birchard.

Jennifer Jones is probably jumping for joy right now, knowing she and her rinkmates have a free pass into next year’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts as Team Canada. Otherwise, they’d be required to get out of Manitoba, which just became more difficult. Joining forces, with an eye on a berth in the 2022 Winter Olympics curling tournament, are skips Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur. Einarson is a former ‘Toba champion. Sweeting is a former Alberta champion. Birchard just helped the Jones rink win the recent Scotties title. Meilleur has skipped her own team in the ‘Toba Scotties. Can you say juggernaut, kids? But wait. That’s four cooks at the same stove, maybe two cooks too many. Meanwhile, Tracy Fleury is assuming command of Einarson’s old team, which was beaten by Jones, Birchard, Dawn McEwen and Jill Officer in the Scotties final. Can we fast forward to next January? I’d like to know how this turns out.

Genie Bouchard

The great Roger Federer is back atop the world tennis rankings, moving ahead of a temporarily inactive Rafael Nadal into the No. 1 slot last week. His ascent is notable due to his age, 36, which makes him the oldest world No. 1 in history. Meanwhile, in other tennis news, Genie Bouchard took her clothes off and said, “Wow, this is harder than playing tennis. It is very hard work.” Apparently, the Sports Illustrated photo shoot was done in one day—just like most of her tennis tournaments.

After the first round of the Genesis Open at Riviera, I watched a highlights package and didn’t see anyone other than Tiger Woods swing a golf club. There was no mention of the leader. There was no mention of the golfers nipping at the leader’s Foot Joys. Just video evidence of Woods missing another fairway en route to a 1-over-par 72. What’ll the coverage be like if he actually breaks par one of these weeks?

The San Francisco 49ers have made Jimmy Garoppolo the richest player in National Football League history, with a $137.5-million contract.at $27.5M per season, and I’m asking myself this: What am I missing? I mean, that’s more coin that Tom Brady takes home. More than Aaron Rodgers. More than Drew Brees. Those three are Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. Garappolo has won…oh, that’s right, he earned two Super Bowl rings for holding a clipboard for Brady. Go figure.

Oh joy. Baseball is back. And it’ll be on TV at the end of the week, which means it’ll be beer and baseball at Bart’s Pub on Saturday afternoons from now until October. There’s just something about baseball that makes the beer taste better.