Let’s talk about chess with Swamp Dog…bravo Jennifer Jones…flush go the Habs…TSN’s flawed ‘Toba Top 10…Shaq’s name game…Ali vs. Tiger…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, sadly, one of the old gang from the Trib, Swamp Dog Rauw, has left us…

The thing I remember most fondly about Murray Rauw is playing chess in the small hours of the morning, after we’d put the sports section to bed at the Winnipeg Tribune.

Swamp Dog and I would unwind from the grind by retreating to my modest dwelling on Leighton Avenue in East Kildonan, whereupon I would crack open the brown pops while he cracked open one of my many chess sets.

There’d be Beatles music playing in the background—on the down low since all others in the house were in slumber—and I would quietly sing along with the Fab Four while Swamp Dog contemplated a next misguided move that surely would lead to checkmate or stalemate. I sometimes wondered if my singing disturbed his thought process, but he never offered so much as a mumble in protest.

Swamp Dog

Swamp Dog seldom complained, although a small flap of fuss is how he earned his delightful nickname.

I was in the cockpit one night, laying out the Trib sports pages, while others wrote their stories, edited copy, wrote headlines, handled the phones and did rewrites. Swamp Dog, still reasonably new to staff, had two or three things on the go.

“Murray,” I said at one point, interrupting his work, “I need you to do something.”

“Me?” he yelped. “Me? I’m swamped!”

“You’re swamped?” I responded, snickering. “Let me tell you something about being swamped.”

I informed him how it worked in the Trib sports department. We were all multi-taskers, often expected to handle more than one beat on the same day. It was not uncommon for a select few of us to cover an event in the morning or afternoon, write our article, then design a six- or seven-page sports section that night. It made for long shifts, but it was an accepted part of the gig. Besides, most of us were young, full of P and V and eager to earn a “damn good stuff” from our sports editor, Jack Matheson.

“That’s okay,” I told Swamp Dog. “You just do what you’re doing. I’ll take care of the rest, because you’re swamped! You’re our Swamp Dog.”

Swamp Dog became a fabulous multi-tasker, skillfully covering everything from badminton to boxing to backing up Matty on the Blue Bombers beat, until Southam had the bad manners to stop the Trib presses for the final time in August 1980.

And now Swamp’s ticker has stopped.

Swamp Dog died last Sunday in Calgary, after a lengthy illness, and I spent much of the past week sifting through recollections of him and our cast of kooky characters at the Trib. (We would have made for a boffo sitcom.)

An unpretentious, fun guy, I can’t think of a former colleague who harbored a greater, more genuine appreciation for landing a sports writing gig than Swamp Dog. He was like a kid who sneaked in and out of the ice cream parlor every night without getting caught, and he never tried to hide his appreciation for his good fortune.

Swamp Dog made me laugh without trying. His eyeglasses, for example, were a trip. Back in the 1970s, they would sit at a 45-degree angle on the bridge of his nose, the large lenses plastered with very visible fingerprints from his constant but failed attempts to make the specs fit his face. His mustache drooped and would go months without a much-needed pruning. Then there was the day I learned he had tagged the lovely lady who would become his bride, Maureen, with the most unflattering of nicknames: Mush.

“Geez, Swamp, I don’t know many women who’d fancy being called Mush,” I said. “Doesn’t it bother Maureen?”

“Why would it?” he answered as if I had asked a very dumb question. “She’s my Mush.”

Once the Trib folded, both Swamp Dog and I found our way to Calgary, first him at the Herald and then myself at the Sun a couple years later. I didn’t know a soul, other than Swamp Dog, Maureen and the two people who had hired me. Swamp Dog promptly set me up to play slo-pitch on one of the city’s elite outfits, and he dragged me to his raquetball club. After our always-enjoyable matches, we’d sometimes retire to his home and Maureen would be kind enough to feed us.

Oddly enough, Swamp Dog and I never played another game of chess. I guess that was our Winnipeg thing. But we’d get together for some giggles, or he’d get serious on occasion and discuss his MS. He’d unfailingly inquire about my Uncle Dennis, who’d been confined to a wheelchair due to MS since I was a sprig.

After I left Calgary and returned to Good Ol’ Hometown, we seldom saw each other, basically when road assignments would take us to the Grey Cup, the Brier or Stanley Cup playoffs. The Canadian Football League and curling were his main beats, and he was among the best at both.

Foremost for me, though, are the personal recollections, and I smile at the memory of us shifting chess pieces across the board, his knight taking my rook or my bishop taking his queen. Eventually, one of us would notice the morning sun peeking through my living room drapes, and he’d take his leave.

Now Swamp Dog is gone permanently, but I’d say his sun is still shining—through Maureen and the kids, Josh and Cayley, and granddaughter Charlotte.

Rest easy, old friend.

The Grim Reaper has now fetched Matty, Swamp Dog, Gus Collins Uncle Vince Leah, and freelancers Harold Loster and Ronnie Meyers from our 1970s toy department at the Trib. And that’s not to forget photog Jon Thordarson, whom I always considered one of us. Those of us still drawing oxygen are in our 60s and 70s, or older, so Dave Komosky and I often wonder who’ll be next. My kidneys are suggesting it might be moi. If that’s how it shakes down, in lieu of flowers send laughter.

Jennifer Jones

Big tip of the bonnet to Jennifer Jones, who’s now won more games at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts (159) than any curler. Ever. By the time she’s finished, Jen’s collection of Ws might be unbeatable, although I suppose Rachel Homan will have something to say about that. For now, though, Jen is the standard, and I say it’s only fitting and proper that someone from Winnipeg stands atop the heap. After all, Good Ol’ Hometown is the curling capital of the world, no matter what some folks in Alberta might want you to believe.

Is it just me, or does anyone else get the impression that the women at the Scotties have a whole lot more fun than the men at the Brier? Just saying.

Some people haven’t been impressed with the quality of play at the Scotties in Calgary. Too many flubbed shots. Iffy strategy. Well, what did you expect? I mean, they’d been away from the pebble for a year, and I’m guessing we’ll see a similar number of hairballs coughed up when the boys gather for the Brier at the end of this week.

Apparently it’s been so quiet at the fan-free Scotties that Saskatchewan skip Sherry Anderson says she “heard the toilet flush” while on the pebble the other day. But, hey, let’s not talk about the Montreal Canadiens.

I’m not saying the Habs’ hope for a successful crusade is down the toilet. If they can get rid of the imposter wearing Carey Price’s jersey, they might yet qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. Then again, maybe O.J. will find the real killers.

Paul Stastny poached a goal from Twig Ehlers to give the Winnipeg Jets their 2-1 OT win over the Habs on Saturday night. You just don’t do that. It’s chintzy.

Patrik Laine

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Patrik Laine wanted first-line minutes skating alongside Rink Rat Scheifele, but Jets head coach Paul Maurice would have none of it. So they shipped him to Columbus. Now Pierre-Luc Dubois, the guy the Jets received in barter for Puck Finn, is getting first-line minutes skating alongside Scheifele. What am I missing here?

Dumb headline in the Winnipeg Sun: “Coach, teammates like new Jet Dubois.” Well, duh. What does anyone expect them to say? That he’s a sloth? Bring Patty back? Now that would be a story. The fact the Jets have warm-and-fuzzy feelings for the new kid in town isn’t newsworthy.

Good stuff from Mad Mike McIntyre in the Drab Slab on local Black shinny players who found their way to the upper levels of professional hockey. Among those he chatted with are Bill Riley and Ray Neufeld, one of the nicest men to wear Jets linen. It’s worth a look.

So why is it that I don’t believe Canadian Football League commish Randy Ambrosie when he tells us there’ll be Rouge Football this year, but I believe Winnipeg Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller when he says the same thing? Maybe it’s because Wade transformed Winnipeg FC from a laughing stock into a Grey Cup champion, whereas Commish Randy couldn’t sell a spare tire to a guy with a flat.

Bernie Parent and Bobby Clarke (right)

Nice touch by TSN to serve up a Top 10 moments for Manitoba athletes last week. Except they should have consulted someone from the Keystone Province before revealing the list. There was no Clara Hughes collecting medals at both the Summer and Winter Olympics. There was no Donny Lalonde knocking Sugar Ray Leonard to the canvas. There was no George Knudson winning on the PGA Tour. There was no Bobby Clarke, the first captain of a National Hockey League expansion outfit to hoist the Stanley Cup. There was no Reggie Leach, scorer of 80 goals in the 1975-76 NHL season/playoffs. There was no Don Duguid going unbeaten to win consecutive world curling titles. No Jeff Stoughton. No University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen hoops team winning 88 consecutive matches. But Anthony Coombs made the grade with a catch in a meaningless game for the Toronto Argos. Skeleton guy Jon Montgomery was featured drinking beer and pretending to be an auctioneer. Corey Koskie cracked the list for catching a foul ball in a game no one remembers. And Andrew Harris was featured running the ball for the B.C. Lions in a game no one remembers. Totally lame.

Shaq

Shaquille O’Neal has taken some heat for his work as a TV analyst. It seems Shaq is unfamiliar with the first names of numerous National Basketball Association players, including Pascal Siakam of the Tranna Jurassics. “Oh, I never knew his first name,” Shaq confessed in a panel natter with Ernie Johnson in a recent NBA on TNT broadcast. I guess that makes Siakam the ultimate player to be named later.

Tim and Sid are no more. Well, okay Tim is still Micaleff and Sid is still Seixeiro, but they’re no longer Tim & Sid, after 17 years together on Sportsnet. Sid’s next gig is Breakfast Television in the Republic of Tranna and, given his penchant for goofing around, the show might become known as Dog’s Breakfast Television. Tim & Sid was sometimes-see TV for me, never must-see TV, but you don’t last that long without doing something right. Having said that, Tim drew a parallel between he and Sid breaking up and Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David parting ways. Uh, no. You don’t want to go there, man.

James Duthie

I’ve long admired James Duthie’s work on TSN. Who hasn’t? He’s witty, clever, knowledgeable and doesn’t take himself seriously. And he’s done it all without perfect hair and perfect teeth.

But when he waxed on about Tiger Woods last week…well, let’s just say he was showing his age.

“There’s not another…he’s the most famous athlete of our lives,” Duthie said of Woods in a squawk with Rod Smith. “Maybe you can make an argument Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, but there has been no more fascinating, complex character in sport in our lives.”

Good grief. Tom Brady is about as complex as Grade 1 arithmetic. He throws a football, wins the Super Bowl, then paints the town bland. The most fascinating thing he’s ever done is get drunk and hurl the Lombardi Trophy from one boat to another. Jordan? Best hoops player ever. Full stop.

Duthie wants fascinating and complex? Let me introduce him to Muhammad Ali, the boxer once known as Cassius Clay.

There were more layers to Ali than an onion. Let’s start with the name change, the Nation of Islam and the shift to Sunni Islam. Let’s talk about political activism and civil rights. Let’s talk about the U.S. government taking away his livelihood and untold millions of dollars for 3½ years because he refused to travel across the world to kill people in Vietnam. Let’s talk about his willingness to go behind bars rather than spray bullets. Let’s talk about the anger and hostility, then the warm admiration, of a nation. Let’s talk about a unanimous victory in the Supreme Court. Let’s talk about the Grammy nominations. Let’s talk about the movies and the Broadway musical. Let’s talk about whimsy, doggerel and rapping before rap was a thing. Let’s talk about the campus speaking tours. Let’s talk about the battle with Parkinson’s. Let’s talk about winning the world heavyweight title three times when it actually meant something. Let’s talk about the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manila. Let’s talk about media savvy. Let’s talk about showmanship and the oversized personality. Let’s talk about the multiple marriages and infidelities. Let’s talk about the irony of being meaner and more cruel to Black boxers than white fist-fighters.

Duthie is 54, which means he missed the opening act of the theatre that was Ali. He can’t relate to the Vietnam War or the civil rights movement of the 1960s, just as those who weren’t there when John Paul, George and Ringo invaded America can’t truly understand and appreciate Beatlemania.

But when he speaks of “our lives,” I have to assume that includes myself and those of my vintage.

Tiger Woods is arguably the finest to ever strike a dimpled ball. We marveled at his wizardry, how he would make the best in the game wither before they even teed it up on a Thursday. He was fascinating to watch. Gobsmackingly so. But whereas Ali allowed us inside his world, Woods tried to keep most everyone out. Except his many mistresses.

Other than his genius at golf, we knew nothing of Woods the person until caught with his trousers down and the tabloids exposed him as a raging philanderer. And, of course, he’s made headlines for getting behind the wheel of a luxury vehicle when it wasn’t wise. But cheating on your spouse and reckless driving hardly makes one fascinating or complex. It makes him one of a million guys.

So let’s put it this way: Given one word to describe Tiger Woods, it would be “golf.” Given one word to describe Muhammad Ali, it would be…sorry, can’t do it in one word. He was too fascinating and complex.

And, finally, looks like this will be a pizza-and-pebble day, because I’m hitting the couch and won’t budge until either Jen Jones or Kerri Einarson has (hopefully) won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts this evening.

Let’s talk about goals and lumps of coal in the toy department

Sports Santa arrives on the morrow and he’s given us a sneak peak at what he has tucked inside his bag, so let’s see if it’s Goal or a Lump o’ Coal for the good and not-so-good girls and boys in the toy department of life…

GOAL: If at first you don’t succeed…get it right in an extra end. And that’s what Kerri Einarson and her Buffalo girls—Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard, Briane Mielleur, Jennifer Clark-Rouire, coach Patti Wuthrich—did to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw. Kerri had a chance to end it all in the 10th end of the title match vs. Rachel Homan and her Ontario group, but she was heavy with her last-rock draw to the four-foot. She got the job done in the 11th, though, sliding her final stone to the button for an 8-7 victory and the Canadian women’s curling championship.

LUMP O’ COAL: The year 2020. Seriously. Someone needs to give it a good, swift kick to the groin, and it’s not too late.

GOAL: Connor Hellebuyck won the Vezina Trophy as top goaltender in the National Hockey League, putting a bit of shine on an otherwise empty season for the Winnipeg Jets.

LUMP O’ COAL: Sportsnet was guilty of a blatant double standard when it allowed Elliotte Friedman to repeatedly appear on Hockey Night in Canada with a ghastly, unruly beard that made him look like he’d been sleeping under a bridge for three months. No chance a female broadcaster would be allowed on camera with a head of hair that looks like a cluster of dead animals.

GOAL: The Winnipeg Sun celebrated its 40th anniversary, not bad for a sheet that wasn’t supposed to last much longer than a pint of beer in front of Chris Walby.

LUMP O’ COAL: 50 Below Sports + Entertainment ignored provincial health rules and allowed Winnipeg Freeze and Winnipeg Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League to practice outside the city. So make that two lumps o’ coal, one for 50 Below bossman Greg Fettes and the other for bossman Matt Cockell.

GOAL: The good ol’ boys in NASCAR banned the Confederate Flag from race sites. Full sets of teeth, corn squeezin’s and MAGA caps remained optional.

LUMP O’ COAL: Mike Milbury, Brendan Leipsic, Thom Brennaman, Cris Collinsworth, Brett Hull, Evander Kane spewed sexist, racist and/or homophobic slurs. Come on, guys. We’re 21 years into the 21st century, and that language just doesn’t cut it.

GOAL: Katie Sowers became the first female to coach in the Super Bowl, albeit in a losing role with the San Francisco 49ers, Kim Ng became the first female GM of a Major League Baseball team, Alyssa Nakken became the first uniformed female to coach on-field in MLB, Kathryn Nesbitt became the first female to referee in a Major League Soccer championship match, and Sarah Fuller became the first female to play in an NCAA Power 5 men’s football game.

LUMP O’ COAL: Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie went panhandling on Parliament Hill, asking PM Trudeau the Younger for anywhere from $30 million to $150 million in welfare to get Rouge Football on the field during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trouble was, he failed to receive input from the Players Association, and the feds were not amused. Commish Cap-in-Hand was spurned repeatedly, and the CFL finally fell off the grid when Trudeau the Younger batted away his final Hail Mary beg in early August. Thus, there was no season, no Grey Cup week. Just a whole lot of radio silence from the commish.

GOAL: Kid curlers Jacques Gauthier and Mackenzie Zacharias joined Einarson in bringing more glory to Manitoba with their world junior championship wins in Russia.

LUMP O’ COAL: Damien Cox and the Exalted Guardians of the Lou Marsh Trophy at the Toronto Star. The Marsh trinket is supposed to honor Canada’s athlete-of-the-year, except Cox and Co. don’t invite jock journos west of the Republic of Tranna to the top-jock party. Well, okay, that’s not quite true. They granted a voice and a vote to four news snoops from the colonies. That would be four out of 37 voices and votes. How gracious of them.

GOAL: O-lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif walked away from the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and millions of American dollars to fight the good fight against COVID in long-term care homes.

LUMP O’ COAL: TSN named its all-time Winnipeg Jets roster and didn’t include the great Lars-Erik Sjoberg among the top six defencemen. But wait. The geniuses declared The Shoe to be the franchise’s “foundational” player. Sigh. That’s like telling Jesus he has to sit at the kids’ table for the Last Supper. Neither the original Jets franchise nor the second coming knew a better blueliner than The Shoe.

GOAL: Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab showed us their fab journalistic chops with fab features. Freezer relived the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 2019 Grey Cup championship with a nine-part series, while young Jeff took a deep, deep dive into the dark and sordid world of disgraced sexual predator and former hockey coach Graham James.

LUMP O’ COAL: Mainstream jock journos, shinny division, held a group pity party when the NHL revealed it wouldn’t make public the various owies suffered by players during the summer made-for-TV playoff tournament. It was as if they’d been ordered to gather in a small room to watch an Adam Sandler movie marathon, or listen to Barry Manilow’s greatest hits 24/7.

GOAL: Various sports franchises played the name game, including the CFL team formerly known as the Edmonton Eskimos, the NFL team formerly known as the Washington Redskins, and the MLB team to be named something other than Cleveland Indians. We still don’t know what any of them will be called, but it’s believed the animal kingdom has the inside track and they can only hope the people at PETA don’t have a beef with any new names.

LUMP O’ COAL: Former NBC Sports hockey gab guy Jeremy Roenick went on a podcast to declare his admiration for a co-worker’s “ass and boobs” and mentioned something about three-way sex with his wife and the co-worker. He was promptly punted. But wait. There’s more. Rather than go quietly into the night, Roenick decided to kick up a legal fuss and sued NBC Sports for wrongful dismissal, claiming discrimination based on his sexual orientation. His argument: If he was a gay man and said the things he said, he’d still have a job. But because he’s a straight man, he’s out of work. Ya, good luck with that, hetero boy.

GOAL: Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm won her fourth WNBA title and became engaged to soccer diva Megan Rapinoe, while another gay woman, triple jumper Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela, was named female athlete-of-the-year by World Athletics.

LUMP O’ COAL: Bryson DeChambeau spouted off about Augusta National prior to the Masters in November, boasting that it would be a pitch-and-putt course for him while the mere mortals on the PGA Tour would be playing to par-72. “I’m looking at it as a par-67 for me,” he said. In that case, DeChambeau shot 18-over par with rounds of 70-74-69-73, which left him tied for 34th, 18 swings behind winner Dustin Johnson and one behind 63-year-old Bernhard Langer.

GOAL: It was girl power on Sportsnet in March, when an all-female broadcast crew worked a Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Hockey Night in Canada. Leah Hextall handled the play-by-play call, Cassie Campbell-Pascall delivered color commentary and Christine Simpson was rinkside. Question is: Was it a one-off, or will they be back?

LUMP O’ COAL: Justin Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers was yanked from the deciding game of the World Series due to a positive COVID test, but he returned to join his teammates in an on-field celebration and removed his mask. MLB chose not to punish Turner for allowing his bare face to hang out and expose L.A. players and hangers-on to the virus, so it gets a lump o’ coal, too.

GOAL: Zamboni driver David Ayres took over the blue paint for the Carolina Hurricanes one night in the Republic of Tranna, and the emergency goaltender beat the Maple Leafs. Not since Sid Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon pulled into the Tim Hortons drive-thru has a Zamboni driver received so much attention.

LUMP O’ COAL: Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz thought COVID-19 was a big joke, so he mocked news snoops about the virus at a press session. A couple days later, he tested positive and the kibitzing stopped. As did the NBA and the rest of the sports world.

GOAL: Our leading lady of soccer, Christine Sinclair, became the top goal-scorer of all time in international fitba. She finishes the year with 186, and there might be more to come if the women get back on the pitch in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics.

LUMP O’ COAL: Novak Djokovic, who wears a tin-foil hat and might lead the sports world in hissy fits, ignored scientific and medical advice and staged a mini-tennis tour when almost all sports had shut down due to the COVID pandemic. Social distancing was ignored by players and fans, and the Joker was one of four players to test positive. The final tourney was canceled. Later, he was ushered out of the U.S. Open tennis tournament for whacking a lines judge in the face with a ball. What a doofus.

GOAL: Rafael Nadal won his 13th French Open title and his 20th tennis Gran Slam, at the same time running his career record at Roland Garros to 100-2.

LUMP O’ COAL: Steve Simmons of Postmedia Toronto spent much of the year shaking his fists and shouting at clouds, as is his wont, and he reserved his most ignorant hit pieces for PM Trudeau the Younger and the National Women’s Hockey League expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna. He claimed Trudeau had “let us down again” by permitting the Blue Jays “to play their home games this summer in Toronto. That is beyond stupid.” He later doubled down, calling the decision “beyond ridiculous.” Except Trudeau and the feds never gave the Jays the okie-dokie to play in the Republic of Tranna. In fact, he told them to pack their bats and balls and find a home in the U.S., which they did in Buffalo. Meantime, Simmons assailed the NWHL when it would add a team in The ROT. “You don’t gain credibility by announcing a team with no name, no place to play and no big-name players,” he harrumphed. He also noted there was no team logo. “When you have all that in place, then make the announcement. The press release referred to the expansion team as a ‘first-class team of professionals.’ Time will answer that, but the new Toronto Whatevers are not off to a great start.” Except he had no such harsh words for the NHL when it introduced expansion franchises in Las Vegas and Seattle. They were introduced without team names, without team logos, and without big-name players. They were the Vegas and Seattle Whatevers for two years. So let’s see if I’ve got this straight: If women do it, bad; if men do it, cool. I believe we can file that under subtle sexism.

And, finally, GOAL: To everyone who indulged an old lady by visiting the River City Renegade. We’ve topped 57,000 views this year, and that’s a new high-water mark for the third successive year. So thanks. Happy Christmas.

Let’s talk about no sports for writers to write about…dog sled racing and a vasectomy in the Drab Slab…Cheech and Chintzy won’t show arena workers the money…strange scribblings from The ROT…trashing the Thrashers…the Church of Maggie…and Rachel Homan fires Lisa Weagle

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and great Caesar’s ghost, does anything good ever happen on the Ides of March?

My most-distant recollection of sports dates back to the mid-1950s, either ’55 or ’56, when I sat in the nose-bleed pews of Winnipeg Arena, which was rather spiffy in its newness.

Below on the freeze whirled Billy Mosienko and Eric Nesterenko and Spider Mazur and others adorned in the gold-and-black livery of the Winnipeg Warriors, a freshly minted outfit in a nine-team Western Hockey League that stretched from Good Ol’ Hometown to Victoria and dipped south into Seattle.

I would have been five or six years old at the time, my eyes as wide as the centre-ice faceoff circle, and although I don’t recall the Warriors’ foe—nor the final score or whether I had a hot dog, a box of popcorn or both to go with my Coke—I can report that none of us in attendance gave consideration to “social distancing.” We were scrunched into the barn, somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 of us cheek-to-jowl, each delighted to be eye witnesses to a real, live professional hockey match.

That night represents Ground Zero for me in a lifetime of observing the kid’s games that grown men play for what once was a working-man’s wage but now makes them instant millionaires.

I’m now four months into my 70th spin around the sun and I’ve not known a world without sports since my Winnipeg Arena baptism in ’55 or ’56, even if I have sometimes wondered what a world without sports would be like.

Winnipeg Arena circa 1955.

I played sports. I watched sports. I harbored a voracious appetite for sports reading. Had I spent as much time with my nose stuck in school text books as I did jock journals and the sports section of the daily newspapers, I might have achieved higher loft than a C student. And bringing my report card home might not have been done with such paralyzing dread.

That enchantment with all things jock led to a career in sports journalism, not by design so much as circumstance and a favorable nod from Dame Fortune.

But I divorced myself from sports on a professional level 20-plus years ago, three decades after walking into the fifth-floor toy department at the Winnipeg Tribune for the first time. I’d like to say it was a full, never-look-back split, but that would be a mistruth. There have been numerous freelance gigs. There was a brief and self-aborted return to the rag trade. There have been contributions to various websites. And, of course, every time I’m struck with the notion to shut down this River City Renegade blog, something or someone (e.g. my doctor) reels me back in.

“You have to keep your mind active,” has been his repeated reminder, always accompanied by a caution that a rousing game of bingo does nothing to activate my grey matter.

Thus, I have discovered there is no world without sports.

Until now.

Sports is over. It’s been dark since last Thursday.

They won’t flip the switch back on until intelligent women and men in lab coats and with microscopes and test tubes discover a vaccine to corral the coronavirus, then give health authorities the okie-dokie for athletes and the rabble to return to the playground.

So while the squints stare at germs under glass and sports remains in limbo, will it change my life? A smidgen.

I’ll still make my twice-a-week pilgrimage to my favorite watering hole, Bart’s Pub, and the pints Jack the Bartender pours will still be wet and cold. I just won’t be able to sneak a peek at the flatscreen in the corner to see how the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Jets or Manitoba’s curlers are getting on, and I’m okay with that.

Frankly, the suspension/pause/cancellation of sports might be my cue to exit. Finally. I mean, I’ve had my innings. Like, more than 50 years worth of innings scribbling about the jocks in Good Ol’ Hometown.

It’s been a trip. A bloody good trip.

Truthfully, I’m concerned about today’s jock journos, print division. They had no desire to quit sports, but sports has quit them. And now they’ll begin to run on fumes. I mean, they’ve already exhausted their main talking point—shutting down was “the right thing to do; life is bigger than sports”—so there’s nothing left for them to wax on about until the squints have their say, and that will be many, many months from now. Their only hope is for the Olympic Games to proceed, which is a faint and delusional expectation, and I’m sure it’s a shuddering reality for some. I really wonder how many of them will still be there when sports breaks through to the other side.

You think I’m kidding about the ink-stained wretches running on fumes? Consider this: The sports front in the Drab Slab this very day is a full-page pic of a Chinese badminton player and, inside, you can read all about vasectomies and dog sled racing. Meanwhile, columnist Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna was tweeting about women’s Olympic wrestling on Saturday. He cares as much about women’s grappling, and ponytail sports in general, as Jose Altuve and the Houston Astros care about getting caught stealing signs. It’s anything to justify one’s existence, I suppose.

Come to think of it, why were women wrestling in Ottawa when every other sports activity known to man has gone dark (except the UFC, where Dana White insists on showcasing grown women and men beating each other to a bloody pulp)? What, wrestlers don’t touch each other’s face with dirty hands while rolling around on a dirty floor? Odd bit of business, that.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman: “No pay for you!”

It’s not my business to tell Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman or David Thomson how to spend their millions and billions of dollars, but I wonder if the Jets co-bankrolls know how chintzy they look by leaving their 1,050 event workers at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie high, dry and out of pocket now that the National Hockey League has hit the pause button. “They work when we work,” the Puck Pontiff informed news snoops last week, his tone as cold and callous as a jury foreman reading a guilty verdict at a murder trial. So the minions don’t get paid, but the millionaire players continue to fatten their wallets, and that’s something Cheech and Chintzy might want to reconsider. It’s a dreadful optic. Just because you don’t have to do something, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

This just in: Cheech and Chintzy now say they’ll pay their casual and part-time workers for postponed events until the end of the month. As I was saying, just because you don’t have to do something, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. But True North Sports+Entertainment took a massive PR hit nonetheless.

Kudos to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun for calling out Chipman on the no-pay for arena part-timers issue. It had to be written. Scott Billeck of the tabloid, meanwhile, shamed the Jets co-bankrolls on social media.  Unless I missed it, opinionists at the Drab Slab have been mum on the matter, but I suppose they were too busy digging up those compelling vasectomy and dog sled stories.

Cathal Kelly

Some seriously strange scribbling out of the Republic of Tranna last week, starting with Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail. In reference to COVID-19 shutting down 99.9 per cent of the sports world, he offered this:

“When I think of the very best of sports in the city I live in, I remember that night last May when the Toronto Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks for the NBA’s Eastern Conference title. A lot of Canadians hadn’t cared until that moment. Suddenly, every single one of us did.”

We did? My friends and I must have missed that memo.

Kelly then added, “Whatever comes next is not going to be good, but I believe the spirit of that night will hold in this city, and every other one in Canada.”

Oh, good gawd. Only someone from The ROT would believe that those of us who live in the colonies are clinging to the memory of a distant basketball game to get us through the coronavirus crisis. I guess we can all stop stocking up on toilet paper now.

Similarly silly was Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star calling Rudy Gobert “a hero.” I don’t know about you, but my idea of a hero is a war veteran, a firefighter, a cop, a first-responder, a doctor, a nurse, not a basketball player who thought the coronavirus was a big joke and likely infected people because he acted like a complete doofus.

Then there was Steve Simmons, whose weak attempt at humor re pro teams performing in front of empty facilities fell flat. “Anyone who attended Atlanta Thrashers games back in the day knows what it’s like to have a pro sporting event without fans,” he tweeted. That’s rich. A guy from The ROT trashing another burg because of poor attendance. The Tranna Argonauts, with their sub-10,000 head counts at BMO Field, are an embarrassment to the Canadian Football League, and the Blue Jays have led Major League Baseball in lost customers two years in a row. Fact is, the Argos attracted an average of 12,493 last season, and we all know the actual head count was considerably lower than that. In their final whirl in Atlanta, the Thrashers attracted an average of 13,469, and that included audiences of 16,000-plus five times down the stretch. But, hey, let’s ignore the facts and take cheap shots Atlanta. What a d’oh boy.

Pastor Maggie

Hey, turns out there’s an easy fix for the deadly coronavirus—gather all 7.5 billion of us together and squeeze us into the Church of Maggie, otherwise known as the Victory Life Church, a temple in Perth, Australia, created by tennis legend and raging homophobe Margaret Court. Seems Pastor Maggie sent out a communiqué last week claiming: “We are in agreement that this Convid-19 (sic) will not come near our dwelling or our church family. We are praying daily for you, knowing that we are all protected by the Blood of Jesus.” Hmmm. If only Tom Hanks and his bride Rita Wilson knew.

Pastor Maggie’s statement included this ‘oh, by the way’: “For your convenience, hand sanitiser readily available at all of our sites.” Meaning what? The “Blood of Jesus” isn’t enough?

Rachel Homan and Lisa Weagle

So Rachel Homan and her gal pals have fired lead Lisa Weagle from their fab curling team, and apparently Homan, Emma Miskew and Joanne Courtney did the dirty deed behind Lisa’s back. Just wondering, will Homan now be crapped on from high heights, or is that treatment still reserved for Jennifer Jones? If you recall, Jones fired Cathy Overton-Clapham from her championship team back in 2010, and it was as if she’d tied a large rock to a little, warm puppy and dropped her in the middle of Lake Winnipeg. It will be interesting to see if there’s similar fallout for Homan, but somehow I doubt it.

And, finally, I’m down to my last pack of toilet paper, so why do I feel guilty about going to the market and buying another dozen rolls?

Let’s talk about Jennifer Jones and Father Time…a tradition of top-drawer curling coverage…JLo, Shakira and a big-hair halftime show…Cassie for commish…SRO for the Rivalry Series…and oh woe is Puck Finn

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and now that the football season is over, it’s time for pitchers and catchers to report…

It would be easy this morning to write off Jennifer Jones as the latest of curling’s been-there, done-that champions who’ve discovered they cannot outrun Father Time.

Jennifer Jones

After all, shots that once were so routinely made now often seem so iffy.

Like her last-rock draw attempt in the fifth end of the Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts final on Sunday in beautiful downtown Rivers.

All Jones needed was the eight-foot ring which, for a world-class curler, is no more difficult than cracking an egg and dropping it in a frying pan. If you were to ask the Olympic and world champion how often she’s drawn the eight-foot in a career of making the other team cry uncle, it would number in the many thousands. Not this time, though. Her stone ground to a halt, as if some unseen hand had reached down and placed a piece of sandpaper in its path. It was a shot she had no business missing.

Thus, instead of scoring one for a 4-2 advantage, it was a steal of three for Kerri Einarson and a 3-5 deficit.

Ultimately, though, it wasn’t that gaffe that derailed Jones in her bid to earn a ninth Buffalo jacket, because she rallied to manufacture a 6-5 advantage through seven ends of a game that was as erratic as a teenager’s mood swings. But she never scored again.

In the final reckoning, the Manitoba women’s championship was decided by two bricks: Each skip’s last in the 10th.

Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard, Briane Meilleur

Both the four-foot and button were blocked by enough granite to sculpt a life-size statue of Sandra Schmirler, making it a delicate bit of business. Einarson’s rock took the scenic route and stopped—right…on…the…nut. And totally buried. Still, Jones had hope. She could glance off one of her yellow stones and nudge Einarson’s shot rock off the button. Game, set and off to Moose Jaw for the national Scotties, right?

Except that’s not how Jones’ universe unfolds anymore.

As she hunkered in the hack, I thought to myself, “No way she makes this shot.” I don’t recall ever doubting Jones before. She missed, her rock wrecking out front.

So, instead of swanning off to Moose Jaw with the Buffalo on their backs later this month, Jones and her gal pals—Kaitlyn Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman, Dawn McEwen—will be required to get the better of Tracy Fleury in a one-off, wild-card game on Valentine’s Day. The winner plays on, the loser returns home, presumably without parting gifts.

Even if she is to win the wild card, a daunting task is stretched out in front of the 45-year-old Jones.

Chelsea Carey

The Scotties field includes defending champion Chelsea Carey, former champ Rachel Homan, Krista McCarville, Robyn Silvernagle, Suzanne Birt and Laura Walker, a Scotties neophyte out of Edmonton but we all know that Alberta never sends a scrub team to the national tournament.

And that’s not to forget Einarson and Gimli playmates Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur, who enter the fray no worse than even-money to bring home the bauble.

That’s tough sledding for Jones.

Still, I wouldn’t be so hasty in having the bugler play taps for the six-time Canadian and two-time world titleholder. Jones still has, as they say, game. She and her St. Vital accomplices stand third in the country’s team rankings, and they didn’t get there by accident.

So let’s put it this way: I’ll be surprised if Jennifer Jones wins another Scotties, but I also won’t be surprised.

Thoroughly enjoyed reading Melissa Martin’s daily dispatches from Rivers. I assume the deep-thinkers at the Drab Slab have booked Double M’s passage to Moose Jaw, where she can cover the curling and hang out with local resident Burton Cummings. Unless Burt and old buddy Randy Bachman are already on tour by then.

Also many good reads from Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun. River City rags have a long history of top-drawer curling coverage (the best in the country, if you ask me), so I hope the tabloid plans to send him to Moose Jaw, where he can check out some of those tunnels Al Capone left behind. Just as long as he doesn’t get lost between draws.

It’s about Super Bowl LIV: Good game.

It’s about the halftime show, featuring JLo and Shakira: Lots of big hair, legs, gyrating groins and lip-syncing.

It’s about my pre-game prediction of Kansas City Chiefs XXXV, San Francisco 49ers XVII: Not bad. Final score was 31-20.

It’s about the American commercials: Haven’t seen any of them yet.

Caught the latest edition of Hometown Hockey on Sunday, and I must say that Sportsnet is pushing hard for women’s hockey. I just hope they’re as geeked up about Ponytail Puck if and when there’s a Women’s National Hockey League with outfits based in Canada. They basically ignored the Canadian Women’s Hockey League before it turned out the lights.

Ron MacLean

There’s a heavy bias in Sportsnet coverage of the women’s game, in that it’s slanted heavily in favor of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association and its Dream Gap Tour. And Cassie Campbell-Pascall is given free rein to preach falsehoods about the National Women’s Hockey League, which is never a good idea. Objective journalists would invite NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan to the discussion and get her take on where the game’s at and where she sees it going. But Ron MacLean abdicated long ago, Tara Slone isn’t really a journo, and Campbell-Pascall is too busy campaigning to become the first commish of the WNHL.

We get another serving of Ponytail Puck this very evening, and this time it’s the real thing, not one of those half-baked Dream Gap scrimmages. It’s Canada vs. U.S.A. in the Rivalry Series at Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena in Victoria, and the barn is sold out. The barn is also just one block away from my modest dwelling, but financial limitations prevent me from attending. I shall watch it on TSN, though, even if it’s long past my bedtime.

Patrik Laine

Just wondering: Why are so many among the rabble down on Patrik Laine? True, the kid’s no Auston Matthews, and not just because he keeps his pants on in public. Puck Finn doesn’t score like Matthews, but last time I looked he had 19 goals, which likely means another 30-snipe season. That would make him 4-for-4. Seems to me that would have been acceptable when the Winnipeg Jets used their first shoutout to claim Laine in the 2016 National Hockey League auction of teenage talent. So why isn’t it good enough anymore? Maybe if Puck Finn went ice fishing instead of playing Fortnite he’d be more agreeable to the masses.

And, finally, it’s Feb. 3 and Paul Maurice is still head coach of the Jets. I told you he would be.

Let’s talk about sports in 2020: Megan Rapinoe for VP…Bemidji Buff…Coach PoMo’s dog days…Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB situation is a zoo…curling and diaper duty…and other things in the crystal ball…

No looking back. Only looking ahead.

And who better to do that than Madame Redneck, my bony recluse friend who lives above the timber line with 12 cats on Vancouver Island and grants me an audience once a year, as long as I supply the Kokanee?

She’s a crazy, old girl—I suppose in polite company we’d call her eccentric—but she possesses the best psychic powers this side of Nostradamus. She’s my personal Nostra Damn-Miss.

I spent an afternoon with her on the weekend, and here’s what she saw in her crystal ball for 2020…

  • The Yankee Doodle Damsels win soccer gold at the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo and, once again, loud mouth lesbian Megan Rapinoe is the star of the show and the most popular athlete in the U.S. Seeing this as an opportunity to boost his sagging approval rating, Donald Trump ditches VP Mike Pence and asks Rapinoe to join him as his running mate on the GOP ticket in the presidential campaign.

Megan Rapinoe

“It’s only right that I have a gay running mate, because nobody’s been a better friend to the gay community than me…nobody,” Trump says. “Megan knows it. All the gays know it. You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve done for the gays. Even the gays don’t believe it. Just ask them. They’ll tell you I’ve done things like they’ve never seen. I’ve done so many things for the gays that I actually wish I was gay, just so I could take advantage of all the things I’ve done for the gays. I’ve told Melania that. She thinks I’d make a great gay. I’d be a gay like you’ve never seen. I was at the Stonewall Riots, by the way. I threw the first brick. I freed the gays the same way Lincoln freed the slaves. There wouldn’t have been a gay pride movement if I hadn’t tossed that first brick at the cops. Me and Harvey Milk, we’re the most influential people in gay history. The gays know that.”

Asked if she would accept Trump’s overture, Rapinoe says: “Sure, as soon as he paints the White House pink.”

  • Dustin Byfuglien continues his rehab in an ice fishing hut at Lockport, but the Winnipeg Jets reluctant blueliner decides to retire from the National Hockey League and buys a fishing lodge near Bemidji, Minn.

Dustin Byfuglien

“There’s been a lot of talk about ruffled feathers,” general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff tells news snoops, “but, again, I can assure you that Buff’s feathers were never ruffled. Frankly, my feathers are a bit ruffled because you people keep asking me about ruffled feathers. Again, we would have preferred that Buff rejoin us for our drive to the playoffs. Again, we like Buff. Unfortunately, he likes fishing and hunting more than he likes us. But, again, that doesn’t mean his feathers are ruffled. We wish Buff all the best and, again, this had nothing to do with ruffled feathers.”

When contacted by reporters at his Lockport Buff Hut, Byfuglien says he has nothing to say.

  • Chevy and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman re-sign Paul Maurice, thus snuffing out speculation that Coach Potty Mouth plans to join the expansion Seattle To Be Named Laters.

Coach Potty Mo

“Again, Paul was never going anywhere,” Chevy says. “It’s my understanding that he’s building a big-ass house somewhere in the city. That would be a crazy commute to Seattle. Again, I don’t know how these rumors start. Again, just because Paul is friends with Ron Francis doesn’t mean he was leaving. Again, Paul has many friends in hockey. I like to think I’m one of them. Again, if we all worked for our friends, there would only be one team in the NHL. Again, you guys slay me with your rumors.”

Asked about re-upping with the Jets, Maurice says: “I look forward to making as many people as possible cry in that effing dressing room.”

  • Three days after the announcement of Maurice’s new contract, the Jets are forced to fire him.

Chevy

“We thought we had done our due diligence during the vetting process,” Chevy explains, “but we later discovered that Paul kicked a teammate’s dog when he was playing PeeWee hockey as a 10-year-old. Again, with the league’s new policy on squeaky-clean conduct by coaches, we had no choice but to let him go. I realize it happened 42 years ago, but, again, kicking a dog is kicking a dog is kicking a dog, and it doesn’t matter that poor Spot has been dead for a quarter century. Again, we endorse the league’s witch hunt of coaches guilty of wrong-doing, no matter how far back we have to look.”

Asked where he would find a replacement for Maurice, Chevy mutters: “Maybe it will have to be an altar boy to be named later, because, again, all the known saints are dead.”

  • Ron MacLean is removed as host of Hockey Night in Canada and replaced by David Amber.

Ron MacLean

“First they got Don Cherry, now they got me,” says MacLean. “Grapes lost his job because of poppies, and I lose my job because I’m a white guy. Go figure. I mean, what’s the NHL about if it isn’t about old white guys running everything? I might be the first white guy in hockey to lose his job because of his skin color. Don’t get me wrong, David is a talented young guy, but let’s face it, he’s got my job because I’m white and he isn’t. I just recently noticed that he wasn’t an old white guy. Oh, well, at least I’ve still got Hometown Hockey with Tara Slone. Funny thing is, I didn’t even notice she was a woman until last year. I guess there’s been a lot of stuff I didn’t notice.”

  • QB Zach Collaros takes his Grey Cup ring and runs to the Republic of Tranna, where he becomes the starter with the Boatmen.

Zach Collaros

“I loved playing for coach O’Shea and coach LaPolice, and I loved playing with all the guys, and I loved being a Blue Bomber and winning the Grey Cup,” he says. “But it’s Winnipeg. Not a lot going on there. I mean, how many times can you go to the zoo?”

  • QB Matt Nichols decides to forego free agency and signs a fresh three-year deal with the Bombers.

“Like, as if I really had a choice,” he says. “Take a look around the league. There aren’t any openings for a starter. Except maybe Ottawa. If it’s between Ottawa and Winnipeg, I’ll take Winnipeg every time. I mean, I just can’t get enough of that zoo, man.”

  • QB Chris Streveler sobers up in time to strut his stuff for a handful of National Football League outfits, but he returns to Canada and signs with the Ottawa RedBlacks, now coached by Paul LaPolice.

Chris Streveler

“I enjoyed working out for those NFL teams,” he says, “but it’s too much of a zoo down there.”

  • Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie amps up his CFL 2.0 initiative by announcing working agreements with organizations in Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Falkland Islands.

“One day you’ll be seeing Fijians, New Guineans and Falklanders on CFL rosters,” he boasts.

Asked how that will increase interest and attendance in the league’s weakest markets, Toronto and Vancouver, Commish Randy replies: “We have teams in those cities? Who knew?”

  • CFL on TSN talking head Glen Suitor turns in his microphone and becomes tour bus driver and resident groupie for singer and heatthrob Keith Urban.

Chris Cuthbert, Keith Urban and groupie Glen Suitor.

“After meeting Keith at the Grey Cup and sucking up to him the way I did on national TV, I couldn’t turn down this opportunity,” Suitor says. “How many guys can say they get to drive Keith Urban’s bus and lick his boots every day? Just me. He might even give me a bit part in his next music video. Eat your heart out, Nicole Kidman.”

  • Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman expands his True North Sports & Entertainment empire when granted a National Women’s Hockey League expansion franchise, called the Jettes.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman

“This is something I should have done a long time ago,” Chipman says. “I like women. I married one. And I have three daughters. All of them play or played hockey. I’d love it if one day one of them, or one of my granddaughters, could play for the Jettes. Based on the NWHL pay scale, it’d be cheaper than giving them an allowance.”

  • New moms Rachel Homan and Joanne Courtney win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and, along with Lisa Weagle and Emma Miskew, become the first women to earn a purse equal to the Brier champions.

Rachel Homan

“It’s the 20th century,” says Homan. “About time. But we’ve already won this thing three times. You don’t suppose they could make the pay retroactive, do you? Diapers cost more than I thought.”

  • The boys on the hockey beat at the Drab Slab overhear a neighbor talking to a butcher who talked to a school teacher who talked to a cab driver who talked to a bartender who talked to a nurse who overheard Rink Rat Scheifele’s hair stylist mention a travel agent, so they scribble an article saying the Jets centre has demanded a trade.

“Now we know for certain whose feathers are ruffled,” they write. “If you can’t believe a hair stylist, who can you believe?”

  • I retire from scribbling the River City Renegade blog, but I return for more.

“What can I say?” I say. “As long as those mooks at the Drab Slab keep writing their fiction, I’m going to keep cranking out my BS.”

Let’s talk about kids’ piggy banks, Peter Warren and empty seats…the Winnipeg Jets D…Tiger’s tell-all tome…a coverup in Tinseltown…dumb stuff at Sportsnet…St. Louis Blues visit the Trumps…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I understood some of what Don Cherry said on Saturday night, so I’ve made an appointment with my shrink…

Okay, kids, time to bust open the piggy banks and empty the coin jars.

And, hey, is it too soon to send an S.O.S. to Peter Warren, asking him to fire up the flatbed Ford and start tooting around town to prod senior citizens into turning over their pension cheques?

I know. Sounds crazy.

Bobby Hull and Peter Warren.

I mean, just because our hockey heroes recently performed in front of (unsold) empty seats for the first time (officially) since 2011, there’s no cause to declare a state of emergency. The Winnipeg Jets aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so let’s have no talk of Houston or Cleveland or San Diego or Ville de Quebec.

Still, for those of us who recall dire times and more than one Save The Jets campaign that really did include kids and piggy banks—and Warren turning his CJOB Action Line into a Jerry Lewis-style telethon—it feels like deja vu all over again.

We remember Warren’s pleas from the lobby of the Marlborough Hotel in June 1974, and on downtown streets in May 1995. The legendary broadcaster who always got “right down to business” did more groveling than a dude whose wife found the wrong shade of lipstick on his collar.

It worked in ’74. Not so much 21 years later.

Benny Hatskin

Benny Hatskin, noticing too many empty seats in the Winnipeg Arena and weary of writing cheques in red ink in 1974, turned his then-World Hockey Association franchise over—lock, stock and Bobby Hull’s hairpiece—to civic leaders with all the right intentions, but only after the rabble had ponied up in excess of $600,000 in nickels, dimes and cashier’s cheques not made of rubber.

One of the many who helped save the Jets that year was Margaret-Ann Farr, a 76-year-old who had earmarked $500 in savings for a trip to her homeland in Scotland. Instead, she gave it to the Jets, even though she had never seen them play. No, I can’t tell you if Maggie eventually found her way home to the ol’ sod, but I can tell you that your favorite hockey team was once owned by a dog, because one guy donated $25 on behalf of his pooch, Lady Jet.

And so it went.

The old barn on Maroons Road.

It was much the same in 1995—not enough customers in the old barn on Maroons Road, amped-up salaries ($13 million player payroll), lousy Canadian dollar and, most important, no one with deep pockets interested in frittering away what remained in their deep pockets. Again, they went hat in hand to the people and raised more than $13 million in a bid to preserve their National Hockey League outfit. Trouble was, they needed $32 million, thus the Jets swanned off to Arizona.

And now we’re noticing reminders of the way it was.

The Jets were 561 people short of a sellout at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie last Tuesday with the Arizona Coyotes in town. Two nights later, they were 262 shy of a full barn for a visit from the New York Islanders. The Jets payroll is now $75 million, with gusts up to $83 million depending on Dustin Byfuglien’s mood du jour, the dollar is about as strong as the Jets penalty-kill, True North is charging more for a beer and a hot dog than what a ticket cost back in the day, and some folks are taking out second mortgages to pay for their season packages.

The difference, of course, is in ownership.

David Thomson

This time around, the dude with the deepest pockets in the country, David Thomson, is part of the package, and you’re never going to see him standing at the corner of Portage and Main asking little, old ladies to nix a trip to Scotland so he and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman can keep Blake Wheeler and Rick Rat Scheifele in champagne and caviar.

A 4,000-person waiting list for season subscriptions suggests there’s plenty of shelf life left in these Winnipeg Jets, but I’m guessing some of you would probably feel a lot better if you were hearing that from Chipman instead of me.

Bottom line: You can tell your kids to keep what’s in their piggy banks. Once they’ve grown up, they can use it for college tuition or a mortgage on a nice house.

They just won’t be able to afford Jets season tickets.

Both main columnists with the daily rags weighed in on the head counts at last week’s Jets jousts, with Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab pointing to Good Ol’ Hometown’s “saturated” sports/shinny market as one possible reason for the non-sellouts. He added, “While there’s no sign a divorce is on the horizon, it seems the (fan/team) relationship is a lot more complicated than it used to be.” It isn’t complicated at all. As Paul Friesen pointed out in the Winnipeg Sun, it’s all about costs. The Jets, according to numerous folks who contacted Friesen, are pricing themselves out of their own market. As for a “saturated” market, what, they don’t have sports entertainment options in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver? As if.

If you’re wondering, the highest average head count for Jets 1.0 was 13,620 in 1985-96. That’s only 1,144 customers fewer than last week with the Coyotes in town, and they weren’t paying anyone $8.25 million per annum (hello, Blake Wheeler). In their final whirl at the old barn on Maroons Road, Jets 1.0 attracted an average of 11,316.

Tiger Woods has taken up the quill and will write a memoir to tell the “definitive story” of his life as a golf prodigy and icon. So we’ll finally get the answer to that burning question: “When Elin found out about all the blonde cocktail waitresses and escorts that Tiger was shagging, did she attack him with a nine-iron or a pitching wedge?”

HarperCollins Publishers considered several titles for Tiger’s tell-all tome before settling on Back, and it’s believed these were among the rejected suggestions:
1) Birdies, Bogeys, Bunkers & Bimbos.
2) That’s Not A Putter In My Pants…I’m Just Happy To See You.
3) T&A at the R&A (Tits & Ass at the Royal & Ancient).
4) Pin High & Horny.
5) Tiger Woods: My Pants Were Always Lower Than My Score.

News item: The NHL tells Valentin Zykov of the Vegas Golden Knights to get lost for 20 games because he either stuck a needle in his butt or swallowed a PED. Imagine that, a Russian using illegal drugs. Who would have thought?

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that young Ville Heinola has become the darling of the local media. The Finnish kid can do no wrong with news snoops, even when he’s doing something wrong on the Jets blueline. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just saying.

The more I watch the NHL, with its limited fisticuffs and greatly reduced body belting, the more I think of former Jets centre Peter Sullivan. Today’s game was made for the man we called Silky.

Stupid headline of the week No. 1, from Sportsnet: “Why the Maple Leafs need a statement game against struggling Wild.” Oh, c’mon man. No one makes a statement game against the Minnesota Wild, the worst team in the NHL. Beating a team with a pulse, like the Boston Bruins, is a statement game.

Stupid headline of the week No. 2, from the Drab Slab: “Pionk steadies young D.” Good grief, Charlie Brown. Two days earlier, the Jets surrendered seven—count ’em seven!—goals v. Sid and his Pittsburgh pals. Then they gave up a four-spot v. Arizona. Then three v. the Islanders. Fourteen goals in three games. That’s steady like the back of a garbage truck is a salad bar. The accompanying Taylor Allen article was no better. It read like a puff piece hot off the True North propaganda printing press. Look, it’s time the Drab Slab told the truth, which is this: Neal Pionk is a top pairing defenceman for one reason—everyone who can skate and chew gum at the same time left Dodge long ago, Josh Morrissey being the exception.

Oh, wait, now I’m really confused. Just four days after Allen’s puff piece on Pionk and the “steady” blueline, along comes Mad Mike McIntyre to tell us this about the Jets: “The needs are many, with two major areas of concern—the blue-line and the penalty kill.” I see. The steady defence actually sucks. Methinks the boys on the beat might want to exchange notes before hitting the send button.

Los Angeles Kings fans decided that Taylor Swift had a curse on their team, so a banner saluting the pop singer’s record number of sellouts at Staples Center is now blotted out by a large black cloth at each game. It’s the most talked-about coverup in Tinseltown since the O.J. Trial.

Stupid tweet of the week, from Kristina Rutherford of Sportsnet: “The NHL season is underway and MLB playoffs are happening and the #1 article on @sportsnet yesterday was about the @nwhl and pro women’s hockey. So I guess all y’all that say ‘nobody cares!’ about women’s hockey can go fly a kite.” That smacks of Grade 5 schoolyard na, na, na, na, na-ism. Yes, it’s juvenile. The placement of Rutherford’s article at the top of the main page on the Sportsnet website means just one thing—they did something dumb again. You know, like on Saturday morning after a Major League Baseball playoff game, numerous NHL games including the Edmonton McDavids, two CFL games, Brooke Henderson firing a hole-in-one and leading an LPGA tournament, Sportsnet’s main story was an exhibition basketball game. Like I said, dumb.

On the matter of Pontytail Puck, I wonder why it is that the National Women’s Hockey League refuses to include attendance figures in its game summaries. I asked but didn’t receive a reply. So I can only assume they’re embarrassed by the modest head counts.

I also find myself wondering why no one in mainstream media is challenging the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association on their true mission, which is to put the NWHL out of business. They can talk all they like about building a better future for little girls, but I’ll believe that fairy tale the day they actually sit down with NWHL commish Dani Rylan and look for ways to make the women’s game work. As it is, the PWHPA refuses to engage in meaningful dialogue, instead serving up a sham called the Dream Gap Tour.

Interesting take from Cathal Kelly on the St. Louis Blues’ visit to the Trump household last week. The Globe and Mail columnist had no problem with the Stanley Cup champions’ Tour de Oval Office, and he managed to squeeze in a swipe at National Basketball Association stars. “NBA players often make a bit of a deal announcing they will not set one foot in the White House while Trump remains in office, always to great cheers,” he wrote. “These are occasionally the same players who don’t know anything about China, won’t take questions about China and couldn’t find China on a map, all while they are in China.” Here’s my question: Why would NBA players need to find China on a map when they’re already in China?

Got a kick out of a couple tweets from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. Apparently, he’s “still walking on air” after being elected to the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, and he’s “still walking on air” about the Tranna Jurassics hoops title. I know the air is thick in the Republic of Tranna, but unless Steve has dropped a few pounds since I last saw him, it ain’t that thick.

And, finally, the Drab Slab devoted an entire page to curling in its Saturday edition. Nice. The three-part package included a sidebar from Taylor Allen on new mom Rachel Homan’s balancing act of mother-curler. Good stuff.

Let’s talk about the impeachment of Blake Wheeler…Rink Rat Scheifele and the ‘ruffled feathers’ file…the champion Winnipeg Jets…reduced pricing for Head Cheese football…the CFL head count…Bianca’s biggest win…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and the dog days of August really are the cat’s meow…

This is interesting. After now-former Valour FC captain Jordan Murrell pitched a fit in Halifax, putting hands on a game official and kicking over a scorer’s table, Mad Mike McIntyre hopped on his Drab Slab soap box and demanded a defrocking.

“Being a captain of a sports team is about a lot more than slapping a letter on your jersey and proudly puffing out your chest,” he pontificated in a 1,200-word scolding last week. “You are expected to lead. To inspire. To motivate. To be a brand ambassador for the franchise. To set a positive example for your peers. To remain calm, cool and collected in the face of adversity. To be a role model in the heat of battle, in the locker, and in the community. To face the music when required.”

Mad Mike went on to say Murrell “failed miserably in every aspect” and “must be stripped” of the captain’s armband by the Canadian Premier League soccer club.

Harsh. But I don’t disagree with any of it.

So surely Mad Mike will demand the same of Winnipeg Jets ownership/management.

I mean, unless I missed a memo, when the National Hockey League club commences training exercises next month, belligerent Blake Wheeler will be wearing the ‘C’ on his jersey. But shouldn’t we be talking about an impeachment before the lads assemble?

Wheeler, you’ll recall, didn’t appreciate the tone of Paul Friesen’s voice when the Winnipeg Sun opinionist posed a question after Winnipeg HC’s ouster from the Stanley Cup runoff last April, so the chronically grumpy man who’s expected to be a “role model” and “brand ambassador” stood behind his ‘C’ and told the longtime jock journo to “fuck off.”

Blake Wheeler aka Captain F-Bomb

This is setting a “positive example” for his peers? Great. Now those peers can tell Friesen, or any news snoop for that matter, to “fuck off” if the questions are too touchy for their delicate sensitivities. Just as long as they’re “calm, cool and collected” while doing it, of course.

Again, I’m totally on board with the call to action in the Murrell case, and Valour FC agreed when it reduced the former captain to the rank of regular foot soldier, but Mad Mike’s silence on Wheeler is a curious bit of business.

And don’t tell me this is an apples-and-oranges comparison.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman

What Murrell did was disgraceful. What Wheeler said was disgraceful. And, frankly, it wasn’t the first time that he’s engaged in a pissing contest with news snoops. It’s become abundantly evident that the surly Wheeler puts the quill-and-microphone crowd on the same evolutionary scale as pond scum, and I really don’t know why they put up with his BS.

There’s been post-season chatter of changes to the Jets leadership group, and that’s where I’d begin—stripping the ‘C’ from Wheeler’s jersey before the lads gather for their next crusade.

I like that Wheeler is a sourpuss on the ice, but propping up a grumpy pants, F-bombing captain in front of the rabble isn’t a good look, especially for Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s True North fiefdom, which fancies itself as a goody-two-shoes operation.

Should True North not be held to the same high standard as Valour FC?

I think they should.

Rink Rat Scheifele

I wouldn’t expect Rink Rat Scheifele to do anything other than preach the party line whenever news snoops ask about a “fractured” Jets changing room. He’s an loyal, obedient worker who wouldn’t say crap if his mouth was full of a Mad Mike gossip column. So when Mike Zeisberger of nhl.com caught up with the Rink Rat at a ping pong tournament in the Republic of Tranna recently, the answer was predictable: “People can claim whatever, but I know we have a tight-knit team. We have great guys in our room. And there’s no question in my mind about the character we have in our room, the unity that we have. That other stuff, that’s the stuff as a team you block out. You know what’s going on in the room. Anything extra is a bunch of baloney.” You don’t have to believe the Rink Rat, but I’ve yet to hear or read a shred of evidence to support the notion that Winnipeg HC was a house divided. Mad Mike, who ignited that particular brush fire, hasn’t done it, nor has Elliotte Friedman, who fanned the flames.

Here’s Murat Ates’ latest take on the “ruffled feathers” file in The Athletic: “It’s my opinion that losing hockey teams *should be* pissed off and that the amount of airspace ‘the room’ has gotten is out of proportion. If I ever learn something I can cite and source which says otherwise, I’ll write that.” Hmmm. I believe that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Murat, by the way, has posted the second segment of his two-parter on the 1978-79 Jets, who won the final World Hockey Association championship. It’s good stuff and no doubt enlightening for those of you who weren’t along for the ride. I just wonder why we had to wait until the dog days of August for it to appear. I mean, the 40th anniversary celebration was June 1. Still, it’s worth the read and Murat has the good sense to stand back to let member of the Jets’ Houston Mafia—Scotty Campbell, Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich and Rich Preston—and Peter Sullivan tell the story.

Just wondering: I suppose it’s cool that Patrik Laine will appear on the cover of a video game in Finland, but why is that newsworthy there or here?

No surprise that the sticker price to watch the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raider later this month at Football Follies Field In Fort Garry has been slashed, from $164 plus taxes and fees to $92 all-in. So now instead of costing you and arm and a leg, you’ll only have to pay through the nose.

Folks who fork out for the discounted tickets for the faux four-down football will be sitting in what they’re calling the Miller Lite End Zone, as opposed to those who paid top dollar for the best seats in the house—the Miller Lite In The Wallet Section.

No danger of a sellout for the National Football League exhibition, but it will be embarrassing if the Packers-Raiders’ dress rehearsal lures more of the rabble to Football Follies Field than the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have managed this summer. Winnipeg FC performed in front of 25,354 for last week’s first-place showdown with the Calgary Stampeders, and that’s the best head count of the Canadian Football League season at FFFIFG. The local lads in pads are averaging 25,057 customers through four home assignments, and I cringe at the thought of the Packers-Raiders topping that number.

Let’s be clear about something: I have no problem with the CFL awarding the Saskatchewan Roughriders a victory over the Montreal Alouettes, even though they played less than 45 minutes of football on Friday. My issue is with the wait time. Why allow just an hour for the lightning and thunder to pass? What’s the rush? And what does it matter how many fans decide to trot off home rather than wait out the storm? I don’t know what the magic number is, but for a day game they should wait as long as necessary. At night, I’d say the wait should be two hours, at least.

What are we to make of these numbers from golf’s two major circuits?
PGA Tour wins by Americans 32, Rest of World 13.
LPGA Tour wins by Americans 3, Rest of World 21.

Lou Marsh Trophy

Yesterday I touched on the sometimes touchy subject of the Lou Marsh Trophy, which is awarded annually to our vast land’s top jock by a cartel of news snoops who mostly operate out of The ROT and mostly prefer to keep their identities secret. Right now, it appears to be a two-horse race, in this case a pair of talented fillies—golfer Brooke Henderson and tennis player Bianca Andreescu, both of whom have a pair of Ws on their scorecard. The last female golfer to be anointed athlete-of-the-year? Sandra Post, 1979. The last tennis player, woman or man? It’s never happened. Since this isn’t an Olympic year and our soccer women fell flat in France’s World Cup, it’s doubtful that an outrider will sneak in and steal the Marsh trinket from Brooke or Bianca. All bets are off, though. I mean, the news snoops certainly got it wrong last year when they snubbed Henderson for a moguls skier, and they got it wrong two years ago when they bypassed Rachel Homan for a baseball player. Homan’s 2017 was arguably the greatest year in curling history; Joey Votto’s 2017 was definitely not the greatest in baseball history. So, no, I don’t have confidence in the news snoops doing the right thing.

Bianca Andreescu

The likable Bianca Andreescu’s rise in women’s tennis has been mercurial, astonishing and uplifting. Her win on home soil in the Rogers Cup final on Sunday was full of the warm-and-fuzzies, even if her vanquished and wounded foe, Serena Williams, was brought to tears. But Bianca delivered her biggest win earlier in the year, at Indian Wells, a Premier Mandatory event on the WTA calendar. That is to say, it’s as close to a Grand Slam tournament as damn is to swearing. The Rogers Cup is a level lower. It just feels better when it’s on national TV and the champion wraps herself in the Maple Leaf at the end.

Fancy skater Scott Moir is engaged to be married to a woman not named Tessa Virtue. Who saw that coming? I suppose Jackie Mascarin did, because she’s the woman not named Tessa Virtue who’ll be walking down the aisle and become Moir’s bride.

And, finally, I’ll say this for the Winnipeg Sun, there’s very little local content in the sports section (aside from the pro teams), but they sure do put all that Republic of Tranna, Montreal and United States news in a pretty package. I just wish some of it told me what was happening in Good Ol’ Hometown.

About taking ownership of Chelsea Carey…jock journos Cherry picking…a waste of space in the Drab Slab…and I’ll take Sara’s reports on TSN over Steve’s dangles on Sportsnet

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I’m hoping I’ve got my draw weight…

There are some things I’d be inclined to bet the farm on.

Like Simon Cowell insulting someone.

Chelsea Carey, Sarah Wilkes, Dan Carey, Dana Ferguson, Rachel Brown.

Like Donald Trump waking up Monday morning and tweeting about Crooked Hillary, fake news, witch hunts, or his round pal in North Korea, Rocket Man.

Like late-night TV jokester Stephen Colbert cracking wise about Trump and his tweets.

Like Rachel Homan drawing the four-foot. Especially when given two shots at the blue paint.

So, yes, it’s a good thing I don’t have a farm, because I would have lost it—lock, stock and swine—on Sunday when Chelsea Carey tugged on Supergirl’s cape in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts final and lived to talk about it.

Make no mistake, Carey and her gal pals from Wild Rose Country—Rachel Brown, Dana Ferguson, Sarah Wilkes—are deserving champions today because of their stick-to-it-ness (they trailed 5-1 after four ends) and their knack for making the right shot at the right time, thus forcing a foe’s hand. They were the best outfit throughout the nine days at Centre 200 in Sydney, finishing 11-2.

Rachel Homan

But, let’s face it, we haven’t seen Homan misfire like this since…well, since South Korea and the Olympic Games a year ago.

Tenth end, final stone: Homan hunkered in the hack with a red rock and the Canadian women’s curling championship in her right hand. Her path was unobstructed. Get slightly more than a nibble of the four-foot and the title was hers for a fourth time. Her rock, running on fumes by the time it arrived at the rings, curled and slid wide right. Tie game: Ontario 6, Alberta 6.

Extra end, final stone: Same deal, except this time Homan’s rock expired short of the blue, four-foot ring. Final score: Alberta 8, Ontario 6.

A few thousand jaws dropped. Rachel Brown shrieked. Carey, the winning skip, flashed one of those “Did I really see what I think I saw?” looks.

It was a shocking, unexpected moment, the kind that make sports so compelling.

And if you’re from Manitoba, you loved it because, as I like to remind people, Chelsea Carey is one of us. Born to the curling Carey clan that includes her dad Dan and Uncle Bill, both former Canadian champions, Chelsea was weaned on the pebble in Good Ol’ Hometown.

Yes, officially, Alberta gets the W, but we know better, don’t we?

Actually, let’s not be greedy. Let’s share. The Chelsea team curls out of the Glencoe Club in Calgary, so the folks in Cowtown can thump their chests. Ditto Edmonton, because Wilkes, Ferguson and Brown call E-Town home. Then there’s the coach, Dan Carey, who hangs his hat in Winnipeg. So let’s just say it was Prairie power.

Have you ever seen pure, unbridled joy? I have. I saw it in Rachel Brown the moment Homan’s rock died in the 11th end on Sunday. The broom toss, the shrieking, the jumping, the smile as big, bright and as wide as the Prairie sky…beautiful. Rachel, by the way, is a new mom, bringing Finn into the world four months ago.

Don Cherry

Donald S. Cherry’s recent rambling rant about the Carolina Hurricanes’ post-match tomfoolery inspired columns from two of the heavyweights in Canadian jock journalism, Bruce Arthur and Cathal Kelly, and I found their conflicting takes on the Lord of Loud most interesting.

Here’s Arthur in the Toronto Star: “Now 85, he makes less sense that he ever has, and is less vital to the hockey conversation than he has ever been. Fair enough. He’s been on since 1981.

“Saturday night was a typical Coach’s Corner: suit talk, goals by grinders, some non-sequiturs, some military content, very little in the way of analysis, and Ron (MacLean) handling Don like he was helping him cross a street and then letting him run.

“It’s the same old act every Saturday except he seems older than ever, and nobody knows when or how it might end. He is an old man, shouting at the camera the way he always has, playing his greatest hits, growing older as everyone watches, or stops watching.”

Here’s Kelly in the Globe and Mail: “I don’t find myself agreeing with him, but I still find Cherry delightful. His clearly genuine fury at the stupidest little thing and complete lack of filter is a lovely contrast from the way some other pundits treat hockey—like a cult they’re constantly worried they’ll be kicked out of. Don Cherry’s opinion is, for me, even more valid now because he has seen the tide shift and remains unchanged. Though his standing in the court of popular opinion has diminished, he’s still a king as far as I’m concerned.”

I don’t know about you, but I see the same Lord of Loud that Arthur does.

Kelly’s spin isn’t credible, given what he wrote while with the Star in March of 2012: “Cherry has famously been sliding into irrelevance for a while. His entire appeal is populist, and he’s started losing the people. Banging on about head shots and wimps isn’t getting Cherry anywhere.” So what is he? The king or irrelevant? I guess Grapes is the King of Irrelevance.

Speaking of irrelevance and things that need to disappear, I’d say the email blah, blah, blah between Drab Slab sports editor Steve Lyons and retired columnist Paul Wiecek has run its course. At one time I enjoyed their print banter, but the latest to-and-fro was an exercise in nothingness. Complete drivel. Seriously, forests were chopped down to provide the newsprint for that?

And, finally, I tuned in to Sportsnet’s Hockey Central trade deadline coverage right at the get-go (5 o’clock) of the gab-a-thon this morning, because I figured Brian Burke would have something interesting to say. But I bailed the moment Steve Dangle surfaced to read tweets. I mean, really? It’s 5 in the ayem and I’m listening to Steve Dangle read tweets? Does the term “get a life” mean anything? I switched to TSN Trade Centre, assuming James Duthie and his gang a-plenty would stick to the script. And, frankly, I’d rather listen to Sara Orlesky talk about the Winnipeg Jets and Kevin Hayes than Steve Dangle do anything.

About Puck Finn and the Magic man…Burkie telling it like it is again…more numbers from Pie Chart Boy in the Freep…Mike Mac gets the columnist gig…what goalie controversy?…the Winnipeg Blue Bombers meal ticket…pregnant Pebble People…and a nice tribute to Joe Daley

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, as Cactus Jack used to say, it turned out nice again…

There are two things I really like about Patrik Laine: 1) his shot; 2) his age.

I’d probably like him as a person, too, because he strikes me as a nice young man with wry humor and a blunt honesty that’s uncommon among play-for-pay jocks. He seems like a cool kid.

Puck Finn

But I’m here today more to discuss Puck Finn the hockey player, not the cool kid and his passion for PlayStation and whatever other techno gizmos and gadgets that have caught his fancy and keep the Winnipeg Jets winger occupied when he isn’t lighting lamps at one end of the freeze and handing out free pizzas at the other.

I recognize some Kent Nilsson in Laine, on and off the ice.

Kenta was as laid back as a Sunday afternoon in a one-horse town. He was also blessed with a wicked sense of humor. (Nilsson once sneaked up behind a scribe tapping away at his computer keyboard in the Calgary Saddledome press box and said, “How could so much shit come out of such a little machine.”)

In terms of pure skill, though, there’s no comparison between Laine and Nilsson. I maintain to this day that no one who’s worn Jets linen was, or is, more gifted than the slick Swede. Not the Golden Jet, Ulf or Anders. Not Ducky. Not the Finnish Flash. If you’d like to debate the issue, consider that Wayne Gretzky once said Nilsson “might have been the most skilled hockey player I ever saw in my career.” That’s good enough for me.

Kent Nilsson

In the mood, Magic Man Nilsson was a maestro. The game was played at his tempo. On his terms. It was best to toss a second puck onto the ice so the other 11 guys had something to play with.

Trouble is, Kenta was an enigma. That is, engaged one minute, disinterested the next. And the rabble recognized both his other wordly talent and his indifference.

When Nilsson scored 131 points for the Calgary Flames in 1980-81 (fewer than only Gretzky and Marcel Dionne), expectations became heightened to the point of delusional. The faithful assumed there would be more of the same. There wasn’t. The best Nilsson could do for an encore was 104 points, ninth in National Hockey League scoring, and that just wasn’t up to snuff for the Flames faithful. Those 104 points would have/could have/should have been 134.

“If only he applied himself all the time like Gretzky,” they would moan.

In that sense, Puck Finn is a Nilsson doppelganger. He introduced himself with 36- and 44-goal seasons, so he’s boxed himself in at those numbers. Anything less and frustration and much braying ensues.

At present, Laine’s sitting on 25 snipes, best among les Jets. But you’d swear he’s stuck on 10 goals.

Trade him! Ship him to the farm! Stick him with the fourth-line sluggos! Get him a skating coach! Take his Fortnite game away! Oh, yes, the lunatic fringe is in full throat.

Let’s call a timeout on that, though.

Wayne Gretzky

I mean, it’s fair to be critical of Laine. Been there, done that. But give the kid a new postal code? Send him down the hall at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie and tell him to suit up with the Manitoba Moose? Sure, and maybe we should think about bringing Pokey and the Bandit back to stand in the blue paint.

Let’s get a grip here, people.

Yes, Laine is seriously lacking in certain essentials. There’s very little lickety-split in his stride, he’s prone to boneheaded blunders, and he’s been known to zone out mentally. And, like Nilsson, he’s maddeningly frustrating because there isn’t a fire burning in his belly at all times. Those flaws are easy to overlook or forgive when he’s scoring. When not, the rabble feels cheated.

But repeat after me: Puck Finn is 20 years old. That isn’t an excuse. It’s a fact.

Nilsson produced his benchmark season at age 24. Teemu Selanne delivered his at age 22. Mario Lemieux had his most productive year at age 23. Gretzky topped out at age 25.

I say we give Laine a chance to grow his game before heaving him onto the dung heap.

Brian Burke

I found Brian Burke’s take on Puck Finn’s game interesting. In a chin-wag about Laine’s earning potential once he becomes a restricted free agent, Burke had this to say on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central at Noon: “I’m not as big on Patrik Laine as a lot of people are. I don’t like his 5-on-5 game. Wonderful goal scorer and I’d have him on my team in a heartbeat, but there’s some holes in his game, too. Now, we know we pay goal scorers. We can find guys to offset those deficiencies. I can find a winger to play with Patrik Laine, to do the backchecking, do some of the things he’s not proficient at. But it’s gonna be north of ($9 million), it’s gonna start with a one. We have always paid snipers. We have always paid snipers. I can bitch all I want about certain deficiencies in his game…he can play on my team tomorrow. I do think he’s a good kid…I do feel when he’s not scoring he’s a liability.” I’d say that’s spot on.

Andrew Berkshire doesn’t share my thoughts on Burke’s assessment of Laine. In the Drab Slab, he writes: “Former NHL executive and current Hockey Night In Canada/Sportsnet analyst Brian Burke has said Laine gives you goals, but nothing else. Goals are pretty significant in the NHL, and I would say that statement is remarkably harsh.” Harsh? You want harsh? The headline on Berkshire’s piece labeled Laine “a D-zone disaster” and the stats geek described Puck Finn’s work in the defensive zone as “disastrous.” Now that’s “remarkably harsh.” Again, why the Winnipeg Free Press runs Pie Chart Boy’s graphics is a mystery to me. He simply uses them to confirm what a lot of us already know. Bring back Scotty Campbell.

Speaking of the Drab Slab and its stable of scribes, I guess it’s official that Mike McIntyre is the new sports columnist. I wish him well, because it’s a tough gig and the rabble is never shy about reminding you that you’re a total moron.

For those of you scoring at home, McIntyre is the fifth sports columnist at the Freep this century, the others being Scott Taylor, Randy Turner, Gary Lawless and Paul Wiecek. Over at the Winnipeg Sun, meanwhile, they’ve had one—Paul Friesen. You might not find the turnover rate at the Drab Slab interesting, but I do.

Connor Hellebuyck

Is there a goaltending controversy with les Jets? Well, yes, in the stands, in watering holes and among news snoops. But until I hear it from the inner sanctum (read: head coach Paul Maurice, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman), it doesn’t exist. Connor Hellebuyck is their guy, and Laurent Brossoit is the other guy.

So, there won’t be a World Cup of Hockey in 2020. Such a shame. I was really looking forward to ignoring it.

Interesting to note that Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols has cut cheeseburgers and other greasy grub from his diet. Does that mean the Calgary Stampeders will continue to eat his lunch? Is he still the Bombers’ meal ticket? Is he going to lay another egg? Whatever the case, it’s food for thought and gives us something to chew on. OMG! I just overdosed on really bad, cornball clichés/puns. Someone slap me silly so I’ll stop.

Rachel Homan

If Rachel Homan isn’t the best female curler on the planet, she’s definitely the best pregnant curler. Rachel’s down there in Glitter Gulch today, helping the North American side attempt to subdue the World group in the Continental Cup, and she’s very preggers. Her due date is June 14 and here’s what I’m wondering: If Rachel wins the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the world championship while pregnant, will news snoops give her the same over-the-top, “mother of all mothers” glorification that they heaped upon tennis player Serena Williams? I very much doubt it. After all, most news snoops ignore the Pebble People until an Olympic year arrives. A real shame that.

And, finally, it’s a big day for one of the truly good guys in Good Ol’ Hometown—Joe Daley. He’ll be honored this afternoon at my old stomping grounds, Bronx Park Community Centre, when mucky-mucks unveil a mural featuring the former Jets goaltender. Such a nice tribute to a nice man. Really pleased for him.

About bah-humbugish people and things that have gotten up my nose…

A different kind of Sunday smorgas-bored…and it’s only fair to warn you that I’ve got a bad case of the bah-humbugs today because the PC Police are ruining Christmas songs for me. Seriously, Baby It’s Cold Outside is a banned song? What next, they haul Rudolph and his red nose off the air because he was bullied by the other reindeer and he drinks too much? Anyway, Robert Mueller is up Donald Trump’s nose (still) and here are some people and things that have crawled up my nose:

  • Brooke Henderson

    News snoops who vote on the Lou Marsh Trophy get up my nose, because they don’t have a clue about curling and curlers. Their snub of Rachel Homan last year was ghastly, so you can be sure that our girl Jennifer Jones won’t get a whiff of consideration this week when the girls and boys on the beat(s) put their little heads together to declare Canada’s top jock for 2018. I’m not saying Jones deserves the honor. Brooke Henderson does. But it would be nice if the world champion curler is at least in the conversation. Trouble is, few jock journos in the east know a hogline from Hog Town. Some of them still consider curling a social activity rather than a sport. (True story: When I joined the Toronto Sun sports staff, I was dispatched to London, Ont., for the 1981 world curling championships because, as sports editor George Gross informed me, “You’re from Western Canada, so you must know curling. No one else on our staff knows anything about it.”)

  • The national sports media (Sportsnet, TSN, Globe and Mail, National Post) are up my nose for their groupie-like gushing over the Tranna Maple Leafs. The Auston Matthews adulation is painfully over the top, and the Willy Boy Nylander contract saga received more coverage than the JFK assassination. Daily updates on Willy Boy’s whereabouts and activity while he played hooky instead of hockey included everything from the brushing of his teeth to the clipping of his toenails. There were 15—count ’em, 15!—breathless articles/videos about him on the Sportsnet website last Monday morning. The second coming of Christ won’t get that much play. Unless, of course, Jesus signs with the Maple Leafs and plays on a line with Matthews.

  • Connor McDavid

    The Edmonton Oilers are up my nose because, their current run of decent play notwithstanding, they’ve been a mess of steaming, hot hooey for too long. Normally I wouldn’t care, except they have this kid named Connor McDavid who deserves so much more than a supporting cast full of invalids. McDavid was too ill to play last Monday. Little wonder. The Oilers make me sick, too.

  • The National Hockey League is up my nose because it continues to snub Québec City, my favorite burg in North America. Okay, it didn’t work first time around for Ville de Québec, but the same must also be said for Winnipeg. And just look at what’s happening in River City now.
  • A portion of the rabble in River City are up my nose for the constant whinging about a perceived anti-Jets bias among NHL referees. As conspiracy theories go, it ranks right up there with the moon landing and whatever boogymen Donald Trump is spooked by these days. Nobody wearing arm bands is out to get the locals. Missed calls happen. Bad calls happen. That’s because some NHL refs are lousy. So there’s nothing to see here. Move along.

  • Former Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt is up my nose because he’s apologized to everyone for shoving and kicking a woman except the woman he shoved and kicked while she was on the ground.

  • The Drab Slab known as the Winnipeg Free Press is up my nose for providing retired sports columnist Paul Wiecek with a platform to spew scandalous gossip about elite curlers being a bunch of “swingers” who spend their weekends cheating on their spouses with other curlers who are cheating on their spouses. Infidelity is newsworthy if an athlete’s name is Tiger Woods, but the everyday Janes and Joes who curl don’t deserve to be branded as adulterous sexaholics by a former jock journo with too much free time on his hands. The sexual hijinx of curlers is nobody’s business. It’s the sort of careless gossip you tell the boys at the bar, but a responsible newspaper wouldn’t print such trash. It serves no purpose other than to titillate and cast the “cheater” cloud of suspicion over everyone.

  • Postmedia is up my nose because of the way it has destroyed the Winnipeg Sun sports pages. I don’t recognize it as a Winnipeg newspaper anymore.

  • Jeff Blair of Sportsnet is up my nose for writing that no general manager in the Republic of Tranna has “won anything of significance for years, going back to 1992-93.” Figures. Let’s ignore the Argonauts. Typical Tranna, where the Canadian Football League is less significant than Drake’s bowel movements. The Boatmen have brought the Grey Cup home five times since 1993. Apparently Blair considers those meh moments. So only the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays and Raptors matter in The ROT. Sounds about right. And that’s a shame.

  • Mike Benevides

    The CFL is up my nose for its football operations salary cap. It’s the dumbest cap since someone put that pointy thing on the Pope’s head. Do we really care if the Saskatchewan Roughriders have 15 coaches and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers only 10? Or how much or how little they’re paid? The Montreal Alouettes just fired a mittful of coaches/scouts because of this new cap. And did Mike Benevides and the Edmonton Eskimos part ways because of the new cap? Losing quality coaches and scouts makes the on-field product better how?

  • Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna is up my nose for his sanctimonious scribblings re Baseball Hall of Fame balloting. Citing Rule 5 of qualifications for induction to Cooperstown, he focuses on “integrity, sportsmanship and character” in explaining his steadfast refusal to vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez or any other ballplayer who stuck a needle in their butt. But this holier-than-thou Simmons is the same guy who glorifies woman-beater Floyd Mayweather, writing about his “dignity,” and he also expresses how much “fun” it is to have woman-beater Johnny Manziel in the CFL. Can you say fake piety, kids?

  • Tyson Fury

    Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail is up my nose for his pungent description of heavyweight boxer and oinker Tyson Fury. The British pug is a “delightful and often tortured oddball,” according to Kelly. Well, yes, he’s tortured. He’s battled the bottle, drugs, depression and suicide ideation. He also spews sexist, racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and transphobic venom. A woman’s place is “in the kitchen and on her back” would be one of his tamer comments. He once said he would hang his sister were he to discover she’d been promiscuous. He compares homosexuality to pedophilia. Jews and Zionists own all the banks, newspapers and TV stations and have us all “brainwashed.” This is Kelly’s idea of a delightful human being?

  • I’ve probably gotten up some noses with this series of bah-humbugish mini-rants, but I’m sure the spirit of the season shall fa-la-la-la-la all over me once again on the morrow. Unless, of course, I find out about more Christmas carols that the PC Police won’t let me listen to.