About Commish Randy’s flag football and NFL Lite…an “effing crazy” tennis champion for Canada…equal coin for female curlers…it’s criminal what the Bruins did…the CWHL final on Sportsnet…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and, no, I don’t have a St. Patty’s Day hangover because I was in bed before they started pouring the pints…

Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie was already up my nose, but he’s digging in deeper and deeper.

Randy Ambrosie is playing a different kind of flag football.

I mean, the guy’s globetrotting and making nice with people who’ve never seen the pointy end of a three-down football was an annoying bit of business, but Commish Randy is playing a dangerous game of flag football when there’s talk of reducing the number of Canadian starters—seven down to five—for each game-day lineup and adding two “global” spots to each overall roster. That’s just wrong.

I’d like to think that Justin Dunk of 3DownNation received bad intel when sources advised him that our homebrews are under attack. But I fear he’s spot on about the Canadian-import roster ratio.

Curt, Terry, Howie, Michael and Jimmy

Homeys are at the very core of our game and ought not be used as bargaining chips in negotiations for a fresh Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and the CFL Players Association. If Commish Randy and U.S. players want fewer Canadian starters, let’s get rid of the rouge, too. And while we’re at it, let’s shrink the field, adopt the fair catch and four downs, eliminate that pesky 12th man on defence so American QBs like Johnny Manziel aren’t confused, and replace the CFL on TSN panel with Curt, Terry, Howie, Michael and Jimmy. We can call it NFL Lite.

That might sell tickets in the Republic of Tranna, but I doubt it will wash on the Prairies, which is the heartland of the CFL.

Bianca Andreescu

So, how do we like our “effing crazy” tennis champion so far? I like her a lot.

It’s one thing to wow ’em with an assortment of shots and gritty stick-to-itness on court, but Bianca Andreescu also wowed ’em in the press chat room scant moments after she had toppled Angelique Kerber, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, in the championship match of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, Calif., on Sunday.

“A year ago I’d been struggling a lot with my tennis and with my body, so it’s crazy what a year can do,” the 18-year-old from Mississauga told news snoops. “I was playing $25Ks (tournaments) in Japan and now I’m the…can I say the F-word? No I can’t…I’m the effing champion of Indian Wells. Crazy. Crazy is the word of the tournament for me. Just crazy.”

For those of you who give tennis no more than a passing glance, this was no rinky-dinky tournament. Indian Wells is huge, one of the premier events on the calendar with most of the elite women and men on site. It’s a notch below the four Grand Slams. So where does Bianca’s achievement rank in Canadian tennis history? Numero uno in singles play. Milos Raonic has won eight titles on the men’s tour, Darling Carling Bassett and Hurricane Helen Kelesi had two each on the distaff side, and Genie Bouchard once racked up a W (that seems like a very long time ago). But what Bianca accomplished on Sunday—unparalleled.

Genie Bouchard

I know what some of you might be thinking, or at least hoping—that Bianca doesn’t go all-Genie on us. Bouchard, of course, was the flavor of the month on the Women’s Tennis Association Tour in 2015, rising as high as world No. 5, but then she started taking her clothes off for Sports Illustrated and putting on the ritz. As a consequence, her game has gone kaflooey. I don’t see Andreescu falling down that same rabbit hole. No “effing” way.

For those of you keeping score at home, Bianca has now beaten four Grand Slam champions this year—Kerber, Garbine Muguruza, Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki. Heady stuff for a kid.

I realize most of our vast land still remains covered in white stuff, so is it too early to anoint Bianca Andreescu our top athlete for 2019? Seriously, who’s going to trump the tennis neophyte’s astonishing run at Indian Wells? I suppose golfer Brooke Henderson might have something to say about it, but it will take some doing.

Chelsea Carey, third Sarah Wilkes, second Dana Ferguson, lead Rachel Brown with $32,000 worth of trophy.

Chelsea Carey has it all wrong and she’s selling herself and all elite female curlers in this country short.

Our Chelsea and her gal pals from the Glencoe Club in Calgary are over in Denmark right now, having swapped their Wild Rose of Alberta for the Maple Leaf to defend Canada’s rank as the global pebble power, but she left some interesting sound bites behind before crossing the big pond. Like her take on payouts at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier.

“I think,” she said, “from a financial standpoint, from a business standpoint, it’s hard to demand exactly equal money. That would be great, but it does need to get closer.”

No, Chelsea. It has to be equal, not just closer.

Kevin Koe, B.J. Neufeld, Jumpin’ Jack Flasch, Ben Hebert with $70,000 worth of trophy.

I mean, same number of teams. Same number of games. Same hard work to get there and stay there. Same TV appeal (the Brier in Brandon had more viewers than the Scotties in Sydney during round-robin play, but the women had better numbers for the playoffs and blitzed the Brier in final vs. final audience—762,000-659,000).

True, the boys at the Brier did better business at the box office, but Kevin Koe and his Glencoe team earned $70,000, so that’s what Carey and her Scotties champions should have collected, not $32,000.

If Curling Canada has to rob Peter to pay Paula, so be it.

Interesting comment from Reid Carruthers after he and his fellow Buffalo Boys—Mike McEwen, Derek Samagalski, Colin Hodgson—had crashed and burned at the Brier. “It’s hard to put a team together and all of a sudden win in its first year,” the Manitoba third said. I’d buy that except for one thing—Koe won the Brier with a first-year team, and Carey won the Scotties in her first year with new teammates.

Conor McGregor

Let me see if I’ve got this straight: Conor McGregor, the most vulgar and vile man in sports, was arrested in Miami Beach and charged with strong-arm robbery and criminal mischief after he stole and smashed a tourist’s cellphone. That was scant days after the former UFC champion and lousy boxer had completed community service obligations as punishment for hurling a dolly through a bus window in Brooklyn last year. (His lawyers arranged a plea deal on charges of assault, attempted assault and criminal mischief.) And that’s the guy the Boston Bruins trotted out—to considerable pomp and fanfare—for a ceremonial faceoff last week? They celebrated a criminal? What, O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson weren’t available?

If you have a hockey-playing daughter who’s inclined to hang ’em up in her mid-teens because she doesn’t think there’s anywhere for her to go, you’ll want to give young Jeff Hamilton’s excellent piece on girls’ shinny a read in the Drab Slab. There’s such a thing as the Manitoba Women’s Junior Hockey League, and the championship was decided on Saturday night when Prairie Blaze beat the Silvertips in a shootout.

And, finally, on the matter of distaff shinny, it’s terrific that Sportsnet will air the Canadian Women’s Hockey League title skirmish featuring the Calgary Inferno and Les Canadiennes de Montreal on March 24, but what’s with the noon ET faceoff time? Does someone have a plane to catch? Like, they couldn’t drop the puck in mid-afternoon to give the Clarkson Cup reasonable air time across the country? That’s no way to sell the women’s game.

About the Winnipeg Jets being built on free agents…the ice fishing is great, right Big Buff?…Richie’s a Hall of a coach this week…pigging out in the (hot) dog days of summer…media friendly Vic Peters…Caroline Cameron gives Tim & Sid a fresh voice and look…those wacky Wimbledon women…don’t diss Ronaldo…and a sports scribe who preaches one thing but writes about another

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

Welcome to Winnipeg, armpit of the National Hockey League.

Well, okay, that’s not exactly how shinny scribes Scott Burnside and Sean McIndoe worded it when Paul Stastny chose Glitter Gulch over Good Ol’ Hometown, but that was the sentiment of each pundit’s analysis—River City sucks. Still. Otherwise Stastny wouldn’t have vamoosed from the Winnipeg Jets to the Vegas Golden Knights scant seconds after the NHL opened its grab bag of free agents a week ago this very morning.

Here’s Burnside of The Athletic:

“While he did choose to waive his no-trade clause to go to the Jets at the trade deadline, Stastny’s departure as an unrestricted free agent merely reinforces the idea that, as good as the Jets are—and they are really good—they still aren’t at the stage where they are a destination for free agents. Not yet at least.”

Here’s McIndoe of Sportsnet:

“They were a darn good team before Stastny arrived, and they’ll be a good one with him gone. But seeing a top UFA walk away will reinforce the old idea that the Jets are at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting top players.”

Paul Stastny

Both scribes stopped short of stereotypical jabs about the dark, the cold, the crappy WiFi, the pothole-to-person ratio, and summer skeeters the size of a Zamboni in River City, but the gist of their analysis is unmistakable, and this Winnipeg-as-NHL armpit narrative is oh so dog-eared. Also wearisome.

I mean, I’d buy it if Stastny had gone on record saying he defected to Sin City because “Winnipeg is a garbage dump with a lousy zoo and an ugly museum.” But no.

“In the end,” the 32-year-old centre-ice man told the Las Vegas Sun, “sometimes you just have to go with your gut feeling. Sometimes it’s just one of those things that is the best fit, hockey-wise, family-wise and everything in between.”

Doesn’t sound damning to me.

Yet those of the Burnside/McIndoe ilk trot out the woe-is-Winnipeg refrain every time someone gives Good Ol’ Hometown the cold shoulder, mainly because it’s a convenient and lazy plot line that plays to the ill-informed among the rabble and, at the same time, ignores history. Yes, history.

Benny Hatskin and Bobby Hull on a happy day in Winnipeg.

Go ahead, kids. Name the most significant free-agent signing—ever—in professional hockey. That’s right, the name is Hull, Bobby Hull. And where did that game-shaping event take place? At the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street, where a flock of thousands gathered to witness Robert Marvin Hull, fresh off his fifth 50-goal season for the Chicago Blackhawks, scrawl his John Hancock on a Winnipeg Jets contract on June 27, 1972. This was the NHL’s glam guy, choosing Pegtown over Chitown. The sport and salaries were forever altered by one free-agent signing.

More to the point, the very foundation of the Winnipeg Jets was built exclusively on free agents, guys who willingly came to River City to form the World Hockey Association’s flagship franchise.

Ab Mcdonald, Joe Daley, Sudsy Sutherland, Ernie Wakely and others from the ‘hood came home from hither and yon to wear Jets linen. Anders Hedberg chose Winnipeg over Toronto. Kent Nilsson chose Winnipeg over Toronto and Atlanta. Willy Lindstrom could have played anywhere in North America. He chose Winnipeg. Ulf Nilsson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg chose Winnipeg. Peter Sullivan chose Winnipeg. Etcetera, etcetera and blah, blah, blah.

So enough of the tired, old refrain about Pegtown being a shinny leper colony.

Big Buff

Are there guys who’d rather not play in River City? Absolutely. We’re told Good Ol’ Hometown makes most no-trade lists. Just ask Ilya Bryzgalov. But, hey, John Tavares rejected 30 cities just last week, so it’s not like Winnipeg is unique. Look, players talk about three main things when wrestling with free-agency options: 1) Money; 2) the opportunity to win; 3) location. Well, Ben Hatskin wasn’t paying Hull $2.7 million in Monopoly or Canadian Tire money in 1972, and David Thomson and Mark Chipman aren’t paying Dustin Byfuglien $7.6 million per annum in food stamps with the present-day Jets. Competitively, les Jets were a final four team in this past spring’s Stanley Cup runoff. As for location, the ice fishing is boffo, thank you. Just ask Big Buff. So what’s not to like?

Just wondering: Are we still calling for Richie Hall’s head to roll? Probably not. Hall is the much-maligned man tasked with mapping out strategy for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive dozen, whose deficiencies were exposed like a porn star’s privates in two of their first three skirmishes this Canadian Football League crusade. Then along came the B.C. Lions with a benign offence designed to heal whatever ails a wonky defence. So I assume Winnipeg FC’s 41-19 victory over the Leos on Saturday evening at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry means it’s safe for Hall to go grocery shopping and pump his own gas this week. Just to be safe, though, he should have Adam Bighill tag along.

Joey Chestnut

Here’s something to chew on: Joey Chestnut celebrated the dog days of summer by successfully defending his Nathan’s hot dog eating title, scarfing down 74 tube steaks in 10 minutes. It’s believed that no one has ever gone through that many dogs. Except the Edmonton Oilers, of course.

Richard Deitsch of The Athletic asked this question of jock journos on Twitter: “Who is the most media-friendly athlete you have dealt with?” For me, that’s a no-brainer: The late Vic Peters, with about 100 other curlers tied in second. Vic, in the grand scheme of jockdom, was a smooth-edged gem on a beach full of sharp stones. A most obliging, engaging man, he had time for us all. Always.

Sid Seixeiro and Caroline Cameron

Loved the new look and sound on the Tim & Sid show last week. Unfortunately, it’s only temporary. Caroline Cameron has been sitting in for the vacationing Sid Seixeiro on the Sportsnet gabfest, and they’re as different as a pit bull and a kitten. I mean, Sid’s shtick is to talk tough. He dresses the part, too. He looks like he belongs on the set of a gangster movie, skulking around with Luca Brasi and nervously glancing over his shoulder to see if Eliot Ness is on his tail. He wears his sneer on his sleeve. He’s prone to prop humor and theatrical orations that would earn him a failing grade in a high school drama class, and his rants are usually about as sincere as a Neymar dive-writhe-and-roll. Caroline, on the other hand…we’re talking Mary Richards from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Polished, professional, knowledgeable, smiling, impeccable, pretty, a girl making her way and succeeding in a guy’s world. A lot of viewers (read: guys) pooh-pooh women on sports talk TV as empty heads. Well, Caroline Cameron is compelling evidence that there should be more female voices in the jock gab game. She’s very good.

Yes, now that you mention it, the goings-on in London are very strange, most notably on the women’s side of Wimbledon. They’re spitting out seeds like it’s a baseball dugout. Gone are nine of the top 10 seeds and 25 of 32 overall. Wimbledon has never seen such carnage. Serena Williams will have to break both legs and carry her baby on her back to lose this tournament. Even at that, she could probably win the thing and claim her 24th tennis Grand Slam title on crutches.

Ronaldo and Messi

A lot of British accents on our flatscreens during the World Cup, one of them belonging to Danny Dichio, former forward in the English Premier League. Sportsnet trotted him out as an analyst during the group stage of the event, and he had this exchange with Jesse Fuchs…

Fuchs: “People love to compare Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo…Messi missed a penalty earlier in the tournament, now so has Ronaldo. And it ends up costly, as Portugal are held to a draw. Is it fair at all to criticize CR7?”

Dichio: “No. Not at all fair.”

So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: The president of the United States, the Pope, Queen Liz, the Beatles, any journalist you care to name, and Jesus Christ himself are fair game for a roasting when they cough up a hairball, but Ronaldo, a guy who’s supposedly god’s gift to soccer, is untouchable when he gags on a shot from the 12-yard spot? As if. Dichio gets a red card for being a nincompoop.

Kaitlyn Lawes and Jennifer Jones

And, finally, based on his scribblings over the years, it’s apparent that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press does not harbour a healthy fondness for professional athletes. He often writes of them with resentment, contempt and scorn, painting them with one broad brush stroke—they’re all money-grubbing elitists who look down on the rabble from their perch of privilege.

“A tiny cadre of coddled millionaires,” is how he described the Jets players in one of his tamer remarks.

Therefore it wasn’t out of character that he assailed play-for-pay jocks—defrocked Jets goaltender Steve Mason in particular—while making the case that the amateur athletes in our great nation are underfunded by the feds and underappreciated by the unwashed masses.

“Such is the deification that we accord professional hockey players in this country that we think nothing of paying the washouts millions not to play, while at the same time throwing chump change at our amateur athletes and then scolding them if they dare return home without Olympic medals every four years when we remember again that they exist,” he writes.

He calls financial support for our top amateurs “laughable” and “a complete joke.”

Mike O’Shea

Actually, the joke is a sports columnist prattling on about underfunding and underappreciation for amateurs when 95 per cent of his yearly material is devoted to his personal hot-button issues like Jacob Trouba’s attitude, Mike O’Shea’s “goofy” short pants, and Mark Chipman’s past life as a used-car salesman. His own newspaper treats amateur athletes like they have the cooties. Unless, of course, they’re holding a curling rock in one hand and a broom or sliding apparatus in the other. Kaitlyn Lawes, Jennifer Jones, Mike McEwen, Reid Carruthers and other pebble people get the jock star treatment from the Freep. The rest? Basically bupkus.

Here’s the professional/amateur story scorecard from the past seven editions of the Drab Slab: 140-13. Granted, seven days of sports sections is a small sample size, but just 8.5 per cent of all articles was devoted to amateurs.

In that same seven-paper time frame, Wiecek wrote three columns: his apples-to-oranges argument about amateur funding vs. greedy professional jocks getting too much coin for not enough work; the Blue Bombers lousy defence and firing lousy coaches O’Shea and Hall; and, once again, greedy pro athletes.

What’s that you say? Some sports scribes must be overpaid, underworked and coddled, too? Who knew?

Weekend Wrap, Vol. 5: All about the 2019 Stanley Cup champions, tennis rivalries and quality curling coverage

A little bit of this, a little bit of that and a whole lot of opinion in a weekend wrap…

I’m not sure what is more giggle-worthy, the puck prophets at The Hockey News reading tea leaves that tell them the Winnipeg Jets will be rulers of all they survey in 2019 or Jets Nation getting all giddy about a magazine designed to do nothing more than spike sales.

If you missed it, there shall be a Stanley Cup cavalcade on the streets of downtown River City in June 2019. The Hockey News says it will be so in their Future Watch issue, and who can we trust if not the Bible of Hockey? I mean, according to David Larkins of the Winnipeg Sun, THN is the “trusted periodical on all things hockey.” So there. If those wild-and-whacky puck prophets at THN tell us to plan a parade route, then that’s what we must do. Plan a parade route. For June. 2019.

Ignore the fact that those same shinny swamis pegged Team Peg to finish dead last in the Central Division of the National Hockey League this season. Hey, sometimes the tea leaves are tough to read. So cut ’em some slack.

Just know this, Jets Nation: A Stanley Cup parade is coming to a downtown intersection near you—assuming you live in the vicinity of Portage and Main—because your Winnipeg Jets are bringing hockey’s holy grail to good, ol’ Home Town. In June. 2019. Book off work. Skip school. Strike up the band.

This is big. This is colossal. I mean, it’s been a quarter century since River City last held a downtown parade that didn’t include Santa Claus. Or a bevy of Ru Paul wannabes.

What I like best is that THN has given us advance notice. Four years worth. That’s plenty of time to put some spit and shine on our ol’ girl, Peg. Why, once we’ve scraped all the hobos off the streets and shuttered them away in the background so as not to ruin the optics we’ll be sending out to all those losers in locales like the Republic of Tranna, we can have ol’ Peg looking like a million bucks.

Oh, what fun this will be for the kids. For the entire family.

We wish we could give you an exact date for the parade, also a route, but the THN shinny swamis didn’t have the good manners to tell us if our local hockey heroes would be winning the Stanley Cup final in four, five, six or seven games in June 2019. Doesn’t matter. We can work out the details later. For now, they assure us that the Jets shall be NHL champeens. In June. 2019.

Be there.

WHO’S IN, WHO’S OUT? Watching good, ol’ Home Team dismantle the Nashville Predators in Music City on Saturday night, I couldn’t help but wonder who among the current crop of Jets will be part of the large celebration. In June. 2019.

I mean, you think Lee Stempniak is going to be riding in a convertible when the Stanley Cup motorcade lurches toward Portage and Main in late June 2019? Jiri Tlusty? Jay Harrison? Mark Stuart? Drew Stafford? Anthony Peluso? Ondrej Pavelec? Jim Slater? Michael Hutchinson? Chris Thorburn?

Well, okay, maybe Thorburn will be part of the parade. Apparently he has dicey pics. Thus, the Jets no doubt will double down on his existing pact between now and Nirvana. Or just grant him a contract for life. But those other guys? Not so much. They’ll probably be playing their hockey for the woeful Las Vegas Crap Shoots. The parade will pass them by.

HITHER ‘N’ YAWN: Interesting that True North Sports & Entertainment plans to bring its American Hockey League affiliate home to Winnipeg. Can’t see much fan lure there, other than affordability compared to the tariff for Jets matches. Seems to me a Western Hockey League outfit would be an easier sell…Don Cherry has become so irrelevant that I didn’t even notice what he was wearing during his Curmudgeon’s Corner rory1gig on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night…So quiz me this: When Tiger Woods has a hissy-fit on a golf course and swears or spits or slams a club into the ground, it’s boorish behavior. It’s deplorable. Entire forests are plowed to the ground in order to provide enough newsprint to satisfy the needs of sports scribes who spend the next month cutting Woods a new one. Yet, when Rory McIlroy has a hissy-fit, hurling his 3-iron into a water hazard at Doral, it’s greeted with a shrug and a ho-hum. Why the double standard?…Couldn’t believe what I heard tripping off Hazel Mae’s tongue late last week when the Sportsnet talking head previewed the Davis Cup tie between Canada and Japan. She actually compared the rivalry between Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori to those of tennis legends Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe, Andre Agassi-Pete Sampras, among others. Good grief. Apparently, research is an option Hazel doesn’t exercise…When it comes to tennis rivalries, there has been none greater—ever—than that produced by Martina Navratilova and Chrissie Evert. Between 1973 and ’88, they met 80 times. More than 25 per cent of those matches (22) came in Grand Slam events and 14 were Grand Slam finals. Nothing compares to that. For the record, Navratilova held a slight edge overall, 43-37.

CUE THE CURLING: Totally selfless act by John Morris to demote himself from skip to third on the Team Canada outfit that won the Brier on Sunday. Can’t imagine many curlers doing that…Although the Johnny Mo team was wearing the Maple Leaf at the Saddledome in Calgary, let’s not lose sight of the reality that another Alberta squad has won the Canadian men’s curling championship. They play out of the Glencoe Club in Cowtown, so Wild Rose Country teams have now won nine Briers this century…Department of Better Late than Never: Melissa Martin of the Winnipeg Free Press killed it at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw last month. When a scribe is on assignment out of town, I want her or him to take me to their locale. I don’t want to simply read the final score and a stream of quotes. I want to see and feel what the writer sees and feels. What the fans see and feel. Martin delivered. She took me to Moose Jaw with some wonderful anecdotal insight and spot-on reporting that allowed me to join Jennifer Jones and her Buffalo Girls for every step to the Scotties title, a fifth for Jones. It was boffo work…It pains me to say the Winnipeg Sun wasn’t served as well as the Freep at either the Scotties or Brier. They never had one of their own on the scene. Don’t blame sports editor Ted Wyman, though. That had to be a corporate call. But a Winnipeg daily should always, always, always have their own scribe at the two main bonspiels on the curling calendar…

Jeff Stoughton
Jeff Stoughton

Interesting take by Freep scribe Paul Wiecek on Reid Carruthers’ wonky, unManitoba-like record (4-7) at the Brier. “The job description as the curling writer for a paper that has covered every Brier since the first one in 1927 says I’m supposed to rip Carruthers in this space today,” he writes. “He let down his team, he let down the province etc. But my heart’s not in it. Carruthers knows better than anyone what went wrong this week. And no one feels worse about it than he does. He’s a good guy, who had a very bad week. I’m giving him a pass. You should too.” Good for Wiecek…Now that Jeff Stoughton has retired, I suppose it’s time to confirm his status as the greatest curler ever produced in the Keystone province. Who else could it possibly be? Here’s my top-five list (since I began watching and writing about curling in the very early 1970s): 1. Stoughton; 2. Jennifer Jones; 3. Don Duguid; 4. Kerry Burtnyk; 5. Connie Laliberte; Honorable Mention: Vic Peters.

 

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.