Let’s talk about empty seats in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie after COVID-19…what’s on my book shelf?…tee times…horrible takes on Ponytail Puck…a bull session with Chris Streveler in the Drab Slab…and other things on my mind

There’s been much natter about National Hockey League millionaires returning this summer to perform in front of empty seats in four select cities, none of which will be named Winnipeg (reportedly).

That’s a deep concern because the NHL is a gate-driven enterprise.

There is, however, a greater fret and threat looming. Try this: How many of those empty seats will remain unoccupied once the faithful have been given the okie-dokie to gather in groups and return to rinks hither and yon?

The Jets have made due with 15,000 and change at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie since 2011 and, once they’ve finished feeding at the public trough, it’s believed there’s black ink on the bottom line of the balance sheet. The profit is likely minimal, but we don’t know for certain because True North Sports+Entertainment has never been eager to open its books, even as it smugly expects the rabble to continue opening their wallets.

Unfortunately, the scourge that is COVID-19 has many thousands of workers also feeding from the public trough, and some of them won’t have a job at the far end of the pandemic.

It’s tough to part with thousands of dollars in support of the players’ millionaire lifestyles when you’re on pogey.

So let’s say the Jets lose 1,000 customers post-COVID-19 and can’t replace them. Is the NHL doable in Good Ol’ Hometown with just 14K in the pews? Well, when the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011, I seem to recall NHL commish Gary Bettman saying something about sellouts and SRO audiences being the absolute, no-margin-for-error requirement.

If so, 14,000 customers won’t cut it.

Oh, sure, the Jets boast of a robust wait list, so any available tickets would be scooped up faster than toilet paper at the start of the pandemic. But whoa Nellie. That was pre-COVID-19. The game has changed. It costs $100 (non-refundable) per annum to stay on that list, and $50 (non-refundable) to get on that list. Know anyone with a spare C-note or 50-dollar bill lying around these days, just in the hope of spending in excess of $1,000 to watch the millionaires frolic on the local freeze?

This isn’t meant to be a doomsday essay. It’s simply a cautionary note that once there’s a vaccine and the NHL arrives at its “new normal,” crowd concern might not be limited to warm-weather locales like Sunrise, Fla, and Glendale, Ariz. It might hit hard at the frost-bitten heart of the continent as well.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been catching up on my reading during the COVID-19 lockdown. So far, these have been my favorite books:

  • My Pants Were Always Lower Than My Score: The Sex Scandal That Sank Tiger Woods, In His Own Words.

  • If It’s Too Late for a Prenup, I’m Totally Screwed: The Tiger Woods Tell-All About Infidelity and Divorce (with special forward by Elin Nordegren).

  • I Bit Off More Than I Could Chew: Mike Tyson Recounts the Night He Made a Snack Out of Evander Holyfield’s Ear.

  • D’oh Canada! The Duping of a Dope: The Rise and Fall of Ben Johnson at the Seoul Olympics.

  • Deflated: Who Really Let the Air Out of Tom Brady’s Balls (with special forward by Gisele Bundchen)?

  • The Dead Speak Scrolls: Complete Transcripts of Everything Bill Belichick has Ever Said that the Media Understood (Total number of pages-2).

  • Serena Williams

    I’ll Shove This %$#% Ball Down Your *%$#% Throat: Memoirs of Serena Williams at the U.S. Open.

  • Grey Cup and the Groupie: E! News Canada Takes A Deep Dive Into the Glen Suitor-Keith Urban Broadcast Booth Bromance (with special forward by Nicole Kidman).

  • You People: The Official Don Cherry Code of Conduct for Wannabe Canadians, where the former star of Coach’s Corner explains Milk & Honey & Poppies & EVERYTHINK LIKE THAT!

  • Still Searching In A White Ford Bronco After All These Years: O.J. Simpson Takes Us to Various Golf Courses In His Hunt for the Real Killers.

Speaking of golf, it looks like some courses across the land will be opening next month (a few in my neck of the woods never closed). I haven’t swung the sticks in more than 12 years, but I’ve been thinking about my ideal foursome were I ever to tee it up again. This is it: Moi, Alison Krauss, Babs Streisand and, of course, Jesus, because I figure that walk-on-water thing might come in handy given my skill level.

Oh drat. The Scripps National Spelling Bee in the U.S. has fallen victim to COVID-19, canceled for the first time since World War II. Such a shame. I was really looking forward to watching 10-year-old kids make me feel like a complete doofus again. Or is that spelled d-u-f-u-s? Or d-o-o-f-a-s? Or d-u-f-is? Or d-u-f-f-a-s? Geez, where’s a 10-year-old whiz kid when you really need one?

I note that Scotiabank Arena in the Republic of Tranna is now a kitchen, where they’re cooking 10,000 meals a day for front-line health workers, their families and the needy. Just wondering: How will the Tranna media make that feel-good story about Drake?

So, the National Women’s Hockey League has added an expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna and, not surprisingly, at least one of the Dream Gappers (Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association) couldn’t resist the urge to take a cheap shot at the team to be named later. That would be Liz Knox, who attempted to paint NWHL execs as uncaring, tone-deaf oafs for conducting business during the pandemic. “It’s difficult to imagine expansion being at the forefront of many business strategies,” she snarked in a text message. Oh, for sure, Liz. No businesses should look ahead to the day COVID-19 is behind us. The NHL shouldn’t make plans to finish its season or begin the 2020-21 crusade. The National Football League shouldn’t have conducted its draft last week. And, hey, Roger Federer has no business talking about a marriage between the women’s and men’s pro tennis tours. All sports operations should just sit and twiddle their thumbs. What a pathetic take, but totally in line with the PWHPA hate-on for the NWHL, which refuses to get out of the Dream Gappers’ way.

Tim & Sid granted air time on Sportsnet to another Dream Gapper, Natalie Spooner, who informed the boys that the PWHPA will “keep fighting for what we deserve.” Part of what they claim they “deserve” is a living wage, but none of the Dream Gappers has ever explained how anyone can pay for it.

Second worst take on the NWHL franchise in The ROT came from (who else?) Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna.

“It has been officially announced that Toronto has been awarded an expansion team in the National Women’s Hockey League,” he scribbled without allowing his grey matter and fingers to connect. “What hasn’t been announced: the team’s name; the team’s logo; the team’s venue. And some of those things, if not all of them, can make an outsider rather skeptical and troubled about the future of this kind of endeavour. You don’t gain credibility by announcing a team with no name, no place to play, and no big-name players. When you have all that in place, then make the announcement. The press release referred to the expansion team as a ‘first class team of professionals.’ Time will answer that, but the new Toronto Whatevers are not off to a great start.”

Really? There’s no credibility without a team name, a team logo or big-name players? Like the NHL’s expansion franchise in Seattle? The one that was announced in December 2018 and, 16 months later, remains without a team name, a team logo or any players. Or like the NHL Las Vegas expansion franchise that was announced in June 2016 without a team name, a team logo or any players? Or like the Jets, who arrived in Winnipeg sans a team name or a team logo in 2011?

Or does that lack of “credibility” only apply to female shinny outfits with no name, no logo and no big-name players at startup?

Simmons is on record as saying Ponytail Puck is a “charade,” so he’d be wise to concentrate on Golden Boy Auston Matthews’ mustache, Phil Kessel’s hot dog stand and Drake’s clown act, and leave the women’s game to news snoops who actually care and know something about it.

This week in jock journalism…

Jason Bell of the Drab Slab wins the prize for best off-beat yarn, with his piece on a Charolais bull named after Chris Streveler, former Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback and party boy. Streveler the bull is 1,499 pounds of pure Western Manitoba beef on the hoof—about the same as the entire Bombers O-line—and the brute recently sold for a whopping $45,000 at the Nykoliation family auction. The way Jason tells the story, 50 bulls were sold that day for $335,000, or about the value of a Tier-II starting QB in the Canadian Football League…I monitored bylines in the Winnipeg Sun from last Sunday through Saturday, and here’s the scorecard: Postmedia bylines 32; Toronto bylines 21; Winnipeg bylines 15; lady rassler bylines (Natalya Neidhart) 1. I swear, if I ever win Lotto Max, I’ll offer Postmedia the $1 Cdn. that the tabloid is worth today and convert it back to a local newspaper with local stories and enough scribes to actually cover the city…The NFL’s remote draft received favorable reviews from Bombers play-by-play guy Knuckles Irving and Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab. Here’s Knuckles on Twitter: “Watching the NFL draft and once again it’s completely apparent that no sports entity in the world can deliver elaborately choreographed, brilliantly produced, dragged out, mind-numbing TV hype like the NFL. Man are they good at it. Gotta be impressed.” And here’s Mad Mike: “You’ve got to hand it to the National Football League. Real life handed the league a lemon—in this case, the COVID-19 pandemic—but they showed why they’re the world’s most popular and successful sports operation by turning it into glorious, refreshing lemonade.” I never watched one second of the production, so I’ll just have to take their word for it…Laura Armstrong of the Toronto Star misses sports and feels guilty about it. I don’t miss sports and feel guilty about it. Hmmm. I never thought of COVID-19 as a guilt trip, but apparently that’s what it is.

Jesse Stone and Thelma, one of his many female admirers.

And, finally, I went on a Jesse Stone movie binge last week. Watched all nine of the made-for-TV flicks. Jesse, played by Tom Selleck, is a scotch-swilling, non-smiling wreck of a cop so hung up on his ex-wife that he talks to her long distance every night. Between benders, sessions with his ex-wife’s shrink, and trying to figure out how to work a cellphone, Jesse always catches the bad guys in Paradise, Mass. He probably drinks too much caffeine, but Jesse’s coffee breath isn’t a turnoff to the ladies in Paradise. Apparently the woman who can resist his dimples has yet to be born. Jesse always gets the girl. And I do mean always. Tall, short, black, white, young, old…every woman falls prey to Jesse’s dimples and must dine or do lunch with him. Even a nun, Sister Mary John! It’s quite silly stuff, really. So why do I like it so much?

Let’s talk about female and gay power at the Super Bowl…sexism in the NBA and Russia…Matt Nichols’ next move…Kobe’s halo…news snoops in a snit…Looch a lamb in the slaughter…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and it’s Super Sunday, but you won’t find anything super here…

At some point today, we’ll see Katie Sowers on our flatscreens and another brick in the wall will come tumbling down.

Katie Sowers

Katie, you see, is female and gay, and females and gays aren’t supposed to be central players in the Super Bowl game, North America’s greatest gulp of sporting over-indulgence. Females, after all, know nothing about football (just ask any male lump sitting on a nearby bar stool or in a man cave) and gays are a distraction (ask Tony Dungy about that).

Except many of us know that simply isn’t true.

If Katie’s been a distraction down there in Miami, it’s only because she’s a she who does know football, and news snoops have sought her out for sound bites and anecdotal tidbits about the challenges of a societal double whammy—being female and a lesbian in an environment that registers 10.0 on the testosterone meter.

Never before has a woman attracted so much attention at the National Football League’s showcase event, at least not since Janet Jackson allowed Justin Timberlake to play peek-a-boo with her right breast. And, on that matter, many lumps on many bar stools no doubt will fix their eyeballs on today’s halftime proceedings, hoping for a re-enactment of Janet J’s wardrobe malfunction, only this time it would be pieces of either JLo’s or Shakira’s skimpy outfits falling off.

But I digress.

Sowers is in Miami this very day as one of the San Francisco 49ers’ offensive strategists attempting to plot ways of confounding and confusing the Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive 11 in Super Bowl LIV, and if you don’t care that she’s the first woman and lesbian to coach in the gridiron colossus, I suggest you’re among the 50 per cent of the population that isn’t female and 95 per cent of the population that isn’t gay.

This is huge. For women. For the LGBT collective. And it should be for society.

But we hear the same questions every time a gay athlete wiggles her or his way into the spotlight, don’t we? Like: Does anybody really need to know who’s lying beside them when the lights go out at night? If they want to be treated equal, why do they insist on making themselves out to be special just because they’re gay? Why can’t the gays just shut up about it already?

Well, it’s a big deal because too large a segment of society still makes the choice of bedmates and romantic partners a big deal. Gays can lose jobs because of it. They can be denied jobs because of it. They can be denied service because of it. They can be denied housing because of it. They are bullied and beaten up because of it.

Sowers knows all about that, because her alma mater, Goshen College in Indiana, once rejected her as a volunteer hoops coach simply because she prefers the company of women.

“There were prospective students’ parents that were concerned that if there was a lesbian coach, their daughter might catch the gay or whatever it might be, because people might think it’s contagious,” is how she remembers it.

What’s that you say? That was more than 10 years ago? Well, lend an ear to Steve Sanders, an associate professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law.

“What happened to Sowers could still happen, depending on the place and jurisdiction,” Sanders told the Indianapolis Star. “Many people are surprised that the legal protections from anti-gay and lesbian discrimination remain so spotty. If you’re gay or lesbian, you can get married one day and, at least in some jurisdictions, be fired from your job the next day.”

Goshen, a Christian school, recently delivered a mea culpa for its shoddy and shameful treatment of Sowers, but that doesn’t excuse the reality that gays continue to be marginalized today.

As do women in sports.

Marcus Morris

Or perhaps you didn’t catch Marcus Morris’ sexist spewings the other night after his New York Knicks had absorbed a good and proper paddywhacking from the Memphis Grizzlies. Morris didn’t appreciate Jae Crowder’s (perceived) theatrics on the Madison Square Garden hardwood, thus he told news snoops that the Memphis forward has “a lot of female tendencies” like “flopping and throwing his head back.”

Oh, yes, females be flopping and head tossing, Marcus.

Lest anyone misinterpret his remarks, Morris then described Crowder as “soft, very woman-like.” None of that was meant to be complimentary. It was meant to shame a foe as a lesser-than. A woman.

So, yes, Katie Sowers’ emergence as a Super Bowl coach is a “big deal.”

No doubt girls and women will see, or hear about, Sowers and ask themselves, “Why not me?” Ditto LGBT youth. It builds belief in self. Isn’t that something we should want for everyone?

It’s not just about generating dreams, though.

Sowers is breaking a barrier, but knocking down a door only matters if it opens up a mind. Maybe, just maybe, her presence will convince the anti-gay constituency and misogynistic lumps on bar stools, in man caves and in men’s pro sports that women and gays aren’t lesser-thans.

I doubt it, but we can always hope.

Adam Silver

It’s never a surprise to hear sexist squawkings from male athletes, but it seems shamefully out of place in the National Basketball Association, which features 11 female assistant coaches, a female assistant general manager, and four female referees. Moreover, 13 Women’s NBA whistleblowers are female, and there are another 25 in the NBA G League. So Morris’ bleatings fly in the face of the NBA’s admirable and industry-leading diversity practices, and I’m sure commish Adam Silver was not amused.

At some point, it must have occurred to Morris that he has a mother, thus he offered a mea culpa which was as laughable as his comments were ill-advised. He claims to have spoken in “the heat of the moment,” except he went off on Crowder a full 15 minutes after the Knicks and Grizzlies had engaged in a game-ending rutting session. “I have the utmost respect for women and everything they mean to us,” he insisted in his apology. “I never intended for any women to feel as though in anyway I’m disrespecting them.” Right. And every time a jock coughs up a gay slur, he claims: “That isn’t who I am. I have gay friends.”

Stephanie Ready of The Bounce had perhaps the most interesting take on the Morris sound bites: “I personally take offence to that,” she told panelists Quentin Richardson and Caron Butler. “I personally am offended by the statement. I also happen to know that women are just inherently tougher than men, that’s the reason why we give birth and you guys don’t.” The boys squirmed and fought off any urge to debate the point.

Rachel Llanes

Sexism is alive and well in Mother Russia, and Emily Kaplan of ESPN provides the evidence in an excellent article on the Kontinental Hockey Leauge-sponsored Women’s Hockey League. “(Rachel) Llanes was one of several women to demonstrate skills at the KHL All Star Game,” she writes, “but she was told she had to get her hair and makeup done before going on the ice. The KHL put out a promotional calendar for the WHL—which featured players posing naked, covered only by plants.” Sounds like a cosmetics marketing campaign for Cover Girl: Faceoffs and Fig Leaves.

Hey, come to think of it, if we ever get a Women’s National Hockey League franchise in the Republic of Tranna, we have the perfect team name—the Toronto Maple Fig Leafs.

Llanes, who plays for the sole Chinese-based outfit in Russia’s WHL, decided that fig leaves aren’t one size fits all and took a pass on becoming a calendar girl. “Part of being over here, you have to accept culture, even though there are some things you don’t agree with,” she told Kaplan. “The calendar, for example, I definitely don’t want to be in that. But it’s just the culture. Some things you can fight, some things you just go with. I’m playing hockey for a living. I don’t need to complain.”

Matt Nichols

You know that old bromide about an athlete can’t lose a job due to injury? Well, fuggedaboutit. Matt Nichols was laid low by a shoulder owie last August, and he’ll never take another snap for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Not ever. I’m not saying the Grey Cup champions were wrong to discard their now-former starting quarterback like a banana peel, but I feel bad for the guy. I mean, no one in the western precinct of the Canadian Football League is looking for an aging, brittle QB. Ditto Montreal, Ottawa and the Hammer in the east. Which leaves only the Tranna Argos. Hmmm. Bombers to the Boatmen. That’s like telling a kid who just won a trip to Disneyland that he’ll be going to the dentist instead.

Kobe Bryant is dead and grown men and women weep while the hosannas continue to pour down on the former Los Angeles Lakers great like wet stuff in a Brazilian rainforest. Fine. But here’s what I don’t get: Why is it considered bad manners for scribes and talking heads to tilt Kobe’s halo by mentioning his rape case in 2003? It happened, it was a huge story, and no retro look at the life and times of Bryant is complete without it. So spare me the gnarly discord.

Gianna and Kobe

Thoughtful piece by Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab on media reaction to the helicopter crash that killed Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and “seven others” last Sunday. Like Mad Mike, I find it curious that so little attention has been paid to victims three-through-nine—John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah and Payton Chester, Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan. It’s as if their lives didn’t matter.

Having said that, I don’t need Mad Mike telling me that I should “learn all I can” about the “seven others.” It’s enough that I’m saddened that they’re gone, especially the children. I’m not sure what it is about news snoops who feel the need to tell us what we should be thinking and how we should be reacting. I mean, Mad Mike wants us to study up on seven dead people, and a week ago Cassie Campbell-Pascall informed us we “better start” watching women’s hockey. Or what? She’ll show up on our doorstep carrying a court summons? If it’s all the same to them, I’ll choose my own reading material and my own entertainment.

High-Class Snit of the Week: “Alex Steen blew off media post-game, and the team’s PR staff—who said earlier in the day he would for sure speak—wouldn’t make him available, after playing his 1,000th game in his hometown and with all kinds of interview requests. Absolute joke,” Mad Mike tweeted after Saturday night’s skirmish between the St. Loo Blues and Winnipeg Jets at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie. Not to be outdone, Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun chimed in with this: “Alex Steen, given a nice tribute by the Jets and a nicer one from the fans who stood to recognize his 1000th NHL game tonight, refused to talk to the media after the game. Classless.” I have just three words for that level of media whinging: Boo freaking hoo.

Looch

Watched the Edmonton Oilers take Calgary to the slaughter house on Saturday night, so remind me again why the Flames recruited Milan Lucic. Oh, that’s right. To be the team guard dog. To provide some spine. Yet when all hell broke loose between the bitter rivals twice in four nights, where was the Looch? Playing innocent bystander. Looch spent 27 minutes, 34 seconds on the ice during the latest home-and-home installment in the Battle of Alberta, and here’s what he had to show for it: 0 goals, 1 assist, 0 time in the brig. Cripes, man, Calgary keeper Cam Talbot had a fight and two roughing penalties. Turtle Man Tkachuk chucked knuckles twice. Sean Monahan and Buddy Robinson dropped the mitts. Yet the supposed meanest dude on either side of the fray went all Switzerland. And they’re paying him $5.25 million for that?

Just a thought: It must really rot Don Cherry’s socks that he no longer has his Hockey Night In Canada pulpit to squawk about the kind of hoorawing that we saw from the Oilers and Flames. And, to think, he was silenced because of poppies.

Kasperi Kapanen of the Maple Leafs was scratched from the lineup Saturday night for what was described as “internal accountability.” Just wondering: Is that an upper or lower body injury?

Rafa Nadal

Since the start of the 2017 tennis season, here’s the scoreboard for men’s Grand Slam titles: Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic 13, Rest of World 0. The last player not named Nadal, Federer or Djokovic to win one of the four majors? Stan Wawrinka, at the 2016 U.S. Open. (Footnote: In the same time frame on the women’s side, there have been 11 different champions, with only Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka winning twice.)

And, finally, I’d really like San Fran to win today’s Super Bowl skirmish because of Katie Sowers. I just don’t think they will.

Let’s talk about Mike O’Shea feeding Chris Streveler to the wolves…CFL MOP candidates…Coach PottyMo’s milestone…scandal brewing in The ROT…the price of hot dogs and beer…Shapo gets it done…a Yankee-free World Series…and autumn leaves

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if you’re old enough to vote today, you’re old enough to do the right thing…

Okay, it’s agreed. Chris Streveler is one tough dude.

I mean, someone could huck a live grenade down the guy’s pants and he might miss a play or two while medics re-attached both his legs with a tube of Gorilla Glue and some Scotch Tape. But he’d be back in the fray pronto.

Chris Streveler

We know this because Streveler, when last seen, was walking like a man who’d just let a Rottweiler use his right ankle for a chew toy. While a dingo gnawed on his right wrist.

The Calgary Stampeders didn’t just chew him up and spit him out on Saturday night in the Alberta foothills. They turned him into a blue-and-gold pinata. I haven’t seen one man take that bad a beating since Mel Gibson let the Romans thrash Jesus Christ for two hours.

Somebody should have called a cop. And arrest Mike O’Shea.

Apparently Coach Grunge was the only person who didn’t notice that his starting quarterback’s body parts were strewn all over the field at McMahon Stadium. Wrist at the 40-yard stripe. Ribs at the 52. Ankle at the 35.

Instead of turning over control of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers offence to understudy Sean McGuire or newby Zach Collaros in the last-gasp moments of a Canadian Football League game that was every bit the barroom brawl, Coach Grunge instructed the much-mangled Streveler to finish what he had started, even though he belonged in ICU rather than a mosh pit of large, angry men. It was like telling Custer to have another go at Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and their braves.

The result was predictable, of course. Streveler, try as he might, was unable to muster another score and the Bombers were left wanting in a 37-33 loss that exhausted their aspirations of a first-place finish.

Coach Grunge

But never mind regular-season bragging rights. It’s about O’Shea’s refusal to sit Streveler down when there’s another weighty dosey doe with the Stampeders on Friday night, not to mention November football when there are no more excuses or tomorrows.

Streveler is O’Shea’s guy, we know that, so why did Coach Grunge jeopardize his health and Winnipeg FC’s playoff aspirations?

“You trust your players,” he told news snoops after the fact. “If he says he can go, he can go. At this time of year all these guys are nicked up, but obviously Strev got a little nicked up in that game.”

A little nicked up? Ya, like Evander Holyfield’s ear was just a “little nicked up” after Mike Tyson had it for a late-night snack.

It was reckless coaching, the sort of thing I thought O’Shea had gotten past. But no. Apparently, someone will have to saw off one of Streveler’s legs at the hip and hand the limb to Coach Grunge before he considers an alternative course of action at the most important position on the field.

And it isn’t good enough that Streveler wanted to re-enter the skirmish due to some warrior code.

“When guys do that they just, they’re putting it on the line for teammates,” said O’Shea. “They wanna be out there for ’em, they just love working for their teammates.”

Look, we all know professional athletes are wired differently than us mere mortals. Broken ankle? No biggie. It’s a long way from the heart, kid. Walk it off. Sometimes, however, they need to be protected from themselves. This was one of those times, and O’Shea ignored the risks because that’s the way he played the game. Balls to the wall, baby.

That’s what Coach Grunge knows best. That’s what got him into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. And Streveler has that same linebacker mentality. It’s admirable. But dumb for a QB.

Just not as dumb as a head coach allowing it to happen.

Speedy B

So who do you like for the Most Outsanding Player Award in the CFL? I’ve got Speedy B of the Hamilton Tabbies, but Reggie Begelton of the Stampeders is closing fast on the inside. And, yes, even though the B.C. Leos have been a bust, Bryan Burnham warrants consideration because he’s a human highlight reel and the trinket goes to the most outstanding player, not most valuable.

I fully expect the Winnipeg chapter of the football writers to nominate Andrew Harris as the local MOP candidate, but I’d vote for Willie Jefferson. Sorry, but Harris is a tainted tailback.

Coach PottyMo

On the subject of head coaches, a tip of the bonnet to Paul Maurice, whose Winnipeg Jets outlasted the Edmonton McDavids, 1-nada in a shootout, on Sunday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie. If you’re scoring at home—and aren’t we all?—that gives Coach Potty Mouth 700 Ws as a National Hockey League bench puppeteer, and I say that deserves something more than the sound of one hand clapping.

Got a kick out of Blake Wheeler’s reaction to Coach PottyMo’s milestone. “What an accomplishment,” said the Jets captain, who also happens to be teacher’s pet. “Obviously, been in the game a long time, he’s turned into an old man on us and, you know, I think the biggest quality of Paul is his ability to adapt to different seasons and different teams. Throughout his tenure as a coach, I think that’s why he’s had such great longevity. Players never tune him out, never get sick of his message, ’cause he’s able to keep it fresh and refreshing, and I think when you see teams really fall off and really struggling big time it’s ’cause the players stop buying into the coach’s message. Not even close to what’s happening here.” No, they only tuned out Coach PottyMo in Carolina (twice), Toronto, and Russia.

Hey, I’m not here to scoff at or trivialize Coach PottyMo’s accomplishment. Just to prove it, I won’t even mention that his 624 losses put him No. 1 on the NHL all-time loser list.

I don’t know about you, but the Jets are exactly what I figured them to be this crusade, which is to say all over the map. Really, nobody should be surprised by their herky-jerky start, and I suspect it’ll be like this for the long haul. Question is, will .500 hockey be good enough to get them to Beard Season?

Matthews and Marner

Oh, dear, is there a controversy—indeed, a scandal—brewing in the Republic of Tranna? I ask that, because Mitch Marner says he wants to skate alongside his good buddy Auston Matthews. “Hopefully,” he told news snoops on Sunday, “we do play together a little more often.” Does this mean young Mitch’s feathers are ruffled? Is he calling his coach, Mike Babcock, a bit of a bozo? Is he saying he considers John Tavares a slug? Of course not. And nobody’s nose appears to be out of joint in The ROT. It’s strictly meh stuff, unlike in Good Ol’ Hometown after Patrik Laine expressed similar sentiments about his role with the Jets. Puck Finn told a Finnish reporter that he wanted to play with the big dogs, Rink Rat Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, and that was interpreted as a mortal slap at Coach PottyMo and centre Bryan Little. A tempest ensued. Big headlines. Puck Finn texted an apology to Little. Didn’t matter. Many among the rabble wanted him on the first stage out of town. Some jock journos suggested he zip his lips. I’d never thought of local news snoops as bigger drama queens than the mob in The ROT, but apparently they are.

The old barn on Maroons Road.

As a folo to my Sunday post, whereby I mentioned something about a beer and a hot dog costing more at a Jets game today than an admission ticket in 1974, this was the going rate back in the day at Winnipeg Arena: Reds $7, Blues $6, Nosebleed $4. There was also a promo that allowed a parent to purchase a seat in the greys at the old barn on Maroons Road for the regular $4 fare, plus a second seat for their son or daughter for $2. Buy the kid a hot dog and Coke, and you were still under a 10-dollar bill for the night. Now the hot dog alone is $10.

Came across this interesting tidbit from my first boss at the Winnipeg Tribune, legendary scribe Jack Matheson: “You Read It Here First Dept.: The Jets will be long gone by 1976 because too many big business people in this town are big four-flushers,” he wrote in October 1974. Matty was out by 20 years, but his prediction came true, nonetheless. And he was spot-on in reasoning why the Jets would disappear. As he forecast, they split for Phoenix because none of the high rollers in town were interested in losing money.

Denis Shapovalov

Our guy Denis Shapovalov has finally won an ATP tournament, besting Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, 6-4, 6-4 on Sunday, and let’s not quibble about the Stockholm Open having less glitz and glam than in the past. A win is a win is a win, and anytime you can put your name in the same grouping as tennis legends Bjorn Borg, Arthur Ashe, John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg, Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, Boris Becker and Roger Federer you’ve done alright for yourself. They’re all past champions in Stockholm, so I’d say Shapo is keeping good company.

I must say, I’d be more interested in the World Series if the New York Yankees were involved. Not that I like the Yankees. Can’t stand the Yankees, because I was weaned on the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers and the damn Yankees always seemed to have our number. So I like to see them lose in the annual Fall Classic. As it is, neither the Houston Astros or Washington Nationals do it for me. Should be boffo pitching, though.

And, finally, this tweet from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “The autumn colors are spectacular this time of the year.” What, as opposed to the autumn colors in winter, spring and summer?

Let’s talk about Willie J. and the big, bad Winnipeg Blue Bombers D-men…the Studly Sophomore QB…the road to the Grey Cup goes through River City…oh so dumb in E-Town…Bianca, Bianca, Bianca!…the value of a 14-goal season…Coach PottyMo talks and talks and talks…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and we’re a bit behind schedule due to a swimming pool in my apartment, which is a little too close to the Pacific Ocean for my liking…

Whenever his universe unfolds as it should, Cody Fajardo likes to say his good fortune was a “sprinkling of Jesus.”

Well, unfortunately for Corn Dog Cody, he had a “sprinkling” of Willie Jefferson and friends on Saturday afternoon at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, and that seldom ends well for a quarterback.

So, as much as many among the rabble will rain hosannas down on Chris Streveler for his work in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 35-10 paddywhacking of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they might want to send a few atta boys in the direction of Richie Hall’s defensive dozen.

The Winnipeg D-men had a thing or two to prove, of course, because it was only a week ago when they coughed up a hairball the size of a St. Bernard’s head, costing the Bombers a W in the opening gambit of a home-and-home dosey doe with Gang Green. You had to know they were still licking that open wound when they arrived at the local ballyard for a sold out Banjo Bowl and, sure enough, they had a serious grouch on.

Fajardo never had a chance, but I suppose even Jesus needs a day off now and then.

Jefferson, naturally, was in the middle of the hell-raising with a bunch of tackles, a couple of QB take-downs and a forced fumble, and if there’s a better D-man in the Canadian Football League he’s yet to show his face. Give Willie J. the top-defender trinket now and be done with it.

Meantime, it’s about Streveler. You’re right. Matt Nichols couldn’t have done what the studly sophomore QB pulled off v. the Riders. I mean, that 17-yard scamper on second-and-17 from their own three-yard stripe? The one that pushed Winnipeg FC from one end of the pitch to the other and a 7-0 lead they refused to relinquish? In Nichols’ dreams. Scattering wannabe Sask. tacklers like so many bowling pins? In Nichols’ dreams, baby. But if you believe head coach Mike O’Shea will allow the 2-1 Studly Soph to keep the ball once Nichols returns from the repair shop, you also believe a unicorn will win next year’s Kentucky Derby. It ain’t gonna happen, kids.

What does this ninth W tell us about Winnipeg FC? Try this: In the past month, the Bombers have had first-place throw-downs with three clubs. Here are the results:
Aug. 8 v. Calgary Stampeders    26-24 W
Aug. 23 v. Edmonton Eskimos   34-28 W
Sept. 7 v. Saskatchewan*            35-10 W (* without Nichols, Andrew Harris, Lucky Whitehead, Nic Demski)
So there is no quarrel. Those three Prairie outfits have to go through the guys in the blue-and-gold kits if they expect to be playing football on the last Sunday in November, and I guess we haven’t been able to say that since 2011.

Bo Levi Mitchell

Right now, I really don’t want to hear a lot of blah, blah, blah about the Stampeders. Ya, Bo Levi Mitchell is back in harness and Bo is being Bo. The thing is, I’d be really impressed by the Cowpokes dusting the Eskimos in both ends of their two-game Alberta to-and-fro, except E-Town has either the dumbest players in the CFL or the dumbest head. I’m just not sure which one it is.

On a similar subject, old friend Rod Black had a d’oh moment when he described Bombers kicker Justin Medlock as “the ageless wonder” during the TSN broadcast. Come on, Blackie. The guy’s only 35 for cripes sake. That ain’t old for a kicker. Weren’t Bob Cameron and Lui Passaglia still thumping footballs well into the sixties?

Mike Benevides and his ill-fitting suit returned to the TSN squawk box panel this weekend and had this to say about the Bytown RedBlacks: “If they can find a way to get something done, they’ve got a lot to do.” What the hell does that even mean?

Bianca Andreescu

Bianca Andreescu. Canadian. Grand Slam tennis champion. Well I never. Seriously. I began covering and writing about tennis in 1971 and, over the years, I often wondered why smaller countries Sweden and Switzerland could crank out elite players like Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg, Mats Wilander, Martina Hingis, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, while the best we could do was turncoat Greg Rusedski and Darling Carling Bassett. Then along came the close-but-no-cigar careers of Milos Raonic and Genie Bouchard. But now we have the marvel that is Bianca Andreescu, women’s singles champion of the U.S. Open after her victory over the neighborhood bully, Serena Williams, on Saturday in Queens, NYC. I’m not sure where Bianca’s achievement ranks in Canadian sports folklore, because that takes in a lot of territory, but I started watching sports when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn and it’s surely in my personal top five.

This just in: Auston Matthews has a mustache. Stayed tuned while media in the Republic of Tranna discuss Boy Wonder’s facial foliage with Drake.

Got a kick out of this post on the TSN Twitter account: “Raiders officially release disgruntled receiver Antonio Brown.” Disgruntled? That’s like saying WWII was a pillow fight.

Clayton Keller

I believe it’s safe to say Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka won’t be receiving a thank-you note from his counterpart with the Winnipeg Jets anytime soon. Chayka, you see, did Kevin Cheveldayoff a total dirty by agreeing to pay Clayton Keller an average wage of $7.15 million over eight years, and if I’m the mouthpiece for Patrick Laine or Kyle Connor there’s no chance I’m settling for a dime less than Keller coin. I mean, Keller scored 14 goals last winter. Four-freaking-teen! Puck Finn had more than that in one month. He more than doubled it (30) in an “off” season. Connor lit it up 34 times. So, short of getting them and their agents high on whacky tabacky, how can Chevy possibly convince his two blue-chip restricted free agents that reupping for less than Keller is the right thing to do? I’m not sure there’s enough quality Mary Jane in all of Manitoba to pull that off.

According to CapFriendly, Chevy has $15 million and David Thomson’s couch change to play with in trying to satisfy Puck Finn/Connor and fill out his NHL roster, which now numbers 20 players (maximum 23). Do the math. Unless his bean counters are David Copperfield, Penn, Teller and Criss Angel, Chevy is royally pooched.

We all have our ways of getting kicks, and for Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders it appears seeing unsigned NHL restricted free agents squirm is his thing. “I think it’s kind of fun,” he told Sportsnet’s 31 Thoughts podcast. “It gives the league a little bit of excitement.” We’ll see how much fun and how exciting it is next year when it’s young Matt’s turn to take a spin on the unsigned RFA squirm-mobile.

Coach Potty Mo

So, Murat Ates had a chin-wag with Paul Maurice that was so staggering in length that he felt obliged to run it as a two-parter in The Athletic and, after digesting 90 per cent of the marathon blah-blah-blah, here’s my main takeaway: Coach Potty Mouth has given captain Blake Wheeler—or any of les Jets, for that matter—permission to be a total dink to news snoops.

“He lathers himself for the lack of a better word,” the Winnipeg HC head coach told Ates. “He gets himself wired to the point that, when you ask a question 10 minutes after a game, you’re going to get some edge on your question. And that’s true. That’s the confrontation he’s just been through for an hour so he gives you a bit of that. Let him breathe for 10 seconds and he’s going to answer your question. Most players—most people—will do one or the other. It’s either all emotional and they don’t have the capacity or the grace to give you a nuanced answer or, what I’m sure bothers you guys sometimes, is that there’s no emotion—it’s all out of the book. Blake’s unusual in that he’ll show you both sides to him and that’s what makes him great.”

Blake Wheeler aka Captain F-Bomb

In other words, belligerent Blake might tell you to “fuck off,” as he did to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun last spring, but that’s okay because he’ll still answer your question. That’s his “greatness as a leader.”

Spare me. Sure, Wheeler is wired after a game. So are 700 other guys in the NHL.

You think Sidney Crosby isn’t wired after a tough day at the office? Like after a playoff ouster? Damn straight, he is. But I don’t recall him telling anyone to “fuck off.” Mark Messier was wired tighter than the strings on a banjo. Gordie Howe. Wired. Stan Mikita. Wired. Bobby Orr. Wired. John Ferguson. Wired. I have yet to hear audio evidence, or see video evidence, of them telling a news snoop to “fuck off.”

Coach PottyMo believes Wheeler being a vulgar, condescending boor then turning all nicey-face is his “greatness as a leader.” It’s quite the opposite, actually. It’s his most notable failing.

Overall, the Ates-Maurice gum-flapper is good stuff, even if they sometimes drag us into the dreary nuances of systems play. And there’s some syrupy, groupie-like gushing from Ates (“How great is it that Byfuglien is in his mid-30s and still playing like he is?”) that made me cringe, but it’s definitely worth your time.

Ken Wiebe

Now that Ken Wiebe has defected to The Athletic, I dare say the former Sun scribe and Ates might form the best one-two punch on the Jets beat, especially since they plan to shadow Winnipeg HC hither and yon. I just hope they won’t be covering the team old-school style, which is to say with yawn-inducing recaps of the previous night’s game and breathless quotes about “moving our feet.” If the local dailies choose to remain stuck in the 20th century, let ’em. (Seriously, a detailed game story from the rookie camp in Saturday’s Drab Slab? That is so 1970s.). Give me news, but give me off-beat, give me quirkiness, give me features, give me analysis and, by all means, give me opinion that doesn’t read like something fresh from the Xerox machine in the Jets propaganda department. Oh, one more thing: Go easy on the pie charts.

Speaking of which, newby Scott Billeck has brought pie charts and graphs with colored, squiggly swirls to the sports pages of the Sun, whether we like it or not. Oh, joy. Can’t get enough of gizmo jock journalism. As if. You’ll have to excuse me, but I prefer my sports writing without do-dads that make my eyes bleed.

Rink Rat and Wheeler

Let’s be clear: I don’t believe the earth is flat, and I don’t believe fancy stats are useless like ear muffs in Arizona. But I lean toward Rink Rat Scheifele’s way of thinking when he talks about a special something that exists between teammates, like himself and Wheeler: “I think chemistry’s the biggest thing in this game,” the Jets centre says. “You want to play with guys you click with and play well with. I think chemistry is a thing that is kind of put away on people. Especially nowadays with analytics and all that extra junk. Chemistry is something you can’t quantify, there’s no statistic that says chemistry, and I think that’s something that needs to be looked at.”

Pierre and Kendall

Seems Pierre McGuire has lost his perch between the benches on NBC’s No. 1 NHL broadcasting team, and that must be such troubling news for Kendall Coyne Schofield. I mean, how will the poor dear possibly find her way around the rink without Pierre to point the way and mansplain the game to her?

Kendall, of course, made her debut with NBC last winter, joining Pierre at ice level for a Lightning-Penguins skirmish. “Tampa’s gonna be on your left, Pittsburgh’s gonna be on your right,” he informed the U.S. Olympic champion, adopting the tone and manner of a school marm advising a six-year-old girl where she could find the washroom and lunch room. Well, it turns out Kendall knows the way to San Jose (yes, without Pierre’s hand signals), because she’s signed on as a member of the Sharks TV broadcast team. No word on whether or not her contract includes directions to the biffy, though.

And, finally, good thoughts for Dale Hawerchuk, who’s stepped away from his coaching chores with Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League. All they’re telling us about Ducky is that he’s wrestling with health issues, and I’d say that’s all we really need to know.

Let’s talk about Mayor Brian Bowman bailing on the Blue Bombers…split screens and Benny on TSN…Sleepy Joe and Wile E. Coyote…CFL head counts…the Roger and Novak show…Simona Halep beating the bully…and fond memories of local tennis

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and you won’t find any aces in here but there are plenty of double faults…

So, Brian Bowman wants the City of Winnipeg to wash its hands of the Blue Bombers.

Mayor Brian Bowman

Was it something they said? Is it that 28-year, no Grey Cup parade thing? Someone at City Hall doesn’t like Mike O’Shea’s sideline look? Whatever the case, surely we can work this out, even if it means convincing Coach Mikey to shop at Mr. Big & Tall instead of finding his game-day attire on the racks at Sally Ann’s.

Personally, Coach Mikey’s t-shirt-and-shorts chic has never bothered me. I look at him as Coach Grunge. You know, the way Neil Young is the Godfather of Grunge.

Come to think of it, perhaps Neil Young will be Mayor Bowman’s next target. No more official bragging about the Sugar Mountain kid skipping school at Kelvin High to earn his musical chops hither and yon with the Squires, Buffalo Springfield, CSNY and Crazy Horse. Who wants to be bragging on a high school dropout as a homeboy? Let the Republic of Tranna claim him.

And, hey, while he’s at it, maybe Mayor BB can order favorite citizen Kenny Ploen deported back to Lost Nation, Iowa. After all, it’s been more than half a century since K.P. had a hand in bringing the Grey Cup to Good Ol’ Hometown.

Mind you, Mayor BB wouldn’t know much about that. He wasn’t around in the late-1950s and early-1960s, when Ploen, the Lincoln Locomotive, Choo Choo Shepard, Zazu, Kid Dynamite and the large lads in Blue and Gold won championships like kids collected bubble gum cards of their Canadian Football League heroes.

By the time Mayor BB squeezed out of the womb, those legends were long gone and so were the Bombers’ glory days.

Mayor Steve Juba: Friend of the Bombers.

But I’ll tell you who could have filled him in on those “best of times”—Steve Juba, one of his predecessors in the mayor’s office. Trouble is, Steve left us in 1993, so he isn’t available for a fireside chat with the present-day Hizzoner. If he were, no doubt Mayor Steve would regale Mayor BB in what it was like back in the day. You know, when the mayor of all the people actually embraced the connection between city and Winnipeg FC.

True story…

Once upon a time, the Bombers held a Blue and Gold intersquad game during training exercises. It was a huge deal. Anywhere from 17,000 to 19,500 locals would make their way to the real-grass football field on Maroons Road to take in the annual frolic, and I was among the east-side rabble on the night of July 21, 1960.

The opening kickoff tumbled near the Gold goalline, whereupon a return man scooped it up and began to skedaddle toward the right sideline. He had the awkward gait of peg-leg pirate and the giddyup of a sloth, but admirable escapeability. Would-be tacklers flung themselves at him in desperation without success, and he made it untouched to the far 35-yard stripe before an unknowing skunk shirt ruled him out of bounds.

I describe the game official as “unknowing” because the fix was in. The return man, you see, was Mayor Juba and the pre-arranged script had him lugging the kickoff back for a touchdown. Alas, someone forgot to clue in the sideline official. Didn’t really matter, though. Mayor Steve had punked the audience.

Three years later, a Blue and Gold game official ejected Kenny Ploen and receiver Farrell Funston when they connected for a TD. On the first play from scrimmage. The rabble howled in protest, demanding that Ploen and Funston be reinserted to the fray. They hadn’t paid $2 a pop to see some clown in a striped shirt turf two of their heroes. Upon closer inspection, however, it was discovered that the man in stripes was…you guessed it, Steve Juba. Yup, once again, Mayor Prankster had pulled one over on the Big Blue masses.

It was fun stuff. And a charming, folksy chapter in the historic bond between city and football club.

Yet, given his druthers, Mayor BB is inclined to bail on the burg’s beloved (well, aren’t they?) Blue Bombers. He’s not interested in the City of Winnipeg occupying a seat on the board.

Mayor Steve must be spinning like a lathe in his cold, Blue and Gold grave.

One thing to keep in mind about Winnipeg FC: It isn’t a community-owned operation. No one owns the football club. It’s community-run.

A couple of words on TSN’s innovative(?) split screen/live mic thingy during the Bytown RedBlacks-Montreal Alouettes skirmish on Saturday: The worst. We were forced to watch Antoine Pruneau and Henoc Muamba do absolutely nothing on the left side of our flatscreens for a dozen or more plays, while squinting at the right side of the screen to see what the other 22 players were doing. I’m all for new-fangled gadgetry, but this was a colossal failure. And, since I can’t afford a 70-inch TV, I hope this experiment goes the way of the Indian head test pattern (Google it, kids).

Mike Benevides

Kirk Penton, as always, delivered the good stuff in his CFL column for The Athletic last week, and it included this gem from a former coach: “It was great to see one of us (coaches) on TSN. Benny (Mike Benevides) sounded like what he is—a solid football guy. He understands our game. He picks up the keys to the game and explains them. Without him, the rest of that group is no different than watching Entertainment Tonight Canada. A lot of expensive clothes and a lot of talk about nothing.” Burn! Personally, I find Benevides uppity, if not flat-out arrogant. He doesn’t talk as much as he lectures, as if the former players on the TSN panel are still in film study. Benny could spend a bit more time in wardrobe, too. He’s not smoooooth like Milt Stegall. But, then, who is?

Anyone have a clue what’s going on in Montreal? Or maybe this is a better question: Does anyone in Montreal have a clue, period? I mean, the Alouettes are a welfare case (read: no owner); they play in a half-empty house; they fired head coach Mike Sherman on the eve of the CFL season; now they punt GM Kavis Reed after twin Ws leveled their record at 2-2. Strange bit of business. But here’s where it gets Rod Serling/Twilight Zone weird (cue the creepy music)—they’ve handed the keys to the shop to Joe Mack. That’s like giving Wile E. Coyote another stick of dynamite. Nothing good will come of it.

Sleepy Joe

Blue Bombers loyalists can tell the Larks all about Sleepy Joe and how he believed a brittle Buck Pierce was a better option at quarterback than Mike Reilly in 2013. It took present-day GM Kyle Walters more than three years to find his way out of the rubble that Sleepy Joe left behind, but we still feel an after-shock every now and then.

Sorry to report that attendance across the CFL is not on the rebound. The numbers continue to plummet everywhere but Calgary, and it’s gotten so bad in the Republic of Tranna that they don’t bother to take a head count. I agree. That’s unacceptable. After all, how long does it take to count to 100? Maybe they can bring in the Army to do it for them.

Novak Djokovic

Sports theatre doesn’t get much better than what played out on Centre Court Wimbledon on Sunday, with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer knocking the fuzz off tennis balls at the All-England Club. Five sets, tiebreaker in the fifth, three ‘breakers total…bloody brilliant. And dare I say, the loser in this historic 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, 4-6, 13-12 tussle was the better player most of the afternoon. It’s just that Djokovic won the points that mattered most in claiming his 16th Grand Slam title, and that included fighting off two match points against Federer’s serve.

Simona Halep

I must confess, while watching the very likable Simona Halep give bully Serena Williams a good and proper rag-dolling in the women’s final on Saturday, I kept wondering if tournament officials would be required to dial 911 and call for a SWAT team to restore law and order. That is, I expected Williams to dig into her bag of angry theatrics and take the event hostage, much like she did in losing last year’s U.S. Open to Naomi Osaka. Thankfully, she brought her prim and proper manners to the English party. But she’s still a bully.

Halep worked a mere 56 minutes in winning her title. Djokovic needed four hours and 57 minutes to get the job done v. Federer. Each champion received a winner’s purse of $2.95 million. Any complaints about pay equity? I hope not.

Since Federer claimed his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003, it’s been same old, same old on the men’s tour. Only 10 men have won a major. That’s it, just 10 in 17 years. Between Swiss maestro Federer, Djokovic and Rafa Nadal, they’ve collected 54 of the 65 majors, which is insane. Meanwhile, on the women’s side, there have been 24 Grand Slam champions in the same time frame.

Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club

I’m partial to tennis because it was my favorite beat at the Winnipeg Tribune. I spent countless enjoyable hours courtside at both the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club and the Canoe Club through most of the 1970s, and I have fond memories of people like Rick Borland, Judy Peake, Jo and Jack Brown, Eleanor O’Gorman, the Campbell sisters, Glen Booth, Jim Matthews, Al Skaletar, George Kylar, and so many others. So it pains me that the Winnipeg Sun would choose to ignore the National Bank Challenger tournament, which wrapped up at the WLTC on Sunday. The Drab Slab, meanwhile, did it right with young Taylor Allen’s feet on the ground through the entirety of the event.

And, finally, here’s something for the Winnipeg Jets rabble to chew on, and I’m guessing some might not like the taste:
Jordan Binnington salary: $4.4 million.
Connor Hellebuyck salary: $6.166,666 million.
Stanley Cup rings: Binnington 1; Hellebuyck 0.
Feel free to discuss among yourselves.

Let’s talk about no respect for fitba…girl power on TSN’s World Cup coverage…Kaylyn Kyle blowing the whistle on refs…hair of the dog…Rafa and Big Red…and go Raptors

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if you don’t like reading about soccer, you’d be wise to move to another blog right about now…

The women’s World Cup is comfortably underway in France, and I sometimes wonder why we in North America have been so slow on the uptake in embracing the beautiful game known around the globe as football but soccer here at home.

True, fitba can be slow, tedious and boring. And, of course, there are the play-actors and their near-death experiences, a dodgy bit of business that is shame-worthy but never Oscar-worthy.

Neymar

Perhaps it’s the theatrics of the soccer elite—almost exclusive to the men’s side of the pitch—that keeps us at arm’s length. I mean, watching Neymar and other faux thespians flopping and twitching and gasping for their last breath, like so many trout out of water, provides comic relief but it’s also a total turnoff. If I want to see bad acting, I can turn on Mama’s Family any night on MeTV.

But, hey, even with fake injury time added to each half of a soccer match, it’s over in less than two hours.

Cripes, man, the halftime show at the Super Bowl lasts longer than that, especially if Janet Jackson has to put her clothes back on. And yet the National Football League and its Super Bowl is a colossus, even when halftime entertainers aren’t flashing flesh.

The NFL, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and National Hockey League are John, Paul, George and Ringo. Major League Soccer is George Martin or Brian Epstein or Billy Preston. You know, the so-called Fifth Beatle. Or worse—Yoko Ono.

Many myopic mainstream jock journalists are reluctant, or refuse, to acknowledge MLS as a major-league sport.

Steve Simmons in the Republic of Tranna, for example, recently posted this item to his Twitter feed:

Toronto big league championships in my lifetime (with apologies to Argos, Rock and TFC)
62 Leafs
63 Leafs
64 Leafs (have no memory of 62-63-64)
67 Leafs
92 Blue Jays
93 Blue Jays.

Toronto FC’s 2017 MLS title fails to register on the Steve-O-Meter.

Yet MLS qualifies on most measuring sticks as “big league.” Million-dollar player salaries? Check. Global reach? Check. Multi-million-dollar national TV contract? Check. Franchises worth mega-millions? Check. Healthy attendance? Check.

Atlanta United, in fact, has a better average head count (52,000-plus) than every team in Major League Baseball. Toronto FC outdraws the Blue Jays. Seattle Sounders outdraw the Mariners. Cripes, man, as of June 2, Portland Thorns FC of the National Women’s Soccer League had better attendance than nine MLB outfits. See for yourself:

I see a lot of “big league” head counts in there.

Meanwhile, here are a few other points of interest about MLS:

Atlanta United fans

* Forbes valued four franchises at more than $300 million last year (Atlanta United $330M, L.A. Galaxy $320M; Seattle Sounders $310M; LAFC $305M) and Toronto FC at $290M. Again, that spells “big league” to me.
* In 2018, 53 MLS players collected $1,000,000 or more at the pay window, while both Zoltan Stieber of DC United and Andreu Fontas of Sporting Kansas City came in at one dollar less. If those aren’t “big league” wages, Pele was a punk rocker.
* Among all global leagues, only Poland’s First Division has had a faster growth spurt in the past five years, and MLS average attendance between 2013 and 2018 was eighth in the world.

Atlanta packs ’em in.

* Atlanta United puts more people in the pews than Manchester United, Newcastle United, Liverpool, Benfica and Atletico Madrid, among many others, while Seattle Sounders have a larger per-game following than outfits like Chelsea and AC Milan.

Is MLS the premier fitba operation on the planet? Of course not. But it doesn’t have to be on par with the English Premier League, Serie A Italy, La Liga or the Bundesliga to make it a member in good standing of the Big Five—and not the Fifth Beatle—in North America.

No surprise, really, that Simmons would pooh-pooh the MLS as a hamlet-sized dot on our sports landscape. Here’s what he had to say about fitba on the Toronto Mike’d podcast during Toronto FC’s championship run: “I’m almost embarrassed to be at the soccer games, because my knowledge of the game and my interest in the game is so limited. I don’t know the ABCs. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you all the positions. I don’t know how many players are on the field. Honestly, I have no connection to this game at all. I didn’t grow up with it, I didn’t play it, I never watched it, I didn’t care about it.” That’s an astonishing confession from a sports columnist with a nation-wide platform. Let’s hope it means he’ll leave the writing on the women’s World Cup to scribes who actually know how many players are on the pitch.

If you tune in to World Cup coverage on TSN, you’ll see something as rare as a Monday morning without a Donald Trump tweet—an all-female natterbug panel. Instead of simply looking all gussied up and pretty, they’re letting Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson analyze teams, break down plays and—oh…my…gawd—deliver opinion. You know, like they actually know what they’re talking about. Imagine that. Women with functioning brains on sports TV. What a concept.

Kaylyn Kyle

I really enjoyed the lively and spirited banter between Rustad, Kyle and Matheson at halftime of the England-Scotland skirmish. Kyle and Rustad disagreed sharply on what should and shouldn’t be a hand ball penalty, and host Kate Beirness knew enough to zip her lips and let the two former Canadian national team members have at it. Kyle was, to say the least, animated and agitated after the Video Assistant Referee awarded England a penalty kick due to an unintentional hand ball by the Scots. Kyle was emphatic: The game referee and VAR room should ignore one of the most fundamental rules of the game and let the women play on. Which, of course, is total nonsense. Do you know what we’d have if officials stopped calling games by the rule book? The Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fashion note: The aforementioned Kyle has the most magnificent head of hair on TV. I know several drag queens who would give their first-born to have that mane.

Speaking of hair, what are the chances that Brett Hull is looking for some hair of the dog this morning? If Hull wasn’t five sheets to the wind on Sunday night in St. Loo, he was off his meds because he looked and sounded totally wasted prior to puck drop for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final between the St. Loo Blues and Boston Bruins. I’m guessing his head is exploding right about now.

Someone hurled a can of beer onto the ice surface late in the Game 6 skirmish. I’d point to Hull as the most likely suspect, except he didn’t appear to be in the mood to let a good can of beer go to waste.

Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes.

I never thought I’d see dominance in sports like Secretariat at the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Big Red romped to horse racing’s Triple Crown with a 31-length victory in a world-record time that stands unchallenged to this day, and watching film of that gallop still gives me a shiver and has me reaching for the Kleenex.

Rafa Nadal

Even after the passage of so much time, it seems so unreal. Like a fairytale about a wonder horse that us old folks like to tell our grandkids. But it happened, and so did a different kind of thoroughbred—Rafael Nadal. If anything comes close to Secretariat at the Belmont, it’s Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros in Paris. In winning his 12th French Open title and 18th tennis Grand Slam on Sunday, Rafa is running neck-and-neck with Big Red on my personal scorecard of belief-challenging accomplishments. He’s 93-2 in France. That is not a typo. Do not adjust your screen. The King of Clay has lost twice—in 15 years! Against the absolute best players on the planet. That’s insane.

Number of different women winning the past 10 tennis Grand Slam tournaments: 9. Naomi Osaka has been the only repeat champion. Number of men not named Nadal, Federer or Djokovic winning the past 10 tennis Grand Slam tournaments: 0.

Kawhi Leonard

Fun tweet from Gord Stellick of Sportsnet: “Taking attendance first day of JK at Toronto schools in 2024: Kawhi Smith, Kawhi Jones, Kawhi Murphy, Kawhi Watson…”

And, finally, it’s my understanding that they’ll be playing a rather significant basketball game tonight in the Republic of Tranna. Like the majority of Canadians, I won’t be watching, but I hope Kawhi Leonard and the Jurassics get the job done against the Golden State Juggernaut. I love it whenever we beat the Americans at our own game.

Let’s talk about Carolina Cornball…Grandpa Grapes…snack time for the Winnipeg Jets…clock ticking on CFL-CFLPA talking…no living wage overseas…Trump trumps Vlad the Bad’s eight goals…the Big One in tennis…baseball a yawn-a-thon?…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and we’ll have fun, fun, fun until daddy takes the T-Bird away…

Contrary to popular belief, if you look up the word ‘fun’ in the dictionary, you won’t find a team photo of the Carolina Hurricanes.

No, the Bunch of Jerks and their “front-running fans” didn’t invent merriment and crazy hijinks, but we’re led to believe that they’ve cornered the market on mirth, what with their Storm Surge and their admirable, albeit stalled, push in the current Stanley Cup tournament.

I mean, consider these headlines I stumbled upon during a Google surf on the weekend:

  • The Guardian: “How the Carolina Hurricanes hit back on the NHL’s war on fun.”

  • YouTube: “Carolina Hurricanes/The Importance of Fun.”

  • For the Win/USAToday: “Rooting for the Carolina Hurricanes is rooting for fun.”

  • NHL.com: “Hurricanes embrace fun, victory celebrations.”

  • Boston Globe: “Are Carolina Hurricanes jerks or just having fun?”

I imagine the Boston Bruins (especially), the St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks are also having themselves a royal hoot since they, along with the Hurricanes, remain standing in the National Hockey League spring runoff. It’s just that, unlike the Bunch of Jerks, none of those outfits spent the entire winter playing post-match parlor games like Duck, Duck Goose, so we don’t really know for certain that they’re having fun.

More to the point, would they even know how to be good time Charlies?

Fun, after all, is not historically an NHL thing. Except, of course, when the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup and Alexander Ovechkin goes swimming in a public fountain. But even Ovie and the Caps stopped short of playing Duck, Duck Goose in the fountain, perhaps owing to the fact they were too tipsy with gusts up to flat-out legless

At any rate, the NHL has never been known as a knee-slapping, belly-laughs enterprise, something an opinionist at The Guardian felt obliged to emphasize in an ode to Carolina Cornball:

“The NHL can’t really take a joke. Which is maybe all the more reason to laugh at it sometimes, like a bunch of jerks.”

Certainly the Hurricanes’ marketing department is having fun, also generating scads of American greenbacks with its Bunch of Jerks and Bunch of Front Running Jerks t-shirts. It’s a merchandising windfall and, yes, now that you mention it, Donald S. Cherry likely deserves royalties on sales, since it was the Hockey Night in Canada curmudgeon who inserted the phrase(s) into the hockey lexicon.

Here’s the thing, though: Sixteen outfits qualified for the Stanley Cup tournament. Fifteen of them did not play post-match parlor games during the regular season. We are now down to the NHL final four, and even the Hurricanes long ago abandoned the Storm Surge and its accompanying shenanigans.

So are we still having fun?

Perhaps the Canes will re-introduce Carolina Cornball now that they’re down 2-nada and heading home for the next two skirmishes in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final vs. the Bruins. Whatever works, right?

I doubt they’ll resort to parlor games, though, because there’s a time and place for everything and Ring Around the Rosie won’t help them out of their hole. Mind you, they could try Pin the Tail On the Donkey—seeing someone stick it to Brad Marchand is always fun.

This whole Hurricanes-and-fun thing has inspired considerable pro-and-con dialogue, and my favorite line was delivered by the Charlotte Observer editorial board. Noting that it was Cherry who fanned the flames by describing the Canes as a “bunch of jerks” and Carolina fans as “front runners,” the Observer wrote: “Front-runners, if you haven’t figured it out, is Canadian for bandwagon fans. Don Cherry is Canadian for ‘get off my lawn.’” That, kids, is a classic burn. Also true.

Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab dipped his pen into the Carolina Cornball discussion, offering this: “At their practice Monday in Raleigh, players gathered at centre ice in a big circle and took turns sharing their weekend activities, which included a couple of well-deserved days away from the rink. From Storm Surges, the team’s cheeky Twitter account and merchandise, it’s obvious they’ve got a good thing going on, which is translating to their spirited play on the ice, and in a copycat league, perhaps the (Winnipeg) Jets might want to try and emulate some of the good vibes going forward. Maybe they can start by sitting everyone in the circle at the start of training camp and talking about how they spent their off-season.” Oh, for sure. And maybe they can bring snacks, too. Blake Wheeler is in charge of the crab cakes, Rink Rat Scheifele the nutribars, Jacob Trouba the beef stew, Big Buff the catfish, and Twig Ehlers the Danish for dessert. Sorry, but if there was anything to Carolina Cornball, all 31 NHL clubs would be playing Pictionary and Parcheesi between periods.

Nice to see Paul Friesen and Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun do some day tripping down memory lane, revisiting the last of les Jets World Hockey Association glory days. Paul had a chin-wag with funnyman coach Tom McVie, while Ted checked in with lickety-split left winger Morris Lukowich, and it’s all good stuff. Next Monday marks the 40th anniversary of Winnipeg HC’s third and final WHA championship run, and I’m glad the two Sun boys are reminding youngsters in the audience that there was a time when victory parades were routine in Good Ol’ Hometown.

Yes, now that you ask, I think it’s boffo that Chris Matthews is back where it all started for him in the Canadian Football League, which is to say as part of the pass-catching ensemble with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I just wish I could be confident he’ll have a league to play in for his second go-round in blue-and-gold.

Apparently, negotiations between the CFL and the CFL Players Association has been reduced to an exchange of notes on cocktail napkins. That’s not to say the two sides aren’t working in good faith on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but with training exercises due to begin in less than a week it’s awful close to last call. And I’m getting a tad antsy.

Dani Rylan

On the subject of work stoppages, next time you hear someone say women who play pro shinny “deserve” a living wage, remind them that the average head count across the National Women’s Hockey League last season was 954. Sorry, but no one— expect perhaps founder/commish Dani Rylan and her second in command, Hayley Moore—makes a living wage based on those numbers.

It’s important to note that the 200 women who say they won’t be playing hockey next winter have limited their boycott to North America. There’s nothing to stop some of them from suiting up with an outfit in either Finland’s Naisten Liiga or the SDHL in Sweden. Trouble is, no one watches distaff shinny on that side of the pond, either, so they still wouldn’t be earning a living wage.

So, John Daly has been given the okie-dokie to ride a cart in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black Course on Long Island this week. Hmmm. I thought every golf course in America already had a beer cart.

Vlad the Bad

Russian dictator Vlad the Bad Putin scored eight goals in an exhibition hockey match last week. Not to be outdone, Donald Trump claims to have scored eight holes-in-one on the weekend and has already declared himself winner of the PGA Championship. A victory lap in John Daly’s beer cart is scheduled for the White House rose garden next week.

Trump’s paid Pinocchio, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, hopes to be remembered as “transparent and honest” once she’s no longer telling lies for the president. Ya, and I hope to be remembered as a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.

Is it game, set and match for the Big Three in men’s tennis? Might be that it’s been reduced to the Big One, Novak Djokovic. The Joker laid claim to the year’s first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, and he won the Madrid Open on Sunday, beating upstart Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final. But the King of Clay, Rafa Nadal, hasn’t won on his favorite surface this year and Roger Federer couldn’t get past the quarterfinals in Madrid. Still, I’ll reserve judgment until Rafa is beaten at Roland Garros and Roger falls on Centre Court Wimbledon.

Interesting take on baseball by Mad Mike McIntyre. He reckons the rounders game is losing traction among the rabble because sitting through three hours of sputtering action is “asking a lot of spectators to endure, especially when you factor in time to travel to and from the stadium.” (I’m not convinced travel time to the ball park is greater than to any other sports venue, so that’s a silly comment.) Mad Mike cites statistics from the Wall Street Journal to support his theory, but does a ball game actually take longer to complete than other sports? Nope. It’s middle of the pack. Here are some event times:

And, finally, the dreaded Grip Reaper has come to collect another old friend and colleague, Marten Falcon. A good man, Marten and I started in the rag trade together, working as copy runners at the Winnipeg Tribune, and he spent his newspaper career as one of those necessary behind-the-scenes people who put the sheet together at both the Trib and Sun. Lost contact with Marten after I left the tabloid, and that’s going on 20 years, but I won’t forget him.

About dumb stuff from “D’oh!” boys in the press box…Peter Chiarelli’s grey matter…this girl’s got game…Blue Bombers boss lady Dayna Spiring…Naomi Osaka gets to celebrate Aussie title…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I’m no all-star so I won’t be taking an all-star break…

This past week in jock journalism was brought to us by the word “D’oh!”

Seriously. News snoops must have been passing the Homer Simpson stupid pills around the press box and the newsroom, because much of what I read and heard was really, really dumb.

Examples:

Nazem Kadri

* The struggling Tranna Maple Leafs got the best of the struggling Washington Capitals on Wednesday night, winning 6-3. Nazem Kadri tallied three times and added an assist. His linemates, Willy Boy Nylander and Connor Brown, contributed three and two assists, respectively. That’s nine points total from that troika. Yet this was the main headline on the Leafs blog known as Sportsnet:

“Matthews-Marner combo pays immediate dividends for Maple Leafs.”

Say what? Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner contributed a goal apiece, one on the powerplay and one into an empty net. The “combo” collaborated on zero scores.

So that headline is really, really dumb.

* Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab went off on Professional Hockey Writers Association midseason polling, whereby more than 125 scribes determined the top three leading candidates to collect National Hockey League year-end trinkets.

The freshly minted sports columnist described Winnipeg Jets capitano Blake Wheeler as the club’s “heart and soul,” which is fine. Also accurate. But wait. He then confessed that, if allowed to vote for more than three people in each category, he would have “given Mark Scheifele some Hart Trophy consideration as most valuable to his team.” So Wheeler is the “heart and soul” of les Jets, but his linemate Rink Rat Scheifele is more valuable?

That’s really, really dumb.

John Shannon

* John Shannon, the sometimes smug gab guy on Sportsnet, delivered what was labeled his Power 25—the top movers and shakers in the NHL—and he listed wet-eared Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks the sixth most-powerful person.

What Shannon failed to do was explain exactly what makes Pettersson more of a power broker than, say, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, co-bankroll and governor of les Jets and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee. Perhaps Shannon will also tell us that a parish priest in Moose Jaw holds more sway with Catholics than the Pope. Or that Adam Sandler makes better movies than Steven Spielberg.

That’s really, really dumb.

* Luke Fox (Sportsnet seems to have an over-abundance of ”D’oh!” boys) wrote: “(Nikita) Kucherov is running away with the (NHL) scoring race.”

Hmmm. Last time I looked, Kucherov was four points ahead of Mikka Rantanen. Johnny Gaudreau and Connor McDavid are a mere five in arrears. Any one of those guys could erase that deficit in 20 minutes of hockey. That’s a runaway like Lady Gaga is a lumberjack.

So that’s really, really dumb.

Bobby Orr

* Apparently Ken Campbell was napping during Bobby Orr’s career. I say that because of this click-bait the senior writer at The Hockey News posted on Twitter:

“Former NHLer Mathieu Schneider, now with the NHLPA just referred to Nicklas Lidstrom ‘as the greatest defenceman of all time.’ Bold statement. And it’s a worthy debate.”

Sure, and maybe Campbell would also have us debate who’s taller, Zdeno Chara or Johnny Gaudreau. Or what’s whiter, freshly fallen snow or coal.

That’s really, really dumb.

Brian Burke

Okay, that’s enough dumbing down for one day. But staying on the subject of grey matter, best comment in the wake of Peter Chiarelli’s dismissal as general manager of the Edmonton Oilers was delivered by Brian Burke of Sportsnet: “He didn’t become terminally stupid overnight.” Actually, he did. Chiarelli went to bed one night, then woke up the next morning and signed Milan Lucic to a seven-year, $42-million contract.

Hey, the Oilers have finally found someone who can keep up with Connor McDavid—Kendall Coyne Schofield, the young lass who dropped jaws with her dash in the fastest skater segment of the NHL all-star skills competition in San Jose. There is, however, no truth to the rumor that Kendell will replace Lucic in the Oil lineup.

Kendall Coyne Schofield

Coyne Schofield was a revelation. Her long, blonde ponytail flapping and her short legs (she’s 5-feet-2) churning like pistons, she finished her lap in 14.346 seconds, a heartbeat behind McDavid’s winning lickety-split of 13.378 and a blink-of-an-eye better than Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes. It was the “wow” moment of the all-star hijinx, and here’s what I’m wondering: Will people (read: media/men) now view women’s hockey in a more favorable light? I doubt it. It’ll be same old, same old. News snoops will continue to ignore the women except in Olympic years.

Leave it to smarmy Damien Cox of the Toronto Star to make an ass-clown comment about Coyne Schofield’s performance. “The only surprise is so many men didn’t realize female hockey players are great skaters. Geez, people, it’s 2019,” he tweeted. Apparently Cox believes he’s the only penis person on the planet who has the skinny on women’s shinny. He saw this coming, don’t you know. The rest of you guys, including the NHL all-stars who were totally gobsmacked by Kendall’s giddyup? Ignorant louts. Cox truly is a doofus.

Boys being oinkers, do you think the boys will let Keller forget about the night he “got beat by a girl?” No. Not ever, ever, ever.

Dayna Spiring

On the subject of women doing wonderful things, Dayna Spiring is the freshly minted chair of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers board of directors, and it seems to me that both the Winnipeg Sun and the Drab Slab were out to lunch on her story. Becoming the first female chair in the club’s 89-year history is worth more than a few paragraphs that read like a boring club press release. I’d like to know Dayna’s thoughts on Winnipeg FC. On the Canadian Football League. On Commish Randy. On breaking into the old boys’ club. Is it too much to ask a news snoop at either of the River City rags to pick up a phone and have a chat with the Bombers boss lady?

Will someone please give me a wakeup call when men’s tennis becomes interesting again? I mean, where are all those hot-shot, Next Gen players who were supposed to shove Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer to the curb? MIA. All of them. Mind you, Nadal was also MIA in the Australian Open championship match vs. Djokovic on Sunday. Can you say complete dud, kids?

Naomi Osaka

The best part of Naomi Osaka’s win in the women’s singles final Down Under? Poor sport Serena Williams wasn’t there to soil the moment with her brattish behavior. Osaka seems like a delightful, humble young woman who, at age 21, is already halfway to a career Grand Slam. Now the world No. 1, her emergence speaks favorably for the quality and intrigue of the women’s game, which has produced eight different champions in the past nine Grand Slam events. On the men’s side, there hasn’t been a Slam winner not named Nadal, Federer or Djokovic since 2016.

I don’t know what you make of the PHWA midseason NHL awards polling, but it seems to me that it’s very self-serving. That is, news snoops give themselves something to write and gab about during the all-star lull, but in reality it’s a non-story. It doesn’t even tell us which way the wind is blowing, because last year half of the midway leaders failed to pick up a trinket at the awards gala in June. So, I’m sorry, but I fail to see the purpose of the exercise.

And, finally, I think if I was a kid today, my favorite NHL player would be Mitch Marner. Always liked the small, zippity-do-da, water bug guys.

About the Winnipeg Jets at the halfway mark…Acts II and III of the NHL season…Chevy’s next move…trading Puck Finn for Matthew Tkachuk…the awfulness of Twitter and NFL replays…’oddly compelling’…Yahoo searches…and sharing oxygen with the giants

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if NFL replay guys don’t know a catch from a fumble or where to place the football, how are we supposed to know?

These Winnipeg Jets are an interesting study.

They have arrived at the midway mark of their regular-season crusade where many of us figured them to be—atop the Western Conference table—but they seem to be something of a tease.

Clearly among the National Hockey League elite, they go about their business in a very workmanlike manner, determined and purposeful, yet it’s as if they’re holding something in reserve, offering only hints of what might be.

They have strut, but they fall noticeably short of cock-of-the-walk arrogance, which is a good thing. It’s as if they know they’re damn good, but they also seem to know they aren’t damn near good enough.

Perhaps that’s the lesson learned from their dizzying ascent and subsequent comeuppance in last spring’s Stanley Cup runoff, when they were found to be a brick or two short of a load and eventually bowed to the upstarts from Las Vegas in the tournament semifinals.

Let’s face it, the NHL season is a three-part play: Act I is October-November-December hockey, Act II is January-February-March hockey, Act III is the beast known as the playoffs. You can get by with good in Act I. You need to up your game in Act II. Only great is acceptable in Act III.

And lest there be any doubt, it has become all about Act III for Winnipeg HC, not the regular season.

Puck Finn

Given that our hockey heroes have stared into the maw of the playoff beast, it follows that they surely recognize what lies in front of them will be contested at a higher in-your-face intensity. The grit quotient required to achieve the most favorable playoff seeding is amped up. It takes Blake Wheeler kind of grit. Does Winnipeg HC have enough of it? Well, every time I see Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine floating aimlessly about the freeze, I think not. Then I see Mathieu Perreault busting his hump along the wall and I think, “Ya, man, that’s how it’s done. Puck Finn take note.” Never thought I’d say it, but les Jets need more Perreault and less Puck Finn.

Chevy

Forty-one games in, I harbor the same concerns that I had in early October—centre ice and defence. I didn’t expect general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff to tinker with his roster pre-Christmas, but, as I wrote before they dropped the puck, he’ll have to do something before crunch time. I don’t think this Jets outfit is as good as the group that bowed out vs. the Vegas Golden Knights last spring. Mind you, at least one pundit begs to differ. “I think it is. (They’re) very much as good as last year,” says TSN talking head Mike Johnson. Except he then mentions the need for an upgrade at—you guessed it—centre ice. “Ideally” Bryan Little would be on the third line and Chevy would go out and grab someone to slide into the No. 2 slot. “That’s the one spot the Jets might want to try and address,” Johnson suggests. So if I’m hearing him correctly, Johnson figures les Jets are as good as before, except they aren’t. Sure. And Milan Lucic is the same beast he was in 2011, except he isn’t.

Blake Wheeler and Rink Rat Scheifele

Hightlight of les Jets’ first 41 skirmishes for me? Rink Rat Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. They just keep getting it done. And, unlike a lot of folks, I’m not convinced that Scheifele is the most valuable player on the Jets. I still say it’s Wheeler.

Question to ask yourself, Part I: Would you trade les Jets roster even up for the Golden Knights roster? I wouldn’t either, so why did Vegas get to the Stanley Cup final last spring and why does it have more wins and points than Winnipeg HC today (after a horrendous start to the season)? Could the reason be found behind the bench? Just asking.

Matthew Tkachuk

Question to ask yourself, Part II: Would you trade Laine even up for Matthew Tkachuk? I think I might. All that glitters with Puck Finn is goals. The rest of his game? Meh to disastrous. Tkachuk, on the other hand, brings a more complete package, including serious snark. Just turned 21, he’s already an assistant captain with the Calgary Flames, and I don’t think Keith’s kid takes a shift off, let alone a month. He has the kind of jam you need in the post-season, and his 49 points tower over Puck Finn’s 32. Nobody’s saying Chevy coughed up a hairball in choosing Puck Finn second overall in the 2016 NHL auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers, but, based on career growth to date, Tkachuk might have been the better choice. I wouldn’t have said that a year ago.

Latest sign that the world has gone stark-raving mad: Cody Parkey flubs a field goal attempt that eliminates the Chicago Bears from the National Football League playoffs, and he receives death threats on Twitter. That’s some kind of scary stuff.

I’m a big fan of replay in sports. I’m not a big fan of replay officials. I mean, some of the decision-making in Sunday’s NFL wild-card skirmishing was as ridiculous as the gown Lady Gaga wore to the Golden Globe Awards gala. (Seriously. The train on that thing was longer than most of the passes Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson tossed.)

Kawhi Leonard

This from Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail: “After only four months in the country, Kawhi Leonard has become the most oddly compelling athlete in the country.” I really wish sports scribes working in the Republic of Tranna would stop telling those of us who live in the colonies what we’re thinking. It’s rude and offensive. I read all of Canada’s major dailies, and I don’t see any of our flowers of jock journalism (outside The ROT) writing about Leonard or the Raptors. Leonard and the Tranna Raptors are not a topic of conversation where I live. Of the athletes most searched on Yahoo! Canada in 2018, Leonard is nowhere to be found. Genie Bouchard is there. Brooke Henderson is there. Erik Karlsson is there. But not Kawhi Leonard. Among the top 10 sports searches, the Raptors fell into the seventh slot, behind soccer’s World Cup, the Tranna Blue Jays, Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens. Leonard and the Raptors are a “thing” in The ROT. Nowhere else.

Genie Bouchard

If we do have a most “oddly compelling” athlete, it has to be tennis diva Bouchard. I mean, aside from flashing a great amount of flesh in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, she did nothing of note in 2018. She’s short on charisma and seemingly long on sourpuss-ism. So how is it that she was the second most-searched athlete on Yahoo! Canada, behind only Tiger Woods? I guess it’s not how many tennis matches you win that counts, it’s how many pieces of clothing you remove. Here are the Yahoo! Canada search lists for ’18:

Overall
Donald Trump
Tranna Blue Jays
Tranna Maple Leafs
Justin Trudeau
Meghan Markle
The Canadian dollar
Doug Ford
Melania Trump
World Cup
Winnipeg Jets

Athletes
Tiger Woods
Eugenie Bouchard
Serena Williams
LeBron James
Cristiano Ronaldo
Brooke Henderson
Erik Karlsson
Conor McGregor
Ronda Rousey
Roger Federer

Sports
Word Cup
Tranna Blue Jays
Tranna Maple Leafs
Winnipeg Jets
Edmonton Oilers
Montreal Canadiens
Tranna Raptors
Vancouver Canucks
Australian Open
U.S. Open (tennis)

matty
Matty

And, finally, as a follow-up to comments I made Sunday about old friend Paul Friesen’s superb, thoughtful and touching piece on legendary broadcaster Bob Picken in the Winnipeg Sun, I must mention how fortunate and blessed I was to have worked with, and against, some of the men from what Paul F. described as the “golden age” of sports media in Good Ol’ Hometown. It was a treat and privilege to rub shoulders with Pick, Jack Matheson, Don Wittman, John Robertson, Hal Sigurdson, Jack Wells, Don Wittman et al. I certainly didn’t belong in their class, but it was kind of them to share the classroom with me.

About 49 years from Day One at the Trib…good for Ted Wyman…good reads in the Drab Slab…a TSN WTF moment…CFL power rankings…Serena unhinged…and other things on my mind

It occurs to me

If you’ll permit me a personal note right off the top (and you must, because this is my blog), this morning marks the 49th anniversary of my start in the rag trade.

Yup, it all began in the mail room on the second floor of the Winnipeg Tribune building on Sept. 10, 1969, me an 18-year-old, know-nothing kid fresh out of Miles Madonell Collegiate working at what had always been my newspaper of choice.

After a brief time running incoming and outgoing mail to the various arms of the Trib operation at the corner of Smith and Graham, directly across the street from the main post office, I was shuffled up to the fifth floor, whereupon I became a midnight-to-8 a.m. copy runner and began scribbling non-byline Manitoba Junior Hockey League rewrites in 1970.

Legendary sports columnist and editor Jack Matheson was somehow struck with the notion that I might be a suitable replacement for a departing sports scribe, and my first byline appeared in print on Page 16 of the Trib on June 14, 1971.

It was back-of-the-section, bottom-of-the-page stuff—a short blurb about a Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association financial shortfall of $8,753—nestled between the Assiniboia Downs form chart and horse racing writer Harold Loster’s graded selections. Humble beginnings, indeed.

My first beat was local tennis, which I totally enjoyed. Then high school football, a good place to earn your chops. But Matty had me mostly on hockey, at all levels and all leagues, at home and riding the bus across the frozen tundra with Gerry Brisson, Muzz MacPherson and the Winnipeg Clubs in the Western Canada Hockey League.

Butch Goring

There wasn’t a hockey league I didn’t cover and, in fact, my final writing assignment at the Trib was to pen a sports-front, up-close-and-personal piece on local lad Butch Goring, weaned on the frozen ponds of Windsor Park/St. Vital and a Stanley Cup champion with the New York Islanders. Photog Jon Thordarson and I had visited Butch at his home. Spent more than an hour with him. The article and pics were in the can and good to go as a late-summer feature. Alas, the mucky-mucks at Southam had the bad manners to shut down the joint on what we called Black Wednesday, Aug. 27, 1980, and the Tribune was no more.

But, hey, here I am 49 years later, and old bag of bones still scribbling about shinny, football, curling and athletes in Good Ol’ Hometown, albeit from a distance. Don’t know when or how to stop.

Which means you’re right—there’s definitely something wrong with me. Like, does the term ‘get a life’ mean anything to me?

Apparently not. I might actually make it to 50 years.

Ted Wyman

A tip of the bonnet to Ted Wyman, soon to be the latest inductee to the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour. Ted’s been cranking out the good stuff for 26 years, earning his chops at the Moose Jaw Times Herald and Brandon Sun before bringing his act to Good Ol’ Hometown in 2003. He’s been a steady hand on the wheel of the Winnipeg Sun sports department since 2006.

Really enjoyed Melissa Martin’s piece on Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler in the Winnipeg Free Press last week. Melissa doesn’t stray into the toy department too often, but I always enjoy her take on sports and athletes. She’s my favorite scribe at the Drab Slab.

So I’m sitting in my local watering hole, watching the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders duke it out on Saturday afternoon. They were down to the short strokes, with about three minutes remaining and Gang Green clinging to an iffy lead. The end result was very much in the balance. And what does TSN do? It cuts away to the Calgary Stampeders-Edmonton Eskimos skirmish, which had yet to start. You talk about your WTFTSN moments.

Here are this week’s Canadian Football League power rankings…

1. Calgary (9-2): Bo Levi was brilliant; the defence not so much.
2. Saskatchewan (7-4): Four straight Ws.
3. Edmonton (7-5): Got it done vs. Calgary this time.
4. Hamilton (6-5): Wicked offence, wicked QB, wicked Speedy B.
5. Ottawa (6-5): Continue to be a puzzle.
6. Winnipeg (5-7): A bye week just what the doctor ordered.
7. B.C. (4-6): Still say they’re done like dinner.
8. Montreal (3-8): Took the week off.
9. Toronto (3-8): QB woes continue.

Last week in CFL quarterbacking…

It’s about Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: Wow. Just wow.

Still baffled by Serena Williams bringing motherhood into the equation during her epic hissy fit in the women’s final at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. “I have a daughter and I stand what’s right for her!” she shrieked, in full bully mode, at chair umpire Carlos Ramos. That simply does not compute. It makes no sense at all. What did Ramos’s rulings—questionable or not—have to do with Williams’ little girl? Can you say completely unhinged, kids?

Novak Djokovic

For those of you scoring at home, the last eight Grand Slam tennis tournaments have delivered eight different champions on the women’s side and only three on the men’s side. Meanwhile, the same three guys winning everything now—Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic—have been winning everything since Wimbledon 2003, when Federer claimed his first Slam title. The scoreboard reads: Big Three 51, Rest of Guys 11. And who are those Rest of Guys? Stan Wawrinka (3), Andy Murray (3), Andy Roddick, Marin Cilic, Juan Martin del Potro, Marat Safin and Gaston Gaudio. So, 10 champions total. In the same time frame, 24 different women have won Slam tournaments.

And, finally, this from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “I really hope the Maple Leafs pick a captain soon—so everybody can just shut up about it. The captain stuff: Relatively meaningless.” Interesting. In July, Simmons went on Tranna 1050 TSN radio and flapped his gums about the “relatively meaningless” Leafs captaincy for more than seven minutes. But now that he’s had his say on the topic he wants the rest of us to “shut up.” As if.