Let’s talk about Randy Carlyle and Body by Pillsbury…liars, liars pants on fire…what say you, Jeff Hecht?…E-Town trumps Pegtown…the CFL’s best newspaper market…men overboard at Sportsnet…and the WJM newsroom

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and this post was written without the benefit of performance-enhancing nouns, verbs, adjectives or metaphors, but there are trace amounts of sarcasm, irreverence and flippancy…

Back in April 1989, when drug cheat Ben Johnson still had our attention after his fall from grace at the Seoul Olympics, word drifted out of Stockholm that Randy Carlyle had failed a drug test.

I laughed.

Anyone who’d ever met or seen Randy Carlyle probably laughed.

Randy Carlyle

I mean, you didn’t get Carlyle’s body with daily visits to the gym, augmented by human growth hormone milk shakes. We’re talking Body by Pillsbury. Whatever muscle the Winnipeg Jets defender had was well concealed by a pleasantly soft exterior, most likely the product of jam-filled pop tarts or crescent rolls stuffed with cheese and bacon. His soft under belly really was his soft underbelly.

Thus, after Carlyle had piddled in a bottle at the World Hockey Championship and women/men wearing lab coats didn’t like the color of his pee—they discovered traces of the banned substance mesterolone—there were many giggles, even though he had officially joined Johnson on the Drug Cheat Hall of Shame roll call.

“When we first heard the words ‘steroids’ and ‘Randy’ in the same sentence, everyone in the room laughed,” Dave Ellett, a teammate of Carlyle’s in Sweden and with the Jets, once recalled in a natter with Lance Hornby of the Toronto Sun. “John Ferguson Sr. had the best line: ‘If that’s what steroids does for your body, a lot of people will want their money back.’ Then we realized how serious it was.”

As it happened, Carlyle’s ‘B’ sample came back cleaner than a saint’s soul, so neither he nor Team Canada was disqualified from the tournament.

“I’ve been through hell,” the Pillsbury D-Boy told news snoops at the scene of the non-crime. “I was in total shock. How do you live with yourself when they say you’ve taken this and you know you haven’t? I lost a few pounds with sweaty palms.”

Andrew Harris

So, sure, squints make mistakes, and many among the rabble believe the lab rats did a dirty to Andrew Harris, who won’t join his Winnipeg Blue Bombers teammates in their annual Labor Day Weekend frolic v. the Saskatchewan Roughriders today on the Flattest of Lands. He’s also been told to find something else to do when the large lads assemble for the rematch in Good Ol’ Hometown on Sept. 7.

The Canadian Football League’s now-suspended leading rusher vows he didn’t knowingly take the illegal drug they say he took, but, for every local who believes Harris got a raw deal and shouldn’t be twiddling his thumbs this afternoon, there are probably 10 beyond the boundaries of Manitoba who’ll tell us that his pants are on fire. You’d have better luck convincing them that O.J. is honest-to-gosh looking for the real killers.

And that’s for good reason: When caught with their hands in the juice jar—or, in the case of Pete Rose, cozying up to friendly neighborhood bookie—most high-profile cheats in sports immediately take a trip to Planet Pinocchio. Examples…

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong: “If you consider my situation, a guy who comes back from arguably, you know, a death sentence (cancer), why would I then enter in a sport and dope myself up and risk my life again? That’s crazy. I would never do that. No. No way.”

Mark McGwire (appearing before U.S. Congress): “I’m not here to talk about the past.”

Rafael Palmeiro: “I have never used steroids. Period.”

Sammy Sosa: Pretended he couldn’t understand English when asked about his steroid use.

Roger Clemens: “I’ve been accused of something I’m not guilty of…I’ve never taken steroids or HGH.”

Justin Gatlin: “I am not using and have not used PEDs.”

Marion Jones: “I am against performance enhancing drugs. I have never taken them and I never will take them.”

Ben Johnson: “When I was a kid, I never took drugs. People who know me in Jamaica and people who know me here know I would never take drugs. I have never, ever knowingly taken illegal drugs, and I would never embarrass my family, my friends, and my country, and the kids who love me. For now, there’s nothing more I can tell you, because I just don’t know.”

Floyd Landis: “I declare convincingly and categorically that my winning the Tour de France has been exclusively due to many years of training and my complete devotion to cycling, to the sacrifice of an entire life to carry out my dream, a dream of thousands of kilometres that I have completed through an absolute respect to the cleanness of the sport.”

Alex Rodriguez: “I have been clear that I did not use performance enhancing substances as alleged.”

Pete Rose (gambling): “I’m not going to admit to something that didn’t happen. Never bet as a player. That’s a fact.”

Martina Hingis (cocaine 2007 Wimbledon): “I am frustrated and angry. I believe that I am absolutely 100 per cent innocent.” Notably, she promptly retired rather than fight lab findings and a two-year ban.

Manny Ramirez: “Recently I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid.” After taking another medication that wasn’t a steroid, Ramirez failed another drug test and retired rather than be banished for 100 games.

Ryan Braun: “I truly believe in my heart, and would bet my life that this substance never entered my body at any point. I am the victim of a process that completely broke down and failed the way it was applied to me in this case.”

Vladimir Putin: “State-sponsored doping system has never been created in Russia, it is simply not possible, and we will do everything we can to make sure such state-sponsored system of doping support never exists.”

That, kids, is the reason people are hesitant, or flat-out refuse, to believe Harris. They’ve heard all the nose-growing excuses before.

And, unlike Randy Carlyle, his isn’t Body by Pillsbury.

Jeff Hecht

So, when Louis-Phillipe Bourassa was banished for being a drug cheat, Bombers safety Jeff Hecht pounced, calling out the Bytown RedBlacks long snapper on Twitter with this post: “Sometimes you just have to work hard instead of being lazy and buying an edge.” It followed, therefore, that he’d deliver the same public tsk-tsking to Harris. But no. “To think that I would treat my teammate the same as I would somebody else, I think, is kind of naive from some people, because I’m a team-first guy,” he said in a chin-wag with Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun. He then told Teddy Football that “I think lying is the tool of the coward, so I’m not going to hide my stance on anything.” Except, of course, he’ll hide his stance on Andrew Harris, thank you very much. Hypocrisy, thy name is Jeff Hecht.

The Bombers are without Matt Nichols, Andrew Harris and Chris Matthews today on the Flattest of Lands, so why do I think they have a snowball’s chance of beating Gang Green? Because they aren’t without Willie Jefferson and the D.

I like most of what young Jeff Hamilton does in the Drab Slab. Grade A reporter. Good writer. On top of the beat. Alas, young Jeff is off the mark when he suggests Saskatchewan and River City are the “two best markets in the CFL.” That’s only half accurate. The main measuring stick for any CFL market is the box office and, yes, Gang Green has developed a most rabid fan base. But Winnipeg? Not so much. Edmonton has been, and is, a better market. Even with this year’s sharp downturn in bodies at Commonwealth Stadium, the Eskimos are attracting 3,335 more than the Bombers per game. More to the point, if the Eskimos don’t nudge their head count up a couple thousand, this will be the first time—the only time!—this century that their average attendance falls below 30,000. Winnipeg FC has averaged 30,000 once. Repeat: Once. That was in 2013, the year Football Follies Field in Fort Garry opened for business and became a destination for curiosity seekers. So, sorry to say, Jeff, Good Ol’ Hometown is a better market than E-Town like Bob Dylan is a better singer than Sinatra.

There are, of course, other methods of measuring a CFL market, one of them being media coverage. That, of course, is subjective. But I submit that no one in our vast land does it better than the girls and boys on the Bombers beat in Pegtown, and I can already hear the squawks of protest from news snoops in E-Town and on the Flattest of Lands. Well, let ’em squawk. They’re wrong.

River City is the only true two-newspaper town in Western Canada, thus Winnipeg FC gets double the print coverage from competing rags. The operative word is “competing.” Standard cookie-cutter, scrum-collected quotes aside, what you read in the Drab Slab won’t be what you read in the Sun, and the Andrew Harris situation is an excellent example of the difference. Paul Friesen’s take in the Sun had a harsh, but fair, tone, while Hamilton delivered a more personal, reined-in essay. Both pieces worked for me in their own way. And that’s something you don’t get in points west, because Postmedia eliminated newspaper competition in other Prairie provinces. In terms of CFL coverage, the E-Town Sun is the E-Town Journal; the Calgary Sun is the Calgary Herald; the Vancity Sun is the Vancity Province; and you’ll read the same Riders copy in both the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. They’re kin. Kissing cousins, if you will. That’s not the way it should be, but that’s what you get when Postmedia is still pinching pennies long after our copper coin went out of circulation.

Nick Kypreos

So, Sportsnet (thankfully) has pulled the plug on resident meathead Nick Kypreos, and we can only hope he’s replaced by someone who isn’t stuck in the 1970s, when clubbing an opponent over the head with a piece of lumber was an oft-used gambit in winning hockey games. Kypreos spent two decades using his Sportsnet pulpit to deliver a “to hell with turning the other cheek” sermon, promoting back-alley bullying to the point of advising skilled players like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews to adopt rat-like stickwork and fisticuffs as tactics in dealing with the National Hockey League weasel element. That dinosaur logic is now left to blowhard Donald S. Cherry and the bellicose Brian Burke, although Burkie often delivers juicy insight when he isn’t talking about truculence.

John Shannon

I hope the last person to leave Sportsnet’s stable of shinny voices remembers to turn out the lights. Gone are Kypreos, Doug MacLean and John Shannon, which leaves who to natter with Jeff Marek on Hockey Central At Noon? Muppet head Colby Armstrong and Gord Stellick (meh)? Anthony Stewart and Mike Zigomanis (spare us)? The return of Damien Cox (shudder)? I’m not a Shannon fan, because there’s more than a whiff of arrogance to his delivery and he can be annoyingly interruptive, but he certainly knows where a lot of bodies are buried. I suspect he won’t be in the unemployment queue for long.

Murray, Lou, Mary, Ted, Sue Ann, Georgette, Rhoda and Phyllis in the WJM newsroom.

And, finally, Mary is gone, Ted is gone, Georgette is gone, and now Rhoda is gone. Thank goodness for reruns so I can still watch The Mary Tyler Moore show every afternoon and keep them and the WJM newsroom in my life. Love that show. Love the characters. I actually have a framed pic of Mary Tyler Moore beside my flatscreen TV, a gift from dear friends Jeff and Paul, who know I still want to be Mary Richards when I grow up and have a friend like Rhoda Morgenstern.

Hens in the Hockey House: A deep dive into the Winnipeg Jets

Two weeks in front of the National Hockey League trade deadline seems like an appropriate time to take inventory of the Winnipeg Jets, and who better to do that than our two all-seeing, all-knowing Hens in the Hockey House?

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: My goodness, how long has it been since we last got together to muse on the Jets? A month? Two?

Answer Lady: Try October, girlfriend. It was before they dropped the puck. You know, back when everyone in Good Ol’ Hometown still thought Patrik Laine was god’s gift to the one-timer.

Question Lady: Was it really that long ago? My, oh my. So where should we begin this chit-chat? With Laine?

Puck Finn

Answer Lady: That’s as good a place as any. That seems to be what most of the rabble is talking about. They’re calling out Puck Finn for everything from the Jets’ wonky powerplay to the recent shoot-’em-up at Johnny G’s. He’s certainly become their whipping boy, and he’s made me out to be quite the fool. I predicted he’d score 57 goals and win the Rocket Richard Trophy. Some rocket he’s turned out to be. More like a used Iraqi scud missile.

Question Lady: Have you given up on the kid? Think they should trade him?

Answer Lady: Trade him? Would CBS trade Tony Romo? Would Penn trade Teller? You don’t give up on a 40-goal scorer just because he’s hit a rough patch. And before you ask, girlfriend, no I wouldn’t send him to the farm or hand him a box of popcorn and tell him to find a perch in the press box. Let’s at least wait until the kid’s old enough to buy a beer in the U.S. before we toss him into the dumpster.

Question Lady: So you’re saying that Laine is an untouchable?

Donald Trump

Answer Lady: For now, yes. That could change. I mean, once the Edmonton Oilers told Wayne Gretzky to get out of Dodge there were no more sacred cows. Anyone can be traded. So let me just say this about that: I doubt Puck Finn will finish his career in Jets linen, but he isn’t going anywhere before the trade deadline on Feb. 25. Seriously, it’s ridiculous to use up valuable oxygen talking about it. What would you like to debate next? If Donald Trump should hire a new hair stylist?

Question Lady: Geez, a bit touchy this morning, aren’t we?

Answer Lady: Sorry, girlfriend, but it’s been snowing where I live and seeing the white stuff on palm trees has got me off my game. I’ve been holed up since last Thursday and don’t figure to step out of doors until the snow’s vamoosed. That could be another two days, and I’m already starting to get cabin fever. So mea culpa.

Paul Stastny

Question Lady: Not to worry. When we last talked in October, you suggested the Jets could use an upgrade at centre ice. Now everyone is talking about that very thing—when they aren’t moaning about Laine, that is. So do you see Kevin Cheveldayoff pulling another rabbit named Paul Stastny out of his fedora before the deadline?

Answer Lady: Rabbits? I hear all kinds of chatter about Chevy going big-game hunting. As if. Here’s how I think it’ll shake down: He’ll kick tires, he’ll look under the hood, he’ll check out and consider sticker prices, then he’ll pass. No deals. Look, just because the (quote) all-knowing (unquote) pundits believe the Jets need beefing up down the middle, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Chevy believes it. I’m convinced he’d be comfortable going into the Stanley Cup runoff with the group he’s gathered together. I really am. He’ll likely say that very thing post-deadline.

Chevy

Question Lady: That isn’t what you told me last October. As I recall, you said, “Chevy will do something at, or just before, the trade deadline. It’ll involve centres and defencemen.” And now you’re singing a different tune?

Answer Lady: Hey, I also said Connor Hellebuyck would win the Vezina Trophy and Rink Rat Scheifele would finish behind only Connor McDavid in the scoring derby. D’oh! D’oh! So sue me.

Question Lady: What makes you believe that Chevy doesn’t—or refuses to—recognize the wants and needs that others see?

Answer Lady: He’ll be fooled by all the smoke and mirrors. Think about it, girlfriend: Big Buff goes out and the club keeps winning. Twig Ehlers goes out and the club keeps winning. Hellebuyck soils the sheets for three months and the club keeps winning. Puck Finn goes drier than a popcorn fart and the club keeps winning. So Chevy has to be thinking everything will be tickety-boo once all the pieces are in their proper place. Hence, no need to tinker.

David Poile

Question Lady: But David Poile is already tinkering with the Nashville Predators, so doesn’t Chevy have to match his moves?

Answer Lady: Whatever. Poile has added Brian Boyle and Cody McLeod. That’s like Betty White adding another candle to her birthday cake. Do you really think the 97th candle makes the cake any better? Sure, Boyle is useful, but McLeod is a lunkhead. Talk to me if and when Poile adds Matt Duchene, Mark Stone or Artemi Panarin.

Question Lady: If you’re correct and Chevy does nothing, it begs the obvious question: Is this Jets outfit better than the team that was found lacking last spring?

Answer Lady: No, ma’am. That gang wasn’t good enough, this gang isn’t good enough. It’s one Paul Stastny, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, short of a load. Said that in October, repeating myself now.

Question Lady: So, Debbie Downer, you’re telling me this is another lost season?

Answer Lady: If my guess is right and Chevy twiddles his thumbs for the next two weeks, I’m afraid so. Nothing short of an appearance in the Stanley Cup final is acceptable.

Question Lady: That’s setting the bar awful high, don’t you think?

Answer Lady: I didn’t set the bar, girlfriend. The Jets did when they advanced to the Western Conference final last spring. It’s like Puck Finn. He’s had 36- and 44-goal seasons, so that’s what we expect from him. Maybe that’s not fair but, hey, if life was fair old friend Randy Carlyle would still have a job and Corey Perry wouldn’t. That really stinks.

Question Lady: Yup, sure is a bummer about Carlyle. Good man. At any rate, I’m guessing you have some snow to shovel, so I’ll let you go.

Answer Lady: Snow? Shovel? As if. I might dust the white stuff off the palm leaves next time I step out, but I’m afraid I surrendered my shovel 20 years ago when I put Good Ol’ Hometown in the rearview mirror. The only thing I shovel now is BS…100 per cent Canadian BS.

Question Lady: Okay, what say we do this again just before the playoffs?

Answer Lady: Well, I know I’ll be here because I’ve got a no-trade, no-movement clause, so it’s a date.

 

About Ugly Bowl 53 and a tit-for-tats halftime show…dinosaurs in the NHL broadcast booth…Connor McDavid and the Helicopter Line…the skinny on women’s curling in Manitoba…there goes Johnny…foreigners and three-down football…the Winnipeg Blue Bombers boss lady…and let’s play ball

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if you thought Super Bowl 53 was a bore, wait until you read Smorgas-Bored 187…

Adam Levine

Brief takeaways from the National Football League championship skirmish: Julian Edelman’s beard gives new meaning to the term “winning ugly,” don’t you think? I mean, it was the only thing uglier than the New England Patriots’ win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday…Final score: Patriots 13, Maroon 5, Rams 3…I don’t know how the Las Vegas bookies made out on Super Bowl wagering, but Adam Levine of Maroon 5 lost his shirt…Officially, Levine did not have a wardrobe malfunction during the halftime show. He was simply flashing his tats as opposed to Janet Jackson flashing her tit. I guess you could say it was tit-for-tats…Just wondering: Am I allowed to use the word “tit” on a family blog?…I’d like to write more about Super Bowl 53, but I think I’ll do what the Patriots and Rams did most of the day—drop back and punt.

Nick Kypreos

Contrary to popular belief, the dinosaur is not extinct. They are very visible, very vocal and you can find them flapping their gums on Hockey Night in Canada and/or Sportsnet.

Let’s start with Meatheadosaurus Nick Kypreos, who, just scant days ago, was seen and heard bellowing about Connor McDavid, suggesting the Edmonton Oilers captain take his hockey stick and “Send a message. Jam it down (an opponent’s) throat.” If that means a suspension for the National Hockey League’s most-dynamic offensive talent, “I don’t care. So be it.”

Same goes for Auston Matthews, the Tranna Maple Leafs highly skilled centre.

“There’s times when I wish Auston Matthews would (fight),” Kypreos told the Starting Lineup on Sportsnet 590 The Fan last week. “There’s times when I think Auston Matthews hopefully gets that in his game, especially around the playoffs.”

So Kypreos would rather have talents like McDavid and Matthews on the shelf or in the penalty box. Interesting.

Brian Burke

Next up is Truculentosaurus Brian Burke, who used his HNIC pulpit on Saturday night to promote rough house hockey and fisticuffs. Noting that elite performers Steven Stamkos and Evgeni Malkin had thrown down on each other, the bombastic former general manager said, “You love it when blue collar players do their job, you love it even more when white collar players step into the mud.”

Then, showing video of the Calgary Flames and Washington Capitals mucking about at the end of a recent skirmish, Burke gushed: “This is playoff intensity in February. It’s fantastic. Our league needs this type of intensity to bring people in and get viewers watching. It’s a critical part of our DNA, it’s a critical part of what we sell. This is good stuff.”

Yes, by all means, let’s sell more goonery.

Don Cherry

Not to be outdone, Lordofloudosaurus Don Cherry weighed in on the Winnipeg Jets.

“The big thing about these guys, they stick up for themselves,” he grunted.

Cue the fight films.

“This is a beauty. This is a pretty good fight, I have to say,” he had to say while we watched video of Brandon Tanev chucking knuckles with Trent Frederic of the Boston Bruins. “These guys stand up for themselves and that’s why, on the road, at home, they never lose at home, at that’s one of the reasons they win.”

There are numerous reasons to admire les Jets, but Cherry chose to highlight their pugilistic prowess.

These, understand, are three of the most prominent voices in hockey broadcasting, and they’re all singing from the 1970s Broad Street Bullies songbook: Let’s have less finesse and more fisticuffs.

Heidi Klum

That’s like telling Heidi Klum to act more like Simon Cowell.

The NHL has never been younger, faster and more highly skilled. It’s because knuckle-dragging neanderthals have been eliminated from the game. Isn’t it time someone removed them from the HNIC panel and Sportsnet, as well?

Checked out the Oilers-Montreal Canadiens skirmish on Sunday morning, and Oil head coach Ken Hitchock sent out his Helicopter Line to take the first faceoff—centre Connor McDavid and no wings. Actually, he had Milan Lucic and Ty Rattie on his flanks, but that’s like making Usain Bolt run a 100-metre race with a Steinway piano strapped to his back. No way the Oil qualify for the Stanley Cup runoff if that’s their top forward unit, which means there’ll be no Hart Trophy for McDavid.

Is old friend Randy Carlyle still employed, or have the Disney Ducks handed him his walking papers? Can’t see him surviving the season.

Jill Officer and Jennifer Jones

Caught the women’s final of the TSN Skins curling event and a few things came to mind: 1) It’s strange watching the Jennifer Jones team play without Jill Officer throwing second stones; 2) Jocelyn Peterman is a most capable replacement for Officer; 3) the women’s field in Manitoba is incredibly deep, but the last three champion skips are imports—Tracy Fleury, Ontario resident; Jones, Ontario resident; Michelle Englot, Saskatchewan resident.

Now that I think about it, Adam Levine would be ideal entertainment for a Skins game.

Johnny Miller

No more Johnny Miller on NBC golf broadcasts. This weekend’s Phoenix Open was his final gig. So who’s the best color commentator in TV sports now, John McEnroe or Tony Romo?

Commish Randy Ambrosie continues to spread the Canadian Football League’s wings in foreign countries. First it was Mexico, and now he’s finalized a working agreement with German football. Yo! Commish Randy! Three-down football is foreign to folks in the Republic of Tranna, Quebec and B.C., too. What do you say you do something to prop up those failing markets?

Dayna Spiring

A week ago I mentioned how both newspapers in Good Ol’ Hometown were out to lunch when Dayna Spiring became the first female board chair in the 89-year history of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I wanted to know more about her, and couldn’t understand why none of the news snoop at the Drab Slab and Winnipeg Sun had picked up a phone to chat with her. Lo and behold, young Jeff Hamilton has done that very thing, and his feature on Dayna is excellent. Best takeaway on the Bombers boss lady: She isn’t shy about butting heads with CEO Wade Miller.

I must say the Drab Slab absolutely clobbered the Sun on the Kootenay Ice relocation story. It’s been a rout from the start.

And, finally, pitchers and catchers report to Major League Baseball training camps in less than two weeks. Does anyone know where Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are?

About a “hockey play”…NHL conspiracy theories…good Canadian boys aren’t fakers…hosing the hosers…and long pee breaks for the ladies in Edmonton

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

The National Hockey League doesn’t need a Player Safety Committee. It needs a parole board.

Let’s face it, playoff hockey is street crime moved indoors. Muggings are as commonplace in springtime shinny as unruly chin whiskers. If there’s a rule book, it has all the bite of a butterfly. I mean, using Sidney Crosby’s head for a butcher’s block is a “hockey play” like a home invasion is a pajama party.

Barry Trotz knows that. Ditto Brian Burke.

Paul Bunyan

But because Crosby wasn’t their ox being gored when Alexander Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen went all Paul Bunyan on the Pittsburgh Penguins captain last Monday night, both Trotz and Burke quoted chapter and verse from every good, ol’ boy’s favorite reading material—the Conn Smythe Beat ‘Em In The Alley Hockey Bible.

I thought it was really a hockey play,” observed Trotz, head coach of the Washington Capitals.

I think it was a hockey play. This is what happens in our game,” echoed Burke, president in charge of truculence for the Calgary Flames.

Burke is correct. Stick happens. Ovechkin and Niskanen aren’t the first players in NHL history to use their shillelaghs to deliver violent blows to the head of a foe, nor will they be the last. It’s just that you’re supposed to be punished for such distasteful trespasses.

In this case, Ovechkin didn’t receive so much as a tsk-tsking for his Bunyanesque-like assault on Crosby in Game 3 of the Washington-Pitt playoff series. A two-hander to the arm, followed by a not-so-gentle whack to the back of the head? Nothing to see here, folks. Stick happens. Let’s move along. Except Ovechkin’s lumberjacking led directly to his accomplice moving in for sloppy seconds and cross-checking Crosby to the face.

Yes, I realize Niskanen was flagged and banished from the fray, but were additional punitive measures applied? Like a suspension? Hell no. This is the NHL postseason, don’t you know. Once the Stanley Cup tournament commences, the safety police hand out Get Out of Jail Free cards like condoms at a safe-sex convention. And it doesn’t matter if the unlawful battering renders a player like Crosby concussed and sends him to the repair shop. It’s a “hockey play.”

Well it isn’t. It’s a mugging. And the real crime is the NHL ignoring it.

I didn’t realize so many neurologists followed hockey. I mean, Crosby is concussed and suddenly everybody is an expert on brain trauma. Crosby should retire. No he shouldn’t. Yes he should. No he shouldn’t. Oh, just zip it. It’s his head, his career, his life. And for those who are astonished that he returned to the fray just four days after his mugging, be advised that concussions are like snowflakes—no two are the same. I ought to know: I’ve had my bell rung more often than Quasimodo.

Ryan Kesler

As a rule, I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories, the exceptions being the JFK assassination and anything involving Ryan Kesler, who is the NHL’s version of a human rights violation. But after witnessing the unraveling of the Edmonton McDavids against Kesler and the Disney Ducks on Friday night, I’m thinking there might be something to this ‘Gary Bettman/anti-Canada’ notion. Maybe it’s true what the conspiracists say about the NHL’s pointy-nosed, bobble-headed commissioner: He’ll go to extreme lengths to prevent the Stanley Cup from returning to the True North. Seriously. If what Kesler did to Edmonton’s Cam Talbot wasn’t goaltender interference, then I’m Patsy Cline and Bettman is Johnny Cash. Sure, the Ducks’ resident villain was shoved, rudely, onto the blue ice, but he wasn’t obliged to stay there and make like an octopus, wrapping his left tentacle around Talbot’s right pad. Not surprisingly, officials ignored damning video evidence that supported Kesler’s guilt and they allowed a Rickard Rakell goal to stand, thus sending Game 5 into extra time. If the Ducks’ 4-3 OT victory wasn’t part of a grand, anti-hoser conspiracy, it was enough to make me go “hmmmmmmm.”

For the record, I don’t have a dog in the Edmonton-Anaheim fight. I like Ducks coach Randy Carlyle because he’s one of the old Winnipeg Jets, and Connor McDavid is a joy to watch. Basically, I’m Switzerland on this one. Having said that, I think the McDavids have been hosed by the officials in the past two games.

I’ve been watching hockey since the 1950s and, until this particular version of springtime shinny, I thought I had a good handle on things like icing and offside and goaltender interference and stick infractions. Now, all bets are off. I confess that I don’t know a foul from a fool. Well, okay, Don Cherry still plays the fool, but all the phantom fouls, faux fouls and no fouls leave me scratching my noggin. The officiating is tragically poor.

Don Cherry: We’re Canadian and this is how we dress.

Speaking of Grapes (sour or otherwise), Cherry was in ripe form after Nick Bonino of the Penguins hoodwinked a visually challenged referee into believing he had been clipped in the face by a careless T.J. Oshie, whose stick had actually glanced off Bonino’s left shoulder. “Kids, never, ever…we’re Canadians…we don’t do that, we don’t fake injuries,” the Lord of Loud barked from his Bully Pit on Coachless Corner. “We’re Canadians, we don’t do it. We wear shirts and ties.” So let that be your lesson, kids: Don’t be a Bonino, but if you have to fake an injury make sure you’re wearing a shirt and tie. Clean underwear is optional.

Bob Cole still has the great pipes, but, my goodness, the man has lost it when it comes to identifying players. His play-by-play on Hockey Night in Canada is now done in general terms, and it’s kind of sad. His work reminds me of the great Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield in his final days with the New York Mets.

Well, hello Dolly Parton.

Big beef about biffies at Rogers Place in Edmonton, where the gender bending of the loo is a common practice and a ladies’ lament at Oilers matches. It seems that the ladies have been forced to surrender two of their washrooms to men during the Edmonton-Anaheim series, an inconvenience that has resulted in 30-minute waits for the girls. Geez, Louise, there are 320 public toilets and/or urinals on the main and upper concourses at Rogers Place. And the men need two of the women’s washrooms? How much beer are those boys drinking? Just remember to put the seats back down, boys. The girls will need them when Dolly Parton and the Dixie Chicks come to town.

Dumb headline of the week was delivered by the Globe and Mail: “The Toronto Raptors are losing and we’re all sad.” We are? Interesting. Where I live, I’m not sure anyone actually knows the Raptors exist.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

 

Winnipeg Jets: A personal ‘best of this and best of that’

I’m not fond of all-time greatest lists because they’re too often compiled by people who are not all-seeing.

Take, for example, the recent anointing of Dave Keon as creme de la Toronto Maple Leafs. As someone who witnessed the wonder that was Keon, initially on the family’s black-and-white TV with rabbit ears and then live and in living color with the New England/Hartford Whalers, I offer no quarrel with the salute to the diminutive, balletic centre-ice man. More to the point, I endorse it. Fully.

ducky3I wonder, though: How many among the 30 “experts” and 300,000 fans who gave voice to the Keon coronation actually saw him perform? How many can say they watched Syl Apps or Teeder Kennedy, who finished second and third, respectively, in balloting to select the greatest of the greats who have worn Maple Leafs linen in the past 100 years?

Syl Apps retired in 1948, two years before I was born. Teeder Kennedy hung ’em up in ’57. I don’t have the vaguest memory of him.

Time passed is the flaw in the all-time-greatest ointment, and it explains how a thug like Tie Domi can find himself on the same list as Dave Keon. I mean, seriously? Tie Domi belongs in the same company as Dave Keon? Ya, like I belong in the same ballet as Sophia Lee.

All of which brings me to the Winnipeg Jets. (Yes, I agree, the mention of Domi and ballet in the same breath serves as a rather odd, if not odious, segue to a discussion about the local hockey heroes, but work with me, kids.)

The creaky, old boys and the not-so-creaky Teemu Selanne will be back in town this week to participate in True North Sports & Entertainment’s genuflection to the Jets’ gloried past in the World Hockey Association and its limited achievements during the first go-round in the National Hockey League. Many of them, no doubt, shall arrive in River City greater of girth and with hairlines in rapid retreat, but hopefully old habits kick in when they take time away from the mirth and merriment of their reunion to play some pond hockey with the creaky, old Edmonton Oilers.

Slow-motion cameras won’t be a requirement, of course, because the actual-time speed is apt to be in super slo-mo—save for Selanne—but I’m guessing the Alumni Game on Saturday has as much appeal power as the Heritage Classic featuring the present-day Jets and Oilers on Sunday. (For those of you inclined to place a friendly wager on Team Hawerchuk in the old boys’ skirmish, be certain you get favorable odds because Team Gretzky has them out-Hall of Famed, 5-1, with one inductee-in-waiting.)

Anyway, this gathering of the clan puts me in mind of the best of the best, Jets version.

Many of my vintage can say we’ve seen them all, from the original Jet, Norm Beaudin, to today’s current flavor of the month, Patrik Laine, and some of us can say we saw more than most because we had the good fortune of an insider’s view home and away. That doesn’t make me an expert. It simply means I saw the Jets from a different vantage point.

It’s with that in mind that I submit some personal “best of” Jets lists…

peter-sullivan2My Favorites to Watch

1. Kent Nilsson: Pure magic. The most-talented player to wear a Jets jersey. Bar none.
2. Peter Sullivan: Silky smooth. I don’t care if he was defensively deficient. He was dazzling with the puck on his stick.
3. Anders Hedberg: The Swedish Express. His acceleration off the right wing was unparalleled.
4. Teemu Selanne: Ditto what I said about Hedberg.
5. Alexei Zhamnov: Spectacularly subtle. Perhaps that’s a contradiction in terms, but he was supremely skilled without a shred of flamboyance.

Most Grit

1. Ulf Nilsson: The punishment he absorbed and endured in the WHA was barbaric and criminal.
1a. Anders Hedberg: See above.
1b. Lars-Erik Sjoberg: See above.
1c. Ted Green: How he played so well in so much head pain is a mystery. I used to cringe watching the Seed hobbling on and off buses and airplanes, knowing he was in crippling pain.
3. Terry Ruskowski: He finished the 1979 WHA final with one arm.

Most Fun

Tom McVie: He’d always spice his interviews with comments like, “I’ve been fired more times than Al Capone’s machine gun” or “If life made sense, it would be men who rode sidesaddle. Think about it.”
Willy Lindstrom: The great prankster. He always made a pit stop at a joke store on our visits to Quebec City, then would toss stink bombs and sprinkle sneezing powder on our flight out of town.
Gary (Suitcase) Smith: Smitty seemed to take life with a wink and a nod.

jimmy-mann2Moments of Madness

1: Mike Smith: Comrade Mikhail, as I called the Jets GM, sold Kris Draper to the Detroit Red Wings for $1 (U.S. currency, one presumes) and used nine of his 12 selections at the 1992 NHL entry draft to claim Russians, the first of whom was the legendary Sergei Bautin. Smith’s make-work-for-Russians project fell flat. Little wonder Dale Hawerchuk got out of Dodge a couple years earlier.
2. Jimmy Mann: The sucker punch that shattered Paul Gardner’s jaw was every bit as bad as Todd Bertuzzi’s assault on Steve Moore.
3. Tom McVie: Taking his teeth out and trying to fight coach Al MacNeil of the Atlanta Flames was comedy gold.
4. John Ferguson: Punching a hole in the wall of his bunker at Winnipeg Arena? Check. Dumping a bucket of ice on to the Buffalo Sabres bench? Check. Kicking a hole in a dressing room door? Check.

Most Frustrating

1. Andrew McBain: We called him “Fergy’s son” or “Fergy’s kid” because we couldn’t think of any reason he was on the team, except that he must have been GM John Ferguson’s illigitimate kid. Beaner fooled us, though, with 32- and 37-goal seasons before leaving the Jets.
2. Scott Campbell: Asthma did poor Scotty in. His was never able to tap his full potential.
3. Ray Neufeld: Not because he underachieved, but because I silently cheered for him to succeed more than any other Jet. He became a fan whipping boy due to the Dave Babych trade, and I wanted Neuf to be a star. Never happened.

Best Quote

1. Dave Babych: Always gave thoughtful answers.
2. Terry Ruskowski: Honest, emotional, passionate.
3. Dale Hawerchuk: Ducky was the face of the franchise for so many years and he always delivered the goods.
4. Andrew McBain: No matter how hard the media rode him, Beaner didn’t balk on interviews.
5. Eddie Olczyk: I didn’t talk to Eddie O a great deal, but I could tell he had a future in talking.
5b. Barry Melrose: Friar Nicolson and I called him Kelvington after his home town in Saskatchewan. He loved talking into a microphone or tape recorder.

He’s Got Gonads

1. Tom McVie: Anyone who would bench Bobby Hull, one of the team owners, for arriving at the rink late has size XXXL gonads.
2. Morris Lukowich: A bantam rooster with a tiger in his tank. Luke never picked on anyone his own size, because they were all bigger than him.
3. Lars-Erik Sjoberg: Built like Barney Rubble, the Little General shied away from no man, not even Bad News Bilodeau and the rest of the cement heads who would run him through the boards in the WHA.

laurie-boschman2Good Guys

1. Laurie Boschman: So belligerent on the ice, so soft-spoken and genuinely nice off it.
2. Dave Babych: A big, friendly bear of a man.
3. Terry Ruskowski: A good Canadian Prairie boy.
4. Barry Melrose: Fun guy, always joking with Friar and I.
5. Jude Drouin/Pierre Hamel: They took care of me after I collapsed on a flight home from Toronto.

Curmudgeons Before Their Time

1. Randy Carlyle: Mostly it was an act (I think), but Kitty played the role of the two old farts on The Muppets.
2. Mario Marois: Forever bitching about the heat on the bus.

Most Underrated

1. Teppo Numminen: I think he was only appreciated in Winnipeg. Had he played in Toronto or Montreal, they’d still be talking about him.
2. Ron Wilson: Dawg: Subtly efficient.

What Were They Thinking?
(When they Drafted this Guy)

1. Sergei Bautin: Still hard to believe that comrade Mikhail Smith squandered a first-round pick on this pylon.
2. Jimmy Mann: Strike one against Fergy.
3. Hannu Jarvenpaa: Scored four goals in an exhibition game. Scored 11 the rest of his career.
4. Evgeny Davydov: Mikhail was kidding, right?
5. Ryan Stewart: Three games, one goal. Say no more.

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

Sports scribes are every bit as disloyal as football coaches

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

It’s Thursday morning…do you know where your football coach is?

sportswritersI mean, it’s difficult keeping track of the Canadian Football League sidelines stewards these days, what with Chris Jones going here, Jason Maas going there, John Hufnagel moving upstairs, Wally Buono moving downstairs, Paul LaPolice returning to the scene of the crime, Noel Thorpe neither here nor there, and Mike O’Shea still watching film.

I swear, you’ll see less traffic flow at the Syrian border.

In the case of Jones, he didn’t fly solo in his first-to-worst defection from the Grey Cup champion Edmonton Eskimos to the Sad Sack Saskatchewan Roughriders. Apparently, his traveling party included eight assistant coaches, seven slick free agents, six large O-lineman, five cleaning ladies…and a punter in a pear tree. We haven’t seen this large an exodus since Moses did his thing at the Red Sea. Or at least since the Berlin Wall came a tumblin’ down.

Little wonder that CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge has built his own metaphorical Berlin Wall. Stop. Do not pass go. Do not collect another team’s playbook. There shall be no more coach’s crossings until such time as the commish de-dizzies his head. So there.

All of which moved Ed Tait to ask this in the Winnipeg Free Press: “What about loyalty, or the disappearance of it, when it comes to coaches packing up their playbooks to move on to a league rival?”

Loyalty? Loyalty? A jock journalist talking loyalty? It is to laugh.

Look across the sportswriting landscape in the True North and it’s littered with defectors. Examples:

Ed Tait: Winnipeg Sun-Saskatoon StarPhoenix-Winnipeg Sun-Winnipeg Free Press.
Paul Friesen: CJOB-Winnipeg Sun.
Gary Lawless: Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal-Winnipeg Free Press-TSN.
Cam Cole: Edmonton Journal-National Post-Vancouver Sun.
Ed Willes: Medicine Hat News-Regina Leader-Post-Winnipeg Sun-freelance-Vancouver Province.
Terry Jones: Edmonton Journal-Edmonton Sun.
George Johnson: Winnipeg Tribune-Edmonton Sun-Calgary Sun-Calgary Herald.
Steve Simmons: Calgary Herald-Calgary Sun-Calgary Herald-Toronto Sun.
Bruce Arthur: National Post-Toronto Star.
Cathal Kelly: Toronto Star-Globe and Mail.

Most of them are, or have been, sleeping with the enemy, but there’s no wrong-doing there. Not unless you have some moral hangups about negotiating with the opposition while still drawing pay from your current employer. Sportswriters trade places like kids trade bubble gum cards and, basically, it’s just a bunch of guys looking out for No. 1.

You know, just like Chris Jones and Jason Maas and Noel Thorpe and others are looking out for No. 1.

Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff
Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff

What part of the Winnipeg Jets’ draft-and-develop strategy do I not understand? Oh, that’s right, it’s this part: Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff brings Joel Armia up to the NHL club and plops him in the press box, there to munch on popcorn for three weeks. This is a most curious method of developing young talent. I cannot see how this was a benefit to the player. Or the club, for that matter. Unless, of course, Armia was there solely to file a report on whether the pressbox popcorn has too much salt and not enough butter.

So, what are we to make of the reported contract asks of Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Jacob Trouba? I believe I can sum it up with these five words: Not a hope in hell. I mean, giving Byfuglien a lifetime contract? Essentially, that’s what his reps are asking of the Jets, because he’ll be 31 at the end of this NHL crusade, making him 39 at the tail end of an eight-year deal. His usefullness will have been exhausted long before then. I imagine there might be an NHL outfit willing to sign him for eight seasons, but it won’t be the Jets. At least it better not be.

These salary demands, exposed by Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press, place Grand Master Chevy in a bit of a pickle. The Jets general manager cannot allow Ladd and Byfuglien to skate away in free agency next summer, as he did in receiving bupkus for Michael Frolik, but dealing them might be more difficult now that the sticker price and term are public knowledge. I mean, would you be anxious to exchange assets for a defenceman who’ll likely balloon to 300 pounds by the third year an eight-year deal?

What’s the over/under on Bruce Boudreau remaining behind the Disney Ducks’ bench? I say Boxing Day, because the current four-game junket to the East Coast surely will determine the fate of the head coach of an Anaheim team pegged as a Stanley Cup favorite before skirmishing commenced this season. If the Ducks are still bottom feeders in the NHL Western Conference by the time Santa has unloaded his loot, say goodbye to Brucie and, perhaps, hello to old friend Randy Carlyle.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.

 

Randy Carlyle: Standing tall during the worst of times

Here’s all you need to know about Randy Carlyle: Less than 48 hours after being relieved of his duties as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs and his brother-in-law passing away from ALS, he welcomed an uninvited sports scribe into his home.

A good man was down. Deeply, heartbreakingly down. Forget the hockey element. Other National Hockey League jobs, after all, are sure to come Kitty Carlyle’s way. His wife’s brother, John, on the other hand…he had just died, damnit! He won’t be coming back.

So there was Carlyle, opening the door of his Etobicoke home to discover Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun standing on the stoop, notebook in hand in the hope that the oft-curmudgeonly coach would share some bons mots about the dire dealings of death, dismissal and disappointment.

Some might think it callous of Buffery to have imposed himself on Carlyle at such a time. Give the man some space. Let him grieve. Let him filter and flush. Surely the story can wait.

Who could possibly condemn Carlyle had he torn a page from the Phil Kessel book of media relations and barked “Get away from me!” at Buffery?

That isn’t how Randy rolls, though.

As much as the former Winnipeg Jets defenceman and Manitoba Moose coach/GM can come across as Crusty the Carlyle—and seemingly, at times, take delight in that masquerade—the much-maligned man is, as the late and legendary Jets’ play-by-play voice Friar Nicolson was wont to say, “good people. Kitty’s good people.”

So, he didn’t deliver a brush-off. He took Buffery in. The two men sat at a kitchen table and engaged in a 25-minute chin-wag, in which Carlyle spilled. About his brother-in-law’s death. About his firing. About failing to restore any level of lustre to the Maple Leafs brand. About resisting any urge to diss the Toronto players who betrayed him with half-baked efforts and the pungent odour of entitlement.

This was Randy Carlyle unplugged. Honest. Poignant. Sincere. Humorous (when asked about his relationship with the Toronto media, he jokingly said, “I didn’t kick you out of my house.”).

He easily could have done that very thing. The fact he didn’t speaks to not only Carlyle’s character and his professionalism, but also to a respect factor between sportsman and scribe, something that is too often absent.

There is no shortage of examples underscoring the adversarial hue of the jock-journalist relationship, the latest offering being the nasty, distasteful to-and-fro served up by Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star and the aforementioned Kessel earlier this week. If you missed it, Feschuk approached the Leafs’ embattled forward with this question scant seconds after Carlyle had been defrocked:

“There’s a suggestion that you’re a difficult guy to coach. Is there anything to that?”

It was leading, accusatory, inflammatory and designed to incite. There was no good way for Kessel to answer, other than to provide a non-answer. Which he didn’t, because he isn’t media savvy. He doesn’t have the acumen to recognize the hook inside the worm. So he takes the bait. Every time. He adopted a defensive posture, resorted to name-calling, then Feschuk played the part of the stooge by chasing Kessel about the room. It was slapstick. Awkward, unfortunate slapstick.

Many in the mainstream sports media have applauded Feschuk for asking the “tough” question, because that’s what they do. They circle the wagons. But Feschuk’s “tough” question was based on a “suggestion” from an unidentified source. He went on to say, “It’s not me saying this stuff.” So, who has suggested Kessel is uncoachable? When did they make this suggestion? Does Kessel not have the right to know the identity of his accusor(s) before the question is posed.

Feschuk might as well have told Kessel there’s a “suggestion” he’s gay. Anything to that?

What has ensued is a witchhunt of epic proportions, with members of the MSM in the Republic of Tranna tripping over one another in an unmasked quest to have Kessel ridden out of town.

This is why I found the Carlyle-Buffery scenario so refreshing. As much as it was a sportsman-reporter exchange, it was more an interaction between two people. Imagine that, a jock and a journalsist seeing each other as people.

What a concept.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.