Let’s talk about girl power on Sportsnet…Billie Jean King doesn’t have a clue…snubbing the NWHL…and bust goes the Brier

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I don’t know if I gained or lost an hour on the weekend…

Oh, baby. They pulled it off.

Yup, Sportsnet delivered its first 99.9 per cent estrogen-fueled broadcast of a National Hockey League joust on Sunday night, so a few words are in order:

Christine Simpson, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, Leah Hextall.

a) Leah Hextall is more than adequate on play-by-play.

b) Christine Simpson is a real pro.

c) Cassie Campbell-Pascall doesn’t know when to put a sock in it.

d) Billie Jean King needs to pop a reality pill.

e) Ron MacLean makes for a rather subdued token male (he calls himself an “ally”).

f) Tara Slone has the groupie gene.

g) Apparently no one involved with the production of Hometown Hockey knows the National Women’s Hockey League exists.

That’s the Coles Notes version of what transpired during the Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Sunday, and if you’re wondering if the women did boffo work just ask them. They’ll assure you that they were absolutely fabulous, darling.

I mean, this was a 3½-hour exercise in excessive back-patting, and I believe they paid tribute to every woman on earth except Karla Homolka. Well, okay, that’s a stretch. But they did manage to squeeze Cher and Beyonce into the conversation, and we all know that no hockey broadcast is complete without mentioning Cher and Beyonce—not!

Curious name-dropping aside, full marks to Sportsnet for pushing the envelope. I just wish the main players hadn’t spent so much time kissing up to one another.

Don’t they realize you can catch coronavirus that way?

Leah Hextall

Among the women, Hextall had the most to gain/lose in this experiment. We’ve been listening to the empty squawkings of colorless commentator Campbell-Pascall for years now, and we’ve grown accustomed to Simpson’s smooth interview skills. But Hextall’s game call was something new, and I give her a passing grade.

I actually learned a new phrase from her: “He loses the boot.” Translation: A player lost his footing. Never heard that one before.

Hextall delivered another good line in the third period when two Golden Knights collided violently inside the blueline, describing it as “A bit of a Three Stooges moment.” I laughed out loud.

Hextall stumbled at times, though. She seemed caught by surprise when Nick Holden scored the second Vegas goal, also when Milan Lucic put the Flames on the board. “Lucic holds, fires and Lehner…oh, hang on, he scores,” she said. And she was flat out wrong on the Golden Knights winning tally, asking, “Is it in? Is it in? It looked in. From an angle shot, Max Pacioretty with the goal.” It was actually Shea Theodore who scored.

But, hey, other play-by-play people have made bigger blunders.

Is if fair to compare Hextall to male game-callers? Absolutely. After all, they’re the only measuring sticks available. So let’s just say she’s no Danny Gallivan, but who is? Like I said, she gets a passing grade.

I’m not sure what it is about Campbell-Pascall that gets up my nose, but I find her to be a total irritant, the same way skin rash is. She talked over Hextall too often, and she rudely hijacked the conversation when the two women were signing off. She also delivered the dumbest comment of the night when, as Ryan Reaves and Lucic lined up, she advised us that “the physicality on the ice right now is epic.” That would have been fine except for one small detail—they hadn’t even dropped the puck for the opening faceoff yet.

Ron and Tara

As expected, Slone and MacLean cooed and gushed during their taped first-intermission sit-down with Billie Jean King. MacLean was so dazzled to be in the presence of tennis royalty that he had Kendall Coyne Schofield winning the fastest skater competition at the NHL all-star game (she finished second last) and, when corrected by King, he mostly sat in slumped silence while Slone lathered the equal rights activist in praise.

Billie Jean King

No surprise that King called on the NHL to create hockey’s version of an adopt-a-pet program and subsidize a women’s professional league. “It’s the right thing to do and I think it’ll be good business,” she said. “They can do this. They can do this. Why can’t we have 700 girls or a thousand girls playing in a league?” Earth to Billie Jean! Earth to Billie Jean! If it’ll be such “good business,” why don’t you peel off some of your personal bankroll and help fund a WNHL? And where’s your business plan? As for a women’s league with 700-1,000 players, that’s shocking naiveté. There are approximately 200 members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, and another 120 suiting up with the five NWHL clubs. Where does King propose they scare up another 380-680 elite-level female players? She’d have better luck trying to find a virgin in a brothel.

During the game, Campbell-Pascall lauded King for her work on behalf of the PWHPA, telling us she’s “moved women’s hockey forward.” Rubbish. Ponytail Puck has never been in a worse mess.

Dani Rylan

In 3½ hours, the talking heads made numerous mentions of the PWHPA, but not once did they talk about the NWHL. And that’s shameful. Sportsnet is supposed to be a news-gathering and news-distributing operation yet, on International Women’s Day, it chose to completely ignore a hockey league that has a female commissioner, a female director of its players association, female general managers, a female head coach, female broadcasters, and the only operation in North America that pays females to play shinny. At some point, they should have advised us that the Boston Pride and Minnesota Whitecaps had won their semifinal matches on Sunday and advanced to the Isobel Cup final, scheduled for puck drop on Friday in Beantown. They didn’t, and that’s just wrong.

Sportsnet’s snub of the NWHL is particularly puzzling given that Kristina Rutherford’s in-depth look at commish Dani Rylan popped up on its website Sunday. It’s a terrific read on the woman who started the NWHL from scratch and is already planning for a sixth season.

And, finally, it’s about the Brier. After nine days of incredible shot-making and last-gasp dramatics, the boys delivered a dud in the Canadian men’s curling championship final in Kingston. It was like seeing Sinatra in concert all week, then getting Nickelback for a closing act. Brad Gushue and his pals from the Rock put on a clinic in a 7-3 win, while Brendan Bottcher and his bunch from Wild Rose Country coughed up a hair ball (many of them, actually). It was all over except for the muffled celebration after three ends, and that’s not the finish this exceptional bonspiel deserved.

Let’s talk about Paul Maurice’s ruffled feathers…passing on Perry…get a grip, Coach Pollyanna…the Bettman boo birds…NHL awards night…Connor McDavid’s shoe-string budget…back up the Brinks truck for Mitch…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and happy third day of summertime, when the livin’ is easy…

This just in, kids: Those “ruffled feathers” that Paul Maurice was talking about at the close of business in April? They’ve been downgraded to “growly” and “sour.”

More to the point, when the Winnipeg Jets head coach mentioned there were “ruffled feathers” that he needed to “flatten out” before the boys reconvene in autumn for their National Hockey League preseason training exercises, it was “maybe a poor choice of words.”

Meaning? Well, we have two schools of thought here.

First, we can consider what Coach Potty Mouth said at his exit chin-wag with news snoops on the heels of Winnipeg HC’s one-and-done ouster from the Stanley Cup runoff. To refresh: “We’ve got a few ruffled feathers in there that we’re gonna have to flatten out.” Many among the rabble and at least one news snoop, Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, took that as confirmation that les Jets changing room was a house divided. “Rotten to the core,” is how Mad Mike described it, and he’s been flogging that narrative for more than two months. Without, I emphasize, a shred of hard, cold evidence to support the notion of in-fighting.

But now along comes Maurice to give his gums a workout on Friday in Vancouver, and he was reading from a different script during a half-hour natter session with news snoops. Here’s a portion of that palaver:

Mad Mike: “That ruffled feathers comment on the exit day, any more thought on that?”

Maurice (totally puzzled): “Which one was that?”

Mad Mike: “Well, you talked about ruffled feathers we need to smooth out when we come back in the fall which some people, you know, took to mean a number of things.”

Maurice (finally clued in): “Oh, it was at the end of the year…”

Mad Mike: “Ya.”

Maurice: “What’s the bigger context on that?”

Mad Mike: “Everybody didn’t like how the season ended, right?”

Maurice: “We’re all growly.”

Mad Mike: “Does time just heal all wounds in that case?”

Maurice: “You don’t want them all healed. You want to bring a little bit of that pain back. You want to keep some of that. Sour is a better word. Whether you’re right or wrong, but if you think you’re in that mix of teams that are good enough to win and you don’t win, it hurts like hell. The last thing you want is everybody coming back happy the next year. It was good enough. The golf season was longer. That’s the exact opposite mindset of what you want. Maybe I just made a poor choice of words.”

Coach PottyMo also said: “I like our room and I like the people that are building that next layer of leadership we’ve got coming in.”

Doesn’t sound dark and dire to me. Just some gibberish about a bunch of “growly” and “sour” guys really and truly PO’d because their hockey season turned into a pumpkin prematurely.

Coach PottyMo

Naturally, I wouldn’t expect Coach PottyMo to air out any dirty laundry in public, but, quite frankly, he didn’t have a clue what the hell Mad Mike was talking about when he referenced “ruffled feathers.” It was as if he’d been asked to explain why B.C. gets mountains, ocean and mild temps while Manitoba gets mosquitoes, potholes and frozen car batteries.

Still, Mad Mike insists “it’s no secret that the Jets were a fractured bunch by the end of last season.”

If there was even a sniff of substance to this “rotten to the core” narrative, I thought perhaps Jacob Trouba might let the kitty out of the burlap on his way out the door. But no. The now-departed defender talked of his fiancée, his friendships and a fresh start in Gotham, but he uttered nary a discouraging word about management, his teammates or toxicity in les Jets changing room. That’s right, crickets.

So maybe there’s no sinister story to tell. Unless someone produces a smoking gun, it’s time to move on from that narrative.

Corey Perry

Noted NHL irritant Corey Perry soon will be available to the highest bidder. Would les Jets be interested in the one-time MVP? If they sign him, consider my feathers officially ruffled.

So, if you’re a Jets loyalist, here’s what you might find bothersome, if not positively frightening: Maurice likes what he sees in the mirror. That is, he’s pushing the right buttons and don’t even think about asking him to do it any other way. “I’m not going to change the grip,” he said in Friday’s natter. “We hit the ball down the fairway an awful lot. We had one go in the water on us in the playoffs, but I’m not sure that I’m changing my clubs or my grip yet. We’ve got a pretty good hockey team.” Well, thanks for that, Coach Pollyanna. But what you’ve been doing hasn’t worked and, in case you missed the memo, you just lost one half of your top defence pairing, with Trouba swanning off to the New York Rangers. Coach Pollyanna doesn’t just need to change his grip, he needs to get a grip.

Why are so many among the rabble surprised that they don’t hear the name Blake Wheeler in trade rumors? The reason is quite simple: His bromance with Maurice. Wheeler is teacher’s pet and he isn’t going anywhere as long as Coach PottyMo is behind the pine.

Still with Maurice, a yet-to-be-identified broadcaster gave him a first-place vote in balloting for the Jack Adams Trophy as NHL coach-of-the-year. True story, that. The rest of us know that Coach PottyMo was the top bench jockey like I’m Carrie Underwood’s twin sister, so I’m guessing the culprit shall remain anonymous forever more because you don’t wet the bed then brag about it.

Commish Bettman and the Sedins.

Say this for Gary Bettman: The guy wears the villain’s robe well.

The NHL commish, naturally, was booed at the launch of Friday night’s entry draft in Vancouver, because that’s become a ritual anytime the little man with the bobbing head and needle nose steps out in public. But in this case, he turned it into a skit that was funnier than anything I saw or heard at the awards gala last week in Las Vegas.

“Wait, I have something for you which I think will change the mood,” he announced devilishly as the boos poured down like April showers.

He then walked off stage at Rogers Arena, only to resurface with a couple of fan favorites in tow—Vancouver Canucks legends Daniel and Henrik Sedin. It was good fun.

Shortly thereafter, of course, the boos resumed, and it became boorish and just bloody rude.

Oh, well, I suppose we should be grateful that Vancouverites didn’t try to burn down the town this time.

What I like most about the NHL’s annual garage sale of freshly-scrubbed teenagers: Those young men are so gosh-darn, aw-shucks polite and boy-next-door respectful during their intro interviews with Tara Slone. They’re what every mother’s son should be. If only they didn’t have to grow up and learn hockey-speak.

Anderson Whitehead and hero Carey Price.

NHL Awards Night I (the good): There are a lot of terrific people in hockey, but I can’t imagine anyone registers higher on the Nice-O-Metre than Carey Price. I mean, you don’t get many better feel-good or warm-and-fuzzy moments than the goaltender’s cameo appearance on stage to present little Anderson Whitehead with a Montreal Canadiens jersey, not to mention a trip to the all-star game. If you know the back story (Anderson lost his mom to cancer), try and watch that without getting teary-eyed. I dare you…There were three noteworthy acceptance speeches. 1. Elias Pettersson, the Canucks hot-shot frosh who copped the Calder Trophy, acknowledged the passing of Postmedia Vancouver scribe Jason Botchford. Total class from the kid. 2. Masterton Award winner Robin Lehner of the New York Islanders spoke of his struggle with addiction and mental illness, recognizing his “amazing” bride Donya, head coach Barry Trotz “for thinking of the human first,” and his medical support staff. “I’m not ashamed to say I’m mentally ill, but that doesn’t mean mentally weak,” he said in closing. Powerful stuff. 3. In accepting the Lady Byng trinket, Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers took a cheeky, irreverent shot at his team’s sparse fan base, noting, “We have more fans from Finland than from Florida here.” Ouch…Aside from little Anderson Whitehead, the big winners on the night were Jason Zucker (King Clancy Trophy for humanitarian work) and Rico Phillips (Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award)…Let’s play Jeopardy! Category: “I’ll take NICE TOUCH for $2,000 please.” Answer: “What was bringing Alex Trebek on stage to present the Hart Trophy to Nikita Kucherov?”

Connor McDavid

NHL Awards Night II (the grim): Let’s play Jeopardy! again. Category: “I’ll take LAME for $2,000 please.” Answer: “What were the jokes at the NHL awards night?”…Apparently I’m in the minority, but I thought host Kenan Thompson’s numerous attempts at giggles missed the mark. His opening monologue: Lame. His skits: Lame. His impersonations: Lame. Unfortunately, Thompson had (bad) company. The nattering blonde woman prattling on about the various nominees: Lame. The Good Burger guy: Totally lame. The Tony Babcock character (a takeoff on the unfunny Ron Bergundy): Insufferably lame (although he believed himself to be quite the cut-up, because he kept laughing at his own jokes). Overall entertainment grade: F…Just wondering, do NHL players no longer wear socks?…Every time the camera focused on Connor McDavid, he looked like a guy in search of the nearest exit. I swear, he hasn’t looked that sad since the day the Edmonton Oilers won the lottery in his draft year…You’d think that with an annual wage of $12.5 million, McDavid could afford a belt to hold up his trousers. I mean, really. An old skate lace? Talk about a shoe-string budget…I’m surprised P.K. Subban doesn’t have an endorsement deal with French’s mustard. He is, after all, the biggest hot dog in hockey…Is it just me, or does former Jeopardy! champion James Holzhauer seem really geeky and stiff? But, hey, I guess when you have more than $2 million worth of trivial information stored in your brain pan, it’s cool to be geeky and stiff.

If Kevin Hayes is worth $7.14 million per annum, Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs might as well park the Brinks truck at Mitch Marner’s front door and leave the keys. Seriously. Hayes has never produced more than 55 points in an NHL crusade. Marner has that many by Christmas. By my count, 44 centre-ice men had more points than Hayes last season, but he’ll be ahead of about 40 of them in the pay queue. I never thought of Philly Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher as a sucker before, but another signing like Hayes and they’ll be calling him Lollipop.

And, finally, nothing GM Kevin Cheveldayoff did this weekend in Vancouver improved the Jets. Does anyone expect anything different once the free agent season opens?